So Long, Sarajevo

Its hard to believe it has been over a month since I left Sarajevo. Bosnia almost feels like it was a dream. When people ask how my trip was, I still don’t really have a good response. There is so much to say about Bosnia its hard to put into words, or a quick summary. One of the first things that comes to my mind are all the amazing people I met this summer. From everyone in our program, to all the people at the Post-Conflict Research Center (my internship), to Naida and Saed and all the survivors and their stories they bravely and graciously shared with us, I am overwhelmed with gratitude, and love. I will never forget the incredible stories we heard from genocide survivors that exemplify human resilience, the ability to forgive and keep living after everything has been taken from you. I will never forget the spirit of the Bosnian people and their ability to laugh and make “black humor” around unimaginable horrific circumstances. The next thing I tell people about is how gorgeous the Balkan region is. Sarajevo reminds me a lot of Vermont with its lush, green rolling hills. Croatia and Montenegro blew my mind with the gigantic, jagged mountains contrasting turquoise, clear water. I feel incredibly lucky to have had such a rich experience in one summer. From start to finish, I had one of the most memorable summers of my life.The worst part of my summer was the first few days I was back in Colorado, I was sick with a stomach flu that several other people had caught before I left. The trip home went smoothly thankfully. I slept for almost three days straight in between endless trips to the bathroom.To say the least, I left Bosnia humbled and inspired and can’t wait to come back at some point in the future.

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Maison CoCo, I love you so

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So everyone that knew me in Sarajevo that last couple of months knew about the amazing French Bakery down the street from our hostel in Sarajevo. After the first bit of a chocolate almond crossaint, I was immediately obsessed with the heaven of Maison CoCo. My mouth waters at just the mere thought of a Maison CoCo pastry or croissant. I first came to know Masion the first week of being in Sarajevo when some friends from my internship took me for lunch. Needless to say, I have been absolutely hooked ever since. I have also had a fondness for eating chocolate for breakfast, in particular chocolate croissants. The explosion of the orgasmic first bite of the chocolate almond croissant is incomparable with any food I could describe. Every time I dance up to the small, order-to-go window, I smile unabashedly as a I breathe in and gawk at the sweet smell of fresh bread and pastries. I don’t necessarily consider myself a foodie, but Maison CoCo is my heaven in a basket, or should I say little brown paper bag. I decided to write a little poem for my love for Maison CoCo.

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Maison CoCo,
How I miss you so
who knew heaven could be found in a brown paper bag?
chocolate, almond delights, baguettes, espresso,
I could never tell myself no.
the first bite I was hooked
will anything ever taste so good?
 sugar, butter, cream
simple, but its all I need.
right down the street you, were within arms reach
now I am half way around the world
and I am one sad girl.
nothing will ever replace
my love for you will remain.

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The Bone Man

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“This is part of a scull, this is part of a finger, and this is a key.” Our translator Hasan explained to us once we climbed half way up the hill by Ramiz’s house. I had never seen or touched real human remains before I came to Bosnia and the reality of this amazes me and at the same time breaks my heart. I picked up the key and wondered the last time the owner of this key held the key alive. Was this a key to his home, or maybe to a box of personal belongings? When did the owner of the key realize they were never to return to use the key again? I thought about my own house key laying in my bag. I was overwhelmed with grief and sadness.

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Last weekend for our class excursion we had an incredible opportunity to go to Tuzla and Srebrenica to visit the Institute for Missing Persons, hear three survivors stories of the death march from the Srebrenica genocide. One of these incredible individuals is a guy we have coined “The Bone Man”. Ramiz Nukic has spent the last ten years of his life picking up bones behind his home on the sight of one of the hills of the worst massacres of the death march in 1995. It is estimated that around 1,000 boys and men were ambushed on this hill by the Bosnian Serbian Army when they were running for their lives on the march from Srebrenica to Tuzla. Mr. Nukic is a humble, village man in his fifties. He himself was only in his thirties when he was running for his life on these hills when he lost track of his brother and father. It was hard for me to begin to comprehend Mr. Nukic’s daily reality. After he finishes whatever work he has to do around his house, he then heads to what is basically a mass grave in his backyard to look for the bones of his father, brother, neighbors and hundreds of others that were killed during the death march whose bones are yet to be found. I am humbled and inspired by Mr. Nukic’s courage, resilience and willingness to do this work everyday despite the enduring pain, no compensation and the constant reminder of what happened in these hills only twenty years ago.

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The Magical Land of Montenegro

Last weekend a group of us headed down to the beautiful country of Montenegro. I had heard that Montenegro was easy on the eyes, but I couldn’t believe the amazing natural beauty in the contrast of the rigid, sky-high mountains and the turquoise clear water that shot out between them. The drive from Sarajevo to Kotor was enough alone to satisfy a weeks worth of sight-seeing, lest actually seeing the amazing beaches and magical castles that wound their way from the edge of the water up rigid mountain sides. Friday morning we scaled the walls of the Kotor’s fortress of San Giovanni, a rigorous 1,350 steps in the 100 degree heat. The incredible views at the top made the hike more than worth it. We happened to stumble on a “medium-size” (30,000 people) European music festival Friday night called Sea Dance. The festival is held on Jaz Beach, in Budva and has several stages hosting a variety of music. We spent most of our night at the electronic stage, where you can watch the artists while you go for a dip in the water. Saturday we spent the day on the crowded city beach in Budva, where we happened to come across the best gelato stand in the Balkans. Sunday we headed to a slightly less crowded beach outside of Kotor. Sunday evening we took the scenic, but long 5 hour car ride back to Sarajevo. Overall, it was a fantastic weekend getaway and I can honestly say that Montenegro might qualify as the most beautiful country I ever been too yet.

