A good end cannot sanctify evil means; nor must we ever do evil, that good may come of it... We are too ready to retaliate, rather than forgive... And yet we could hurt no man that we believe loves us. Let us try then what love will do: for if men did once see we love them, we should soon find they would not harm us. Force may subdue, but Love gains: and he that forgives first, wins the laurel.
William Penn

Be patterns, be examples in all countries, places, islands, nations wherever you come; that your carriage and life may preach among all sorts of people, and to them; then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone...
George Fox

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Petar of Asenovgrad, the End of the World, Freezing and No Kebab, and Saving the Dogs

The March to Asenovgrad

I met with Inge again after passing Pazardzhik. We decided to make the walk from near Plovdiv to Asenovgrad, where we had a host waiting for us who was willing to take us in (as well as our two dogs.) The walk was a hard 30 kilometers through sometimes heavy snowfall and wind along a busy highway; I'll never forget the sight of Inge pushing her bicycle through ice and snow with her puppy, Mienje, in her jacket, followed by the intrepid dog, Bo, often trottong on three legs, wet and dirty and spotted with frost and snow. By the time we got to Asenovgrad we were exhausted and cold, but our host, Petar, took us in, fed us, directed us to our hot showers and then to the wood stove.

Petar, Mienje's Rescue, and the End of the World

Petar hosted us for three nights, giving Inge time to solve the problem of rescuing Mienje from the hands of the Turkish authorities. Turkey, along with England, has the toughest laws regarding the entry of pets, and meeting all the regulations to get Mienje into Turkey was out of the question. Inge met with her father while in Asenovgrad (as he has been travelling by caravan to Greece) and the two of them worked out a way to save the puppy Inge had found by the side of the road in Serbia; she would go back to Sofia to get Mienje's paperwork in order, then take her to Germany. At the same time, Inge would have a chance to visit friends and family after hard months on the road.
Our last night in Asenovgrad, Petar had friends over, as it was the Mayan calendar end of the world. While I wouldn't have minded a few fireballs falling from the sky to warm things up a bit, no fireballs fell. We did, however, have a good time with Petar's friends, and I had a chance to play the harmonica and sing the End of theWorld Blues, accompanied by a blues guitarist who covered all my many mistakes.
The next morning, Inge and Mienje set off for Sofia with Inge's father, and I set off in the direction of Dimitrovgrad, where Petar had helped me find another host. I was all the more grateful as it meant spending Christmas under a roof and with a little companionship. Not that Bo wasn't a good companion, mind you.
Of course, Bo was still a dog to be rescued as I couldn't bring her into Turkey either. Inge and I both agreed that it would be better to leave her in a town before reaching Turkey than to have her captured and dispatched by Turkish paramilitary dogcatchers.

More Frozen Wilderness Camping; Yes is No and No is Yes, or, No Kebab for Me

I was back in the woods, camping in six inches of snow the night I left Asenovgrad. Oh well.
The next day was a bit stressful, walking down a narrow but busy road,dodging into snowbanks to avoid the big trucks. And that night Bo and I found an abandoned house in a snow covered field to camp in. Fortunately for me, these past two frozen nights were made tolerable because Inge loaned me her subzero sleeping bag, which kept me warm. My plus 5 degree bag just doesn't serve in this partof the world at wintertime.
Earlier in the day I thought I'd find a hot meal, as camping without Inge and her burner and cooking skills means cold food for me. I found a little cafe and restaurant with a menu that included kebabs. I pointed the kebab out on the menu on the wall. The guy asked, "kebab?" I nodded my head vigorously with a big smile on my face. I'd also asked for coffee, which I got, thinking maybe I'd have another after the kebab. I stepped outside for a while waiting for my kebab, and drank my coffee. I peered inside the window, but no kebab. Also, the guy didn't seem very busy; he was hanging around as if someone else were making my kebab.But there was no one else. I finished my coffee and he brought me the bill; about 40 euro cents. But where was my 1 euro kebab? I paid my bill and left as I had some distance to cover that day. I remembered (after all this time in Bulgaria) that a nod of the head is "Ne!" while a shaking of the head is "Da!" When he'd asked if I wanted a kebab, I had nodded, meaning, "Ne!" The big smile I had while saying no must have seemed strange.

