I was fortunate enough to have my immediate family visit me in Sarajevo during their summer vacation in southern Europe. While they were visiting, I took to role of tour guide and was in charge of fitting Bosnia and Sarajevo into two and half days for them. One of my missions was to take them outside of Sarajevo into the beautiful country side that surrounds the city. I loved all of my hikes that I did in Bosnia, whether it was on Bjelasnica Mountain (only an hour or so away from Sarajevo), or in Sutjeska National Park (3 hours away). On Thursday we headed towards Lukomir with one of my favorite guides with Green Visions, Benjo. On the way out, we spotted this flock of sheep with the shepherd, and it turned out to be quite the shot. The whole scene with the gravel road winding through the photo really captures how Sarajevo and Bosnia can take you back in time to a world that you thought only existed in NatGeo stories and History channel specials. This is one of my favorite pictures that I’ve taken while in Bosnia.
As our time in Sarajevo comes to an end, I find myself on a rollercoaster of emotions ranging from one extreme to the other. One day I will be ready to jump on a plane and fly home to the comfort of New Mexico (and good Mexican food), and the next I will realize how I am just now getting used to Sarajevo. I have learned so much here-about myself, about Bosnia, Sarajevo, and people in general-but I feel myself fighting to stay here because there is so much more I have yet to learn! After my time spent in Bosnia, I don’t believe I will ever be comfortable taking quick trips abroad. If I can still be missing so much after spending two months in Bosnia, how can I possibly expect to take in a new culture in a shorter period of time? To learn a country takes time and patience (I have lost all respect for cruise traveling-a single day in a foreign country? What good does that do?).
I have learned so much here, but I will briefly outline a few of the most important points.
*Patience: living in a crowded hostel for two months requires an incredible amount of patience. Pick your battles carefully. Is it truly worth it to argue over something small and ridiculous? Also, friendships take time to develop, but once they do you realize how worthwhile all that patience was.
*Appreciate what you have, because there are always others living much worse off than you. There are those who have lost everyone they ever loved in the war, suffered extreme trauma, had their homes and personal belongings washed away by mudslides and floods, so what right do I have to complain about a cold shower in the morning or a crowded hot tram? It’s the whole picture that matters, not necessarily the tedious details. You take in what you have, and you are grateful.
*Eating pita everyday will make you gain weight like crazy.
*Coffee and cigarettes will make you age much faster.
*Listening: in the U.S. we never take enough time to sit down and have meaningful conversations for the simple pleasure of enjoying someone else’s company. Slow things down every once in a while. When was the last time you interacted with someone for the sole purpose of friendship and not hoping for some kind of personal gain? Everyone has a story, and all of our stories matter. The more we listen, the more we learn, and the more we are able to expand our mental barriers and drop our stereotypes and expectations.
*Cheap gelato stands create a dangerous habit.
*You can always find ways to communicate even if you don’t speak the same language as the other person. Very few of the members at my internship (the Center for Healthy Aging) speak English, and yet I have developed a strong relationship with them. I’m sure we look ridiculous as we try and communicate through hand gestures, acting motions out, and yelling, but it’s actually a lot of fun! (and I even end up understanding some of the conversation).
*The elderly are hilarious! I never thought I would have that much fun working at the Center. They are so full of energy and so eager to learn new things (which makes me feel a bit lazy). Centers for the elderly population are very rare in Bosnia, which makes working at the center even more of a privilege. The elderly here are so full of life and respected in society, unlike in the U.S. where I feel people put their parents away in depressing homes as soon as they can. Getting older doesn’t mean you have to stop living. Hanging out with the members has made me want to be crazy, fun, and take in as much life as I can until the day I die.
*Friendships do not depend on age similarities.
*Packing rain boots is never a bad idea.
*When it starts raining, umbrellas for sale magically appear every five feet.
*People will be people, no matter where you go. In the light of friendships, all our differences become irrelevant. I realized how ridiculous the negative stereotype of Muslims the U.S. promotes is. In every culture and every religion there are good and bad people, that’s just the way it is. Wherever we go and wherever we are from we will always experience the same human emotions-love, loss, happiness, grief, exhaustion-this alone should unite us.
*True justice is rare, not only here in Bosnia but in every single part of the globe. How can the international community allow war criminals to go free or only face a few years in prison?
*Laundry takes a few days to get done, and don’t expect your clothes to be completely dry.
*Having a coin purse is a necessity in Bosnia or else you’ll be digging through your bag every time you try and pay for something.
