What an AWESOME opportunity visiting the Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH) war crimes court. This activity was very formal and security protocol to enter the compound was very stringent. The court has been fulfilling the mission of prosecuting was crimes perpetrated by all three factions that participated in the 1992 to 1995 war. The court has a very full docket even twenty years after the war ended with the signing of the Dayton Peace treaty.
We had a one hour period of time slotted for us in the courts schedule. We were seated promptly and with purpose in the seats facing the bench. The bench is set up for a panel of three judge. When you sit down there is a monitor set slightly to the side of you, a microphone, and a small control box in front of you.
The Judge entered and gave a brief description of the court and opened the floor for questions. This was an experience I will never forget. I was very pleased with the level of inquisitive, content relevant questions my fellow students presented for the judge to answer. She discussed her personal strategy for coping with all of the horrific content she is presented with daily. How she had to work at the court in Sarajevo while the city was under siege. She also discussed the diversity ethnic balance of the court. The court is composed of Judges of all of the members of all of the ethnic groups in numbers which accurately reflect the population of BiH. The process for the selection of new Judges takes this balance in to consideration to try to achieve a highest level of integrity of their rulings.
She provided so much information it was impossible for me to absorb all of the details and statistics which were presented. The work they do must take a great personal toll. My biggest take away from her sharing was her opinion that if the other parts of the government functioned, as she believes the court does, with a focus on doing what is just and right for the whole of the country, the functionality of the state would be much better than it is presently. She related the War Crimes Court as functioning much like pre-war Yugoslavia. When she shared this perspective it was certain she missed that sense of national unity of that era of this lands storied history. A unity many who have shared their experiences with us still long for deeply to this very day.
Case file evidence from the International Commision on Missing Persons archives (ICMP) in Tuzla, BiH.
The second half of the hour the victim preparation liaison addressed us from the bench. She spoke of her team of psychologists and social workers who work with witnesses to insure they are emotional prepared to deliver testimony about the crimes they endured. The second part of their duty is to support them following the trial. Their work they do provides a much needed service that insures witnesses remain willing to present testimony. Their case load per advocate appear to be very demanding. There are 600+ cases remaining to be prosecuted by the court and the team is comprised of eight members. There are four psychologists, one social worker, and three interns.
This was a very educational event and one I am privileged to have experienced. It illustrated social justice processes in action at the highest level. The case management, clinical support, and advocacy the social worker plays in the court setting. Communicating with the Judge via the interpreter in my head set was pretty cool too!
I didn’t realize how much time I actually spend with my dog Luka on a daily basis until I was separated from him with a distance of several thousand miles. It’s one of those things you don’t exactly realize that you miss until it’s temporarily not in your life, and he is always by my side. My dog is a typical miniature dachshund. He sleeps burrowed almost all day long when he’s not attacking the cat, running in circles, or dragging the blankets off the bed. He usually sleeps beside me, chews on his bones beside me, and he even hangs out with me (sleeping) when I am cleaning or studying at my desk. I always walk him, and I think I enjoy it more than he does. Walking always clears my head.
I never perceived myself as a dog person. When I was about four or five years old, my dad owned two hyperactive dogs that just appeared at his house one day, which he, or someone quickly named Scruffy and Bandit. They were sweet dogs, I now remember as I think back on those memories from my point of view today. They usually dug new holes every day in my Dad’s yard and would escape and run straight down the street to the house of an elderly man, who always promptly appeared in his front yard, shouting and waving a rifle. The dogs used to jump on everyone whenever there was anyone around to play with, and they without fail always knocked me down into the dirt, and I disliked dogs after that.
