Riding through the Bosnian countryside, listening to classic American Christmas music that blares through the bus' intercom system, gazing out the distorted, raindrop-streaked windows at the passing scenery, buildings riddled with bullet holes pass by, speaking out about the wars this country has been through.
And just at this moment, as I sat and soaked it all in, I had a really sweet moment. It was one of those moments where it just hits you, that life is really, really cool. That you're experiencing something very special, a once-in-a-lifetime even. And you just want to savor it, to take it all in, to recognize the value of the moment. I realized how amazingly blessed I am.
And so, even though Thanksgiving dinner took place in frigid hotel mess hall, thousands of miles from family, and consisted of fried veal, French fries and some kind of soup, it was easy to be grateful for the experience. I mean how many people will ever get the chance to spend an American holiday in Bosnia? How many people could even point out Bosnia on a map?
In Bosnia we stayed in Medjugorje, a town considered by many to be highly spiritual. For those of you who don't know (probably all of you who weren't there), here's the story:
In 1981 some kids were playing up on the mountain above the town of Medjugorje when they suddenly saw the Blessed Virgin Mary appear to them. This is a very faithfully Catholic town, so the kids knew who she was. This apparition was a big deal! The children told the townspeople about it, but most didn't believe them. The next day many followed the kids back up the mountain where Mary again appeared. Only the original kids (there were six) could see her, but others from the village also had experiences that led them to believe the authenticity of the apparition. Even now, 28 years later, some of the original kids are still visited consistently by Mary.
Whether or not you believe the story is true, the town sure does. Everywhere you go there's little gift shops selling rosaries, crucifixes and Marys of every possible size and color. Millions of people make the pilgrimage to Medjugorje, wishing to see for themselves the site where Mary appeared. I climbed the mountain and saw this place where now there's a statue of Mary. It's a beautiful area, surrounded by low mountains and green valleys. A very good place for an apparition in my opinion.
Other cool/interesting things about Bosnia.
It's got variety. There are large Catholic, Muslim and Orthodox populations there. This has led to some major problems, including political disputes and fighting, but also creates a unique blend of cultures.
Before Bosnia was independent of Yugoslavia it was home to the 1984 Olympic games in its current capitol city Sarajevo.
Bosnia is really cheap (compared to Florence)! They use Bosnian Marks, and its pretty easy to get a great hamburger for like 6 marks, which is 3ish Euros or 4 and half bucks. A good burger in Italy could easily cost you 12 Euros, or 18 dollars.
It's definitely weird not being home for Thanksgiving. I missed the giant, home cooked turkey, the piles of mashed potatoes, the stuffing, gravy, even the weird purple cranberry stuff. I missed hearing Grandpa talk about working on the farm back in the good ol’ days. I miss watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade before dinner and falling asleep to the Cowboys football game afterwards.
But, like I said, I’m soaking it all in, and fried veal actually goes very well with fries, and I wouldn’t have traded my Bosnia experience for anything. Not even for a traditional Thanksgiving in Illinois.