Sarajevo: Part 8

The very meaninglessness of life forces man to create his own meaning…”

Upon returning I remember feeling so excited to come home, but incredibly nervous. I knew that people were going to be asking me how my trip was, and wanting to hear about it, but was I ready to tell them everything that I had done and been through? All of the good and the bad? Would they want to hear the bad? Would they understand the bad? The thought of hearing my friends go on about seemingly trivial things was not something that I was interested in hearing. I am now realizing that it is important for me to tell my stories and experiences to those who decide to listen, want to listen; tell them to those whom I believe will benefit from my stories.

Culturally, I think I have adjusted quite well. There have been a couple of instances, like closing windows to not allow the “propu” (a breeze that will make you sick – its comes in one window and out another) or being shocked that I am receiving texts, where my brain has immediately defaulted to Bosnian ways of life, but those will subside.  I think part of me wishes to keep some cultural idioms.  Bosnia was such an enriching experience for me that I wish I could keep those cultural differences. They made my summer more meaningful.

So here I am, a week back from my travels, and still wondering how to adjust to being back. I do not think that I have fully adjusted but, in time I think it will get better.  I think I have grown immensely personally. I have seen people that hold the willpower and the strength of what seems like a whole village, and I have heard stories that I will never forget.  I do not feel all that different but I know that this experience has changed me in so many ways, and I think feeling that change and understanding that change is something that I will be working out for a while.

***

            Its been 2 months since I’ve returned. I was going to leave my blog post as just the words above, but I felt as if those words did not nearly grasp the emotions that I have felt in these past 2 months.

What is so amazing about my IDP (International Disaster Psychology) program is that my professors understand the whole “reverse culture shock” thing. They have been abroad, they have done work abroad, and thus, I feel like they really understand what I have been going through. Because all of the others in my cohort went abroad to different places this summer, for the first 2 weeks of school we had re-entry meetings. At these meetings we discussed our time abroad and our feelings and emotions abroad and coming back. I thought this would be somewhat boring and not needed, boy was I wrong. At first I was very reluctant to speak. I know that people were feeling the same things as I was, but for some reason is was just difficult to talk about. I wanted to tell my friends and classmates, but it was just SO HARD to start talking. But once I did it was like word vomit. Everything just came pouring out. It was in this time that I realized that I was in some sort of an existential crisis. I was transitioning, the world around me was different. My perception of this world was now different.  What the hell is going on?!

“…Children, of course, begin life with an untarnished sense of wonder, a capacity to experience total joy at something as simple as the greenness of a leaf… As a child matures, he sees death and pain everywhere about him, and begins to lose faith in the ultimate goodness of man…”

Before Bosnia I was by no means an “innocent” person, but yet upon return I feel as if I did lose this sense of innocence to me. I lost the ability to be a person who is oblivious, in the best way, to human suffering. Some people are happy and content, and not to their own fault, but because living a simple life and not thinking about these existential sort of things never crosses their mind. I am not one of those people. I lost the ability to be that person, even if I wanted to be.  Having people that I can talk to, people with whom I do not need to say everything to, but innately understand my feelings, is extremely comforting.

Coping with this has been hard. It is so hard to cope with feelings that are attached to such ephemeral and existential ideas. They come and go. When I lay down at night, in the quietness of my apartment, they come creeping back. Randomly I will be overcome with great sadness, and that sadness, turns into anger. It is extremely hard to describe these feelings, especially if people have not experienced these sort of feelings. I am extremely thankful that I went with a group of students because I feel as if they understand what I am going through. I feel as if they do. I am extremely thankful for having a partner who lived in Jordan for 5 months and experienced similar feelings to what I did, and views the world as I do. He understands this existential loss            …

“…But, if he’s reasonably strong – and lucky – he can emerge from this twilight of the soul… He may not recapture the same pure sense of wonder he was born with, but he can shape something far more enduring and sustaining…”

Thinking about Bosnia, while the loss of myself that I experienced through that trip has been hard, it has simultaneously inspired me. It has inspired me to want to help people who are experiencing loss, especially in the nature of post-conflict societies. It has also inspired me to work with people who work in these sorts of places, such as humanitarian aid workers abroad. This struggle has been so intense and complex for myself, and I am so grateful that I have the resources like my program, professors, and fellow students to help, but there are some people who go through this process and are then stuck in the aftermath. They do not know how to deal with vicarious trauma, and research has shown that vicarious trauma can be just as harmful as primary trauma, grief, and loss.  Bosnia re-instilled my empathetic nature, and I realized that helping people who have first-hand experienced grief and loss due to conflict, and people who are vicariously traumatized due to conflict, are people I would really like to work with.

