Just a note…

So, clearly, I wasn’t super great about blogging throughout the summer. And then, to top it all off, I got incredibly sick right at the end of the trip, and never really had the capacity to think about my last few days there…other then to hope to get home. I still don’t quite feel like it’s all over. Or that I was even there to begin with. But today, I re-read the last major post that I wrote on my personal blog, and thought that maybe I’d share it. It’s a bit out of order for the timeline of this blog, as we all wrapped up in Sarajevo over a month ago. But hopefully, it relays a bit of my own personal experience (prior to the insanity of getting really sick), because it was so incredibly rich. Here goes.

*****

Until the lions tell their tale, the story of the hunt will glorify the hunters.

Sincerest apologies for my extended absence. I assure you, all continues to be well in Sarajevo (it’s rainy and gray and London-y right now, and I love it). Hopefully the pictures have made up a tiny bit for the lack of posts, as I haven’t had the time or capacity to put all the thoughts mulling around in my head for the better part of two weeks into the appropriate words. What’s new, right? We’ll see how this goes (and how many times I go back and edit and re-edit it).

PCRC’s annual youth conference was held over the weekend of 14-16 July. The conference was intended to highlight stories of moral courage, and to educate youth as to how they can participate in the dissemination of such stories via the use of media. All in all, the weekend went off with out a hitch. Well, I suppose there were some minor hitches, but for the most part, they only contributed to the overall success of the conference, thanks to the flexibility and perseverance of my lovely colleagues. It was excellent. The conference ended with a spontaneous discussion amongst the students about their thoughts regarding the conference, the future, and their (our) role in it all. In that moment, I couldn’t help but wonder at the incredible people, stories, films, photo exhibitions and the like that I had encountered in such a short space of time. It was a blur, but it was deeply moving.

Among the conference’s panelists were James and Stephen Smith, the brothers and brains behind Aegis Trust, a British NGO devoted to genocide awareness and prevention. After listening to bits and pieces of both of their presentations (they were at the same time on the same day), I knew that I somehow needed to talk to them. Sure enough, once the events had wrapped up, I had the chance to sit with them for a few minutes and talk shop. Unfortunately for them, I was exhausted, idealistic, disillusioned, and desperately trying to figure out what I’m supposed to do with my life, right then and there. You know, the usual Christi’s-having-another-life-crisis conversation. Par for the course these days, right?

At one point, James stopped me (and what must have seemed like incessant and nonsensical rambling) and said, “Christi, you just have to start somewhere. Pick a project, and make it happen.” I smiled and chuckled, knowing that he of course was right, but still having no clue what that project would be because I want to do everything. I went home feeling pretty discouraged and woke up in the same state the next day. But a bit later, sitting over my macchiato and music at the Meeting Point, it hit me. I am where I am–right here, right now–because of the commitment I made to nonviolence back in college. And somehow, in between now and then, I ended up with this incredible teaching career and discovered that I love love LOVE working with youth and am passionate about excellent education. So why not put the two together? And there it was. My “start somewhere” project: a project that would aim to educate youth about nonviolent direct action–its history, theories, successes, pitfalls, you name it. That night, I pitched it to my fantastic supervisor, and ended up with the go-ahead to start work. I don’t know if anything will come of it, but as much as I try to be cautious with my expectations, I feel like this might really be something. At the very least, it’s not nothing.

