The Most Divided City in the World

Mostar was described by the U.N. as the most divided city in the world. If it's not, it must be pretty close. There's the East, or Muslim, side, and the West, or Croatian side. They're separated by a river, and during the war, it was impossible to travel between sides. Even as recently as 1997, police operated checkpoints on all the bridges, checking the documents and searching the vehicles of all non-Croatians attempting to cross to the Western side.

The division doesn't stop there. The East side flies the Bosnia-Hercegovina flag; the West side flies a Croatian flag (even though officially they are in Bosnia and not Croatia). The East side calls coffee 'kava' and the West says 'kafa'; if I get mixed up when crossing sides I risk incurring their wrath. And the real zinger is that each side operates their own postal system and their own telephone system. And it's the same city!

My Interview on National TV

This is me standing in front of one of the nicest hotels in the city. Used to be, anyway. Not far from here, I was caught off-guard by a reporter and a cameraman, who approached me suddenly and asked, in the local language, if I thought Mostar was a united city. I said, "Well, I don't know, I just arrived 3 weeks ago. But I suppose it seems to me that it isn't. I phoned information looking for a number in the Old City (the East side), and they said they didn't have it--I have to phone the OTHER information. It's one city, but it's got two 411s." I walked on, and then 3 days later I showed up on "Politics Today". In a news report on the state of Mostar, the reporter introduced my 15-second interview by saying "this foreigner just arrived in Mostar, but he's been there long enough to see what kind of city it is". So far it's been on TV twice, and my friends say that they'll use it 20 times because they can hardly ever get people to interview. Because there's only two stations here, and this was national TV, almost everyone in Bosnia has already seen about it--friends from here and from Sarajevo have been calling non-stop. I hope nobody takes it as some sort of political statement--I was just stating the obvious. Anyway, I think I'll avoid television crews from here on in.

A Description of Life During the War

"During the war, we lived from day to day. Our only concern was staying alive; trying to find enough food and water so we didn't starve; keeping warm; trying not to get killed. Corpses were everywhere. People were dying all around us, people with limbs blown off, screaming, crying for help. There wasn't anything we could do for them. Do you know what it's like to slip on blood or brains? I do. There was blood and brains and body parts lying everywhere, legs and arms, sometimes still moving. There were so many times I was sure I was dead. One time four masked soldiers burst into our apartment, pointing machine guns and yelling for my dad. I just started crying. My dad wasn't there, and they left--but if he had been, we'd all have been killed." -- As related to us by a friend who was 10 years old when the war began.

The picture above is Gina along the front line of the war--the demarcation between the Catholic and Muslim sides.

Garages in Bosnia vs. Garages in California

How's this for a park job? This picture reminds me of a news item I ready recently about the power outages in California:

"The power outage in Sun City Lincoln Hills, a retirement community near Sacramento, prompted John Davidson, 62, and his wife, Shirley, 59, to take their two grandsons to a community playground. The 2-year-old twins, Alex and Eric, had been watching Barney on television when the power went out.

"'We saw a lot of our neighbors lifting our garages up manually, which of course isn't too good for seniors,' Davidson said."

Boy, these people are really hurting. Being forced to take your grandkids to a park, because they can't watch Barney. And then the horrors of opening a garage door manually. I would like to point out that this implies that "John" and "Shirley" actually have a garage, which means that they probably even have a car, and I assume that this garage is attached to a house. This guy thinks he's hard done-by because he's manually lifting his garage door????? 

We visit retirees here in Mostar and in Sarajevo all the time. They all have to live on the same flat-rate pension of 117DM/month (that's $56 U.S.). They typically live in bachelor suites--a single room about 12 feet by 12 feet with a bathroom. They heat with wood. They sometimes have a phone. They don't turn on the hot water heater because the electricity will eat up half their pension. They live on potatoes, cabbage, onions and bread. They worked 40 years at the same state-run company before they were given their own apartment, but it was destroyed during the war. And they probably have kids and grandkids, but not as many as they had before the war started. Every time I see an 80-year-old sprinting after a city bus that's about to pull away, I think of John Davidson in Sun City Lincoln Hills, California.

This all reminds my of the mantra of one of my favorite former co-workers, Troy Dearmitt: "Whenever you think your life sucks, somewhere it's sucking worse for someone else."