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Sarajevo Has Changed, But Not That Much With AM-Yugoslavia, Bjt

May 17, 1994

Undated (AP) _ By AIDA CERKEZ Associated Press Writer

SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) - ″You won’t recognize Sarajevo when you come back,″ my colleague Samir told me over the phone as I prepared to return home after more than three months. ″We have street lights and the tram is running.″

I left Sarajevo in January with street lights hanging from wires, burned out cars overturned as protection against snipers and avenues empty from heavy shelling. Then, people with gray faces divided their time between shelters and long queues for water and food, accepting stoically their reality, which often was death.

I left the cold, hungry city, where soccer fields became graveyards and children didn’t understand parents’ pleas to stay indoors, for Frankfurt, Germany, where my son and mother are refugees. There were the luxuries of life: electricity, running water, abundant food, colorful cakes and a city of bright lights.

When you leave Bosnia with the image of suffering people, dead children and destroyed cities seared into your memory, every bite of food makes your stomach tremble. Maybe it is guilt.

On Feb. 5, I watched in shock along with the rest of the world, television coverage of the mortar attack on the Sarajevo marketplace I knew so well. The mother of a friend was in the camera lens, screaming hysterically.

Her screams and the horror of others helped change the city. And soon I started getting news from home that gave me hope.

I learned the intense shelling that made Sarajevo a living hell for nearly two years stopped in mid-February, when Serbs withdrew most of their guns under threat of NATO air strikes. Although there are sporadic violations of a truce, my fellow Sarajevans are enjoying their longest stretch of relative peace since the war began.

It was still gray when I finally returned to Sarajevo, stumbling off the U.N. cargo plane in a light rain, loaded down with war survival gear: candles, flashlights, batteries and canned food.

The smiling face of my colleague Lucky was the first sight of home, and also the first shock. He stood on the runway, fully exposed to snipers and mortar gunners, with no flak jacket or helmet.

Driving into town, I was shocked to see groups of people standing in the middle of what the world now knows as ″Sniper Alley,″ where for two years any crossing was a dance with death.

They were waiting for the tram, Lucky explained.

We drove along Sniper Alley, not at our usual breakneck speed, but almost leisurely, even stopping for red lights, which momentarily confused and panicked me.

The first day home was an exciting whirl of visiting friends and relatives who had lived through so much while I was gone. Their faces were brighter, and some of them had gained weight.

″Look, I gained 7 kilograms,″ Grandpa said proudly. ″I even went out one sunny day and sat alone in the old part of town. And so many people I saw. What were they all doing on the street?″ he asked.

″Same as you, you fool,″ said Grandma. ″Just enjoying the sun and the peace.″

Everybody told me about the city’s great improvements.

My first walk down to the marketplace confirmed it. Prices were lower and there were bananas.

But nobody was buying them. Although bananas have reached Sarajevo, they remain unavailable for many whose hard currency reserves were spent long ago.

On the surface, it appears much has changed. People are slowly putting bits of their city back together again, along with their lives.

″I’m learning to walk down the streets normally again,″ explained my friend Edin. ″But sometimes I just have the feeling the sniper is watching me from the hill and can shoot me whenever he likes. My forehead begins to itch at the place where I expect the bullet. It will go away in time.″

My best friend Samra greeted me with tears and hugs and kisses. We had so much to catch up on, she said.

But nothing had changed in her apartment. The improvised wood-burning stove almost everybody has was still standing in the corner and the kitchen was almost empty. No coffee, no sugar, but a cake she had made especially for my return - a typical Sarajevo cake made of the plain cookies and powdered milk from humanitarian aid packets, sweetened with the last bit of sugar she had.

Samra asked me to cut the cake. And as I did, I noticed something strange: no trembling in my stomach.

″You know,″ I told a friend later, ″Sarajevo has the worst cakes in the world - but they are mine.″

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