Dateline Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina 2015. Having enjoyed the sights, ambience, and food in the tourist area around the world-famous Stari Most,…
… I decided on a serious walk in search of remnants of the 1990s Bosnian War.
In no time at all, I came upon a square where, everywhere I turned, dozens, hundreds, thousands of bullet holes pockmarked every wall of the gutted and abandoned buildings…
While snapping some pictures, I was approached by an older man whose face has seen too much of the sun and whose hands looked as huge and strong as a brown bear’s. He asked me, in German, if I needed a ride. From the looks of his car, he was not an official taxi. At best it seemed an honest, but illegal effort to make a few Marks. At worst a robbery scam where he drives me somewhere I don’t want to go.
Anyway, with a mix of my broken German and body language I explained that I preferred to walk, take some pix, 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 didn’t know what to say. Even if I spoke fluent German, I am not sure how I would have responded. 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… literally… enough for him to eat for a couple of days.
This seemed to touch him deeply, far more than I ever expected… as he paused, then stood up and did something that caught me totally off guard. He firmly but gently grasped my right 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 see him again. I’ll never know his whole life story. And I do not even know his name.