25 Years Ago I Walked through a War Zone
25 Years ago I was on the most dangerous part of my walk from San Francisco to Sarajevo to plant a tree for Peace on April 22nd, Earth Day 1995.
Sarajevo had been bombarded and under siege for three years and I was about to enter the city of Mostar and begin my walk along the front lines of the battle.
This is what I wrote in my journal 25 years ago...
From Medjugoria my route took me over the mountains. At the top of the road, I came across the first United Nations check point. A white armored car, with UNPROFOR emblazoned one it in big black letters, guarded the check point while a UN peace keeper in a blue helmet inspected my 'Blue Card' (UN High Commission For Refugees document). Amazed that I was there he eventually let me through with a warning to be careful where I walked. Mines were everywhere.
I hiked down the mountain towards the city of Mostar. The sun peeked through the clouds and lit the river in the valley far below. It was beautiful. I could hear no gunfire and the valley appeared peaceful, but I knew that I journeyed ever closer to the hostilities.
The mountain communities that I passed were destroyed, deserted and eerie in their silence, and the same vista’s that raise my spirits now cause me anxiety over snipers. On the other side of the valley were the front lines.
The Bosnians are defending the valley from the Serbs who are attacking from the East. The valley was very green and the earth looked rich. I came to a steep bend, looked down through the trees, and at the foot of the mountains, was Mostar.
Apartment buildings reflected the sun and children played in the streets. Their merriment reached me. I never expected to find so much joy in such a terrible situation.
I continued down the long and winding road until I found myself in a peaceful suburb. It was very quiet. I was very happy. No traffic, just quiet streets that echoed the shoes of pedestrians and the laughter of children. The undamaged buildings told me that I was in West Mostar, the Croatian Christian side of the city. I headed towards the city center and asked some policemen to guide me to a hotel (even in war life goes on).
I was in luck. Twenty meters away was the only hotel in town. It's operated by the UN. I walked in and was surprised.
It's elegant and in a formal dining room UN officials dressed in brilliant white uniforms dined over what looked like a fabulous meal. It was so surrealistic to see this elegance after what I have seen the last few days. The receptionist explained that there was a room available for only twenty-three dollars. Then she apologized and told me that the hotel only catered to United Nations Officials with prior reservations. I wore jeans, carried a back pack and had no reservations, but I did have a UN Blue Card which I displayed until she condescended to call the Administrator, who was a polite and friendly British Officer. He waved the formalities and gave me a room.
The room is on the fourth floor and it's very nice and comfortable. Luxury, a miracle, yahoo! I felt as safe as could be. Then I opened the shuttered windows and doors, stepped onto the balcony and saw the horror of war. Apartment buildings lay in ruin. Houses, shops, schools were obliterated, entire streets and neighborhoods devastated, deadly shells of what they once were. No movie can capture my shock at what I saw. Stunned beyond words I realised that I was looking at East Mostar. Bosnia. This is where the Muslims live. And that's where I am about to go. The thought of that is a bit chilling to say the least.