Bo the Christmas Dog, Which Made Me a Sort of Santa Claus

Now on the way to Dimitrovgrad, I passed through a village and took a little break to eat bread with butter and mustard ( all I had left at that point, and no market in this village). A man noticed Bo sitting in the first sunshine this region had seen for weeks, and he asked me lots of questions, one of which, I believe, was whether Bo was my dog. I must have nodded my head, which means "Ne!", because he seemed all the more interested in Bo at that point. Wanting to get to Dimitrovgrad, however, and finding communication difficult, I continued on my way with Bo following and chasing the occasional car. The man drove ahead of us and parked by the side of the road to wait. When I reached him it became clear that he wanted Bo. He pointed down a driveway to the big doghouse Bo would have if I gave her to him. I had a look, gave the man Bo's dogfood, helped him get Bo arranged on her chain ( a long one) and went on my way (but not before the man offered me a ride to Dimitrovgrad, which I declined, and 20 Leva, which I accepted. )The man seemed very kind, and if I understood him correctly, Bo was a Christmas present for somebody. So Bo is no longer a homeless wanderer with an uncertain future. And though she is in a doghouse on a chain, the man who took her seemed instantly in love with her, and ready to make her comfortable and happy.
So here's to the man who saved Bo from the Turkish paramilitary dogcatchers, and from an uncertain stray dog future! And here's to Bo, the dog who walked some 650 kilometers from Bosnia through Serbia and most of Bulgaria!

To Dimitrovgrad

Still elated by Bo's rescue ( and by Mienje's), I entered Dimitrovgrad feeling pretty good. When I stopped for a 25 euro cent coffee at a coffee machine and a man with a beard gave me a candy bar, I was euphoric. Then I met Milen, my host, making the day an altogether good one. Milen gave up his room in a pension for me to sleep in while he stays at his parent's house, and Christmas Eve I was having a nice dinner with Milen and his brother. So enough of my whining these past few weeks, and Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 17, 2012

In Pazardzhik

I'm in Pazardzhik with Bo (the dog who has tagged along since Bosnia.) The first night out of Sofia we had to camp in the woods and went through a minus 17 degree C night. I was for the first time in my life truly unsure as to surviving til morning. Inge phoned next day to know if we'd made it; she also went through the same ordeal some distance ahead of me. The next night I took a cheap hotel room in Ihtiman after bargaining for the room, breakfast, and the dog included in the room. We finally got down to a lower elevation where it is just freezing at night, which feels like Springtime. We camped the past two nights, last night in the rain and mud, and we'll be camping again tonight between Pazardzhik and Plovdiv.
It's dark and cold and I'm feeling pretty low, but I knew this time would come at some point. Meanwhile, we're still walking!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

On the Crisis of Purpose

"Why are you doing this?" is the question always asked when people discover I am walking from Portugal to Egypt. I always have my response, which comes out of my mouth without my having to think about it. I am walking for peace. More specifically, I am walking for Inner Peace, I am walking for peace wherever I go, I am walking for peace in the Middle East. I am carrying two peace petitions with me to Palestine. I am walking for an organization called Masterpeace, which encourages peace initiatives from individuals.
I was happy to answer this question after many months of soul searching in the beginning of my walk. By the time I had reached the Alps, I felt true Inner Peace. In the North of Italy, during the long days of summer, I was encouraged and supported every day by enthusiasts of my peace walk. People joined my walk for an hour or a day or several days. I was almost a guest of honor at a camp devoted to peacemaking. Fellow Quakers in the south of France supported me and are still supporting me. People gave me gifts by the side of the road. I had a host almost every night, and I was often treated as a guest of honor among them as well. My Inner Peace and the success of my journey were surely in the bag. My Purpose was sound.

But the real answer to "Why are you doing this?" is because I had no choice but to start walking. However, I knew this would never be a satisfactory answer. I searched for Purpose that would satisfy those who asked me "Why?". I came up with peace as the general answer, then I came up with some good practical reasons which I have already spoken of. To answer the question, "Why?" with, "Because God wants me to" would land me in a nut house rather than in the house of an enthusiastic host. It wasn't that I was trying to deceive anyone by my high minded Purpose of Peace in the Middle East; I believe it is possible, though I will not be the one to bring it, clearly enough. But I wanted to have an answer people could grab on to; something more concrete than a vague though intense calling.

