Vidimo se, Bosnia.

As I settle back into life stateside, reflections are surfacing. I have eaten tacos, spicy salsa by the spoonful, and indulged in Indian curry. I have spent time with friends, pets, and loved ones, and I enjoyed some late nights and early mornings. Bosnia has been on my mind a lot lately after all the reunions and eventful days. I always change in one way or another after I travel or live somewhere else for a while, which I believe is a healthy aspect of life and for learning and evolving as a person. Bosnia taught me many things, and I learned some valuable and unexpected truths about the true definition of life.

FAMILY

I miss family and friends on a regular basis, as my Mom, my sister, and my in-laws live out-of-state, and most of my friends live in various parts of the country or throughout the world. I always appreciate them more when I travel or live outside of the country, especially when contact is limited due to technological issues or a time difference. As our student group spent time with people who had lost loved ones or their entire families, and also shared meals with families, my friends and loved ones were always in my thoughts. I appreciated the fact that I had family and friends to whom I would return, and I could not wait to spend hours of time with them, either in person or engulfed in long phone conversations, just to hear about and to experience their lives. I did not even want to talk about my experiences; I was elated to just listen to their stories and anecdotes from the last few months. I appreciated my loved ones and for their existence, which completes my life.

FRIENDSHIP

I was fortunate enough to gain new friends during my time in Bosnia, and I learned new aspects about friendship. I was in a student program with the most thoughtful, delightful, diverse, and interesting people. I learned what it was like again to live in close proximity to several people at once, and I loved it. It brought me out of my shell of introversion, which enabled me to enjoy myself as an introvert and to also enjoy the company of others. I enjoyed traveling with them within Bosnia, during a three-day peace march, or during trips throughout the Balkans. I am thankful for the opportunity to experience Bosnia and the Balkans with an amazing group of people. They taught me that friendship is selfless and it brings out the best in humanity. It also completes my life.

Friends

Friends II

-Photo courtesy of Ann Petrila

Saliha

-Photo courtesy of Ann Petrila

QUALITY OF LIFE

People maintain a certain quality of life in Bosnia. They place emphasis on relationships and enjoying moments of each day. I observed this in all capacities, among my colleagues at my internship, as I watched people going about their daily lives, and within our personal experiences with Bosnian people. They stop and speak to one another, they don’t understand why a person would work through a lunch or eat at their desk at work, or why a person would not stop to share coffee several times each day and catch up with friends or colleagues. They chat with the person at the produce stand, they spend time conversing with the baker at their favorite neighborhood bakery, and they also gain new friends quickly by their nature as warm and charming people. Bosnians have experienced traumatic, life-altering, and atrocious events throughout their respective lives, and they lead and live beautiful lives today, laughing through it all in a dark way that only Bosnians are able to accomplish. Back home in Denver, I usually take a book to a nearby coffee shop and enjoy a coffee for two or five hours. I put off errands and call my grandmother and listen to stories about her week. I take my dog for a walk and enjoy the view of mountains in the distance. I laugh at my dog’s inability to run in a straight line. I notice the changing weather and look forward to the months ahead-my favorite time of year. I enjoy the process of cooking a meal and opening a bottle of wine or buying an IPA for my husband after a long day in the hospital, and I enjoy every moment when he does something wonderful for me. I plan for dayhikes on my days off from work.

Hike

Taking time to take it in.

HikeII

I now believe in the importance of enjoying moments of each day, minute aspects of days that come and go forever. I have even changed my career objectives, and in turn, my life objectives. I want to live a life that I will enjoy, a life that enables and inspires me to always and endlessly give to those around me, to improve the world in my own way. This is imperative for enjoyment and completion of life.

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Villages and Bunkers: Bosnia through the Outdoors and Underground

LUKOMIR- Village in the Sky

Some time has passed since I have hiked to a village high in the mountains, (Ecuador, 2011) and even more time has passed since I have ventured into a war bunker (War Rooms, London, 2010). I have enjoyed recent opportunities to visit Bosnia’s highest village and a Cold War bunker deep into the ground over the past weeks. Both experiences were surreal and interesting in their own right, and they contributed to the aspects about Bosnia that can only be ascertained through experiences outside of the internship office and the classroom. Last weekend, our group hiked to the village of Lukomir, the highest village in Bosnia, way up in the Bjelašnica Mountains. The village is located at an elevation of about 5,000 feet, or 1,495 meters above sea level, around the same altitude as the city of Denver. That may not seem like a significant altitude, especially for all of us who live in Denver, but mountains start at sea level here in Bosnia. Having a designation of the highest village in the country means a lot here. It means that the village is remote and it is indeed high in the mountains.