Bosnia was one of the most eye-opening and incredible experiences I have ever had. It was extremely profound. It was perspective shifting and personally shattering. But it was everything that I needed, everything that I wanted, and more.

“However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light.” ―Stanley Kubrick

Until we meet again.

bosnia-pano

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Sarajevo: Part 6

“Surrealism is destructive, but it destroys only what it considers to be shackles limiting our vision.” -Salvador Dali

blog week 7 pic


            7 weeks ago, to the day, I arrived in the unknown and unfamiliar city of Sarajevo. I was nervous. I was scared. I did not know what to expect. I arrived and it was raining, as it is today.  I was tired. I had just been in Italy for 3 days, by myself, knowing no other soul in Rome.  It was my first time traveling abroad internationally.  I arrived and when I saw Arista and Annalisa waiting for me I wanted to cry. I was so happy to see them; people that I actually knew and that spoke English!  They helped me with my things and helped me to get settled into the hostel.

            The next day, more group members arrived. Seeing familiar faces in a not-so-familiar place was extremely comforting.  I am telling this little back story because my second day in Sarajevo is when I took these pictures, and with these pictures, I feel, came ideas, notions, feelings, about Sarajevo, and the time I would be spending here.

            I remember first being amazed, in awe, of the beauty of this country.  The sky was a brilliant blue and the sun was beating down on my skin.  It felt nice. It felt welcoming. I was immediately enthralled by the culture here, especially in Baščaršija.  I loved all of the little shops, the winding cobble-stone road, and the hidden side streets throughout this old part of the city.  I, for whatever reason, felt very welcomed when walking through here. It was like I was in a good dream.  I could live here forever.

            I now no longer look at this city and am pleased by its aesthetics. Yes, there still are very beautiful parts of this city, but I am not so naïve to this beauty anymore. Originally stunned by the indescribable beauty of the mountains that surround the city, I now see these mountains as snipers’ nests.  These beautiful mountains where the perching spots for soldiers who took countless lives throughout the city.  These mountains were the reasons why civilians had to put up sheets throughout the alley ways of the city.  These mountains and their beauty were used against the people of this city.

            Cafés bring life to this city, no matter the time of day.  I cannot tell you how many times we have sat at cafes and had glasses of wine and ate dinner, and people watched.  I loved that when I first got here. But with time in the city, I realized that during the almost 4-year siege of this city that life was non-existent.  There were no leisurely strolls down the streets or by the river, because at certain points that river was the front lines during the war.  There was no sitting outside at night and having a glass of wine.  The Sarajevo roses throughout the streets, that I once thought were beautiful took on a whole new meaning.  They were reminders of the lives that were taken. I knew this. But it did not register until living in this city.

            All of this that I had grown to adore about the city, everything from the scenery to the type of living, was non-existent during these 4 years. This city was a war zone. This city, and all of its beauty was stripped, and robbed of this.  At times I now had this fear of the city. At times I now felt a great amount of sorrow when thinking about this city. How could a place so beautiful become one of the worst places in the world? How did these people live here during the entirety of this war?

            I still don’t know how to properly handle this dichotomy of feelings.  This place has become one of my favorite cities I have ever been in, but I now have a small glimpse into the life of the people that lived here during the war. People who I consider friends grew up here during the war. This was, and still is their home.

            7 weeks later, I still feel like I am living in that dream-like state that I arrived in. Sometimes it feels like a whole different, parallel life, one that I am happy is not my life.  Other times this city has taken my heart and my soul, and I have fallen in love with in completely. The culture, the passage of time, the people, the food. I smile thinking about all of it.  The 7 weeks I have spent in Bosnia have been some of the hardest days of my entire life. Do I wish I had not come? Absolutely not.

 

REFLECTIONS OF SREBRENICA

Where do I even being. I have been sitting here, thinking about where to begin and how to start this blog, and honestly, I have no idea.  I feel as if I have emotionally and mentally removed myself, and compartmentalized this past weekend (it was only this past weekend?), and now I have to go searching for those emotions and words again.

