I was most surprised to find that I was actually the last one to arrive at the bus on Friday morning. All the passengers were already sitting in the bus at 5:45 ready to leave at six in the morning, on schedule. There were 38 passengers and one bus-driver. My desire to sit in the front of the bus to prevent travel sickness was tempered by the other explanations I came to hear of guests who also wanted to sit in the front, and participants who arrived early and took the front seats.
As the trip unfolded I came to the conclusion that we were all refugees of sorts, embarking on a tourist trip of beautiful countryside with different areas of different cultural and political traditions. Many were travelling to their original hometown and some shared their stories of where they were born, grew up, studied and how they left everything behind to start all over again.
I was surrounded by people who had a common fate and a common will. Beside me the man who could not return to his country of birth because he was considered a regime critic; Across the aisle the Austrian who had married in America and could not spend more than 90 days at a time visiting her aged mother in Austria, because she had to forfeit her Austrian citizenship upon marriage; In front of me the former Yugoslav residents who broke out in song throughout the trip, singing songs of their lost homeland. Another “Austrian” lady who told me about her mother who now had Alzheimers and only spoke Croatian, which she had religiously refused to even respond to, in earlier years. I began to contemplate the passage of my own parents who had escaped Czechoslovakia after the Second World War to make a new beginning in Australia.
We were really on a Peace Mission to former Yugoslavia. We travelled through Austria, Croatia, Bosnia Herzogovina and Serbia. We visited Zagreb, Belgrade, Srebrenica and Sarajevo. We visited the Nikola Tesla museum in Belgrade and met him again in Sarajevo. We travelled with the choir members “Mimosa” and met Peace Ambassadors and peace workers from the former Yugoslav countries.
I couldn’t help thinking about that time in my youth when I travelled through Europe. I had to show my passport at every country and exchange currency for each new border. Yugoslavia was at that time a train trip up from Turkey. No borders. No currency exchange; Just a single country. Now, as a resident of the European Union, I can travel all those European countries, I don’t have to show my passport, I don’t have to exchange currency. But here, on this trip through former Yugoslavia we had to show our passports at every border, sometimes twice, and often had to get out of the bus and walk through the border control. I have five new stamps in my passport. I am a world peace traveller.
Sometimes I filmed the countryside while somebody was talking about their experiences, growing up and living in Former Yugoslavia. Sometimes it was testimonies of refugees and their struggles and challenges making a new start in Austria after leaving this area of Yugoslavia. Then there were all the incredible views from the other side of the bus. I was at the window in the fifth row on the left side, the driver’s side of the bus. Most of the road signs were on the right side of the bus. I would have liked to catch the sign posts since they give us the time stamp for the rest of my photos and stories. I accepted it with resignation, in the hope that somebody will share the entire route we took and the hope that someday I may return in peace and enjoy the countryside, the trip, the weather and appreciate the history of this part of Europe.
Now we are about Europe.
Sarjevo is called the Jerusalem of Europe. I was so surprised to see and hear about the mosques, temples, synagogues, churches and cathedrals of all the Abramic faiths, all visible and thriving here in Sarajevo. I was grateful to hear the story of the assassination of Franz Ferdinand and his pregnant wife Sophie. Being on site and hearing the story and then just taking a photo of their replicas really brought it home to me. This is why I came. Growing up in Australia I never had any interest or understanding, maybe even no lessons in this European history. Yet I knew I want to understand and restore and be a part of the healing of the wounds and pain.
I am a bridge builder, a networker and a story-teller. I post my blog and my friends read it and sometimes, occasionally somebody thanks me for sharing. My fear of being criticized, misunderstood or ostracized is almost gone. I need to tell my story and I am motivating others to do the same. My story is my own and you can say what you like. This is what I experienced, I’m sharing it and YES, I would LOVE to hear your story too!