Pology Magazine  -  Adventures in Travel and World Culture.
Travel and World Culture   
Travel Image: Rainbow Bridge - Mostar, Bosnia
Travel Image: Bosnia
 Photo: Kelley Trahan

Fireworks Over the Rainbow Bridge
By Lisa Hammond

It was morning, and the air was thick with moisture from the mountains as we boarded an old Yugoslav bus from Sarajevo to Mostar. Gwen and I were heading off to see the famous rainbow bridge, rebuilt after the Croats blew up its predecessor, an act of war with no strategic objective except to demoralize the local Muslim population. That day we also had a second destination, a visit to Gwen’s friends, the Gozos, for an afternoon Bosnian coffee.

“When we get there, be sure to kiss the old woman. She doesn’t speak, and she won‘t know why you are there, but if you kiss her on the face, she will feel safe and you will see her lovely smile.” Gwen was my coach, a Welsh-Brit who had been everywhere, lived in a tribe in Kenya, worked in Siberia and Jordan, and had chosen to make her home in Bosnia for the past ten years. As the bus climbed up the mountains and snaked the canyons around the emerald Neretva river, Gwen recounted the story of the Gozos.

Mostar was a town caught in the crossfire. Inhabited mostly by ethnic Croats and Bosniaks (Muslims), divided by the river Neretva’s steep banks, it had been shelled and bombed by both Croats and Serbs. Everyone wanted to own it, and in the name of ownership, they destroyed it. Ten years later, there were still whole boulevards of burned out buildings, with gaping acne scars of bullet holes in their stone facades. But the stone bridge connecting the old Muslim quarter had been rebuilt exactly as it was, a feat of masonry and international largess costing eight million Euros. Even Coca-Cola had gotten in on the opening ceremony, replacing the cafe umbrellas on both sides of the river with their own red and white logo versions. But the local Catholic bishop refused to come. It was an Ottoman bridge, a Muslim symbol. It was his parishioners who had celebrated the explosion that buried its 600-year old stones in the river, and this was an unwelcome resurrection.

We stood on the bridge, Gwen and I, watching strapping young divers somersault into the narrow channel, as they had done for centuries before the war. “Before the war, after the war,” those were the terms of measurement, the currency of everyone who survived to tell the story.

On May 8, 1992, as shelling from the surrounding hills became unbearable, most of the Muslims fled Mostar. The Gozos, a brother and sister, had been left behind with their 75-year old mother. They were taken in by Serb neighbors and smuggled as Serbs on a lorry with Montenegrins, then relocated to a weekend house owned by Muslims. On June 17, the Yugoslav Army withdrew, leaving the fight to local Serbs from Zuljevo, who were shooting Muslims and burning their houses. The Gozos retreated to the foothills of Crnje, higher and higher into the mountains, reaching the far side of Velez before they were left behind. Mama could not go further. They had to choose.

For forty-seven days they were alone, sleeping in the rain, then a shed, with no food and only a small spring for water. Forty-seven days with no food, until their joints swelled, their hair and nails fell out, and Zebra, the daughter, began to lose her eyesight. And yet they stayed with their mother. They were rescued; but the war was not over. The Croats had yet to attack Mostar. The Gozo house was yet to be bombed.

I was about to meet the Gozos. What would I say to them? Would we talk about the war? Would I label them unselfish, courageous, heroic? I had been in Bosnia for two years. I had heard all kinds of stories, tales of self-sacrifice and tales of extreme evil. There was the Bosnian Special Forces guy who held a friend’s severed head together so his wife could kiss him goodbye. There was the story about the Mafia guy who chain-sawed a boyhood chum into pieces and dropped his limbs out a window so his friends could catch them.

Page 1 of 2   Next Page


All contents copyright ©2005 Pology Magazine. Unauthorized use of any content is strictly prohibited.