In Slovenia, in late summer, at the height of my Inner Peace, a woman joined my walk. Inge, from Belgium, was cycling to China. We had shared a host, and we had travelled a few days together when we decided to continue on to Zagreb, Sarajevo, even Istanbul before going our separate ways. Inge was impressed by my Inner Peace and my Purpose. She, on the other hand, had no purpose other than to travel, and she made no pretense at inner peace. I supposed I might be able to set an example for her, and to help her find a noble Purpose.

Three months later, we are in Sofia, after walking 1500 kilometers in three months together. After travelling through war-scarred Croatia and Bosnia, and having fewer and fewer internet arranged hosts,  and more wilderness camping in deteriorating weather conditions; in short, after La Dulce Vita of Northern Italy, and now the hard, frozen, dark Balkans, Inge is cycling on towards Istanbul. She is doing this in part because she knows I am not a man of peace. Not even remotely.

Back when we were in Bosnia we were interviewed several times by the side of the road. "Why are you doing this?" the journalist would ask, and I would give my response. But my response was more and more becoming a canned response. Nevertheless, the journalist was always impressed by it. When the question was posed to Inge, her response was always, "I haven't got a mission like Ken has, I'm just travelling." While the journalists were impressed by the magnitude of her journey, they were never very impressed with her lack of Purpose.

Just before leaving Serbia, a month or two later, we were interviewed by a TV crew by the side of the road. When I answered The Question, however, the journalist didn't seem as impressed as the others had been. I knew why; the response was artificial because I felt no peace at all. I was by now ashamed of the peace sign on my back, I was ashamed to ask people to sign my petitions, I was no longer walking for peace, I was just walking.
Inge's response to The Question was different this time, though. For the past months she had been helping every abandoned puppy or kitten she could find by the side of the road. She helped some, saved one, and was unable to help or save others. When she was trying to help these animals, she seemed to me to be full of Inner Peace, though it was not her intended Purpose. Her answer to The Question posed by the journalist in Serbia was, "One of the reasons I am making this trip is to help abandoned animals, and to make people aware of the cruelty and the extent of the practice of abandoning animals in this part of the world." I think she also answered that she was just travelling, without the noble Purpose I had, and she mentioned the good things about Serbia; about all the hospitality we encountered, but her Purpose, to help abandoned pets, though unintended,  was genuine, and she spoke of it with passion.

Inge has never mentioned Inner Peace, or any kind of peace, as the Purpose of her journey. I believe she left Antwerp for China for the same reason I left Portugal; because she had to to live her life authentically. But she simply left, while I created Purpose. While I still believe in Peace-- I absolutely believe peace is possible in this world-- and while I am as committed as ever to trying to deliver my petitions and walking on to Cairo for this great peacemaking organization called Masterpeace, I no longer have any illusions of being or even becoming a man of peace. I am an angry man with a dark mind far too often. But I am compelled to make this walk so I will put my head down once Inge has gone on and put one foot in front of the other until I am finished or until something physically stops me.  I am only a messenger, and not a good representative of the people called Quakers; I am not the good example George Fox would have me be. I am a mailman delivering a package to the Middle East without knowing its content. Yet I am somehow content with that.

Inge has not been my only teacher on how to find Purpose if one is compelled to make a potentially life changing journey. Others have also told me that the Purpose comes of itself, or that the journey is the Purpose. But I am not so sure that the Universe conspires to help us make our wishes come true if we want them badly enough, as Paolo Coelho believes. It may be that none of my wishes come true. But I plod onward. So, my advice on finding Purpose? Don't look for it. Just make the journey.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Into Bulgaria

