Out of the entire group, I believe it took me the longest to get settled into an internship. After my first internship did not go so well, I was very nervous about starting at a new place; I don’t speak Bosnian, I thought, so how can I truly be any help at any local organization? After my first week, I switched over to The Center for Healthy Aging, a relatively new facility (four years old) that has had a strong partnership with DU right from the start.
The woman in charge of everything, Sejdefa, is truly superwoman, running all kinds of organizations, from Project Hope (which promotes measures for healthy aging in over 10 countries in the region) to getting aid to the flood victims. The moment I walked into her office for the first time, I couldn’t help but feel warmth in her welcoming and respect for how hard she works to promote rights for the elderly, a population that has, for the most part, been ignored in the past few decades.
The Center is not like anything I have seen in the United States. Yes there are places in the States that provide activities and social gathering for the elderly, but never before have I seen a place where everyone is so happy, a place always full of high energy. As I have learned, the Center is a very important place for the elderly of Sarajevo because not only does it give them a place to socialize, but it instills hope. Most of the members’ children live abroad, from Europe and North America to Australia, so it is crucial the elderly have opportunities to get out of their apartments and enjoy themselves.
My work around the center varies from day to day depending on what needs to be done. Every day I still find it incredible how eager the members are to learn new skills, how much energy they have at 70, 80 years old! Many work hard to practice their English so they can communicate with grandchildren living abroad (I often help out at English lessons and practice conversing with members), some take German lessons, painting, and others make these absolutely beautiful cloth flowers stitched onto quilt pieces (indescribable). One day I tried learning how to weave baskets out of twisted newspapers (which made a very comical situation and made everyone laugh; luckily I had plenty of hands that wanted to help me).
Not only have a fallen in love with the members, but also with the women I work with at the center, who are eager to include me in everything; to teach me Bosnian, to practice English with me, and to engage me in their culture. Since two of the women do not speak English, I have found myself motivated to learn as much Bosnian as I can in order to speak with them (practicing Bosnian with them is always a fun experience).
Two nights ago I helped served as a hostess for the Iftar dinner at the center (about 100 people attended). After spending all day cooking and preparing the food (my hands still smell like onions) I helped welcome, serve, and clean up at the dinner. Although I was busy running around the entire time, I can’t remember the last time I felt so happy, so at home in such a foreign place. As I was serving cous cous and pita, all the members wanted to introduce me to their friends, to take pictures, to comment on my outfit and show me their new accessories they had worn to the dinner. None of us working really had the chance to eat because it was so busy, but I did manage to try some of the topa, a traditional Bosnian “soup” made out of lots of different kinds of melted cheeses and butter (Paula Dean would be proud) but it was sooooo dangerously delicious.
I could write many pages about my internship, and I probably will in the future. I will end by saying I never thought I would spend a summer in Bosnia helping out at a center for the elderly, and I certainly never thought I would be learning this much and having so much fun along the way.