homejournalphotoscontact

How many metres to the pfennig?

Welcome to Sarajevo! Well, ok, Mostar. I have been in-country for only three days and have already blown through Sarajevo and am now in Mostar, in Hercegovina, in the south. Impressions have been hard to make as the culture-shock has not yet set in and the jet-lag has not yet worn off, but so far, so very interesting.

I left Montreal Sunday afternoon after a rough weekend of going out and making myself desperately hungover - parting can be such sweet sorrow - and headed to the airport with my four co-working compatriots, Eric, Rana, Karima and Maxime. We hopped on a SwissAir flight and made our way comfortably to Zurich. Landing at 6 am (midnight Montreal time), we had six more hours to spend walking as over-tired zombies through the city while we waited for our connection.

I had a coffee with a Swiss friend I had made in Bolivia and we just perused the city. As part of a cultural exhibit, businesses all over the downtown area have commissioned artists to make specially designed benches in front of nearly all of the stores; there must be hundreds of benches throughout the city. What struck me as funny was that the Swiss, renowned for being business-like, we are all running everywhere about the city and I never once saw anybody sitting down on the benches anywhere. Also odd, I never saw anybody jaywalk, even when there was no traffic coming. I think in Montreal you get arrested for NOT crossing illegally.

Back to the airport and onto the plane to Sarajevo. I was a little nervous as to what our plane would be like heading into eastern Europe and when I saw the tiny machine I felt no safer. On the pilot's door was the word "Jumbalina" and a picture of a huge elephant which, no offense to Mr. Disney, is hardly an image that inspires confidence with regards to air travel. The flight was nerve-wracking, the landing absolutely bowel-shaking, but in the end we landed fine and wandered into the airport.

We were picked up at the airport by our group leader, Chad, who, after getting into a heated argument with our taxi driver over something neither one of them could understand what the other was talking about, took us back to our apartment. We walked through the doorway and up a staircase that was falling apart and smelling not-so-vaguely of piss. We also knew that the roof of our apartment had been blown up by a grenade during the war - I had assumed that it had been rebuilt but now I was beginning to wonder.

The apartment, it turns out, is absolutely beautiful and only a two-minute walk into the heart of downtown Sarajevo. Monday afternoon and Tuesday were spent wandering through the city and meeting two of our potential business partners for our three month internship. Sarajevo is very western European on one side but as soon as you walk ten minutes east you find yourself in the middle of Turkish culture with eastern European artifacts everywhere and calls to mosque blaring over loudspeakers at all hours of the day. The city is diverse, impressive and exceptionally vibrant with thousands of people walking up and down the promenade all night long.

My largest confusion so far has come from the money which is called the Konvertible Mark, or KM. So every sign reads to me to be in distance - Hats, 4 KM. Four kilometres to some hats? It seems odd, but who knows how the Bosnians do things. In realitz, the most striking impression I have of Sarajevo is of the graveyards. Thousands of white graves smothering the hilly landscape in every direction, all victims of a recent war, all relations of people with whom I am intermingling on a daily basis. It is sad, haunting, disturbing and omnipresent.

We left Sarajevo yesterday and took the bus down here to Mostar - luckily, English is occasionally present here as none of us speak any Bosnian at all. The ride down was incredible, passing from stunning, deep, lush valleys to an emerald green lake unlike any I have ever seen before. Conversely, we drove by buildings ravaged by the war, one a functioning supermarket with literally hundreds upon hundreds, thousands?, of bullet holes on the front wall. Continuing down the highway, there was a fancy waterfront restaurant which had in the parking lot 2 Audis, 3 BMWs, 1 Yugo and a tank. Absolutely bizarre.

We got off the bus and into the sweltering city without a clue where we were staying and no language skills to our credit. We had a map of Mostar, which was only semi-fortunate - Mostar is big enough to have a map in Lonely Planet but not big enough to have a scale to said map. We wandered for long enough that a kind local man took pity on us and allowed us into his van where he drove the wrong way down the street for 15 minutes in order to drop us at our hotel.

The six of us have spent the last two days walking through what is a beautiful city but with buildings that are all either destroyed or very recently rebuilt. The politics of the war blazes on here, years after the heaviest violence has stopped. The name of the main street is "Boulevard of the Croatian Defenders", this in a city that is predominantly muslim. It leaves me wondering whether or not things are getting better.

On the plus side, Sunday night Mostar is home to the Miss Bosnia-Hercegovina Pageant! I keep pushing to lengthen our stay here, but unfortunately tomorrow we are on our way to the sunny and sexy Croatian coast for the weekend. Sometimes, work can be hell...