February 13-15th 2016
We came in from the bitter cold, just as we were reaching the point of numbness, where you’re questioning if you’ll ever feel sensation in your fingers and toes again. Our group went into a large yellow building which was separated into three schools, a prime example of the division still present today in Mostar, headed down to the American Corner, and spent the afternoon hearing firsthand stories from people who had experienced the Bosnian war in 1992.
Dzenana, someone who had experienced the war as a young newlywed in the 90’s, recalled her vivid memories ducking from snipers with her husband and running across a makeshift bridge in the middle of the night, unsure if she would make it alive. I think we all were shocked that this could happen and it was so real to her when it all seemed so foreign and impossible in our lives. I sat in a chair engrossed in her detailed story and couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I was and am still so incredibly inspired by her strength and determination to bounce back and overcome such a scarring event and to be able to talk about it years later. While in Mostar we heard so many personal stories from the war. We heard another from Matija, who managed to escape in the middle of the night whilst avoiding snipers and making it to a safer environment at the age of sixteen. I had no idea just how affected the city and its people remain, after a war that happened 25 years ago. You can be walking down the street and see a modern apartment building built directly attached to some ruins from the war. The contrast was astonishing.
The Bosnian War is one of the bloodiest and most violent and destructive wars to this date. It lasted from April 2, 1992 – December 14, 1995, concentrated in Bosnia (Sarajevo and Mostar) but also affecting Dubrovnik and Zagreb in Croatia. This war was part of the breakup conflict that ultimately led to the break-up of the former Yugoslavia.
image from global.britannica.com
Facts About The War:
- Officially between Croats and Serbs
- Religious disputes between Muslim and Catholic community heavily influenced the conflict
- Divided the city into 2, one for each religion, 2 school systems, 2 hospitals, etc.
- Mostar Bridge was bombed and is the icon for the city. The bridge was burned down but rebuilt in the year 1995, 3 years after the war begun. It is now a symbol of hope and strength and indicative of how the hope of the city’s people can be restored along with their bridge. It is a symbol and icon that the citizens hold very close to their hearts.
Mostar in itself is a bit overwhelming — Not in the sense of so much to see, so much to do, but in the bombardment of heavy feelings you experience while walking around the broken city. I’ve never been anywhere as eye-opening as this place. In just a few short days I learned so much about life, the importance of unity, why to not let the past define a future, and how the strongest race is the human race.
On Valentine’s Day, we spent part of the afternoon at Jasmin’s coffee shop brewing and making our own coffee. On this day of love, it really was such a positive environment that I so strongly felt the love that the people of Mostar have for their city and their Country. Drinking coffee is a very important cultural aspect for Bosnians, but not so much the drink itself, but how it can be a bridge for human connection. A chance to meet up with a friend old or new for coffee, to talk, to connect. After seeing Jasmin so passionate about a small thing in the scheme of life, such as coffee, it made me realize how important the little things are. Mostar is so affected by conflict and here were so many hardships endured. Nevertheless, by focusing on a minor aspect of life and putting so much time, effort, and love into remedying broken ties, life can return to a sense of normalcy and wounds can be healed. I’m taking away a strengthened appreciation for the little things in life.
I can’t express enough how important it is for everyone to visit the city of Mostar, to jump at the opportunity to witness a part of history that should not be repeated. As kids in the fortunate position of attending a privileged international school and living in a place with basically no conflict, I think it’s hard to believe and process everything we all saw and heard on this trip. However, we have to get out of our bubble for a few days — a move that can be scary but is equally vital to learn about ourselves and our fragility and to grow in new and unexpected ways.