A Travellerspoint blog

The People One Meets

Everything happens for a reason

Ever have one of those mornings where you wake up and you have to take a few seconds to ask yourself, did that really happen? And no, I am not referring to mornings where these questions are caused from the alcohol induced haze of the previous nights. But mornings where you can’t believe that fate worked out so well the night before or that of all the billions of people in the world, your path just managed to cross with someone else’s at the perfect moment. I think we have all had a morning like this so I hope you are smiling and reminiscing as you read this. Allow me to tell you about my night last night though that caused me to have one of those moments this morning.

Yesterday afternoon did not start off on a high note. Addie and I had made plans to go to Medjugorje for the weekend. Background moment, Medjugorje is a small Bosnian town where the Virgin Mary is reported to have been appearing to 10 “visionaries” since 1981. The town has become a modern day Lourdes or Fatima and a sight of numerous miracles. Addie had been there on a pilgrimage with her family last year and said it was amazing experience and I had done a report on the town during my senior year religion class and was curious about it. As a result, it was on the bucket list of places to check out while in Bosnia. Our plan was to take the 4:45 bus (the only daily bus to get there) and spend the weekend.
I got off work early, rushed home and threw a collection of clothes, toiletries and shoes in my backpack (new record, 20 minutes from entering to the apartment to being packed and ready to go) and Addie and I set off for the bus station (not much of a trek since it is literally across the street from our apartment). We were a little close on time, but purchased our tickets and arrived at our platform at about 4:35. There was already a bus waiting, but we checked the locations it was listed as stopping at and did not see Medjugorje listed and assumed that in typical Bosnian fashion, our bus was running late. We sat down to wait. The bus left (before the 4:45 departure time listed on our tickets) and moments later a new bus pulled up. Again, the bus did not have Medjugorje listed, but we figured maybe that was because it was a small stop along the route. As we boarded the bus, I asked the driver “Medjugorje?” I was quickly given a look the conveyed we were on the wrong bus. With sinking stomachs, we disembarked. After asking in Bosnglish (our combination of Bosnian and English) we were informed that our bus had already left. To make us feel even worse, we had watched our bus leave right in front of us. Awesome, we’re cool.

We dejectedly walked to information and asked about alternative ways of getting to Medjugorje. We were informed there were none. Again, awesome. Love public transportation so much sometime. But the bus company was nice enough to refund us our money and we walked home brainstorming ideas for what to do with our suddenly open weekend. We decided we would stay in Sarajevo for the night. We made plans to go out to eat in Old Town and then maybe meet up with some friends we had met in Mostar after. However, upon returning home I promptly fell asleep for an hour and a half on our coach. When I woke up (around 8:00) poor Addie was starving and it looked like we weren’t going to be able to do both dinner and meet up with the Mostar crew.

We decided to focus on dinner and headed to Old Town. Addie really wanted to try a restaurant called “To Be or to Be”. It was more substantially more expensive than our normal dining choices, but when I had been previously with Laura we both agreed it was worth the price given the quality, service and ambiance of the place (tucked away in the back alleys of the Ottoman area and it feels like you’re literally walking into someone’s kitchen when you enter) So I figured why not.

As we sat down at one of the 2 small tables inside the restaurant (around 8:30), we discussed our disappointment over missing the bus and not getting to go to Medjugorje. About 15 minutes after we had sat down the other table (recently vacated by a charming American woman we had briefly chatted with) was filled by two men, one looking to be around 35 and the other a little over 60. We exchanged polite smiles (it’s impossible not to in this place because you are literally sitting within a foot of one another) and continued talking.
Within moments though both tables realized the other was speaking English and when you’re used to hearing almost exclusively Bosnian, this is a big deal. You instantly have a bond and are like one step away from best friends. We struck up the typical tourist conversation about what was good at the restaurant what, what brought both groups to Sarajevo etc.

We learned that our dining companions, Ronnie and Simone, were British (Ronnie, the older gentlemen growing up just blocks away from the Man U pitch, more on this bond between us later, and Simone had grown up in Belfast during the “Troubles”). Both now lived with their families outside of London. They were instructors at the British version of West Point and also trained select battalions and officers (think Special Forces, special police etc.) of armies around the world (kind of nifty). They had just completed a week of working with officers in the Bosnian army about the psychology of leadership.

The questions then turned towards what Addie and I were doing in Sarajevo. We told them about our internships and what each of our NGO’s did. Then we started to discuss why in the world two American girls in their 20’s would want to spend their summers? As we told them our usual canned responses about wanting to be challenged, unique experiences etc, I mentioned that I was also working on an honors thesis on the role of nationalist narratives and genocide.

Now I’m used to getting weird looks when I tell people I study genocide and find it interesting enough to write a thesis on. The looks usually range from concern over my mental sanity to concern for the listeners safety being in my presence. But the look I got from Simone was something completely different. It was utter awestruck. I turned to Ronnie with a quizzical look on my face. He smiled and responded that I had just made Simone’s life.

As it turns out, Simone’s academic training is on narratives and their impacts of group behavior, perceptions of evil, socialization of violence etc. It’s the focus of the courses he teaches at the military academy. And his passion is narratives and genocide. When I told him that was my interest, his mind was blown and we were instantly talking as if we were long lost friends. Debating scholars such as Goldhagen and Power, applying Kant’s ideas of imperatives to groups violence, and discussing his own experiences growing up in Northern Ireland at the climax of religious violence.

As our nerdiness literally spewed over, the evening flew by. Ronnie talked with Addie and I about his experiences in Afghanistan, Iraq, and around Africa. We debated topics such as religion, American politics, and the necessary balance between soft and hard power. It was unreal the conversation topics that were explored and how easy of a time we all had discussing them.

Before we knew it, it was 2:00 in the morning. We had spent close to 6 hours with two complete strangers discussing everything under the sun and not even noticing the hours slipping by. We exchanged contact information (Simone has already sent me a reading list to help with my thesis along with more articles than I know what to do with, I am so excited words cannot even begin to describe it) and went on our ways. It was honestly one of the best nights I have had in the city.

As I woke up this morning and replayed the evening in my head, I knew without a shadow of a doubt that we were meant to miss our bus to Medjugorje. By letting go of our plans and letting fate take the lead, things turned out better than we ever could have hoped. I’m already excited to continue to foster the relationship we began last night. Simone’s invited me to stay with his wife and son and do some research in the British libraries if I’m ever interested and Ronnie promised that we’ll go to a Man U game. So no idea if I’ll get to London any time soon but with those two offers on the table it might be worth a visit.

Posted by remullin 09:24 Archived in Bosnia And Herzegovina

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Rachel, what a great story, and those unexpected evenings are truly to be treasured. I had one of those at Brown University years ago. Exciting about the reading list. Who knows, perhaps you might get to London sooner than you think. Katy Reavey has booked a house in Ireland (not the same one as before) for the week of July 5-12 next summer. Your mom and I are planning to go, perhaps you can join us after DC and visit your new friends before or afterwards. Anyway, what a great story.

by Michael Mullin

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