An unusual thing about this hotel was its "green" energy arrangement. A lot of the hallways were dark, with lights popping on as you pass motion sensors. And when you first enter your room, a couple of lights pop on, but for only about 30 seconds. then they turn off again.
I spent a few minutes wondering why I couldn't turn on anything. No lights. No TV. Nada. Then, by the door, I found this little holder for the room's key card. You have to put the key card in this thing to make the lights work. That way, whenever you are not there, the lights stay off. I imagine other, more seasoned travelers have seen this before. But it was a first for me!
The people were dressed in modern Euro-style clothes. Lots of young people. Lots of thin people, much thinner than in the US. Couples holding hands. Lots more blond-haired women than I expected. (I expected to see lots more black-haired people, for whatever reason) Some couples with kids, others pushing strollers. A mix of people in suits and sports jackets. So my business casual clothing blended in, sort of. I'm sure a native could have spotted me as a tourist in about two seconds. Plus a smattering of Muslim families, with women in traditional garb.
What really came across was a sense of normalcy, of contentment, even joy. I would be reminded of this several times during the trip. While I arrived keenly aware of the war, and looking around for signs of damage, the people here were working hard to not dwell on the past. The people here, especially the younger people, are looking to the future. If they worry, it's about finding a job in this terrible economy. The war? That was 15 years ago. For some of the folks I met, that was half a lifetime ago.
Even so, I soon discovered that the pain of the war still lingered just below the pleasant surface. During my visit I would see some of these darker places. I would see the massive, massive cemetery at Srebrenica (more on that later) and I would tour the basement hallways where Tuzla hospital staffers worked for months with minimal supplies and no pay to care for waves of injured civilians plus all the normal health problems that hospitals treat. Americans haven't known what it's like to live in an active war zone since, when? The Civil War? We have no idea what survival and recovery is supposed to look like. So I have no way of telling whether what I was seeing could be considered "normal."
Overall, the people of Tuzla try not to talk much about those war days. When asked, they oblige a guest, but they do not dwell.
Far, far better to sit in an open cafe, sip a coffee, and watch the pretty girls stroll by. To laugh. To work. To live. I think that this desire to move forward is very real and deeply felt, not just a facade, not just a mask. It became quite clear to me that the people of this country do not want to be remembered solely for their war. They want people to see a modern, growing European country. A place that has embraced freedom even as some lament the safe old days under Tito.
There was this odd clash going on in the streets -- cafes in the shadows of ancient churches and mosques pumping out lots of techno-pop sounds, local stuff laced in with Lady Gaga and other very current acts. Electricity and cobblestones. A place that's chasing the future, even as it asks you to never forget its past.