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Mostar through an Egyptian-Turkish Woman’s Eyes

mostar bridgeAbout five years ago I dreamt about visiting the island of Dubrovnik in Croatia. While I was collecting information about the island, I found many tourists that recommended visiting the Bosnian city of Mostar. I wondered “what makes this city so special for many tourists?” Being so curious, I searched the internet for Mostar’s photos and the first photo that appeared was the famous Ottoman bridge of Mostar. I was so impressed, not only by the Bridge’s photo, but also by the lifestyle surrounding the bridge. The photos of Mostar, found in Google, expressed the vital lifestyle of Mostar that includes the coffee and tea shops, which serve the Bosnian tea and coffee in the traditional Bosnian coffee and tea sets, opened till late hours at night; shops that sell traditional Bosnian souvenirs; and the huge number of tourists who seemed curious about exploring this fairy tale city.

From Dubrovnik I took a bus which lasted for three hours to reach Mostar. I do not remember the ticket price, what I remember that it was so cheap. Starting from the passports check points, unlike other passport check points in many countries, Bosnian policemen received me with a kind smile at the Croatian-Serbian borders, welcoming me to the gates of this historical city.

I entered Mostar and the first thing I saw was a building where many halls were still there since the time of the war. Nearby this building, I met a gentle Bosnian man, who was an English teacher. He took me to a bank to change currency, as I had only Croatian kunas, and I changed them to Bosnian marks. At the bank, I paid attention that the value of the Bosnian mark was so high. After seeing the destroyed building and noticing the high value of the mark, I asked myself “How could a country which suffered a severe war could improve its economy in such a short time?” I was really impressed.

young people in mostarThis Bosnian teacher directed me to the Bridge’s area. During the way he was so respectful and helpful. After the sexual abuses that many Arab women suffer daily, it was so touching to see a Muslim man who helps a female tourist with all respect. I know that it is not correct to judge at first sight, but my first impression about Bosnian men was “they are respectful, kind and helpful”.

I walked on the famous bridge and I felt this breeze of the Ottoman Empire, a breeze that reminded me by my grandfathers. I heard many languages such as Spanish, Italian, English and German. During the war times, these languages were heard by the international security forces which came on the Bosnian soil to rescue Bosnia from its crisis. Nowadays, these languages are heard by tourists who come from the whole world to discover the land of Mostar and enjoy their time.  As I was alone, I gave my camera to one of these tourists to take of me, pictures which I still keep to remind me of this legendary travel.

I went to buy souvenirs from the shops surrounding the area. I was confused what to buy, as shops were stuffed by wonderful stuff that showed that despite being open to the whole world, Bosnian people still preserve their heritage.  My second impression about Bosnian people was “They are open-minded people who are still proud of their heritage and traditions”.  These shops sell, Bosnian accessories, Bosnian coffee and tea sets, Bosnian incense that brings a wonderful smell to your house, Bosnian traditional cloth and shoes among others.  I bought incense for my Croatian friend Linda. She is a Croatian close friend who is married to a Bosnian man called Kenan. I was on my way to visit them in Kakanj.

After buying souvenirs, on my way to have dinner, a scene stopped me. There was an old man making himself the famous Balkan musical instrument called šargija and selling it. The man was playing the sargija and surrounded by a huge number of tourists who were listening to the traditional music of Bosnia. What I liked most about the man that he did not ask for money, he was just enjoying his time and drawing a smile on the tourists’ faces. Another impression I formed about Bosnians “people who love and appreciate life, even old ones, they do not care about money as they make themselves, as well as  the people who surround them, happy by the tiniest details”. I could not stop myself of taking a photo of this man while he was taking a rest and smiling.