Bosnia is a hilly and mountainous country. I was aware that mountains existed here, and I certainly noticed the mountains and gorges that seemed to endlessly encompass the landscape when I flew into the country, however my hiking experiences within the last seven weeks here have enabled me to really experience this aspect of the terrain. Our group started with a three-hour hike with the Eco Tourism group Green Visions, where one of the students in the group is currently working as an intern. We called our excursion the “Three Generations Tour” as one of the guides with Green Visions is the granddaughter of one of Lukomir’s residents, and her mother also accompanied our group. The hike was picturesque. Our day began with mist and fog, which contrasted with and highlighted the verdant mountainsides. We stopped and marveled at points along the hike where we could see over other mountains and valleys for miles, and watched the mist descend over mountaintops. We also passed through forests with leaf floors along the trail. It was a beautiful hike, a perfect start to the day. Nature always has a soothing effect for me. I believe wholeheartedly in those articles that describe the positive mental and physical benefits of the outdoors. It reminded me of hiking back in Colorado.

hike

Lukomir was even smaller than I thought-it is a true village. The village itself has also dwindled in size over the years. Spending a few hours there was like going back in time. Not much has changed in the village over the past few centuries. People are completely self-sustainable. We could see stones and structures from civilizations on a mountainside across the valley that originated many centuries ago. Knowledge about civilizations is limited due to a legacy of little to no importance placed upon anthropology or archaeology; disciplines that are only starting to gain importance within the last decade or so. Younger generations do not stay in Lukomir, and the residents themselves do not live in the village full-time. They leave when winter sets in due to the heavy snow and harsh climate. Lukomir reminded me of a few villages that we visited in Ecuador, just from the universal aspect of people truly living off the land and completely sustaining themselves. The residents have sheep and vegetables, which provide more than enough sustenance for them. We enjoyed homemade Bosnian pita (a phyllo-crust savory pastry with cheese or potato inside and other magical ingredients, one of the best things in life Bosnia has to offer the world) and sour milk, or yogurt. The student group from the previous year also hiked here and met the family. Two of those students, Marty and Shannon, are co-coordinators for the program for this year, and they talked about their experiences for their first time to visit Lukomir from last year. Marty is a fan of the various Balkan yogurts here, which are indeed amazing. I will miss them when I return to the States as a yogurt lover myself. Marty said the village yogurt was so authentic it still retained some “stank on it,” which is all the description one needs to ascertain and expect the level of freshness and authenticity. It would be legit. This year, the yogurt was apparently tamer. I expected some “stank,” but it did not differ from yogurt that I usually eat or drink in the morning in Sarajevo from a corner market. I just thought I was worldly and traveled (legit) and that I developed some cool Balkan taste for intensely fresh sheep yogurt, when in fact it was just tame. No complaints here, just laughs at myself.

People in Lukomir do not only sustain themselves for nutrition, they also utilize an abundance of wool for clothing and other necessities. The woven articles were beautiful. Traditional Bosnian designs are like nothing I have ever seen before. The colors and patterns are indicative of a culture that predates and transcends histories from centuries ago, long before the Ottomans or Austro-Hungarians arrived. They also sell the clothing, which is also suited for any Colorado winter, and several of us bought gifts for people at home and picked up a few items for ourselves.

Lukomir

-We hiked to the top of a nearby hill to catch views of the village and the surrounding mountain landscape.

 

ARK-DO: The Underground

As archaeology is only now becoming something of value here, historical relics are also gaining public and cultural value. Our group visited a Cold War Bunker, which was built during the time of leader Josip Broz, or Tito as he is known in history and immortalized for many people, and harshly criticized among others.

Yugoslavia was situated in the crosshairs between the Cold War adversaries of the United States and the Soviet Union, in a contentious zone between the bipolarity.

