What attracted Bill Carter, a guy from Chico, California to Bosnia during the 1992-1996 Siege of Sarajevo?

Bill wrote Fools Rush In in 2005 and it is one of the most intense memoirs I’ve read. A search for release from grief drove him to board an aid bus to Sarajevo, to die if that’s what happened, to save others if that’s what happened, or to get U2 to broadcast the Sarajevan’s struggle for survival, as fate would have it. All but his death actually occurred.

How did Bill end up in this extreme situation, evading sniper’s bullets that were not exactly meant for him? Partly a subconscious death wish after losing his deeply loved fiancée to a car accident, and partly his extreme selflessness that directed him to do anything necessary to help. It is an interesting dichotomy. When a person loses their ego, a sense of needing something for themselves, what are they capable of? In his case, something extraordinary. The satellite uplinks broadcast on a huge screen at U2’s “Zoo TV” tour happened because of him. You could even say he helped stop the war.

I had the luck of meeting Bill Carter at a Writers With Drinks literary event in San Francisco. I was still processing my 6 weeks traveling in the Balkans and our conversation couldn’t have been more timely. How do people survive through a war like that? How do they go on? He also made Miss Sarajevo, a film I have yet to see. The title is taken from the beauty pageants that went on underground while the bombing went on above.

Map of the frontline, based on the 1984 Olympics map

Sarajevo's frontline during the Seige

Sarajevo impacted me like no other city. Traditionally a model city where Muslims, Croats, Jews, Christians intermarried and did not label people by their religions, it is the true region where East Meets West. A ancient city that has hosted everyone from weary Arabian nomads to 1984 Winter Olympiads, Sarajevo feels like a city that survived. During the Siege, they planted vegetables in window boxes. They hid in their basements. They braved bullets to get drinking water each day. They drank, they partied, they fought.

I will never forget speaking with an ex-Bosnian soldier, now a tour guide, who was about 15 when the war broke out. “There was no choice. If you were living in Sarajevo at this time you either fought as a citizen or you joined the army.” He was shot twice. He could have had a military career, but he decided to give tours of the Sarajevo Tunnel to make sure people keep talking about what happened there. The adolescents who survived the Siege are now 30-somethings deciding the future of Sarajevo, of which Bill Carter is now an honorary citizen. Bill told me, “It’s odd. People don’t exactly miss the war, but they miss the way that people came together to help each other. The intensity of surviving, of living life each day.”