A Journey Through the Balkans - Bill Kerley's Blog

September 25, 2018 10:55 AM

Šetalište Pet Danica | 64°F

Getting From Here To Where We Say We Want To Be

We chose to come to the Balkans because of its beauty. A mutual friend who has traveled all over the world said, when Sherry asked him, “What is the most beautiful place you have even been?” he responded without hesitation, “The Balkans.”

Not knowing how many other international travel journeys we might be allowed, we chose this one. “This one” means we chose one offered by the Road Scholar Travel Group. We had done two earlier trips with them and they were outstanding.

We decided to come a day early so we could walk about the ancient city where the trip begins for a day or so on our own.

I teach peace, love, joy, living in the moment, not judging, etc. The beginning of this trip has given me an excellent time to practice these things.

For one thing, our plane was delayed leaving Houston for over two hours. Thankfully, our connecting flight in Frankfurt left us with nothing to worry about. Except, of course, navigating the Frankfurt airport. It is huge and getting from one international flight to another is challenging. Of course, when we got to our gate, that flight, too, had been delayed.

Eventually we were on our way, with gratitude in our hearts that the flight was not too long, a couple of hours, because the leg room on this Airbus was the slightest I’ve ever experienced. As we flew, I pointed out the beautiful seashore scenes of the city where we were flying into - Dubrovnik in Croatia. As we began our decent the pilot informed us that the flight had been diverted to another airport because the one where we were schedule to land had been closed due to high winds. We found out later that these high winds have a special name in this part of the world and that this was nothing all that unusual.

Part of Old Town Herceg Novi, 1382

Part of Old Town Herceg Novi, 1382

We landed in a place called Zadar with no plans of how we would get to our final destination, Hercegovina Novi in Montenegro. The airline, Croatia Air, had an obligation to get the passengers to Dubrovnik and chartered buses to do this. The drive would take so long that the tour manager informed me via text message that the transfer we had arranged to take us from the airport to the hotel where the tour starts would not be available at the late hour we arrived.

What to do? A bit of background is in order.

When we first enrolled for this tour, Road Scholar put together a “message board” so that people who had enrolled for this tour might connect with each other. One member of the group informed us that he had written a novel set in Bosnia during the time when that country was experiencing horrible conflict - indeed, the whole region was. I responded that I would read the novel. I’m glad it did because it put “flesh and bones” on the history I was reading.

His book is “The Reluctant Hunter” and the author’s name is Joel Levinson. I read it and wrote him my review of it. One of the things his novel did was help me understand in a more understandable way what I was reading in “The Balkan Ghosts.” Joel contacted me a couple of weeks after he got my review and informed me that the novel has been picked up and optioned for a movie. He asked if I would post my review to Amazon, which I did. You can read about the book and my review of it there.

At any rate, while we were sitting in an lounge waiting to board out plane to Dubrovnik I looked across the aisle and there sat Joel. I recognized him from the picture on the book. We had had so much back and forth exchange about the book that it felt like we had known each other for a long time. When we got to Zadar and faced the complexities we were dealing with, Joel suggested that we hire a driver to take us to our hotels.

Cats are very common - a beggar cat

Cats are very common - a beggar cat

He connected, through one of the police at the airport, with a young man who regularly hired himself for such tasks. His name is Igor. He spoke impeccable English which he said he first learned by watching old movies on TV with English subtitles. Igor was a tall, good-looking young man with a deep voice - and an deep passion for his country. What he meant by “his country” was not only Croatia, the place of his birth, but what had at one time been and what he referred to as “the republic.” This was when, under Tito, all of this part of the world, including parts of Greece and the Western part of Turkey, was considered “the Balkans.” Most people referred to this part of the world as Yugoslavia. “Yugo” means “under” and was a way of referring to all of the countries “under” the Slavic countries.

I’ve tried to understand what happened and why it was that one day, literally during the day one day, people who had been living together as neighbors, working together, raising children together, attending the same national festivals and holidays, suddenly turned on each other and began a killing spree that led to one of the greatest genocides in recorded human history. What Igor said was, “It was stupid. It was unnecessary. It gained no one anything. It only hurt us all. It was the politicians who did this - big ones in Germany, Italy, Russia. The United States has largely not paid attention to what has really been going on in this part of the world.”

I have heard something like this on several travels to other countries.

The truth is that we all want the same things: to be safe, to have a good life, to enjoy our families, to make enough money to take care of them, to see that our children have a future, etc. Nations and countries, just like individuals, seem to have “character flaws” that prevent this from happening. Why is this?

So back to where we began: what are the beliefs and practices that keep us, in the very process of getting to be where we say we want to be, from getting there? We say we want peace, love, joy and patience to mark our lives. So often they don’t.

I believe that these spiritual qualities live within each of us. We cannot automatically turn them on like a light switch. We must cultivate them. Though we are endowed with these qualities, we by nature become neglectful and forgetful. We neglect and forget our true nature, our Source.

And, just as on this particular journey, difficulties are part of the path we walk. Our spiritual practices are what allow us to know that our happiness is not dependent on any outward circumstance. Further, if we look deeply, we will see that enlivening our own souls and enlivening the world are one calling.

I’ll update you on how this particular journey goes as we proceed.