Home…

So I haven’t really been great about blogging that much this summer, but felt it necessary to write one final blog to “wrap things up”.

This past summer in Bosnia was absolutely amazing. I had the opportunity to teach, learn, build many valuable relationships,  travel and reflect on all of my experiences. The people I shared my experiences with and interacted with regularly made the time there that much more enjoyable. It still hasn’t really hit me that I’m not in Bosnia anymore, but I know I will be back again…hopefully again as a program leader and if not in that capacity then definitely for personal reasons.

At first, it was a shocking adjustment for me to be back in Denver. Now that it has been a month since I’ve been “home” I’m definitely much more used to the pace and rhythm of life here. Nonetheless I miss so many things about being overseas, but not just overseas, particularly being in Bosnia. I miss “Bosnia time”, my family, the PB group (not my personal space tho!), working with a variety of community agencies, walking everywhere, the delicious, fresh food, the call to prayer, late night pekara runs, relaxation, weekends swimming in the Adriatic Sea, among many, many other things. Somehow life felt a lot more relaxed or maybe it’s that I fully embraced the tempo and the Bosnian philosophy (one which is very much a part of me here in the US as well) while I was there. One thing I know is that even though it has been an adjustment being back, if I hadn’t adapted to life in Bosnia or life in the US or life wherever I am, I just wouldn’t be able to survive! It would be very difficult to live in a place and not adapt to the way of life in that community.

These few words are words I will leave you all with. I hope you enjoyed the few entries I’ve contributed to this blog. More importantly, I hope you’ve enjoyed reading the blog all together as the other people who have contributed have written some amazing entries. 🙂 Dovidjenja…ciao ciao!

Advertisements

Just a note…

So, clearly, I wasn’t super great about blogging throughout the summer. And then, to top it all off, I got incredibly sick right at the end of the trip, and never really had the capacity to think about my last few days there…other then to hope to get home. I still don’t quite feel like it’s all over. Or that I was even there to begin with. But today, I re-read the last major post that I wrote on my personal blog, and thought that maybe I’d share it. It’s a bit out of order for the timeline of this blog, as we all wrapped up in Sarajevo over a month ago. But hopefully, it relays a bit of my own personal experience (prior to the insanity of getting really sick), because it was so incredibly rich. Here goes.

*****

Until the lions tell their tale, the story of the hunt will glorify the hunters.

Sincerest apologies for my extended absence. I assure you, all continues to be well in Sarajevo (it’s rainy and gray and London-y right now, and I love it). Hopefully the pictures have made up a tiny bit for the lack of posts, as I haven’t had the time or capacity to put all the thoughts mulling around in my head for the better part of two weeks into the appropriate words. What’s new, right? We’ll see how this goes (and how many times I go back and edit and re-edit it).

PCRC’s annual youth conference was held over the weekend of 14-16 July. The conference was intended to highlight stories of moral courage, and to educate youth as to how they can participate in the dissemination of such stories via the use of media. All in all, the weekend went off with out a hitch. Well, I suppose there were some minor hitches, but for the most part, they only contributed to the overall success of the conference, thanks to the flexibility and perseverance of my lovely colleagues. It was excellent. The conference ended with a spontaneous discussion amongst the students about their thoughts regarding the conference, the future, and their (our) role in it all. In that moment, I couldn’t help but wonder at the incredible people, stories, films, photo exhibitions and the like that I had encountered in such a short space of time. It was a blur, but it was deeply moving.

Among the conference’s panelists were James and Stephen Smith, the brothers and brains behind Aegis Trust, a British NGO devoted to genocide awareness and prevention. After listening to bits and pieces of both of their presentations (they were at the same time on the same day), I knew that I somehow needed to talk to them. Sure enough, once the events had wrapped up, I had the chance to sit with them for a few minutes and talk shop. Unfortunately for them, I was exhausted, idealistic, disillusioned, and desperately trying to figure out what I’m supposed to do with my life, right then and there. You know, the usual Christi’s-having-another-life-crisis conversation. Par for the course these days, right?

