I can hardly get my head around the fact that I have already been here for two weeks. The amount of experiences I have had in such a short span of time has been extraordinary and I am sure that the best ones are yet to come. For this post, I have decided to talk about some of the common attitudes I have noticed among Bosnians. I haven’t spoken to anyone directly about this topic yet – mainly because I don’t feel I have established enough of a relationship to do so – but I think they have been partially subtly revealed at times.
The best example for me was while I was moving some furniture at the museum where I am interning. The table we were moving was clearly quite old and creaked loudly when we were moving it. The cleaning lady that was standing nearby remarked that the table, like Bosnia, was falling apart. Everyone chuckled and then went on with moving the table, but it struck me as a potential underlying attitude that things are not getting better or are in fact getting worse. While this one experience is anecdotal at best, it is important to recognize those that feel that way. Hopelessness is a terrible thing and I can’t imagine how it is to live with a mentality that things not only are not getting better but that they won’t.
Attitudes are a part of one’s identity and I wonder how that is reflected in this interaction. Could it be that she deeply feels that the country is falling apart, or could it just have been a side comment to add humor to the strenuous activity? I will likely not know until I get to know her better but I hope that it is less the former and more the latter. When it comes to sources of conflict, we often analyze the various dimensions that exist within. There are those from identity, substantive, procedural and relational sources of conflict to name a few. These can stem from conflicts over territory, to misperceptions and stereotypes that encourage the limiting of personal interaction between members of different groups. When I hear a statement such as that voiced by the women, it doesn’t fit into the nice box that I have been given from school. Rather, it reaffirms that while we have certain tools from our studies, we will need to find ways to use them in a dynamic and amorphous world.
However, my ability to connect with those here is extremely limited due to the fact that I do not speak their language. Sure, I know a few words here and there (mostly for the sake of being polite), but there is no way I could have the necessary depth of conversation regarding this difficult topic unless they were extremely comfortable speaking in either English or French. I have said before that this trip has been the one in which I have been the least linguistically prepared than I ever have and I feel that that it is one of the greatest sources of my frustration.
However, I think that over the course of the next several weeks, I will pick up more and continue to build relationships. I’m optimistic about how everything will turn out and I’m certain that this will end up being an unforgettable experience based solely on those I’ve had so far.