Looking back, this trip was one of the most profound and emotional weekends that I have had in my entire life.  I was not looking forward to going back, especially after seeing all of the execution sites. I did not want to be in Srebrenica, at all.  So in that sense, it was good that we started out at Tuzla. We eventually made our way to Srebrenica where we heard the stories of genocide survivors, we walked around the Srebrenica/Potocari memorial, and we watched extremely horrific, gruesome, and heart-wrenching videos detailing what happened over the course of one week during the war.

Reflecting upon my time there I feel as if my emotional capacity grew to depths that I did not even know existed.  I think this is due to the power of one’s narrative.  Yes, the week before I had seen places that I wish never existed. Seeing those execution sites was EXTREMELY difficult and horrible. At those places I felt anger, sadness, hopelessness. But after hearing the stories of the survivors, like Saliha and Hasan, those places, those sites, had a whole new background and meaning.  Not only were those sites the places were massive amounts of people were mercilessly murdered, but they were where those survivors lost their loved ones, their family.  Listening to their personal accounts of the war brought the past to the present.  Suddenly, without any awareness that it had happened, this war was not something of the past, but was looking right back at me, in the form of a life. A soul. A soul that was lucky enough to survive, and share their story.  After hearing these very personal stories, I felt as if I now had a connection to these places, to those sites, and that feeling, it stirs and digs deep within you. Their narratives tapped into a reservoir of emotions and feelings that I did not even know I had.  I felt things that I never thought possible, and still have a hard time putting into words. It is indescribable.

What is this feeling? I feel physically sick… I feel uncomfortable. I feel like I want to cry. I feel angry; I want to scream.  I feel hopeless.  I feel..

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Srebrenica Memorial

Not only did their stories profoundly affect me, but they also made me aware of how far removed we can be from the inhumanity that exists, and that can occur.  We hear, every day, about crises happening all over the world. The crisis in Syria. Attacks at protests and celebrations. Civil wars. We hear and read about all of these things, and yes while many people feel empathetic and feel the need to do something about these things, I feel as if when heard over news or in academic settings, the humanity is somewhat removed. We forget that these things are happening to individuals. People are losing their husbands, mothers, sons, daughters. The most important people to them.  In schools we learn the definitions of genocide and crimes against humanity. We learn events academically. We must not remove ourselves so far to the point where we see death as definitions and numbers. We must always keep a human connection. No matter how uncomfortable and hard it may be to hear. It is fundamental to human nature, our existence, that we keep that connection. No matter what.

Never forget. You have to share their story. I must share their story. I have been given a privilege that not many people have, and I must do my part. I promise…

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Fountain at the Srebrenica Memorial

***

            Last Wednesday, after what seemed like eons after Srebrenica, I think we all had what I can only explain as a catharsis.  The group was at a BBQ that Wings of Hope (my internship) puts together every year.  We were drinking wine and laughing and chatting when the wind picked up. The gusts brought with them gray clouds. And then we heard it; the crackling of lightning and the booming of thunder as it echoed throughout the entire valley that contains Sarajevo.  Slowly the rain started to drop. In what was a few minutes we were surrounded by that all-to-familiar sound of water pelting the ground and dripping off trees and gutters of the building.  Being from Denver, every summer I am blessed with afternoon thunderstorms amid dark purple and gray skies as purple lightning pierces the sky, so I was more than happy to welcome this thunderstorm with open arms. Which is exactly what we all did. Before I knew it I found myself, Laura, Lindsay, and Rose, with others, dancing and laughing and twirling in the rain. We were soaked. We were cold. But we didn’t care. For me it felt like all of my feelings were being purified. They suddenly felt more manageable.   I felt as if I were becoming re-centered. I felt as if new clean air was entering my lungs and cleaning my soul.  I even cried.  It was one of the most amazing and spiritual (or what comes close to spirituality for me) moments I’ve ever had.  As I said, I think it was something that we all needed. Everyone was struggling. People were trying to cope, and the universe, Bosnia in particular, knew this.

Thank you, Bosnia. 

rain sarajevo
Photo Credit: Annalisa Triola

Sarajevo: Part 5

“Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other”

-John F. Kennedy

WINGS OF HOPE // FONDACIJA KRILA NADE

            When I found out that I would be going to Bosnia I decided to do some research into some places that might serve as applicable internship placements. During my research I stumbled upon Fondacija Krila Nade, or Wings of Hope.  They are an NGO that, in all honesty, does everything that you could possibly imagine in order to provide support to individuals that suffered during the war.  Some of the support they provide is, but not limited to, programs for children, psychological and psychosocial support, and free legal advice and counseling.  Along with this information, I found a very impressive timeline of successful programs that they had completed in the past.  Needless to say, I was extremely excited when reading about this organization and hoping for the possibility of interning here.