At one point, James stopped me (and what must have seemed like incessant and nonsensical rambling) and said, “Christi, you just have to start somewhere. Pick a project, and make it happen.” I smiled and chuckled, knowing that he of course was right, but still having no clue what that project would be because I want to do everything. I went home feeling pretty discouraged and woke up in the same state the next day. But a bit later, sitting over my macchiato and music at the Meeting Point, it hit me. I am where I am–right here, right now–because of the commitment I made to nonviolence back in college. And somehow, in between now and then, I ended up with this incredible teaching career and discovered that I love love LOVE working with youth and am passionate about excellent education. So why not put the two together? And there it was. My “start somewhere” project: a project that would aim to educate youth about nonviolent direct action–its history, theories, successes, pitfalls, you name it. That night, I pitched it to my fantastic supervisor, and ended up with the go-ahead to start work. I don’t know if anything will come of it, but as much as I try to be cautious with my expectations, I feel like this might really be something. At the very least, it’s not nothing.

*****

Since then, I’ve walked around Sarajevo a bit differently. When I first arrived, I found myself hesitant to stare at the ever-present remnants of war for too long–the shelled-out buildings, the bullet holes, etc. And when I came across a shell crater in the ground, I would take great care to not walk on it out of respect and remembrance. As I’ve mentioned before, these reminders are not mine to own. And in unabashedly staring, or taking pictures, or plodding over them, I felt like merely an undiscerning and gawkish spectator. But this has changed. These reminders are still not mine in the same sense that they belong to those who live here, and lived through their inception and consequence. They never will be. But I’m also no longer afraid to take some ownership of them in a manner that is appropriate to my own scenario. I love this place and have quite a lot invested in being here. And now, having spent time getting to know the unique character of Sarajevo, I no longer feel like that ogling spectator. Maybe there really is the potential for me to meaningfully contribute to the place and people that I have grown to love. I don’t hesitate to look or even to stare. As for the shell craters? I now find myself unafraid to actively tromp right over them…not out of ignorance or delusion or passivity, but out of the feeling that maybe, just maybe, I really can do something divinely guided (however small) to prevent the violence from returning. This fills me with hope and confidence. I will never live in a manner that ignores the devastation that people can inflict on each other through the use of violence. But the fact that the experience of conflict might not be “mine” does not in anyway mean I need to shrink from focusing my future energy and every fiber of my being toward reconciliation, awareness and prevention. For now, regardless of where Cole and I end up, or what I’m supposed “to do” with my life, I can teach. And through education, I can actively take a nonviolent stand against those who perpetuate the ever-present myths of war.

James and Stephen Smith started with an idea to host a single exhibit in Nottingham to educate people about the Holocaust. From there, Aegis Trust grew. The story is actually quite incredible. As for my idea? There are no guarantees that anything will come of it.

But it’s not nothing. Although I can’t really explain why, this is deeply exciting.

When can I go back?

I have made it back to the U.S. and as I sit here taking care of things I have neglected for the past two months, I can’t help but reflect back on my time in Sarajevo. It went by so fast and I was not ready for it to be over. The last few days were consumed with everyone packing up their suitcases and doing their last minute souvenir shopping. My mom arrived in Sarajevo on the Friday before the program ended and it was so great to have the opportunity to show her around the city and have her experience my life over the past two months.