The Cold War has always been a fascinating and distant historical topic for me. I was born in 1989, when the Cold War was at its end, and tensions declined. People in my generation did not experience school drills for nuclear attacks. We did not learn how to peel radioactive fruits or spy on suspicious neighbors. We have only heard stories about Cold War life from relatives or friends, or in history books, movies, art, documentaries, or in this case, visits to remaining vestiges. I had the opportunity to step back into that time last weekend with a visit to ARK-DO, the formerly top-secret bunker that would protect Tito and his family, along with top Yugoslav political officials and their families, in the event of nuclear war. The structure was built to house over 300 people for up to six months.

The tour itself is difficult to obtain. The bunker is only open during certain times of the year, and its hours are difficult to determine. It is located near the town of Konjić, which is south of Sarajevo. We luckily had connections through our director’s friend Jadranka, who is a tour guide and has directed tours for us before. Through her efforts, and the efforts of our director, we showed up on a Saturday morning, ready to explore a nuclear war bunker. The tour began with a preview of the bunker’s layout, which is similar to a narrow U or horseshoe shape. As we toured the structure, it was another time travel experience. The bunker was fortunately never used, and its ownership is largely undesired, left to the military. It was ironically almost destroyed during the last war, however a Bosniak guard thwarted the operation and saved the bunker. Today it serves as both a historical and cultural relic.

International artists now feature their work in the bunker, and I believe it is remarkable that a former nuclear bunker now serves as an art exhibit-with an abundance of anti-war art. This paradoxical dynamic is one of the main reasons I wanted to tour the bunker during our program stay in Bosnia. Due to the fact that none of the bunker’s military equipment and domestic items were used, we were able to see code machines in one room, or typewriters and radio systems in another, complete with the ubiquitous red phones in all rooms. We walked through the bedroom with the finest bunker items that were intended for Tito and his wife, and we all took turns sitting at his intended desk and snapped photos with his intended red desk phone (how many opportunities does a person get to sit at the desk of a former leader in a bunker and pick up his red Cold War phone?)

Bunker

-Unused desk intended for a highly trained and skilled bunker individual.

We passed through rooms that comprised conference centers, hospitals, kitchens, and electrical and filtration systems for water and air conditioning. One of my favorite passages was the air conditioning generator room. It was a huge space with a giant generator that blew wonderfully cool air into the bunker structure, and our group stood in front of it for a giant burst of AC, (free air conditioning is always coveted here in the Bosnian summer-Bosnians do not like drafts-a fact that deserves its own blog post) and then discovered how funny it was because it literally blew our hair back, and more photography ensued.

I enjoyed both the Cold War relics and the artwork equally. The pieces all were powerful and indicative of an anti-war message, or of a social commentary, and few places are better suited for their exhibition than an old, unused, and undesired nuclear war bunker.

Art

-Roma art

Generals

-Piece titled “The Generals.”

Glass

-Art piece, depiction of a glass floor. Soldiers walked on it and symbolically broke it into pieces with their footsteps.

 

Heroes

I am now starting another week back in Sarajevo after a dense and heavy but satisfying weekend. Our group visited Tuzla, another city in eastern Bosnia, and we also returned to Srebrenica to complete the weekend, which is back to its quiet days and empty streets after the Peace March and Srebrenica ceremonies are over, the marchers, diplomats, and dignitaries gone for another year. The weekend was heavy for us all, although it was integral to our purpose here and its timing ideal for a culmination of these past weeks. It was another weekend of introductions to some of the strongest people I have ever had the privilege of meeting. I feel like I could write a novella on just our experiences for the weekend. Each stop, each visit, each person was important and those experiences deserve Pulitzer-level descriptions, however for the sake of time and each place and person receiving due diligence, I will construct a brief summary of each experience. I am also not a Pulitzer-deserving writer, although that would be a nice talent.

Tuzla

Our group first stopped at one of the destinations we have all been looking forward to experiencing-the ICMP, or International Commission for Missing Persons, which is the entity that is responsible for identifying remains that have been unearthed in mass graves or other locations, not only in Bosnia, but throughout the world. This entity has identified thousands of missing persons here in Bosnia, even in wars preceding the years of 1992-1995. We learned that remains were found from the Ottoman period and the Second World War, and those identities ascertained. At least a form of closure has been granted to many families and loved ones here who did not know the fates of their missing. I reminded myself of that fact as we stood in the cool, dim morgue that housed many remains. We visited two different sites, the site which housed the remains and conducts identification work with the skeletal remains, and the location that contains DNA sample databases from relatives of the missing for identification. Both sites were equally interesting and crucial to the work of the ICMP, and to the future of the country.