After leaving Nis, we had another spontaneous host; a man named Ivan, a former motorcycle racer and Serbian champion found us a place to stay after treating us to a coffee and telling us he liked people who were as crazy as he was.
The following days were hard, as we were camping in the snow. Before reaching the city of Pirot we were interviewed by the side of the road by a Pirot television team which included a young, idealist journalist who thought stories like ours made a difference. He was interested in my peace walk, but equally interested in Inge's journey, which has become a journey to help abandoned animals by the side of the road and raise awareness about this kind of cruelty to animals.
From Pirot we crossed into Bulgaria, and the nights we spent berfore reaching Sofia we very hard, and we sought out shelter in abandoned houses. The last night we spent before reaching Sofia we spent in our tents in snow and weather well below freezing. The daytime high that day was minus 3 degrees Celsius.
On entering Sofia, as it got dark and the snow came down we were hosted by a friend of Milan's (from Nis), Peter, who gave us his apartment for the night. The following day we walked outside the city to a Couchsurfing host, Tanya, whose family has taken us in for the past two days.
Today Inge and I spent our last day together, as she has decided it is high time she actually cycled again. We took the metro back into Sofia to buy some things we needed; in her case new brakes for her bicycle, and in my case a new mat to put under my sleeping bag. We' ve had a good day, feeling both saddened and excited at the prospects of having our own, unique journeys to pursue once again.
Tomorrow night the high will be 10 degrees Farenheit, so we will both need the courage to continue through Bulgaria alone. When I have found shelter in an abandoned house with Bo, the dog I have inherited from Inge's animal rescue mission, I know I will be thinking of Inge in her abandoned house up ahead, with her puppy beside her.
For a more colorful account of these past two weeks, with photos, see Inge's blog at bikenomadism.wordpress.com

Friday, November 30, 2012

Nis, and One More dog

After many short days and long nights camping on farmland we've arrived in Nis. We both had some things to attend to here, but no hosts, so we weren't sure how we were going to get things done, then get out of the city to find a place to camp before dark. As is often the case in former Jugoslavia, however, we were rescued by a man on the street, Milan, who recognised us as fellow travellers and offered us a place to stay, along with the two dogs we now have. The second dog, a puppy about three weeks old, was discovered by Inge abandoned along the side of the road. If Inge and I continue walking together all the way to Istanbul, we may have a dog pack trailing along.
Meanwhile, Bulgaria is only a few days away.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012


We met the host Vesna had arranged for us in the city center of Kraljevo after a nice woman had treated us to a coffee. Vojkan smiled as he approached, but also seemed concerned about something. I read his mind.
"Did you know about the bike?" I asked.
"No, I didn't."
"Did you know about the dog?"
"No, I didn't."
"Then you surely didn't know about the four newborn puppies we found this morning."
"This could be a problem," he said, but then, after an uneasy silence among the three of us, he added, "No problem. Let's go."
As we walked to the house he had arranged for us, Vojkan told us about the meeting he'd just attended, regarding local government's support for projects proposed by Pozitivna Omladina, the youth organization Vojkan works for.
"I asked this politician questions, and he talked and talked without answering them, so I asked again, and then again to get a straight answer, but he didn't give me one. By the time I was finished with him, he wasn't very happy about me being there. We won't get any support from this politician, but we never have anyway."
Pozitivna Omladina, or Collective Positive Youth, organizes activities for young people in Kraljevo. It defends people from any type of discrimination, and encourages non-violence and diversity. As we were soon to discover, Pozitivna Omladina also helps people who are temporarily homeless. Much of the support the group gets comes from Italy.
The house Vojkan led us to is owned by a man named Vlada, who has a small windshield replacementbusiness and is also involved in a few NGO's. The apartment we were led to is occupied by a German volunteer for Pozitivna Omladina, Elisabeth. Vlada found a safe place for Inge's bicycle, and neither Vlada nor Elisabeth objected to the dog and puppies. We had found just the place we needed to try to keep them alive.
In the evening I visited the organisation's office, and met Nikola, a close friend of Vojkan, who was frantically doing the cooking for a dinner at the office. I also met a woman named Bojana, who is involved in feminist organisations in Kraljevo. She told me about the NATO bombing that took place in the city during the Balkan Wars, and about a friend of hers who worked at the local TV station.  He was killed in the bombing.
Several days later, after two visits to a vet who tried to keep the puppies alive without charging us, three of the four puppies had died. Bojana joined us for dinner at Elisabeth's apartment. I mentioned how easy it was for someone to throw the puppies out by the side of the road, and how difficult it had been for us (and especially for Inge, who devoted 24 hours a day to them) to try to save them.
"It is like this with everything in life," Bojana said. "It is so easy to destroy, and to disregard the alternatives to destroying, and so difficult to prevent destruction and to repair the damage that is done by such people."
Last night, after one last desperate trip to the vet, the last puppy died. Sometimes the damage is too much to repair, but we cannot let that stop us from trying.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Serbian Saints, and One Belgian Saint