Over the course of meetings with Ann and others, I found out that this was a possible location, and that she had sent students here in the past.  I was overjoyed and extremely excited for this opportunity.  I heard stories of the work and of the director of the organization, Maja. Passionate, strong, dedicated, hilarious, wonderful. All words describing this woman who seemed to be a legend in the GPB community.

Here I am, 4 weeks later, and not only are all of those words true of Maja, but of all of the individuals that work there.  They are so dedicated to providing help and advocating for the people that walk through their doors, as well as individuals of Sarajevo. They understand not only how to help people, but how to connect to people.

Currently, we (myself and 2 other GPB interns) are working on a legal support program that they are piloting.  They are providing support to individuals in need of legal counseling, but do not have the means of paying a lawyer, the court fees, and the other fees included. We are helping to do research into possible funders of the program, as well as drafting the outline of the project proposal.  Normally the idea of this would terrify me, and while some of it still does only because I want to make sure we create this project up to Wings’ standards, I am excited because the past year I have been learning about and working on program evaluation projects.  I feel like I am able to put this knowledge to use… and that feeling is so wonderful. I feel challenged as well as determined.  Outside of the scope of program evaluation, later this week I will be working with the clinical psychologists at Wings, and will be given the opportunity to learn about cases that they have had, and learn how this differs from my westerns concepts and ideas of clinical work. For me, this is such an important part of the work that I hope to do. I am extremely excited to dive into this part of the internship.

Not only do we learn about our professional interests here but, here I have learned more than I ever thought I would about the people of Bosnia. Their beliefs, ideas, their culture.  I have been able to immerse myself into the Bosnian culture through these charismatic individuals.  I feel like I have truly found another home through Maja and the Wings staff. They have been providing me with an internship experience that is developing my professional framework, as well as challenging my beliefs and ideas, and helping me to evolve my sense of self. I have met people that I look up to, and strive to be like.  For me, I can not only say that I have made friends, but friends for a lifetime.

 

 

Sarajevo: Part 4

What a week it has been.  From having a ridiculously fun 4th of July party here in Sarajevo to an emotionally charged weekend the past 4 days.  Over the course of this week’s blog I will do my best to attempt to describe the mess of emotions that have occupied me the past week.

SERENITY

                  I can’t believe that I have been here in Sarajevo for about a month already.  And that definitely has shown.  I think that realization came when 4th of July came about and I saw all of my friends having and participating in 4th-of-july type celebrations in Denver.  I was sad. I was upset that I was not with my friends and family and that I was so far away from home. Yes, I am loving it here but there is something upsetting about being thousands of miles away from your home on this very American holiday.  After a few glasses of champagne and a much needed, teary-eyed skype chat with my boyfriend and friends back home, being away didn’t feel so bad. Life-pro-tip: crying to your friends over skype is essential when living abroad.

Little did I realize that the 4th was just scratching the surface of emotions and feelings that were to be had in the coming days.  Every year in Srebrenica there is this march called the Peace March. It is around a 60-mile march taking place over 3 days, and is done to remember the lives of the men and boys that lost their lives when Serb forces took control of the town of Srebrenica.  We were given the option to participate in this, and many of the GPB students decided to, and I had originally planned on it, but due to health concerns that I decided against it. On the 7th these students left for their march from the 8th to the 11th while a few of us stayed back at the hostel.

For me, the days of the 8th through the 11th consisted of homemade food, relaxation, and crappy American TV; later I would come to realize that this was the EXACT opposite of what my friends were experiencing during these three days.  On the 11th I left Sarajevo with two other girls and Ann, the program director, for Srebrenica so that we could meet the peace marchers as they arrived at their end destination, the Srebrenica Memorial, and to attend the public memorial on the 12th of July.

Once we arrived in Srebrenica we dropped our belongings off at the wonderful Anesa’s house; a good friend of Ann’s who never once ceased to amaze me. She would make us dinner, make our beds, clean the dishes, and make sure we had everything that we needed, all while doing the things that she needed to take care of, like sleeping… and eating.  After eating and getting breakfast we walked from Anesa’s, in Srebrenica , to Potoćari, which is where the memorial is. And thus was the beginning of the roller coaster of emotions that has changed my entire perspective of what felt like another life.

