A last post…

I’m preparing to leave Bosnia and seem to have hit a road block. I cannot decide where I will go afterwards to travel around for 2 ½ weeks. For some reason there are so many options but I cannot choose one even though there is nothing stopping me. When I think about it however I know that what is stopping me is the fear to move on and change pace form what we have been living for the last two months. I’m so excited to continue my journey but here are some things that I will miss:

Waking up in a small European room on a small European street surrounded by small European cars and cafés. I’m going to miss all the delicious halva and Badem stores. Looking up to the hills which are surrounded with scattered houses that light up at night like little light bulbs.  Houssain’s tea house up by the hill. The closeness of everything (which I just found out is called Cajdzinica Dzirlo_Tea House) . The random European friends I’ve made outside of the group and setting up meeting times to grab some drinks with them. Meet and spinach burek.  Going to the market to buy fresh fruit and vegetables which would be so much more costly in the states. My internship supervisor from MoBa Luka who is definitely one of a kind, corny and a classic male. The new puppy he just found in a box outside his apartment. The jokes that my co-workers at GS1 say in a sarcastic English. The hospitality of the Bosnian people.  And so many other elements of this beautiful city.

So here we all go on our next adventures, vaya con dios my friends.

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Follow your gut feeling

This weekend we went to Istanbul. What a magical city it is. The food, the people, the mosques, the clothing: everything. Ive learned some things in Istanbul, some ways that I will choose to live life:

1. Always say ‘yes’ (unless clearly you should say ‘no’): Kyra and I met the owner of a shop and his friend who invited us back to his shop twice to share his Iftar dinner with us which consisted of a meal, then some tea, then some hookah, then some fruit, then some tea, then some more hookah, then some baklava and some more tea. During this entire time we talked for hours as they taught us about their religion, Ramadan and everything philosophical in between. It all made so much more sense to me afterwards, and I was grateful to have learned so much from a local (thoughts that cannot be put into words really). So some may have said that going back to have dinner with some strangers we just met was maybe not the best idea, but I say always say yes because if you say no you won’t ever experience new things. Also as long as you listen to your gut feeling.

2. Always be willing and open to making new friends: I’ve stayed in many youth hostels before and on this trip especially I learned to always try to talk and get to know those around you. We were staying in a room with 3 other Australian boys who turned out to be (like most Aussies I meet) the most fun, open and genuine people. A crazy bunch they were. Some were uncomfortable with sharing a room with strangers, I say it’s an experience everyone should have. They have invited me to come Island hopping with them around Greece. Trusting in others is a beautiful thing when it comes to traveling around. Once again, as long as you listen to your gut feeling.

3. Find the light in not so light situations: Being constantly cat-called on the streets in Istanbul can get to you. As long as you laugh at it though, laugh with them and the entire situation, it was turned into a game of fun for me. We got “Charlie’s Angels”, “Spice Girls”, “You dropped something…my heart”, and some other maybe rude ones. Some were getting frustrated with all the calling, I say hey if they call on you laugh or call on them back as some others did. It’s never good to be stressed about unnecessary things (and this is me saying this knowing that I also do this a lot) however this trip made me realize to just not worry, be happy. As long as you follow your gut feeling.

The European Soul

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The European Soul

As our time in Sarajevo winds down, I keep reminding myself that although our program ends in 3 weeks, I am here in Europe for another 6 weeks. This thought is so exciting to me; I can’t wait to travel around, breathe in as much fresh European air as possible, and finally make it to my grandmother’s country house in Lyon, France, which is my favorite place in the world to be.  

Going to the bobsled track this weekend and creating a group graffiti design reminded me of the art I produced upon my return from studying abroad. This past quarter at DU I created an ink painting on 23″x35″ bristol paper which I named The European Soul. At the time it was really a production of my experience after living in Europe for 5 months in the fall. I channeled my experiences and used it to create art. This makes me wonder and interested in how every one of us will use what we have experienced and learned here and how we will each channel these differently upon our return. Here is a picture of the piece. It has remnants of the bridges in Prague, the beaches of Cinque Terre, symbols for the friends I met along the way, the thousands of pigeons I encountered walking around, and if you look closely you’ll find my triangle symbol with the two circles in the middle. Ive explained this to some before, it represents a rock/sea shell that I found in Cinque Terre. I was amazed that nature could produce such a perfectly geometric item. It was also Jackie my roommate from Prague that picked it up for me so it means a lot.

Anyways I wanted to share this piece with you guys as a sort of inspiration to each create something beautiful afterwards that represents all that we experience during this trip, including the good and the bad. If I get to create a European Soul Number 2 I will be sure to share it all with you! 

