So long, and thanks for all the coffee.

Leaving Sarajevo was hard, in many ways. There was of course the physical journey of leaving Bosnia. I had booked my round trip tickets in and out of Europe through Budapest since I had family I wanted to see there. However getting from Sarajevo to Hungary is not as easy as it might seem by looking at a map. My journey included busses, taxis, trains, and trams before I even got within sight of my destination airport. To add to this taxing journey, I got sick during my overnight in Zagreb and just wanted to crawl into a hole instead of lug my oversized suitcase across another international border.

11903952_10153215213847981_1119846689430956055_n

Leaving a country by bus is much different than by plane, watching the country and city you’ve grown to love over the past few months disappear behind you a mile at a time felt more tangible and real than watching a place fade below you in a matter of minutes from an airplane window. I was able to process my departure from Bosnia in real time. This however did not make the journey any easier. On that bus from Sarajevo to Zagreb, I realized I was alone for the first time in months. For the past 8 weeks there was always someone around to talk to, to enjoy a Bosnian coffee with, to take a stroll by the river with. I made many friends this summer, not only within the program, but at my internship, in the city of Sarajevo, and at our hostel.

DSC_0685

I had really enjoyed my time in Bosnia, and it was time to face the real world again. This program marked the very end of my graduate school career, the final piece of the puzzle of my masters degree, the crowning jewel of six years of higher education. Unlike the other participants I would not be returning to DU for fall quarter, and but instead to strike out on my job search. I would return to Denver, and still get to see many of my newfound friends but I still couldn’t help to be sad leaving Sarajevo.

Friends II

DSC_0264

I had never really given a whole lot of thought to Sarajevo, Bosnia, or the Balkans until I heard about the program at Korbel, but knew I wanted to go as soon as I saw the poster for the program. I had watched a lonely planet special about the Balkans a few months before heading to graduate school when I was heading to an ill-fated internship in Tunisia that had captured my imagination. It was hard to believe that less than two years later I would be there with my school and an amazing group of people. However at that time I knew very little about the area, I knew vaguely that there had been a war and many bloody atrocities, I knew Sarajevo had hosted a winter Olympics, but I knew nothing about the breath taking beauty of the country, the charm of Sarajevo, or the warmth and resilience of the people there. I could not anticipate the things I would grow to love and appreciate about my time there, both big and small, from being able to get an espresso just around any corner, practicing my Arabic with Naida (the hostel owner), small talk with the cashier at Maison Coco, or getting to walk by history changing sites around the city while running mundane errands. But that is Sarajevo, a cosmopolitan European capital, filled with well-educated, talented, and giving people who saw unspeakable violence and horror in their lives. So many locals asked me “why?” I had come to this city and their country, why Bosnia of all places? As if this were a country with nothing of note to see or do because it didn’t have the party and festival scene that every other person my age that visits Europe is interested in. But, truthfully, it was hard to describe why I chose to come to Bosnia aside from that I like to travel and the glowing reviews of the program Shannon and Marty gave at the info session left an impression on me (and of course the requirements it fulfilled for my degree program). Regardless of what drew me to the program, I am grateful that I decided to go, and that Ann decided to accept me into the program. I am grateful for everyone I met during the summer, the places I got to see, all the new stamps in my passport, the many miles walked in the Peace March, our folly of trusting google maps, to the LBGT people I met that refuse to hide in the face of widespread homophobia, the people who stand up to genocide denial, to Wings of Hope and Maja for having me intern for them, for the women who fight for everyone’s rights, for getting to experience the film festival, for Naida, Seaad, Hassan, Osman, and everyone at the hostel, for everyone in Srebrenica that shared their stories with us, for the endless coffees, and for so much more.

The lesson here is, I guess, if some says “why go to Bosnia?” the answer is “why not?” and if you get the chance to go, do it!

DSC_0174

DSC_0369

Advertisements

Why are there so many dudes? A restaurant review gone awry

The following was an attempt at humor and social commentary that probably failed on both fronts, enjoy.

Anyone who has been to a restaurant with me knows that I frequently make empty American promises about leaving a review on trip advisor/yelp/google/etc. In reality it takes a truly remarkable experience (both positive or negative) to actually motivate me to pen a review of somewhere. This started as an earnest attempt to review a restaurant for trip advisor, and that didn’t quite happen.

