“Oh, Bosnia? That’s cool.
So, you got all your shots? Cuz I heard that’s pretty important when you’re traveling in Africa!”
I swear I had this conversation with more than one –-and a slightly different version with more than 2…Americans… before coming to Bosnia for this incredible opportunity. Looking back, it does not seem my geographically well-versed loved ones, nor I, really knew what to expect. Originally, I was drawn to the idea of traveling somewhere I’d never been, and for the opportunity of experiential learning in order to broaden my global perspective in the field. Now having been here for a little more than 48 hours, I am pretty confident I will be taking away more from this experience than I had even anticipated.
My very first impression when landing at the Sarajevo airport was that those from the films I’d seen were right on with their descriptions of the beautiful hills that flank the city. They’re stunning. And, that Ann was right: everyone smokes and there are neither people nor places that are the exception to that rule. But even through the sticky/smoky air, it was clear to see just how beautiful the land and city ‘scapes are here. I’ve been fortunate enough to travel quite a bit in Western Europe but was immediately thrilled with how different the architecture, culture, and general feel of this city are as I took my first steps through Pigeon Square.
The day that we spent touring the city with Jadranka then piqued my interest further, as we started to delve into the extremely complicated, and deep seated history that makes this special country as it is today. I very much enjoyed having her wealth of knowledge at our disposal; and having the commentary of someone who has such a connection to the city, lived through the war, and is still here to tell the stories made easier to connect and understand (further, but not fully) the complexities. I was really moved by the Jewish cemetery, as well. Honestly, I was a little surprised to hear that Sarajevo is the home of the oldest Jewish cemetery in Europe. 1630 is almost un-relatable to all of us –or myself, at least— given that we hail from the New World. And walking through those arches felt like going back in time.
From the rose bushes hanging over the old stonewalls that border the grounds, to the clear damage on the graves from the frontlines in the 90s. It was all somewhat surreal to think that today it sits with aesthetically alluring scenery, but is rich with tragic history and represents lives lost, in more ways than one. Sure, we get some ‘cool’ history back in the states in places like Philadelphia (woooopwooop, hometown priiiiide – Fly Eagles Fly!) and some others, but especially given that we all live in such a newly settled place like Colorado currently, it was such wonderful exposure to something more. Something older. Something deeper. And deeply complex in its historical values.
And speaking of complex, something I have been trying to wrap my mind around and get a deeper understanding of is the political, religious, and ethnic factors that (arguably) shape the country today. I’ve had a hard time understanding the reasons that sparked the war in the 90s and further, my lack of historical prowess about WWI , the Ottoman, Austro-Hunganian empires, and even the division of Yugoslavia all contribute to my confusion. Clearly my middle and high school history expertise elude me, at this point. I think I need to do some more google searching instead of watching Curb Your Enthusiasm before bed – but…yeah. I digress. Happy to say, however, that I finally feel like I am getting a better grasp. And given that we’re here now, and I’m trying to place some of this intel with what I’m experiencing in the culture each day, it feels prettttttty prettttty prettttty good. Ayyyyy, Larry. (I just asked Sierra if she knew who Larry David is…she said no. So maybe she should do some Curb research. Best show on TV, yall) But anyways……………. The opportunity to hear Professor Osmić speak on the topic…and being able to ask 176 questions…was immensely beneficial. One of the most important take-home points I gathered was how the term ‘ethnicity’ is defined here differently than my understanding of the word. My impression is that here, ethnicity is synonymous with religion, which is synonymous with political affiliation, which encompasses and indicates tradition, and so on. This not-so-insignificant detail was huge for me in order to properly grasp what is means when people are describing the “ethnic cleansing” that went on, and how certain areas are now “ethnically clean”. I had a really hard time understanding how a war that seemed to overwhelming persecute Muslims was not a religious war, nor was it internal. Or, as I’ve been told: “well yes, both those things. But also neither of those things.” Point being: the centuries of history that are so evident with every turn here are actually rather essential to understand in order to make sense of something that truly seems…pretty senseless, indeed. But I’m gettin’ there! And excited to see what’s next.