Vesna of Uzice

When we arrived in the city of Uzice, we thought we would have to find an internet cafe to reach our Couchsurfing host, Vesna. Instead, as we walked into this rather large city with the little black dog, Vesna miraculously spotted us on the street and gave us directions to her home. We first spent some time in the city with her other guests, students from Greece, Poland and Russia. We then climbed up a mountain and had our sanctuary for the night. Before leaving Vesna assured us she would contact some friends in another city, Kraljevo, to help us find hosts there.

Stepo of Lucani

After a few more nights of camping, we arrived in a small town called Lucani. I was feeling rather despondent, and sitting outside a supermarket while Inge did the shopping inside, when a man named Stepo stepped up to offer us a place to stay for the night. While in Lucani Stepo introduced us to his family and paid for our meals as well. Stepo s kindness lifted both of us out of our forlorn moods, and we were ready to go on the next day. Many thanks to you, Stepo.

Inge, Patron Saint of Abandoned Animals

Our next destination with a host was the city of Kraljevo, and we were just about to reach it after more nights in our tents when Inge discovered a sack full of newborn puppies by the side of the road. We found a vet and bought some puppy formula, then managed to find a bottle to feed them with. In Kraljevo we met the host arranged for us by Vesna, and we are now in what seems to us a safe house, feeding the puppies and licking our own wounds. Of course, Inge the Saint of Stray Dogs and Cats is bearing most of the burden in keeping the puppies alive. Tomorrow we will be looking for a way to leave the puppies with other, local animal lovers before moving on. Otherwise, we will be trying to take care of them ourselves as we make our way towards Bulgaria.

Next blog, more saints in Kraljevo.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

From Sarajevo into Serbia, the Details

Sarajevo, Boris, Climbing the Walls, An Unexpected Encounter with a Mennonite, Future Plans

After leaving our hostel in Sarajevo we were invited to stay at the house of Boris, originally from Banja Luka. Boris had been a soldier with the Serbian army during the Balkan Wars, but decided he had no business with an AK 47 in his hands and made himself a civilian. He is now an investigative journalist, and enjoys rock climbing in his spare time. He invited Inge and I to do some indoor "rock climbing", and Inge was enthusiastic, as she has done some rock climbing herself. I thought I would just watch, but instead gave it a try and managed not to hurt myself.
Also enthusiastic about rock climbing is a man named Matt Harms, whom we met at the same place. I was amazed to find that Matt is a Mennonite from the area around Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and he is working with the Mennonite Central Committee in Sarajevo. Along with Boris, Inge, and a friend of Matt s, we peace church compatriots had a beer after climbing the walls.
While we stayed with Boris, he paid for everything and showered us with gifts. I now have thermal gloves, and a nice sweater to help me through the Balkan winter. I think Boris may have only loaned me the sweater, but since I was still wearing it when it was time to go, he had the good grace not to tell me to remove it as I hiked away. Boris also commented on my blog, telling me he liked it because it was an easy read and required no thinking. If I had any illusions at all about a book about this walk, Boris has dashed them to pieces. If I change my mind, I will hire Boris to be my ghost writer.

Mountains, Minefields, Keeping Warm on a Budget 

After Sarajevo, Inge and I walked through some beautiful, mountainous country, on a dirt road bordered by the occasional minefield. As night fell we camped about five meters from the side of the road, worried that we might be pushing our luck to stray too far. A few nights later we camped through our first hard frost. As my sleeping bag is rated for 5 degrees Centigrade, and my mat is a 3 euro ultra thin wafer, I didn t sleep much. Since then I have acquired a nice piece of cardboard to help out the mat. I also wear all my winter clothes to bed, with the exception of the down coat I have for a pillow. Until it gets really cold, I should be okay with this arrangement.  
One night we asked a pig farmer if we could camp in his field, and we were invited to sleep in the family s house for the night. We stuck to our tents, though, as we wanted a very early start. I did go in for dinner though, and was served a banquet with lots of rakija, which I tried hard not to drink. It was impossible not to, though. Anyone who has ever experienced Balkan hospitality will know what I mean.

