Pozdrav iz Sarajeva! Cat Norman Tahirović here. I spent my childhood in Nigeria where my parents worked as medical missionaries until the early 2000’s. In true TCK form, I grew up to later try out life in back in the USA, then in China, Czech Republic, and Germany while building a two-pronged career in photography and hospitality. In 2013, I left the life of movement to settle in Bosnia and Herzegovina where I opened The Doctor’s House boutique hostel. I’m now living life happily ever after here with my loving husband Irfan. Follow my love affair with Sarajevo on Instagram!
No matter where in the world I’ve lived, I’ve always been able to maintain some version of this foundational corner stone of life: Start every day with a good cup of coffee. As small business owner of a boutique hostel, I use the the coffee for long-term sustenance and get my the wake up jolt from the day’s emails and bookings already awaiting me in my inbox. When I have the luxury, I like to restore order virtually at my cozy kitchen table. Today is Kurban Bajram (Eid al-Adha) and I’ve got the morning away from the hostel to enjoy the holiday with my family here. Kitchen table it is today!
Next stop: A bakery. When the Ottoman Empire ruled Bosnia, they built their cities on the principle that every man should be within walking distance of a mosque, a water source, and a bakery. Thanks to that, one never has to go far to fill up on flakey pastries and hearty breads!
My selection for today is a small burek. Think of any classic meat pie… but this one is better and greasier. I decided to expand my breakfast stroll this morning to include a loop around town so I can show you all around while picking up some flowers to give my mother-in-law. As today is a Muslim holiday, you’ll get a lot of info and images that highlight the predominate Muslim population of Sarajevo and their traditions. Let the cathedral in the background here be a head-nod to you to look up Sarajevo’s intensely rich history of religious tolerance and togetherness. Stories await to be told from a Catholic, Orthodox, and Jewish perspective as well!
Nothing better to wash down breakfast than a sip of the fresh water that pours from fountain at the entrance of each mosque. This fountain at the main mosque – Gazi-Husrev Beg – is unique in that it has two taps. Legend has it that if you drink from one, you will always return to Sarajevo, and if from the other, that you will marry here. I’ve been guzzling from both since I got here!
Sebilj. Sarajevo’s famous pigeon square fountain. There is no more iconic site in the city than this and it’s just a 10 minute walk away. Don’t be fooled by the replica you can find in St. Louis! THIS ONE is the real deal!
Here we are at the entrance to the city and you can see the local Islamic organization has recognized the holiday with the festival greeting for all – “Bajram Šerif Mubarek Olsun!” In the background our beloved trams, donated from all over the world after the war to help the city get back on her feet, make their lazy loop around Vijećnica, also only recently rebuilt after it’s destruction in the 90’s.
Now it’s time for lunchtime at the Tahirovic’s! I got my flowers, walked back home and got my husband, and away we went to visit his parents and sister for lunch. My mother-in-law fixed up đuveč, dolma, homemade buttermilk, and, of course, baklava for dessert! A holiday is not a holiday if there isn’t baklava.
I met my husband Irfan on the first day I arrived to the city with my business plan in mind. Simple to say it was love at first sight and it wasn’t long before we married. He and his family have welcomed me with open arms into their lives here. It’s a relationship that continues to unfold as I slowly learn more and more Bosnian to communicate with his parents directly instead of through Irfan and his sister Maida’s patient translations! Shameless plug – that handsome bearded man of mine plays with a band called Divanhana who is touted internationally as a world music band that is bringing the Balkans back together. Proud wife here!
In Islam, if a family has been blessed to have enough means, they should purchase a sheep to slaughter during Kurban Bajram. We agreed as a family that we all have a lot to thank God for this year so we went in together to reserve a sheep. The plan was to pick it up after our lunch. I expected to just pick up pre-prepared meat, but, oh no, it was not so simple! You actually get to watch the slaughter and even have the opportunity to say your own prayers as it is killed if you want!
When we arrived, the butcher admitted to a small delay, so what I thought was just a quick pick-up turned out to be a 3 hour experience of waiting our turn watching the slaughters with others while the butcher’s wife and children served snacks and drinks. This is truly one of the aspects of Sarajevo that captures the heart. Though it’s a thriving cultural center and European capital, within the city limits you still have evidence of thousands of years of history and the farm life!
Once you get your meat home,the traditions continue to expand. A third of the meat should be kept for tasty home-cooking (recipe help here, anyone??), a third should be given to friends and relatives, and a third should be given to the poor. My husband went with his family to distribute the meat as gifts while I rushed back up to the hostel to man the evening shift.
My hostel. My baby. A poured my heart and talents into The Doctor’s House hostel and it’s proved a great success (…and a great deal of work, I might add!). I dedicated the hostel to doctors like my father who dedicated their lives to be in ‘helping professions’. With the name as a reminder, we do our best to make sure our hostel also helps our community here – whether that means supporting local business or helping travelers discover the best of Sarajevo.
Guilty admission: I did not take this photo yesterday. We’re still in the high-season so even our best looking room is full of backpacks and clutter. When I’m on-site, time is spent checking people in and out, cleaning, tidying, plant watering, file updating, money counting, laundry loading, and as much as I can, with guest interaction. Let this photo serve as a testimony to what we built and what kind of rooms have given us that #1 rating!
By far the best (and, admittedly, sometimes the worst) part of this job is our guests. We are lucky to have travelers from all over the world and even in just our 3rd year open, we already have a lot returning for second or third times. (There is somethin’ about that fountain, I’m tellin’ ya!) Sarah in this photo on the left has become a part of the family here, going from guest to volunteer and now just beautiful friend who appears as often as she needs to take breaks from her work with the refugees from Syria still waiting in camps in different parts of the region. Recep on the right is a Turkish guest who generously bought baklava so that all the guests could share with him as he celebrates Eid al-Adha today away from home. This family atmosphere warms the heart and encourages us to always give our best back to our guests who come with open hearts towards us and the city!
So. This is my day. Perhaps it was a little bloodier and well-fed than most, but honestly not that a-typical. Welcome to Sarajevo… the meeting point of cultures!