It’s about 7 o’clock right now. I am one of the few that is still at the hostel. It feels dead quiet. It doesn’t feel the same. Our rooms have been taken over by strangers. Our private floor is no longer private. As I’m sitting here waiting for breakfast and for my cab to get here I am writing down the final thoughts about this summer experience.
This has been a fantastic summer. The entire experience was better than I pictured back in Denver. The combination of the great things that happened made this summer memorable. Sarajevo is beautiful; the people in this program were beyond amazing. I feel like I have grown a lot these past 2 months, the girls have taught me well. I have to give credit where credit is due: this summer felt so great because of the people in it. Now that I am alone here in the common room thinking that no one is left here but me, I can already tell you that I miss them and that I cannot wait to see them again in Denver. Every single one added something to this program, whether it was Mandy helping me with her social work skills, or Megan and I singing Flight of the Conchords or even Rachel Mary and Jillian’s obsession with Sy Fy movies (the list could go on forever but writing more and more about it is making me sad). This summer has been one of if not the best summer I have ever experienced.
In addition to the wonderful people in my program, the people I met in Sarajevo have made me want to come back. Yesterday I decided to stop by a few places and say good bye to them because they deserved it and I really wanted to see them again one last time before leaving. Vladimir and Hussein were two of those people. Both of them have been really kind and shared their stories, it’s something that I will always cherish. The same goes for the people at my internship. Every single one of them has taught me so much as well laughed and procrastinated on work.
Finally I think this blog cannot end without a mention about Cheers. As I am sitting here with the window open I can hear them play Hotel California. Cheers has become a part of this program. The many loud nights have become routines that sleeping without dance music blasting in your ears feels weird.
I cannot think of good closing words. The only thing I can think right now is how amazing this summer has been.
After spending close to two months in Sarajevo, it was nice to see and experience something new; that something new was Istanbul. The differences between the two cities are impossible to count. Sarajevo is relatively small city while Istanbul is a huge city. Sarajevo is surrounded my beautiful hills that are covered in houses; Istanbul is split apart by waterways. The people are also completely different. Here in Sarajevo you walk down the street and people are enjoying their time, drinking coffee. In Istanbul it felt different. I didn’t notice many people stopping for coffee but we were constantly being harassed by people wanting us to purchase their goods or spend money at their restaurants. It was actually something that I had never experienced with such energy. The waiters would do their best to talk to you and convince you to sit down. Looking back on it now, you can tell that Istanbul was a city built by merchants that would trade goods from the East to the West and vice versa. The Grand Bazaar was prime proof of this mentality.
Despite the differences however, there was one similarity that stood out: the Mosques. It seems silly to say since both countries are Muslim countries, however it felt comfortable to be able to still see these beautiful buildings spring up throughout the city and blend in with the city landscape. Of course the scale of the Mosques was on a completely different scale. The Mosques in Sarajevo lacked in detail compared to those found in Istanbul, and the call to prayer in Istanbul could be heard from everywhere in the city.
This trip was the perfect little getaway.
Sarajevo is a wonderful city. Most of my time spent here in Bosnia has been in Sarajevo and I really cannot express how wonderful the time spent here has been. However every time I leave the city and see BiH and its wonderful wilderness I wonder why I am staying in the city.
Last week we hiked to Lukomir thanks to my awesome internship Green Visions. The hike was one of my favorites. The scenery was beyond stunning. Most of the trail is on the side of a mountain next to this canyon where you can see an entire valley and other small isolated villages that sparsely populate the peaks. The evergreen forests in this canyon really added color to the mountains as their peaks were a dark gray and some white where the snow hadn’t completely melted. Then there was the trail itself. When hiking I love climbing over rocks, jumping over them and figuring out a place where you can put your feet and keep your momentum going. To me those are the best possible hikes. That trail was exactly it; plenty of childish fun to be had. The stops that we took were also extraordinary. We stopped on these boulders that overlooked the canyon, needless to say one of the best pictures ever taken were on these rocks.
This past Friday our group stopped by Kravica falls and once again the natural beauty is indescribable. The water falls were noisy as the water kept rushing down but the mist that was created from the water hitting the rocks helped to survive the insane heat from that day. A little slice of heaven during a day hot like hell.
I am finally back in Sarajevo. It’s really good to be back. I missed the people, the wonderful food and even Cheers. The Srebrenica program was truly something amazing, and as much as I am happy I completed the program it feels extremely good to be back. The two weeks spent in Srebrenica made me understand the genocide and what happened in ways I could have never imagined; not to mention how significantly important the march was to fully comprehend the pain people went through doing it.
The Peace March was one of the hardest things I have ever done. Looking back on it I am really proud I made it to the end and achieved something so beautiful and powerful. Of course those weren’t really my thoughts during it. The physical pain during the march is truly something that cannot be described very easily. The first day feels easy, the terrain isn’t too demanding and the pace that you follow isn’t very hard either. This is what I was thinking for the first few hours. After the first four hours of march, the legs start to feel tired, but you know that you still have at least 5 more hours to walk. The only thing you can do is keep walking. By the end of the first day I was exhausted, it felt good to be done, but it wasn’t easy. The thought of doing this all over again the next day was daunting. This thought came before I found out that we still had 3 kilometers to do to reach where we were going to sleep. Those three kilometers felt the longest of my life. When we finally made it to our resting place I saw everyone. The moment I saw Emily and the others I was extremely happy. However, the moment that marked that night was how Emily told us how proud of us she was that we were doing this. Those very words would bring me strength to finish when I needed it most.
