Ten minutes outside of Sarajevo and I have forgotten that I was just in a bustling metropolis.
The road to Tuzla is winding, bumpy, and not for those who are prone to motion sickness. The bus driver puffed on a cigarette dangling from his lips and blasted the latest Top 40 pop songs as he effortlessly navigated hairpin turns, narrowly escaped oncoming logging trucks and floored it past sputtering cars.
I took it as a sign that I should pay attention when the elderly woman across from me started to pray as we made a lengthy descent through one mountain pass. Vast farmlands and forests are broken up by the rare stop in a town that is nestled at the bottom of a mountain.
Men camped out on rocky ledges watching their sheep and women working in their fields often paused to watch us cruise by.
Red signs with a skull and bones demarking mined areas speckle the roadside – a reminder that even after more than decade the dangers of war still exist. These signs, along with the run-down UNHCR buses acting as local transport in Sarajevo, signify an abandonment of this country by the international community.
The mini-Marshall Plan, which was implemented over a decade ago, clearly provided the initial infrastructure needed to rebuild after the war, but the lingering presence of land mines and lack of running water in many small towns suggests that most foreign aid agencies have up and left, leaving these poor communities to fend for themselves.
About an hour into our journey the bus pulled into a roadside restaurant for a ten minute break, at which point every passenger poured out and quickly lit up a cigarette – save for the elderly woman next to me who continued to pray.
As we ventured on after our break the air conditioning began to rattle and as we gently rolled down a sharp incline the driver eased on the break and pulled us off the road. Again everyone poured out of the bus – seemingly please with this additional cigarette break.
The driver returned fifteen minutes later gesturing with greased hands at another bus that had pulled up behind us. Through his hand gestures I figured out that our bus had broken down and we were now to get on the local bus that would take us on the remaining hour drive to Tuzla.
I juggled my many bags as the bus rolled out from underneath my feet and stumbled into a seat next to a toothless elderly gentleman who smiled at me graciously. Those around me giggled and smiled as I panicked that I had just committed some cultural faux pas. I clearly the object of attention – the foreigner among the bus full of locals.
Posted By Alison Morse
Posted Jun 15th, 2007