For the last two weeks of the program, I had the opportunity to be up in the moutains of Bjelasnica, where some of the Olympic events took place in 1984. I was working at a summer camp put on by Wings of Hope. It was such a great experience and I really enjoyed getting to know the 29 kids that came to the camp. I helped teach English lessons along with a wonderful woman named Dejana, who volunteers with Wings of Hope. In addition to the English lessons, there were also workshops in music, theater and arts and crafts, which were led by a group of young Dutch teachers who have volunteered their time to work at this camp. In the afternoons, we played sports with the kids, which was a blast, especially the days that we played baseball and frisbee. At night, there was always some kind of activity going on whether it be jewelry making, a movie or a disco. By the end of our time at camp, I grew really attached to all the kids. Many of them come from very difficult home lives and most of them came from families that couldn’t afford to put enough food on the table, but these kids were some of the most amazing and most sensitive and caring kids that I have ever met. I was truly inspired by each and every one of them. Spending the last two weeks of the program up in the mountains was the absolute perfect way to end my time in Bosnia and I am so grateful that my supervisor, Maja, brought us along for that experience. I know that when I look back on my time in Bosnia, these past two weeks will be some of my most favorite memories.

Back in Sarajevo, we had our final dinner with the group on Wednesday night at the Brewery and it was so nice to be together for one final time. We spent some time reminiscing about our time here as well as looking to the future when we are back in Denver and will have this amazing experience to share with one another. On the last night that we were all together, many of us made the trek up the hillside to an old Turkish fort where we listened to the canon being set off to mark the breaking of the fast for Ramadan. We feasted on traditional Somun bread and delicious pizza as we watched the sunset over Sarajevo. It was a very symbolic experience to watch the sunset with this group of people as our time together here in Sarajevo comes to a close. We all had our ups and downs, but overall, I think everyone enjoyed the experience. I count myself lucky to be leaving Sarajevo with 11 new friends to hang out with in Denver as well as several great Bosnian friends to come back and visit.

I am also grateful that my mom had the opportunity to visit and I got to show her around this amazing city and show her why I have fallen in love with it. We also had the chance to visit Istanbul for a few days before heading back to the States. As always I think it was a bittersweet goodbye. There are things I am looking forward to here, back home, but I already miss Sarajevo so much. I have already decided that I will be returning next year with the intention of returning to summer camp once more and re-visiting this city. If an opportunity arises to move here, I would take it in a second.

Home again!

When I left Sarajevo I could sense that I was both anxious to come home but at the same time not completely happy to be leaving.  There are so many things in Bosnia that were left for me to do, and by coming home I feel I am cutting my adventure off short.  I cant quite put a finger on what these things are that I would have done had I had more time.  They are, I think, the unknown adventures that I know would have happened had I had more time, and they would help to complete my experience there.

Being home has been a giant relief and a huge stress all at the same time.  This past week I was bouncing around from house to house and city to city saying hello to all of my family and friends, giving gifts, and exchanging stories.  I enjoyed that a lot but because of all of this activity I was unable to reflect on my summer experience fully.  Now that most of my friends are off to school now or gone abroad I have some time finally to slow things down and just begin to think about where I was, where I am now, where I will be, and how these all affect one another.

Since I have been home I’ve noticed that even though everything feels normal they all stand out as being slightly different.  Subtle things like the taste of food, the flavor of the water, the dryness of the air, size of the streets, the cars and the traffic, the sound of the music on the radio, the overwhelmingness of the supermarket, and easily being able to communicate with those around me all bring back memories of Bosnia.  As I’m watching the news Libya suddenly seems less exotic and violent to me as the camera angle pans out to reveal a friendly minaret on the skyline.  Walking in the foothills doesn’t seem so different now from hiking to the old fort in Sarajevo.  RMNP suddenly looks a lot like Herzegovina.  Seeing live music at Red Rocks brings back memories of TBF and Two Cellos.  Cinema takes me back to the Film Festival.

As these memories come back I want to share them with the people around me, and all of my friends and family have been very patient with me and listen with interest whenever I bring them up.  Right now though all I can do is prepare for the next adventure, which is just around the corner, and look forward to the day when I can return to Sarajevo and complete that one.

Being home…

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.

