Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A Train to Sarajevo

Visoko, Bosnia
Monday, August 29, 2011

The Visoko train station can be found by leaving your hotel in the center of town and crossing River Fojnica, staying left, and locating a cobblestone street on your right.

Onto this street you turn and walk 30 meters until it dead-ends into the railroad tracks. Here you find an old building (train station?) that is boarded up. To its right is another building which may or may not be open and which, open or not, is the administrative part of the "train station."

On the day I arrived there, there happened to be a woman outside the station washing some items in an outdoor sink with a perpetual small river of water running out of a long rubber faucet. Upon inquiry of this woman, I discovered that the train station in operation can be found by walking north.

Following her point, I walked for two minutes, or so, and passed a train so old it would never move again.

After another 25 meters, I entered the new station, a single-room building with enough space for four people to stand comfortably and two to sit at desks.

At one of these desks was a woman who was busy in a conversation with her colleague. Once I caught her eye, she brought out several items from her desk. (She did this laboriously, to my mind. Why not just keep everything on the desk?)

Of the items she brought out, one was a book of receipts. She was unable to find a pen, so I lent her mine. She filled out the receipt, stamped it three times, took my 4.6 KM (about $3.15), and handed me the receipt, which evidently was my ticket.

I pointed at the clock and said "malo"? -- indicating my wish, by the word "little," that the train would not be too long. She held up her thumb. (The thumb, not the index finger, stands for "one" in Eastern Europe.) "One o'clock?" I said. Yes. A mere hour and 20 minutes' wait.

I waited outside in the heat with several wild dogs who turned out to be not so wild but simply homeless. They spent their time sleeping in the shade, and I spent my time watching them.

The train came about 15 minutes early. I was not there. After half an hour in the heat, I had gone down to the river to wait. The train arrived quietly, so it was only by chance that I saw it. I ran toward it but was not able to run the whole way, because at one point the path became thin right next to some ancient barbed wire fencing. I walked carefully for 5 meters, or so, not knowing if I would miss the train. In fact, the train pulled out a few seconds after I got on, and we headed to Sarajevo 15 minutes early.


The photos above were taken three weeks later.

I had wanted to take photos of the abandoned train, so in the late morning on Thursday, September 22, 2011, I retraced my steps to the train station.

I set up the tripod, took a photo, and as I was picking up the tripod, a young man on a bicycle went past. I said "Zdravo," and he returned the greeting. He spoke a sentence or two in Bosnian. I said, "Engleski?" He said, "A little."

It turned out that Elvir knew more than a little English. He understood me perfectly. He asked if I was a professional photographer, and I went into a long explanation which he summed up with "Hobby." I nodded.

He told me a story of growing up as a child during the war in the early '90s. He and four playmates were playing around and under the train, and Serbian snipers from a hill about a mile away were shooting at them. None of the children were killed. "Right here?" I asked. "Yes," he said. "Their bullets could reach this far?" I asked. "They were snipers," he said. "They were all over the hills."

He said there used to be a lot of trains, but now there were only two or three a day. "Why?" He said no one rode the train anymore because of the economy. He said that even people who ride the train usually cannot afford to buy a ticket, so they either pay nothing or pay one KM (a bit less than a dollar). I told him that I had taken the train to Sarajevo three weeks before, and he laughed and said I was probably the only one who had bought a ticket.

Suddenly I knew why the ticket lady had kept her ticket book in a drawer. She had also given me my pen back.

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