Reflections on Bosnia

Looking back on my summer in Bosnia, it seems like it came and went so quickly yet I was able to experience so many great things in what seemed like quite a short time as it was happening. I really feel so fortunate to have been able to participate in this program. I was able to visit a large part of the country, considering the short amount of time I was there and our busy schedule (although, I was also made aware of so many place I want to visit in Bosnia that there was not time for). Between our excursions and my internship I really felt like I got a much deeper understanding of the country. I knew that I would find many things in Bosnia that I could relate to given my previous experiences in the region (which I did find many), but the internship and the program trips really combined to give me a sense of the many, many things that make Bosnia a truly unique country. I really enjoyed the fact that my internship was doing work with organizations all throughout the country, which gave me the opportunity to spend a good amount of time with a map of Bosnia and learning about features and issues of regions or small towns that I was not familiar with at all before the program. I feel like I have a much more complete picture of the country as a whole now. I also think that our group was wonderful and know that I have made some great new friends! (of whom I have already seen most of back in Denver) I look at the many wonderful experiences I was able to have in Bosnia as the beginning of a relationship with a country that I am sure I will return to one day. I am fortunate enough to have had a similar relationship built with other countries and I know by the feeling I had in Bosnia and now thinking back on it that it will be added to the places that have contributed (and continue to contribute) to both my understanding of the world and myself. I can honestly say that I did not have any experiences while there that I would look back on as negative and that I will indeed be back one day. Not even Bosnian bug bites will keep me away!

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Featured Photo

potocari

One of our blog assignments was to choose a photo from our time in Bosnia that stood out to us and write about it. Going back through the photos, there was so many of the great places in Bosnia and the great people I experienced them with. I wanted to choose many of those photos, but finally did not even though I plan on viewing them many times down the road to recall the great times I had with our wonderful group! Ultimately, I chose the above photo from the memorial at Potocari. I described my experience there in a previous blog and I really felt like this photo captured at least a small part of that experience. It is a photo that was taken by Jillian unbeknownst to me while I was reading about events that occurred during the genocide at the memorial inside of the factory. It was taken from far away and I am very small in the photo, which is how I felt while standing there in a way. I feel like the photo visualizes the enormity of what I was standing there by myself trying to take in. I also feel like it somehow slightly represents the silence that I spoke about in the blog describing my experience there. I know that when I saw the photo and even now as I look at it while writing this post it brings back a bit of that completely indescribable feeling that I had at the memorial.

Srebrenica

Our visit to Srebrenica and Potocari was an amazingly unique experience that weaved so many experiences and emotions into a trip that only lasted a couple of days. It really did add a completely different level of depth to the knowledge I had previously had of the Bosnian Genocide that could not be felt through any of studying or reading books or accounts about the horrible events that occurred. It was a bit difficult to process at times, meeting multiple survivors and enjoying their company and laughing with them while just moments before and after they had shared their personal stories that gave an account of the horrible events that so many Bosnians experienced. Meeting these wonderful people and becoming acquainted with them, it was difficult to think about the horror that they had experienced as they retold their stories to us. It was an emotionally challenging couple of days and we moved quickly to so many places seeing and learning so much that it was difficult to really take in the enormity of it all. From hearing first hand accounts from survivors to seeing the processes used to find and identify the remains of those victims that were still missing and seeing the bones of victims and learning about the difficult task or identifying them in order to add at least a small amount of closure towards the families of these victims who have been suffering for so many years without knowledge of the whereabouts of their loved ones. Walking through the memorial cemetery at Potocari, seeing all the gravestones marked with so many varying dates of birth and all the same date of death was emotionally jarring to say the very least. The cavernous empty rooms of the battery factory where so many people were before losing their lives was filled with people visiting the memorial, but also with an eerie silence of all the people in that place left with no words to speak about the awful events they knew had occurred there. It was a reflective and silent trip. Everyone tried to take in as much as they could and so many moments of silence were occasionally broken by attempts to lighten the air, but ultimately it was the silence of incomprehension that I noticed the most. I spent much of the time trying to process and understand what we were experiencing, without much success. I found that contemplative silence and failed attempts to add a level of reasoning to an event that seemed completely impossible to understand were all I could offer myself while visiting those places. Hearing the stories, seeing the places, smelling the smells that all gave a physical presence to the incomprehensible things that humans had done to each other was a very intense experience.It seemed as though the near deafening silence that was weighing so much on everyone standing at that place in contemplation asking themselves how those things could happen almost seemed as though it could have been something beyond human consciousness asking the very same question.

