Mostar, Bosnia 2015.
Having had time to relax and enjoy the sights, ambience, and food in the tourist area around the world-famous Stari Most, I decided it was time to take a walk in search of remnants of the 1990s war…
It took only a few minutes to come upon a square where, everywhere you looked, you could see dozens, hundreds, thousands of bullet holes in the walls of the destroyed buildings.
While I was snapping some pictures, I came upon an older man with a face that has seen too much of the sun and with hands as huge and strong as a brown bear… He approached me, an obvious tourist, and in German asked if I needed a ride… From the looks of his car, he was not an official taxi. At best he was just making an honest, but illegal effort to make a few Marks. At worst, it could be some kind of major robbery scam where he drives me someplace I do not want to go.
Anyway, with a mix of my very broken German and body language I explain to him that I prefer to walk and would like to take photos and learn about the war.
His face and voice seemed lost in hopelessness… “der Krieg… gross catastroph, kein geld, kein arbeit, kein essen, kein brot”… and something about the mafia taking all the money.
I did not know what to say. Even if I spoke fluent German, I am not sure how I would respond. That said, I was not prepared to get in his car, but I was willing to have a cup of coffee with him… so I offered and he accepted at a café nearby.
His face was so deeply filled with sadness as he repeated his words of desperation. He said he had no money… and I believed him. He may very well have taken advantage of me, but as we finished our last sips of coffee, I gave him some money under the table… enough for him to eat for a couple of days.
This seemed to really touch him deeply… as he paused… then stood up and did something that caught me totally off guard… He firmly, but gently grasped my right hand and arm with both of his enormous hands, bowed down, and kissed the back of my hand.
Not another word was spoken. We maintained intense eye contact, expressionless, as I slowly walked away. I will never know his whole life story and I do not even know his name.