Back in 2015, I was asked to go find a hotel where my organization could host a retreat for all of our staff. So I made a few calls and charted out a 2-day trip around the country (Bosnia-Herzegovina is small) where I would make a big loop and visit several hotels that had conference rooms. Suffice it to say, the trip was a complete bust. Some of the hotels completely forgot I was coming, Google Maps apparently wanted me to disappear completely, and on the second day my car broke down — 100 miles from my home.
In the end, we chose a hotel that I had not visited on that trip, and decided after our retreat that it had been too expensive and we wouldn’t go back. Then, last year we went to the hotel where I am now, Hotel Monument, on a mountain in northern Bosnia. It turned out to be great — it’s a hotel on top of a mountain, with lots of woods, hiking trails, a huge WW2 monument (hence the name), and a big conference room. It was good enough that we decided to come back for the second year in a row. In a year when there’s apparently been a huge, nasty drought.
So this year they didn’t have water. At least, not all the time.
When I arrived, the woman at the front desk said, “Just so you know, we’ve been having problems with the water pressure on the [European] second [American third] floor. It hasn’t rained in several weeks.”
Right. We woke up the next day to find that the water had been turned off completely.
I felt sorry for them. Apparently, there is some kind of break in the water system in the village at the bottom of the mountain, and it impaired their ability to have running water 24/7. So, the water turned on from about 7:30 until about 10 in the morning, on again during lunch time, and then again for a while in the evening.
Think about it — kids who wake you up at 6:30, and nobody can take a shower. Sweaty kids in the afternoon who can’t take a shower. No instant coffee in your room in the morning.
Well, maybe not having the instant coffee isn’t that bad.
But it was bad enough that there will not be a 3rd consecutive team retreat at Hotel Monument. And that’s a shame.
It’s a shame because it was a great place for kids. My 8-year-old son and his 9-year-old best friend (who has the same birthday as him) can go and play in the woods unsupervised for just about as long as they want. Tonight he rode on the back of a motorcycle. Then he watched a movie with other American kids his age. If you’re a kid (and don’t really care about the lack of water because your dad can just buy you juice from the cafe) it’s a wonderful time.
It’s also a shame because coming here helps our entire staff team to connect more deeply with the country where we live. In WW2, there was a small group of Partizans that fought against the Nazis, who took this mountain at one point during the middle of the war. The Nazis came back with tens of thousands of troops, and laid siege to the mountain, against a Partizan force of only 3,000. The Partizans were able to inflict heavy losses on the Nazis, but they ultimately lost the battle. The Nazis lost 25,000 men but took the mountain, and had most of the survivors rounded up and sent to Jasenovac concentration camp in Croatia.
It was also a shame because the disappointing aspects of doing business in Bosnia and Herzegovina were on display in a very obvious way, brought out because of the unexpected scarcity of a normally plentiful resource. The hotel staff kept the lights off most of the day, in an effort to save money. A kitchen inspection happened one morning, so they just delayed everyone’s breakfast until 9am. Day after day, coworkers complained about the lack of water. And on the last morning, I was asked if I could have everyone leave an hour early because the hotel “needs the rooms” (I apologized and said no). I was disappointed because the surroundings were so beautiful, and I wanted things to work out, but forces of nature seemed to be pulling us apart.
We made the best of it, and as a family, we had a good time. I am glad we went, and we had some memories we won’t soon forget. With mixed emotions, I felt as if I watched while another chapter was brought to a close in our story of Bosnia and Herzegovina.