Andar

Andar for coffee today. 

“Andar backwards, you get Radn(j)a which in Bosnian means -a shop-“

In the place where I am sitting a man opened his shoemaking shop in 1933 the family business was passed down to his son and then his granddaughter.

By the time she had inherited the business, the craftsmanship of shoemaking had become something of a lost art.

She decided to turn “the shop” it into a coffee house. Old handmade shoe molds hang from the wall keeping the essence of the family business alive.

The menu is in the shape of shoe with leather pages telling the story of the shop along with  instructions of how to properly drink Bosnian coffee. 

It’s by far the best coffee I’ve had in Sarajevo. 

“The  most important thing about Bosnian coffee is that you have to enjoy it. We Bosnians even have a word for it. ” Merak” = to do something from within your soul, with creativity or love, leaving a piece of yourself in what you’re doing.” 

Andar exemplifies this wonderfully.  

I shall return. 

Green Visions – not your average tour agency

When you hear ‘tourism agency’ you probably think about the highly organized trips in big international cities. Green Visions is not your average tourism agency. Green Visions is one of the pioneers of the adventure tourism in Bosnia and the Balkan region. Adventure tourism? Yes! One of the best ways to experience a country is in its wilderness, hiking, backpacking, mountain biking, and rafting. I have had the amazing opportunity to be one of Green Visions interns this summer. My top priority this summer has been to create and implement a social media plan for Green Visions and the Via Dinarica Alliance. Social media is paramount to any business today, but even more so for a tourism agency. For Green Visions, Facebook and Instagram are two of the most important aspects to their social media presence. Both platforms offer the opportunity to promote their business through photographs, which is extremely important for adventure tourism agencies. Photographs are the backbone and can make or break whether potential clients will book with them. It shows potential clients exactly what they will be experiencing and exploring. I have learned a lot about social media over the course of the summer. I have learned of different scheduling applications that will post your content for you, some were useless and not user-friendly while others are so easy to use it was hard to decide which one I should recommend to my supervisor. I have learned how a business works from the inside and that it is always a good time for a Bosnian coffee break.

You might be asking, what in the world does tourism have to do with International Development? Everything. Tourism can fuel a country’s economy but it can also destroy a country’s culture. Green Visions is combining tourism and development work with the local cultures. Green Visions is not just an adventure tourism agency, it’s also a cultural tourism agency. My supervisor, Thierry told me the story on how Green Visions was born. He and a friend were cross-country skiing when they realized they wouldn’t make it down the mountains to Sarajevo before dark. They just happened upon the highland village of Lukomir and knocked on their door to ask to spend the night. Then, Green Visions was created.

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Green Visions’ tagline is ‘Giving Back’ and they give back to Bosnia in the greatest possible ways. Because more and more people have been visiting Lukomir, both with organized tours and by themselves, it has to develop while holding onto its’ traditional culture. The largest obstacle? Trash. Before people starting visiting Lukomir on a regular basis there was no need for trash to be hauled out of the village. But now, trash needs to be hauled out and Green Visions is working with the local municipalities to try to work out a trash pick-up for Lukomir. Green Visions lives and breathes its tagline. In every place they conduct tours they are giving back in some way. They ask what the community needs and they find some way to get what they need.

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If you’re ever in Bosnia be sure to book a day tour with Green Visions. You won’t be disappointed.

Alone.

I did something last weekend that may seem small to some, but for me it was quite big. I went to Slovenia alone. I had never taken a trip by myself before and never saw interest or reason as to why someone would even want to do such a thing. When you live with 12 other people eager to travel on weekends what is the point in going somewhere alone? I’ve taken many planes across the US alone, I got myself to Bosnia alone, I spend time hiking alone but never saw the need to travel alone. I like sharing my experiences and memories with people.

