Whenever I get back from one of my trips I always spend the first week at home thinking back to what I was doing a week ago. One week ago today I walked with an Exodus group in the mountains near Sarajevo to the village of Lukomir which, at 1,500 metres above sea level, is the highest and most isolated village in Bosnia Herzegovina. It is also the only village in the region to have escaped the destruction that came with the war in the 1990s and, with its unique stone homes with cherry-wood roof tiles, it looks spectacularly beautiful though starkly remote.
Here we were invited into the home of some shepherds. On this cold, grey day it was snowing a little outside but inside the house was warm and we were made even warmer by the hospitality of our hostess Saliha, and her mother Rahima. Saliha never stopped smiling as she served us traditional Bosnian coffee, hot doughy spirals of bread containing cheese or potato and glasses of thick, rich cow’s milk. This was the best episode of Come Dine With Me I had ever seen and the lovely lady finished off the proceedings by selling us brightly coloured socks she had knitted herself from wool she had spun herself from sheep she had raised and shawn herself. This simple stone built house furnished and decorated with the produce of the mountain and its animals had all the opulence of a mansion for me and Saliha’s lovely warm smile was enough to melt the snow that flurried outside. I felt like I was a million miles from my own world but completely at home.
This had been one of the high points of a wonderful trip. A trip on which I had made many new friends from all four corners of the world and Luton and a trip on which I had learnt many new things.
I learnt that Bosnia Herzegovina is a beautiful, mountainous country made up almost entirely of limestone, carved up by deep valleys, bejewelled with glistening lakes, carpeted with primeval forests and populated by very kind, warm-hearted and determined people living in amazingly well preserved old towns, villages and cities, each steeped in history and culture, beauty and atmosphere.
Listening to first hand accounts of people who actually witnessed it, I learned about the horrific war that took place there in the 1990s and saw residual traces of the structural damage that was done. I learned of how the world turned its back on Bosnia during those dark and evil days. It is impossible to measure the damage done to the Bosnian people during that time. I saw the bullet holes in the walls of buildings all over Sarajevo and Mostar and thought to myself, in a desperate kind of hope, that each represented a shot that hadn’t hit and injured or killed someone and I saw photographs and videos of people suffering that twisted my gut and tore at my conscience.
At Galerija 11/07/95
exhibiting photographs from the trajedy of Srebrenica,
I stood for several minutes and looked at this image
and I felt wretched.
I learned that a country can emerge from such a disaster and prosper. Bosnia Herzegovina isn’t the most prosperous of countries today but, by comparison to its situation in the 1990s, it has made enormous strides forward. On more than one occasion I was thanked for going there and spending my money there because for many Bosnians life is still very hard, so they appreciate whatever support the rest of the world can give them. I fell in love with the place and wanted to spend every penny I had there.
The complexity of the ethnic mix in Bosnia is quite remarkable, resulting in a rich diversity of architecture, food and music. I’ll never forget walking the streets of Sarajevo at night, taking in the sights of the various illuminated churches, synagogues and mosques, inhaling the tempting aromas escaping from the myriad of Turkish and European eating houses and falling in and out of Bosnian bars, Turkish bars, bars with teapots in the toilets, Mexican bars and Irish bars.
I learned that the Bosnian word for beer is pivo.
I learned that the Australian word for just about anything you want to say is the first syllable of the English word for whatever you want to say suffixed with an ‘o’.
I learned that traces of Bosnian flirting can be found in every sentence ever uttered by a Bosnian.
I learned that rubber underwear can cause terrible chafing if worn whilst climbing Maglic, Bosnia's highest peak at 2,386 metres.
I learned that the Irish phrase meaning ‘I’m very sorry but I do not agree with your opinion’ is ‘Yer tarkan shoyte.’
The time I had on this trip was absolutely bloody marvellous and made even more special by our extremely friendly, funny and knowledgeable guides, Alen and Srdjan. In the future I will always look out for our host nation in everything they do, hoping they win, especially in the FIFA World Cup and in the Eurovision Song Contest. My fellow travelling companions did a lot to make the adventure a good one too but I can’t say I have the same passion for their countries as I can’t imagine Australia, Scotland, Canada or Luton ever winning the World Cup or Eurovision . . . though Ireland are well known for having a good crack at the former and are legends in the latter.
But finally, I’d like to say . . .
Laku noć Bosna i Hercegovina. Volim te.