*Women are not treated as equals to men. Observing Bosnian culture has helped solidify and strengthen my strong feminist beliefs. As I researched and observed the way women act, dress, and are treated by men in Bosnia, I started to analyze how women are treated back at home in the U.S. Yes, women in the U.S. enjoy far more rights than women in other countries, but we are still not treated as true equals to men. The battle for women’s equality is long from over.
Overall, I am very glad I came to Bosnia. As it being my first time living abroad (and I just turned 20), I consider the choice I made to come to Bosnia a very brave one. So many people, both at home and in Bosnia have asked me, why come to Bosnia? And I have never had an answer, I simply reply, why not Bosnia? I feel privileged to have lived in and experienced a country that most American’s know only as the place where that horrible war happened (and I don’t think I’ve met a single American that could locate Bosnia on a map). Bosnia is off the beaten path, and I guess that’s what attracted me to it in the first place. Studying the violence that took place in the 70s and 80s Latin America made me want to visit and study a place that had experienced recent national trauma. We are truly privileged as Americans to have never experienced all-out war on our soil. Grasping how such tragedy could happen to people who look like me and love the kind of things I love was and still is difficult. As privileged as we are, I believe it is our personal duty to do as much as we can to help those that have lived through true tragedy, even if that means just taking the time to listen to their story or trying to engage in their culture.
Make no mistake, as much as I learned this summer, my time in Bosnia was far from easy. Living away from home is one thing, but living in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language is another matter entirely and takes a lot of patience and mental strength. This is the first time I have been in a foreign country without living with a local, and I realized living with a local is by far the best way to experience a country. I don’t think hostel living (or living with Americans while abroad) is right for me. Had I a choice, I would have lived instead with a local family, and I am glad this is what I will be doing for the next four months while I study abroad in Spain.
Though I am ready to go home, I know I will cry when I have to say goodbye to my friends from my internship. Relationships develop over time, and in the last few weeks I have just began to be close with my coworkers. I could never have really experienced Bosnia without my Bosnian friends, I owe them so much. Amra especially, I will miss you so much.
What I’m looking forward too when going home?
*A haircut-my ends have become dry and split and my bangs have grown so long that I have started to resemble a sheepdog.
*Being able to use English with more than a few people.
*Fruit smoothies (ah Jamba Juice)
*Home cooked meals and Mexican food.
*Driving my car
*Harassing my sisters
*Not having to fight for power outlets.
*Peace and quiet at night without Cheers right below me.
*Being with my family.
*Skinny dipping (don’t worry, our pool is in the middle of a pecan orchard so no neighbors).
*Hearing the bells ringing from the Catholic Church in old Mesilla.
*Going to church.
*Letting my feet be finally able to heal (every pair of my shoes I brought give me blisters in different places, so walking is always a bit painful). I think at the moment I have 13 blisters on my feet.
A few of the things I will miss:
*My friends at my internship (I will miss them the most).
*Hearing the call to prayer everyday at 1pm.
*Spending time with the members at the Center.
*Visiting exciting new places on the weekends.
*Having Fridays off.
My close relationships at work have been the most important part of my time here in Sarajevo. Reading and studying about a foreign place is so much different from spending quality time there. Before coming to Sarajevo for the summer I had taken a pre-departure class, watched Bosnian films and read articles about the war; but while these pre-departure acts created an awareness and filled me with emotion, words on a page present a certain distance that can only be bridged by intimate experiences. Only after spending a few weeks in Bosnia and interacting with locals did I begin to gap the words with reality and become personally and emotionally involved with Bosnia-with the city itself (Sarajevo), its people, history, and culture.
For my “Significant Photo” blog post I am choosing to write about pictures with my coworkers from the Center of Healthy Aging. During the first few weeks in Sarajevo I was worried I would remain in tourist mode. Living in a hostel with other Americans can create a bubble that’s hard to break out of and prevent you from truly engaging in the culture. I was worried I would remain an outside observer looking in. My close friends at my internship instantly welcomed me into their culture, into their work family. They taught me about the real Bosnia, Bosnia today; they helped me understand how the consequences of the war are still present, but Bosnia is so much more than it’s violent past. Making Bosnian friends placed a human face to the articles I had read, the country I had studied. Getting to know and becoming attached to people who lived through war and under siege is something entirely new to me; it makes you more angry with what happened, more confused on why humanity can tolerate such injustice, and creates a strong emotional motive to understand what they went through and make sure it never, ever happens again, no matter in which part of the globe.
My coworkers were so very welcoming, something a bit unexpected for me since in the U.S. often times work and relationships are viewed as separate realms. They truly wanted me to take in as much Bosnian culture as I could, the good and the bad. One of the events I shared with them that stands out in my mind is when two of my coworkers took me to see the truck with them, the truck carrying the newly discovered bodies from mass graves. To observe and participate in such an emotional event was both heartbreaking and a great privilege, an indescribable event. How can you keep from weeping when hundreds of people are weeping all around you? That moment hit me hard, an emphasis on the human connection we all share, the human connection of loss.
