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Thursday, February 12, 2009

Bosnia in Herzegovina and Croatia

This past week Jayne attended a conference organized by her Conflict Managment program about the conflict mainly IN Bosnia Herzegovina, but involving Serbians, Bosnians, and Croatians. Turns out it was a religious and culture driven war with Serbia, an orthodox country, attempting to purge the area of Islam and create a vast empire out of the former Yugoslavia. They had had this idea for a while but with the first and second world wars they had to put it on hold.

I, not being able to attend the conference, waited a few days back in Bologna and then started out to travel to Sarajevo, on my own, and join the group once they had finished up. Perhaps you're already thinking, small town Amerian girl, crazy Liz, travelling on her own in the big bad world, what with movies like Hostel and Taken mounting fears for this kind of activity. This could be bad. Well, luckily, there were only two hiccups in my plan. First, I arrived in Ancona a day earlier than I should have, I walked around basically all day with my backpack until I finally figured this out. I stayed in a hotel and all was well. The second, as soon as I did depart on the ferry for Split, Croatia I realized that these were going to be some stormy seas and that I was not going to be able to stand it, or even just stand in general. The boat was rocking, pitching, and heaving so much that there were times when the floor disappeared from under my feet. I was sick most of the night and I was only able to sleep once I could keep down a dramamine. The best part about travelling alone was meeting a wonderful young woman from Louisiana on the bus from Split to Sarajevo. She had met a Bosniak man in Rome during a program in International Crisis Management and now she was going to meet his family. Talking to her and getting some inside tips was great and she and her very kind boyfriend dropped me off at the hotel where Jayne and the rest of the crew were staying.

So in the early 90's the scene unfolds: the capital city of Sarajevo is a geographic bowl and the serbian armies are able to surround and occupy the high-ground, leaving the people in the city helpless targets. They would bomb daily and would position snipers to shoot pedestrians sometimes, and sometimes not, so you never were sure when you went out to get your bread or water, if you were going to be hit that day. They aimed for civic buildings, historical sites, and seemingly any building. Last week our scene unfolds: Still to this day the facades of buildings and houses are riddled with bullet holes and holes from shrapnel. In sarajevo the casualties were so high and in a consentrated time, they were forced to turn all the city parks and gardens into cemetaries, everywhere you look around the city all green spaces are stuck full of white grave markers. Most of the range of years are 19something to 1994 or 1995. This war lasted for about 4 years.

We visited a town south of Sarajevo, Mostar. Not being the capital also means not receiving a lot of funding and post-war recovery aid. In the main area of town, which was also the front line between the muslims and the catholics (croatians are catholic) there were STILL skeletons of 10 story office buildings standing as if there had been an apocalyptic event. I guess there had been. However, they did rebuild the old bridge and the old town area of the city. The old town or "stari grad" as it was called was beautiful with a feeling of medieval times. Very photogenic. We visited a school, one of the only in Bosnia, who is integrating the kids under a single roof. An International World College with the International Baccelaureate curriculum. There is also one in New Mexico, maybe you know of it. It was incredibly poignant to talk with the young people. If I ever doubted that the youth are the eyes and way to the future I'm sure of it now. Our greatest hope in life is to encourage them and help build their character to have a few very important pieces in mind. I truly do believe this.

We finished up the journey with a relaxing visit to a dead tourist town, its february, cold and windy, rainy. Nobody was there and most things were closed. It was ok, i was out of money anyway, Dubruvnik, Croatia. Here we mostly sat and watched the beautiful green-blue waves crash on the amazing yellow-orange rocks. It was tranquil and a great way to introspect after the intense experience in Bosnia.

Food and Drink: this category got 4 stars in Bosnia for honestly cooked, honestly priced, humble dishes of a culture that is truly the gateway between the east and west. The coffee! Mama mia, they had "turkish" coffee which involves a beautiful copper pot, a few cuplettes and some sugar. I purchased a pot like this for myself along with a hand grinder! Just the size to take on trail, really you've got to see this thing. The main dish is called cevapcici, its a beef/lamb/sometimes pork seasoned meat grilled log basically that is eaten on a bed of chopped raw onions with a flat bread that is light and warm, sort of pita. Very humble, very delicious. Also fond of toothpicks and skewers they often have kebabs of just about anything, they wrap things in cabbage alot and I even saw some grape leaves, could have been dolmas, i'm not 100%. Domestic beer was good and cheap, I think around 50 euro cents for a pint or bottle.

Croatia gets 2 stars. Way overpriced and lackluster. We're smack dab on the Adriatic. Jayne orders fish soup and gets a tiny bowl of greasy water with rice. I ordered a Tuna salad thinking something like tuna steak on a salad would arrive, I mean is was about 20 euro. I get a bed of iceburg with an emptied can of chunk light nastiness stinkin up the place, and we were at the nicest restaurant in the old town. it was truly a shame. Luckily we were in an apartment right above the pekara, or bread shop. I made sure to load up on the chocolate filled loaves of bread. It seemed odd to be walking with an uncut loaf of wonderbread just mowing down on it. But when in Croatia...

Really, it was unforgettable. I will never forget what I had seen there and I would encourage anyone to travel there. There is so much to see and experience. It was a complete awareness enhancer to see Muslims that looked, dressed, and partied just like me. European muslims don't really enter the mind of americans when they are saying how scared they are of muslims or how most of the problems in the world come from muslims. I had never before immagined what I saw in Bosnia Herzegovina.