Winter in Sarajevo surprised me. Its chill and ability to soak a person to their bone marrow was unexpected because it is so much warmer. The sand-like consistency of the snow piled by the streets and which strays into the sidewalk is a challenge to trek through. Additionally, the brown slop that cars spray onto pedestrians without concern is unwelcome.
I’d always thought I could claim I knew winter. I was born in a snowstorm, lived a good chunk of my childhood in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and lived the rest of it in Wisconsin, in a town where on average the temperature never rises above 0° Fahrenheit (-20° Celsius) for 50 days a year. However, spending my year in Sarajevo I have learned that winter holds all sorts of hidden challenges in different settings.
Wisconsin and the U.P. may be seen as rugged, but we who live there know how to get through winter and even enjoy it. Wisconsin is home to America’s largest cross-country ski marathon, the American Birkebeiner (9,000 skiers participate, ranging from Olympians to the local recreational skier). We ski, we snowshoe, we watch (or play in) hockey games, we have snowball fights, and at all other times we stay indoors. When I was on the ski team, if I wasn’t on the hill or walking to the car, I was indoors. It was brutally cold, and the freezing, harsh wind kept my face permanently windburned. However, almost all of us had cars in our family or friends with cars, and only had to spend a few moments outside. The other times spent outside were with snow pants and thick jackets not meant for looks but for warmth.
Sarajevo is different. It’s an urban setting, where kids are less inclined to pass time with outdoor activity and more inclined to go for coffee and go out into the city at night. Here, instead of a warm car ride, I walk five minutes to the trolleybus stop each morning and wait up to fifteen minutes for it to arrive. After my ride I walk another ten minutes to school. When the temperatures plummet come January, I will be living in a different kind of cold- one that seeps in and refuses to leave all month. I wear boots every day, because there is no five-second sprint from the kitchen door to the car. I instead have to slop through nasty slush, deep puddles and slippery piles of snow. I bless the genius who invented waterproofing spray. Winter is certainly different in the city.
That being said, I love it just as much as I always have. Even when I’m schlepping through slush the color of mud and snow is maliciously, slowly drenching me as it melts on my jeans, I am astounded by the beauty of winter. When I stop watching my feet squish another little ridge of freezing slop, I can look up at the gorgeous city. On either side, mountains and hills surround me and houses trickle up the steep slopes. Snow starkly highlights the roofs, the bright colors of the houses, the branches of the evergreens, and frankly makes the entire place look like Narnia. The fortress on the top of on of the hills creeps me out, because I’m not into the whole future of betray-your-brother-and-get-turned-into-a-statue-by-an-ice-witch, but I can at least admire the scenery. I just won’t ride off in a sleigh with anyone who offers me Turkish Delight (Rahatlokum na bosanskom) from the hands of a small dwarf.
I’m currently looking at opportunities to go snowshoeing, skiing, and to partake in any other winter sport I get the chance to play. Sarajevo has a hockey team, and so I hope to go watch some games. I’ve also found someone who rents snowshoes and offers guided or self-guided trips in the area around Sarajevo, and recently my class has been going to Zetra (an old Olympic hall) for ice skating. Broomball isn’t too popular here, unfortunately. Maybe I can make it catch on…