I can’t thank my friends at the Center enough for warmly welcoming me in; for taking me to get pita every day, teaching me how to make traditional kafa, helping me expand my Bosnian vocab, sharing their personal stories with me and making me laugh every single day. Sejdefa, Sejdefina, Zana, Amra, Irma, Minela, Anel-you made my time in Sarajevo truly worthwhile!!! I hope to come back one day and visit again this wonderful city that I will miss.
Alarm goes off at 9am, but off course since I still haven’t adjusted my sleep schedule to Bosnian time I will sleepily, with my eyes half closed, set another alarm for 9:25am (and end up laying in bed until 9:30am). Of course, waking up as late as I do I never have time to make it down to the meager offerings the hostel calls “breakfast” (some corn flakes and rolls with jam). Next I will take my towel and walk over to the bathroom, to only have to wait outside for another 10min. for the shower to be free and regretting the whole time waking up so late that I half to wait for the shower and get cold water too. Once I’m finally ready, Ahmad, miraculously, will still not be ready, and I will end up waiting impatiently in the windy stairwell yelling at him that I will leave him behind in approximately 10 seconds.
Next comes the tram. Now, riding the tram as a foreigner without getting ticketed requires a certain art, an art I am proud to say I have nearly perfected (and have never once been ticketed). It’s all in the details. Firstly, you must be light skinned in order to blend in with the local population (being extremely white with blonde hair and blue eyes is incredibly helpful). Make sure you dress up nice to go to work like all the locals do; nothing too flashy, just stylish. Have your headphones on while your waiting for the tram, and never take them out until you get off the tram at your stop. Same with the sunglasses. While your waiting for the tram, look slightly bored; act like waiting for the tram is a regular thing for you (which it has become a regular thing for me). It is key that you maintain this casual look when the tram pulls up. Board at the back of the tram, the very back (riding crowded trams is the most secure because it is easy to blend in and hide behind the crowd). Never, ever wear a backpack on the tram (especially those huge backpacking backpacks the young tourists carry, immediate red flag giveaway). A large purse is the most suitable. Do not smile; in Bosnian culture people don’t go around smiling at strangers like we do in the U.S., so smiling is instantly suspicious. Keep to yourself, and never, ever EVER speak English on the tram.
Once I finally arrive at work I will spend most of the time bothering my friends Amra, Anel and Irma, socializing with the members, being served way too much coffee ( you end up drinking no matter how many times you decline the many kafa offers, which consequentially gives you caffeine jitters). At around 12pm the four of us will head over to the park which we have named “fat pigeon park” for a smoke break. During the smoke break we will spend time having intimate conversations, me being quizzed on my new Bosnian vocab, and complaining about the hundreds of smashed rezdelija (a small round red fruit) falling from the tree above our bench and eventually getting all over the bottom of our shoes. After our smoke break, we’ll walk over to our Pekara to buy pita (the type of pita depends on the day, we tend to switch every day). Note: 5km will buy you 1kilo of krompirusa and your friends at work will make you finish all of it (though they will of course help). After gorging ourselves on pita we’ll most likely have coffee again (Amra will try and teach me once again how to make Bosnian kafa, which will end up with her helping me). Finally, as the members are leaving together for the day in large groups, we’ll wind down by turning on the tv in the main room to watch What not to wear, sighing and yelling at the ridiculously dressed women on the screen.
Being able to choose only one picture that is my favorite from the past eight weeks is a completely impossible task. Every time that I have taken a picture of something or someone here it quickly becomes my favorite picture…until I capture another moment in time or place that is special and worthy of remembering. The time here has been filled with countless moments like that. Times and places that I have tried to capture with a picture so that I can be reminded of their beauty, their tragedy, the feelings that they evoke. Of the people that I have been fortunate enough to share this place and this experience with. You try and capture these moments with a picture in the hopes that you will be able to convey a small bit of what you have seen and experienced with those who have not. However, in trying to choose my favorite photograph from our time here, I have come to realize that while sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words, sometimes two or three thousand words (which I always have…) and an entire picture book are needed. There is no way to pick just one photograph that I consider my favorite because each of the 1,833 pictures that I have taken (so far) is my favorite for a different reason. Yes, prepare yourself friends and family, you have 1,833 pictures to look at with about a thousand words per picture…and even that will only convey a small part of my time here.
