Monday, April 12, 2010

Sarajevo 01: The Journey

SPC C and I went to Sarajevo to do religious support for some U.S. Soldiers who are stationed there. Where we were going was only 260 kilometers as the crows flies from where we live, but we had to fly on two airplanes, with a three-hour layover, some 1200 kilometers to get there. Same itinerary, in reverse, on the way back, too.

I had hoped to be able to get to other parts of the Balkans when I found out I was coming here to Kosovo. I'd heard a lot about the place while I was in graduate school getting my doctorate in molecular neurobiology, because the war in the Balkans was raging during about half the time I was working on my degree. Moreover, one of my labmates became very energized against the atrocities happening in the region, to include founding a student organization (Sudents Against Genocide) in response to the horrors we began to hear about.

So, SPC C and I arrived at our destination some nine hours after we started out on the journey, and found ourselves in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

I must admit I was a bit confused by a road sign I read just after we left the airport, on our way to our destination. "Welcome to Republika Srpska." I'd thought we were in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and not in Serbia. I didn't realize that B&H consists of Republika Srpska and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

That was not the only surprising aspect of being there, either. The Soldier who came to pick us up from the airport was dressed in civilian attire -- something we're not permitted to wear, ever (well, almost never), where SPC C and I hang our hats. Moreover, the personnel at the base we visited not only wear civvies after the work day is over, they're permitted to drink alcohol, as well.

The latter is not a big deal to me, of course, seeing as I've not consumed alcohol for over thirty years, one day at a time. But I know a whole gaggle of Soldiers back here at the ranch who'd be really upset to know that their comrades serve alcohol in their own MWR (morale, welfare, recreation) building on Post there, in addition to being able to drink in the military pubs on base, and out on the economy.

Those U.S. personnel don't have a Chaplain assigned to their unit, and hadn't had a visit from a U.S. military Chaplain for many, many months before my boss managed to get there not too long ago. The hope is that we'll be able to provide some religious support to those personnel on a somewhat regular basis.

It was pretty late when we got there, and I was exhausted. Unfortunately, I couldn't find any accessible internet connections when I was there, so I was a bit more cut off from the world than usual, but our trip was short, so it wasn't too bad.

The temperature was a bit warmer than at 'home' and the setting of the base, surrounded by some very high peaks, was beautiful.

I found it hard to forget that artillery emplacements on some of those peaks had rained down death and destruction upon the civilian population of Sarajevo for more than a year....

Blessings and peace to one and all,

Fr. Tim, SJ

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