Home.

News flash of the century: I can’t wait to go home.

I wish that I had come to Sarajevo under different circumstances, because I know that I’ve been unfair in my assessment of the city itself. In retrospect, I should never have agreed to spend two months living in such close quarters with so many other people. I lived in a one-room quad my sophomore year with three of my best friends, and we ended up nearly killing each other. Did I think that I’d fare better in a hostel? I guess I was hoping that the benefit of being in Sarajevo would be enough to outweigh the negative impact that communal living tends to have on my mental state of affairs. I know that some of my cohorts here have been unable to understand my need for solitude, and have taken my response to our time here as one of ‘she’s not trying hard enough’ or ‘she’s refusing to adapt’. That’s been pretty frustrating for me, and certainly doesn’t improve my disposition. The living situation and constant need for ‘group interaction’ has not been an enlightening period of growth for me; it has negatively impacted what would’ve otherwise been a fabulous summer.

So yes, I am nearly counting the hours until I leave. I can’t wait to return to my nice quiet house in the suburbs, where the only noises outside my window in the mornings are birds (not the bottle collection service every two hours), with a wonderful, private, fenced-in backyard (complete with resident bunny) and the ability to not hear another person’s voice for an entire day. I can’t wait for bacon, and for cups of coffee the size of my head and for air that isn’t 75% cigarette smoke.

I do plan on returning someday. I’ve got a few dozen other countries that I’d like to see first, but I really and truly do plan on returning someday. Just under very different circumstances. My hope is that all of the other negatives that I have seen in Sarajevo will be assuaged by a different living situation and a far smaller group of people.

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The impending end

We are sadly fast approaching the end of our time here and I am quite unhappy about this. I am pleased to return to the land of ac and family, but I do know that I have greatly enjoyed being here and that I will miss it very much. This week, I plan to spend as much time saying goodbye to the things that I have come to love most, such as my favorite restaurant and places where I know I can talk to merchants as well as buy gifts.

This past weekend, I spent some time exploring the some parts of Sarajevo that I hadn’t seen before. I went with some old and new friends up to Vrelo Bosna, the source of the river in Sarajevo, and saw some of the gorgeous nature that Bosnia has to offer. I would certainly have missed a great opportunity to see some people things if I hadn’t gone, but also to keep company with some new friends who were able to teach us new things about Bosnia. There is only so much that you can learn in books, and so much more you can learn from people.

Only some of the mysteries were answered for us in this one day, we learned about the mystery of the goat bridge and the answered the ongoing question of how many different ways one can use the word ‘molim’ (7 in case you’re wondering). These are things you can’t get from guidebooks; they come specifically from the locals. And one should never ever look past those experiences and say they aren’t worth it.

So much has happened this summer for me that I feel that I have learned. For me, this summer has been about being patient and open to new experiences. I have also learned to think outside the box and to trust that people will be willing to help me and make sure I am ok. I have met some extremely nice people who are so genuine and that will stick with me for my entire life.

I do hope that I will come back someday. I drank water from the famous fountain in the center of town, so I am hoping that some day I will be back here. I will miss my new friends, my awesome internship with Foundation CURE, and this wonderful city and country.

People/Place

Staying in one hostel for two months is a must-do. To me, it is like being in an ancient Greek courtyard where people come to discuss ideas. In a hostel, people from all over the world filter through, and in the lounge area where people relax you can discuss aspects of the world you never ponder. You can get blasted by perspectives you never dreamed of. You can laugh at foreign jokes.

Many are surprised when I tell them I am in Sarajevo for two whole months, in this one hostel. But it is the best. If you are a staple of the place, you get a chance to follow up on the acquaintances you make. And, you get to be a little bit of a Guide to new guests and travelers, which is loads of fun.

In Sarajevo, I have loved how if you pursue a conversation with people who greet you, you do not get shut down; instead, you walk down a conversational path at ease for however long you like. Your mind gets opened. Open those veins of conversation that offer themselves to you. Pour into them. Let them pour into you.