By the end of day 1, blisters had already decided to pay me a visit. By day 2 those blisters would grow and cause me pain every single step of the way. Countless times I wanted to quit because of the pain in my feet, but then I would remember Emily’s words and smile from the previous days and push that pain aside and just keep walking. And thus the second day came to an end and my blisters had grown to such a point that my feet didn’t look normal anymore. The pain was indescribable but I had come too far to quit now. I had to finish the third day.
The entire third day was a struggle. The pain in my feet started since the very first step and wouldn’t end until the end. The third day was by far the hardest. Half of the hike was uphill, and with legs that were close to the limit, all I felt was frustration and pain. I didn’t want to go on anymore. Every small uphill was followed by a small descent which was immediately followed again by an uphill portion. This routine would happen over the span of several hours as the frustration would rise. The thought of finishing seemed almost impossible. Once again though I would picture everyone back at camping waiting for us and ready to greet us and tell us how proud they were. I had to make them proud, I had to finish. For the last 2 hours that would be my only thought; finishing the march and make everyone proud.
Once I reached the end I was incredibly happy and sad at the same time. Happy because of what I just accomplished, sad because of the 409 coffins that were being brought out. A small car ride later we had made it to the hostel. Everyone that was waiting for us were cheering and all I could do was smile and sit down. I was so exhausted and in pain but I was also so happy. Words cannot describe that feeling of deep joy seeing everyone as happy as they were. I do think that I was able to finish this march because of those people that kept cheering us and patiently waiting for us at the end of each day.
The journey here to Srebrenica has been a unique experience and everyone has their own story to tell about what they are experiencing. My thoughts so far are still fuzzy as more information is presented daily and in such powerful ways where it becomes difficult to listen without having your emotions stirred. Despite all this great information that we are presented to I can’t help but feel somewhat inadequate in this group.
The people present in this program have all been studying the genocide and have some sort of thesis or dissertation that they are working on. Personally I feel like I lack their level of understanding and that I should do more than just listen to the speaker. The people here are awesome and are all incredibly nice but their superior understanding of the situation has made me feel uncomfortable. During our meals (which are insanely delicious) I will hear them talking about speakers, books, articles that they have read and are using for their thesis and how this program is giving them great information on what to right. Even during the various I will see them taking notes while I’m just sitting there listening. Should I do more than just listen? Right now I’m torn as I am not sure what to do regarding this issue. There isn’t much to do around here, it will be a good time to reflect about the issue.
After my first week at Green Visions, I cannot put into words the fun I have had. Barely two weeks in and I have already been on one definite departure and it was amazing. Tomorrow I am going to another one and I am looking forward to another wonderful hike. This being said, the nature found in Bosnia and Herzegovina is outstanding.
Sutjeska National Park is a must for anyone who enjoys the outdoors and happens to be in Bosnia. The drive from Sarajevo to the park is two hours long, but only after 20 minutes you already finding yourself among the mountains; if you also are lucky in having a Bosnian guide driving you there, be prepared for some crazy driving resembling the rally championships. Just the drive is beautiful; it’s about an hour and half of driving through winding mountain roads. The scenery is beyond beautiful, the green mountains covered in the even greener pines makes the crazy driving worth the car sickness. After the car ride, you arrive on top where you park the car and start walking. You are surrounded by beautiful mountains that have a perfect mix between gray and green. The rocks help create this beautiful mesh of colors that becomes impossible to get tired of. The trail takes you in a valley where the dry lakes reside. When we had crossed this valley, uprooted trees to the scenery as a massive avalanche had taken place during the winter. Even this dead nature added beauty to this place in a eerie kind of way.
After crossing the dry lakes you hike over a small mountain and there it is; lake Trnovacko. Seeing it the first time I was taken in by its beauty. Looking at this heart shaped lake surrounded by peaks seemed almost mystical. The scenery and the pictures I took seemed like something from National Geographic. I absolutely suck at taking pictures and yet I was able to take outstanding pictures. The clear blue lake, the mountains surrounding it, it feels like a place truly unscathed by human presence. I have found the perfect place in case of a zombie apocalypse.
It is very hard to describe my first impressions of this past week in Bosnia. The people, the weather, the city, the culture; so many different experiences and no idea where to start. There is one thing however that I do want to discuss that has struck me the most.
We have been walking down the streets of Sarajevo many times this past week. Cheers is as loud as it was foretold and the people are always walking somewhere no matter what time of the day it is. It’s very easy to lose yourself in this city and its lifestyle. You wake up, have breakfast shower then head out. During your day you may walk around stop at one of the many bars around the city to drink some coffee. You walk some more around the city and you sit down at another bar for your second cup of coffee. The hours pass and you realize while drinking coffee that it’s lunch time and you are getting very hungry. Your choices as to where to eat are also endless, stop at a pekara, or at one of the restaurants that sell burek. No matter your choice, you won’t be disappointed. You start walking again and it’s hot, you stop for some ice cream. Walk some more and stop at another bar, this time though it’s not for coffee but something else; beer perhaps? Water? Anything refreshing to cope with the heat.
After this little portrait I described to you above in my “wonderful” English, it is hard to imagine that about 20 years ago, the life in this city was nothing like it is now. It amazes me how people and the city have overcome the war in such a way that one would never know it actually happened. There is a distinct difference between the youth and the elders in the streets. Older people definitely act differently and you can tell they lived a troubled past. Young people though walk the streets as if nothing ever happened. It is a weird feeling that is very hard to explain. With more time spent here I hope to understand this city better.