What an incredible place. Visiting Bosnia has been nothing short of an adventure. When I was telling Europeans where I was headed, I got many of the same reactions: “Bosnia?! Why would you want to go there?” This deeply saddened me. Yes, there was a war there, but that is not all that defines this country. We were welcomed with genuine smiles and curiosity by everyone we came across, the food was MIND BLOWINGLY delicious, and the nature was absolutely stunning. Not to mention, it was so fascinating to walk through the “old town” and Bascarsija in Sarajevo with it’s Ottoman influences, and as you continue on your journey downtown, you begin to realize you are surrounded by buildings that are not Ottoman anymore, but Austro-Hungarian. The “East meets West” feel in Sarajevo is truly unique, and I found it to be extremely charming.
While the war is a very big and quite recent part of this country’s long and complicated history, I deeply wish that the rest of Europe (as well as the rest of the world) would not define this country by the fighting and the genocide, because it has so much to offer.
I want to mention how special it was that I was able to be in this country when they were in the world cup for the first time ever. The morale and support they showed for their team was so heartfelt and wonderful. The first night Bosnia played during the world cup was the most fun I have ever had watching soccer. Observing everyone watching the game being so proud, united, and invested was really a treat. I’ll always be rooting for Bosnia!
I felt so honored that I was able to see the village of Lukomir. Because many of the younger generation of the Nomadic people who settled there are now opting to live in the city, I am not sure how much longer those traditions and way of life will be preserved. They still do not have running water or electricity. I tried to imagine being born there, amongst the grand mountains, in such a remote location, and what my life would have been like.
Although the understanding the impact of the war was not the only part of the trip, it was still very significant. As someone in our class said “Bosnia is a country full of veterans”. Everyone we met had been affected by the war. It was very moving when our guide, Jadranka, told us about her experience during the siege of Sarajevo. Her story really helped me understand how much people’s life’s changed…basically overnight. Meeting survivors Saliha and Hasan was also very moving. I will never forget their stories. To me, they are both heroes, and they are people who I feel so blessed and honored to have met and spoken with in person.
This trip was truly remarkable. I am so lucky that I have had the opportunity to see and learn so much about Bosnia. Although I feel I learned a lot, I will forever still have so many questions. Volim te Bosno!
There has been a number of musical highlights during our time here. So much so that I decided to split them into two blogs. Up first are clips from the 100 year WWI anniversary performance and the Balkan/Sarajevo Orchestras.
To commemorate the 100 year anniversary of Gabrilo Princip killing Franz Ferdinad and his wife Sophie, a musical/theatrical performance was held on the nearby Latin bridge. In typical Bosnian fashion, little information was available except through the grapevine. Even then, the only thing that we could learn was the start time, 11:45 pm. Here’s a clip from the beginning…
Despite not knowing Bosnian, I still found the night memorable. The event included a folkloric group, modern dance, Bosnian pop-star Dino and an a cappella group amongst others. Perhaps most memorable was a theatrical reenactment of Abraham and his son (this time as brothers and Abraham slewing the other despite divine intervention – the symbolism gave me goose bumps). Here is a clip from the a cappella group…
Baščaršija Nights occurs every July in Sarajevo and is a series of free cultural events. One of the first events this year was the Balkan Chamber Orchestra and the Sarajevo Philharmonic Orchestra. Again little information was available and upon arriving we quickly learned that you needed a ticket. At first we were a little flummoxed, especially since part of the group had learned earlier in the day that tickets weren’t required. However in Bosnia things have a way of just falling into place. And sure enough, there was a lady nearby handing out extra tickets for free. The concert was spectacular and closed with Beethoven’s well-known Choral Finale…
Finding that one place to settle and feel completely comfortable in a foreign country is not something often done easily. Due to cultural differences, language barriers and a variety of other things that make one feel out of place when away from home, sometimes finding that one spot in which you feel like you can actually breathe is difficult. Sometimes it doesn’t happen at all. Instead, you are left constantly feeling a little at odds with your surroundings and even with yourself. Your brain and your body are always on alert: attempting to avoid cultural faux paus, struggling to communicate the simplest of words, figuring out how to get dinner. All of them are taxing on both your body and your mind and leave you feeling frustrated and like you just need a break. A place where you don’t have to consider every little thing you do. A place to take a breath.
While is often difficult to find that place to breath when abroad, I was fortunate enough to stumble upon mine early on in the trip. While wandering with Ann, Jillian and Jon we came across the Franz & Sophie Tea House and stopped in for a cup of tea. When you walk in you are greeted by the owner whose enthusiasm for the art of tea making is apparent. He brings you to a wall filled with different teas, most of which he has blended himself, and helps you choose one based on the flavors that you like most. He brews the tea just so and then gives you a little teapot full of it to sip as you sit. He is not only enthusiastic about tea but also incredibly kind and friendly. I immediately fell in love with this place and have spent many days here working remotely for my internship. It is not only incredible for working remotely on my internship due to the speedy wifi (the presence of which I will never again take for granted!) but, beyond that, it is that one place amongst the cultural chaos that comes with traveling abroad where I can breathe. It is peaceful. There is no pressure to figure out how to be, what to do or how to pronounce a word. It doesn’t seem to matter that I barely speak the language and can’t contribute to the local neighborhood gossip. He welcomes me in and saves me a table every day. The other regular tea drinkers welcome me and ask about my weekend. We haltingly talk about politics, the weather and whatever else you talk about when drinking tea. There is no trying or forcing yourself here. There is just being.
