Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Turkish Delight

The beautiful river viewed from the famous bridge

And the guy who thinks he's beautiful,
showing off before he jumps!

I didn’t sleep well that night. I dreamed of stone walls and laundry. I woke at 4:39 thinking about the laundry, so I got up to check it. The washing machine was not running, but the lights were blinking. Oh, well. I took all the damp clothes out, grabbed the clothespins, and let myself out into the still-dark early morning to hang out the laundry. It took me 20 minutes to hang everything up, and I contemplated staying up and jumping in the shower while everyone else was sleeping. But I changed my mind and crawled back under the heavy duvet beside Kate, who was restlessly turning and sighing in her sleep. I finally drifted off and woke again almost an hour later at 6. I headed for the shower, so looking forward to washing all the salt out of my hair and off my skin. I turned the water on and waited, and waited and waited. No hot water. At 6 in the morning I just couldn’t bear the thought of standing under a cold shower to wash my hair, so I skipped my hair and just washed my body. I looked at my hair in the mirror. I just about had dreadlocks after two days of salt in my curls. They were so tangled and stuck together that I couldn’t even get a comb through, so I shrugged my shoulders and left it. When I went outside to gather our wet clothes, I noticed that my white tank top and underwear were a dingy gray, as though they had been washed in muddy water. I had mixed the color of the clothes for washing, but there were no jeans or dark-dyed garments, so I couldn’t imagine what had caused the whites to turn gray, other than the water from the probably rarely used washing machine that churned forever the night before. Hopefully, they’ll wash clean at home. As we were packing, Marin came down with two pots of Turkish coffee for us. We didn’t have time at all to sit and drink coffee, but that is the Balkan way, so we obliged...a little nervously. Finally, we dared not put off leaving any longer.  Foregoing another budget-breaking taxi ride, we grabbed out suitcases and made our way down the twisty streets for the last time, making quite a spectacle of ourselves with five American women dragging suitcases behind them over the bumpy cobbled streets! We got to the bus stop right before departure time, but again the tickets were more than we thought, so two of us had to withdraw more money. I had carefully budgeted my spending to ensure that I had just enough kuna for the bus ride back to Bosnia, so I wouldn’t have to re-exchange it and get charged a second fee on the same money, but the girls’ estimate had been too low. The ATM machine was acting up; eventually the other girl got it to work, but after two tries I had to give up because we were running out of time to board the bus. I borrowed some Bosnian marks from one of the girls and ran over to the exchange window and quickly bought enough kuna to purchase our bus tickets. At that moment I had exactly 10 kuna (6 cents) to my name...no US money, no Bosnian money and no way to get any more. Stressful and maddening! We boarded the bus, got settled and calmed down, and then wound our way up into the Denaric Alps, leaving the beautiful sea behind us.

Arriving in Mostar a few hours later, we decided we had better buy our train tickets to Sarajevo right away so we wouldn’t repeat our departure from Dubrovnik. Well, we pretty much experienced the same thing, just without the pressure of our mode of transportation leaving without us. The tickets had gone up in price since the girls had last taken the train, and we had to pay to leave our suitcases in an office so we wouldn’t have to lug them around while we toured the town. In every other train/bus station I had been to, there was an ATM and a place to exchange money. Not at this one! Kate only had 20 marks with her, which wasn’t enough, so we had to borrow once again. "I hate this!!" I exclaimed to Kate. "Get me to a bank, now!" After buying our tickets and parting three ways with the girls, each having her own agenda for this town the girls were very familiar with, Kate and I walked straight to an ATM. My card didn’t work again. I was starting to feel desperate. Kate tried her card, and it did work, so she withdrew the last 30 marks in her account and we held onto that as most precious gold, doling it out throughout the day with great thought and care, making it last until we returned to Sarajevo.

Mostar is an absolutely beautiful and intriguing city...so exotic in its Turkish feel. The bus/train depot with its surrounding neighborhood was ugly, as expected. We walked for awhile and I remarked to Kate that it didn’t look very special, especially after stunning Dubrovnik. Kate said, "I love this city!" and then we turned down a street and I saw why...we had entered Turkey! It was as though we had left the Mediterranean and stepped into the Orient. Mosques, music, minarets, brightly colored fabrics, jewelry and wares sold from booths, cobbled streets, stone buildings, and the bluest river I had ever seen flowing under an arching bridge high above the water. It really was breathtaking.