Earlier this week, I ate at Luka Sarajevo, a seafood place tucked in-between the Iranian and Serbian embassies on the river. This was my second time eating at Luka, as my first experience had been extremely lovely and left me dreaming of their golden fried calamari for weeks. My first experience at Luka had been a grand feast with new friends, a parade of delicate soups, fresh salads, bold wines, succulent octopus, a expertly broiled beast of a John Dory, and of course the heavenly crispy fried calamari paired with a tarter sauce which featured a vibrancy and body that every tartar sauce I’ve had in my life previously desperately lacked. All in all, it was a dining experience to remember.

This lovely initial venture to Luka fueled my decision to return with two other students from the program for some of the calamari. However our second experience Luka was bit … strange.

When we walked in, the host seemed confused and a bit flustered by our arrival, granted , we didn’t have reservation, but there were plenty of open tables. We were seated at the one empty table in the back dining room , and after taking our seat we noticed something. The dining room was filled with large Bosnian men in suits, all men, not a single woman to be seen. An the restaurant owner was out and about making pleasantries with his suited-up guests, and occasionally looking over at us Amerikankas (American women) and looking perplexed. About an hour and half after our arrival two women did arrive, however they looked displeased by our presence, giving our group an impressive combo of a side eye and the once-over before turning their over-pumped collagen infused gloss smattered lips into a curt frown, before taking their places at one of the tables of suited men. While we have been speculating that we had walked in on some sort of Balkan organized crime doing, this encounter reminded me of something that I had been noticing all over Bosnia, there are no female dominated spaces. Sure, the ngo I work at is primarily staffed by women, but the confines of human rights association are not the same as the city’s public.

I have lived in male dominated societies before, both in Morocco and Tunisia there is a very historic divide of the public space belonging to men and the homes being the domain of women. However this has changed in recent years, and even in the most masculine of public spaces (hookah bars and street cafes) in Morocco you will see at least a few women, usually on dates, but still they are there. And there are all female public spaces in Morocco, they are rare, but they exist. However in my time in Sarajevo I have yet to see a single public space that has been dominated by Bosnian women. This opens up more questions for me, where do women congregate? Are there any spaces here that are truly female dominant? Why or why not?

The faces of Srebrenica

DSC_0304

This weekend I returned to Srebrenica with my fellow peace marchers, along with the rest of the program participants to get a more in depth look at the fall of Srebrenica, the genocide and the impact it had on the area. In three days we travelled from Sarajevo to Tuzla, where we visited the International Commission on Missing Persons, then across eastern Bosnia to visit a number of survivors and sites related to the genocide, and finally on the third day we went into Srebrenica and Potocari to visit the memorial. Two weeks on from my experience at the march it was still hard to gather my thoughts on it all, and the weekend added even more to reflect upon. Much like the our first visit to Srebrenica, the experience took its toll both physically and emotionally, I often felt as if I had concrete in my lungs sitting in the harsh summer heat while walking past an area where a mass grave was found or a large massacre had occurred.

DSC_0222

While a lot of time was spent on this excursion shuttling from one site related to the genocide to another, the spotlight was on the people we met and their stories. Perhaps it may be easier to reflect upon the weekend in the form of profiles of the important people we met on this trip.

Fatima

When the war broke out Fatima was just fresh out of medical school, a women in her early twenties with her whole life in front of her. However the breakup of Yugoslavia and the outbreak of war threw her into a life she had never dreamed of in her worst nightmares. As the town of Srebrenica became overwhelmed with Muslim refugees from around the Eastern Bosnia region, Fatima found herself as one of the only doctors working in the clinic in Srebrenica while also trying to survive in the besieged city herself. Working conditions were extremely difficult as they had little to no medical supplies, Fatima had almost no experience, and the town was constantly under attack. In July of 1995 Fatima made the decision to flee Srebrenica with more than ten thousand others in the death march. Fatima was one of only a handful of women that decided to make the trek through the hill in an attempt to reach Bosnian held safe territory near Tuzla. Fatima explains that her decision was fueled by her feeling that the UN Dutchbat protection force could do nothing to protect the people of Srebrenica, and if she stayed she believed that she would be raped by Serb forces. In explaining her decision she declared “it was worse to be raped than it was to die”, revealing the ugly truth of conflict related sexual violence that was unfortunately widespread during the Bosnian war. Fatima’s declaration hit me in the face with the same impact that a brick might, and lingered in the pit of my stomach for days afterwards. Today Fatima still lives in the area, and still works as doctor, now serving as an OBGYN for her community. She openly admits she still has very hard time discussing her time in Srebrenica and the war, but holds onto the memories of the few people she was able to help.