ANXIETY

                  Where do I even begin to describe this town and the feelings that accompany it.  Deep in the Republik of Srpska, which is mostly occupied by Bosnian-Serbs, Srebrenica emits a feeling like none other.  As we were walking down the winding road that leads to the memorial in Potoćari, we were met with stares conveying the residents’ dislike towards Americans. They knew we were only there for one reason. An event honoring the slain 8,372 Muslim men and boys, which some still to this day still deny. We were accosted by men who had slowed down in their cars as we were walking. We did not reply. We just kept our heads down.  The town is quiet, hauntingly.  There are remnants of war.  The stairs where Karadzic proclaimed the take over of Srebrenica.  I don’t know how Ann goes there in the winter. It is one of the last places I would ever want to be in the cold, grey, quiet of winter.  Where 80 boys were killed there is a basketball court.  People existing and living there like nothing ever happened.  It is a very surreal experience. What is this feeling?

I am not sure if it was due to the speeding cars passing us by, or the feeling of eyes upon me, but I could feel every beat of my heart in my entire body, a feeling I would get to know in the coming days.  Get me off of this road.  The hot sun beaming on my back and shoulder, sweat rolling down my back.  I just wanted to get to the memorial. Get to Ann. I wanted to be in a place with Ann, with other Bosniaks. I wanted to be with people who were there for the same reasons as us.

Once we were safely at the memorial and with Ann, she told us, that if we wanted, we could go into the old factory and view all of the recognizable green-covered coffins.  These coffins held the remnants of individuals that were to be buried at the memorial this year. As we walked around the side of the building and towards the opening of the factory I could feel my stomach doing twists and turns. What is this feeling? Oh my god, oh my god… I was so nervous.  And I thought that the walk down to the memorial was anxiety provoking. That was nothing compared to what I was about to feel.  Seeing those coffins… I did not even know what to think.  I think I was so stunned that my entire brain shut off and blocked off anything coming in. Feelings, thoughts, ideas. Processing was at a halt.  I did not know what to make of the sight in front of me.

GUILT/SHAME

                  After an hour or so of being at the memorial, the moment was there.  Watching my friends come in from the peace march was definitely a sight to behold. I was so happy to see them, but yet I was sad. I think I was sad not because I did not participate but because I knew that they had just completed this grueling task, and I wanted to be there for them, and support them, but I did not know how. I knew that they were going to be emotional, but I had no idea how emotional.  Tears streamed down their faces as they crossed the finish line.  I know that being there was the best thing that I could do, but I wanted to help more. I wanted to be more for them.

After my friends crossed the finish line, from behind the safety of my sunglasses I observed the many other people that crossed the finish line. Old men, young boys, teenagers, one man was an amputee. And that is when I felt shameful. There were people of all ages completing this insanely difficult march and yet I did not. I know that I had a good reason as to not participate, but yet I still felt ashamed and weak for not doing it.  My friends were emotionally and physically beaten down, men twice my age participated, and yet I did not.  I just felt bad. I felt like a shitty person. But I knew that the best thing that I could do was be there for my friends in any way that I possibly could be. And that is what I did for them. I hugged them when they wanted hugs, I was a shoulder to cry on when they needed to cry, and I listened when they wanted to talk, and I hoped, with every bone in my body, that that was enough. At least for them.  It is the least that I felt that I could do.

TERROR

                  On July 13th I was given an experience that I would never forget.  Ann invited me to join her, her amazing friend Hasan, and a group of women known as the Srebrenica Mothers to visit the execution sites as the mothers laid flowers at each of the sites.  Ann knew that I was upset that I was unable to participate in the peace march so she invited me on this journey.  She talked to me and prepared me for an experience that was not going to be easy in any way.  I said yes, and while this was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do in my entire life, I am extremely glad that I did this.

There were 8 execution sites that were to be visited. 2 schools, 2 fields, a soccer field, an old agricultural building, an earthen dam, and the worst and most horrifying, a building termed “the cultural center”, which was just that’ a building that used to hold town plays and musicals and performances.

We left Sarajevo early Wednesday morning, and by the time that we arrived to the first site I honestly did not know what to feel, or what to expect to feel.  We chatted the entire bus ride and when the first place crept its way into our view Ann said, “Oh god, we are here… So it begins”.   It was the destroyed agricultural building.  Bullet holes were pronounced across the building. Inside, the roof was charred and black from a fire meant to harm and destroy. The Srebrenica Mothers, and others, gathered around a spot in the front of the building and places flowers and wreaths honoring their deceased sons, husbands, and fathers.  The Imam led them in prayer. TV and news cameras filmed the entire thing.  At first, shock hit me. I did not know how to react. Similar to viewing the coffins. I listened to the prayer and before I knew it we were walking back to the buses. Things were happening too fast for my brain to process.