Sarajevo Film Festival

The very end of our summer program in Bosnia just happened to be the very beginning of the Sarajevo Film Festival. The festival is one of the largest film festivals in Eastern Europe and is well known in the film industry throughout the world. I was very pleased that I had scheduled my return trip a little while after the program was scheduled to end and therefore was able to attend the festival for a couple of days (Although I will say that a couple days hardly felt like enough). Many of our group were still around to check out the opening festivities of the festival and were able to watch the stars arrive on the red carpet and even caught a glimpse of Gael Garcia Bernal, who was the guest of honor. There were a lot of people that had come to Sarajevo for the festival from Bosnia and many other countries from around the world. In the three days I had to attend the festival, I managed to see eight films. I felt like a made a worthwhile go of the festival in my short time and was glad that the films were very moderately priced, allowing me to take in as many as I did. The films that I saw really did cover quite a variety of topics and genres. The documentary genre was where the majority of the films I attended fell, which was great considering that documentaries are usually a bit more difficult to come by regularly in the cinemas back in the U.S. I saw a range of really great documentaries that covered topics that varied from protest movements around the world, court cases against neo-nazis in current day Hungary, the sex lives of retired villagers on the Hungarian-Romanian border and the reception of Turkish soap operas around the world. Many of the documentary showings included question sessions following the film with the producers and directors. I also got to see an enjoyable Bosnian comedy with a surprise arrival of the entire cast at the end of the film. All in all I had a wonderful experience at the film festival and really enjoyed the opportunity to view so many good films from around the region, I only wish that I had planned better and had time to stay throughout the entire week of the festival.

1 Week, 5 Concerts

It started on a Saturday night with The Toasters. A couple weeks prior I had been surprised to learn that they would have a show here in Sarajevo being that they are a ska band from NYC whose notoriety had faded along with the ska resurgence back in the 1990’s. I was a fan back then and continue to be today, so needless to say I was excited to see them while here in Bosnia. The venue was small, which suits my preference, and the tickets were unbelievably cheap at only 5KM. It was a good show with a very small crowd that kind of made seem like they could have been playing at someone’s private party with only some friends in attendance. After the show the band stayed at the bar for a couple beers and chatted with the audience. I got to speak with the singer for a bit and mentioned to him that it was really cool to see them play here in Sarajevo and it brought back memories of the first time I saw them play 17 years ago back in Tampa, FL. He thanked me for my support and in response to my mention of that first time I saw them so long ago he replied, “That’s called continuity, son!” I left after having a great time and thought that it was at least nice that I got to go to one concert while here in Bosnia. Little did I know the amount of live music that was in store for the week to come.
As part of a cultural program taking place in Sarajevo throughout the entire month there were events held every night that were free to the public. This great program (a wonderful idea for other cities, I might add) provided me with the opportunity to go to three more live shows to see Bosnian groups from different musical genres throughout the week. On Monday, I made an impromptu journey back to the venue where I saw The Toasters and caught the last 4 of 5 songs of a Bosnian band called Skroz. It seemed like a totally different venue as it was completely packed full of people singing along faithfully with each song. The band was good and leaving very sweaty was also a sure sign that the show was a success. Tuesday night it was off to a different venue (in an old socialist youth center) to see Bosnian rapper Edo Maika. The place was much larger and there were a lot of people there, but we could watch this one from a much less sweat inducing distance. It was interesting to hear the Bosnian rap and see the crowd enjoying the hip hop show in its own distinctly Bosnian way. Thursday night it was back to the youth center to see another Bosnian band called Zoster. The band had been described as reggae and jazz on Wikipedia, neither of these titles seemed to be accurate in hardly any way. Although they did not match their internet description, the band was really good and entertaining, which made their show the highlight from the lineup of Bosnian bands for me throughout the week. Of course, it probably helped a lot that we also had the largest group of friends attending this one together and just generally had a good time experiencing it together. The 5th and final show happened by accident in Banja Luka when we went to a local pub for a couple drinks and a live band called Tuplas Mene played. They were a rock band who had a good guitarist and a singer with some interesting facial expressions. I was told that being that it was just a live band at a pub, this does not count as a “concert”, but seeing as the place was packed (not necessarily with people coming for the band) and it seemed like they were playing original songs, I am counting it as the 5th show of a really good week for live music.

