The City on Fire

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I’m taking a break from my vacation posts to fill everyone in on some serious happenings in my neck of the woods.  From what I understand from my compadres at home, Bosnia is not leading the six o’clock news each night.  Shocker.  You see, Bosnia is sort of the red headed stepchild of Europe.  So much so that for some time, even many Bosnians have seen themselves that way.  Call it a self fulfilling prophecy.  And as with all such prophecies, people eventually roll over and become that forever, or they rise up and demand more.  I think we are on the cusp of the Bosnian people making that crucial decision.

I am by no means a scholar of the Balkans, the former Yugoslavia or even the Siege.  What I am a scholar of is the people around me.  I love to hear their stories and know their hearts.  That is why Bosnia has become so personal to me.  And that is why when buildings started burning, I got very concerned.  Probably not in the way you might expect.  I have never lived in fear of my life or the lives of my children.  I have lived a charmed life and am very aware of it.  The majority of the world cannot say the same.  I also serve a powerful and awesome God.  I trust Him.  Full stop.  So, I know that as buildings start falling, I have an exit plan.  But not all the people I have come to like, love, respect, admire and cherish do.  So burning buildings in my backyard get my attention.

Depending on which articles you read, Bosnia has an unemployment rate of anywhere between 25% and 50%.  For the record, it’s much closer to 50%.  And that doesn’t include the “underemployed.”  You know, the pharmacist who cleans houses or the engineer who drives a taxi.  So, people are hungry- literally and figuratively.  This is also the single most overgoverned country in the world, that still uses a peace treaty from twenty years ago like it’s a permanent constitution.  And said government is also one of the most corrupt in Europe, if not the world.

Not too far from Sarajevo, is a town called Tuzla.  It is the industrial heart of Bosnia, at one time boasting many factories.  At the beginning of the month, another one of those factories was privatized and closed down, leaving hundreds of workers now unemployed.  They’d finally had enough, and government buildings were stormed and set on fire.  The unrest didn’t stay confined to Tuzla, but bled into Sarajevo, Mostar and Banja Luka.  In the blink of an eye, my city was on fire.  Traffic getting in and out of the city center was abysmal.  Schools closed early, and we were all told to stay home.  When the smoke cleared, this is what we saw.  (photo credits to my lovely husband who went down the next morning to scope out the damage)

Tram stop

Tram stop

Government building

Government building

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Strangely, this was the last of the burning in Sarajevo so far.  I say strange because usually protests of this nature begin peacefully and grow into violence.  Thus far, this has been the opposite.  Don’t get me wrong, there have been protests almost everyday since these pictures were taken.  But they have been peaceful as this group is getting organized and determining what they are actually fighting for.  It is my hope that they do organize and demand more.  That they demand their government serve the people of Bosnia, regardless of what “ethnicity” the leaders want them to attach themselves to.  That they demand a safe country, with jobs, stability and a future.  And more than anything, I hope this momentum continues and the everyday Bosnians that I have come to like, love, respect, admire and cherish will create a new prophecy for themselves.  One that is prosperous and honorable.  One that they can be proud of, free of fear and corruption.  Peace, prosperity and love.

 

 

 

Winter Vacation- Balkans Style (Part 1)

Let me begin with a big, “Hallelujah!”  Why, you ask?  We returned last week from a weeklong vacation with our amazing friends, without one episode of violent diarrhea, trip to an ER or handwashing Spidey underoos in the sink at a hotel.  Can I get an Amen?

Our trip began with a six hour drive from Sarajevo to Zagreb, Croatia.  If you look at a map, you’ll see that it really isn’t very far.  Unfortunately, there is no easy way out of Bosnia, so it’s slow going for the first half of the trip.  That is, until you reach the Bosnia/Croatia border and the heavens open up and a real highway appears!  Then it’s smooth sailing.

When traveling with nine people, five of whom are under the age of 8, flexibility is the name of the game.  Thankfully, these five kiddos are some of the best travelers you’ve ever met.  We stopped twice in six hours; one stop for lunch, one potty break.  And the only complaints about the squatty potty we stopped at came from your’s truly!

My only knowledge of Zagreb prior to our arrival was that they have H&M stores and a Gap.  You had me at H&M.  So, to say I was excited might be an understatement! But, more than the shopping, Zagreb is a beautiful city with so much charm.  We stayed at an old and amazingly gorgeous hotel called The Esplanade.  I’m not going to lie, I was a little concerned about bringing our brood to such a nice place.  Thankfully, Croatians are like Bosnians in that they have a strong and patient love for children.  Whew!  Dodged that bullet!