After our visit to the ICMP sites, we had the honor of meeting Fatima, a friend and colleague of our director and a person with a compelling and tragic account of her war experiences. She took time out of her busy day as a doctor, an ob-gyn in Tuzla to be exact-to sit down with us. We all gathered in our hotel’s empty breakfast room to listen to her story. It was another hot and humid Bosnian summer day, in a room without air conditioning, however we soon forgot about the heat, and I was thoroughly chilled as her experiences unfolded. She lost loved ones in the war, she lost her job as a doctor and was helpless as her means of aiding wounded were limited, however she risked her life to carry out her calling in the medical field, and to fulfill her human compassion. She saved many lives, and continues to live today in strength. She is the true definition of a hero. It is rare to share a room with a true hero, and I can say I have been fortunate to relive that experience numerous times in Bosnia, as we have met many heroes during our short time here.

Srebrenica

We left for Srebrenica the next morning, and stopped at several places along the way. Hasan Hasanovic, a dear friend and colleague of our director, accompanied us throughout the weekend, and showed us several important places and revealed more about his own personal experiences from the war. We stopped at several execution sites on the way to Srebrenica, many of them were close to our Peace March, the reverse route of those who fled from Srebrenica to Tuzla as Bosnian Serb forces advanced. We were in the RS, or Republica Srpska region of Bosnia, which is policed by RS officers. We were unable to stay at most stops for longer than 5-10 minutes, as Hasan strongly suggested swift observations and departures to avoid police attention. Genocide denial is alive and well in the RS, however the police often harass people when they show up in certain places, as Hasan and our director Ann have both experienced numerous times. Not all of our stops were tragic or haunting, Hasan showed us a mountain cliff with a beautiful mosque constructed on its edge. The mosque was obliterated during the war, however it was rebuilt due to the efforts of people carrying materials on their backs to the cliff. It was a symbolic and refreshing sight.

Our director, Ann, to our benefit, had the honor of meeting Ramiz Nukic, another person with an incredible story and means of healing. He has been searching for remains from the genocide in the woods near his home in the small village of Kamenice near Srebrenica for over fifteen years after he returned. Ramiz lost his father and brothers in the war, and has reunited over 200 people with their lost loved ones due to the days and years he has spent in the woods, often finding remains each day from previous mass gravesites. He notifies ICMP officials, and they repeat the process of obtaining the remains for identification. Ramiz of course does not know any of the identities of the remains he has unearthed. He is disappointed in his country, that he alone is tasked with finding remains, the work of one dedicated person. His statements highlighted the reality of the country’s capability of unearthing thousands of more remains if it actually initiated a serious effort to do so.

We had the honor of meeting another hero, another person whose story and strength I hope I will always remember throughout my life. Her name is Saliha Osmanovic, and she lives in a beautiful house across the river Drina from Serbia, about 40 minutes or so outside of Srebrenica, a route that crosses through a beautiful mountain road with views of lakes and the dammed Drina, and the vivid blue-green water for which Bosnian rivers and lakes are so famous. Saliha lost her husband and her sons in the war, and has since returned to the site where her original home that she shared with her family once stood. The home has since been rebuilt, surrounded by beautiful flowers and trees, and the property features an enormous garden behind the house in which Saliha cultivates every delicious vegetable and fruit that thrives so well in this country. We enjoyed some of the best food we have ever tasted in our lives, and then we listened to Saliha’s story and her words when she was relatively certain we had enough food to sustain ourselves for a week. Saliha has testified against some of the worst perpetrators of the genocide in Belgrade and in The Hague. She has met numerous world leaders and dignitaries. She continues to live across the Drina from Serbia, and in a region of her country that denies the genocide that took her sons and husband from her. She has relived the horror of her sons’ and husband’s deaths as Serb footage of her captured husband and son has been presented before her-often without warning- and those accounts have also been repeated countless times over the past two decades. Saliha however did not repeat those accounts. She questioned the injustice of denial and asserted her own strength and desire to heal in her own way, to be a symbol of strength and truth.

