25 Years ago I walked through a War Zone. Part 4: Peace amid the Chaos.
April 19th 1995: A major miracle has occurred. Konjic is not being shelled today. I slept in the communications post of Malbatt, the Malaysian Battalion of the UN in Jablianica. It was very noisy, with an officer on the radio all night, but I was grateful to be safe. While I had breakfast Captain Lucho radioed the Peace Keepers in Konjic. “You must be blessed.” He said upon his return. “They’re not shelling Konjic today.” I could not believe my good fortune that in this day, the first in six weeks there would be no shelling. I wondered, 'How did they know that?' Even before I was out of Jablianica, I was apprehended by the Bosnian Military. Jablianica is one of the largest Bosnian military bases in the valley and they are wary of strangers. It is very scenic in the surrounds of forests and mountains. Before I left the base the commander gave me a postcard of the town, printed before the war. It looked very much like a mountain resort. Times have changed. I walked through more long, dark tunnels, into another valley with a long lake. This valley was wide, with rolling hills. Occasionally it was met by other valleys and there were rivers falling from the mountains. It was all very beautiful and I was reminded of the the upper valleys of the Colorado Rockies.
Emerging from a long dark tunnel into the light I heard someone calling persistently. I turned, expecting it to be a soldier, to get arrested again. The call came from of a lovely stone cottage almost hidden by the blossom of apple trees.
It was a burly man in his late thirties and he signalled for me to come over. He was on the porch with his wife and son. I walked through the lovely little garden, introduced myself and was welcomed with a snack and a cup of very strong turkish coffee.
Cesic and his family were very friendly. Soon we were joined by their friends and neighbours who appeared out of nowhere. They lived in this area because of a fresh water spring. One of them, a young woman, could speak excellent english. She translated for my host, who asked many questions and displayed his shrapnel wounds on his feet and legs. He was on war leave and explained that the family had spent three months in the cellar of their Sarajevo home during the heaviest bombardment of the city. Now they all lived in this picturesque river side home, but he did not call this place home. "Sarajevo is our home." He said, "We are Muslim. This home used to belong to a Chetnik (Term for extreme Serbian nationalist). It was commandeered by the army."
Presumably the 'Chetnik' was forced to move away.
I stayed for almost three hours, discovered that the community was called Ostrozac, and chatted to people who came out of the trees, through the tunnel or from cottages further up the road. Everyone loved my journal, The Book of Fairytales, and more important, they appreciated what I was doing.
It was a very surreal experience, being so at ease in such a location. From Mostar to Konjic, the Bosnians control the valley east of the Neretva River, the Herzegovinians control the west. Over the mountains to the East are the Bosnian frontlines with the Serbs. There is a constant threat of invasion and at night Serb commandos range across the land. If anybody had told me that people lived content, a couple of miles from major frontline battles, I would have thought they were crazy. Now I know different. I guess the human being can adopt to almost anything.
I bade them all good-bye and made my way to Konjic.
A couple of hours later, I came to the bridge leading into the Konjic. It was wide open to cannon fire from the mountains, yet for some miraculous reason on this day it was not being shelled. I was fortunate indeed. As I approached the bridge I saw apartment buildings ruined by the shelling, but on the other side of the narrow gorge that the bridge spanned, they were virtually untouched, due to the angle that the cannons were firing from. I am glad there was no fighting today, I was extremely exposed crossing that bridge.
Just I was about to enter the relative security of the Konjic Malbatt base of the UN, I was arrested by the Bosnian military again. It's never a nice experience when people point guns at you and march you away to some derelict old building serving as a command post and for a moment I felt like I was in a cold war movie where the led character gets arrested on the verge of his escape. Fortunately this detainment did not last too log and a few meters later, I was in the base, being fed and very well taken care of. I even got to meet the high commanding officer of the entire Malaysian Peace Keeping Battalion, who like everyone else in his battalion was amazed to hear of my journey. This time I was given a nice big tent all to myself to sleep in. Luxury. Sheer luxury.