I do love challenging myself and forcing myself to try new things knowing that in the end I will usually find a liking for it. In this way, my time alone in Slovenia was no exception. I enjoyed wandering and exploring Ljubljana at my own pace, stopping to take pictures when I pleased. I discovered a food festival going on outside along the river and indulged in different flavors and people watching. I made friends with my hostel mates and we laughed and explored the local beers over funny travel stories and puppy watching. I spent time at Lake Bled writing and reading amongst the trees and beauty of nature. Traveling alone was the peace I needed to ground myself. I loved stopping to listen to musicians playing in the streets and think back on the treasures this summer has brought. Ljubljana is a special place where the smiles are infectious. Everyone has a dog and everyone rides their bike. The recycling system there puts most American cities to shame.

I know I will look back on this experience as a highlight of the summer. There were no life altering realizations but I did leave Slovenia a little bit more whole.

Some lessons learned

As the summer comes to a close, I thought I would share a bit of what I learned from living with 11 women this summer. I was one of two males in our cohort, with Brandon being the other male and quite a bit older (he has a son around my age). For some men that may sound like a bit of a nightmare, but I thoroughly enjoyed the experience just as much, if not more, than if I was in a more mixed group or an all-male group. So, at this point, I thought I would share a few lessons and insights that I learned along the way, and maybe impart some wisdom on my fellow men.

  • Mansplaining is real. I’ll admit I am particularly guilty of this one. I didn’t actually realize how bad of a mansplainer I was until I started getting called out. A lot. Like a lot, a lot. I would like to think I improved at this, but I will leave it to my fellow Global Practice Bosnia friends to be the judge of that one. All I can say is I get it now, and I’m trying to knock it out. As for other men, you probably do it too and it’s annoying, so cut it out.
  • Women can be just as potty-mouthed, crude, and inappropriate as a high-school boy’s locker room. This one speaks for itself. Suffice to say, I wasn’t lacking in the same kinds of colorful conversations I would have at home with my guy friends drinking at the local dive bar.
  • There are just some conversations men do not need to chime in on. A lot of men (and just people in general) feel compelled to be a part of every conversation that is happening around them. Yet, there are some conversations that men, in particular, should not contribute to if you are privy to being there for. It’s not our place and we simply cannot relate or understand. Sometimes it’s just better to listen and observe with couth.
  • Talking about feelings and venting is actually a good thing. I thoroughly dislike talking about feelings or even admitting I have them. Yet, talking about feelings and listening to other’s feelings and venting was a big part of the summer. It’s a healthy and perfectly normal thing to do. Although I am still a bit squeamish about it, I can appreciate that I should be more in touch and vocal about what I am feeling than I did when this all started. It was a good lesson to learn.
  • Men can be creepy. The number of stories I heard over the course of the summer about the shitty, creepy things men do to women was shocking. I used to think that women may have blown this out of proportion, but not anymore. Men simply do not know how to act around women and it’s pathetic. It doesn’t take much to polite and respectful, but it seems to be more of a struggle for a lot of men than I was previously aware of. It made me a bit ashamed to be a guy actually. I’d like to think being raised by my mother I know better, but I cannot speak for the rest of my fellow men.
  • We are all just people. That’s it. It doesn’t matter that I lived with mostly women this summer, we were all in the same boat. It wouldn’t make a difference who I lived with based on sex, gender, ethnicity, religion, or whatever. We are all humans coexisting in a foreign country together, pursuing new experiences, and trying to make the best of our time here. I have made some truly great friends on this trip and bonded much more than I thought I would.

I would like to thank my cohort for one hell of a summer and some good lessons learned. I think my future girlfriends will agree, you all made me a better man. Thanks for tolerating my mansplaining and not giving me too much grief along the way.

Niti jedna žena nevidljiva

Decorations on the office walls at Fondacija CURE

Last week at my internship I spent a solid 20 minutes scrolling through photos of sculptures of topless women on the internet. It’s not exactly what I had envisioned working on this summer, but it turns out that sometimes when you’re looking for information on feminist sculptors, much of the available content is visual. And I can’t complain about receiving academic credit for it.

Fondacija CURE is a feminist activist organization in Sarajevo with an extensive list of projects. I stumbled upon the stone breasts while researching an artist who will be attending CURE’s annual feminist art festival, to assemble her bio for the website. Researching some of this year’s guests has been my main project for the last couple of weeks, as the festival is about three weeks away. Unfortunately, I won’t be here to see it, but this event is a pretty big deal for the organization.