***

DSC_0231

Ramiz

Ramiz Nukic lives on a hillside a few miles from Srebrenica, a hillside that happened to be the sight of one of the largest ambushes in the genocidal campaign conducted by Bosnian Serb forces in July of 1995. Ramiz was caught in that ambush in 1995, his father, brother, and uncle were likely killed in the ambush not far from his home. Today, Ramiz spends everyday roaming this hillside and the valley below for the bones or any trace of those lost in that ambush. He seeks to allow the other survivors of the genocide a chance to mourn and gain closure by giving them remains to bury. The bones and artifacts Ramiz finds are handed over to the ICMP, who undertake the process of cleaning the remains and attempting to match them with their database of DNA samples from the families of the victims. To date he has helped to indentify over 200 victims and has found everything from complete skeletons to just single bones that matched remains found in mass graves miles away. During our visit with Ramiz, he took us up to the site of his latest recovery. He was quiet but seemed happy and eager to share his story with us. With a quiet and unassuming dignity, Ramiz explained it is his duty to find those who are still missing, no one else is doing it so he must.

***

DSC_0257

DSC_0267

Saliha

Saliha Osmanović and her story is emblematic of many other survivors from Srebrenica and other tragedies that occurred in Eastern Bosnia during the war. Saliha lost one of her sons to a sniper just days before the city fell to the Serbs, she lost her other son and her husband shortly after, as they were killed in the death march. Today Saliha lives a literal stones throw away from Serbia in the home she once lived in with her husband. She welcomed us warmly into her home and fed us generously from her massive garden. After dinner we heard a bit of her story and had the opportunity to ask her many questions. Even before we had the blessing of meeting Saliha, I had heard from Ann about her spirit, kindness and energy. It became very clear at our visit to her home that she was not the type of woman who just wanted to mourn and fade away quietly. Saliha has travelled all around Europe to testify and share her story in hopes that the perpetrators of this atrocity are brought to justice and other survivors can gain some peace. Unlike other witnesses to the genocide that have chosen to come forward, Saliha has elected not to be a protected witness, meaning she has stood face to face with war criminals and her identity is known. Many may question why Saliha choose not to remain anonymous, especially since she lives on the Serbian border. Sitting on her stoop, in the fading final minutes of daylight, Saliha explains that she has already lost everything, her hope, her future, and ultimately has nothing left to lose, so she uses her life to hopefully bring some justice to survivors like her.

***

DSC_0206
Hassan at work

Hassan Hassanovic

The group that participated in the peace march had already met Hassan Hassanovic, who had been a fairy godmother of sorts during the peace march. Prior to this weekend Hassan was a friend in a high place wrangling generals and inspecting tents for us. We knew a bit of his story, that he had been in the death march and had lost a lot of his family in Srebrenica, but we didn’t know a lot. Hassan is the curator for the Srebrenica memorial in Potocari and helps to give visitors a better understanding of the atrocities that occurred in the area and the impact those events had on Eastern Bosnia and the people that lived through it. However Hassan was able to take a few days off from his work at the museum to show us around Tuzla, Srebrenica, and the areas in-between. On the third day of the trip we sat down with a Hassan in the museum to hear his story. Through the story I realized that many of the places we stopped and visited throughout our trip were integral to Hassan story and the person he was before the war and who he is now. The lake we stopped at for a break and a drink was where he spent many afternoons in his early teens, swimming and then sneaking into his neighbor’s gardens to steal tomatoes. We drove through the town of Bratunac where he lived when he started secondary school. We pulled over by a small hill where he had hid from serb tank during the death march. The whole area is full of painful memories of war, suffering, starvation, and immeasurable fear and yet Hassan returns to tell his story.