Being able to find that one place where you can just be when away from home is special enough. But, when that place welcomes you and makes you a part of it, now that is a truly amazing thing. Two days in a row now the owner has asked if I would watch the shop while he ran home to grab lunch or go to the market. I feel so incredibly lucky to be considered close enough and trusted enough to watch his store, particularly considering that the most I have to offer a would-be customer is “He’ll be right back” in English which they may or may not speak. Upon returning he has brought me fruit that he picked with him family over the weekend and thanks for being here to watch things. Upon telling Ann about this she said that I am just like one of the street dogs here in Sarajevo…they don’t really belong anywhere and have no home but somehow they find a place to settle that cares for them. I don’t really culturally belong anywhere in this city but Franz & Sophie’s has accepted me and made me a part of the place nonetheless.
“Don’t worry about the mistakes, play from the heart!” she proclaimed, in between numerous statements of wisdom as her fingers danced from key to key. There may not be any greater experience than meeting a new friend. I met my new friend recently by chance through a last minute invitation. I jumped at the opportunity to tag along after learning that a few friends had been invited to listen to the musical talents of a pianist. I had no idea I would be meeting a delightful, bright, warm, inviting and passionate musician who would be playing a private recital of classical Chopin.
I was stunned. This woman’s welcoming smile and passion for her craft as well as her love for teaching radiated head to toe. Imagine for a second that there is such a thing as destiny – music is her destiny. Being given the privilege and gift to watch her as she played warmed my heart and soul. Describing the experience of enjoying her music is comparable to smelling fresh flowers on a gorgeous sunny day. You feel warmth, peace and inspiration.
It’s incredible to think about the power of music. Life creates many special things and music is definitely a creative expression born out of humanity that brings us together even in our most difficult struggles. As an outsider in Bosnia, she talked about her struggles coping with the differences between her country and BiH. She spends her time now working across many diverse populations teaching music. Without telling her story, I can tell you about how she expressed her incredible love for BiH. This artist expresses her love by sharing her music with the world in an attempt to continue bridging peace and hope.
As I continue to ponder what justice, peace and reconciliation might mean in Bosnia-Herzegovina, I cannot help but reflect on the many people I meet, such as this amazing musician. Artists continue to take steps everyday to transform the narrative between nations from hate to love. Humility, grace and curiosity can be a bridge to peace as these characteristics have the power to transform ideology, institutions, interpersonal relationships and internalized expressions of oppression. Without an expanded understanding of the “other” – the beautiful other – how can peace occur?
Artists teach us that peace begins with every one of us. We cannot rely on anyone else, any nation state or any other powerful entity to create, maintain or sustain peace. It is our responsibility to embody what we want to see in the world. It is up to us if we truly want peace.
One of my favorite events within Sarajevo would definitely include the “Bridges of Sarajevo” event. This was a compilation of 13 films directed by European directors and what the city means to each of them. These films were filled with drama, comedy, conspiracies, heart-felt emotion, and strong messages in their short discourses. The interval between the videos were connected by images of a ‘hand-bridge’ that served as a brief pause and presented an additional artistic element to these phenomenal stories. Each portrayal was inundated with impassioned characters, recurrent emotional tugging of the heart and at times poignant in their deliverances.
I was neither entirely prepared to enter into watching successive clips nor the emotional outpouring that was present. The quick progression from one video to another confounded my absorption of the material exhibited. I was not expecting such in-depth thought-provoking imagery or dialogue that was existent in the videos. Personally, I needed an additional few seconds to process and absorb the impact of the concise yet overwhelming amount of the information communicated on the screen.
Ann was able to obtain a seat while Ahmad, Jillian, and I were able to watch the screening with the prior knowledge that we would be sitting on the floor for the duration since the theatre had reached its capacity. I became very uncomfortable sitting on the concrete floor and soon extremely restless; thankfully, a woman saw my agony, tapped me on the shoulder, and offered her vacant seat to me after the man sitting next to her had just left.
Since the film was based on Sarajevo, some of the films were in Bosnian yet others were presented in other languages. Thankfully, the base of the screen was accompanied by subtitle scripts: the top was in Bosnian language and the lower one was in English. This way, it was inviting to all audiences who may have attended (positive or negative, the English language has become the lingua franca of international events.)
I thoroughly enjoyed this event and was thoroughly excited to participate in the world premiere of “Bridges of Sarajevo”, months before it would be presented again along with other respectable films at the end of August once again in Sarajevo at the Film Festival. Thank you Ann for being stubborn in finding this event, despite our “slovenly” appearances in comparison to other participants at this premiere.