They invite NGOs, a variety of officials from Bosnia and Sarajevo-based embassies, and the media to the opening of the festival. I’m told that in addition to the attendees from all parts of Bosnia who come, there are regular contingents of (primarily) women who make the trip from neighboring countries. There are great efforts taken to ensure that young women, economically disadvantaged women and women from marginalized communities can attend the festival, and to ensure that they are represented on the stage.

In addition to celebrating feminist art, CURE’s activities include monitoring of policy and lobbying of political leaders, coordinating activist demonstrations in Sarajevo, holding educational workshops for youth around the country, and various other projects, such as screening the textbooks used in public school for content which normalizes domestic violence. In short, they’re kind of a catch-all for feminist causes in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Which you kind of have to be when you’re one of the only organizations doing this kind of work.

One of my personal frustrations while learning about Bosnia’s history has been my perception that women are not adequately represented in much of the material or public commemoration of the violence in the 1990s. There are many reasons for the way in which the culture of memory has developed, and it’s certainly not my place to come in and dictate how someone else’s experiences should be memorialized. As any self-aware feminist in development should know, it’s not the outsider’s place to impose their beliefs on another community; a well-meaning foreigner who dictates how women (or any marginalized group) should act just perpetuates their oppression in a different manner than the power structure that has oppressed them in the first place.

In my role as an intern, it’s my duty to listen to my supervisors at work and then decide how I can best assist with what they need, in their context. Not surprisingly, the best contribution I can make looks different in practice than I might have imagined it to look prior to being here. While it seems to me that assembling an issue brief or research report would be my optimal work output, sometimes what my supervisors actually need is for me to sift through the nude sculptures to find the background info. And if I want to contribute to the feminist movement in Bosnia, or to the field of international development in general, this is how I feel I can best do it responsibly.

But, aside from taking the opportunity to condemn imperial forms of feminism, I mention the issue of women’s representation here to illustrate the importance of an organization like Fondacija CURE. They’re a small NGO created and run by Bosnian women with the intention of elevating the voices of other women to create a gender equitable society. On the front page of their website right now, there are links to articles about female survivors of sexualized violence, rural widows, and queer women in Bosnia. They design projects and events that suit their communities, using tactics to mobilize and empower local women in their own lives, while also advocating for institutional change in Bosnia. Rather than trying to achieve gender equity by enforcing it on the unreceptive masses from a position of power, CURE works directly with marginalized groups to determine how best to serve and advocate for them. As with anything new, they encounter some resistance from the more conservative elements of society, but their fight is their own. And who better than Bosnian women, of various intersectional identities, to create and define change that will benefit Bosnian women?

The Elusiveness of Time

Previously mentioned when discussing my internship and the difference between working in the United States and in Bosnia, I mentioned that time seemed to be elusive here. This exact concept is the thing I loved and will miss this most from the summer, but also the thing I cannot wait to get away from. It has been both a blessing and a curse. While I’ve discussed this with some peers and they call it a “European thing” I didn’t experience it as much in the other European cities I visited during my time here.

Looking back on my summer in Bosnia with just four days remaining, I’m wondering how eight weeks went by so quickly. It feels like just the other day I stepped off the plane for the first time in Sarajevo and got hit right in the face with the ridiculously humid June air. On the other hand, I look back and look at all of the places I’ve been and all the accomplishments that have been made, and wonder how this eight weeks still has four days left in it. Waking up without an alarm has been the greatest reason that time has seemed so elusive this summer. An appointment or meeting with someone will be set for 7pm, but don’t expect them to show up until 7:15pm at the earliest – it’s just how things go. Time isn’t real. People aren’t tied down to be places or do things, and the laid back environment and lack of care for the time is a beautiful thing. However, while this has been wonderful, I’m nervous about reintegrating right back into the busy American way of things. I start an internship about two weeks after I return to the United States and I know it’s going to be rigorous, with no elongated coffee breaks or leaving early because it’s hot out or really, just because. Don’t get me wrong, I’m so beyond grateful to have had this experience, I’m just nervous that getting back into a routine is going to take a lot longer and be much more difficult than I would like it to be.