***

All of the people we met with over the course of the weekend suffered immeasurable losses and experienced unimaginable fear, and yet have persevered on to share their stories in hopes of helping others in some way. Some hope that by telling their stories eventually everyone will know the truth and no longer be able to deny what happened in Srebrenica. For Hasan and Ramiz, their work may be their own attempt at catharsis, finding peace for themselves by helping others. I always feel cliché invoking anything about the human spirit and resilience, but it is more than apt in this case. I have feared referring to the stories of the brave people we met this week as inspiring as I see so many people label rather trivial things as inspiring and I would not want to cheapen the experiences and stories of these people by lumping them with anything trivial. I do not just want to hear their stories and move on like I tour group passing by musing “how tragic and inspiring” and then leave it at that. But this experience was genuinely inspiring; I have always been inspired and motivated by the work of marginalized groups to have their voices heard and take agency over their lives, bodies and history. It is what has led me on the path human rights minded field research, to bear witness to, learn from, aid in giving a voice to, and work in solidarity with. As such I will never be able to for get the people we met in Srebrenica, and will not hesitate share what they have shared with me.

DSC_0288

Tito’s Bunker

On Saturday we had the pleasure being able to visit the infamous and mysterious ARK D0, aka Tito’s Bunker.

A relic of the Cold War, the bunker was commissioned in 1953 as a way for the late-Josip Broz Tito and his high command to escape the horrors of a potential atomic war. The bunker lies underneath a stone mountain out side of the city of Konic and at its completion it was stocked to keep 350 people alive for 6 months. The bunker took 23 years and over $4.6billion USD to complete, only for Tito to pass away one year after it’s completion date in 1979. The bunker remained a tightly held secret until the break up of the Yugoslavia in 1992. After being utilized briefly during the Bosnian War in the 1990s, the bunker remained unused until 2011 when then bunker was used to host a biennale of contemporary art. 2015 marks the 3rd biennale exhibit to be hosted by the bunker. Artists utilize the bunker to showcase art installations that draws on themes of the cold war, the atomic era, militarism, major social issues in the Balkans, Tito, and the bunker itself.

As lover of contemporary art and an individual fascinated by the cold war mentality, when the opportunity to see the bunker came up, I couldn’t say no. It was apparently a process to find a time to go, arrange transportation that knew how to get to the bunker, and to find a guide for the bunker, but we got there somehow.

Bunker entrance
Bunker entrance
The neretva flows right below the bunker
The neretva flows right below the bunker

The entrance to the bunker is a simple garage door to a house on a windy mountain road. Once you’re in the bunker, one is immediately struck by the size of the complex. Furthermore walking through the bunker and seeing the level of planning preparation that went into the potential action place for bunker allows the fears of the era become very real. As someone born in 1991 as the Cold War finally fizzled out, the fervor, terror, and panic of the atomic age was always more a of a collective joke or a far off time my generation could not relate to despite my parents having lived through it all.

Our fearless leader
Our fearless leader

DSC_0049 DSC_0019

The contemporary art exhibit was also exquisite. I loved to see how so many artists not only choose to work with the space, but embrace the space of the bunker. Even the most surreal of exhibits felt natural in their spaces, that this was where they belonged, that what lay the bunker was a manifestation of all of imaginations, and we happened to walk into this dream world by chance.

DSC_0071 DSC_0067 DSC_0095 DSC_0042 DSC_0024

All in all, it’s one of coolest things I’ve done or seen on any of travels throughout the world and still am in awe I got the chance to go.

July 11th 2015, 20th Anniversary of the Srebrenica Genocide – my thoughts

Following the end of the peace march on Friday the 10th and a very chilly night in a tent, the day of the 20th anniversary memorial was here. In past years families of the deceased and the remaining marchers attended the burial of the dead identified during the year. However this being the big anniversary, foreign dignitaries were flying in from around the world, and media outlets from every corner of the globe were filing their way into Srebrenica to cover the events. Among the guests for the anniversary included Bill Clinton, Madeline Albright, Princess Anne, Queen Raina of Jordan, the PM of Turkey, the president of Croatia, a gaggle of Saudi Royals, a delegation from Iran, and most controversial and noteworthy, the Serbian PM Aleksandar Vucic.

