Back in the USSR (Day 2)

Friday, June 27, 2008.

The drive to Sanksi Most is ricketty and winding in our touring bus. There was only room in the luggage hold for three suitcases, the rest are stacked four-deep on the back seat. We have no air conditioning and only the driver’s window opens. But we drove through a rainstorm and the air is much cooler.

Parts of Bosnia are unimaginably impoverished; farms are in ruins and many buildings are abandoned. But other parts are wonderfully modern. The individual houses are brightly colored and boast several terraces each. The bars and restaurants are clean and simple. You can see construction is expanding and at work.

I’m impressed by the amount of green everywhere. Out of Sarajevo, the hills are covered with trees. Big pines and cyprus trees and tall ferns cover the landscape. The rivers are insanely clear. When you’re used to the Ohio and Potomac, the thought that the bottom of a river can be seen clearly from a bridge is almost unbelievable.

At Travnik, we stop for dinner in the shadow of Bosnia’s former capital city. The waitress speaks to each of us in Bosnian, but when she gets to me, she kindly asks Sprechen ze Deutsche? and I take it as the best compliment ever.

Above us, the fortress that used to defend the city looms gray and solid. We eat at an outdoor restaurant famous for its beef and pastry dish. We eat tomato soup made from the waitress’s tomato garden and fish caught fresh from the stream running next to our table. A watermill creaks slowly while we eat and drink Sarajevsko Pivo. A white, beat up Yugo rattles past.

We board the bus and grind slowly up and down the hills, taking hair pin turns every half mile. We list our names on a piece of paper – just in case the police pull us over – though we are assured that this is unlikely. (We must cross through the Republika Srpska on our way to Sanksi Most. We’re not in danger, but Miki says the driver has to be prepared.)

Miki joins a few of us in animated conversation, discussing books, theories behind the Clinton administration’s action during the war, and some of the finer, more technical points of Yugoslav politics. My head reels – a discussion of this nature involves so much in the way of memorizing the subtleties of ethnic, religious, and cultural leanings.

Entering the Republika Srpska is like entering a different world. Still part of the Bosnia-Hercegovina Federation, this Bosnian Serb enclave is well lit with street lights, the roads seem to be in better condition than in Bosnia, and the signs are all written in Cyrillic, rather than Latin. Like mosques in Sarajevo, orthodox churches here pop up on every corner. We drive through a small Serb town nestled tightly on a low plateau between several hills. In the distance, lightning highlights the clouds over the valley. In all of Bosnia and Hercegovina, gas has been running 2.25 BAM per litre. I’ve heard this comes close to $12 USD a gallon.

Cars here are small and zippy, like the rest of Europe. Voltzwagons, Citreons, Peugeots. Fairly newer models are juxtaposed against Yugos and other disasters on wheels that speak to Bosnia’s struggle with capitalism in recent decades. Vahidin taught us the Communist Clap this afternoon – a deprecating, ridiculous throw-back to Tito’s days. It looks like the clap of an idiot who doesn’t understand a joke.

We arrive in Sanski Most around midnight, tired and exhausted and drag our things to surprisingly nice, if small, rooms.


One Response to “Back in the USSR (Day 2)”

  1. 1 Mom


    The hills are alive…with trees, ferns and hairpins!!!! I’m sure you are taking so much in right now and learning so much along the way. What a rewarding experience! The kids there are so fortunate to have you all come over to work with them. I’m sure they appreciate it.

    Love you and still miss you lots,


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