For that reason, the picture that I have chosen to share is not one that stands above the others as my favorite, and is by no means the best picture that I have taken while here. Instead, it is simply one that conveys exactly how I feel about both Sarajevo and BiH. It not only captures how I feel about this place but why I do as well.
Sarajevo has a lot of amazing graffiti peppered on the sides of its buildings amongst bullet holes mortar blasts and the lives of everyday people. They are all beautiful in their own way and a number of my 1,833 pictures are of this graffiti. This particular graffiti I saw in an alley not far from the Sebilj in Bašĉaršija. It’s on the side of an unassuming old building and although there may be graffiti that is brighter or more complex, for me this picture perfectly captures the tone of Sarajevo and its people. They love their city. They would, and have, fought for their city. The conviction and pride behind this artwork is why I love this city. Despite the hardships that this city has seen, it is strong because of its residents and because of their conviction to defend what they love. Dedication like that sometimes seems hard to find in everyday life so being presented with it on the side of a building in a place whose people have seen so much seems like a moment, a feeling and a piece of art worthy of capturing with a picture. Since spending time here I love this city too.
The gift shopping has started and a few of us are starting to get sick as we begin our seventh week here in Sarajevo. Trying to find the right gifts to bring home to friends and family has proved to be a common topic of conversation. “What should I get for my dad?” is a common one. “Here I can show you a shop where I got those bracelets for only five marks!” is another. During these six weeks in Sarajevo, I’ve been exposed to a couple things that, I’m hypothesizing now, will always remind me of my time here in the Western Balkans.
1. Doners. I was first exposed to these tasty little sandwiches here in Sarajevo
2. Street Dogs. They are very popular here in this capital city. You’ll sometimes see packs of them roaming the less populated areas.
3. Mosques. It happened without me noticing it, but I got used to walking past mosques instead of churches.
4. The Adhan (the Muslim call to prayer). Walking through the streets of Sarajevo, we have gotten used to hearing the Adhan come from the minarets around the city five times a day.
5. Cheap Movies. Late night, weekend movies only cost 5 or 6 KM, which is about $3.50.
6. One Scoop Ice Cream. We’ve gotten into the (not very healthy) habit of frequently stopping to grab a scoop of ice cream from one of the (what seems like hundreds of) little ice cream stands that litter the streets of Sarajevo.
7. Genocide. Though I was fairly well educated on the idea of genocide before my time here, I have gained an understanding of how it can affect people personally that I don’t think I could have gained without being here in the flesh. It is here that I have been exposed to and shown the physically and psychological effects of such a horrible event.
8. United Nations. Closely related to my experience with genocide, comes my new understanding of the UN. Until recently I was under the naive impression that the UN constantly protected those who it promised to protect. That opinion has changed drastically after our visit to the UN Dutch Base in Potocari.
9. Rakija. A plum brandy that I had never heard of before my time here. Comes in many different flavors, and is usually so terrible that it really doesn’t even matter the flavor.
10. A Fear of Cold and Wind. It seems that many native bosnians (mostly older women, I would say) have a fear of sitting on cold surfaces or leaving certain windows open that might create a gust in the room. Many taxi drivers will also only allow one window to be open at a time. The woman who runs our hostel doesn’t like to see any other women or girls sitting on ‘cold’ surfaces (like the stone stairwell) because she believes it will freeze their ovaries.
This post continues with some musical highlights that we have experienced during our time in Bosnia. Enjoy…
One component of rap that I’ve always loved is how meaningful the lyrics can be. Artists will use their music to tackle social issues or criticize wars or lambast politicians. And all of these thoughtful commentaries come in polished packages complete with those figurative language devices that we learned as kids. But this time they actually sound good. Edo Maajka is one of those artists. Although I have to use a translator or a co-worker to understand his lyrics, he’s adding a voice to a lot of the discontent here – black market, unemployment, women’s rights, even facebook. Here’s his song Jesmol’ Sami…
Ann has often been mentioned that if someone invites you to something in Bosnia, the answer should always be yes (within reason, but even then the answer is probably still yes). So when a classmate told me about a Bosnian reggae concert, I said yes without really thinking it. It turned into a late, dancing, fun-filled night. Zoster…
As a number of the blogs have touched upon, people are amazingly warm and welcoming here. Whether inviting you to their hometown, bringing you more coffee/ food than you can drink/ eat or simply stopping to talk and catch up, people continually demonstrate hospitality. This process still takes me by surprise sometimes, and a recent example occurred in the form of a private piano concert. Only meeting the day before, a classically trained pianist offered to play a few pieces for us. Hopefully from this clip (Chopin’s 7th Waltz, 2nd movement), you can hear some of the life and energy the artist brings to her music as well as her own life…