If you’ve been anywhere the international news in the past week, you know that Vucic’s visit to the memorial did not go well, and he was pelted with trash and hit with stones as he walked through the cemetery to pay his respects, and he ultimately fled with his security detail to jeers and boos from some members of the crowd. After the this incident the whole day felt uneasy, it was uncomfortably hot, no water or food for sale in sight, crowds of people in confusion about where they could go or should be, barricades and gates suddenly appeared or disappeared, midday prayers were starting and crowds were heading for the city busses they came in on.

Despite the day being referred to as the memorial, it lacked the somber serenity and dignity of the activities at the memorial the evening before. The focus was no longer on the dead, their families, or even really the genocide. The guest list for the festivities and the resulting media circus had stolen the show. The peace, calm, and almost sanctuary we had seen in Potocari the previous Tuesday before we started the march seemed impossible that day.

Srebrenica 20th Anniversary Peace March // Mars Mira

Last week I had the honor of participating in the Srebrenica Peace March (“Mars Mira” in Bosnian) with five other women from the Bosnia Global Practice Program. The march is a reported 120 kilometer trek (some sources claim 100 kilometers, jury is still out on this one), through the Bosnian countryside from the small town of Nezuk, near Tuzla, to Potocari, the small settlement outside of Srebrenica that served as the base for Dutch peacekeeping troops in 1995. The march has been going on for more than a decade but this year was special because it was commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica Genocide where over 8000 Bosniaks, mostly men and boys were systematically killed over the course of less than a week, and subsequently dumped in unmarked mass graves, and in many cases those graves were dug up and the bodies were dumped elsewhere in secondary mass graves. The march traces back the path of more than 10,000 men that tried to escape the Serb onslaught by forming a column and escaping through the woods in an attempt to reach the Bosnian-held city of Tuzla. Many were captured by the Serb forces and executed, and the less than 3000 that did survive were left to negotiate hilly wooded terrain in the height of summer heat. Some men were in the woods for only few days before they reached safety while others wandered for more than a month to leave serb controlled territory. To learn more about the genocide I highly recommend the documentary “Srebrenica – A Cry from the Grave”, available on youtube.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fliw801iX84

The peace walk consists of 3 days of walking, starting out on Wednesday the 8th of July, concluding on the evening of Friday July 10th when the march arrives in Potocari. The march was followed by a large memorial ceremony on July 11th, when those bodies that were indentified this year are laid to rest in the vast Srebrenica memorial cemetery.

It’s hard to gather my thoughts about the march so I’ve given myself a few days to let my thoughts settle and clarify so below I’ve put together a highlight reel of sorts:

On day one we set out from Nezuk at 9am as part of a very large crowd headed immediately in the woods. The march was concentrated in clod for a bit and slowly spread out over the rest of the day. Within an hour setting off, the march was surrounded by mine fields on either side on the path, a stark reminder that Bosnia has one of the highest concentrations of landmine contamination in the world. The first day of the march was physically the hardest due to the extreme heat of the day. However there was free food, coffee, and water around every turn, which was pretty awesome. Despite the abundance of snacks and water, the heat was too much for one of our companions who ultimately had to drop out at the end of the day. It was also found that when we got to camp our sleep accommodations for the evening had not really been set in stone. However Ann made a call to friend, an important curator at the Srebrenica memorial, who made a call to the military police, who made a call to the general, and a little while later we got word that a general had personally cleared out a tent for us (aka he kicked some people out).

DSC_0032 DSC_0043

DSC_0065 DSC_0081

The Second day was the most scenic of all three, around every curve, knoll, and little wooded glen was amazing vista of the Bosnian countryside. A definite bonus was that there was significant amount of cloud cover the whole day. This day also had the most uphill and downhill, which significantly contributed to the number of blisters I ended the trip with. This day was also more emotionally difficult that the first one as we started passing by mass graves. One of the valleys we passed though had at least seven signs indicating that a mass grave was found near, most which noted that more than 100 bodies were exhumed from each grave. These markers snap you back to reality, you’re hiking and camping with your friends and sharing snacks and telling stories and you momentarily forget why you’ve committed to the march. On a lighter note, sleeping accommodation we also a bit weird that evening as well. Once again, we had no tent reserved, but Ann’s friend made another call to another general, and this time we were set up with a tent in the roped off area for the high command.

