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A Misunderstanding in Sarajevo

10:16 am

Sarajevo, Bosnia

Today is my first morning in Sarajevo, Bosnia. I’m staying on Ferhadija Street, which is one of the main shopping avenues here in the city. The apartment is modern, sleek, newly furnished, and costs just $30 a night.

As I got ready this morning I reflected on the 12 hours before and how waking up in this trendy little apartment almost didn’t happen. As we crossed the Serbian border and entered Bosnia our surroundings suddenly came alive as if trying to show off to its out-of-town guests. There were dramatic peaks, verdant valleys, and magnificent lakes with villages and communities all along the way.

During one of the many pit stops, I asked the young gentlemen sitting across from me where he was from. “Bosnia,” he told me. “Can you understand people in Serbia? I asked. "How similar are the two languages?” “Pretty similar,” he said. Eventually, this opened up the floodgates for a conversation that would span nearly the rest of the journey. Milan, a 24-year old law student from Bosnia, took the seat next to me and we spoke for hours. His English was impressive, impeded only by a stammer he was unconcerned about. He instantly struck me as one of the kindest and most earnest people I’d ever met. He seemed to emanate a sense of empathy and patience that seems more and more difficult to find.

We spoke about politics in his country and mine. He asked poignant and complicated questions like the relationship between African-American men and the police, my stance on gun control, and my take on the upcoming presidential election. This guy knows his stuff, I thought. I offered my humble opinion on each matter, trying not to deflect, while also assuring him of the complexity and scope of his inquiries. These were not questions that could be answered in a single bus ride.

He seemed to go on and on. I nodded politely before becoming gradually more nauseous from weaving around the mountainside. He almost didn’t need me to be there as conversation and words continued to drop from his lips before giving way to a series of pictures from a camping trip he recently took with friends. There were brief respites like when the bus momentarily broke down. I joked with three friends from Poland about our chances of making it Bosnia. “Are you staying in Sarajevo?” one asked during the delay. “I don’t know anymore,” I said, to which he chuckled.

Eventually, Milan got off at a stop just outside the city. We shook hands and agreed to stay in touch. Soon after, I arrived in a somewhat desolate part of Sarajevo. Why the bus stop was not in the heart of the city confounded me, but I had bigger fish to fry.

My AirBnb host had been wonky with communication. He’d informed me to contact his partner, Imran who I never heard back from. After nearly half an hour of waiting to hear back I asked for a refund and connected with the other AirBnb host I had considered.

“Hi Aida, hope you’re well. Very last minute, but just curious if you’ve arrived back in Sarajevo. Just got in and haven’t heard back from my host who I believe is on vacation. Just wanted to quickly see if your place is still available. Very last minute. Understand if you’re out. If it is available I can make my way…”

After a few minutes she responded telling me it was in fact open for business and I could come and meet her.

I hailed a cab and followed her instructions, which read: ‘The address is Aleja Lipa. Take care this is Grbavica and not Hrasno. You need to tell that to the taxi driver.'

A few moments our exchange, I received a confirmation phone call from her, or so I thought.

I made my way to a cab parked nearby. I was tired and relieved the situation was resolved. The gentlemen driving the car was probably in his 50s. He was tall, bald, and looked to be fit for his age, certainly not someone I’d want to upset, which I later would.

As we inched closer to town with a loud Bosnian news broadcast playing in the background, it was clear the driver was disoriented. He stopped the car to ask for directions, but we were both totally confused as to where exactly the apartment was. Of course, I had a slightly better excuse, but realized taking solace in such things wasn’t going to help our situation.

Just as we seemed to finally be on our way, I received a follow-up phone call from my host. “I’m just checking to see where you are,” I heard someone say. It then dawned on me that the male voice I was speaking to didn’t align with the female host I’d been texting. “What is your name again?” I asked. “And what is your address?” “This is Aidan. I am on Ferhadija,” he confirmed. I’d made a huge blunder.

The gentlemen who called had essentially the same name as my previous host and both addresses ended with the number 9. Imran had failed to return my messages so Aidan had taken over communication duties. “I’ll be right there,” I told him.

I texted back Aida explaining the mix-up to which she graciously said it was not a problem. My cab driver did not share the same sentiment. I showed him the new address as he mumbled something in Bosnian undoubtedly voicing his dissatisfaction, but eventually obliged. All of that hassle in finding the first place was for nothing. I had caused him several minutes of meaningless aggravation. “I’m sorry,” I repeated profusely.

We arrived in one piece a few minutes later and I offered a very generous tip, which seemed to settle everything. Funny how money always does that, I thought.

I met up with Aidan and apologized for keeping him waiting in the rain. “No problem,” he said. I followed him up the stairs to a terrific apartment somehow mesmerized again at my good fortune at both the living quarters, the rate, but mainly how I’d once more miraculously found my way.

My friend Chad, a 40-year old writer from Los Angeles, California shared this bit of advice with me: An old teacher of mine at film school, Linda Brown, told me that "People are more important than art." That may not seem like advice, but it was for me.

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