*****

Since then, I’ve walked around Sarajevo a bit differently. When I first arrived, I found myself hesitant to stare at the ever-present remnants of war for too long–the shelled-out buildings, the bullet holes, etc. And when I came across a shell crater in the ground, I would take great care to not walk on it out of respect and remembrance. As I’ve mentioned before, these reminders are not mine to own. And in unabashedly staring, or taking pictures, or plodding over them, I felt like merely an undiscerning and gawkish spectator. But this has changed. These reminders are still not mine in the same sense that they belong to those who live here, and lived through their inception and consequence. They never will be. But I’m also no longer afraid to take some ownership of them in a manner that is appropriate to my own scenario. I love this place and have quite a lot invested in being here. And now, having spent time getting to know the unique character of Sarajevo, I no longer feel like that ogling spectator. Maybe there really is the potential for me to meaningfully contribute to the place and people that I have grown to love. I don’t hesitate to look or even to stare. As for the shell craters? I now find myself unafraid to actively tromp right over them…not out of ignorance or delusion or passivity, but out of the feeling that maybe, just maybe, I really can do something divinely guided (however small) to prevent the violence from returning. This fills me with hope and confidence. I will never live in a manner that ignores the devastation that people can inflict on each other through the use of violence. But the fact that the experience of conflict might not be “mine” does not in anyway mean I need to shrink from focusing my future energy and every fiber of my being toward reconciliation, awareness and prevention. For now, regardless of where Cole and I end up, or what I’m supposed “to do” with my life, I can teach. And through education, I can actively take a nonviolent stand against those who perpetuate the ever-present myths of war.

James and Stephen Smith started with an idea to host a single exhibit in Nottingham to educate people about the Holocaust. From there, Aegis Trust grew. The story is actually quite incredible. As for my idea? There are no guarantees that anything will come of it.

But it’s not nothing. Although I can’t really explain why, this is deeply exciting.

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Sarajevo in the Morning

Dobro jutro! Sarajevo is glorious today. I woke up early for my first video chat with my fantastic parents–which was almost foiled by the fickle Bosnian internet. But I was victorious! It was go great to “see” them, and their house, and Arvada, and so much that I am finding myself missing right now. What a great way to start the day! The weather is perfect, so on my morning walk I stopped at a new pekara, and tried a pastry that I hadn’t yet had. I have no idea what it’s called…I just pointed and eagerly said, “Molim jedan!” The woman gave me a bit of a smile, which I understood completely when I ate my way to the middle only to find myself chewing bologna and ketchup. Ha! (Somehow, it was still delicious, although I did ditch the rest of the bologna. More on my love affair with Bosnian food, later. Of course.)

We at PCRC are working from a different location today, which just so happens to be my favorite place in all of Sarajevo. It’s a great spot called Caffe Meeting Point, which actually feels quite similar to St. Mark’s…which is probably why I love it so. It’s the perfect combination of the familiar and the not-so-much-but-getting-more-and-more-familiar, and I have enjoyed my time sitting, drinking macchiato, reading, thinking…and just being quiet. I am so thrilled to be getting to know all of my housemates and colleagues. We all have such unique ideas, skills, personalities and whatever else one can bring to the collective proverbial table. But I find that my days are so full of conversation, that I have very little space or energy to just sit and be.¬†When I sit here, I feel the tension of Sarajevo in full force. This place is constantly buzzing with youth, hipsters, independent film lovers, artists, the occasional international, and those like me who assume (perhaps incorrectly) that we “fit” here. Maybe I don’t fit here, exactly (although my server now smiles at me each time I mumble my order for a coffee using my broken Bosnian).

Then again, maybe I don’t fit in Sarajevo, exactly. But as I find myself in this vibrant space, where I can experience such liveliness while simultaneously looking out across the street and noticing new window fixtures that seem out of place in old buildings (the prevalence of new windows in old buildings is one of the more subtle reminders of what once was), I wonder if it doesn’t matter so much whether or not this place and I are a perfect fit. Much like Caffe Meeting Point, Sarajevo has been home to vastly different people, cultures, beliefs, aspirations, cuisines, architectural styles…and on and on and on. And for the better part of the history of this place, these differences have been united by a deep and indescribable love for this city. When I think about it this way, I realize that I fit entirely. It might be for just this short amount of time, but for now, I am exactly where I am supposed to be.

Just Visiting

Yesterday, a few of us started off the day by attending a rally meant to protest Ratko Mladic as he entered (“entered“) his plea at the ICTY. The rally was organized by the Association of Concentration Camp Detainees, the organization that Davis is working with for the summer. The square was full of people who were clearly directly affected by the vast number of concentration camps (677, to be exact) that were present in this country during the war.