As we climbed onto the bus I thought about what I had just seen. A place where people had lost their lives. In one of the most horrific and disturbing ways a life can be taken.  As I processed we drove to the next site, and what a strange experience this was. We talked about what we had seen, but slowly the mothers began talking and laughing. Ann, Hasan, Lory (a wonderful friend of the aforementioned friends), and I chatted and laughed as well. Just as I was feeling somewhat stable, we reached our second site. A school in the R.S. A school where children go to learn… and play.  A school where children are named “student of the month”.  And then I was thrust into this daze and confusion of emotions all over again. And then we boarded the bus… and talked and joked… just like before.

As we continued to each site the more horrific and awful these sites became.  The earthen dam still contained shell casings from the brutal execution that took place there 21 years prior. One of the most surreal feelings was as I was looking out from this dam there was this insanely beautiful view of the rolling hills, mountains, and scenery. And I thought, “these men, these boys, the last thing they ever saw was their home country. A place they believed to be safe. A place they believed they could call home.”  Fear, horror, shock, and terror. Knowing their family may never find out what happened to them.  I climbed back on to the bus… tears welled up in my hidden eyes.

The site following the dam is to this day once of the most gruesome and horrific places I have ever been.  The ironically named “cultural center” is where plays, musicals, and performances took place in the small village that we were in.  A place where hundreds of men and boys were robbed of their lives.  As we entered I noticed trashed purposefully placed outside of the location.  Trash inside the building. Feces intentionally littered the ground.  And bullet holes, countless bullet holes EVERYWHERE.  The stage where the victims tried to hide was blown to pieces. The roof was blown to pieces. I felt like I had been punched in the stomach, had the wind knocked out of me, and was going to vomit all at the same time.  I am going to fucking throw up. You could feel the sheer terror.  You could feel the panic. You could hear the screams. You could imagine the ground soaked in blood. Where am I?! And then, that is when I lost it. Tears rolled down my face. I sobbed. Lory grabbed me and hugged me. Which almost made it worse.  How were the mothers doing this??

After the next two sites we finally headed home. I chatted with Ann and the mothers, and then I finally sat in silence…

DESOLATION

                  Misery. Grief. Depression. Anguish. Distress.  How do you react after seeing all of the places?  How do I even begin to process my emotions and feelings? How do the Srebrenica Mothers do this every year?!  Well… I am still figuring all of this out.  I never thought I would be able to feel so empty. So alone. So scared. I felt empty. But these places did all of that to me. They showed me a side of humanity that I never wish to see.  Talking to friends help.  Talking to them about the emotions and feelings that these places have given me, placed some light back in me, but how do I begin to understand.  For me, going to those places was a choice.  Not for the men and boys that lost their lives there.  I should not have to go to those places. The mothers shouldn’t have to go to those places.

HOPE

“…Collective recovery is a creative and emergent process; its content and form are constructed over time through cycles of collective action, reflection, and narration.”

-Jack Saul, Collective Trauma, Collective Healing

                  So, to say the least, it has been an extremely difficult week.  Where do I start with all of this? And what do I do with all of this?

I believe the mothers to be the secret. The feelings that push them are why this country has survived all of this.  Their friendships are more than just friendships. They have a bond that connects them. Heals them. Their shared experience is what helps them to place the flowers and wreaths. It is what drives them to continue.  I am sure they have their demons and their own dark places, but through each other they find the light that they need to.  And observing this, seeing this connection, is the most remarkable thing that I have ever seen.  They push themselves for their husbands, sons, and brothers. They do it all for them.

Seeing this gave me hope too. Hope in humanity again. Hope when I did not think that there was any to be found.  The mothers developed this way to show that they have not forgotten their loved ones, and neither will I. I have a responsibility.  I will remember this for my entire life, and I too will do my best to honor and remember those that lost their lives. I will do my best to remember why I went to those sites and who I went for.

Sarajevo: part 3

“Do we really want to travel in hermetically sealed popemobiles through the rural provinces of France, Mexico and the Far East, eating only in Hard Rock Cafes and McDonalds? Or do we want to eat without fear, tearing into the local stew, the humble taqueria’s mystery meat, the sincerely offered gift of a lightly grilled fish head?”