Saliha

Our group with Saliha

-Photo courtesy of Ann Petrila

Our last day comprised visits to the Srebrenica exhibit, which is housed in the old U.N. Dutchbat, or Dutch Battalion base, and the adjacent old battery factory, further symbols of atrocity and evil that now stand as sites of justice and healing. The old Dutch base resembles something from an apocalyptic account or horror movie. Most of the building is unstable in construction, and is completely gutted, with the old blue U.N. blinds mangled in the windows. The section of the building behind those quarters however was a stark contrast-it was undergoing construction as a future site for a museum. The exhibit was informative and raw as it featured different informational topics, ranging from judicial investigations into the genocide to survivors’ accounts to guilty pleas from participants. We were able to learn about these topics as we watched documentaries of various accounts at each topical mini-exhibit. The old battery factory was one of the many execution sites just in the Srebrenica area. Bullet holes from the execution cover the walls of the factory and serve as constant reminders of a not too distant past as we walked through the building and viewed its exhibits. The building comprised many of the harrowing photographic images of the war, which once again raised many individual questions for us all. We completed the visit with Hasan’s final account of his experiences. We have garnered an idea of his resilience during our short time with him, however we were able to understand his reasoning for remaining here in Bosnia, and his lifelong devotion to his own heroic cause for justice and truth.

I hope I am fortunate enough to again meet more true heroes in my lifetime as I have met here in my short time in Bosnia, to see more human strength and hope in the aftermath of pain.

For Peace

Last week, I had the opportunity of a lifetime-to march 60 kilometers with over 10,000 other people-along with our own group of wonderful, fun, strong, and intelligent women-in commemoration and memoriam for those who lost their lives in the Srebrenica genocide of 1995, and for those who continue through this world today after enduring a nightmare. I often experience difficulties in articulating ideas or passions through speech, but seldom through writing. Today is an exception. I am continuing to experience difficulty in articulating my thoughts over those three days; thoughts that continue to multiply and evolve.

We hiked for three days, from July 8-10, in the Peace March, or Marš Mira, a route that follows the reverse trek from the village of Nezuk, near Tuzla, to the village of Potočari, a village near Srebrenica, where the genocide memorial and the cemetery is located. Through this route, Bosniak men and boys fled into the woods and mountains from the advancing Bosnian Serb forces that already murdered thousands of men and boys in and outside of Srebrenica. Some of them made it to safety near Tuzla, many did not. The event was concluded with the memorial ceremony and burial on July 11, another moving event that was altered by manifested historical pain.

I am able to describe the intense heat of the first day, the liters of water consumed and poured over our heads, the arduous mountain hiking and burning sun, the copious amounts of applied sunscreen, all the physical aspects of any difficult hike. We endured those discomforts and laughed about them later, throughout the hikes or in our military tent at the end of the day, shelter that was generously supplied to us by the Bosnian military and through the efforts of our awesome program director Ann and her friend and wonderful colleague Hasan, a man whose own story deserves a separate blog post.

The March began with a euphoric advance onto the route, and we all fell into rhythm. The reality and purpose of the March soon followed. We were soon walking along paths that once crossed through minefields, which were clearly indicated with warning tape on each side of the trail. These stretches continued for miles in some places, for several feet in others. It was a bit surreal to think that minefields on both sides surrounded us at times. Along the way, people would stop for breaks in the shade behind the mine tape, and I never understood why people would take chances like that. I have never experienced living in a country that is still dealing with landmine hazards, and I was thankful that I could enjoy hikes in Colorado without worrying about stepping on live explosives.