I fell in love with Eastern Europe three years ago, more specifically, Moldova. I was placed there in the Peace Corps and lived and traveled the region for two years. I lived with a host family, ate the traditional food and spoke the local language. As I traveled to other countries in the region, I could see similarities in the cultures: The food was the same, every cup of wine was consumed on behalf of someone’s health or soul, and many of them were frustrated with the political and economic state that their country was in. Even though I didn’t make it to Bosnia during my service, I did travel to Croatia and Slovenia, also former Yugoslav countries. I was a little apprehensive about how much I was going to learn, experience and grow from this trip to Bosnia due to it’s geographical and historic proximity to Moldova. However, I was willing to try since it did mean that I got to visit Moldova and all the wonderful things there that I left behind. I was surprised and pleased when Bosnia proved me wrong. Bosnia was, in fact, very different in its own distinct way.
Unlike Moldova, terrain is green, mountainous and stunning. The natural beauty alone is worth visiting Bosnia. We went on beautiful hikes, saw stunning waterfalls and drive through gorgeous country sides. Some of my favorite days included visiting these natural sites.
Traces of the Ottoman Empire still permeate many countries in Eastern Europe, it seemed to me that Bosnia still has many influences in their culture. The food, architecture and religion resemble that of Turkey. The Muslim culture adds such uniqueness from the rest of the region. One thing that I love about being in a Muslim country is the call to prayer. Several times per day, The Call illuminates the city with its song—a soothing energy.
That soothing energy is necessary in a society that has lived through such atrocities. Learning about the recent genocide was chilling. Moldova had a civil war in the early 90s, and actually my host dad was shot from a stray bullet, but it was a shorter war, concentrated in one area, and politically driven. Once Moldovans reached an agreement, there was peace in the country. However in Bosnia, the traces of war are everywhere and the fact that there was a mass genocide is still very prevalent in the country. It’s amazing how Bosnians are able to carry on their lives with the heaviness in their heart and in their history.
Don’t get me wrong, I am far from knowing everything there is to know about Eastern Europe, but I am grateful for the opportunity to have had the chance to get to know Bosnia more intimately. I’m also thankful for having such supportive peers and professors who allowed me to constantly compare Moldova and Bosnia. I would constantly say “This is exactly like Moldova,” or “Wow, that’s cool. This is nothing like Moldova.” I’m sure it was really annoying. This trip did reinforce the fact that I love the Eastern European region and how many of the traditions and cultures are similar, but each country has it’s own specialness and beauty that sets them apart from their neighbors.
When I originally applied to come to Bosnia, I wanted to learn about the post-conflict setting and how the populations among the warring parties managed to reconcile their differences and interact cohesively. Nearly twenty years after the war, there are still differing narratives about the events that took place. Hostilities are still existent and even within Srebrenica, association as either a “Serb, Bosnian Muslim, or Croat” can divide the sparsely populated city. Genocide is claimed by both parties, dating back twenty years ago or centuries ago under the rule of the Ottoman Empire. Several Serbs deny that genocide even took place within recent history and this has caused rifts within the greater populations of the state of Bosnia.
One aspect that I have foolishly overlooked is how a country or group of people unilaterally engages themselves within the healing process. Despite their relations with their nemesis, Bosnian Muslims have pursued actions and activities that have helped them overcome the atrocities of war. Every year, the Peace March commemorates the refugees that fled Srebrenica in a desperate attempt to seek freedom from war in Tuzla and beyond. During this strenuous hike after the hikers have reached the ‘base camp’ in the evenings, not only do the survivors recall their experiences but videos are also shown presenting the events that took place. The hike is designated to march backwards and ends up in Potocari where a corresponding memorial takes place.
I want to preface this memorial with analogous activities that have taken place prior to this event. Throughout the year, the International Commission for Missing Persons uses DNA samples to identify bodies found in mass graves that families submit in order to find loved ones who disappeared during the war. When matches are found, families are notified of the validity of the bodies which are subsequently buried in Potocari after the Peace March. These identified bodies are then buried within the cemetery across from the infamous factory and adjacent Dutch “refugee camp.” This evidence and confirmation helps the families and widows through the grieving process by supplying critical knowledge to help them better process and move on after knowing the whereabouts of their loved ones.
In some of the divided cities like Srebrenica, some of the survivors share their experiences with each other a local restaurant. These shared narratives help some of the victims of war process these events by giving a voice to these grievances. Just by sharing these stories may help them achieve some type of closure by merely discussing what they lived through.
Activities carried out under the auspices of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (who have to seek the approval of various levels of government through a complicated process), trained professionals go around to different high schools around the region and teach about the composition of the classroom before and after the war to the students and to challenge divergent narratives among the younger populations. They attempt to broaden the perspective of the ideas floating around and inject another narrative into these young fresh minds.
How will the next generations in each of the respective regions perceive this conflict? Internally, the nation is attempting to heal itself. Always remembering but trying to move on.
Although life doesn’t always go as planned, we can still learn from that season in our life that wasn’t as expected. A different perspective, perhaps. More learning, more advancement, better preparation.