Why Bosnia?

I can’t even count the number of times I have been asked this question. My friends and family at home wondered about my decision to go to Bosnia and the locals I have met here are constantly asking me why I decided to come to their country. The Americans who have asked me this question have very little knowledge about this country and still believe that it is war-torn and therefore, not safe for me to be traveling around. The Bosnians who have asked me this question are surprised that I would choose to travel to this country when my passport allows me to go practically anywhere.

For me, the answer to this question is easy. This country is the most naturally beautiful place I have ever been, it has a very rich history and culture, the food is fabulous, but most of all, the reason I come to this country is the people. When Ann offered me the opportunity to return to this country this summer, there was not a moment’s hesitation for me, of course, I said yes and I feel so fortunate to have this opportunity again. It is the people that I have met while living here, working here and traveling around this region that makes this the most incredible place to me. I will continue to travel back here again and again to experience the warmth and helpfulness of the people here. I have met people here that have gone completely out of their way to help me, oftentimes these people are strangers to me. The feeling of collectiveness is pervasive wherever I go. The friends that I have made here are some of the greatest people  in my life.

For the Americans who wonder why I continue to choose to travel to Bosnia, I do my best to explain it to them, but inevitably, I end up saying you just need to go there and experience it for yourself. For the Bosnians who continue to question my decision, they are still doubtful of my reasons, but seem happy that I am so pleased with their country. For me, this place feels like my home away from home and I will always return here so that I can experience that sense of belonging again and again.

Here are some of the amazing people I have met here (unfortunately I don’t have pictures of everyone yet)

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This past weekend, I had the opportunity to travel to an island off the coast of Croatia called Korčula. It was absolutely amazing. I was able to spend most of the weekend relaxing at the beach and exploring the old town. The old town is a walled-in city dating back to the 13th century and it is also the place where Marco Polo was born.

 

While I was there, I stayed at an apartment very near to the coast with an amazing balcony with wonderful views of the Adriatic.

The people who own the apartment were so incredibly welcoming and helpful. One night they invited us to a festival in a nearby town. They took us in their own car and bought us the most amazing grilled squid and red wine.

We proceeded to have a great conversation about life, love and the future. At one point in the conversation, the nephew of the apartment owner, Surdjan, who was the one who spoke English, mentioned to me that I had a lot of stamps in my passport. He started listing off some of the many places that I have been fortunate enough to visit. Surdjan, along with his aunt and uncle, were very curious about all of my travels and were very envious of everywhere I have been. Usually, I am really proud to talk about all of my travels and the experiences I have been lucky enough to have had, but in this moment, I felt somewhat embarrassed or spoiled. I know that they were asking me these questions just out of curiosity, but I couldn’t help but think of my privileges during this conversation. My American privilege, which allows me to have one of the strongest passports in the world that can take me to nearly every country. My socioeconomic privilege, which has allowed me to pursue higher education and have these amazing travel opportunities.  And my white privilege, which allows me to travel freely without fear.

I have so much appreciation for all of these privileges that I have and I realize that all of the amazing things I have been able to see and do are a result of them. The people that I have met this summer as well as last summer are some of the most amazing people I know. They go out of their way to help me with whatever I may need. The more people I meet while I am over here, the more I wonder how only 16 years ago, they were at war with one another…

Perspectives…

Talking about perspectives in Sarajevo seems so natural. From the moment I arrived, I am constantly thinking about everyone else’s perspective, the other DU students that are here, the Bosnians that live here, everyone. Last year, I learned so much about taking in this experience from someone else’s perspective and it is even more heightened this year. I learned so much from the Bosnian friends that I made last year. It was amazing to hear about their experiences and what they have gone through in the last 20 years. In the last few weeks, the new group of students have arrived, started their internships and have begun to form their perspective on Bosnian people and culture. For me, it is important to see this process and go through this process with this new group of students.  It has been a struggle in many ways because I have so much love for this place and the people that I know here, but at the same time,  it has also been amazing to watch and be a part of the process with this group of students. There is a lot to adjust to here and things are definitely different than the U.S., but it is my hope that this place has some sort of impact on everyone, no matter how big or small.

Alas, I have returned…

Looking back on my last blog from Project Bosnia Summer 2011, I was very adamant about coming back to Sarajevo the following year. And now, here I am, in 2012 and back in Sarajevo as a part of Project Bosnia once again. I feel so incredibly lucky that my dream of returning to Sarajevo has come true. It is such a magical place for me and it has been amazing over the last few days watching the new group of Project Bosnia students become acquainted with the city that I love. This year I have returned to Sarajevo in a new role. I am no longer here as a student doing an internship for a local nonprofit or NGO. I am here as the Program Coordinator for Project Bosnia. Although it has been a very different experience than when I came as a student, I feel so incredibly fortunate to be in this role.

Sarajevo has changed quite a bit in the last year, but at the same time it is the same city that I fell in love with.  Everyday since I have arrived, I have had to ask myself if I am really here because it is so hard for me to believe. There is a saying in Sarajevo that if you drink from the fountain, you will return to Sarajevo. Here is a picture of me drinking from the fountain last year:

And now I am back in Sarajevo.

 

When can I go back?

I have made it back to the U.S. and as I sit here taking care of things I have neglected for the past two months, I can’t help but reflect back on my time in Sarajevo. It went by so fast and I was not ready for it to be over. The last few days were consumed with everyone packing up their suitcases and doing their last minute souvenir shopping. My mom arrived in Sarajevo on the Friday before the program ended and it was so great to have the opportunity to show her around the city and have her experience my life over the past two months.

