I enjoyed my one night in Dubai. Although I don't drink much these days I do like to sit at a bar when I do have a drink and I did so at my hotel. I struck up a conversation with a guy called "Keith" who turned out to be on leave from a contract job in Afghanistan. We had a very interesting conversation as you can well imagine. He is English, from Telford if I recall, his old life just slightly different from dodging bullets in Afghanistan. And he did say there was 'incoming' about once a week.
Leaving Dubai was an experience. I can't recall so much security. At every turn it seemed you had to go through some form of security or another, even taking off your belt, your watch and anything else that might go 'ping'. I hurried through before they asked me to remove my Y-fronts.
I was a little apprehensive about travelling with FlyDubai. I had read so much negative stuff about them. But they were just great. A man was taken ill on board and had to be deplaned, then they had to find and remove his and his wife's luggage. All in all it cost us 90 minutes delay but I was quite impressed at how well the crew handled it. They were very caring and attentive.
Well, arriving at Sarajevo International Airport couldn't be more different than my experience of Dubai. The plane landed, the doors were opened almost immediately and the luggage was taken off the plane in a matter of minutes. I estimate it took no more than five minutes to deplane, go through Immigration, collect our bags, pass through Customs and be on the road. It was quite extraordinary.
I was met by my driver, Tomislav ('Tomo' for short) a bit of a bruiser who spent 15 years of his life working as a bouncer. He has a 'proper job' but moonlights ferrying tourists between various airports and the hotel I'm staying in. I really liked him and we got on well which was good because the drive to the hotel took just under three hours. Accordingly, I had a grand tour of the Bosnia and Herzegovina countryside. It really is a beautiful country. It is 80% mountains and virtually our entire journey was through mountain country. The country is poor, the housing not a good standard but if you look beyond to the hills, the river and so on it is all rather beautiful.
Bosnia and Herzegovina has the greatest number of unexploded landmines in the world but fortunately there are none around Medjugorje so once I settle into life here I will go on my long walks.
I don't think any place I've ever visited in the world ended up being quite what I had expected and Medjugorje certainly comes into that category. That is not to say I was disappointed at first impressions but it was not what I had envisioned. It is still a small village but it is a village which, since 24 June 1981 has had an estimated forty to fifty million visitors. I understand from Tomo that the permanent population is only about 2,000.
So what's it all about, really? I have spent hundreds of hours researching the phenomenon of Medjugorje, read various books, viewed several documentaries, a movie, dozens of YouTube videos and countless webpages of information and have my own beliefs about it but I am intent on keeping my two feet on the ground while I'm here. I'm not seeking to prove or disprove anything even if that were possible. So I'll just describe things as I see them.
A little historical narrative is called for though. On 24 June 1981 Ivanka Ivanovic, then 15 years old, and Mirjana Dragicevic, a 16 year old were together as always. Usually inseparable from them was Vicka Ivanovic, another 16 year old. Ivanka and Mirjana decided to collect Vicka and go for a walk but Vicka couldn't make it. The other two went off without her up the hill known as Crnica. At about 5:00 pm they were on their way down again. As they passed a place called Podbrdo, something made Ivanka look up. In the distance she could see a luminous shape, the shadowy figure of a young woman, apparently hovering same way off the ground. "Mirjana, look there, it's the Madonna" Ivanka said excitedly. Mirjana, though she could see that Ivanka had become pale with fright, refused to look where her friend was pointing. "Don't be idiotic," she said, "why on earth would the Madonna appear to us?" But the sight of Ivanka's face had scared her and both girls ran quickly back to the village.
Within the first three days (of these apparitions) some six children aged from 10 to 16 said they had apparitions of the Madonna. And they have continued to do so right up to the present time.
Tomorrow one of those 'visionaries' -- Vicka -- is giving a talk locally and I hope to be there. It won't be in English but I'm told by the hotel staff that there'll be interpreters.
More to follow.