My close relationships at work have been the most important part of my time here in Sarajevo. Reading and studying about a foreign place is so much different from spending quality time there. Before coming to Sarajevo for the summer I had taken a pre-departure class, watched Bosnian films and read articles about the war; but while these pre-departure acts created an awareness and filled me with emotion, words on a page present a certain distance that can only be bridged by intimate experiences. Only after spending a few weeks in Bosnia and interacting with locals did I begin to gap the words with reality and become personally and emotionally involved with Bosnia-with the city itself (Sarajevo), its people, history, and culture.
For my “Significant Photo” blog post I am choosing to write about pictures with my coworkers from the Center of Healthy Aging. During the first few weeks in Sarajevo I was worried I would remain in tourist mode. Living in a hostel with other Americans can create a bubble that’s hard to break out of and prevent you from truly engaging in the culture. I was worried I would remain an outside observer looking in. My close friends at my internship instantly welcomed me into their culture, into their work family. They taught me about the real Bosnia, Bosnia today; they helped me understand how the consequences of the war are still present, but Bosnia is so much more than it’s violent past. Making Bosnian friends placed a human face to the articles I had read, the country I had studied. Getting to know and becoming attached to people who lived through war and under siege is something entirely new to me; it makes you more angry with what happened, more confused on why humanity can tolerate such injustice, and creates a strong emotional motive to understand what they went through and make sure it never, ever happens again, no matter in which part of the globe.
My coworkers were so very welcoming, something a bit unexpected for me since in the U.S. often times work and relationships are viewed as separate realms. They truly wanted me to take in as much Bosnian culture as I could, the good and the bad. One of the events I shared with them that stands out in my mind is when two of my coworkers took me to see the truck with them, the truck carrying the newly discovered bodies from mass graves. To observe and participate in such an emotional event was both heartbreaking and a great privilege, an indescribable event. How can you keep from weeping when hundreds of people are weeping all around you? That moment hit me hard, an emphasis on the human connection we all share, the human connection of loss.
I can’t thank my friends at the Center enough for warmly welcoming me in; for taking me to get pita every day, teaching me how to make traditional kafa, helping me expand my Bosnian vocab, sharing their personal stories with me and making me laugh every single day. Sejdefa, Sejdefina, Zana, Amra, Irma, Minela, Anel-you made my time in Sarajevo truly worthwhile!!! I hope to come back one day and visit again this wonderful city that I will miss.