Minefields were prevalent on the first day, whereas the on the second day we passed numerous mass gravesites where people were murdered. I lost count of the sites after a while, there were so many of them, marked with signs that described excavation dates and other information. I also did not want to quantify the locations. Whether there was one mass grave or fifteen of them in a certain area, quantity was not important. People stopped along the way and snapped pictures with friends or for themselves next to the sites. I also did not understand why someone would want photos of themselves, their friends or family members posing next to mass gravesites as if they were national monuments or attractions. I believe the only people who have the right to do so are the genocide survivors, and I doubt many of them were among these eager individuals. I however maintained the perspective that we all perceived this event in our own way. The third day was comprised of stunning views of the countryside, of verdant hills and vibrant fields, farmhouses dotting the horizon and mosques nestled in valleys. One could forget for a fleeting moment that this was a once a region of terror and evil. Everyone was looking forward to the final march into Potočari and through the memorial. We met many people who participated in the march every year, and they described the culmination of the March with reverence, the silent and humbling walk through the memorial in the presence of survivors, relatives of victims, and observers.

Silence describes that moment. Silence and overpowering humility. Chatter faded, gaits slowed, and flags were raised. International solidarity was reflected in the appearances of numerous flags from various countries and organizations that were proudly displayed on the shoulders or in the hands of marchers. Flags fluttering in the breeze, humbled footsteps, and media cameras were the only sounds as thousands of us passed the cemetery perimeter and then passed through the memorial area. I felt proud and humble at that moment, proud because I believed it was possible to honor those who were lost, those who are living today, their loved ones, the Bosnian people, and humanity. I was humbled, because I knew I would never understand what it was like to flee for my life, or to endure life after atrocity or continue on without a loved one who was murdered. I did this because I believe in peace. I believe it is possible.

Peace March

Peace March 1

A Bosnian Match for my Own Brand of Dark Humor

I am writing another lighthearted blog post. I am currently processing my week last week for articulation in my next post regarding the Peace March, or Mars Mira, from Nezuk, a village near Tuzla, to Potocari, a three-day hike that followed the reverse route through which Bosniak men and boys fled the Serbian genocide in 1995, with countless tragedies along the way. I am experiencing difficulty in writing about something that is life changing and humbling, and for which I was speechless during most of the trek. I do not have difficulty in describing a few Bosnian contrasts against typical American behaviors that quickly emerged in Bosnia within a few days after arrival. Cultural contrasts are always interesting and fun experiences within travel, however working as an intern opens up a different dynamic for that experience, along with living in a country for several weeks. One prevalent contrast surpasses all other numerous differences for me, and that is the existence of Bosnian dark humor.

Our student group met some friends from Australia on the Peace March, and we have all shared drinks or dinner with them as they toured Sarajevo before their departure. We went to dinner with them last night, and as we all walked through the restaurant after our meal, our waiter noticed that we all glanced at a painting on the wall during our exit. The painting featured the Miljacka River, and the famed Latin Bridge over it, located just steps from the restaurant. The picture was comical as it depicted palm trees along the river and people enjoying various water sports, such as surfing and speedboat racing. The waiter remarked that the picture depicted Sarajevo before the war, and we all laughed. It was truly funny, not only because the river is shallow, or Sarajevo is not in a part of the country which is conducive for palm trees to flourish, or just due to the fact that I am easily amused, we also found the painting and the waiter’s comment humorous because we all felt free to take delight in Bosnian dark humor. I have discovered that Bosnians joke more about the war than any other topic, through art forms, literature, or just in conversation. The war is a significant, complicated, and tragic event in a not-too-distant past. Initially, I was uncertain if Bosnians even discuss the war or the degree to which they discuss their history. I always thought many people preferred to discuss the days of former Yugoslavia or the rich cultural history of antiquity, but in reality I assumed that Bosnians treaded lightly upon dark historical events as many people do in the United States, although many Americans acknowledge historical darkness.

The irony and reality persists that while many Bosnians know their history, the country has multiple historical narratives according to ethnic identity. National agreement is complicated and it is rare. The National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina is permanently closed, another symbol of national discord in general and the war’s impact on historical reality. It is a bit garish to see a permanently closed national museum, however it is not surprising here. I am sure there are many jokes among Bosnians about the museum’s closure as well. I find it refreshing and interesting that Bosnians respond to their history with humor. It would be even better to see that humor transferred to further dialogue among all Bosnians, even on the smallest scale.

Museum

The National Museum, closed until further notice.