Sarajevo: The Walk Home

     When you are travelling, you always remember the adventures and the good stories. Usually you can enjoy being transported back to the place you were in some small way by the re-telling of your travel tales to those who are interested to hear them. Telling these stories can often be accompanied by a sort of mental visualization that nostalgically takes you back to that place and that time as you recount it. Creating these memories is one of the truly great things about travel.
There are also different kinds of memories created while you are in a new place exploring and partaking in the events that will one day become travel stories. These types of memories are less about the events that took place while in your new destination or the people you met there and the times you shared. They are more subtle and more subconscious types of memories that you often don’t realize are being formed. They occur when you spend enough time in a new city or town to be able to wander its streets and take in its peculiarities. They are different things you may notice on a familiar stroll in your new destination as you walk from one place to another. They are the memories that don’t stick out in your mind as special, but when you are half falling asleep some distant day in the future and an odd picture, sound or smell comes into your mind and you are not quite sure of its origin until you realize after a brief moment of thought that it was a sight you passed or a sound you heard while wandering a new route in a foreign city that you had used repeatedly for a purpose or just to get your bearings in your new destination and it immediately takes your mind back to that exact spot and time for a moment. It may be an actual landmark you frequently passed, a sign for a business that stuck out to you each time you saw it for some reason or something even as simple as an interesting bit of graffiti scrawled across a wall. These memories don’t warrant stories. They hide in the recesses of your mind only to randomly pop out at some future time and help you understand just how much the places you have traveled have become a part of you.
(Sarajevo is a wonderfully walkable city full of things to catch one’s attention. I have included some photos below of things that I notice on my walks home from my internship that just may become the type of unrecognized memories I have described that may keep me awake a moment longer some distant time in the future enjoying the instant nostalgia that they bring when they suddenly reappear.)

 

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Contrast in Pace

One of the main contrasts that I have consistently observed since being in Bosnia is the contrast of pace. This contrast seems ever more present due to the fact that I have an internship with an American organization. Although I have not spent as many days at the office as I had expected to by this point, the contrast of pace has immediately jumped out at me each time I went to the office. My colleagues have meetings scheduled all day and jump from one task to the other and back frequently while working on a multitude of things simultaneously. Listening to the stories about the Bosnian organizations where the other members of our group are interning, I am aware that the pace there is quite different and can take some getting used to as it is much more relaxed than what most people experience in work environments in the U.S. While this keeps the contrast of pace fresh in my mind, it is simply the feeling I have when walking the path back to the hostel from my internship that seems to make me most aware of it. It is like time immediately slows down when I leave the office and I am able to stroll leisurely down the streets of Sarajevo with the crowds of others doing the same. It is a contrast that I do quite enjoy because it seems to make the work day go by very quickly and the time after work spent with the group at the hostel or eating dinner and watching World Cup matches seems to linger a little more which tends to increase my enjoyment of those moments and the company in which they are spent.

Bosnia: The Beginning

      

After a 16 hour bus journey, including the last nine hours of overnight travel on a 15 passenger mini-bus, there was pretty much zero chance that I could not be extremely excited to arrive in Sarajevo. Even though I was in a semi-conscious state from lack of sleep over the bumpy roads in the middle of the night the taxi drive into the city from the bus station seemed to breath new life into my travel fatigued body. I was instantly amazed by the quality of the roads in the city, which I have since learned that many of the locals do not share my sense of amazement about, but in comparison to the roads that had dutifully kept my most desired sleep just out of reach for the entire previous night I believe that my sentiments were just. I also got an eyeful of the great diversity of buildings the city has to offer on the ride to the hostel, from shiny new shopping malls to socialist block apartments of the recent past to buildings with recently refurbished facades and those awaiting them which still bore the very visibly violent scars of an even more recent past.

            After a very friendly welcome by the staff of the hostel towards a most weary traveler I managed to get some early morning sustenance and eventually made it to the glorious earth evading slumber that I desperately needed. I woke up a number of hours later and was pleased to find a message from another student from the program and made plans to meet up shortly for the next items on my list of necessities: some hot food and cold beer. After filling my stomach with some delicious pizza in the company of friends from Denver, we headed out to watch Bosnia play their second ever World Cup match against Nigeria. I was delighted to see the entire city filled with reveling fans hours before the game decked out in Bosnia gear for the game and engaged in all sorts of noise creation and merry making. Unfortunately, the result did not end up being the favored one and Bosnia was prevented from being able to exit the group stage.

            The next day the rest of our group arrived and it was great to finally have us all here and beginning to get settled in our home for the summer. Everyone seemed to be equally impressed with Bosnia, our location and our experiences so far. We went to the old Ottoman part of the city for a small group dinner that night which was a delicious way to welcome the group. The diversity provided by Sarajevo’s Ottoman side and the more Austro-Hungarian influenced areas combined with the modern European capital ambiance of certain areas of the city really does give the impression that you are traveling to entirely different cities in a matter of steps. The following day we took a tour of the city and saw some important historical sites, including the bridge where Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, the newly restored city hall, and several places of worship of Catholic, Muslim and Serbian Orthodox religion. It was a very informative tour which also helped me strengthen my directional bearings within the city. All together the first days here in Sarajevo have been amazing and I think we have a great group here that will continue enjoy and learn from our time with the city, Bosnia and each other. (Below I have included some of the photos I managed to take on the city tour)