Friday, February 3, 2012

(28) Bosnia twenty years later an aid worker tells of Mostar and wounded children

(Stari Most Bridge, Mostar)

1)Were did you first hear of Bosnia and and Sarajevo
Obviously I’d seen it on the news, but in the summer of 1992, I went touring around Europe with my then girlfriend in a car. We ended up in Croatia, visited Osijek and places like badly damaged village of Podravka Slatina. It was at the time when refugees were coming out Bosanski Brod across the river to Slavonski Brod. That was when I decided to try to get involved with aid work.

2) Do you remember where were you when the war broke out?
I was in northern Greece in early March 1992 with my then girlfriend. It was snowy and we’d just fixed up a skiing lesson, when there was news of trouble further north. The actual news came from Sarajevo,  but we thought, for some reason, it was from Skopje instead. I was curious about what was happening so we took a train to Skopje. There were long lines of JNA tanks on rail cars lined up, I assume leaving Skopje. It soon became clear the trouble was in Sarajevo, not Skopje, so we spent a night mucking around the streets of Skopje in sub-zero temperatures before catching a return train to Greece.

3) What made you go to Bosnia during the war? Were where you stationed?
For my 1992 summer holiday (see 1) I’d had to buy a ferry ticket across the channel. The company gave with the ticket a free channel-crossing in the Autumn. I had medical contacts in Britain and after seeing the destruction in Croatia, I figured we’d load my car up with useful medicines and drive it down to Bosnia. That started a small charity, which is still operating in Former Yugoslavia today. As a small charity we tried to focus on particular projects where we felt there was most need and where we felt we could make a difference. Among other places, we did work, in Mostar, Vitez, Travnik, Tuzla, Banja Luka.

4) The most memorable event of the war for you was?
Too many to remember really. Both bad and good. I was filming in Mostar during the fighting and I’ve still got the film. This thing goes whhhhoooooosh past my head and I say „Fucking hell, that was a bullet!“ and the next thing you see is my stomach bouncing against the camera as I leg it.

5) What made you hopeless during the war?
A small kid had picked up something explosive or done something with it and blown I think one hand off and other chunks and had peppered his face and upper body with splinters. His eyes were bandaged and I’m guessing he might well have been blinded. He was lying there crying out ‚Dada, dada, dada...‘ I’m a father mmyself now and it still can bring a tear to my eye.

6) What gave you hope during the war?
 When the bridge, the Stari Most in Mostar collapsed into the river, it seemed to die. It was hugely sad. After the war I saw them diving, (a Hungarian unit?) to find bits of the old bridge in the Neretva and then they rebuilt the bridge almost as good, almost the same. I think that’s beautiful.

7) Did you lose anyone close to you during the war?
Tony and Neil were aid workers killed on Igman outside Sarajevo when their truck went off the road. We’d stayed a few times at the house where Neil and some other aid workers lived. Tony was a nice guy. I’d driven a truck all the way from Mostar to Tuzla (and then the return journey) with him in thick snow in Spring 1995.

8) Were you wounded during the war? Where were you wounded?
 No. Fortunately not.

9) What was the hardest part about the war?
I think the feeling of the sheer waste of it all. If you see a burned out or destroyed house over here, you really notice it, and wonder about what happened to the people. In Bosnia, there were some many destroyed houses, I stopped noticing them after a while.

10) Did you leave the during the war?
Yes, I wasn’t there permanently.

11) Have you returned to Bosnia since the war?
We continued taking trucks to Bosnia for a few years after the war. Then switched to other parts of Former Yugoslavia, including Kosovo. I returned to Bosnia for the first time, just as a tourist in 2008. We were staying on the Croatian coast and drove around a bit and went to Mostar and lunch at Blagaj. I’d known both places during the war and it was brilliant to see them looking SO much better.

12) 20 years later, what do you think of what happened?
I’m glad we could do a bit to help.

13) Are things better or worse than what you expected 20 years later?
Better in some parts of Bosnia. Worse in others.

14) Do you think war will return to BiH?
I sincerely hope not, but I don’t follow the news from there in great depth these days.

15) What do you think the future of BiH will be?

I hope it will be a future of peace and prosperity.

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