The Little Black Road Dog
At the border with Serbia we noticed a small, black dog lying in the sun. I imagined it to be a dog content with lying about, and being fed and scratched behind the ears by bored border guards. Instead, as we walked into Serbia, the dog ran ahead of us. For the past year I have been chasing off dogs that try to follow me; I simply can t take care of a dog. But this dog kept apace, but thirty meters ahead. Where could I chase it to? For the rest of the day the little black dog trotted ahead of us, as if we d hired it to lead the way. Whenever a car passed, the LBD would chase it, which had us wincing at first, then laughing, then not even noticing anymore. By day s end, we were camping in the rain and the LBD sat out in it all night. Then we fed it, and it has been our dog ever since. I am not always happy with it, and the LBD senses this, and prefers Inge s company. It trembles when I am near it.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Into Serbia

We're past Uzice, on the way to Nis. We've been doing a lot of wilderness camping, but there is also plenty of hospitality along the way.Thanks to everyone who has helped us out in Bosnia, and now Serbia. Thanks also to those who have helped from afar!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Into Bosnia, and Down to Sarajevo

Into Bosnia
After crossing into that part of Bosnia referred to as Republika Srpska we stopped by the river for a bath. As it turned out we were in a man's backyard, and when he arrived, rather than asking us to leave, he bought us pizza. Željko's family lived on the Croatian side of the river before the war, but had to move to the 'Serbian' side when the war started.
A few nights later we camped in a meadow, and the farmers who owned the meadow watched us from a distance. After dark we were approached by police with flashlights, while the local farmers came towards us through the woods, one of them shouting. An old man with one hand held an axe in the other. After seeing my sign and checking our passports, the police and the farmers left us alone without another word.

Novi Grad
In Novi Grad we shopped for food. We were preparing to leave the city to find a campsite before dark when a man named Dejan invited us to stay with him. We stayed with him for two days, enjoying the hospitality he provided and receiving many gifts from him. I now have a headlamp and a light jacket (among other things) thanks to Dejan.
We also went to a bar with Dejan where my petitions were passed around. Most of the comments were supportive of this walk, but one supported Serbian nationalism while another wished us bad luck.

In Prijedor, where ethnic cleansing took place during the war, we visited the Local Democracy Agency which works for local development and inter-ethnic dialogue and reconciliation. we met with Dragan Došen and two volunteers, Aleksandar Pavlović and Halida Selimović, who are working hard to promote peace and harmony in a place where healing has been slow.
Afterwards a man named Fikret treated us to lodging at the Hotel Prijador where we were able to relax and get cleaned up.
The night we left Prijador we found ourselves in an area where there was no 'wilderness' to camp in, so we asked a farming family for a place to put our tent. They put us in a clean and roomy storage shed instead, bringing in a table and milking stools to sit on while we were treated to a hearty dinner of eggs and sausage.
After Prijador we walked through Tropolje and Omarska, also sites of ethnic cleansing during the war. We found nothing in these places to remind anyone of what had happened other than the ruins of the concentration camp in Tropolje.

Banja Luka
In the capital of 'Republika Srpska' we again met our very good friend, Dejan, who treated us to coffee and introduced us to two of his friends. One of them, Branko, had walked with his father from Novi Grad to Prijador in 12 hours carrying all the household goods they could carry, while mortar rounds fell around them after the war started. (The same walk took us two and a half days). The city that had been a nightmare for so many was a sanctuary for Brank and his father.
Another of Dejan's friends, a very idealistic student named Marco, managed to find us a hostel to stay in at no charge.
Earlier in the day I'd met a Muslim man named Ževad who told me how Banja Luka had been before the war; a mixed population that could live together in peace. He lamented that Banja Luka was now primarily a monocultural population.
Just outside of Banja Luka two cyclists stopped to talk to us; Berengere from France, and Daniel from the Netherlands. They treated us to coffee and found us a safe place to camp along the river.

