Initial Impressions: First Week in Sarajevo

I have been in Sarajevo now for almost five full days and truthfully, I haven’t been out as much as I should be because of how much it has been pouring rain. But I’m grateful for the opportunity to just slow down a bit. With the abundance of free time, I have been reflecting a lot on what the next 7 weeks will look like. How do I process the events of the genocide and, more importantly, the lived experiences of the people that I will be meeting? Where do I find the best čevapi? What are the most promising ways for me to interact with individuals through my internship placement without exploiting their lived experiences?

My first day meeting with my supervisor, Sejdefa Bašić Ćadić, coincided with the seventh anniversary of the opening of the first Center for Healthy Aging. Right from the beginning of our arrival, we were already met with such genuine and warm hospitality. They even shared their lunch with the four of us! Because of the need to have things ready for the party and the arrival of (very) early guests and media, our time with Sejdefa was short, but still incredibly impactful. We learned how the center grew from a unique idea in wanting to establish a much-needed sense of community to the opening of the first center, where they were unsure if this idea would be successful. Currently, the success of the Center for Healthy Aging is demonstrated through the existence of numerous other centers throughout Sarajevo and Bosnia; this success continues to grow as Sejdefa was recently in Macedonia helping to implement their own Center for Healthy Aging!

My actual first day at the internship was met with even more Bosnian hospitality. Our first task was to help deliver some paintings for a member of the center who had just hosted his fifth art exhibition during the anniversary party. Even though they didn’t know any English, the artist and his wife were so welcoming and apologized profusely for not having any cookies or cakes to share. But they were so proud to give us a tour of their home and so excited to show us their albums of family photos. We were even gifted a copy of a painting of Sarajevo that the artist made for a collector (which is now proudly displayed in my room at the hostel). At the end of our visit, I realized that not many words were exchanged directly (Sejdefa acted as our translator), but the human interaction was so pure and authentic in that even though we were only able to communicate through smiles and gestures, I felt that we were still able to form a connection.

The rest of the day was spent exchanging personal stories and learning Bosnian words. We even had the amazing opportunity to learn how to make traditional Bosnian pies. I shared my story as a child of Vietnam War refugees and while I had the privilege of being born and raised in the United States, my parents’ experience of being refugees in their own country and subsequently being forcibly displaced was a large reason behind my desire to come to Sarajevo. It was incredibly humbling to share stories as I could not fathom the strength and resiliency it takes to live my life under siege. What I love most so far about my interactions with people have been the sheer generosity and kindness, even in our initial meetings. I have never met a community of individuals who are so willing to give and share and welcome strangers with open arms despite all that they have been through. If there is anything I hope to take away at the end of my stay here in Sarajevo, it is that I hope to be as gracious and compassionate.

 

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