I can’t believe I’m back in America…

Upon my return to the United States, I was in a sense jet lagged for a week (sorry mom, I know you thought I was just being lazy the whole time). I knew readjusting to having to be places at certain times and not being in such a lax environment would be extremely hard for me, and it was. I’ve been back in the United States two weeks today, and it still feels surreal that I spent an entire summer in Bosnia. I feel like just yesterday I was walking through Bascarsija with my friends, looking for a place to pop into for something small to eat and maybe a beer afterward. I feel like just yesterday I was laughing with Sladjana and Francis, my two roommates, about our squeaky beds and playing “bus karaoke”. How has it already been two weeks?

I’m currently spending a semester in Washington DC taking classes and interning, and whenever there’s an icebreaker, I use living in Bosnia for the summer as my fun fact. The reactions I get are such an interesting mixture of “Where’s Bosnia?” (I’m disgusted by this one considering all of the other students are studying international relations in some context…), “Why would anyone go to Bosnia…let alone for a whole summer?”, and a response of indifference. Looking back on my summer, I wouldn’t trade the experience I had for the world. Yes a war happened there, but it is not an active war zone; the war ended 22 years ago. People have a preconceived notion about places that have suffered from genocide and war, but look at Germany – they have millions of tourists every year. So why is the thought of me spending a whole summer in such a beautiful and accepting country so outlandish?

I made new friends this summer from the University of Denver, and got to know some of the people I already knew, better. I made a lifelong professional connection with my supervisor and look forward to maybe working with him again one day in the future. I learned so much about myself too, especially that I don’t always have to have such a harsh facade up…it is okay to let people in and trust them, which is something I have struggled with for such a long time. Sitting here writing this from my new bed in Washington DC, I miss everything about this summer. I miss running downstairs to Maison Coco for a chicken salad sandwich on some of the best bread I have ever tasted in my life. I miss being able to find a drinkable bottle of wine for 5KM (roughly $2.75). But most of all, I miss all of the people I got to surround myself with this summer. They all made me a better person. Whenever anything strange, unexpected, and just downright absurd happened, it became known as “Bosnian”. Like, a three hour drive down a winding dirt road back from Srebrenica to Sarajevo with Asa sitting on the floor of the van and the van stalling multiple times on the highway…so Bosnian.

It’s strange, being in a new city and not knowing anyone. There’s nobody to ask to go to the pekara with me, or just across the street for a drink. Reintegrating into the society which I was raised in and is all I have ever known has been so much harder than I expected it to be. Like I said before, I knew it would be hard having a structured, organized routine again, even though that is something I’m a fan of, but once you learn to live as part of another society as I did this summer, it’s a strange process coming home. Post-travel depression is something I always thought was a joke, but it’s definitely a real thing.

Thank you Ann for offering me the opportunity to participate in Global Practice Bosnia. Thank you mom for helping me overcome the financial burden that came with this adventure. Thank you to all of my peers for being amazing friends, housemates, and just great people all summer long. I wouldn’t have wanted to spend eight weeks crammed into a small living space with anyone else. But most of all, hvala Sarajevo. I’ll be back.


The Elusiveness of Time

Previously mentioned when discussing my internship and the difference between working in the United States and in Bosnia, I mentioned that time seemed to be elusive here. This exact concept is the thing I loved and will miss this most from the summer, but also the thing I cannot wait to get away from. It has been both a blessing and a curse. While I’ve discussed this with some peers and they call it a “European thing” I didn’t experience it as much in the other European cities I visited during my time here.