I however realize that I am in fact a definite dog person as I write this slightly comical blog about missing my dog. I am happy to live in a city with so many (mostly) friendly dogs that are cared for by the population. Encounters with the friendly and plump Labrador that lives at the bar Cheers across the street are always a highlight of my day when he is around lounging in the sun or on the cool pavement. I am sure over 300 people pet him every day, but it makes my day to give him some attention because I miss my own canine. My student group and our director all miss something from home, and a few of us miss our dogs. I expected to learn various things about myself as I always do when I am out of the country, and I am learning that not all knowledge gained in that capacity is always profound and compelling. It is sometimes just about discerning subtle discoveries./
There is a beat that surrounds me. It is the bass at a nearby bar, Cheers, “Where everyone knows your name.” Sounds familiar right? There is also a Murphy’s Pub downstairs. The music is a constant rhythm that I fall asleep to each night. It’s not loud and obnoxious, it’s just there. It’s like this city. It’s bustling, beautiful, and constant. I think that’s one of the many reasons I like it so much so far. It isn’t a high-rise city where the sky and the natural world gets lost. It’s a small city. A city where trees are present, the surrounding hills are lush and green and the buildings don’t block out the sun, clouds, and beautiful blue skies. There is a feeling of openness in the streets from the amalgamation of the culture, the structures, and the people…and possibly the low number of cars in our area.
I would love to find decaffeinated coffee or kafa bez kofeina. I do miss it. And I get wary and silly looks for even suggesting the existence of kafa bez kofeina. What a silly American. I can find Americano bez kofeina at the nearby fancy hotel, Hotel Europe, which I take advantage of when my friends partake in the beautiful desserts they offer. There is an open-air market very close to my internship where I have found the most glorious fresh foods that are clearly more natural than what we find in grocery stores back home. The blueberries are tiny and come still attached to branches, as do the cherries and other fruit. And everything has such flavor here. The tomatoes taste as if they just came off an organic plant – food just tastes different here, even when it is food we are accustomed to back home.
Last night I decided to make a salad with my purchases of the day and to make some pesto pasta. Upon arriving in the kitchen, I found our hostel owner, Sead (say-odd), in the kitchen preparing their Iftar (if-tar) meal of delicious smelling soup. He is a lovely man who asks about my day, holds my hand as we chat, and has been helpful in settling in here. He gave me a cooking lesson and then sent me to the dining table with a bowl of his homemade soup and an order to stay put. He brought me my dinner after cooking it entirely! What a treat. He shared their meal with most of us last night with a smile and a gentle pat on the back. And upon going to the kitchen to do my dishes, was ushered out as Hasan (ha-sawn – the owners nephew) took my dirty dishes from me. Naida (niy-ee-da), Sead’s wife, waves us out of the kitchen often and together they take care of all of our necessities: laundry, available fresh fruit, breakfast, toilet paper in the bathrooms, clean sheets and towels, procuring cell phones, encouraging smiles, the list goes on and on.
Yesterday I did a little recon to find out what color the decaf Nescafe (instant coffee is what we drink here) is. And in my specialty store where I find my gluten-free/egg-free foods, I found it!
We were also invited to join our hosts for their Iftar last night, what a special treat. They had been fasting all day and still insisted upon serving us first. There is always a bit of guilt and a need to jump up to help – I think they find it sweet and rude if we insist. It was a multiple course dinner. We started with more of the delicious soup, followed by a traditional egg and four kinds of cream dish (I didn’t partake in this due to an intolerance to egg), then we had a beef and mushroom dish, with an onion cream and tomato dish, then a “pita” dish (fillo filled with beef, cheese, or spinach), and finally a dessert that must have taken all day to prepare with layers of cake, custard, jello, and fruit. What a feast! It was an almost three hour dinner with friends, food, and delightful conversation.
And we learned more about the superstitions here: breezes are deadly to your nervous system, sitting upon cold surfaces in months with an “r” in it will freeze your ovaries, and sitting at the corner of a table is an omen you won’t get married. There are others but these are the ones we discussed last night. Tonight it’s off to meet a reporter who Katie is working with. I can’t wait!
This weeks marks my first month abroad, away from Denver, and the end of our second week in Sarajevo. Somehow this place slows down and speeds up time simultaneously. Time is slowed by long afternoons drinking coffee until the sun angles horizontal with the streets, so the umbrellas don’t do much good and you’re wondering why you’re drinking caffeine at this time of day. The days fly by when dinner lasts three hours and six courses for Iftar (the meal at the end of the day during Ramadan), and all of a sudden it’s 11:30 pm and past my regularly scheduled bed time.