 

By doing this, I have second-hand experienced a side of Islam spirituality you cannot access in books or documentaries, through Kemal. I have learned about a prestigious music high school in Finland, through a phenomenal Finnish gal Elli, a violinist and vocalist and sometimes-pianist. I have heard inside (positive! o.o) perspective on US involvement with Iraq from an Iraqi-Bosnian shopkeeper. I have learned about how a person can leave school at 15, self-educate, and travel the world from this British man David. I really cant list all the interesting perspectives, personalities, knowledge, and nationalities that have molded/expanded my mind through conversations, and conversations that happened because of making or taking the opportunity to talk.

When traveling, spend time as on individual people, as with individual places. And I recommend becoming a fixture of a hostel and city for multiple months.

Frustrations

Since I’ve done a horrible job at blogging this trip, I need to do a little bit of catching up. For this entire trip, I haven’t had too many complaints. I’ve had the usual “living with 15 other people sucks,” “things here are way different than I’m used to,” etc. etc. etc. However, the biggest frustration for me has been the language barrier. Anytime I’ve traveled to another country, I’ve had either an above average knowledge of the language (Spanish) or traveled with somebody who either knew the language or had lived in the country before and could travel around with ease. Here, not so much. Here, none of us really speak Bosnian that well and I definitely don’t. I’ve found that very frustrating. I want to be able to speak to people and get to hear their stories in their native language. Speaking to somebody in their native language is much more insightful than trying to speak to them in their second language. I know many of our adult English students have struggled with this as well, not being able to fully communicate what they mean. Because of all of this, the only regret I would have for this trip is the fact that I didn’t learn more Bosnian before this trip. I think I would have been able to learn more things and to hear somebody’s perspective better in their native tongue.

During our time here I have been trying to photograph all of the graffiti I come across.  This cat can be found surrounded by any number of flowers in many places throughout the city.  A few weeks ago I discovered that the cat signifies a location where children were killed during the war.  This fact makes it more difficult to take a photo of the art.  On the other hand, I find it to be a reminder of how war has consequences beyond the harm to those who are soldiers, and I also appreciate these small memorials to the children who were lost.

the coolest guy I’ve ever met

This weekend a group of us did a hike to Novak’s Cave. We met the man who renovated the cave and he did the entire hike with us (which was quite strenuous!)….did I mention he’s 75! And wore dress pants and a dress shirt and barely broke a sweat. He also had quite possibly the worlds greatest smile. Once we got up to the cave he told us that when he was 4, he and his family hid out in the cave during WWII. The coolest thing about him though was his zest for life. I loved seeing that and can only hope I’m the same way when I’m 75!

 

Why Bosnia?

I can’t even count the number of times I have been asked this question. My friends and family at home wondered about my decision to go to Bosnia and the locals I have met here are constantly asking me why I decided to come to their country. The Americans who have asked me this question have very little knowledge about this country and still believe that it is war-torn and therefore, not safe for me to be traveling around. The Bosnians who have asked me this question are surprised that I would choose to travel to this country when my passport allows me to go practically anywhere.

For me, the answer to this question is easy. This country is the most naturally beautiful place I have ever been, it has a very rich history and culture, the food is fabulous, but most of all, the reason I come to this country is the people. When Ann offered me the opportunity to return to this country this summer, there was not a moment’s hesitation for me, of course, I said yes and I feel so fortunate to have this opportunity again. It is the people that I have met while living here, working here and traveling around this region that makes this the most incredible place to me. I will continue to travel back here again and again to experience the warmth and helpfulness of the people here. I have met people here that have gone completely out of their way to help me, oftentimes these people are strangers to me. The feeling of collectiveness is pervasive wherever I go. The friends that I have made here are some of the greatest people  in my life.

For the Americans who wonder why I continue to choose to travel to Bosnia, I do my best to explain it to them, but inevitably, I end up saying you just need to go there and experience it for yourself. For the Bosnians who continue to question my decision, they are still doubtful of my reasons, but seem happy that I am so pleased with their country. For me, this place feels like my home away from home and I will always return here so that I can experience that sense of belonging again and again.

Here are some of the amazing people I have met here (unfortunately I don’t have pictures of everyone yet)