The Blogs That Could Have Been

I arrived back in Denver late last night to the quick-moving, loud and very convenient United States.  Like everyone who re-enters, today has been a bit of a fog and a jumble of emotions.  I have been thinking about the blogs that I meant to write about Srebrenica, Lukomir, the all night pekara (bakery) and the young man at the book fair who bought me pastries after we talked for a long time. He told me about the reasons that he gave up an opportunity to study medicine at John Hopkins so that he could return to Sarajevo and care for his ailing mom.  He now makes a living any way that he can, including selling books at an occasional book fair. I also intended to blog about climbing one of the steep hills in Sarajevo, stopping to buy fresh pizza and somun (bread made for Ramadan) along the way, and ending up in the walls of an Ottoman ruin.  Up there, above the city, a cannon is fired every night at sundown to signal the end of the fast during Ramadan.  As the cannon fires, the lights of the city below come up and the ezan (call to prayer) can be heard from all of mosques that are in the surrounding area.  Our last night was during the full moon.

My favorite idea for a “blog that never was” involved  the names of  some of my friends in Bosnia.  In the U.S. I have friends named Carol, Michele, David, Lindsay, John, Marsha, and Steve.  You don’t tend to find these names in Sarajevo but you will find Sanela, Sefko, Raza, Nedim, Braco, Jadranka, Naida, Sead, Kerim, Osman, Muhammad, Zine,—different names, different cultures, all great people.

Today while driving around Denver which was warm and sunny and beautiful, I felt a rush of excitement to be home, followed by an intense longing to be back in Sarajevo.  I don’t want to lose the feeling of being enveloped by that city and its people but it seems that I have to let it fade at least a bit in order to rejoin life in Denver.

Osman at the Bosnian BBQ
Jadranka & language lessons
Naida at Hotel Europe
Sefko & Raza
Nedim at Lukomir

Now that many people have moved from our hostel to a hotel, have begun their next adventures, or are just journeying home, Sarajevo feels empty. The place where you rest your head should be comfortable, but the company you keep is arguably more important.

As much as you may love a location and feel that it offers everything that you need to live comfortably, what do you have if you do not have meaningful relationships? I believe that it was hard for some to feel that Sarajevo was home while we were here because of the important people that were left behind.

As much as we tormented ourselves over the food we would literally kill for, we managed with grilled cheese, peanut butter and nutella, and various restaurants. Our normal diets could be supplemented, and we could move past the cravings. Important people are harder to replace.

I have missed my family and my friends who may as well be my family. They are the people that I cannot live without, and they are what makes me happy regardless of where I am. As we move on from Sarajevo and our hostelhome, I feel as if we may not have realized what we built here. We have made close relationships that made this place feel right. Although it was not perfect, and many of the relationships that have been constructed at home took years and many trials and tribulations, I felt a sincere closeness with the people I shared this experience with. They are the only people who will completely understand, who can laugh at an inside joke, and know many small details that outsiders may never be told about, but that made everyone closer.

Now that our group is no longer complete, I cannot help but feel that something is missing. The obvious is that people are missing. The less obvious and not expected is that this place is not the same. The people who I spent my summer with made this experience what it was, and their presence and crude jokes made me sincerely happy. I will miss everyone and the summer that we shared.

I must be having fun, because time is flying!

Last night was our last “group dinner” here in Sarajevo. Even though most of us just met as a part of this program in March, and none of us REALLY knew each other until we arrived here in June, and most of us will be in Denver over the next couple weeks, it is still really sad to say goodbye– we are saying goodbye to this experience.

It hasn’t always been easy; 6 women in one room, 12 people in our flat, and our flat is in one of Sarajevo’s most popular hostels. This is to say: I haven’t been alone in weeks. While this could be frustrating at times, I will probably remember this summer more for the friendships than the many challenges of living in such close quarters: All the times reading a book turned into hilarious conversations; all the dinners marked with sympathizing over homesickness; all the quick email checks that turned into dance parties; all the ordinary days that became extraordinary because of my friends.

I also have met some wonderful people through my internship. I know that for my coworkers, I’m likely another temporary working passing through the office. However, they have been so kind to me, helping me with the language, with making coffee, with making sense of the programs for which I’ve been tasked to edit reports. They have put me at ease, made me smile, and greatly enriched this experience.