Looking back on my summer in Bosnia with just four days remaining, I’m wondering how eight weeks went by so quickly. It feels like just the other day I stepped off the plane for the first time in Sarajevo and got hit right in the face with the ridiculously humid June air. On the other hand, I look back and look at all of the places I’ve been and all the accomplishments that have been made, and wonder how this eight weeks still has four days left in it. Waking up without an alarm has been the greatest reason that time has seemed so elusive this summer. An appointment or meeting with someone will be set for 7pm, but don’t expect them to show up until 7:15pm at the earliest – it’s just how things go. Time isn’t real. People aren’t tied down to be places or do things, and the laid back environment and lack of care for the time is a beautiful thing. However, while this has been wonderful, I’m nervous about reintegrating right back into the busy American way of things. I start an internship about two weeks after I return to the United States and I know it’s going to be rigorous, with no elongated coffee breaks or leaving early because it’s hot out or really, just because. Don’t get me wrong, I’m so beyond grateful to have had this experience, I’m just nervous that getting back into a routine is going to take a lot longer and be much more difficult than I would like it to be.

All in all, if you ever get the chance to travel to the Balkans, or even better, specifically Bosnia, do not be alarmed as you slip out of your organized, rigorous mode, and into someone who doesn’t care about what time it is, or why it takes an hour and a half to have a coffee. The elusiveness of time is something that should be experienced at least once by everyone in their life.

Sarajevo Rose

To a passerby, the Sarajevo Rose might look like the mistake of a painter or construction worker that needs to come back and finish the job. However, the truth behind the scarred pavements in Sarajevo, of which there are roughly 20 remaining, is much darker.

During the Bosnian War, which spanned the years 1992-1995, Sarajevo was hit with an average of over 300 mortar shells every single day. The record for single day shelling was set on July 22, 1993, when 3,777 shells were fired into Sarajevo. The Sarajevo Roses are quite literally the mortar patterns that were left in the ground from the shelling that took place when the city was under siege during the war. In spots where more than one or more casualty occurred, the shells, often with patterns resembling that of a floral arrangement, was filled in with red resin to signify that it was a place of death. Hence, the birth of the Sarajevo Rose.

While the Sarajevo Rose is a beautiful and raw reminder of what happened here some twenty odd years ago, it has come to my attention (through a quick search of Google about the topic) that many survivors of the Bosnian War wish for all of the Roses to be replaced. They believe the fact they’re used as a tourist attraction cheapens part of the authenticity and meaning of the tragic events that took place in order for these Sarajevo Roses to exist. As someone who understands their significance, it is easy to understand why survivors want the city rid of them. There is a lack of regard for these places as memorials, and when they are regarded, it is usually for a photo opportunity.

Over the years, the asphalt has been replaced throughout the city; maybe just for routine road repairs, but also maybe to keep the memories of the loved ones who died on those spots untouched by the eyes of a bystander. Some of the Roses will never be paved over, especially the one that is encased in glass at the Markale Market, which signifies the death of 68 civilians in an attack that took place in 1994 (1994 Markale Market Massacre).

It’s always a surprise, yet sobering moment when you stumble across a Rose you had not yet seen. With most of them paved over in the last few years, I hope that some remain so that more people can become educated on the history of the Siege of Sarajevo, which was a vital part of the Bosnian War.


The Power of Travel

“To travel is to take a journey into yourself.”

– Danny Kaye

Vacation wouldn’t be the correct term to explain my summer in Bosnia, since I’m working for my internship four days a week, every week we are here. For me, being away from the United States for an extended period of time, even if I am working, is a vacation. I guess I could call it a working vacation. Even then, it’s still a period of relaxation compared to having to work at an internship back in the United States. In Europe, time is elusive.

When I’m not working and digging through the depths of the internet for some research materials, I’m outside, exploring the city that has become my home for eight weeks. Traveling makes me feel ways that I cannot put into words. I love everything about it – the long plane/bus rides (even with a few unfortunate experiences under my belt), discovering new places and cultures, and most of all, discovering myself. Even the thought of long layovers in airports excites me. I’ve already found my favorite restaurants and shops in Sarajevo, and know how to find my way around the city almost flawlessly. Being based in Europe for the whole summer has also given me the opportunity to take weekend trips to other countries. I have had the chance to visit Split, Croatia and Belgrade, Serbia already, with a trip to Paris, France booked for this weekend.