After a long trip in the car, the kids needed to run around like maniacs stretch their legs.  We walked around the downtown until we could walk no more!  There was a cute Christmas market that sold hot chocolate (to the kids delight), gluhwein (to the mom’s delight) and Austrian beer (to the daddy’s delight).  All was well in Zagreb that night!

The next morning, we had our first of several delicious breakfasts!  Lyla approved!

All smiles with pastries and yogurt!  She's quite a foodie these days!

All smiles with pastries and yogurt! She’s quite a foodie these days!

After breakfast, we strolled around town and headed for the Zagreb Cathedral.  To say it was breathtaking would be an understatement.

Zagreb Cathedral

Zagreb Cathedral

Wyatt and his buddy Hudson

Wyatt and his buddy Hudson

She spent a lot of time in her old jalopy of a stroller.  If you'd ever to know what it's like to wrestle an octopus, you are welcome to try to get her in it when she doesn't want to be.  Good times.

She spent a lot of time in her old jalopy of a stroller. If you’d ever like to know what it’s like to wrestle an octopus, you are welcome to try to get her in it when she doesn’t want to be. Good times.

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*sigh

*sigh

Christmas beauty

Christmas beauty

There was a beautiful fountain right outside the cathedral with gold angels that seemed to glow.  I may not be Catholic, but I can certainly appreciate their beautiful architecture.

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But as is par for the course with Catholic relics, with the beauty often comes a taste of the creepy.  Cool, but creepy.

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One of the things we often take for granted when living in America, is easy access to restaurants that are kid friendly.  In Europe, we always have a portable high chair in the car, as most eating establishments do not have them.  Crayons and kid menus are unheard of.  So, we began our quest to find someplace to eat that would be suitable for our party of nine.  Let’s just say that we did a lot of walking… and saw some beautiful things… and unable to find a restaurant that suited our needs, we ended up right where we started.  But, it was a great walk, and the reward at the end was REAL sausage!!  Mmmmmm!!

We passed this as I was looking for a cup of coffee to go (also something that is not normal in Europe).  When I did find a coffee shop, the man asked where I was from in America.  When I told him I was from Texas, he said he played the guitar and liked a guy Texas guitar player.  Had I ever heard of Stevie Ray Vaughn?  Ummm, yeah.  His name rings a bell.

We passed this as I was looking for a cup of coffee to go (also something that is not normal in Europe). When I did find a coffee shop, the man asked where I was from in America. When I told him I was from Texas, he said he played the guitar and liked a Texas guitar player. Had I ever heard of Stevie Ray Vaughn? Ummm, yeah. The name rings a bell.

This wall was so interesting to me.  It almost looked intentionally distressed.

This wall was so interesting to me. It almost looked intentionally distressed.

Fruit and Veggie market

Fruit and Veggie market

Back off, ladies!!  His heart belongs to his mama!!

Back off, ladies!! His heart belongs to his mama!!

One more of the cathedral.  I'll never tire of seeing such amazing architecture.

One more of the cathedral. I’ll never tire of seeing such amazing architecture.

I’m sure you’re wondering what happened to H&M.  Shockingly, we didn’t have time to shop.  But never fear!!  The last leg of our trip was another stop in Zagreb!  But more on that later!

Zagreb down… next post: Lake Bled.  Until then, vidimo se, cao, see you soon!

XOXOXO

Heather

Getting the Most Out of Mostar

As is par for the course, I am already behind!  Seeing as I took my sweet time setting up this blog, we’ve now had a multitude of experiences that are begging to be shared!  So, in no particular order, I am going to begin my most frequent game… Catch-up!

A few weeks ago we decided that we’d had enough of Sarajevo for a day.  We had been here a solid two months and never left the city.  That might not sound like a big deal to most.  After all, Sarajevo is a capital city, so it must be huge.  Not so.  There are amazing discoveries to be made here, but it is more like a really large village than a city.  And after two months of sitting in this bowl, we needed to get out.  We needed a break from the horrendous pollution and the dreary winter weather.  It was time to stretch our traveling legs.  So, we all piled in our car, and left for a day trip to Mostar.

