Thursday, October 13, 2005

stari most

Sarajevo to Split: Dicing with Death 21/9/05

My time in Bosnia seemed to just fly by, but the bus from Sarajevo to Split on Croatia's Dalmatian coast was agonizingly slow and became more and more painfully tedious by the second. It shouldn't have been - looking out of the window occupied me for the first five hours with no problems. The road cuts down through the valleys, staying close to the Nevereta river, which is such a bewitching colour that I could never get tired of looking at it. You pass Roma men and women selling just about everything - thick, sticky honey, home pressed olive oil, bright rugs woven from the wool of their goats and big, fat bright red juicy tomatoes that you know have never been inside a greenhouse or been touched by pesticides. After Mostar, the landscapes start to subtley change, the velvet green of the forested montainsides fades out to rocky karste land, dotted with fennel and rosemary, leading up to limestone peaks that tower above you. Then you pass into the flat fertile plain that lie between Bosnia and Croatia. Sunflower fields broken up by bombed building and crumbling medieval forts that evidence the conflict of the recent and distant history. Definately not boring.
But then the airconditioning broke, and murmerings of rebellion began to break ou towards the back of the bus. The border control brought things to a fierce simmer, because it takes so fucking long. Initially, a guard gets on, and asks to see everyones passports, but naturally, the person who put their bag in the storage lockers under the bus first and as such is the most difficult to access has left their passport in their bag, and so the whole bus has to be unloaded, the bag emptied, the bag repacked, the bus repacked, the passport checked. You'd think that would be it, but then there's another check - our passports are taken into and office, and I'm imagining, given the time it took, crossreferenced with lists of every person wanted for any crime, in the world, from the middle ages to today. Then we get them back and they have to be handed back out to everyone - but the bus driver won't go till we've done it, in case one has been left behind. Only the Bosnian passports are given to a Japanese guy, the foreign ones to a Croatian woman so no one recognises the names being called out, because they have been maimed to the point of unintelligability by a foreign tongue.
I was so hot and fucked off by this point that I didn't have the will to be angry any more and just wanted to die, right there than have to endure the journey any more.
We finally moved on, and by the time we got back onto the Magistrala, the coastal road that runs high up, looking down along the Dalmatian coast, I was feeling rather chipper again, and decided to listen to a bit of music. One moment I'm singing along to the Supremes, wondering what it would be like to be as cool as Diana Ross (then, obviously not now), the next everyone is screaming, the brakes are making a noise they are not meant to before the bus grinds to a halt, facing out to sea, on the edge of a cliff, about 800m above the Adriatic.....
So in true Croatian style, the bus driver and the guys from the other car that was involved got out, yelled at each other a bit, then had a fag together. The police turned up, yelled a bit, they all stood and looked at the smashed up car and bus with their hands on their hips and nodded wisely, then had a fag. The policemen got a breathalizer out of the car, but the two drivers shrugged and waved them off, so the policeman decided to take their advice and not bother. Good job too, as the bus driver had had a cheeky Pelikovac to clam his nerves after the accident. Then they all had another ciggie and off we went, bumper trailing, leaving a trail of sparks behind us in the twilight.........................................

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

bosnia 15/9/05

bosnia blew me away. I've just realised what an awful slip of the tongue (finger?) that was, but I won't rewrite it. I only spent about a week there but I was treated more kindly there than almost anywhere else i have ever been in my whole life. And the country itself just takes your breath away.....deep, wooded valleys, dramatic mountains, turquoise rivers and beautiful old Ottoman towns. Which makes it all the more difficult to stomach the fact that between 1992 and 1995, 250 000 of it's people died as a result of the war. I didn't meet a single person my age who hadn't lost either one or both of their parents. But I'm not going to talk about the war, I'm biased and underqualified, and I don't know if I'll ever be able to get my head arond the concept of hating someone because of their ethnicity.
I met a guy on a bus (who lost his dad, his sister and his house in the war, but said that he 'couldn't imagine it any other way') and speaking with him provided me with one of the best insights into English culture and how we are seen abroad that I've ever had. He told me that the English are regarded as cold in Bosnia (an accusation I heard more than once there and in Croatia too) and I wanted so much to say that it wasn't true to him, but the more I thought about it, the more my defences stuck in my throat. All the questions he asked me made my lines of defence crumble 'Do you live with your parents?' No, I got out as soon as I can, even though I love them, because I felt like I needed to be independent. 'But you see them regularly?' Once every six weeks or so if I get the time. 'Do you really send your old people to institiutions?' Well, I wouldn't but it is the norm, yes. 'Did you and your family eat meals thogether when you did live with them?' No, my parents got home from work at nine, by which time I was in the pub. 'Where's your boyfriend?' I left him at home because he couldn't afford to come with me.
I can't defend my country, I can't even defend myself. The majority of us are isolated by the way we live, we get aour coffee to go, eat lunch out our desks, talk about how we have no time but spend our evenings in silence watching the TV. If we do go out the objective is to drink as much as we can, before 11. This might be a very negative take on life in England, that I know doesn't apply to everyone, but there is a truth in it. People seem to put themselves before everyone else, and realising that, and not being able to shake away that idea made me so sad that I didn't want to come back.
But then we spoke about the war. Sarajevo, Mostar, Srebrenica, Gorazde, words from news reports made real for me then and there. Call me naive, but it made me think that for all our faults in this country, people of different ethnicities co-exist, perhaps not in peace all the time, but we haven't had genocide like that on our soil.
We prefer to commit them elsewhere. But that's another story.
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