I’m a better version of myself when I travel. I’m much happier and easygoing than normal, which most people would consider a blessing knowing my non-travel infused personality. Still trying to figure out the intersection between my degree and a job that will let me travel to every corner of the Earth. As our time winds down here in Bosnia, I’m filled with dread and regret that I won’t be as happy as I am here when I get back to the United States. There’s just something about traveling that opens your mind, and as an academic, there is nothing I love more than learning. I’m also a huge history nerd so being able to see really important historical places is big to me.

Having the opportunity to travel is a blessing, and I hope that everyone gets the opportunity to cross another country off their list at some point in their life, because if they don’t, they haven’t really lived. Every country has something unique and beautiful to offer, and it is so eye opening. Travel really does have power to it.

1984 Olympic Bobsled Track on Mount Trebevic above Sarajevo, Bosnia.
Port of Split in Split, Croatia.
St. Sava Cathedral in Belgrade, Serbia.

The Return to Srebrenica

“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of those depths.”

– Elizabeth Kubler-Ross

The people of Bosnia as a whole have lost so much, but the people of Srebrenica have lost more than most people could ever imagine. Everyone we met with over the weekend suffered great loss during the Srebrenica genocide in 1995, and some of them lost everything. Nura and Saliha are two of the most courageous, brave, and inspiring women I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. For people who lost so much, from family to property to all of their worldly belongings, the positivity that they have about moving forward and advocating for justice is unmatched. As both these women said, they did not lose just their husbands and sons. They lost any hope of having a lineage; no children to watch get married, no grandchildren to watch grow. Saliha was especially brave, as she testified at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) against Slobodan Milosevic. She stared down the man who had been the president of Serbia during the time of the war as they tried to annex parts of Bosnia which led to the deaths of many, including her husband and sons, did not bat an eye, and told her story bravely.

Hasan’s story was also very hard to listen to, especially as someone who participated in Marš Mira. Hasan was a member of the original Death Column, and walked from Srebrenica to Tuzla to save his life. Being thanked for my participation in Marš Mira by Hasan was also difficult to hear. I don’t feel like I deserve that recognition. I understand what I did was difficult by any standards, and that it was in commemoration of not only the victims of the original Death Column but also the entire Srebrenica genocide, but what I did will never compare to the true suffering these people had to endure. Now Hasan works for the Srebrenica Genocide Memorial, teaching people of the horrors that occurred on the very ground upon which they stand, and advocating for justice and the hope that nobody has to suffer what he and his family did, ever again. I found it very interesting that the actual United Nations base has been turned into a museum as part of the Memorial, and gives such a beautiful, comprehensive history from the beginning of the war, to the use of the UN Dutchbat Command, to the signing of the Dayton Peace Accords.

On our last day in Srebrenica, we got to meet with Ramis, who is also known as the Bone Man. 22 years ago, he escaped an ambush by the Bosnian Serb army that occurred on the hill above his home, just outside of Srebrenica in the mountains. In 2002, Ramis returned to his home from Tuzla, where he had been living since he escaped that ambush in 1995. Almost every day, although not as frequently as he used to, Ramis has been going up into the hill behind his home to look for bones. He wants to give families the peace, happiness, and closure that he felt when his family was identified. With his help, the International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP) has been able to identify over 200 bodies. He is the only person doing any work of this kind, and day in and day out he goes to find those families some closure. When we met with him, he showed us some bones that he had found only two weeks prior. 22 years later, and fifteen years since he returned to his home, and he is still unearthing bones that help bring closure to people.

Through all of their pain and suffering, these people still manage to share their stories with anyone who will listen, and push for justice, even though they know that their loss is irreplaceable by a guilty verdict. They have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of those depths. It’s hard knowing that something so heinous happened in such a beautiful country, that is filled with such beautiful people. Driving from location to location and meeting with different people, it was hard not to notice how beautiful the countryside we were passing through, was. Looking at the beauty surrounding me, it was hard to remember that a genocide occurred here. And a genocide didn’t just occur here, but it occurred during my lifetime. It was recent history. Yet somehow, the Bosnian people have been able to keep pushing, whether it is their search for justice, for loved ones, or for advocacy so that nobody has to suffer like them again. The perseverance and resiliency of people is a beautiful thing. I was absolutely honored to have met so many wonderful people who were willing to spend time with us and tell us stories that are painful to tell.