Butik Badem

Butik Badem

This week I am going to share my love for Butik Badem. Most of you have already encountered Badem which is known to us as the “candy store” in Baščaršija but oh my goodness it is so much more than just a ‘candy’ shop. It is a heavenly paradise full of dried fruits, chocolate covered nuts, candied almonds, pink, blue and green sunflower seeds, exotic spices, and Turkish delights. Amongst all the other sweets and bonbons it offers. Also interesting fact, Badem is translated into Almonds. So Boutique Almonds. Who knows why I am so passionate about chocolate covered nuts and dried fruits but I totally am. The other day I went in and fell in love. With dried figs of course. It’s a round globe of fig paste rolled in sesame seeds with a hazelnut in the middle. And if you don’t already know, which you all probably do, I LOVE figs! I bought a jar of authentic Dubrovnik fig honey (with whole pieces of dried figs still inside) when we went to Croatia so if anyone would like to try some let me know. Also loving that the markets are full of figs now, the time has come and I am so delighted. Anyways Butik Badem is my paradise on Earth and I hope to go often during the week and try a different Bosnian delight every time. Here is a picture, I did not take it but I found it on their facebook page.

An unexpected turn of events (sorry this one is long and kinda a mood killer guys)

It’s not even 1pm, and today has been a whirlwind of emotions caused by an unexpected turn of events.

As some of you may have read already on my post in the Bosnia page, this morning in the GS1 office something magical happened.

 I came into work today, went along with my usual routine of saying hi to my co-workers, exchanging a few words about the weekend (them commenting on my tan YESSS thank you Neum!), getting some green tea, setting up my laptop and starting to conduct some research on document management systems. THEN my wonderful co-worker turns on the radio and all of a sudden Maniac is blasting throughout the office. She’s a maniac, maniac on the floo-ooo-ooor! I start bobbing my head, doing a little right to left movement in my chair and upon seeing my enthusiasm for the song everyone starts to break out into their own little dance. Now this may be normal in any other internship, but this is GS1 guys…were talking strict business All Day Ery Day.

That was my post and as I said I had shared it because it brought my spirits up and it reminded me how awesome spontaneous moments like that are and that today is a gift, that’s why they call it the present.

A few hours went by and one of my co-workers informed me that we were going to go out on the streets at 11 to watch cars pass by that were headed towards Srebrenica carrying body parts of those that died during the war that had been found.  I don’t know if I missed the memo, but I had no idea that this was happening today nor that this was a ritual that they conducted every year. So we walk out towards the street and I ask them some questions since I feel totally out of the loop. They tell me that around 400 individuals had been found even though for each only about 1% of their body was actually retrieved.  On the main street (the one that lines the eternal flame) there are hundreds of people lined along the sidewalks holding one long stringed banner on which pieces of colorful cloth hang that have the names of those deceased who had been found. A bit ways down some people are holding up a large montage of all of their portraits and even farther down, in front of the building, there are white flower petals spread all around with cameramen, news reporters and locals surrounding the area. Then my co-worker points out the President of Bosnia and Herzegovina who is standing next to the President of Croatia. She tries to spot the President of Serbia when she realizes that of course he is not in attendance because the Serbians do not want to admit, as she said in her own words, that this event ever occurred. She says they think it’s all fake and made up information.  This absolutely blowed my mind and made me a little frustrated as I felt naïve for not realizing all of this before. She then tells me her story of when she lived through the war at the age of 2, about her, her sister and mother having to hide in the bathtub so that the bullets would not get through.  Her father worked somewhere that had a field of green in front of it so in the middle of the city he planted vegetables for his family to eat. She asked me if I could imagine it, I said no of course and couldn’t find anything else to say. This made me feel a bit useless. Then the trucks came through. Large large green trucks with the Bosnian flag covering them. I looked around and grief struck me. Everyone started praying, my co-workers, the teenagers next to me on their bikes, the men in their business suits…. They lifted both hands up in front of their face with palms facing upwards, whispering some words, then once a truck went by they would take their hands, cover their face, and run them down the side of their face. People holding flowers were putting them on the side of the trucks, tucking them into any area that would hold. Across the street were a bunch of old women wearing traditional clothing, holding flowers, who were grouped together and were crying into their handkerchiefs. A type of crying that I cannot describe the type as if everything is lost and nothing will be the same.  This really struck me, when I see others cry I tend to cry myself. All I wanted to do was cry with them even though I had no reason to.  By this point as you can see I had experienced frustration, naivety, shame, grief and sadness.

Were back in the office now, it’s 12:35 pm and the mood has changed drastically from when we were all doing a little jiggle to Maniac. I have this awful feeling in my stomach, all I want to do is go back to the hostel, skype my mom, and even cry a bit. It stays true that spontaneous moments will catch you off guard, I could never have thought I would have witnessed what I did. It also stays true that today is a gift, a gift for each and every one of us. To those who went to Srebrenica, I can’t wait to hear about what you learned and experienced. 

