Banja Luka, Bosnia- On an unnaturally warm summer's evening, I walked down the main road, heading north toward the outskirts of the city. The sun was approaching the horizon and the shadows were growing long, but the city was still buzzing. As I walked by a park, I noticed a giant chessboard, complete with giant chess pieces, surrounded by a group of spectators. It appeared as if a chess match was beginning. I approached cautiously, as I didn't want to disturb the spectators and planted myself on a bench. For about 40 minutes, the two opponents battled it out. Everyone was riveted, watching their expressions change from frustration, to confusion, and inevitably to joy, as each opponent maneuvered the pieces around the board. During what I perceived to be a lull in the match, I backed off a bit to shoot some photos of the entire scene. Nobody even glanced in my direction. After the win, the board was reset, and I wandered off in search of more exciting adventures, but nothing will ever top the greatest chess match of all time.
Mostar, Bosnia- Coming to a stop, the sound of tires rolling over gravel is second only to the wind racing through the grass nearby. In the distance, clouds move swiftly as the sun sinks lower toward the horizon. Before me stands an enormous 100ft. tall cross, overlooking Mostar, Bosnia, a city rife with a history of violent religious intolerance.
As I lean against my tiny rental enjoying the evening, a car full of teenagers passes by, parking in front of the cross. They get out, snapping pictures, and running around laughing. Their carefree attitude perfectly aligns with the scene surrounding me. After about 10 minutes, they pack up and drive off, leaving me to enjoy a golden sunset above a hopeful city.
Walking through old town, a familiar feeling fills the air. Cobble streets wind through tight alleyways, with buildings on either side stretching up toward the sky. Vendors beckon for attention while children run unhindered through the crowd. Mostar however, is different than other small towns across Europe.
Since the war, back in the 90's, the city has made a point to keep buildings that have been destroyed and left abandoned as a reminder of the atrocities that had taken place. Walking through town, new apartment complexes stand side-by-side with vacant, bullet-ridden hollowed out shells.
Two women walk their infants past a nondescript war-torn building. The echoes of drunks and junkies from inside reverberate out toward a bustling city, teeming with a generation of youth ready to rewrite history.
Christians and Muslims peacefully go about their lives, aware of their differences and the underlying tensions that go along with them. Struggling not to relive the atrocities that remain just below the surface, waiting to be unearthed.
An uneasy feeling runs through the city like a thick fog. People waiting, not knowing, with no understanding of the future, or what it holds. They sit in their coffee shops, shielded by the glass as they look out in to the unkown, purposefully unaware of the struggle outside. Behind the façade of pristine waterfalls, and lush grassy fields lies a problem that nobody cares to see: A cave of uncertainty. Dark and lonely are the people inside.
Clouds fill the skies overhead as I walk down barren streets, peering down alleys and around corners, looking for any sign of life. I stand on the leeward side of a concrete column, a relic of a dying industry. The arctic breeze permeates the city, ever present and always near, chilling to the core. It's inescapable.
The sun rises further in the sky. City life quietly moves unseen around me. The hum of distant traffic is an undertone while melodic birds sit on the wires above. Occasionally the sound of conversation will float by; but it's rarely locatable, always somewhere off in the distance, as if just around the corner; a whisper on the wind.
I start to notice people scurrying around like rats in a maze, avoiding the bitter-cold wind outside. The empty streets become a canvas for life. I wait patiently for someone to walk by. My face and hands go numb from the cold. From down the street, a young man walks briskly uphill toward a nondescript building. Walking with intent, he passes in front of me. A brushstroke. One moment in time captured. His feelings and emotions are immortalized.
Spring is closing in. Walking further from the ocean, I notice that the beautiful architecture no longer towers above. Instead, drab government housing becomes commonplace. Garbage is littered about in the nooks and crevices of the city. Graffiti is plastered high up the walls of apartments.
Tucked in between worn houses, hidden from the wind, children line up along a wall as they listen to music and smoke cigarettes. Corrugated metal bounces the sun's rays as they bask in the afternoon light. Their talk is light hearted, youthful, but it inevitably shifts and the mood changes. Their park is going to be demolished and replaced with a senior citizen's center, one boy says. Sullen looks sweep across their faces. They quietly soak up their memories, taking in the sights; the street art, the trees, the shade, the anxiety of a youth struggling to make a place in the world.