What a whirlwind the past 5 days have been.
My mind is spinning with thoughts and ideas about all that we’ve experienced so far, and it’s difficult to focus on just a few of these, but so far here are 7 truths I’ve found to be paramount as I’m quickly falling for the country of Bosnia.
1. Be gracious and humble.
A passport thrown into a bag was the start of this whole adventure (it was literally the first thing I packed, though it had to be moved for easier access) – and Bosnia is my first international travel experience (minus driving to Mexico once, sort of on accident). I have found that nothing will ever go according to plans when traveling. I have felt both incredibly lost when I have no chance at communicating even the most basic needs and yet more at home than I have anywhere else whenever I can connect here, too. Being humble in this process, learning to say thank you, and having an open heart and mind are among the first lessons I have learned during this journey to Bosnia.
2. Eat the food.
After 30 hours of traveling (giant backpack in tow – note: it’s worth it to check a bag), we finally got to Bosnia around 11:00pm on a Tuesday night – and hangry (hungry + angry) was the theme of the crew. Burek was the first Bosnian dish I got to taste (soon followed by the yogurt) and it was also the first connection I got to make with an incredibly giving and kind people. Connecting with others through food is one of my favorite ways to get to know both people and places and I quickly got to experience the hospitality of a place when we ordered just burek (delicious, doughy, meat pies) and chicken/potatoes but were also brought out strawberries from their garden and pastries soaked in honey for dessert. I’m learning that tasting the food is a peek into the culture behind it.
3. Learn the basics.
What I mean are things like saying hello, please, thank you, I’m sorry, where is the bathroom, and how much? Just for reference those are dobro jutro/dobar dan/dobro veče/čao, molim, hvala, oprostite/pardon, gdje je toalet, and koleko. I may not be able to pronounce these correctly (yet) but I underestimated their importance, especially hvala, which is one of the most paramount feelings I have felt towards all the people and their graciousness here.
4. Drink the kafa.
The coffee (and cigarette) culture is no joke here. The good news is, it’s absolutely delicious and available just about everywhere. I’ve probably consumed more coffee (kafa – the espresso kind in beautiful, tiny cups that always come with saucers) in the past 5 days than I have in the past 5 months – and it’s a wonderful thing. It’s also let me find the time to linger and take in all there is to experience here. People watching and engaging over a cup of kafa is quickly becoming one of my favorite activities.
5. Listen with intent.
We got lucky, although in truth it is not by luck but by Ann Petrila, to get to see and do things the way we did in our first two days here. Sarajevo, Tuzla, Potočari – and all that is in these places, has been just the beginning of this trip. There is so much I have taken in by listening to the stories of the incredible people we have gotten to meet here – especially Hasan Hasanovič and Saliha Osmanovič (although our amazing drivers, our hotel hosts at Hotel Kovači, Dragana from ICMP, Anesa – our host in Srebrenica, and everyone else who has been a part of this experience are certainly not to be left out). Their truths, kindness, stories, and experiences are humbling, inspiring, and moving in ways that have affected me beyond words. Listening is an act of love. Allowing this to lead to learning and connection is one of the most important ways that I am being moved, challenged, and experiencing growth during this experience.
6. Just roll with it.
Plans are subject to change – and change seems to be the only constant. So your flights are delayed by over 12 hours or your driver fixes something under the hood with scotch tape (don’t worry, we replaced it with duct tape) – just roll with it. Things all seem to fall into place and being open to relinquishing control and taking in a differing culture in a genuine way is allowing me to experience more than I could have imagined otherwise.
7. Hold the suspended paradox.
Bosnia is incredibly beautiful in ways that I both expected and could not have ever predicted. Yet, among this beauty lies a harrowing truth and history that is part of the reason that we are here in the first place. Holding this paradox and being able to both appreciate the resiliency, growth, and movement of a place while remembering the past is one of the ways that I am falling in love with this place. It is difficult to be moved by a sunset that is unlike any other I have seen while the call to prayer plays in the background and then turn around to find one of the many cemeteries that dot the land – and it continually provides moments for thought and consideration. It is a delicate balance and feels important for me to continually consider the detriment and unimaginable acts that have taken place in Bosnia while also understanding how moving forward is taking place in a post-war country.
Here is the first (and likely not last) puppy that I have fallen for here. How could you not? I’ve learned that you don’t pet them, even though they’re typically harmless, but when they’re the puppies of your wonderful host (Anesa) in Srebrenica, it’s fair game. Don’t worry, mom and dad, I didn’t name her or even take her with me in my suitcase (yet).
Here is to Bosnia and the incredible experiences and moving lessons that are yet to be had here.