During my 40 years with Stanley Consultants I have had the opportunity to work with many interesting people and on many interesting projects. One of my most memorable projects was the opportunity to travel to Bosnia in December 1995 near the end of the Bosnia civil war to perform a damage assessment of the country's water and wastewater infrastructure. Stanley Consultants was hired to provide this service and on the surface
the project was fairly straight forward. During a two and one half week period I was to travel to Bosnia, gather information, view damaged facilities, meet and talk with local officials, and prepare a cost estimate to reconstruct the country's water and wastewater facilities. Our services were funded by the U.S. State Department and our report was being used as input to help determine the level of aid that the US would provide to Bosnia.
The technical work turned out to be the easiest part of the assignment. In theory the Bosnia war had ended with agreement to the Dayton Peace Accords on November 21, 1995. The United States had not yet sent military forces to Bosnia but United Nations peace-keeping forces were in place from several countries to keep the fighting factions separated. In reality there was still open conflict in portions of the country and many places were not safe to travel. My plan was to stop in Washington D.C. for a day of briefings from the State Department then fly to Frankfurt, Germany on my way to Zagreb, Croatia. Bosnia had no public transportation due to the war so I planned to fly from Zagreb to Sarajevo on United Nations cargo planes that made daily flights between these two cities.
The day before I left Muscatine I found out that Bosnia was a cash only (no credit cards) society and the only acceptable currency was German Marks. Since I would need cash to pay for hotels, meals and other items I got an advance of $3,000 in $100 dollar bills and took that with me to Frankfurt, Germany where I exchanged it for German Marks at the airport.
In Zagreb it took three days to obtain clearance and ID badges to travel on the UN cargo planes. While in Zagreb I met a Dutch engineer that had worked on water projects in Bosnia before the war and had continued to work for relief agencies throughout the war. He was interested in helping secure US aid for Bosnia and offered to take me with him by road to Sarajevo with stops in cities along the way to talk with local officials and view water facilities. I accepted his offer and on our first day in Bosnia my new Dutch friend was telling me how he had two vehicles hijacked at gunpoint in the past year! However, our trip did not have that kind of excitement and I was able to learn much about conditions and issues
facing the local municipal utilities.
Another issue was housing. The night before we traveled into Bosnia from Zagreb we were given a briefing by the U.S. State Department which contained "bad news" and "good news." The "bad news" was that the Sarajevo Holiday Inn where we would be staying had been damaged during the war and all of the
windows had been shot out (December is cold with snow on the ground in Bosnia). However, the good news was that the windows were all covered with plastic sheeting and temperature in the rooms did not get below freezing. When I got to the hotel on the third day of traveling in Bosnia the hotel did not have enough rooms so I shared a room with another American. This worked out fairly well for my 10-day stay in Sarajevo as it cut my cash flow in half and I had someone to talk to. The room was up 10 stories and you always took the stairs because the electric elevator was unreliable. The down side of sharing the room was that the room was not registered in my name and when the company tried to contact me I was not registered and no one knew where I was or how to get in touch with me.
Leaving Sarajevo was also an adventure. The night before I was scheduled to leave on the UN cargo plane it snowed 24 inches and the airport was not able to get the runways plowed wide enough for the plane to land. After waiting for the plane all day I returned to the hotel to stay for another night. The following day the cargo plane did land but it was several hours late and we had to stand outside in the snow for eight hours waiting for it to arrive. The cargo plane took me back to Zagreb, Croatia where I was able to get a hotel room before returning to the US the following day. When I got to my hotel room in Zagreb I turned the TV to CNN International news and the first story was how the Sarajevo Holiday Inn had been hit by rocket fire that day. While I don't believe there were any injuries I was glad that I was no longer in the hotel.
There are many other Bosnia stories but space is limited so we will save those for another day. It was a challenging but also very interesting and rewarding trip. Would I do it again? Sure,why not. I met some wonderful people and had the experience of a lifetime.