The beginning of my time in Sarajevo has been this oddly mixed pace, that leaves me falling asleep hard and fast every night. At my internship with Green Visions, I spend most of the mornings and afternoons becoming acquainted with the office, website, and social media. The online presence of Green Visions and Via Dinarica (the long distance hiking trail in the Balkans) easily sells itself with beautiful vistas and rich cultural traditions.
Later in the afternoon, the pace accelerates and I start to wonder where the day has gone. Yesterday, I walked around town looking for bike shops to rent out road bikes for the marathon from Bihac to Srebrenica, which is probably akin to finding a vegan restaurant in rural Kentucky. The plan is to ride as a part of the Green Visions group and experience all of the Bosnian countryside from next Wednesday-Friday. The ride is a part of the Srebrenica 20-year memorial, and roughly 270 people are preregistered for the race. I am so appreciate of Green Visions for taking me on this summer, and connecting me with the passionate people and unique landscapes of the Balkans.
We are all settling into our rhythms here (when the shower is free, the ins and outs of each of our individual internships, which places have free, unlimited wi-fi). There continues to be one cultural difference that continues to confound me: Change. The judging looks one receives when trying to break the large bills (coincidently the only size that bills come out of the ATM) is of the quality that I only hope to one day achieve. It does not entirely matter when one is at the time of breaking the bill: a busy restaurant, a grocery store, or even smaller bill (say a ten) for a delicious 2KM coffee at one of the myriad of coffee shops in Sarajevo. When you are not asked if you have change, the disappointment is still incredibly visible.
I lucked out my first day here, as I was easily able to change my bill at the bank (apparently this phenomenon normally takes two or three bank visits). Where this comes from is unknown. I have spent a possibly inordinate amount of time trying to figure out why this is while simultaneously accepting of reality of the situation. I have run the gambit: “well, maybe it is because I am not a bank customer” or “well, it is relatively early in the day. I know that when I worked retail/food service our tills were never that full at that time a day.” No matter how I look at it, I am still unable to figure it out. It is something that happens whenever. While I no longer care about the looks or the question: “do you have anything smaller?”, I still wonder why the ATM doesn’t spit out smaller bills if breaking 50KM or 100KM is so tasking.
Knowing my stubbornness, I will continue to try to figure this out over the next couple of weeks fully well aware that it probably unanswerable. I will continue to embrace this small difference. However, in the back of my mind I will always wonder how this came to be as I am digging through my purse in the futile attempt to pull together small 1KM coins.
Author’s Note: I realize that this is a little trivial and light-hearted, but seeing as next week I will getting ready to participate for the Peace March, I wanted to write something light.
One new habit that we have all been forced to adopt in the past two weeks is the strict “no shoes inside” policy. Whether coming home after wandering the Baščaršijan labyrinth or strolling along the Miljacka river, either returning from internships or stumbling home from a late night out, or quickly hustling from the gym to avoid stares of disdain for sweaty pits and sneakers, we all exit and enter our beautiful castle at least once a day. Therefore, this ‘removing of the shoes’ activity is one event we all share and one ritual that has definitely grown on me. As Americans, our private-public lives can become so intertwined and the lines between work and home are often so blurred that we do not realize we are, in fact, constantly working. I am so used to traipsing into my apartment with my shoes on and my groceries in hand, ready to send an email and throw in some laundry while cooking dinner and watching Netflix. Shoes still on. I never give a second thought to the significance of opening that door and entering a completely different sphere of life.