-Anthony Bourdain

            This week was definitely a week of firsts. Not just because I added two new cities to the list of places I have been (the beautiful Orebić and Korćula of Croatia), but because I ate fresh seafood, and anyone who knows me knows that I have a strong disliking for seafood. From what I have gathered it is a texture thing.  And an aesthetic thing.  There is just something about a chewy morsel of squid tentacle that I cannot overcome; or the way a shrimp looks with its long and pin-like legs and antennae.  But this past weekend I overcame some of this fear.

A group of 10 of us decided to go to the beach this past weekend, and Orebić was suggested to us by our wonderful program director, Ann.  We decided to rent two cars, which was yet another first.  We wound our way through the beautiful country side of Bosnia and Herzegovina, noting the pronounced difference between the two climates that exist in the Balkan region, the humid continental climate in the mountains of Bosnia, and the Mediterranean climate as you move closer toward the sea.

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Our 6-hour drive provided us with laughs and getting to know one another, signing along to American pop, and times of needed silence.  As we reached our destination, dusk was creeping into the mainland and the city lights were becoming more prominent.  As I saw the Adriatic at dusk, I felt a sense of calmness and beauty.

Now for the exciting part. Once we checked into our apartment we were renting, and dropped out bags, we realized that we were all starved. We walked down to the shore-line and found a restaurant that was still open.  This poor waitress.  She had 10 individuals that were starved, tired from being in a car for 6 hours, and it was 10 pm.  Normally going to a place to get food this late would not be a problem, except that we were in a tiny seaside town, and while it sees its fair share of tourists, was still a tiny seaside town nonetheless.  We all sit-down and order water and wine, and of course are dining at one of the more-finer establishments in this city.  As we enjoy our wine and look over our menu, our waitress tells us about the special fish of the day, she tells us that it is quite good and is enough to feed a decent amount of people. Following this, she asks us if we would like to see the fish. She promptly brings out a massive, raw white-fish (I have no idea what kind of fish it was) that had to be around 20 pounds (again no knowledge of fishing, and how to guess weight from size).  A few decided that they wanted it, and the entire time I am freaking out because we are going to eat this ginormous fish that she just showed us. We of course ,order other dishes as well.

Because the fish was taking a while to prepare, the other dishes arrive first, and what do I see next to me? My friend, Lindsey, had just ordered a shrimp and pasta dish, with the heads, legs, and shells still on them! I tell her that I am quietly freaking out and that I cannot fathom eating one of those shrimp, all while she is ripping the heads, legs, and shells off of them.  While I eat my boring chicken, Lindsey asks me if I want to try a shrimp. She says that she’ll take everything off if I just try it… Just then a little voice in my head tells me “Julia, when will you ever be in a place where you can get this fresh of seafood? Just get over it and try it”.  And that was it. I pop the little guy in my mouth. What a delicious little morsel of food!! It was not chewy as seafood at home has been. It was succulent and tossed in this amazing pasta sauce.  Just then the waitress comes back with the cooked fish. Figuring why not, I take some fish meat. What a great decision that was! It was lemony, fresh, spiced, and did not taste too fishy. Who was I becoming?! I was eating fresh seafood and liking it!

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I decided to write about this moment because I feel that this is what travel is about. Taking risks, learning new things, and pushing yourself. How can I ever grow if I never push myself? Immersing yourself in a new culture, learning to see how another lives, and putting yourself in the shoes of another. Changing your worldview.  That is what all of this is about.

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Sarajevo: Part 2

“Travel is about the gorgeous feeling of teetering in the unknown.”

-Anthony Bourdain

Sarajevo: Part 2

What has surprised me the most? As I have been exploring Sarajevo, I find myself perplexed every time I stare upward at the massive, contemporary, apartment complexes, shopping malls, and business centers.  Going into this trip I had this idea in my mind that I would be living in a city that was still visibly damaged by war, and while some buildings still have very noticeable reminders of the damage and violence that took place here, there are quite a few that depict the opposite.  So far I have heard of three malls (one of which I have been to) in the city which are all in relatively the same area, and when first visiting one of the malls, the BBI, center, I was SHOCKED when strolling through the mall.  There is a nice and rather large indoor/outdoor café, there are water fountains on the ground level, and glass elevators that quickly ascend/descend to the desired floor, causing their occupants to become slightly motion sick.  There are shops such as Swarovski, Mac, and Lush (an all natural body care shop).  When inside this mall I felt as if I was in a nice mall in California or Florida somewhere.  It was a very surreal experience.

