27 February 2012

Snow in Mostar

When I first arrived in Mostar, I was basically told not to expect much, if any, snow during the winter months, which made me a bit sad after a lifetime of Midwest winters. So I was incredibly surprised when Mostar received, what I and those around me perceived as, a record-breaking snowstorm, more than I had ever seen at home. It snowed heavily for two days. The door to my balcony was completely covered in snow, blocking out the sunlight, and people had to create little walking paths because the snow was as much as 5 feet high. The snow completely covered cars and blocked the roadways. Nothing could come into or out of Mostar.

Then on the night of Monday February 6, the north wind blew down a bunch of electrical towers holding the power cables to all of east Mostar. East Mostar, where I live, was without power for three days and four nights. Since there was so much snow, no one could get to the towers to fix them. Snow shovels are pretty rare in Mostar, and in some cases, people couldn't get to their shovels because their sheds were buried in snow. Most of the people on the east side depend on public-provided electricity for heating, cooking and water. The temperatures were cold enough that all the food in my non-functioning fridge froze. All this meant that a lot of people on the east side (mostly Bosniaks) had to find a place to stay on the west side (mostly Bosnian Croats). In one case, there was an orphanage with a bunch of children freezing for two days because they had no heat and couldn't be moved to just anywhere for legal reasons.

The government was completely disorganized and understandably unprepared for this crisis. I think there was a lot of miscommunication between the east and west side. They would ask for volunteers to help shovel snow to get to the electrical towers and people would volunteer, but then no one would contact them. Everyday, they would say the electricity would be back by six o'clock and then when it wasn't, they would say it would be back the next morning.

From my perspective, it was civil society organizations like Abrasevic that provided the real aid and support to Mostar’s citizens. Abresevic started organizing the community to help the people without power. They started by collecting bread and canned food for the children in the orphanage. Abrasevic let three families stay in their office space and individuals stay in the cafe. They also started food and clothing drives for people. Everyday we made warm meals for people, which was great because I got to learn how to cook some seriously good food. It was pretty cool. I got to know a lot of the Roma in Mostar. It turns out even Roma kids have Facebook, so to keep them busy I lent my computer to them. After a few days at Abrasevic, one of the Roma dads that I got to know showed me his arm, which now includes my name minus the 'h'. I'm not sure if it was a tattoo, but it was quite flattering.

Many people connected with Abrasevic stayed there for five whole days helping out even though they had homes on the west side. I don't know how they managed because even those of us who did leave at night got no more than four to five hours of sleep, and I personally would go crazy without a little alone time. Abrasevic was the busiest I had ever seen it, a constant whirl of activity and work. By the end, three days and four nights felt more like a week. Still, watching and being part of this experience—a community coming together in crisis—was amazing. So, painful solidarity describes the situation well.