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“On the road of life, it’s not where you’re going but the friends you make that really matter”
My mother sent me a birthday card with this inscription. It seemed to be a perfect fit that she chose that card specifically as I am traveling and working abroad. Leaving Prague after exploring Europe for five months in the fall, I had also made this revelation. Although the cities I had visited were beautiful, the food was amazing and there was a journey waiting in every corner, it wasn’t about the place but about the people you travel with and meet along the way. Of course it helps to be in either the most romantic city of Europe, the fashion capital of the world, or the culinary center of Europe, however happiness is better shared with others. Travel is better shared with others. So this phrase really hit me because recently I’ve been wondering why I am never content just being settled in one place, especially at home in the states. I have the travel bug in me, growing up being used to going to France every summer, and waiting for that during the year. I sometimes feel as if I need to travel, that I can only continue my road of life by exploring and finding the new. Then I realized it’s not all about going to new places, but being with the people you love and hopefully meeting new amazing people along the way.
This is why this week I chose this picture of Sam Berry and I. Sam, as most of you know, is the Australian I met traveling around Europe. He barely showers, does not wear shoes, is loud, gives absolutely no care to what others think, loves to travel, is not very educationally driven however is one of the most intelligent men I’ve met, and enjoys “smashing” down beers for fun. It takes a certain kind of person to appreciate Sam however once you do he becomes one of the greatest friends. He cares, he inquires, he send notes and little gifts and he won’t forget you. This is why I appreciate Sam Berry so much. Meeting people while traveling is such a rich experience because we can learn from each other and touch each other’s lives.

Tea and Hiking

This week Iv’e found solace in tea and hiking.

Every day after work, I’ll choose a random path in the housed hills to walk up. Every path is promised to lead me somewhere that has a beautiful view of the city down below. The other day I walked up past the river and found myself surrounded by headstones on every side. I was in the middle of a large cemetery. Although this could have been expected seeing the number of cemeteries there are here in Sarajevo, being in the contrast of the beautiful view yet the melancholy of the symbolism of the graves was quite the experience.  I kept walking and found myself in the hills a far distant away from our hostel as I was slowly loosing track of time. Walking I’ve found is a great way to think about everything in life, everything good and bad that goes on. This is why I know that the next month and couple of weeks to come I will be able to have a sort of a “healing and wisdom” trip, as those do who go to India and other magical places to do some soul searching.

The tea comes in hand with this soul searching. We’ve found this lovely little Bohemian tea place owned by an older man with unruly, large white hair and beard. He doesn’t speak English but is fluent in Italian, German and some French. So I’ve been communicating with him in French of course.  He has over 50 different types of tea, Bosanska Kafa, and this delicious traditional Bosnian drink that is made with warm cinnamon, and vanilla. This is my new favorite hangout spot and a great place to meet other travelers. Being there I realize how close the community is, all of his friends come to say hello and all day he is hanging out at his tea café, serving people tea that he is passionate about, and making new friends. Seems like a simple and great way to live life. Everybody seems to know each other in this city, as Vladimir says because they had experienced the war together.

I am appreciating the people and the city more and more every day and look forward to the weeks to come. P.S thank you everyone for making my birthday weekend an awesome one!!

First Impression

First impression? I am back in a beautiful, hospitable, controversial and magical European city and thank god for that. After a few days being here however I say this with a bit of hesitation in fear of offending anybody.  Before I dive into why I feel that way however, you should all know about Vladimir…

                Vladimir is a café/restaurant owner just down the street from our hostel. Andy and I made friends with him starting day one as we wondered around and randomly chose a place to eat at. Now we return almost every day. Vladimir was 15 when the war began and, as he puts it, started to open his restaurant after “he became normal again”. He built his homey café from scratch, welding the tables, chairs, the bar and everything in between himself. He occasionally brings in roses from his garden and to prepare your meal will walk over to the market next door and purchase the ingredients on the spot.  He offers to buy us newspapers to read, if we would like a cigarette, if I would like to try this and that tea and offers Andy an extra cappuccino free of charge. No one would ever think that at any point he had not been “normal” in his life due to his charm and extreme kindness.  He welcomes us, asks daily if we are “satisfied with Sarajevo”, and we are pleased to call him our new Bosnian friend.

                Then there are others that I have met along the way that are not as welcoming and question why we are here. They find it an “insult” that one of the first things we did was visit the Tunnel of Life. As said, “the first thing we see here is war” which to some is an offense because they had actually lived through the war and do not understand why we would want to see that. We are told that there are so many other sites to get a first impression of such as the mosques, the theater and other landmarks that do not represent war. We were asked how much knowledge we have of the history here, if we even understand why we are.  This reaction is of course a little more hostile than the reaction that Vladimir gives us as American visitors. However, this all makes me think. It makes me want to meet more locals in order to learn from them and to observe how they have decided to live their lives after the war. Some have opened café’s, some as my internship leaders have started organizations to help sustain and rebuild the community.

                Keeping all of this in mind however I now feel as if I need to filter what I say to certain people.  Am I allowed to be grateful to return to Europe and come visit Sarajevo? Or should I not because the effects of the war are still very present here and some locals are offended. I know I am and can, and I realize this will be a great learning experience. Hopefully those who question us wrongly can teach us so we can learn from them. Initially though, this is a beautiful city, in and out, and I can’t wait to explore all that it has to offer, good and bad.