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Building Bridges in Mostar

Cultural Exchange in Bosnia and Herzegovina, March 2016, Part 2

Our merry band of writers-turned-diplomats was in for a short but heart-warming (quite literally – the difference in temperature between Sarajevo and Mostar was some ten degrees centigrade) bus ride before we’d finally arrived in the beautiful town that is Mostar. As soon as we stepped out of the station and into the sun, it felt like summer was upon us, even though it was mid-March and we had all carefully wrapped ourselves in some three or four layers of clothing just hours before. The river we had seen snaking around the hills near Mostar now glittered in the sun as it coursed through the town-center, the sky was cloudless, the people kind and welcoming – we could almost fool ourselves into thinking that we were actually on holiday.

But, alas; almost immediately we were due to meet another group of young writers of both poetry and prose, led by David B. Forinash, Sara’s and Nathan’s counterpart in Mostar, so very little time was available to enjoy the sights. I sound as if I’m regretting the fact, but nothing could be further from the truth. The kids who worked with David ranged in age from fifteen to mid-twenties, but they were all equally enthusiastic about sharing their writing and experiences with us. Some of us – myself included – had qualms about doing so in front of a roomful of people, but the unease evaporated soon enough.

Bonding over our shared love of writing at the American Corner in Mostar

The theme of the meetup was flash fiction, the shortest of short stories, all about the punchline. We, the group from Belgrade, each worked with a student or two from Mostar to create a unique plot crammed into as few words as humanly possible. Having never actually written flash fiction and also being rather inexperienced in the role of guide and instructor, I myself was fairly nervous about the whole thing, worrying whether I would be able to provide any useful advice or input whatsoever to the girl I was working with. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the only one, either, but it turned out not to matter in the end. You see, the kids were so great, their ideas so original and unusual, that the whole thing utterly blew my mind. In a matter of seconds, which is all flash fiction takes to work its magic, we were terrified, heart-broken, intrigued, exhilarated and amused, all in rapid succession. Part of the challenge was teaching ourselves to think in terms of sheer plot-twists, without focusing on the emotional aspects or character development, seeing as how ten-to-twelve words don’t really allow any space for that, and writing a piece of flash fiction ourselves. We all had to admit that it was both daunting and delightful to be so easily matched by very young people with so little experience.

The exchange was over far too quickly, the hour we had reserved at the American Corner in Mostar flying by, but it was obvious the experience and the memories would be treasured by both sides. Our remaining time in Mostar was less work-oriented, though our schedule was equally busy. After a meal (or seven, really) in one of the local restaurants overlooking the Neretva River, we reunited with David and some of the kids from Mostar for a more relaxed evening out, and – this was, really, the best part of the night – had a wild bumper car ride (the word ‘wild’ sounds so ridiculous when I write it, and doesn’t do the overall awesomeness of the ride any justice, to be perfectly honest).

The last day of our journey was dedicated to sight-seeing, shopping and, finally, packing to go back to Belgrade. We made use of the wonderful weather to visit the wellspring of Buna River, located beneath a cliff a short distance from Mostar, and the temple built into the rock face, and spent most of our last day there, soaking up the sun and trying not to think about all the things we would have to do once back home.

At the wellspring of Buna River – making the best out of our last day in B&H

It sounds kind of corny, but our four days in Bosnia and Herzegovina have shown me again and again that, even though we are so certain of our differences, obvious evidence to the contrary appears whenever people from separated regions find themselves in a situation when they share ideas and thoughts, hopes and dreams. Wherever we thought there would be bones of contention, instead we found common ground.

This trip, as short as it was, has been one of the most enriching experiences I’ve ever had: colleagues became friends, students became teachers and lecturers, differences were settled and similarities discovered. Although it wasn’t all sunshine and butterflies, it has been just so great that I find myself hard-pressed to do anything but say I would like nothing more than to do it all again.

The photos in this article are courtesy of Nathan William Meyer.

For more photos and info about our trip click here.

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