It may be a bit of a struggle for me to make the necessary connections between what I feel like writing this morning and the irreverent, bicycle-dominated diatribe we have come to know, if not love, here at the BRC. I want to write about what happened in a tiny country in Eastern Europe 10 years ago, and how it changed everything for some of my closest friends. That doesn’t have much to do with mountain-biking, but I think I see the angles…
It was 1996, one year after the massacre of 7,000 Muslim men and boys in the town of Srebenica, far away in Bosnia. Meanwhile, I was pedaling around Tallahassee on my 1988 Jamis Dakar, yellow with black spots. I guess they were intended to be leopard spots, but in my mind they were “bumblebee spots” even though everyone knows bees don’t have spots. I was back in town, along with the guys you see in this picture, in order to stop the killing in Bosnia. I know, go ahead and laugh, but it’s true. You see, these guys were in Bosnia at the time of the Srebenica massacres. They were humanitarian aid workers, and they were running desperately short on “aid” to say the least. We figured all we had to do was explain the situation to the good people of Tallahassee, and they would rally behind us to save the bosnians. Uh-huh, right.
Soaked with sweat, carrying 500 moist flyers, a variety of photographs depicting the maimed, the abandoned, and the insane victims of war, I made my rounds. I solicited raffle prizes, free catering, printing services, whatever. The basic spiel was, “Me and my friends are raising money to help victims of war in Bosnia, if you don’t give me something for free RIGHT NOW I am going to make you look at these sweaty pictures of horrific, despicable things. People gave. Our former employer at the restaurant, FGF, all of the shops at lake Ella, the Tallahassee Rock Gym, they were used to our crusades, they dutifully ponied up the goods. I am still grateful to the folks who encouraged us, because there were a lot more who discouraged us (Assholes!)
They didn’t want to help muslims. They thought we would keep the money. They didn’t think we had the connections to accomplish anything. I was on a bicycle. I was 25. I didn’t have a job. I had no business cards.
It was the smallest drop in the bucket, but it felt really important at the time.
Now the long-haired one is engaged to the alluring young woman in the photo, a bosnian-muslim herself. All of his effort to assist the Bosnian people has evolved into a mission to enjoy Bosnia, and protect its natural resources. His organization, Green Visions www.greenvisions.ba/gv/ guides outdoor adventure trips, conducts environmental surveys, and publishes many articles about the natural beauty, history, and potential of the country. The other guy lives in Rome, Italy (not Georgia) and works for the United Nations. In 1997, after the signing of the Dayton Peace Accords, I finally made it to Bosnia myself. Mountains, jade-green rivers, a land for 4-wheel drive and goats. I met a lot of interesting people, and every one of them was worth the sweat, the frustration, the power getting cut off, the humiliation of begging and being told “NO”.
We may not have done much, but we did something.
I’m going to remember that the next time I see some sweaty young dude on a bike trying to do something good for someone else, even if I think he can’t pull it off.