This summer was certainly one for the books. I made many friends, both those from the university and those from Bosnia. I read countless articles on varying topics for my internship, and wrote six papers in response to them. I saw many cities and towns around the country and was lucky enough to interact with people at many of them. I experienced the food of the country – which was one of my favorite parts – and how it differed from region to region (I’m looking at you, lamb of Jablanica). I had highs and lows, many of which were shared between my program-mates and created a collective identity having shared those experiences. In short, I learned a great deal this summer, and it’s truly hard to sum up easily.
This is by far the biggest part of the summer in Bosnia aftermath that I have struggled with; I find it difficult to put into words how this summer went. Of course it was positive, but it wasn’t all positive – the discussions of and time spent around genocide sites are not exactly something I found enlightening. The reality of the situation that occurred there in the 1990s and the legacy that continues today is dark, and cannot be excluded from a discussion of my summer. However, I also feel that to focus only on the negative parts of the country is an injustice to what it really was like. Every day was not genocide, was not war, was not sadness. In fact, none of them were. The discussions of genocide were of or by the people who were there, and while of course their stories were troubling, they were not describing life in Bosnia today. Life in Bosnia today, from my interactions, seems to be troubled at times, but is a wonderful thing as well. The country is beautiful, the people are happy – though like any other group, there is internal strife and struggle.
In the same way that I struggle when people ask me “what was it like?”, I’m finding it difficult to put into words here what it was like. While many of my social media posts revolved around seeing the beautiful geography and historical sites of the country, that doesn’t cover it. And as noted above, the problems the country faces do not cover it. While I do not think that anyone expects me to describe two months in a matter of minutes or hours, to even encapsulate one week there in a sensible way is no easy task.
One of the somewhat alarming things that I have experienced since my return is how little people know about Bosnia. Really, I did not know much about it either, before living there for two months. However, it creates a situation where I feel as though my words are extremely important – I have to be somewhat precarious in my articulation of the country, as it may be the only perspective they have of Bosnia. For example, I do not want to focus wholly on the genocide, nor do I want to exclude it – both sides of the country are important in its definition. One of the most difficult questions to answer comes from when people call it a “developing country”, which I have found to be a very common adjective used. It is of course not a developing country, but again I hesitate to normalize the heinous acts of the 1990s and the rebuilding that it continues to work on. It was under attack by all definitions, and these attacks need to be remembered. But where does that leave Bosnia now? I’m not sure. Not developing by any means, but I have found it very difficult to describe, probably stemming from the fact that it was very much a developed nation before the war, and this status has not left it.
I assume that after struggling to explain my summer these people will likely not go and research the country on their own, so I try to do my best – though, as mentioned repeatedly, two months is a long time to try to summarize. Like any country, Bosnia has its ups and downs. Hopefully for the sake of the beautiful country and the amazing people that live there, the downs will fade away and the ups will be what people know, of course, while ensuring that the history of the country is not forgotten.