It was deeply moving, and a sobering reminder of the tension that this city constantly holds–one of simultaneous vibrancy and joy, but also of heartache and suffering. And although I never want to forget this tension, I felt, in a way, like I was intruding. I am so deeply in love with this city, and to say that I’m empathetic to those that show such resiliency after experiencing such tremendous hardship and are continuously affected by the scars of Sarajevo doesn’t even begin to express the gamut of emotion that I hold in my heart for this place and its people.

But yesterday, I had the overwhelming sense that what was going on was not for me. Yesterday was not for anyone that had not lived through it. And although it is important for the world to see the continual effects of trauma on this country, I was a bit put off by the international media and the somewhat invasive photo journalists snapping photos left and right of women as they posted pictures of and letters to their loved ones lost in the camps. But yet, the Sarajevan residents there didn’t seem bothered or offended. In their sober but unique way, they let us in and allowed us to experience their painful remembrances with them. I was humbled and deeply honored.

Throughout the day, I couldn’t help but to think about the implications that my feelings about the rally hold for my future. As I’ve mentioned in my personal blog, I know that I know that I know that my life is to be devoted to lessening violence and its effects on humanity, in whatever capacity my small self can contribute. But I haven’t lived through any of it. And no matter where I go, the experience won’t be mine. I honestly don’t know what this means in terms of where I should go from here. But I have to trust that the divine intervention that landed me here so early on in my journey will continue to illuminate the path before me. God-willing, I will continue to find the same acceptance and willingness of others to let me share in their experiences, as I did yesterday in Sarajevo. I won’t forget it, and am guessing that this instance was one of several of the same nature that I will have while I’m here.

For that, I am deeply grateful.

The Power of the Doner…

It’s my second Bosnian Sunday, and things are settling in for me in Sarajevo. I’ve been at my internship for a full week, am making friends with several people who live here, am developing routine habits and “regular” places to go…I even went grocery shopping today, and hardboiled my first round of eggs. That’s a sure sign that this is becoming a sort of home to me.

Yesterday was an absolutely fantastic day. It was cool, cloudy and even a bit rainy from time to time. (It felt a bit like I was in London or Seattle…which, in my mind, is definitely not a bad thing.) After a long day trip to Mostar, Medjugorje and Pocitelj the day before (some of the most amazing places I have ever seen, by the way–check out some pictures if you have time), it was nice to sleep in and wake up having absolutely no agenda. The morning and afternoon were what I always wish Saturdays could be when I’m swamped with homework and stuck in the library. One could say it was “Super Dobro!”

I was pretty content to stay at ‘home,’ reading, napping, doing laundry…pretty much being all-around lazy. But then I was hit with a craving for just about the only thing that could make me leave my comfy little room on this chilly Saturday–the Doner Kebab.

Last week, we randomly heard about this tiny little shop that supposedly sold the best doner kebab one could ever hope for. As this information was yelled across the noise of one of the many local cover bands that plays at the pub outside our hostel every weekend, I didn’t give it much thought. But for whatever reason, we stumbled across it by accident a few days later.

And we’ve gone back pretty much everyday since.

I’m not kidding.

This sandwich is amazing. The bread is fluffy on the inside, but crusty (but not TOO crusty) on the outside. The chicken is tender and seasoned to perfection. The cabbage and tomatoes are fresh and juicy. And the sauce that comes on it? Well, let’s just say it might be more delicious than In ‘N’ Out special sauce. Throw a spoonful or two of crushed red pepper on top, and you’re in sandwich heaven.

Sacrilegious? Perhaps. Exaggeration? Absolutely not.

Last Thursday, I actually had an emotional response to the fact that we’d be gone all day Friday and I wouldn’t be able to have one for lunch. Even just writing about one makes me want to go get one right now.

There’s just one problem. They’re closed on Sundays.

Doner Kebab, I love you.

Update: It’s Monday, and I didn’t eat one today. This will end tomorrow.