DSC_0121 DSC_0142 DSC_0149 DSC_0201

The third day we set off with uncertainty, I had heard from different sources it was longest day of the hike, others said it was the shortest day of hiking, some also said it was the easiest day of hiking. The third was a bit more difficult as the day went on as the two previous nights of poor sleep and the growing blisters were slowing my pace down. Additionally there was a lot of organized stopping of the column that day because the leaders of the march wanted the group to descend into Potocari all together. The crowd became more and more mellow as we got closer to the end of the day, and as we crested the final hill down into Potocari a hush fell over the marchers, particularly when the endless white marble headstones of the memorial came into view. Walking past the memorial a large crowd had already gathered to watch the marchers come in, along with a bike race, motorcycle caravan, and marathon that were all held that day to commemorate the genocide. After all the different groups had flowed into Potocari it was time to move the caskets of the 136 victims slated to by buried the next day. The caskets had come by truck the day before to Potocari from Sarajevo and had been laid out in the old battery factory where the Muslim refugees had waited in hopes of receiving shelter from the UN peacekeeping forces.

DSC_0233 DSC_0253 DSC_0260DSC_0263 DSC_0284DSC_0303

While the at times the march was hard, I tried my best to put it in perspective in my head. Those that originally set out on the journey we retraced we starving, ill, being shot at, hallucinating from gas attacks, and didn’t have nice new athletic shoes from DSW or the promise of a tent and blankets at the end of the night.

Another observation was that despite at the opening morning of the march there were statements by speakers that this march is is memorial and out of respect for the deceased and should “not be political”. However political statements were everywhere over the course of the march. Perhaps the speaker meant it should not be political in the sense that genocide is not up for debate, and not regards to the “anti- dayton, never forget, never forgive” shirts that seemed to be quite popular with certain groups of marchers…

For me I think the most rewarding part of the march was all the people we met, and whose stories we got to hear. We met Bosnian diaspora who were scattered around the world, including many who were living in the US and had come back to their home country just to do the march, while we met Bosnians our age that felt obligated to do walk because their father, grandfather, uncle, cousin, brother, etc had been in that column 20 years ago. We also many other non-Bosnian’s at the march who had been compelled by their love of this place to do this march, including many who had done march in years previous. After the march and reflecting upon all that happened, I think it definitely is something I would consider doing again if had the opportunity. It’s difficult to describe the experience without it all become word-vomit. It was incredibly humbling, simultaneously exhausting and revitalizing, in ways one would have never expected. I am hesitant to say I had fun given the nature of what took place here 20 years ago and the reasons for being here, and it doesn’t seem like the right word, but it will definitely be unforgettable and important to me no matter what descriptors I choose to apply to this in the future.

DSC_0309

Part 2 of this post will cover the memorial that took place on the next day on July 11th.

Observations about the oddities of urban Sarajevo columbidae

So we’ve been given a list of topics to write about at some point over the term for the blogs and one of the suggested topics was to write on “one difference” we have observed or encountered so far. As with any international experience there are multitude of differences, ranging from subtle to striking that one could pinpoint to write on, for example the lack of standardized reproductive care for women in Bosnia or the specific oddities and challenges one might encounter while attempting to buy produce at a large chain grocery store, or perhaps the appropriate attire for a touristic visit to a catholic church (seriously, once again, sorry everyone). Instead of perhaps making an intellectual contribution to society by discussing an important hard hitting social and political issue, or benefiting future travelers by musing about certain essential social graces I may lack, instead I choose to address an issue that has been ubiquitous since my arrival in Sarajevo, the pigeons.

Jesus.H.Christ. There are so many of them.

DSC_0135

DSC_0139

This may seem inane and inconsequential but I cannot help but notice that at all times, we are surrounded by these funny grey birds. They are everywhere, at first was bemused “ha ha so many pigeons” and then it just became befuddling the number of these birds that can be shoved into this small city. And the epicenter of the columbidae (the clade that pigeons and doves belong to) population is the Sebilj, the Ottoman style fountain in Baščaršija. This square is so inundated with these avian that it is frequently referred to as “the pigeon square” There is even a man that appears to make his living by selling pigeons snacks to tourists to feed to this bountiful bevy of birds. And tourists seem to be happy to support his business, buying seeds and happily posing for photos whilst covered in pigeons eagerly trying to get at the snacks.

