Neighbouring countries rarely get along well. From competitive rivalry to full blown wars there are examples all over the world. Canadians joke that Americans are “Cowboy Conservatives”, India and Pakistan are constantly in military exchanges, Greece and Turkey disagree on just about everything, I could go on and on. Believe it or not Japan and Russia still haven’t signed a peace treaty over the end of World War II, because after 60 years they are still in dispute over the control of a handful of small islands. Whatever happened to the sentiment from the bible “Love your neighbour as yourself.” The relationship between the English and the French is, too say the least, competitive.
Corruption on a small scale
Obviously, before I even came here to live I was aware of the tension in the region between the neighbouring countries. I didn’t take me long to come in contact with the neighbours. In fact if you live in Dubrovnik you can’t travel anywhere without being in contact with them. When I came to live here I drove my car across Europe. Under The English Channel (sorry I can’t call it La Manche) and then after passing through several EU borders I thought I’d seen the end of customs control, until I came within one hour of my destination and to my surprise another border and my first unplanned visit to BIH. Just about all of my other visits to Neum in the future would turn out to be shopping trips. Many people, myself included, would make the weekly pilgrimage there to stock up on cheap oil, cigarettes and Cedevita. One thing that amazed me the first time I went there was a small shop in a basement openly selling illegally copied CD’s and DVD’s. Copies are extremely illegal in England and if you are caught selling them you face a financial fine and even time in prison. A man in Manchester was recently sentenced to six months in prison for selling 18 copied CD’s. Even though this shop was small it was totally full of copies, so working on the previous calculation this guy would be in prison until his 300th birthday. I walked down to the shop and peered through the window and saw a Bosnian policeman talking to the shop owner. I could see it was a heated discussion and imagined that the policeman was in the process of fining the owner and shutting down the shop. Curious as I am I gingerly entered to listen to them. “If I buy five films will you give me the new Mate Bulić CD for free?” – “No problem, my friend” answered the shop owner. Desperately trying to stop myself from laughing I snuck back out of the shop before the two of them even noticed.
Donald Duck calls prayers
My next trip to BIH was a few years later and this time further inland to Mostar. I took my parents with me as they remembered the bridge from before the war and wanted to see it. As we drove from the border near Metković to Mostar I had never seen so many Croatian flags in my life. It seemed that every house was flying at least one. My father noticing all the flags asked me “I thought we already crossed the border?” Already dreading what he would ask next I said “Yes, we did.” – “Then why are they flying the Croatian flag here?” I hate even beginning these conversations with my father as trying to explain the ultra complicated history of BIH could last for days. Luckily we arrived in Mostar so I quickly changed the subject. The old part of the city and the new/old bridge was fascinating and then we read in the guide book about an old minaret on the eastern side. Arriving at the mosque a kind man showed us around and explained that the minaret was destroyed during the war and was only rebuilt a few months ago. He went on to say that every morning at six o’clock a megaphone on the top calls people to pray. In a flash I asked if we would be allowed to climb to the top. “With pleasure, in fact you will be the first foreign people to climb it since it has been rebuilt” he replied with a toothy grin. What seemed like a good idea soon proved to be a terrible one. Climbing the spiral staircase inside a minaret brings on two emotions, claustrophobia and dizziness. Until you reach the top and vertigo sets in. With my mother refusing to go out onto the tiny balcony we hung on to the low wall and admired the view. Feeling braver my father lifted his head to get a better view and with a crash bumped his head into the megaphone. The megaphone broke away from the wall and swung on its cables until one broke. We tried frantically to put it back up but it was useless. Leaving it swinging like a yoyo we descended and shamefully sought our guide to explain and apologise. He was nowhere to be found and not only him, the mosque was deserted. With visions of the people of east Mostar being awoken by a megaphone sounding like a strangled duck the next day we hurried back across the bridge. So to all the people who were late for prayers for the following morning I apologise.