During my last week in Bosnia and Herzegovina I definitely had mixed feelings about leaving. I was excited to see my friends and family, to eat Asian food, to celebrate my 21st birthday, and to spend a semester in Berlin. At the same time, I was a bit terrified about all of the things I had to do and people I had to see in just a week and a half. I was also worried about how the changes that I’ve experienced would affect my relationships back home, especially considering most of my friends and family have never left central Illinois and have little to no concern for what is going on in the rest of the world. More than anything, I was sad and anxious about all that I would leave behind. I met so many wonderful people and have had such rewarding and personal growth inducing experiences this summer that I couldn’t quite wrap my mind around leaving.
Many of the worries that I had about coming home have since been realized. Packing for 4.5 months abroad while writing a long final paper has been very stressful. Trying to sum up my entire experience in BiH in a short concise paragraph over and over again has also been a bit stressful. I figured out pretty quickly that 80% of the people that have asked me about my summer only want to hear the highlights. This has been the case pretty much every time that I’ve volunteered abroad, so I wasn’t all that surprised.
Perhaps the worst part about being home has been pining for Bosnia. Even now, after being back in the States for ten days, I still feel like part of me was left behind in Sarajevo. I really miss everyone from my internship and Project Bosnia. I also miss Bosnian culture. For example, I miss not always being in a hurry. For the first few days I was home I tried to take things slow and follow the “you’re on time when you get there” philosophy, but it just doesn’t work when everyone around you is moving at full speed. The first time I drove my car I was tailgated repeatedly, flicked off, and nearly rear-ended just for following the speed limit. This probably isn’t the best example of American mentality, considering how fast people from Sarajevo drive, but it definitely felt like an annoying American thing at the time.
My time at home hasn’t all been bad. Even though many of my relationships have changed, a few of them actually changed for the better. Both my cousin and one of my good friends spent time this summer working with disadvantaged children in developing countries. Our experiences were not quite the same (my cousin was in Botswana and my friend was in Romania), but we all worked with children that had very limited opportunities and several with considerable behavioral problems. The overlapping experiences that I had with my cousin and my friend enabled me to have some fairly substantial conversations with them. It was refreshing to actually talk about my experiences in BiH with people who didn’t immediately change the subject whenever the conversation became too intense.
I can’t say exactly how I feel about being back home or leaving for Germany in a few days. Part of me (mostly the part that wanted Asian food) is glad to be in the United States, part of me is longing for Bosnia, and another part is ready to be in Germany. Maybe my feelings will change in the next few weeks and I won’t feel so split between three countries, or maybe I’ll feel even more torn. I guess I’ll just have to wait and see…
I would hate to end this blog on such a pessimistic thought, so please enjoy this picture of my cat lying on a pair of my dad’s freshly ironed golf shorts.
Last Thursday my supervisor Maja invited Danielle and me to her apartment for dinner after work. Normally, when someone that I don’t know very well invites me to his or her home for the first time, I feel somewhat anxious and uncomfortable. I have this uncompromising need to be as polite as humanly possible and to make a good impression. Unless I desperately need something, I almost never ask my host for anything, even something really easy, like a glass of water. I do everything in my power to be unimposing. For this reason, being a guest in someone’s home for the first time is often more stressful than enjoyable.
I went into Maja’s apartment feeling much less anxious and concerned about my behavior than I normally would. First off, despite having only spent a few days with Maja, I already felt quite comfortable around her. The first day I met her, we skipped the awkward small talk phase of a relationship and dove right into more substantial conversation topics, such as politics, religion, and past life experiences. By the time this dinner came around, we were all at a point where we could talk and joke with each other like friends.
I’ll admit, there were a few moments when I slipped into my old nervous tendencies, for instance, when I forgot to take my shoes off at the door, or when I realized that I was slicing a cucumber wrong, but all and all, I thoroughly enjoyed Maja’s company and hospitality. She was a great host. She made sure we were comfortable and satisfied, but didn’t seem like she was trying too hard to make everything perfect. She made me feel like I didn’t have to overextend myself to be the perfect houseguest. It was quite simple. Maja was at home, so I should be at home too.
Danielle and I ended up hanging out at Maja’s apartment for about six hours. We helped cook, ate wonderfully fresh food, watched an old British sitcom, talked with Maja and her husband Mido, and read from a book of short stories that Mido had written about his experiences during and after the war. That dinner, which would have normally been painfully awkward for me, turned out to be one of my favorite experiences in Bosnia.
Last Saturday a few of us decided to hike to Skakavic, the largest continuous waterfall in Bosnia. It was quite an experience. We caught a bus from Sutjeaska Street to Nahorevo (a small village just outside of Sarajevo). The walk from the bus stop to the base of the waterfall was about 2.5 hours. It wasn’t the easiest hike I’ve ever done, but the scenery was wonderful. Looking down at the city of Sarajevo was incredible. We probably stopped to take pictures every 15 minutes. The scenery became even more impressive the higher we ascended. I believe we made multiple references to the Sound of Music when we saw the fields of flowers and quaint little cabins near the top of the mountain.
The last portion of the hike involved walking through a forest. The end of the path allowed us a limited view of the waterfall. On our way out of the forest, we found a smaller path (I promise, it was a land mine free path) that put us directly at the edge of the waterfall. It was a little unnerving being that close to the edge (we were holding on to a few trees for dear life), but the exhilaration that I felt when looking down at the valley was completely worth it.
On our way back to the bus stop we stopped at this little mountain hut owned by a man named Dragon. He offered each of us a juice made from cowslip plant and a shot of Rakiya (Bosnian moonshine). Both were homemade by Dragon and surprisingly tasty. We chatted with Dragon for a while before going on our way. It was the an excellent day.