The trip has been an amazing experience for me so far. Sarajevo is fascinating and I have been particularly struck by how it is different than what I expected. The recovery from the war has been impressive to me, as I was expecting that fewer buildings, etc. would be rebuilt. And even though Ann and others had spoken about the Austro-Hungarian influences, etc. I am struck by how much it feels like Western Europe in so many parts of the city. I think this is probably informed by the fact that I do remember seeing the conflict on TV when I was growing up, and so there was probably of process of ‘otherization’ involved. It would have been hard for me to fathom such a conflict taking place in, say, Brussels, so I am sure I constructed ideas about this area of the world that were framed in stark contrast to the rest of Europe. I think it’s similar with the natural beauty. The images I was confronted with on the news made it hard to imagine that such a place could be so beautiful.
The most significant sentiment I have had this week is how lucky and privileged I am. I am so lucky to have been born and raised in a country 151 years removed from the last armed conflict on its soil. I was seven when the war began, and knowing what I do about myself, I know that if I had been forced to live through the war I would still be dealing with its effects on a daily basis, to say nothing of the broader impact it has had on the country. And while I am not a huge fan of the U.S. political system, I appreciate the fact that it does not inherently limit the opportunities for individuals and the country in the way that it does here. Having had a couple discussions about the lack of opportunities for Bosnian citizens, the words I heard the most were along the lines of “stuck” and “hopeless.” I cannot imagine the impact that has on the individual, the community and the country as a whole. There are also smaller things that cause me to reflect on my privilege within the context of this country, such as the ability to communicate with most people in English. (Imagine the potential reactions in many parts of the United States if a group of monolingual Bosnians tried to order an entire meal in Bosnian.) In addition, many of the things we find desirable about traveling here are tied to a dysfunctional system that causes significant harm to the lives and livelihoods of so many Bosnian citizens. The low cost of living here for Americans is the result of the same social and political conditions that render 60% of Bosnians unemployed. This is not to say that we shouldn’t enjoy ourselves, and obviously we are here to have some sort of positive impact on the country. But I think it is valuable to remain cognizant of how lucky we are (particularly myself; I experience most forms of privilege that exist) and bear in mind the broader dynamics in play during our every day experiences in this country.