Lending a hand from a distance

By Robyn Rishe
This item appears on page 48 of the February 2018 issue.

I have been traveling since my childhood, and of all my lifelong travel experiences, the following set of events was the most poignant for me.

The 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo were magnificent, and all visitors there had stories of incredible hospitality by the hosting Yugoslavs. On a day when I had no event tickets, I decided to escape the freezing weather and took a train down to the historic city of Mostar.

The gentleman I sat next to on the train happened to live in Mostar. We managed to communicate using his good and my very limited German. When we arrived, he invited me to spend the day with his family.

They took me sightseeing around town and in the nearby mountains, even treating me to lunch at a lodge that specialized in trout (huge) from an adjacent stream. Back in town, they called a friend who was fluent in English to spend a few more hours with me.

Once home, I maintained a periodic correspondence with both the family and the friend. When Yugoslavia descended into civil war, eventually to break up into multiple countries, communications became difficult, but I sometimes was able to get through. Only then did I learn that the family was Croatian and the friend, Serbian.

All had left Mostar (which, with the breakup, had become part of Bosnia & Herzegovina) and gone to their ancestral locations in Croatia and Serbia. They had lost touch with each other until the Serbian wrote to me, in 1992, asking if I knew where his friends were. I was able to give him their address and reunite these friends whom history had torn apart.

I was both proud and humbled to play this small part in mitigating the anguishing effects of war in a land where I once had seen the best of humanity, in athletics and in hospitality.


Monterey Park, CA