For the last two weeks of the program, I had the opportunity to be up in the moutains of Bjelasnica, where some of the Olympic events took place in 1984. I was working at a summer camp put on by Wings of Hope. It was such a great experience and I really enjoyed getting to know the 29 kids that came to the camp. I helped teach English lessons along with a wonderful woman named Dejana, who volunteers with Wings of Hope. In addition to the English lessons, there were also workshops in music, theater and arts and crafts, which were led by a group of young Dutch teachers who have volunteered their time to work at this camp. In the afternoons, we played sports with the kids, which was a blast, especially the days that we played baseball and frisbee. At night, there was always some kind of activity going on whether it be jewelry making, a movie or a disco. By the end of our time at camp, I grew really attached to all the kids. Many of them come from very difficult home lives and most of them came from families that couldn’t afford to put enough food on the table, but these kids were some of the most amazing and most sensitive and caring kids that I have ever met. I was truly inspired by each and every one of them. Spending the last two weeks of the program up in the mountains was the absolute perfect way to end my time in Bosnia and I am so grateful that my supervisor, Maja, brought us along for that experience. I know that when I look back on my time in Bosnia, these past two weeks will be some of my most favorite memories.

Back in Sarajevo, we had our final dinner with the group on Wednesday night at the Brewery and it was so nice to be together for one final time. We spent some time reminiscing about our time here as well as looking to the future when we are back in Denver and will have this amazing experience to share with one another. On the last night that we were all together, many of us made the trek up the hillside to an old Turkish fort where we listened to the canon being set off to mark the breaking of the fast for Ramadan. We feasted on traditional Somun bread and delicious pizza as we watched the sunset over Sarajevo. It was a very symbolic experience to watch the sunset with this group of people as our time together here in Sarajevo comes to a close. We all had our ups and downs, but overall, I think everyone enjoyed the experience. I count myself lucky to be leaving Sarajevo with 11 new friends to hang out with in Denver as well as several great Bosnian friends to come back and visit.

I am also grateful that my mom had the opportunity to visit and I got to show her around this amazing city and show her why I have fallen in love with it. We also had the chance to visit Istanbul for a few days before heading back to the States. As always I think it was a bittersweet goodbye. There are things I am looking forward to here, back home, but I already miss Sarajevo so much. I have already decided that I will be returning next year with the intention of returning to summer camp once more and re-visiting this city. If an opportunity arises to move here, I would take it in a second.

Weekend Getaway

Well I’ve been in Sarajevo for about a month now and everyday has been
an adventure so far. My internship at Wings of Hope has been a great fit for
me. I love the people that I am working with and I know that when I
reflect back on this time, they will play a large role in my
experience. A large part of my internship has been getting to know
them and forming those connections that I hope to keep up after I
return home. I’ve also had the opportunity to learn more about how an
NGO in Bosnia operates including everything from program development to funding and
budgets. And next month, I am so grateful to have the opportunity to
go up in the mountains and be a part of the summer camp that Wings of
Hope runs for adolescents. During this camp, the students take classes
in various subjects, do arts and crafts and other recreational
activites. I am really looking forward to this opportunity. It will be so great to work with kids again. I miss it so much!

This past weekend, I traveled to Ljubljana, Slovenia with some other
students. It was a great experience and such a beautiful country. We
took an over night bus from Sarajevo to Ljubljana and arrived there on
a Friday morning. We spent the first two days exploring the city,
which was beautiful. Exploring the city was like being in a fairytale.

It felt much more like a Western European city to me.
When the former Yugoslavia broke up, a war broke out in Slovenia, but
it only lasted for 10 days, so there is not any visible destruction
left from that time, which is quite the opposite of what we see in
Bosnia. Slovenia has also been a part of the EU for 7 years and
financially is much more well off than Bosnia. These differences
between the countries struck me as soon as I got off of
the bus and I continued to notice them throughout the trip. On Sunday,
we went on an organized tour that took us to the caves, located about
an hour from Ljubljana. These caves were amazing and so incredibly big. After
the caves, we drove to the coast of Slovenia. Much to our surprise,
this drive included a quick trip through Italy and we didn’t even
have to pass through a border control or anything like that. We spent
the rest of the afternoon hanging out on the coast, which was nice and
relaxing. There is something about being close to water that
immediately puts me at ease. On Monday, we woke up to a stormy day,
which we were worried would put a damper on our plans to visit Lake
Bled. However, we decided to brave the bad weather and caught a bus to
Bled. Even though it was overcast, it was still an incredible
sight. The water was a distinct emerald color and the island with the
castle in the middle of the lake added to the picturesque scenery.
After walking around the lake for a bit and renting a row boat to get
to the island in the middle (unsuccessfully), we caught a bus back to
Ljubljana. That night we caught another night bus back to Sarajevo and
when I arrived on Tuesday morning, I definitely had the feeling that I
was back home, which was a great feeling!

The time is flying by. I can’t believe we only have a few weeks left.
I’m already not looking forward to leaving. I’ve traveled to many places around
the world, but there is definitely something about this place that
continues to draw me to it, so I am going to take that as a sign that
I need to come back!

I can’t post pictures until I get back to the States and my camera cord, but trust me Ljubljana was gorgeous, hopefully my pics can capture some of its beauty.

My Life in Sarajevo

Today marks two weeks that I have been in Bosnia and it has been an incredible experience so far. If I was back in the States, I would be celebrating the fourth of July at a BBQ with friends and family and enjoying the fireworks display, instead I spent the morning at a rally with the people of Sarajevo as we watched the beginning of Ratko Mladic’s trial. It was an interesting experience to observe and although I felt very much as an outsider during this rally, I felt privileged to have the opportunity to witness this event. The event was all in Bosnian so I couldn’t quite understand what was going on, but I definitely got the sense that people were there not because they were seeking revenge for the atrocities that occurred, but they simply wanted to see justice served.