I actually really liked what they were selling in the booths, unlike most open-air markets, and I wished I had money with me! It was very hot, so we worked our way down to the river where we had spied a park when crossing the bridge above. There, I slipped out of my shoes and stepped into the crystal-clear water. Yikes! That river must have rushed down from a glacier right into this little pool because it was cold as ice. Still, it was hot enough that it was quite cooling and refreshing. While we were relaxing by the river, we heard shouts and cheers from the bridge above. We looked up to see two men in bathing suits on the side of bridge wall, hanging from the railing and walking along the ledge, to the great entertainment of the crowd. As the volume reached a crescendo, the first guy jumped....down, down, down, plunging into the swiftly flowing river. The crowd cheered, and the guy swam to the rocks, stood up and took a bow. Then the next guy started his show...working up the crowd (and taking their money!), until he felt he had good support, and then he jumped. Everyone was clapping and cheering, whether on the bridge, on a restaurant patio or on the ground below where we were. Sufficiently rested, entertained and cooled off, Kate and I made our way back to the streets and bought a gelato, which fits the budget because in Bosnia it’s only 60 cents for a serving. We explored the other half of the old town and then started feeling hungry after just a snack on the bus, so we bought fresh strawberries from the market and "burek," which is phyllo pastry laid flat, spread with filling (mine was cheese and spinach, Kate’s was meat), and then rolled up into a long rope and spiraled into a circle, and finally sliced into wedges like a pie. We each bought a wedge and then stopped at the mosque to refill our water bottles from the fountain that every mosque has in its courtyard. It’s always clean, cold, fresh water. Fully loaded with good things, we made our way down the street to find a park to eat in before walking to the air-conditioned mall in the new part of the city. By that time we were ready for a bathroom break, having not gone since 6 a.m. that morning. When you’re on the streets, if you find a "toalet" it’s often a Turkish toilet, which is a hole in the floor and a simple sink, and not stocked with toilet paper or soap. I knew in Turkish Mostart our odds of finding a good bathroom would be slim. But Kate said, "Don’t worry, I know where to go." Yes, she did know where to go...to the 5-star hotel downtown. I said, "Kate, we aren’t guests here, we can’t just walk in off the streets and use their bathroom." "Sure we can," she said, "if you walk in like you know what you’re doing and where you’re going." I looked at her doubtfully. "Don’t worry," she said again, "follow me." For the first time I was glad I looked like an American tourist...it made us look like hotel guests!  We walked through the wide doors, down the carpeted staircase, turned a corner and walked into a beautiful, clean, air-conditioned bathroom with gleaming tile, individual water closets with their own wooden doors and real door handles, big mirrors over the sinks, good quality soap, hot and cold running water and a pleasant fragrance. I couldn’t believe how nice a little luxury could feel! I thoroughly enjoyed my 5-star bathroom and thanked Kate for taking us there!

A few blocks away was the mall, and it too was very civilized and nice. By now I was feeling quite at home! Kate took me to her all her favorite stores, and although we didn’t dare buy anything, we enjoyed window shopping in the air-conditioned building. It was almost time to catch our train by then, so we made one more stop at a café for coffee, sitting on the shady sidewalk and people-watching. A little gypsy girl wandered over, and Kate told me to pull our bags from the empty chairs we had set them on.  The girl reached the table next to us first, and those women shooed her away like one of the stray dogs. But it had to be done. When we finished our coffee, we made our way towards the train station and were followed by a gypsy boy who begged us for money. Kate shooed him away and he picked up a rock and threatened to throw it at us. Kate told him no and shooed him away again, and we kept walking. He followed more slowly until we were a little ways away, and then he threw the rock, which didn’t hit us but told us he was mad. I realized then that I was holding the rest of our strawberries and I told Kate I was going to give them to him. "No, Mom," she said, "You’re not supposed to." "It’s just berries, not money," I countered. I turned around but he was nowhere in sight. I did see two other little boys, though, and called them over. The littlest boy was probably around 3, and he hung back waiting for his big brother, who was probably 4, to come first. But the brother was busy squatting on the ground, so he hurriedly finished his business and then pulled up his pants and came running toward us. I put the strawberries on a rock and walked away. They were the dirtiest children I had ever seen...dirtier than the children I’d seen in the slums of Costa Rica or the streets of India. There was no future for those children. They were raised just like the stray dogs and treated the same. They stole because they were taught to steal and because they were desperate. They were mistreated and abused from the day they were born, and they in turn would mistreat and abuse others. How sad. The image of their little dirty faces stayed with me as we walked into the train station and met the other girls.  We gathered our bags and hauled them up more stairs. I missed the US at that point. You hand over your bags at the counter and they are cared for until you arrive at your destination. There are elevators and escalators. There are lights. The stations are relatively clean and everything works. But I complained too soon...I hadn’t boarded the train yet! The girls wanted us to have a room instead of individual seats, so they arranged for Kate to take my suitcase and for me to board unhindered and book it past the people and through the train car to grab a room. I did, but every room was already full of previous passengers who were not departing. I finally found one with a single old man and gestured to him if it was okay if I came in. He nodded and waved me in. He might have been sorry when 4 other loud American girls followed, but he didn’t say anything. The little room was stifling hot. There was a window, but it wouldn’t open. There was no ventilation of any kind, and it must have been 95 degrees inside. The man had sweat rivelets down both his cheeks, so I gathered it didn’t get much cooler once the train started up. Honestly, I’ve never traveled on such filthy transportation before. The train was ancient and broken down, dirty, worn and tattered. The windows were streaked with dark brown dirt, which accumulated in the window tracks. The fabric was terribly stained, patched and torn. The plastic trim was cracked and crumbling, the built-in garbage can was dented and coated with food and drink stains. We started to sweat before the train even left the depot, and I was sorry I had told Kate I wanted to take the train. She had warned me that the train was dirtier than the bus, but I never dreamed it would look like this. "Oh, well," the girls said cheerfully, "It’s a lot cheaper." Yes, it was. The only reason I had wanted to take the train is that I thought we would be able to see more of the countryside than on a highway. Even there I was wrong. We went through so many tunnels, the windows were so dirty and then night fell, so I probably saw half of what I saw on the bus. Oh, well. It was a lot cheaper.

When the train arrived in Sarajevo, we said goodbye to the girls and waited for Esad, Kate’s host dad, to pick us up. Then we visited with the family for awhile, telling them all our stories, and finally headed upstairs for the most wonderful shower! How great it felt to wash away the grime of the train, the dust of the streets and the salt of the sea! Clean and refreshed, I slipped into bed and had the best sleep of my entire trip.

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