Nura (l.) smiling with our program coordinator Ann after telling her story. She lost a husband and three sons during the Srebrenica genocide.


A Week in the Life

Now that everyone is finally settling into their roles at their respective internships and has gotten into a rhythm of how they go about their day, I wanted to share some more about my internship.

For my internship, I am a research assistant for Enis Omerovic. Enis is a professor of international law at the University of Zenica here in Bosnia, and a human rights lawyer. In his time away from the University, he works on two projects which I am helping him bring to fruition. Over the course of last week, I got to knuckle down on my first real assignment that I had to submit. As a student in the international human rights program at the University of Denver, I already loved the fact that I was working with a human rights lawyer. As someone who has a heavy focus on research based projects, I loved my first assignment. I was tasked with creating an outline for a critical assessment of the United Nations mechanisms in relation to the international protection of ethnic and national minorities. My research loving heart was fluttering. Lastly, as someone who eventually wants to work for the United Nations I had such an interesting time getting to know their mechanisms better, and learn more about some of their documents, resolutions, declarations, and conventions.

That first official assignment was due on Monday, and here we are on Wednesday morning and the work is piling up again! I love that for the most part I get to work remotely, because in addition to doing my work, I get to explore the city a bit and find cool coffee shops and cafes where I can do my work. It also allows me to take a weekend trip with my laptop so I can have fun but work at the same time (I had the best time in Split, Croatia this weekend, and still got my very detailed assignment submitted on time). Having that freedom in a way is very liberating because I get to do these things, but I also don’t get to meet as many people as some of my peers who work at actual organizations, but you win some and you lose some. I’m looking forward to seeing what this internship holds for me for the rest of the summer, and the answers that I can come across while doing my research. This internship is right up my alley, and I’m so glad that I get to spend a summer in Bosnia exploring the country and the culture, all the while doing work that I love. I got really lucky with my internship this summer, and I’m glad it all worked out ‘for me, because for a while I was in a bit of a panic over it (Sorry Ann, I know, trust the process). But here we are, halfway through the summer already and I’m having the best time with my internship.

Marš Mira 2017

Marš Mira is the Bosnian translation for Peace March.

As someone who had never had an experience with this kind of physical activity before, I was very on the fence about participating. But something in me knew that the physical pain suffered would not outweigh the experience that I would have, and so I chose to participate, with ten others from Global Practice Bosnia, in Marš Mira 2017.

Marš Mira follows roughly the path that many men and boys from Srebrenica took in July 1995 to try to escape Bosnian Serb forces. The choices that they had were either go to Potočari, which meant certain death, or to walk in the Death Column, as survivors call it, where there was a slim chance of survival. The path they took in 1995 was from Srebrenica, where the genocide occurred, to the Tuzla/Nezuk area, which was the closest free territory, about 120km away. Men and boys trekked over all different types of terrain over six days in an attempt to reach their destination. Many of them were killed. For the last thirteen years, Marš Mira has taken place in commemoration of those who were killed in the genocide of Srebrenica, and those men and boys who both died and survived the Death Column. The only difference is that Marš Mira follows the reverse path, so the march begins in Tuzla/Nezuk and ends in Potočari.

Over three days and ~64 miles, my life was forever changed. The first people to begin marching are people who survived the Death Column in 1995 along with their families. Everyone else is allowed to follow. There were people and flags from all over the world (including our Colorado state flag!), and those people showed nothing but camaraderie and solidarity to everyone else. People from all walks of life that I had never met before were giving me a hand up a hill or over a stream, and building walking sticks for us. The generosity shown by fellow marchers was amazing, as was the generosity shown by the townspeople of the neighborhoods we passed through. People let us into their homes, gave us their coffee, their blankets to sit on, and their bathrooms to use. And all of it was for free. These people save money all year round to be able to mass produce coffee and juice for the marchers to help them continue on. That really struck me; people who had nothing were giving these strangers all that they had because of the cause they were marching for. That is something that will never leave me.