Upon entering the ancient Muslim capital, I saw graffitti in large block letters: NEVER FORGET SREBRENICA. We stopped at a large mosque to ask for a place to sleep, and were directed to the Medresa, where the homeless can find a place to stay. I mentioned that we were not Muslims. 'No problem,' they told us with a smile.
While looking for the Medresa, as we were a bit lost, we passed by a Catholic church to ask for the same. The church had been shot up during the war. The priest wanted nothing to do with us, it seemed, and I asked him whether he had Christ on his lips but not in his heart, as we had just needed a place to put our tent. Other Croatian Catholics noticed what had happened; two of them offered us a little money, and two others had a long chat with us and offered us encouragement. We were also offered a place to stay by an elderly woman, but after she had been to mass we couldn't find her or her address, so we looked again for the Medresa. When we arrived it was getting late, and the Medresa was filled up. We found an inexpensive hotel to stay in, going over our budget.

While passing this village we were invited to have lunch with a Muslim family by a man named Semin and his sister, Sadbera. As we walked through the village towards his house he explained that Ahmići had been destroyed during the war, and that there had been a massacre of Muslims there. As people had fled the village, snipers had shot them, men, women and children. Semin's grandparents had been killed in the attack, and his father, Enes, had later lost a leg in a minefield only 3 kilometers away while serving in the Bosnian army. He'd spent 6 years recuperating in Belgium, where Semin's brother, Hadis, was born.
 I was surprised to hear that it had been Croatians that had murdered the people of Ahmići; until that point the stories I'd heard had been of Croatians and Bosnian Muslims suffereing at the hands of Serbians.
I was unable to eat much of the big lunch put in front of us by their mother, Mersa, because of the stories the family told us about Ahmići.
As we were leaving the village, Semin escorted us, telling us we were examples to the world because of this walk for peace. All I could think about in the meantime was tearing down the Croatian flag a neighbor was flying from his house and having a few strong words with him. It is obviously Semin and his family who are the examples; they have managed to return to a normal life, co-existing in peace with nationalistic Croatian neighbors.

As we worked our way towards Sarajevo, passing shot up homes, schools and other buildings, and camping along the river bank or in meadows not marked as minefields, the Muslim festival of Bajram began to celebrate the pilgrimage to Mecca. A local man had just walked for ten months to get to Mecca, walking as well through war-torn Syria (where I will probably not be walking).
Many people could be seen carrying baskets, visiting neighbors either to deliver or receive gifts of food or money. Many streams ran red with the blood of sheep or cattle butchered for the feast. We were also given the occasional gift of baklava or candy.
The night before we reached Sarajevo we were again in a situation where no 'wilderness camping' was to be found; I asked a man named Asim if we could camp on his property and he gave us permission. After dark we were visited by concerned neighbors who thought we were up to no good, but once we'd mentioned Asim's name, all was well. That night Asim and his wife visited to bring us food and water; the next morning they offered breakfast though we had to decline as we were in a hurry to get to Sarajevo.

Entering Sarajevo we saw an enormous cemetery on a hillside where many war victims have been buried. A large block of flats, still in use, bore the marks of war damage from the Serbian shelling during the war. We passed the Olympic stadium, which is in disrepair. At an internet cafe a man joked with us about the dangers of what we are doing; 'Too many weapons in the hands of the wrong people', he said.
The center of Sarajevo, however,  is beautiful; a sort of Westernized Medina. Another man named Asim, the owner of  Hostel City Center, had previously invited me to stay at his hostel for free via e-mail. We are here now, for two days, and the hospitality is better than ever. Snow is forecast for tomorrow, but we'll be warm.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

A Short Note From Travnik

I'm in Travnik, Bosnia and Herzegovina, about five or six day's walking from Sarajevo. I no longer have a camera, though I've got photos to post once I have time to post them. I hope to have a day or two to take a break in Sarajevo and to catch up on this blog.
Meanwhile, I've been camping rather than couchsurfing, with the occasional host to offer a meal or room in a hostel. The mountains are beautiful with autumnal colors mixed with aspens. All is well.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012


