Reflections on a Summer in BiH

So many of this summer’s blogs I’ve focused on Bih and how I see the country. I started writing this reflection after seeing a symphony/ classical music in an old Czech church in Prague and decided that Bosnia is like Bach’s Toccata in D Minor  played by a crowd measured through history and performed into a valley without an audience. This is possibly the most pretentious comparison I’ve ever written down. And I guess the point of sharing this with you is to say that in addition to being pretentious in my snooty cultured corner, Sarajevo and BiH as a whole transcend my vocabulary. Bosnia to me will forever be music not words.

Music is emotion and history written in a language that is universal. In some ways Bosnia is tragic in a common way. Ethnoreligious wars are not unique to Bosnia or Europe or even this century or millennium. But, like Bach’s piece, Bosnia is not common. Bosnia is anger and relief and chords that are complicated and sound a bit sour. To play his piece you have to be athletic. I play piano not organ but to play it on the original organ one must constantly move hands and feet like a hyperactive octopus-human. Bosnia does not roll over, Bosnia fights. Bosnia is not forgotten. Bosnia is bold. Bosnia is kind and beautiful. Bosnia is subtle and also obvious. Bosnia is an epicenter, and so rarely the center of attention. I guess the comparison means that I am not and never will be a composer or a player in a metaphorical Bosnian symphony, but I will be listening. Bosnia’s music made me dance and sway and understand, and I am richer for it.

I am impacted by listening to Bosnia and like I said, so much of this summer has been about me thinking of comparisons and writing about how I see Bosnia, I think for this final reflection I’d like to think about how Bosnia really changed me. On the surface I learned a lot in the obvious categories. When I first came to Bosnia in 2016, I knew there was a war in the 1990s and that it was a terrible war. I didn’t know who fought who. I didn’t know that it was former Yugoslavia. I didn’t know the events that took place in Bosnia. I had never heard of Vučko, the lovable wolf mascot of the 1984 Olympics who I now love. I could not have pronounced Baščaršija to save my life. And I couldn’t have written 500 words on BiH let alone the thousands I have this summer via blogs and reports for my internship. I know a lot more about the ins and outs of the war, though I’m still missing a lot of the specifics. I can identify the key players in the war and I can recognize how devastating this war was and how the U.S. failed and continues to fail Bosnia. I can talk coherently about where things are and the events that happened. I know Bosnia like a new friend. But this knowledge is easy to come by, its the deeper stuff that I am thankful for.

This summer was not an easy couple months in Europe. It was difficult on several levels and it forever changed all of us. I think the best thing BiH does is let you fall in love with the country. I don’t know why. I have traveled to a lot of countries and seen a lot of cities and I can find things to talk about in many of them, but BiH really stole my heart. It is an old soul of a place. Bosnia is not like other places where you have to work to know it. There aren’t tourist attractions to present you with a facade. You know it because it is like a classical music piece. You know it because it is honest in all its glory, horror and complexity. It’s an old story that sounds familiar. It is a place that is heavy with what humanity has done there. It is simple and straight forward despite endless complications. Bosnia is a country living in each moment. Unfortunately I think this comes from knowing war, but I want to be a person the way Sarajevo is a city.

Here is where I want to end my blog, but it feels unfinished. Bosnia is not a place I can forget. I cannot finish with it and move on. Bosnia has become a growing living piece of how I see the world. I don’t know how else to say or reflect on our summer other than to say thanks to everyone we met (especially Hasan) and to continue to listen to the music.

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