The Dog/ Self-Discoveries

I didn’t realize how much time I actually spend with my dog Luka on a daily basis until I was separated from him with a distance of several thousand miles. It’s one of those things you don’t exactly realize that you miss until it’s temporarily not in your life, and he is always by my side. My dog is a typical miniature dachshund. He sleeps burrowed almost all day long when he’s not attacking the cat, running in circles, or dragging the blankets off the bed. He usually sleeps beside me, chews on his bones beside me, and he even hangs out with me (sleeping) when I am cleaning or studying at my desk. I always walk him, and I think I enjoy it more than he does. Walking always clears my head.

I never perceived myself as a dog person. When I was about four or five years old, my dad owned two hyperactive dogs that just appeared at his house one day, which he, or someone quickly named Scruffy and Bandit. They were sweet dogs, I now remember as I think back on those memories from my point of view today. They usually dug new holes every day in my Dad’s yard and would escape and run straight down the street to the house of an elderly man, who always promptly appeared in his front yard, shouting and waving a rifle. The dogs used to jump on everyone whenever there was anyone around to play with, and they without fail always knocked me down into the dirt, and I disliked dogs after that.

I however realize that I am in fact a definite dog person as I write this slightly comical blog about missing my dog. I am happy to live in a city with so many (mostly) friendly dogs that are cared for by the population. Encounters with the friendly and plump Labrador that lives at the bar Cheers across the street are always a highlight of my day when he is around lounging in the sun or on the cool pavement. I am sure over 300 people pet him every day, but it makes my day to give him some attention because I miss my own canine. My student group and our director all miss something from home, and a few of us miss our dogs. I expected to learn various things about myself as I always do when I am out of the country, and I am learning that not all knowledge gained in that capacity is always profound and compelling. It is sometimes just about discerning subtle discoveries./

The Views of Sarajevo

The sights of Sarajevo have been nothing but beautiful since I first saw the city from my seat in the propeller plane during the last flight of my journey across the Pond. Our group has already enjoyed Bosnian pitas, coffee, beer, and sweets as our dollars finally stretch to our liking. (My undergrad semester in London was an opposite experience). We have also toured some amazing places in just the past three days, such as the first Jewish synagogue in the city and a Jewish cemetery that dates back to the seventeenth century, the assassination corner where Gavrilo Princip stood and fired those fatal shots in 1914, ornate mosques and a madrasa from antiquity that continues to educate students, the war tunnel, and the old Olympic bobsled run. We are able to venture through the Austro-Hungarian empire’s influences just steps from our hostel, and we also are fortunate enough to enjoy the gift of the Ottomans, Baščaršija, which is quickly becoming one of my favorite places to explore.

The beautiful hills of this region that surround the city were the first views of this country that I saw from my airplane window. The hills symbolize many things for people here. I find myself turning my attention to them whenever I am outside walking through the city. Bosnian Serbs were able to besiege the city during the war because these hills exist. As we toured the city on our first full day in the country, I noticed bullet holes in the walls of these beautiful buildings here, buildings that survived the war. These buildings stand as reminders of a not-too-distant past of two decades, and transcend centuries of history before that. I believe they say more than the silent and burned skeletons of buildings that were never rebuilt, and they speak volumes against the completely rebuilt structures, although these buildings all tell us something about the war, that nothing was unaffected. People are not as easy to read.

The Bosnian Serbs showered the city with shells during the siege. The shells left behind a point of impact in the concrete of sidewalks or streets, along with small surrounding craters. Bosnians filled these holes in with red paint to symbolize that the shell killed people, a symbol known to Bosnians as a Sarajevo Rose. Many of the Roses are no longer have their color, and some are even covered by concrete slabs, however many Roses remain with or without the color. I stepped over many colorless roses today after a day at my internship as I walked along streets and sidewalks after a day at my internship.

I looked at the hills each time I stepped over a Rose today. I looked at the possible places in the hills where a sniper was positioned who fired that shot over two decades ago, the sniper who ended those lives. We stood in the same places where some of these sniper nests were positioned on Trebevic Mountain, where the bobsled run is located. Snipers actually used the run as a bunker. They also utilized a beautiful Jewish cemetery and various places on the mountain itself, along with thousands of other locations in the hills.

The experience of viewing Sarajevo from the perspective of those under siege and from the murderous vantage point of a sniper was one of the most surreal experiences of my life. This city and this country still tell a beautiful, tragic, and hopeful story.

I only hope I will ascertain just a modicum of this country’s depth as I discover more of the living story.