But even outside of Baščaršija, the pigeons are everywhere, hoping around in packs at the tram station, flying low at dangerous speeds over outdoor cafes, perching themselves on things you want to use, interrupting the walking paths of tourists, etc etc. Many consider the birds a menace to society and “flying rats” that carry diseases and eat trash. However the pigeons may have not always had the reputation of diseases riddle trash mongers with wings. During the various wars Bosnia endured during the 20th century, carrier pigeons were a vital life for communications when other channels were cut off, and during the almost 4 year long siege of Sarajevo between 1992-1996, hungry city dwellers turned to trapping pigeons and other fauna to feed themselves.

So the lesson here is that while today in Sarajevo, as in every other metropolitan area in the world, a pigeon is just a pigeon. But these humble fowls have a unique and important history in the city of Sarajevo.

Authors Note: It’s been a slow week at the internship and we will be engaging is some more heavy activities in the upcoming weeks regarding the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica genocide and other activities regarding the Bosnian War, so I thought I would keep it light for this week.

Additional Authors Note: We are on a current quest to locate and document proof of hedgehogs here in Bosnia, we’ve been told they exist here and there are old Yugoslav coins with hedgehogs on them, but we want to prove they are here. Of you have any tips, cue us in.

-Annalisa

Sarajevo, BiH First Impressions

This Sunday I took a bus from Zagreb, Croatia to Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. The bus ride took around 8 hours, the majority of which was through the north of Bosnia. The lengthy bus ride revealed many truths about Bosnia and life here, while also posing many more unanswered questions.

Bosnia is a very mountainous country, and that truth played no small role in the arduous and prolonged bus ride from Zagreb. However the lack of major high-speed highways also significantly slowed down the 400km journey (~250 miles). After crossing the border from Croatia to Bosnia, the road quickly became narrow and windey as it climbed higher and higher into the hills. The mountains are not like the mountains in my home of Colorado nor the mountains of Appalachia, but reminded me more of the mountains of Hokkaido, Japan. The scenery was amazing and as we got closer to Sarajevo I started to notice fields of strawberries and roadside fruit stands selling massive watermelons. One also notices the flags and in each village denoting the main ethnic group in each village. As much of the drive crossed through the entity of Republika Srpska, many of the flags were Serbian. However I also noticed some oddities. Bosnian homes seem have some very specific tastes in yard decorations, in particular white plaster swans and mushrooms. Some even were embellished with fountains and other white plaster animals.

The second day in Sarajevo we took a walking tour of the city, venturing back and forth between the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman areas of the city and then taking a bus to the Bosnia war tunnel and the bobsled track from the 1984. We covered hundreds of years of history in about 6 hours. Walking through this green, bustling modern city, it’s hard to imagine that carnage that took place here 20 years ago. Pigeons, children, and young people walking dogs fill paths and public squares where snipers once regularly picked off scared and ragged residents. But a look at almost any of the buildings reveals bullet holes and scars from shellings. Plaques around the city eulogize the names of people killed in that area and when the attack occurred. The stories told by our tour guide provided everyone with the solemn reminder that almost every adult in this city lived through the war and their lives were deeply effected to by that war. Even the bobsled track high up on the side of Trebevic mountain tucked away in the trees was used by snipers. Today the bobsled track sits decaying in the hills, reclaimed by local graffiti artists as a canvas for spray paint as way to take back the legacy of their city.

DSC_0008

Eternal flame to the children who died in WWII
Eternal flame to the children who died in WWII
Building still greatly damaged by the war
Building still greatly damaged by the war
Sebilj fountain
Sebilj fountain
Sarajevo rose, craters from mortar shells in the pavement filled with paint or resin.
Sarajevo rose, craters from mortar shells in the pavement filled with paint or resin.
In the "tunnel of life", the tunnel that ran underneath the airport into Sarajevo, providing the city with vital supplies.
In the “tunnel of life”, the tunnel that ran underneath the airport into Sarajevo, providing the city with vital supplies.
Battle damage in the bobsled track
Battle damage in the bobsled track
Grafitti on the bobsled track
Grafitti on the bobsled track