As our time in Sarajevo comes to an end, I find myself on a rollercoaster of emotions ranging from one extreme to the other. One day I will be ready to jump on a plane and fly home to the comfort of New Mexico (and good Mexican food), and the next I will realize how I am just now getting used to Sarajevo. I have learned so much here-about myself, about Bosnia, Sarajevo, and people in general-but I feel myself fighting to stay here because there is so much more I have yet to learn! After my time spent in Bosnia, I don’t believe I will ever be comfortable taking quick trips abroad. If I can still be missing so much after spending two months in Bosnia, how can I possibly expect to take in a new culture in a shorter period of time? To learn a country takes time and patience (I have lost all respect for cruise traveling-a single day in a foreign country? What good does that do?).
I have learned so much here, but I will briefly outline a few of the most important points.
*Patience: living in a crowded hostel for two months requires an incredible amount of patience. Pick your battles carefully. Is it truly worth it to argue over something small and ridiculous? Also, friendships take time to develop, but once they do you realize how worthwhile all that patience was.
*Appreciate what you have, because there are always others living much worse off than you. There are those who have lost everyone they ever loved in the war, suffered extreme trauma, had their homes and personal belongings washed away by mudslides and floods, so what right do I have to complain about a cold shower in the morning or a crowded hot tram? It’s the whole picture that matters, not necessarily the tedious details. You take in what you have, and you are grateful.
*Eating pita everyday will make you gain weight like crazy.
*Coffee and cigarettes will make you age much faster.
*Listening: in the U.S. we never take enough time to sit down and have meaningful conversations for the simple pleasure of enjoying someone else’s company. Slow things down every once in a while. When was the last time you interacted with someone for the sole purpose of friendship and not hoping for some kind of personal gain? Everyone has a story, and all of our stories matter. The more we listen, the more we learn, and the more we are able to expand our mental barriers and drop our stereotypes and expectations.
*Cheap gelato stands create a dangerous habit.
*You can always find ways to communicate even if you don’t speak the same language as the other person. Very few of the members at my internship (the Center for Healthy Aging) speak English, and yet I have developed a strong relationship with them. I’m sure we look ridiculous as we try and communicate through hand gestures, acting motions out, and yelling, but it’s actually a lot of fun! (and I even end up understanding some of the conversation).
*The elderly are hilarious! I never thought I would have that much fun working at the Center. They are so full of energy and so eager to learn new things (which makes me feel a bit lazy). Centers for the elderly population are very rare in Bosnia, which makes working at the center even more of a privilege. The elderly here are so full of life and respected in society, unlike in the U.S. where I feel people put their parents away in depressing homes as soon as they can. Getting older doesn’t mean you have to stop living. Hanging out with the members has made me want to be crazy, fun, and take in as much life as I can until the day I die.
*Friendships do not depend on age similarities.
*Packing rain boots is never a bad idea.
*When it starts raining, umbrellas for sale magically appear every five feet.
*People will be people, no matter where you go. In the light of friendships, all our differences become irrelevant. I realized how ridiculous the negative stereotype of Muslims the U.S. promotes is. In every culture and every religion there are good and bad people, that’s just the way it is. Wherever we go and wherever we are from we will always experience the same human emotions-love, loss, happiness, grief, exhaustion-this alone should unite us.
*True justice is rare, not only here in Bosnia but in every single part of the globe. How can the international community allow war criminals to go free or only face a few years in prison?
*Laundry takes a few days to get done, and don’t expect your clothes to be completely dry.
*Having a coin purse is a necessity in Bosnia or else you’ll be digging through your bag every time you try and pay for something.
*Women are not treated as equals to men. Observing Bosnian culture has helped solidify and strengthen my strong feminist beliefs. As I researched and observed the way women act, dress, and are treated by men in Bosnia, I started to analyze how women are treated back at home in the U.S. Yes, women in the U.S. enjoy far more rights than women in other countries, but we are still not treated as true equals to men. The battle for women’s equality is long from over.
Overall, I am very glad I came to Bosnia. As it being my first time living abroad (and I just turned 20), I consider the choice I made to come to Bosnia a very brave one. So many people, both at home and in Bosnia have asked me, why come to Bosnia? And I have never had an answer, I simply reply, why not Bosnia? I feel privileged to have lived in and experienced a country that most American’s know only as the place where that horrible war happened (and I don’t think I’ve met a single American that could locate Bosnia on a map). Bosnia is off the beaten path, and I guess that’s what attracted me to it in the first place. Studying the violence that took place in the 70s and 80s Latin America made me want to visit and study a place that had experienced recent national trauma. We are truly privileged as Americans to have never experienced all-out war on our soil. Grasping how such tragedy could happen to people who look like me and love the kind of things I love was and still is difficult. As privileged as we are, I believe it is our personal duty to do as much as we can to help those that have lived through true tragedy, even if that means just taking the time to listen to their story or trying to engage in their culture.
Make no mistake, as much as I learned this summer, my time in Bosnia was far from easy. Living away from home is one thing, but living in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language is another matter entirely and takes a lot of patience and mental strength. This is the first time I have been in a foreign country without living with a local, and I realized living with a local is by far the best way to experience a country. I don’t think hostel living (or living with Americans while abroad) is right for me. Had I a choice, I would have lived instead with a local family, and I am glad this is what I will be doing for the next four months while I study abroad in Spain.
Though I am ready to go home, I know I will cry when I have to say goodbye to my friends from my internship. Relationships develop over time, and in the last few weeks I have just began to be close with my coworkers. I could never have really experienced Bosnia without my Bosnian friends, I owe them so much. Amra especially, I will miss you so much.
What I’m looking forward too when going home?
*A haircut-my ends have become dry and split and my bangs have grown so long that I have started to resemble a sheepdog.
*Being able to use English with more than a few people.
*Fruit smoothies (ah Jamba Juice)
*Home cooked meals and Mexican food.
*Driving my car
*Harassing my sisters
*Not having to fight for power outlets.
*Peace and quiet at night without Cheers right below me.
*Being with my family.
*Skinny dipping (don’t worry, our pool is in the middle of a pecan orchard so no neighbors).
*Hearing the bells ringing from the Catholic Church in old Mesilla.
*Going to church.
*Letting my feet be finally able to heal (every pair of my shoes I brought give me blisters in different places, so walking is always a bit painful). I think at the moment I have 13 blisters on my feet.
A few of the things I will miss:
*My friends at my internship (I will miss them the most).
*Hearing the call to prayer everyday at 1pm.
*Spending time with the members at the Center.
*Visiting exciting new places on the weekends.
*Having Fridays off.