The pinkish house is where we were dropped for our home visit in Bilje. By North American standards the home would be considered modest. By Croatian standards the house was considered large so multiple generations could live together. Our hostess, Senka (not her real name), cheerfully greets us in perfect English. On the bus we had been taught a few words which I consistently botched. "Dubro Jutro!" each of us Yanks stumbled over as we returned Senka's greeting.
As we entered the home, a wheelchair was in the entry. We turn to the left and enter a combination living dining area. A compact kitchen was at one end of the room. Magnets from different countries and US states were on the fridge, presents from previous visitors. The opposite end has sofa, chairs and a TV. In between are two linen covered tables surrounded by sturdy chairs.We squeeze into the waiting chairs and begin the visit.
Senka was sweet, beautiful and an amazing cook. Her homemade coconut baklava was such a great twist on baklava. Her FIL's homemade wine and brandy as well as her own grape juice and a tasty chocolate bar rounded out the tea offerings. Oh, and two cups of Turkish coffee for Hubby.
During the visit Senka shares openly about her life and living situation. She survived the Serbian/Croatian war of the 1990's. Due to all the violent fighting in her home town of Vukovar as a young teen she relocated to this area with her family . She noted she and her husband are considered a mixed marriage, one Serb and the other Croat. Her husband is still unable to find steady employment as a construction worker.
In order to have a home, Senka, her husband and 13 year old son share this home but do not own it. It is owned by an elderly person that requires assistance, hence the wheelchair in the entry. They care for the elderly home owner in exchange for the rent. From the money they make from running a bed and breakfast in one spare room they pay utilities. By hosting the home visits for cruises and other tours their income is further supplemented. A small garden has been dug in the back yard for additional food. BTW we noticed most homes have small vegetable gardens and grape vines on arbors. We never met the elderly owner of the home. The home owner vacates her living area for Senka to have room for the visitors from the tours.
Getting to know just a bit about what living in an area of war and the trauma of it all is sobering. And heart rending. How does one ever recover? But Senka and the rest of Croatia are working at it. Obviously Senka held hope. She was carrying a new baby due in late May.
From the home visit we traveled back to Osijek passing a forested area marked with skull and crossbones. This forest area is a landmine field left over from the Croatian war. No stops in Osijek this time, just back to Vukovar and the ship. Lunch on board and then time for a walk about in the nearby city center. Hubby and I crossed the Drava on the main bridge using the taller buildings as a guide. As we strolled the streets and walkways it was so pleasant. Cool enough to be a pleasant time just to relax and enjoy this small town.
The stroll took us past the shop with the lady calling to tourists. We walked to the rebuilt area near the museum. After another map consultation we headed back to the little shop for a look. The outside had bullet marks but the interior was filled with beautiful treasures. Local artisans' wares filled every nook and cranny. Glass salt and pepper cellars with a tiny matching spoons caught Hubby's eye. A hand painted silk scarf and a clay replica of an ancient jug enchanted me. There was so much more that were just splendid pieces. All were obviously unique made, not mass produced. We left with our bag of goodies heading into the central shopping area.
Restaurants, coffee shops and retail stores lined the street. My knee was ready for a rest right in front of an ice cream shop! What great timing, wink, wink. The shop was just opening so the ice cream was so fresh and beautifully displayed. The language barrier proved to be no problem. Pointing and smiles with a positive head shakes yielded two cones and freshly brewed strong coffees. Sitting in the outdoor dining area gave opportunity for people watching. The owner insisted on taking photos of us together, one of the few together photos of the trip.
Snacks finished and knee rested we continue our exploration. We met several boat mates and recommended the little bullet riddled gift shop. Walking the many back streets yielded more damaged buildings and a friendly policeman. The angles and inclines of the streets proved good fodder for the camera lens. Eventually we decided to walk back toward the river and the small park adjacent to the Ingvi. It is still early April and love was in the air everywhere it seemed.
A few more photos and we get back on board. We freshen up for the events of the evening. There had already been so many things to absorb from our day, my brain felt cramped in the confines of my skull. To be in areas where the atrocities of WWII occurred was looking at a history that was rebuilt from the ruins. That was not the case of this day's sights. Meeting a woman whose family had to flee the violence of war is different, jarring reality.
In the US people speak of the 'war' on Christmas or 'war' on women. While there may be differences of opinions, it is mostly a 'war' of words. Not putting a Santa's face on a Starbucks' coffee cup is quite different than street after street, city after city of bullet riddled buildings. Or a beautiful tree filled area that is off limits because of landmines. It is not the choice of a mall manager to forgo putting up a manger scene in the middle of a temple that worships profit.
The aftermath of the Croatian War for Independence is a young mother's courage welcoming strangers into a home to simply have an income for her family. It is a church still in use across from a bombed building. It is a young man and his aged father starting an ice cream and coffee shop in a town of declining population. Hope is alive in the aftermath of war.