3-Imam Escort to Bosnia

Dear friends –

Welcome!  I was inspired to take the leap into a blog in order to post articles about the kindness and generosity people showed me in Bosnia and Croatia on a recent trip. My eyes weren’t blind to the problems, but my intent is simply to hold a mirror up to reflect back the good I saw all around.  It was the memorial marking the first anniversary of the death of Mr. Omer Pobric that took me to Bosnia this time.  I’ll write about that in a future article, as well as the many and varied experiences over the three weeks.  Believe me, I felt every emotion from sadness to elation.

An article in Bosnian will be posted each week for 8 weeks on the Bosnia Media Group website.  I’ll post the English version on this blog starting with this first article.  There are a few photos included, but you can see all of them here.

I hope you’ll enjoy some happy stories as a counterbalance to all the craziness in the world.  Please share my blog with anyone you may think will enjoy it.  Thanks for reading!  I’d love your feedback.   Mary

3-Imam Escort to Bosnia and Herzegovina

Mary by flag

Mary at Grbic Restaurant in St Louis

Most Bosnians by now have heard about the American lady who sings sevdalinke.  Reactions range from disbelief to wondering why someone with absolutely no blood connection to Bosnia would be interested in sevdahlinke.  My answer to them is simple, it’s a great privilege and joy.  Sevdalinke have taken me to a country blessed by an abundance of natural beauty and to the Bosnian people throughout the world whose resiliency and industrious nature have enriched my life in countless ways.

Though I don’t have the right to call Bosnia home, my trip this January (2011) felt like a homecoming after a 4-year absence.  I knew this trip would be intense, but couldn’t anticipate just how much.  Only in hindsight from Seattle can I reflect upon the many varied experiences and countless kindnesses people showered upon me.  In telling friends about it, many encouraged me to share my experiences with others in writing.  Thus, the idea for this series of articles was birthed.  I would like to thank Murat Muratovic and Diaspora for the opportunity to publish on their website.

This first article will focus on the unusual experience I had getting to Sarajevo.  It certainly was a precursor for the many magical moments awaiting me.

fogAnyone who has traveled to Sarajevo in winter knows that the capricious fog can close the airport with almost no warning and sometimes for days on end.  Fog or fate, you can decide, played that card on me.  The 20-hour trip turned into nearly three days, but what an adventure!  I wouldn’t have missed it.

Everything was going perfectly from Seattle-Chicago-Munich and that’s where things started to get dicey.  “The flight from Munich to Sarajevo is delayed due to weather conditions in Sarajevo,” the Lufthansa rep announced.  “Please take a seat and be patient.”  Travelers in the terminal struck up conversations, one gentleman took out his Koran and then stretched out for a nap, all of us got the sinking feeling that we may not see Sarajevo anytime soon.  A small glimmer of hope flooded the waiting area when we were called to board the plane.  Though they were taking us to Vienna, at least we would get a little closer to Sarajevo…..not.

The plane was on its decent into Munich, almost below the low cloud cover when suddenly the pilot gunned the engine and we tipped back in a nearly vertical climb back up above the clouds.  Believe me, it was a heart stopper.  The plane circled for another try and the same thing happened.  At this point, we were all praying.  The pilot came on to announce that they were experiencing some technical problems and would have to land in Graz, Austria, where we would be bussed back to Vienna, a two hour ride.  We all felt ourselves fortunate to be alive, so the bus ride was no big deal.

Still by the time we reached the Vienna airport, we were very weary as they herded us off to get our tickets rebooked.   To my great luck (or was it fate?) also traveling that day was ef. Senaid Kobilica from Norway who I had met at a couple of Bosniak Congresses in the States and ef. Tajib Pasanbegovic from Toronto.  The three of us and two other travelers agreed to stick together.   I don’t know what I would have done without them.  At the ticket counter we had to decide whether to take our chances to fly into Sarajevo the next day.  Would the fog lift or had we better fly to Zagreb instead and decide from there?  We decided on the latter and, as it turned out, that was exactly right as the Sarajevo airport was again closed the next day.

Getting rebooked at the Lufthansa counter was an ordeal.  The travel had taken its toll and tempers were flaring.  (I still can’t understand why the process was so unpleasant when this is a regular occurrence.  The Lufthansa workers were so impatient and understaffed until finally they brought in three more people to help process the tickets.)  Having finally gotten our new tickets, our little group of five was taken by cab to a hotel about 20 minutes from the airport for a luxurious 4 hours of sleep before having to return for our 6:30am flight to Zagreb.

Arriving in Zagreb we learned the Sarajevo airport was still closed, so decided to fly to Split and rent a van to drive to Sarajevo.  I have to admit, flying over the Adriatic Coast was an unexpected treat and feeling that warm sunny air was delicious.  We were all making the best of it and enjoying each others company quite a lot.

Split

At the airport in Split - Ismet Bijedic, Mary, ef. Pasnbegovic and ef. Kobilica (left to right)

Stolac

With Ifeta's grieving mother

The woman in our little group, Ifeta, was sadly returning to Bosnia for the funeral of her father.  Her kind family invited us in for coffee when we dropped her off at their home in Stolac.  It must have been something for them to have three imams, an American sevdah singer and Ismet from Chicago surprise them.  I hope we gave some comfort or at least a welcome distraction from their sadness.

Back on the road, we were treated to one of the most beautiful moonrises I’d ever seen, its pearly light illuminating the valley stretched out before us.  The scenery soon changed into the dramatic craggy mountains.  Since we were driving through Jablanica we simply couldn’t miss the opportunity of stopping at Maksumic Restaurant, known for its delicious lamb on a spit.  We were all starving and exhausted by then, and lamb had never tasted so good.

coffee at Maksumic

Finally, we arrived in Sarajevo around 9pm.  I like to say I had a 3-imam escort into Bosnia.  It felt that God was giving me a sign of approval for coming back to Bosnia.

The world is a wonderful magical place!

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