While out of the 5,000+ marchers and 2,000+ bikers/motorcyclists that participated there were definitely people who took the purpose of this more to heart than others, it was a beautiful experience. The walk itself is somber, knowing that this is the path that many people died along trying to save their lives, knowing that some people survived this march and that this was their only option to save their lives, and walking past so many mass graves and cemeteries with tombstones boasting years between 1992 and 1995 that you lose count. The energy is low and dark all around you, because whether or not a person is taking the march more seriously than another, everyone knows why you are here and what it means to walk this path.

I met so many wonderful people, and people who had done this march for several years. I even met a fourteen year old who had done this for two years already, and the group he was with were marching from their hometown to Tuzla/Nezuk, then to Potočari; roughly about 250km. Survivors of the Srebrenica genocide and Death Column thanked me for marching in honor of the victims – people who themselves had to do this to save their lives were thanking me for doing this. That really struck me about the kindness that people have within. The resiliency and warm heartedness of people in their solidarity is something I had never truly experienced in that way before, and something I will never be able to forget.

I think people forget that during Marš Mira, they have luxuries. Many people take for granted being able to take a break for a sip of water, get handed an apple by USAID on the side of the road, or sleep in a tent set up for you by the Bosnian Army; all without worrying about your life being in danger, or whether or not a sniper had you in their sight. So many times throughout the weekend through teary eyes, weak lungs, and throbbing legs, I had to sit down and admit that I could never imagine having to do this to save my life. And for those who did have to do that, I have the utmost respect for.


First Impressions

After an eight hour redeye flight that I could not sleep for my life on, and almost missing my two connecting flights (sorry mom), I finally made it to Sarajevo. The first thing to strike me was how small an “international airport” was. The second, was the humidity. Once everyone finally got settled in, I was excited; the “fam” was together and ready to take on Bosnia. The next day we did both a bus tour and a walking tour, and that took us everywhere. Getting up on Mount Trebevic and seeing the 1984 Olympic bobsled run decaying and covered in graffiti was both disheartening and beautiful at the same time. The first full day was extremely emotional for me, between the lack of sleep and the sites that were seen and explained. Being in a Serbian sniper nest on Mount Trebevic and finding old ammunition rounds in the ground suddenly made everything so real.

My favorite thing from the first week was the visit we took as a group to Konjic to visit Tito’s secret atomic bunker that was built in case of a war between Yugoslavia and the USSR (I know, we’re going back some years here). However, the bunker is in the process of being turned into a contemporary art museum. As an appreciator of art and a lover of history, the aura surrounding the bunker was wonderful. Not to mention the river views were amazing. The best adventure of our first week was attempting to make it to OK Fest on Saturday, a well known music festival in the Balkans. With six of us crammed into the car, including a passenger on the backseat floor, the two hour drive turned into a five hour drive, getting lost down a dirt road, asking for help from a person with no English at all while we barely know any Bosnian, and having lunch in Republika Srpska where the menu was completely in Cyrillic. We eventually did make it to OK Fest, situated in Sutjeska National Park with one of the most beautiful views I’ve ever seen in my life.

I’ve taken it upon myself to walk every day with no purpose. A left here, a right there, and a left a little further on until I’m somewhere new. Exploring by myself has given me a new perspective on Sarajevo, while also giving me that much needed alone time from a hostel floor of twelve of my peers. Everyone keeps asking me how I’m enjoying Bosnia so far. First off, between getting settled and doing group activities and only being here a week, I haven’t seen too much of the country. But my response is always “I’m loving it so much”. And then I get the dreaded “Why? Like what do you love?” Well I love everything. It’s been a week and I’ve never been in a place comparable to Bosnia. The landscape is beautiful, the people are beautiful and warm and welcoming, the food is amazing and fresh, and don’t get me started on the local beer! Basically, if you haven’t figured it out already, I’ve only been here for a week with seven remaining, but I never want to go home.