As I’m still settling in and adjusting to life in Sarajevo, this week I decided to discuss/blog about second impressions or, as the prompt refers to, what has surprised me most. I have to start this by saying that I’ve always struggled with how I deal with first impressions; for me, they always seem to be the application of stereotypes or a surface examination of the context, whether it be for people or places. But, on the other hand, having a general context of a situation is how humans have survived over the years. First impressions or stereotypes may not be accurate, but they do help set the scene or prepare one for what’s to come.
That said, I’ve really tried the past few days, and will into the coming weeks, to closer examine the context of Sarajevo and our time here. My first second impressions (if that makes sense) center on the people. We’ve talked a lot, both in the big group and smaller ones, on the resilience of the Bosnian people and how they have come to deal with the feelings and attitudes before, during, and after the war. Looking around the past few days, there is resilience among the people, but there is also courage. There was a movement to preserve what is now known as Sarajevo Roses across the city to remember, and that took courage- to preserve the darkest time in history. And now, the Sarajevo Roses are a part of the city, walked over every day by hundreds of Bosnians and tourists alike. The resilience shows when you see the population refuse to have anything stop them from living out their everyday lives. I have seen the courage to remember and the resilience to move forward, and it humbles me every time.
This was surprising to me, because at first it seemed rude, or inconsiderate, to me to walk over such important remembrances. When I first inadvertently walked over one, I felt terrible and tried to jump over the rest, as I felt like a trespasser. But then I observed everyone else, and they were walking over them, not side stepping them, or really even noticing. I had to really think about what it meant and how to relate it to my own experiences and the experiences of Bosnians. I’m not really sure here what was surprising- my initial reaction or the Bosnian reaction- but my feelings around this particular part of Bosnian life have been in my thoughts a lot as I walk to and from work (as I pass a couple Sarajevo Roses).
On a bit of a different not, something the Ambassador said to us on Friday really hit home- that he is happy to see protests here, as it shows the people are taking a stand for what they want to see happen. In the past, it seems people were happy to not be at war and were a little indifferent to politics, or at least didn’t vocalize their grievances. But now, a fire has been lit and the people are screaming for a change. There is a great opinion piece found here comparing the protests in Bosnia to the protests around the world for better democracy: http://roarmag.org/2013/06/protests-brazil-turkey-bosnia-bulgaria/
It sums up what people are striving for: not necessarily democracy, but fairness and equality. I am glad we are here during a time when the people are taking a stand and embracing the view of an untied future. My surprise at the true nature of the Bosnian people shouldn’t have come as a surprise after all I have read/seen before making this trip, but I am nevertheless blown away by the power of the people, both in social and political settings.