Four days home…

Just wanted to share a picture form last night. Davis, Krista and I met up for a little Chipotle!

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I must be having fun, because time is flying!

Last night was our last “group dinner” here in Sarajevo. Even though most of us just met as a part of this program in March, and none of us REALLY knew each other until we arrived here in June, and most of us will be in Denver over the next couple weeks, it is still really sad to say goodbye– we are saying goodbye to this experience.

It hasn’t always been easy; 6 women in one room, 12 people in our flat, and our flat is in one of Sarajevo’s most popular hostels. This is to say: I haven’t been alone in weeks. While this could be frustrating at times, I will probably remember this summer more for the friendships than the many challenges of living in such close quarters: All the times reading a book turned into hilarious conversations; all the dinners marked with sympathizing over homesickness; all the quick email checks that turned into dance parties; all the ordinary days that became extraordinary because of my friends.

I also have met some wonderful people through my internship. I know that for my coworkers, I’m likely another temporary working passing through the office. However, they have been so kind to me, helping me with the language, with making coffee, with making sense of the programs for which I’ve been tasked to edit reports. They have put me at ease, made me smile, and greatly enriched this experience.

An excerpt from my BonnieLasS blog: Picturing Moral Courage Conference, July 15-16, Sarajevo, BiH

You might expect that a conference focusing on a genocide that occured just 20 years ago would be nothing but depressing. I would encourage you to leave your expectations at the door. This last weekend, I attended a conference called Picturing Moral Courage, which brought together young people from across the country, region, and world to discuss standing up for what’s right.

We, the members of the DU group who attended, were privileged to the stories of war survivors, the people who saved them despite the risk helping presented to their own lives, and the young people who barely remember or who were born during the conflict and the effects they are feeling today.

The conference kicked off with an address from US Ambassador to BiH, Patrick Moon, who said… that it takes brave, courageous people to challenge the status quo, to stand up for what they believe in, and refuse to be intimidated or stand down. It also takes courage to follow these leaders, to support them and help them in a tangible manner when you could very well be risking your own well-being. It also takes time for change to occur. 

On the last night of the conference, after watching a very powerful and dark film that is to be released later this year, called Belvedere, we had a discussion session. One girl from BiH said that she is sad that so many young people here are constantly apologizing for their perspectives. “It’s not our fault. We were too young. It is our responsibility to be friends, to get along, and to be sure it doesn’t happen again, but it’s not our fault.”

I don’t know how to even begin describing some of the more grim aspects of the conference– so here are some snapshots:

  • The man who swam to safety after snipers started firing on what would have been his execution squad when he was 15 years old and only just went back to the river he swam across last year. He took his camera and photographed the area, currently dried out and being excavated for war victims. Today’s quote is from the description of one of his photos, which was displayed during the conference.
  • The man who managed to escape while his hands were tied in barbed wire and ran for hours, knowing he was being followed… and the woman who took him in and protected him for the rest of the war.
  • The boy who, after watching Belevedere, confessed he is originally from that region and that images from the film, such as women standing on a bridge holding signs with names, birth dates and question marks (as in John Smith, 1969-?) to illustrate that they are still missing their loved ones– and missing them in a way that ensures they cannot find peace– really stood out to him, because he not only remembers this action from after the war, but he remembers being very little and seeing the bridge overflowing with bodies and blood.
  • The girl who was born in 1992, doesn’t really remember the war, but remembers her father’s resulting drug abuse and how memories tore her family apart.
  • The boy who lost his mother, brother, and his leg when he was four months old.

These last two people are teens who are being featured in a documentary called “USPOMENE 677” which I believe means 677 Memories (and signifies the 677 concentration camps in BiH during the war). I don’t know when it is being released, or even where it will be released, but the director was at the conference, filming the teens, so it may still be in production. For more information visit: http://www.bhremembrances.com/

I was struck by the dichotomy of optimism and pessimism the young people showed. There was a lot of discussion as to what the problems are, what is inhibiting community development, but, it seemed to me, less about what to do. Certainly, the younger generation will be the ones with the best chance to facilitate change. And dialogues like the ones that occurred this past weekend are a start. One girl, who is featured in the video, explained that “we need to stop asking everyone’s name” (last names are used to identify which ethnic group you belong to and often, you will be asked not only your last name, but your mother’s maiden name, your grandparents’ names, etc.), “it doesn’t what my name is or your name is. We are the same. Can’t we be friends based on whether we like each other?”

It made me think what I was doing when I was 19. I certainly wasn’t thinking about anything this serious. I was too intimidated to even think of attending a conference. These young people give me hope. The very fact they are present is a good sign for the future.

For now, I want to end with a word about the film “Pray the Devil Back to Hell,”  which was our Friday night movie screening at the conference. The film’s developer and producer, Abagail Disney (yes, related), was on hand to describe how the project came to her and what she is doing now. If you haven’t seen it, you should… especially if you are interested in social movements, women’s rights, and/or peacebuilding. She is working on several followup projects now, focusing on women in BiH, Afghanistan, Colombia, and one called Women, War, and Peace. She said that  “Women, War, and Peace” will be premiering this fall on PBS in the US… October 11, 2011.

