Josh Irby

Live from Sarajevo

When the earth sinks beneath your feet . . . build a pool

The city of Tuzla is sinking.

Tuzla.3_320x240For thousands of years, the citizens of Tuzla—a city of 120,000 in the northeast of Bosnia-Herzegovina—produced salt from the region’s abundant saline water. When the Austro-Hungarians arrived in 1878, they exploited the salt-rich land by drilling deep shafts into the earth and releasing a steady flow of salt water. This production had short-term economic benefits for the local residents. However, the long-term affects have been devastating.

In the center of town, buildings moan and lean as they slowly disappear into the earth at the rate of one foot per 18 months.

With friends in Tuzla. Notice the leaning buildings in the background.

With friends in Tuzla. Notice the leaning buildings in the background.

Last week, I made the 2½-hour drive from Sarajevo to Tuzla with some friends. The trip started like a joke setup: four Albanians, a Bosnian, and an American go for a drive. But the trip didn’t end as a joke. I learned something.

Even disadvantages have their advantages.

Ten years ago, the land across the street from the old town was in hopeless disrepair. Many of the building were in ruins from unstable foundations. Others were flooded whenever it rained. The city government had a choice to make.

They decided to build a pool.

The Tuzla pools during the winter

The Tuzla pools during the winter

After clearing the rubble of the abandoned homes, truckloads of smooth stones were laid in the sinkhole. Then they filled the hole with water creating a salt-water lake. Each summer, over 100,000 people travel to enjoy the only salt-water lake in Europe.

What was a disaster was turned into an opportunity.

Best of all, without any additional work, the pool gets deeper each year.

Tuzla lake during the summer

The Tuzla Lake in the summer

It caused me to think.

What do I do when the earth sinks beneath my feet? 
What do I do when the foundation I’ve built my life upon slowly recedes?

Usually, I complain. I lay about in hopeless despair. My world turns dark and melancholy. All I see is the bleak reality of the present.

Now I know what I should do: build a pool.

Have you ever turned a disadvantage into an advantage? Share in the comments.


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