Thursday, March 26, 2009

BiH: Pines, Limuns and Turkish Delights

Mostar from the top of a Minaret, me, fiona and virgil

scooter in our hotel in mostar...
A view of Dubrovnik from atop the wall.

Mostar; Savski Most (old bridge)
The Pigeons of Sarajevo 
Sanski Most, the view from morning coffee
From the bus, somewhere between Sanski Most and Sarajevo. 

Pre-Script: This very long and may be rather boring, it is a brief documentation of our week long trip through Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Its Thursday morning here in Zagreb and the sun is out shining and my room is a mess with my bags in the middle process of un-packing. Last night I returned from a weeklong excursion into Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). BiH is one state but is divided into two entities that function almost entirely independently. There is the Republic of Srbska, and the Federation. The first day we went to Banja Luka, a city in the republic. Banja Luka is almost completely Serbian ethnically. While there we met with Mr. Igor Stojanovic, who runs a local NGO. While extremely informative he was also very pessimistic, unsure how long a state, that isn’t really a state could exists with the system in BiH. The city was nice, calm, and dotted with orthodox churches. We didn’t spend the night in Banja Luka but instead drove a short ways to Sanski Most, a city not too far from Banja Luka but located in the second independent entity, the Federation. The hillside was dotted with small villages, sheep, a few cows here and there and trees painted white to protect them from the sun. On arriving in Sanski Most we checked in and visited the peace building center with Vahidin. Vahidin is an Imam, in Islam and I have to say he is one of the most peaceful people I have ever met. He is currently running a program to help integrate children and adults from different ethnic backgrounds and to allow people to start to forgive on another for what happened in Bosnia (for example, the town Sanski Most, which Vahidin was from had been almost entirely ethnically cleansed by Serb forces in the 1990s, Vahidin and many others have returned only within the last ten years). On our walk through the city Vahidin took us into his mosque, to the peacebilding center and over some of the 9 rivers that flow through sanski most. The next day we had a workshop with Vahidin, one that he does with people from this region. Afterwards everyone felt very at peace, with themselves, and with the people in our group. (I know I know, that’s hokey, but its true! Vahidin just oozed this calming presence… it was super)

So we started out that same day for Sarajevo, and this drive was one of my favorite parts of the trip. In our chunky bus we started to travel up through the mountains, valleys and tiny towns of Bosnia. At one point it was raining where we were in our bus but snowing only a few feet above us, and at points we entered parts of the mountains where snow covered pines created a solid blanket over the mountains. Rising from the valleys you could spot the flocks of sheep and the tall minarets of village mosques. Eventually we made it to Sarajevo, a city which most of you are probably familiar with. Sarajevo is slipped in between two mountains and has a river that runs through the middle. It is most well know for three events, the assassination of Franz Ferdinand by the black hand, which happened on the bridge right outside my hotel and was the trigger for WWI, the winter Olympics that were help in Sarajevo and the Siege of Sarajevo that lasted almost 4 whole years. What amazed me about Sarajevo today is how the houses climb up the sides of the mountains and the mix of people that are still walking it’s streets today. We ate fabulous food in tiny restaurants where the kitchens are like grandmas kitchen, tiny with an old fashioned stove and an oven. You wonder how such fabulous dished appear out of an everyday kitchen. On small street s lined with shops there are still copper workers and blacksmiths and shoemakers. These shops, for the most part, are still hand making their own goods, although you cant deny the feeling that is it seems a bit faked for tourism. Sarajevo has held on to a lot more of the turksih influence than any other of the cities we have been too. In cafes you get Turkish coffee, which they call Bosnian coffee. It all comes on a little plate with sugar cubes and a Turkish delight on the side. You can also buy Turkish style rugs and coffee pots and all those kinds of things on the streets as well… including sheep skins… While in Sarajevo we visited the local War Crime Court and watched part of a trail happening via live feed, we had lecture about LGBT rights and a first hand account of Srebenica, which was emotionally draining and exhausting. The man who spoke to us lost his mother, father and brother. He is currently in the process of suing the UN for the inaction and in some ways assistance in the Srebenica massacre. Along the same lines we also visited the hand-dug tunnel, which while Sarajevo was under siege was the only safe route to bring food o other goods into the city. It is hard to image, as you walk around the streets of Sarajevo today that the majority of people walking around you had once worried about getting enough food or dodging snipers or anything of that sort that once was everyday existence. Saturday night we had a drumming workshop with some drummers from Sarajevo… and it was really fun and a good stress relief and pretty hilarious, I played the bells. On our last night in Sarajevo a few of us climbed onto the roof of our hotel (I know, probably not what we were supposed to do) and watched the sunset in between the mountains. As we were sitting there the call to prayer (which happens 5 times a day) happened and from all the minarets of all the mosques (which were a lot) we heard men singing the prayer into the night. I think their voices literally resonated through out the city. As I was sitting there I had to think about how incredible it was a city could survive so much.
The next day we left for Mostar, a town farther south more Mediterranean in climate. Mostar is the home of the hold bridge, which has become iconic of the war that happened here. The bridge was symbolic of connecting the Muslim and Croatian neighborhoods of Mostar, even though it really doesn’t, and was destroyed initially during the war. The city is now divided and the children of Muslims and the Children of Croatians do not even attend school at the same time, even though it is in the same building. There is a street that serves as the dividing line. Aside from the political and social problems present the city is really beautiful, with lots of white rocks and white buildings and streets made of cobblestones that are slick in the rain. Fiona and I ate dinner in an adorable restaurant in which I ate lobster pasta… yum yum and calamari. Only to my shock the calamari still had their eyeballs, so I had to give those to Fiona to eat. The next day we were off to Dubrovnik, the walled city on the southern most coastlines of Croatia. Dubrovnik is truly a tourist trap but since tourist season hasn’t started the city of just sprinkled with the people who live there and a few school groups. Since I have en here I had doubted the beauty of Dubrovnik, which everyone always tells you, “you have to visit”. Well, now I agree. The city is breathtaking, the weather is fabulous and the Adriatic sea is the most clear beautiful body of water I have ever seen. We dipped our toes in the Adriatic, ate fresh fresh sea food and walked the top of the wall the encircles the city and finished the day with hazelnut ice cream. The day culminated in us trying to pick an orange. After a lot of lifting and attempted tree climbing a very tall boy walked up and said “maybe I can help’ at which point he leaped into the air and snagged us an orange, which turned out to be terrible bitter. We headed to the airport and caught our flight back to Zagreb, leaving the palm trees, orange trees, and red roofs, behind.