All in all, if you ever get the chance to travel to the Balkans, or even better, specifically Bosnia, do not be alarmed as you slip out of your organized, rigorous mode, and into someone who doesn’t care about what time it is, or why it takes an hour and a half to have a coffee. The elusiveness of time is something that should be experienced at least once by everyone in their life.

What I miss most about home

There are many things that I miss about home. I miss my friends and family, especially my nephews who are growing like crazy. I miss the easiness of hiking in Denver because I can just drive right to the mountains. I miss driving every day. I miss fast food, especially Taco Bell (not kidding). I realllllllly miss my dog and waking up every morning to his snuggles and kisses.

But what I miss most about home is being comfortable and in a routine. In Denver I know what time I’m going to wake up, when I will be doing laundry or cleaning, when I will be showering, when I will go work out, and when I will go to class. Living in Sarajevo for two months has forced me out of my comfort zone and made me more flexible. Although I do wake up at about the same time everyday, I only go into the office 4 days a week if I am even working in the office. This isn’t always a bad thing though because I have found awesome coffee shops and tea shops to work in. I’m also supposed to have my laundry done every Friday, but on weekends I go out of town I don’t get my laundry until Sunday which really throws me off. I have loved my time in Bosnia, but I am definitely looking forward to getting back into a comfortable routine for a couple of months.

Some of my favorite places in Bosnia

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Hiking trail near Lukomir village. The hike took us down to a waterfall where we had a picnic. The hike was easy but steep at many points.

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Kravica Falls in Herzegovina. The falls had so many caves and rocks to jump off of. It was like a natural playground. Beware of snakes!!

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Neum, Bosnia’s only town on the Adriatic. The water was beautiful and the food was incredible. We even rented a paddleboat with a slide!

Unknown Lands

Growing up in the U.S I heard very little about the Balkans. It seemed to be a unknown part of the world in the circles I was raised in. Despite my lack of understanding, this past year I tossed myself into an unknown void in hopes of it being a fruitful venture. I can now say without hesitation that I made the right decision, the void I jumped into has cleared into a very real world I did not know existed. I have learned that not only has the Balkans been a very pivotal location in world history but a very breathtakingly beautiful location with kind and hospitable people. In Croatia the Adriatic Sea has crystal clear waters and old cities with cobble stone streets. In Montenegro the jagged mountains stretch impressively toward the sky and old turquoises colored rivers flow far down bellow them. In Bosnia Herzegovina, which is the country closest to my heart, the landscape changes from rolling hills to rocky mountains, the climate changes from humid to arid, the vegetation changes from palm trees to pine, and the culture changes from mosques and hookah shops to cathedrals and crepe stands.

Banja Luka

This past Wednesday and Thursday was a trip to Banja Luka (95% Bosnian Serb population) to meet with Tihomir Dakic and Duska Kudra of the Center for the Environment about their group’s efforts around environmental advocacy to help reconciliation.  While this group has done some tremendous work in spearheading efforts to block the construction of hydro projects along Bosnia’s river system, the sad fact Tihomir and Duska kept emphasizing is the constant struggle to fight the exploitative tendencies of financial short-sightedness on the part of politicians who seem more interested in personal wealth building than in conserving resources for future generations.  While we did have plenty of good discussion about their projects, much time was spent listening to them speak out their frustrations about Bosnia’s inept political system and endemic corruption; corruption which feeds ethnic nationalism and inhibits a unified sense of a country.  They shared stories about politicians giving lip service to environmental issues, yet spending government resources in a manner that reflects the greed of a consumerist mentality.  Much like in Livno, they emphasized the importance of citizen initiatives in countering profiteering at the environment’s expense.  The ‘us vs. them’ mentality of citizens attempting to influence government decisions seems to lie at the heart of their frustrations.  In fact, Duska’s sentiment reflects many of her generation in that she doesn’t really feel that Bosnia is her country; rather just a place she’s living.  And, although she understands the need for economic development and the jobs that are created from projects their group is fighting, she also understands the unsustainable nature of the proposals and sympathizes with her well-educated friends who move abroad to find unskilled labor jobs.