A cluttered little grocery — with a woman behind the counter happy to make a sandwich — was my answer for lunch. The salami looked like Spam. Going through the sanitary motions, she laid down a piece of waxed paper to catch the meat — but the slices landed wetly on the grotty base of the slicer as they were cut. A strong cup of "Bosnian coffee" (we'd call it "Turkish coffee") — with highly caffeinated, loose grounds settled in the bottom — cost just pennies in the adjacent café. Munching my sandwich and sipping the coffee carefully to avoid the mud, I watched the street scene.
Big men drove by in little beaters. High-school students crowded around the window of the local photography shop, which had just posted their class graduation photos. The schoolgirls on this cruising drag proved you don't need money to have style. Through a shop window, I could see a newly engaged couple picking out a ring. One moment I saw Nevesinje as very different from my hometown...and the next it seemed essentially the same.
And then, as my eyes wandered to the curiously overgrown ruined building across the street, I noticed bricked-up, pointed Islamic arches...and realized it was once a mosque. As if surveying a horrible crime scene, I had to walk through its backyard. It was a no-man's land of broken concrete and glass. A single half-knocked-over, turban-shaped tombstone still managed to stand. The prayer niche inside, where no one prays anymore, faced a vacant lot.
Remaining impartial is an ongoing challenge here. It's so tempting to think of the Muslims — who were brutalized in many parts of Bosnia-Herzegovina — as the "victims." But I have to keep reminding myself that elsewhere in this conflict, Serbs or Croats were victimized in much the same way. Early in the war, outcast Serbs migrated to safety in the opposite direction — from Mostar to Nevesinje. On the hillside overlooking Mostar are the ruins of a once-magnificent Serbian Orthodox church — now demolished, just like that mosque in Nevesinje. Travel allows you to fill out a balanced view of a troubled region.
Considering the haphazardness of war, I remembered how in France's charming Alsace (the region bordering Germany), all towns go back centuries — but those with the misfortune to be caught in the steamroller of war don't have a building standing from before 1945. I recalled that in England, Chester survived while nearby Coventry was bombed so thoroughly that the Germans had a new word for smithereens — to “coventrate” a place. And I remembered the confused patchwork of Dubrovnik's old and new tile roofs. These images — and now this sad, ruined mosque — all humanized the bleak reality and random heartbreak of sectarian strife and war.
About This Entry
You are reading "Nevesinje", an entry posted on 30 June 2009 by Rick Steves.