But, in order to truly torture our kids, we had to stop along the way!  We had been told about an amazing furniture shop in a town called Konjic on the way to Mostar.  Rukotvorine didn’t disappoint.  Not only was the craftsmanship mind blowing, the man that was working the floor was about the coolest guy ever!  His English was about as good as our Bosnian, so we definitely had to rely on our trusty sign language to get our point across.  He did his best to show us around and explain how the furniture was made and what it all symbolized.  The boys were interested for a solid 3.5 seconds, so we spent a lot of time reminding them to look with their eyes and not their hands!  You’ll hear me say this a lot over the next couple of years, but one of my favorite things about Bosnians is their love of children.  You might be thinking, ‘Oh, I love kids too.’  But you’d be wrong.  You might love kids, but Bosnians LOVE kids!  All kids.  Big ones, little ones, babies.  And it isn’t just the women who love them.  The men are just as enamored with our little people as the women are.  Oh, and even the kids love kids!  You should see the attention Lyla gets when I am at either boys’ school.  But I digress.  So, this guy was no exception to the Kid-Love rule.   He cooed at the baby (and held her by the end of the visit) and rustled the boys’ hair.  And then, he did something that caught me by surprise.  He offered to take us back to the room that the furniture is made in.  Heck yeah, we want to go!  So, we all walk back to this little, sawdust filled room to see about a half dozen men, some sitting, some standing, all creating works of art.  Then, one of the men patted his leg and invited Wyatt to come sit on his lap as he whittled away on a piece of wood.  And wouldn’t you know, my super shy guy went right over.  Not only did he get to see these creations being made first hand, the gentleman let Wyatt do the work.  Here is what it looked like.

I'd say Wyatt was pretty thrilled!

I’d say Wyatt was pretty thrilled!

His hands seem so little next to this craftsman's.

His hands seem so little next to this craftsman’s.

After Konjic, I knew this was going to be a great day!  We hopped back into the car and headed south to Mostar.

Here are some important facts about Mostar.  

It is one of the largest cities in Bosnia.  One of the most recognizable architectural landmarks of Bosnian culture is in Mostar: Stari Most.  This bridge was built in the 16th century by the Ottomans connecting two parts of the city over the Neretva River.  It was breathtaking.  But more importantly, it was of the utmost cultural importance to the people of Bosnia.  So, during the war, the Serbs knew that it would be a devastating blow to the morale of the Bosnian Muslims (not to mention their supply line) if it were destroyed.  And destroyed, it was.  But, if there is anything I am learning about the Bosnian people, there isn’t much that will keep them down for good.  So, with the financial help of a few other countries, Stari Most was rebuilt using as many of the original bricks as possible and reopened in 2004.

Stari Most

Besides the bridge, Mostar has an amazing “old town” paved with cobblestone (not the most stroller friendly, in case you’re wondering), and lined with vendors that sell everything from touristy trinkets, to pashmina shawls, to one-of-a-kind artwork.

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During the war, for about 9 months in 1993, Mostar was under siege.  They were cut off from food and electricity.  Constant shelling and snipers kept people in their homes all day and night, leaving only to get water.  As an American, it is incredibly difficult to imagine life like this.  It goes against everything I know.  Yet, walking the streets of Mostar (just like in Sarajevo) there are constant reminders that in my own lifetime, there were people being killed, tortured and raped daily for the “crime” of being ethnically Muslim.  It is eerie to see so many cemeteries all over the city with one glaring detail in common… the death dates all say 1993, 1994, 1993, 1995, 1994… It’s disturbing to say the least.  But, I’ll get into the real grit of the war in a future post.

Mostar is just one of the places that you have to see.  It has character, culture and quality that can’t be found anywhere else.  It also has crazy people that jump off the bridge for fun!  The boys thoroughly enjoyed that!

This was just the first of what I am sure will be several trips to Mostar.  Here are some other pictures of our day there.

The boys on Stari Most

The boys on Stari Most

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One day, the kids will appreciate the places they’ve been.

This scraggly guy was napping on the bridge.

This scraggly guy was napping on the bridge.

This is the delivery vehicle for the little cafe we had lunch at.

The delivery vehicle for the little cafe we had lunch at.

This is a long video,  about 45 minutes, but if you are at all interested in seeing what Mostar looked like during the war, I highly recommend it.  I think it’s important to remember what this country has gone through.  While I was playing volleyball and getting my hair done for school dances, Bosnians were literally fighting for their lives.  And not just soldiers.  Kids, teenagers, grandparents.  Sometimes, when you’re American, it’s easy to forget what the rest of the world is going through, because, well, it’s easy to live in America.  Really easy.  Take a moment to read up on the news around the world.  I promise you, where the President vacationed or who marries whom won’t seem like such a big deal anymore.

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