11/13 Bosanski Brod to Sarajev

Welcome to the Republika Srpska--not. I guess it's lucky for us that the roads in Bosnia are not so great; a single lane for tractors, donkeys, slow trucks, grannies on bicycles, and Americans trying to get to Sarajevo in a hurry. Because if we weren't going so slow, I would never be able to read the Cyrillic on the signs (“Der—umm—Der---umm—Derv—umm---DERVENTA! Yes! This is the right road!).

The thing is, it's somewhat nauseating to cross into the Republika Srpska. To me, the existence of the RS represents the most toxic kind of nationalism and religious mania, the kind that people use to justify the unforgivable. I am an anarchist, so I don't like national boundaries anyway. I know that the US was also founded on murderous siege, torture, rape and genocide. And it's not distant history--our current administration is filled with war criminals. In terms of our leadership and the damage we do, the US may be the most evil country in the world. I know that even during the recent wars most people in the RS did not commit crimes against humanity. I know that in the RS, as in Nazi Germany, there were righteous people who resisted genocide. But none of this makes me feel any better about the RS. Because mass-murderers are hidden and sustained by a local populace who thinks they are heroes. Because they still deny that Srebrenica happened. And those motherfuckers got 49% of the land, and now they have a "special ties" agreement with Serbia-- Fuck your Dobro Dosli U Republiki Srpski, who could possibly feel welcome here? We're only stopping to pee, not to eat. I don't want to eat here.

Anyway, back to the happy little road trip vibe….As in any proper ChoHo tour, we got pulled over by a cop, this time for not having our lights on—in the middle of the day. This is necessary because the air is so hazy, sometimes you can’t see 10 meters in front of you. The countryside—gas station after gas station, the Bosna running beside us with hills on either side, lots of houses with no roofs, "museum mosques" (Muharem's phrase); empty mosques where no Muslims are left. As it gets dark, we pray that we don't run over any of these pedestrians who so casually cross this main highway, wearing black, slowly, without looking up--yikes. We're gonna start a non-profit Pedestrian Safety For Bosnia! It will provide sidewalks and reflective vests for everyone in need. It might sound funny but it's all part of the revolution--Hey look, we're in Zenica!

Seven hours after we left Zagreb, we were in Bascarsia, listening to the call to prayer from Imam Bey's mosque and putting on lipstick. It felt so good to be back! OK, maybe we romanticize it and we don't know it that well. But we have spent so much time with the verses of this city, we feel like we know its geography—physical and spiritual. Really we just know the geography of a single man in a single time, but still we feel close, even intimate with the city of Sarajevo. In the first of many 15-minute turnarounds, we “cleaned up good†and trotted down to meet Muharem at Buybook/Karabit. This is a wonderful cafe/bookstore owned by Goran and Damir, friends of Sem. The vibe--young, with great tea. Cyn, AnMarie, Ganda and I hung here a bunch last time so we felt pretty comfortable. Also the context was so much better than the last time we sang in Sarajevo (the Jazz Fest had us at a casino stage: frisked for weapons on the way in, no introduction, no context, no one to read Sem's poems in Bosnian, slot machines going off the whole time. It was like, "All that's left of him is a bloody trail BLING BLING BLING"). This time, it was clear from the second Muharem Bazdulj stepped up to the mic that the participation of the poets would change everything, creating the hybrid space and free-flowing dynamic that we crave. Yay, cross-pollination! But Marika was still worried, like, "Let me sing to you about your war, won't that be nice?" It is a khutzpadik thing to do, even with pure intention.
There was no need to worry because the show was good. They were all good. The core of the set was the songs from "Sarajevo Blues," and we framed them with Balkan Jewish traditional songs at the beginning and end. Muharem, who had much of Sem's work memorized, delivered the poems between the songs. He also translated, bantered, and offered wide-ranging commentary, cracking jokes and quoting Kierkegaard. Not everyone was there particularly to see us, but they stayed, and they especially responded to “Imam Bey's Mosque and "Death is a Job/Shelter." I think probably most people would have been just as happy to hear us get up there and sing the greatest hits of Bob Marley. But they liked this too.

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