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The Road to Srebrenica: 1 Million Bones

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Last weekend I went with my internship (P-CRC) to Srebrenica for the twenty year genocide memorial. P-CRC has been working on a project called 1 Million Bones: Road to Srebrenica for several years. The project brought together over 60 youth from across the Balkan region to lay more than 100,000 bones on the Potocari old battery factory grounds. After the initial day of laying the bones, P-CRC held a press conference that educated participants about topics related to genocide prevention, peace building, and transitional justice. The youth participants then joined PCRC at the 20th Commemoration of the Srebrenica genocide on July 11th. The bones will be used as a permanent art installation in Potocari as a way to educate future generations of what happened in Srebrenica. I felt extremely honored and proud to be part of this huge project. I was very inspired to year various multi-ethnic youth around the Balkans discuss peace reconciliation, and moving forward together in a society town apart by extreme nationalism and war. The project was truly an educational, eye-opening experience.

Mostar Bridge, Kravice Falls & Makarsa

Last weekend we had a busy couple of days. We got to go to the beautiful town of Mostar followed by Kravice Falls for our Friday class excursion. The old town of Mostar is famously known for the beautiful Ottoman Bridge (Stari Most) built in the 16th Century. The original bridge was blown up in the war in the civil war in1993 and was recently reconstructed in 2004. There are local young men who collect money from tourists to dive off of the 24 meter fall. We unfortunately did not get to witness any of these jumps, but here is the annual 449th bridge diving competition coming up at the end of July.
After we spent the day walking around Mostar, we headed to Kravice Waterfalls, a beautiful park that puts Hanging Lake in Colorado to shame. This is one of my favorite places I have been to since I arrived in Bi-H. We got to spend the rest of the (hot) afternoon swimming in the lake and jumping off of the waterfalls. Afterwards, I enjoyed a nice cold beer at the waterside bar and cafe.
After a day in Mostar and at Kravice Falls, a few students from the group rented a car and drove to Makarska, Croatia for 4th of July weekend. After getting mildly lost a couple of times, we finally arrived in Makarska late Friday night and were not disappointed by the beautiful scenery and clear, blue waters. We spent Saturday on an isolated beautiful beach on Sumatra island. The next day we weren’t so lucky and spent the morning on the busy beaches of Makarska. Overall, I had a great 4th of July weekend filled with beautiful old cities, waterfalls and crystal clear waters

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Hope For Bi-H

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I had the privilege this week of attending several lectures with the NYU Center for Global Affairs.’ The students have been visiting Sarajevo to learn more about the history of BiH, legal and transitional issues, human rights and the future of BiH. To say people are optimistic about the future of BiH would be a large overstatement. I saw a total of four lectures, each one slightly more optimistic than the last. One of the law professors stated, “I am not an optomist, I am a pessimist. BiH is a complete disaster and this is a failed state.” However, I felt more optimistic and inspired but the resilience of this country as the day went on. The last lecture ended with Dr. Sabina Cehajic-Clancy, a Bosnian Social Psychologist that teaches at the Sarajevo School of Technology. Dr. Sabina talked about peace-building in post-conflict situations, intergroup reconciliation restoration and future initiatives in BiH. Although reconciliation restoration is extremely difficult in this society, the most promising social outcome for BiH lies in intergroup contact theory. Research has proven that perceptions of other general groups changes for the better when members of different groups have basic, frequent quality contact with one another. Dr. Sabina concentrates most of her research on intergroup reconciliation with rural high school in BiH. However, when Dr. Sabina evaluated before, during, and after perceptions of inter-group contact, general perceptions of other groups actually got worse in B-Hi. The immediate affects of contact actually scored higher nationalism, less empathy and trust with one another. After contemplating why this basic social theory didn’t work in Bi-H, the Post-Conflict Research Center had an idea to create a project called Ordinary Hero’s, which exhibits examples of moral rescuer narratives from the other perspective or group. She believes that hope lies in the youth of BiH because they are not as entrenched in labels or nationalism as other generations before them were. Dr. Sabina’s research “Gives her hope because the current issues are not actually between people, they are about politics and other external factors. People need little to shift generalizations of other people”.

I have attached a link to The Science of Hatred and more on her work
http://chronicle.com/article/The-Science-of-Hatred/143157/

My First Week in Sarajevo

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So far I have been so impressed with the beauty, history and kindness of the people in Sarajevo. The green, rolling hills remind me a lot of Vermont and the Northeast Coast. I was not expecting such a beautiful backdrop to Sarajevo. All of the documentaries I have seen of the city depicted a more dark, stark version of the city. Yesterday was my first time hearing the call of prayer while I was standing in an old Jewish cemetery. I thought about how odd this experience is. The unique paradoxes and contradictions of Sarajevo are not so conspicuous to an unassuming outsider, however do not go unnoticed. Within a few blocks I had visited the oldest Mosque in the city, shortly after seeing a Synagogue and a Cathedral that was holding a mass. It is hard to wrap my head around the long history of this city and all of the historical events that have taken place here.
It was only after our tour guide pointed out the splattered red paint seemingly random in the sidewalks and streets, calling them “Sarajevo roses,” does one begin to deeply begin to imagine the henious violence that took place in this city only twenty years ago. Even after studying the war, reading countless books and articles and watching documentaries about the war, I have not fully begun to connect with what happened in Sarajevo until I stepped foot into this country. The sight of abandoned, war-torn buildings make the reality of what happened here even more obvious. It was all very overwhelming, yet I wanted to know more. How did a city that held an international World Winter Olympics not even ten years before experience an atrocious war and genocide? How did the international community stand by when only fifty years had passed after the systematic extermination of some six million Jews in Europe? None of it makes any sense, but I am trying my best to understand it all.