Bosnia is struggling.

Since I have returned from my visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina, my first in five years, I have been asked many times “What has changed since you were there last?”  I have been surprised to have to say, “Not much.”

image I worked in Bosnia on and off from 1998 to 2009. I came to be very familiar with much of the country but was usually based in Sarajevo, a second home for me for a few years.  It was in the relatively immediate post-war period so there were a lot of international dollars being spent in recovery in one way or another. Every time I returned, there would be some obvious changes – new roofs on buildings that were damaged during the conflict, people moving back into neighborhoods that had been demolished by war. Many of the locals were being employed or supported in some way by the recovery efforts.  Recovery was the industry but many of those programs had a ten year lifespan. Ours went for about 15 years, but like the others, the money to maintain it was doled out over a fixed term and once that was done, we withdrew and our local associates needed to find other sources of income.

Ready for the tourist dollar.

Ready for the tourist dollar.

So now, five years later, it seems like the country is once again stalled.  The one area where there has been more development is in the tourism sector. Of course, during the post war period, tourists, except for very curious and courageous ones, were not coming to Bosnia. Now it seems that industry is stuck or even declined and tourism is the only sector that is in some way flourishing.  This is true of the Croatian coast as well.

Hotels have been fixed up and are quite presentable, comfortable and not expensive. When I first went to Bosnia in 1998, there was no internet or banks or computers.  imageNow the coffee shops and hotels all have WiFi, there are ATM’s on all city streets and credit cards are accepted widely.

The people are a bit frustrated. In fact, there have been some demonstrations throughout the country protesting lack of economic security.

To add to the economic woes, in the last week the region has received record rainfall – three months worth of rain in three days – with resulting catastrophic flooding and landslides causing havoc, destruction and loss of life. It has been estimated that 40% of the country has been affected by flooding and damage exceeds 2 billion dollars, money that Bosnia doesn’t have.  The flooding has uncovered or exposed buried land mines left over from the war, adding to the disaster and many are without safe drinking water. Thousands have again been made homeless.

An election scheduled for the fall but there is skepticism that anything significant will (or can) change.  In the next few months there will be a lot of mopping up to do.  Bosnians are, once again, facing the challenges of coping with recovery – financial, infrastructure and political. They will need some help.




Dobro došli u Bosnu i Herzegovinu

I have switched countries. Now on the east side of the Adriatic in Bosnia where I worked for several years between 1998 and 2009.  It is nice to be back.  My friend Saša picked me up at the airport and we headed along one of my favourite drives from Sarajevo to Mostar.  A twisty road lined with mountains and following the Neretva River.

The weather was threatening rain but the sky was dramatic and there were lots of bursts of sunshine to give great light for photography.




A story rivalling Romeo and Juliet in Sarajevo …

“For never was a story of more woe, than this…”Prince Escalus,  Romeo and Juliet.

Last month I posted a blog that contained references to my first spring in Sarajevo and the “Grandmother’s Breath” that swept the city that spring.

This spring I am in a production of Romeo and Juliet in Kingston that will happen in a couple of weeks.

This is the bridge in Sarajevo where a tragic real-life love story happened in 1993.  I took this photo in 2005.  At that time only a small bow and dried flower bouquet marked the incident.

This is the bridge in Sarajevo where a tragic real-life love story happened in 1993. I took this photo in 2005. At that time only a small bow and dried flower bouquet marked the incident.

Today I came across a wordpress blog article by a Bosnian blogger. His article combines the two themes in a story that is as poignant as Shakespeare’s play only a real-life event – a Muslim woman and a Serb man gunned down as they met to escape Sarajevo over the Vrbanja bridge at the start of the ethnically-driven war.

I share it with my readers. It triggers memories of similar sad stories I heard when I worked in Bosnia. I crossed the bridge where this tragedy occurred many times and sometimes stopped to note the small plaque that had been erected there.

You can read the whole story here:         Romeo and Juliet in Sarajevo.

Grandmother’s Breath

It is 15 years, almost to the day, that I first went to Sarajevo to start work with the Queens Family Medicine Development Programme in Bosnia and Herzegovina.   I find it hard to imagine where those 15 years have gone.

I remember arriving in Sarajevo, flying into the airport over houses whose roofs had been destroyed by the recent war.  The city had been devastated and in the dreary spring weather looked particularly tired.

On March 24 we had a light snow and a cooler dip in temperatures to about 2 degrees.  The locals called it “Grandmother’s Breath”.  I always wondered why that might be the nickname for this last burst of winter.  I always had associated grandmothers with warmth and comfort. Maybe it was grandmother winter saying “I’m not done yet.  There is still breath in me.”  Just when it looks like spring is on the way, there is a brief and surprising turn to the life of old winter.

photoThis past two days we have experienced Grandmother’s Breath in Kingston. We wake up in the morning to a fresh whallop of snow.  As the day goes on the sun quickly warms our spirit however and melts much of the snow on the sidewalks and streets.  Winter saying, “Don’t give up on me yet, I am not through.”

This reflection made me look through an old journal entry I had written on March 25, 1998.  It was the start of  an adventure in Bosnia that lasted for 11 years and my foray into International Development that has taken me in a direction I would never have imagined.

It is also obvious that digital photography has come a long way in the past 15 years!

 Sarajevo. March 25, 1998.

The apartment where we are staying is very interesting. It is an old, high-ceilinged place on the top of a hill. It has a great view from the balcony overlooking the main part of the city and the mountains beyond.  There are several places in the wooden floors that are splintered from bullets that would have come through the windows during the war and the outside of the building is pock-marked with the shelling from grenades.  Buildings nearby remain totally gutted.

The view from our Sarajevo apartment in March 1998 after "Grandmother's Breath" had dumped a bit of snow on the city.

The view from our Sarajevo apartment in March 1998 after “Grandmother’s Breath” had dumped a bit of snow on the city.

There has been a light dusting of snow. The locals call it Grandmother’s breath, the last winter’s snow. It is about 2 degrees. Today the sun is shining. There are a lot of funny things about living here. The water is often shut off during the middle of the day or at night which makes flushing the toilet a bit of a problem. You have to plan your washroom activities around the water or let it sit there until the water comes back on.

Many of the buildings in Sarajevo had been destroyed by the recent war.

Many of the buildings in Sarajevo had been destroyed by the recent war.

The food is great. The Bosnians tend to be meat and potato people. Lots of Lamb and Veal but they have some other great vegetable dishes as well. Today for lunch we went to a little restaurant to have Cevapcici, a sort of pita  thing made a local bread called Somun filled with grilled sausages, vegetables and onions. This is a popular meal like a hamburger in North America. Last night we went to another little restaurant that was like a deli with lots of good selection of local foods. The local beer (pivo) is called Lachka (or something similar) and I have had a few cans.