mostar10I reached the restaurants’ zone. Once again I was confused which restaurant to choose. There was a smell that made me even hungrier. It was the smell of the delicious Bosnian cuisine, mainly affected by the Turkish cuisine. Once more I remembered my grandmother’s kind dishes that she served for me. I picked a restaurant with a wonderful view, where I was able to see the river of Neretva, the famous old bridge of Mostar and Koski Mehmed-pašina džamija mosque. It is worth mentioning that Mostar was named after the bridge keepers (mostari) who in the medieval times guarded the previously mentioned old bridge translated as Stari Most in the Serbo-Croatian language. The waiter came to me, I did not know what to eat. Although it was during his working hours, he spent time helping me to choose a delicious meal. At this time I was learning Bosnian, so he motivated me to talk in Bosnian to practice. I told him “I will talk in English to save time”, he answered me “I am at your service and feel free to speak in Bosnian to practice”. He was so happy to see an Egyptian girl speaking Bosnian, and he did not care about spending more time helping me, despite the fact that there were many tourists at many tables of the restaurants waiting for their food.   Another impression I formed that “Bosnian are welcoming all people to discover their culture in a very charming way”. At the end I ordered a delicious traditional dish called ćevapčići (meat, bread and onion). While eating I was viewing the Neretva River, the Old Bridge, the Koski Mehmed-pašina džamija mosque and the bazaar’s zone. I told myself this is not for real; it must be a colourful vital painting. As a tourist restaurant, I thought that I would pay a lot of money, but I only paid what is equal to around EGP 35, including my drinks.

What I liked most about the coffee shops in Mostar that, unlike many famous tourist cities, coffee and tea are served in the traditional Bosnian sets. Also at some of these shops as well as at some of the restaurants, waiter and waitresses, who receive clients at the door, are dressed in a traditional Bosnian cloth.

Afterwards I decided to make a cultural tour. I was impressed about the Turkish presence in Mostar. Almost all the buildings, shops, restaurants are designed in a Turkish style. I was surprised to find a building with the exterior sign of “The General Consulate of the Turkish Republic -Mostar”. When I entered and took a tour in this mini republic, I felt that I was at my grandmother’s home.  It was then when I discovered that Mostar is the most important city in the region of Herzegovina considered to be its cultural capital. It was then when it was clear the deep cultural ties between Turkey and Bosnia.

mostar8I passed by an ottoman building. I was so curious to know what it was. I then discovered that it is a museum called Bišćevića Kuća (Bišćevića House). I was told that it is an Ottoman house named after the last Turkish family who stayed at Mostar. This was a live experience to explore how Turkish people lived on this land and the style of the houses in this city at that time. The museum tickets, which costed two euros, were not as common ones, they were post cards on which the Bridge’s city is drwan. I told myself “what a thoughtful detail” as visitors will keep these tickets (postcards) and show them to their friends, promoting in an indirect way for visiting the city. I decided that once I return Cairo (Egypt’s capital), I will request officials in the tourism sector to do so, in order to promote for cultural tourism in Cairo.

Speaking about the house, the bathroom and the kitchen were outside the house itself, to keep the smell far from the bed and living rooms. Also there was a living room outside the house, exactly like the style of the Syrian houses. Climbing the stairs, there was another living room. It was a half square which indicates familiarity. In other words, seats were not separated in order that family members and guests could seat beside each others. Also this kind of living rooms can include a large number of guests which indicates hospitality. I just seated in the living room contemplating the view, seen from the tall crystal windows framed by wood, of the Neretva River with the green mountains on its shores.

The lady, who worked at the museum, guided me during my whole visit, explaining to me each and every detail about the Turkish family who lived there. She was so nice and took for me many photos. It was a human act that I will never forget, as she was not just following the rules of her work, but she cared to make out of my visit a joyful and an unforgettable one.

I really advise travellers from all over the world to visit this cosmopolitan city. I am always impressed by how this small city still preserves all Bosnian traditions and; by how it presents them to tourist from all over the world; and by how this small city hosts this large number of tourists, who come from different countries. Whatever your nationality is, on this peaceful land you will always feel at home, thanks to its kind-hearted people. Whatever the amount of money you earn, you will enjoy your stay, as the food price, souvenirs, daily stuff, hostels, monumental sites, transportation from and to the city, even within the city, are all at affordable prices.

My friend Linda was waiting for me in Kakanj. I hurried to the bus station. Firstly, I had to take a bus from Mostar to Sarajevo, then from Sarajevo to Kakanj. In future articles I will share with you my adventure in both cities. While I was waiting for the bus, I drank a Bosnian tea. They served the tea in a cup on which a face of a man wearing the traditional Bosnian Turkish hat called fez. I whispered to myself “again people here care about every single and thoughtful detail”

Written by Nadar Maydaa

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