i could always talk about it matter-of-factly, as if it wasn't my own life.
what did i think about it? then, i read too many books and i thought it a tragedy of epic proportions worthy of a very long russian novel. or - even better - some pretentious french poetry. oh la bruit terrible de la guerre, and all that. when i came over, i felt like stopping people in the street to tell them that in sarajevo, someone, at that very moment, is probably getting their lung punctured by a sniper, or being decapitated by a mortar shell, or just plain old dying in any one of the many banal and ingenious ways humans have found to kill each other.
instead, i said nothing. i drank tea, and bitter, and india pale ale, i watched eastenders, talked about the weather, joined the library, got to like apple sauce with roast pork and my own company, tried scones and muffins and cream teas, learnt slang and picked up pointless facts about childrens tv or 80s dinner party dishes that would make me less obviously foreign, and generally just got on with it as best i could. now, i think shit happens, it's just a bit of a bummer than shit happened to me. but shit happens everywhere, all the time, and i should count myself lucky. and i genuinely do.
but yes, it was stressful. one morning you had your clothes laid out over the dining room chair to go to lectures (white levi's (this was 1992, give me a break), a grey jersey top, mum's italian chocolate brown suede satchel with a broken zip), and the next night you lie in bed fully clothed wondering if the desk between you and the window and the flimsy headboard could in fact offer any protection against mortar fire. i later found out that no, they most definitely wouldn't: after we left, a piece of shrapnel from a shell falling on the tram tracks outside our block of flats entered the bedroom, and my brother's wardrobe, where it richocheted around crazily before getting tangled in his sport socks. that always struck me as funny - a prosaic end for something that can kill you pretty much instantly.
it wouldn't have crossed my mind in a million years that this would go on for years, and that soon i would be gone, and not come back.
this year's soundtrack to departure: beirut's postcards from italy http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RjzVbXeD_8E