Along with the amount of development I have seen, the amount that people are out, whether they are spending money at the mall, taking a walk down the main street through the city center, or going out to party, constantly amazes me.  As I touched upon in my first blog, this city truly never sleeps.  Most bars are open 24 hours a day, some cafes follow suit, and people stroll down the streets ALL the time.  Now, you may be thinking I am exaggerating because the noise may be keeping me up at night, but you would be wrong.  Bass of a new hot song spilling out of clubs, chatting, and laughing  can be heard 24 hours a day. And to think, it is still Ramadan! Most of the city is staying indoors and fasting during the day.  It will be interesting to see what the city is like when this holiday comes to an end.

Even with the noise, which is most likely a tenth of the level it will be in 2 weeks, Sarajevo and its shocking qualities still amaze me, and in the best way possible. There is something so beautiful and intriguing about living and experiencing another culture, the good, the bad, and the shocking.  These elements have provided me with a new perspective. A different way of living.  There is something so beautiful of getting lost and being shocked in another culture, and Sarajevo and all of its elements are doing just that for me.

 

Sarajevo: Part 1

 

“Maybe that’s enlightenment enough: to know that there is no final resting place of the mind; no moment of smug clarity. Perhaps wisdom… is realizing how small I am, and unwise, and how far I have yet to go” -Anthony Bourdain

Sarajevo: Part I

            Sarajevo – the city that never sleeps. Coming from America the “city that never sleeps” usually refers to Las Vegas, but this city, this place, is anything but Las Vegas. It is the most amazing version of the city that never sleeps.   Upon my arrival here in Sarajevo, which was 8:30 pm on a Sunday evening, I could instantaneously fell the energy of this city. Walking through the streets of Baščaršija I noticed people chatting over coffee or hookah, taking a walk and eating ice cream, sharing drinks while watching a football match, or just simply enjoying the evening. Whatever the reason, the city was bustling and busy, with time being irrelevant.  This city is a being, and has a heart; this city lives and breathes, and at night, this city awakens.  This feeling and energy is paralleled within me.   I find myself staying up later at night, watching movies, listening to music, or chatting with friends until the early hours of the morning.

This city, this beautiful and enchanting city is like a drug.  The food captivates and entices you; from a block away, one will smell and crave a popular dish known as a Burek- a simple meat pie consisting of meat dough and spices.  The architecture of the city is beautiful and displays the vastly different cultures that are present within the city.  At the meeting point of the East and West cultures, one can literally see the difference in cultures based upon the buildings.  The markets and stores line the cobble-stone, winding streets of the eastern portion of the city. Tall multiple story apartment buildings line the streets of the western side, which are simultaneously visceral reminders of the war, displaying damage from the 4-year siege. The people are incredibly humble and kind. They will offer you their pack of cigarettes, even if said person they are offering cigarettes to does not even smoke.  They will also give you food when you are hungry, even if it is their left-overs.  Most impressive and breath-taking are the hills and mountains that surround the city.  In every direction, there are lush mountains peppered with rustic red roofs. It is like a scene from a fairy tale, and while the beauty may lead one to believe this, the history of this city is anything but that.

The war that raged here was a horrific and brutal war. I struggle to grasp the full emotions and feelings of the people who lived through this war because of the natural beauty of this place.  How can somewhere so stunning be home to one of the most horrific acts of man that this world has seen? The juxtaposition of these feelings is indescribable.  I struggle with this, and I feel as if these people have been cheated; they have been robbed.  The natural beauty of this city was forever taken from them. I try to imagine this happening in my home, in the Rocky Mountains, and I feel as if I have had a piece of me ripped from my heart.  I want to describe more of this feeling, but sadly, I am at a lack for words.

This city, already, has so effortlessly and seductively taken a piece of my heart.  And while my ego is tentative in letting that happen, I strive to deny my ego and feed my soul.  My soul is beginning to grow, and I can feel it. Just like this city, my soul is awakening and anchoring its roots.  This city is bringing out my adventurous, curious, emotional, part of me.  With all of that being said, this place makes me realize how big the world is.  How amazingly different the world is. How much I do not know. How much I need to push myself and learn. And this city, this amazing city, will most certainly do that.