Day 298 - Bridge Divers of Mostar

Trip Start Nov 07, 2010
Trip End Jan 01, 2012

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Posh Apartment

Flag of Bosnia and Herzegovina  ,
Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Another day, another country. We find ourselves in the previously war torn city of Mostar in southern Bosnia.  What began as a scenic remnant of the Ottoman empire, artfully laid out along the ambling shores of the Neretva river, became a shattered husk of bullet riddled buildings and bombed out chapels and mosques.  The Yugoslav War left this region under fire from the years of 1992-1995, and in a concerted effort by Serbian troops to destroy any cultural identity and historical significance, they took fire to this sleepy town and destroyed countless buildings, bridges and monuments in an attempt to erase any ethnic pride and crush the spirits of the rebel uprising.  Holding little strategic value aside from its symbolic heritage, nowhere was this atrocious war crime more apparent than the destruction of one of the town's most cherished landmarks.  Stari Mos, or the old town bridge, spanned the great river and connected the two halves of this idyllic village until Serbian forces sieged the city and bombed it into small fragments that still litter the bottom of the waters below.  It was an attempt to demoralize an incumbent enemy, to crush the soul of a unified people by erasing their cherished heritage and cut off their only link to the outside world.  It didn’t work.  History repeats itself time and time again, and the act only further entrenched the brave inhabitants of this small town to stand up and protect their homeland at any cost, even their lives.  Today, the rebuilt bridge that spans the icy cold waters below stands as a physical reminder of all that occurred, composed of new stone mixed with salvaged remnants of the former landmark.  Its arched ridges tower high over the frigid banks as a symbol of perseverance, determination, defiance and triumph over an enemy both stronger and more numbered than their own.  Every day, a troupe of men, known only as bridge divers, saunter out to the center of the towering expanse, climb over the metal railing, spread their arms wide and plummet seventy feet to the ice cold depths below.  It draws a crowd and is one of the main attractions for tourists and locals alike to watch with baited breath and wide eyes as the divers crash through the rushing currents only to bob to the surface again a few suspenseful seconds later.  Most see it as a spectacle, but I think it means more than that.  These men don’t do it for fame, or glory, or money.  All of the proceeds go to the maintenance and upkeep of the bridge, and few ever see the smiling faces and raucous applause that greets a successful dive - trying to stem themselves from being swept away by the current and absorb the shock of plunging into the near freezing waters - but they do it anyway, each and every day.  Why submit yourself to that?  Aside from the rush of adrenaline and brief moment of clarity that accompanies any life threatening feat, what motivates a person to put themselves at risk over and over again.  Then I thought about the bridge and its significance in the hearts and minds of the locals.  What it means to them and the kind of emotions and memories its resurrected form evokes.  These people who dive every day from the very center of this storied structure, the highest point the majestic arch reaches, and hurtle toward the waters below only to surface again participate in an eloquent dance -  a living theater of the death and rebirth of this seemingly inanimate object.  Something imbued with the painful memories of the past and the hopeful thoughts towards the future.  It's a way to release the anger and frustration over the shared loss they all experienced, but at the same time rejoice in their resolve and unwavering faith in the face of a common enemy.  To arise new, and fresh and alive again.  Those divers are heroes in the minds of the people and this tiny little village on the outskirts of Bosnia holds a national treasure in the hearts of every single one of them.

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