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

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!