"...for we know not what."

Sarajevo Olympic Bobsled Remains

Sitting on a balcony in Sarajevo, delighting in the embrace of soft, warm air, my Bosnian host described with animation his deep-running desire to travel to Iceland. His eyes lit up as he spoke of shimming glaciers and steaming hot springs. He talked in admiration of the few Icelandic visitors he’d come to know and he got “goose spots” when we started musing over seeing the northern lights. 

“In German, there is a word. This word is Sehnsucht. You know it?”, he asked, with the charming poignancy of a Slavic-speaker.

No, I shook my head.

“There is no real translation for this word. It is something like... a longing. A very deep longing for something. Even if you do not what this something’s to be.”

An unfamiliar word, but all too familiar meaning. 



Two days later in Mostar, I lay by the teal, meandering water of the river Hdslakdj, reveling in kisses of the sun’s rays and taking in views of the fairytale landscape before me. I opened my copy of “Levels Of Life” by Julian Barnes and continued to read, when I reached the following passage:

“There is a German word, Sehnucht. The word has no English equivalent, but is generally described as a longing for something.  C.S. Lewis once defined the word as ‘an inconsolable longing in the human heart for we know not what.”

I re-read it a few times to ensure my eyes weren’t playing tricks on me, then slowly put the book aside.

Then, I laughed. Out loud. To myself; to the world.

Mostar - A Pilot's Daughter

I know these little (or sometimes, not so little) signs now. I find them all sorts of unexpected corners of my journey. Usually, right at the precise moment I’ll recognize them. 

I could describe them as a series of road signs. They seem to either affirm the direction I’m taking, or advise me to take a quick, hard left and re-route.

Sometimes the sign says something warm and witty, like  "3 km to ‘Finally Getting It Right’ ”, or “Welcome to your very own heart song.”.

In other instances, they shout urgent warnings or disapproval. “Make a U-Turn. Now. And Don’t Come Back.”

Sometimes they’re not even in English. Those ones aren’t my favorite…

What I’m trying to to get at is that since I’ve chosen to keep my eyes open, life seems to eager to show around. 

It seems to want to guide me. Sometimes to comfort me, encourage me, or even scold me.

It seems that when I veer off course, it's only because I guilelessly decide that I somehow know better. That the universe must not know what it’s talking about. That “serendipity” or “coincidence” are just random events to be tossed aside carelessly, without any consideration.

But when I stop and consider that, perhaps, I couldn’t possibly know better. That maybe words like fate, kismet, or destiny were invented for a reason…I have to tell you, things get a whole lot easier.

I’ve never been much of a fan of logic when it comes to reasoning your way through life. If I personally allowed logic to make my decisions, I would most likely be coming home from a dead-end job to an even deader relationship, and trying to decide which desk job I would be least miserable at. Not that there’s anything wrong with desks - quite handy indeed when you’re a writer, but you get my drift…



Instead, I’m at 35,000 feet, cruising away from one of the most fulfilling destinations I’ve reached yet, with a camera full of memories and fingers full of inspiration. Logic would never, in eight dynasties, suggested I go search for peace and clarity in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Honestly. But something else did. My gut? Perhaps.. Random occurrence? Doubtful. 

Whatever it was, I listened. I’ve learned to listen. Of course, it’s inevitable that my two cynical friends Doubt and Fear will stroll along and have to give their two cents on things. But for lack of a better expression, b*tches be b*tches. What did those two ever do for me anyways?  

So Bosnia it was. 

With some research and a little healthy precaution, I finalized my decision and left Berlin behind. 

Sometimes you arrive in a new place and it’s a slow burn - you’re not sure what to think and it takes time to develop a good sense or opinion. 

Within approximately four minutes of being in Bosnia, I was pretty certain I was falling in love. Ass over tea kettle kind of falling. 

Now to be fair, I may have a tendency to be a bit fiery and fickle when it comes to matters of the heart... but nevertheless, the heart spoke.

Which brings me back to listening. 

This my friends is truly the key to actually living the adventures you’ve always dreamed of. 

Being on the road with nothing but a backpack, a few credit cards and a pocketful of dreams, I’m essentially forced to listen. I could google most beautiful cities in Europe, stick to my lonely planet recommendations, or tag along to wherever the person sleeping in the top bunk is headed. It would be a nice trip still, I’m sure. But if you’re searching for something more, something that runs a bit deeper, only you can pull the trigger.

The night before arriving in Sarajevo, I was sipping a beer, staring aimlessly at the flights departing the next day - doubting the little voice inside pushing for Bosnia.

One of the guys working at the hostel came over and asked me where I had decided to head to next.

“I have no idea…. Well, I dunno, maybe… I mean...I think I actually want to go to Bosnia.”

“Bosnia?!! Why in god’s name would you want to go to Bosnia?!”

“Uhh… Well, I mean, it looks gorgeous.. and it’s off the beaten track, ya know?”

“Right, but what about, ya know, like the million war crimes and all that sh*t?”

“…. Um. Ya, the war’s over. Been over a while now…”

Mosque at Dusk - A Pilot's Daughter

Now, no offense to what I’m sure was a well meaning, maybe even concerned guy, but come on. I mean, really?

That’s what happens when you travel with your eyes closed. You can check off an olympic sized list of destinations and not learn a single thing about the world and what’s happening around you.

You can never know a place until you’re there. Only when you breathe the air, shake hands with the people, and wander the streets will a country reveal it’s truth to you. You cannot know it from afar. But you can long for it…

As I watched a my Bosnian friend’s eyes lacquer with a light mist of tears, speaking of one day touching down in the frost bitten hills of Iceland, I knew how truly possible it is to profoundly long for something. Even when we have no idea what it is. 

In Germany, I found my Sehnsucht, and in Bosnia I found out what for. 

Click on the photo below to see more shots from this unbelievably beautiful country! 

Helen HaydenComment