Friends, I continue to ask for donations. I've got enough money now to take me to the end of October.
As always, I try to spend as little as possible. Most of what I spend goes towards simple, basic food, but there are other expenses as well, such as second hand clothing. The boots I've had since Perpignan, in France, are just about ready for retirement.
I have stopped using 'couchsurfing' to find hosts as it took up too much time and money using the internet in internet cafes; my travelling companion  (who has her own funds) and I have been either 'wilderness' camping or asking for lodging in the places we visit. As always, there are generous and hospitable people who help us out, but there are many days when only your donations keep me going.
I am doing my best to work for peace along the way, visiting those places where efforts are being made to reconcile former enemies from the 'Balkan Wars'.
And I still talk to people I meet about the petitions I am carrying for peace in the Middle East, and about the organization I walk for, 'Masterpeace' masterpeace.org
My budget is something less than 150 euros a month now, as Bosnia is less expensive than Slovenia and Croatia.
If you'd like to contibute to this walk for peace, e-mail me at: la_peripherie@yahoo.com,  and type in 'donation' as the subject. I will tell you whether or not I still need money, and if I do, how you can send it to me.
Thank you!

The Peacemaker of Hrvatska Kostajnica

Daniel, his wife, Marina, and their daughter, Dalia
 In a park in Hrvatska Kostajnica, the Croatian half of a city divided by the Una River and the Bosnian border, a woman approached Inge and I to ask if we needed anything. This question always gets my mind racing as there is a long list of things I feel I could do with, but we answered only that we were looking for a place to stay that night. The woman, a Russian named Marina, replied that her husband, Daniel might be able to help us out when he returned from work.
We waited for this unknown patron of ours by the river, listening to the muezzin's call to prayer over on the Bosnian side. I had to smile as I hadn't heard this sound since Morocco, nine months ago, and I had to smile even more as I was hearing this call in Europe, in a place where this sound had almost been eradicated 20 years previously.
Daniel, Marina, and their daughter, Dalia, arrived later, helping us to find a place to camp along the river. The Una River was named by the Romans as being THE river; it is still a clear, clean and beautiful river worthy of the name. During their visit, Daniel explained he had been involved in projects aimed at reconciliation between Bosnian Serbs and Croatians, projects that had caught the attention of peace communities like Tamera, in Portugal, which sent representatives in 2003 to learn from Daniel and his colleagues.
Alen and Daniel
The next morning I was up early to have coffee with Daniel and his brother Alen. Both brothers were cheerful, and remained so despite my questions about their lives during the war.
Their family had moved from Kostajnica to Bihac, in Bosnia, hoping to avoid the impact of the impending war. Instead, they found themselves in the middle of it, holing up in their basement as mortar rounds fell around their house, killing and maiming friends. Alen, who was only 11 at the time, was afraid to leave the basement the first month, but later got used to the war, playing football with his friends whenever there was a pause in the mortar attacks. Once, Alen got his hands on some smoke grenades and he and his friends lit them and used them as footballs.
On another occasion, Alen hunted a neighbor's chicken with a home made bow and arrow. He proudly displayed it to his mother, who angrily made him throw it away; she was afraid the family would suffer for his stealing the chicken. When his father got home, he angrily had Alen find the chicken, stating that food shouldn't be thrown away when everyone was so hungry. That night the chicken fed eleven people. Alen also traded with UN soldiers in the Black Market, bringing home cigarettes and tinned beef. He has since put on weight and become a cook, telling me he decided after the war he would never be hungry again.
Daniel was older when the war started, and not long after the first mortar rounds fell, he was given a WWII German automatic rifle. He served in the army until a UN convoy was able to bring he and his family to Zagreb, where Daniel studied at university.
After the war the family returned to Kostajnica, occupying a vacant house for a time before finding a permanent home.
What is most remarkable about this story is that Daniel has devoted his years after the war to peacemaking in spite of the hardship he and his family suffered. Both he and Marina are examples for all of us to follow. 

Across the Una River and into Bosnia

At the border

A republic within a nation; Republika Srpska

The mosque in Bosanska Kostajnica, just across the river