This tiny act of removing one’s outer shoes before entering the home is so subtle but packs so much meaning. Those extra ten seconds may seem inconsequential but to me, it signifies that once that threshold is crossed, you are in a different environment- one of family, friends, belonging; a place to settle and relax while the stress of the day, the problems at work, and even the public persona you show to the world are left tucked away in the shoe closet where they stay until morning. I think a lot more people, especially Americans, could benefit from a little more separation and a more visible dividing line in order to cherish the sanctity of home life, family, and safety. When I think back to Kenan’s story in the Cellist, I remember his treacherous journey to fetch jugs of water for his wife and children. After putting on his shoes and closing the door that separated him from the comfort of his family, he would slump to the ground and weep for a while until beginning his walk out in the open. In this perspective, the significance of crossing that threshold was a hundredfold and helped me to appreciate the value of having a safe and loving place to go when the outside world is exactly the opposite.
So we’ve been given a list of topics to write about at some point over the term for the blogs and one of the suggested topics was to write on “one difference” we have observed or encountered so far. As with any international experience there are multitude of differences, ranging from subtle to striking that one could pinpoint to write on, for example the lack of standardized reproductive care for women in Bosnia or the specific oddities and challenges one might encounter while attempting to buy produce at a large chain grocery store, or perhaps the appropriate attire for a touristic visit to a catholic church (seriously, once again, sorry everyone). Instead of perhaps making an intellectual contribution to society by discussing an important hard hitting social and political issue, or benefiting future travelers by musing about certain essential social graces I may lack, instead I choose to address an issue that has been ubiquitous since my arrival in Sarajevo, the pigeons.
Jesus.H.Christ. There are so many of them.
This may seem inane and inconsequential but I cannot help but notice that at all times, we are surrounded by these funny grey birds. They are everywhere, at first was bemused “ha ha so many pigeons” and then it just became befuddling the number of these birds that can be shoved into this small city. And the epicenter of the columbidae (the clade that pigeons and doves belong to) population is the Sebilj, the Ottoman style fountain in Baščaršija. This square is so inundated with these avian that it is frequently referred to as “the pigeon square” There is even a man that appears to make his living by selling pigeons snacks to tourists to feed to this bountiful bevy of birds. And tourists seem to be happy to support his business, buying seeds and happily posing for photos whilst covered in pigeons eagerly trying to get at the snacks.
But even outside of Baščaršija, the pigeons are everywhere, hoping around in packs at the tram station, flying low at dangerous speeds over outdoor cafes, perching themselves on things you want to use, interrupting the walking paths of tourists, etc etc. Many consider the birds a menace to society and “flying rats” that carry diseases and eat trash. However the pigeons may have not always had the reputation of diseases riddle trash mongers with wings. During the various wars Bosnia endured during the 20th century, carrier pigeons were a vital life for communications when other channels were cut off, and during the almost 4 year long siege of Sarajevo between 1992-1996, hungry city dwellers turned to trapping pigeons and other fauna to feed themselves.
So the lesson here is that while today in Sarajevo, as in every other metropolitan area in the world, a pigeon is just a pigeon. But these humble fowls have a unique and important history in the city of Sarajevo.
Authors Note: It’s been a slow week at the internship and we will be engaging is some more heavy activities in the upcoming weeks regarding the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide and other activities regarding the Bosnian War, so I thought I would keep it light for this week.
Additional Authors Note: We are on a current quest to locate and document proof of hedgehogs here in Bosnia, we’ve been told they exist here and there are old Yugoslav coins with hedgehogs on them, but we want to prove they are here. Of you have any tips, cue us in.
This past weekend we went out a few times, and it was different from going out on weekends anywhere else I have ever been. After talking to a number of people, it seems that this is due to Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and one of the Five Pillars of Islam. During this month, Muslims fast during the day and do not drink any alcohol. However, people around the city have suggested that once Ramadan is over that people will come out and drink and party at night.
Despite that, we had some good/interesting times going out. Frequently, places we thought would or should be open were, in fact, closed. One notable example is a bar called Pussy Galore, which apparently was an awesome bar open last year but is moving to a different location this summer. Additionally, I learned that rakije (a fruit brandy popular in Bosnia and the surrounding region) is not a drink to be played around with after drinking a little too much one night.
Now here is a haiku:
Ramadan no fun
Rakije is dangerous
Pussy galore closed