A few days ago some of us were doing what you do in Sarajevo in the evening–strolling through Bascarsija, Sarajevo’s old town which was founded by the Ottoman’s in the 15th century. We stopped for sladoled (ice cream) which is sold on the streets and in the cafes everywhere. One scoop costs 1 KM which is about 70 cents, so the decision is always whether to have one scoop or two and which flavors are the best. We have decided that getting sladoled is no longer optional–it’s just something that we have to do every day like breathing. The other big decision is whether to get your sladoled in a dish or in a cone. A dish suggests that you are sitting down to eat your sladoled and if you do that they bring it to you on a tray. If you get a cone then that means you eat it while strolling down the streets. It is about the only food that you ever see people eating while walking, because here, food is meant to be savored for a long time while sitting with friends. The same is true for coffee, juice and everything else.
Anyway, we opted to get our sladoled to go and walked through the copper section of Bascarsija, where craftsmen (and now a few women) have made and painstakingly decorated all types of dishes, trays, coffee servers (dzezvas) and many other things using the same technique for hundreds of years….. Alright, so I”m finally getting to the shiny bear story. Outside one of the shops Davis noticed a couple of fur hats, soviet style. He tried one on and it was, at the very least stunning–in a weird handmade mystery fur USSR sort of way. We asked the shop keeper about the hat and he told us it was from Russia but he didn’t know what kind of fur it was. We guessed it was bear at which point he looked at us like he couldn’t believe it and he said that it clearly wasn’t bear because “we all know bears aren’t that shiny”. Huh. I guess I didn’t know that but now I do.
Later, I began to think about all of the many assumptions that we make about each others’ life experiences. Many people in Bosnia are surprised to learn that not everyone in the U.S. carries a gun at all times, that we really do care about our families even if we live thousands of miles apart and that we actually eat fruits and vegetables and not just McDonald’s. How lucky we are this summer to be having this experience that challenges so many of our assumptions. This information about the bear joins many funny things that I have learned from my Bosnian friends and colleagues, most of whom have a magnificently dark sense of humor. The real lessons that they have taught me, however, include those that are more sobering than can be imagined.