I am so glad I attended this conference, it was hard but so important to be there, to witness, to support.

A poem. Summer in Sarajevo.

Now I do not claim to be a poet, but here is something that came to me this week under the sweltering Sarajevo summer sun (alliteration!). I dedicate it to the DU ISL Project Bosnia entourage.

sweat dripping at night
heat headache creeping up
still no fan, I’m no fan
windows open, non-existent breezes
too hot to sleep, too hot to stay awake
misery loves company

company denies misery
outside, open air, some relief
beauty at sunset
smells of food float on light, warm winds
sladoled, cold shower, some relief
tomorrow start again
summer in Sarajevo

Internship this week: June 27-30

My internship allowed me to attend two events this week relating to promoting the results of the work the organization has been doing: both were with the US Ambassador, various Bosnian ministers, and one had the mayor of Visegrad in attendance. The first was Tuesday at Parliament in Sarajevo, which was tied into the US State Department’s release of the Trafficking in Persons report. The second was on Thursday in the town of Visegrad, celebrating an internally displaced family’s return to their community. The family has been helping to rebuild their house in the rural outskirts of the town. It was a very cool experience to see the fruition of the work being done here. Now that I’ve been at my internship for two weeks, I have a better idea of the sorts of questions to ask about HOW they got there. I am really excited to learn more and more throughout the summer.

The town of Visegrad has the famous “Bridge Over the River Drina” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Bridge_on_the_Drina), which is gorgeous! My colleague drove us around the southeast part of the country to show us (there was a visiting employee from the Cairo office with me) some of the other projects in the area. The countryside is beautiful but as we drove and discussed our respective experiences and countries, it became apparent that there is a lot of work to still be done in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Here are some photos of my work events:

This is me after the press conference at Parliament on Tuesday
It's amazing how the Ambassador shows up and EVERYONE starts moving!
Meeting to celebrate the end of the Ambassador's Fund ProjectStatements before sitting down for coffee and juice
Meeting to celebrate the end of the Ambassador's Fund Project

 

First impressions of Sarajevo

As our second week in Sarajevo begins, the weather has cooled and we are all starting our internships full-force.

Here is an excerpt from my blog describing last Friday, after is my summary of my “Sarajevo Sunday.”

“Friday we went on the ‘Misfortune Tour’ of Sarajevo. It’s called that because it’s a tour of significant sites of the recent war. It was a really… powerful experience. Our tour guide was a soldier in the war…What is very interesting is how aware he, and everyone else is, to put blame where blame belongs. He used the term ‘Serbian radicals’ when referring to the aggressors, not ‘Serbians’ and was careful to say he does not hate Serbians, he just wants those who committed war crimes brought to justice… The strength of the people and the soul of the city are amazing. We saw the barracks that marked the eastern front line, the Olympic Stadium (now rebuilt) that became a large makeshift graveyard during the war. So many cemeteries ran out of space the Sarajevans had to bury their dead in parks, in soccer fields, in the Stadium. The tour included a visit to the remaining 25m of tunnel that was built to get supplies into the city. When it was in use, the tunnel stretched 800m under the airport runway, which marked the boundary between surrounded Sarajevo and Free Bosnian Territories. Without this tunnel and the resources it provided, the city and people would not have stood a chance against the aggressors. What stood out is the remaining shock and disbelief of the Sarajevans that it took the rest of the world so long to respond to their plight. They were being targeted for ethnic cleansing, not even 50 years after the end of WWII, and the UN mismanaged/ exacerbated the problem and the rest of Europe and the US did not help. What surprised me is that when NATO did decide to act, the war was over in 10 days.
Everywhere, reminders of the war remain. So many buildings, roads, bridges, are pockmarked with bullet holes and shrapnel marks. However, the people are so kind and hospitable. Certainly, there is a sense of weariness, but overall, they do not seem angry at each other, at other religions/ethnicities, but more incredulous that the rest of the world did not intervene when they so desperately needed it…
Anyway, the tour was very powerful and sad. I felt like I wanted to give the city a hug, but instead, they city has been the one to welcome me with open arms. A quick story of the sense of humor here: ‘they bombed our buildings, the communist ugly buildings. But we rebuilt them EXACTLY as they were, to show them and the world they could not change us. So yes, the buildings are still very ugly!’ The tour was not only spiritually beautiful, but allowed us to travel around the city, up the hills that I haven’t been to yet and see wonderful panoramic views of Sarajevo.”

Sunday, Ann, Kyra and I enjoyed a blissful “Sarajevo” day. We went for coffee around 930, and after enjoying the leisurely pace of this social staple, went to a different café for another coffee around 1130. We then strolled Bascarsija and bought some beautiful clothing! We sat down for lunch of Cevapi around 2pm then headed back to the hostel. En route, we stumbled upon a live band playing an outdoor family party, so after a bathroom break, we went to check it out and enjoyed a Coke before more wandering, shopping, and ice cream! The three of us returned to the hostel around 8pm, somehow tired! I think I could get used to this!