Potočari

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Walking into Potočari after spending roughly three days in the Peace March was an emotional event. A multitude of people lined both sides of the street as they observed those who hiked the path and exited the forest into a city filled with emotion. Silence. No one clapped, hardly anyone smiling. Just a tacit knowledge of reverence that filled the air. Nodding of heads in a sign of respect; winks symbolizing the same gesture.

The commotion commenced when the previously identified bodies from mass graves were brought into the cemetery in green caskets hoisted above the shoulders of the four people carrying them. The 175 bodies and their accompanied caskets were neatly situated in rows and columns that lined the outskirts of the cemetery. After a prayer and other ceremonial gestures, the bodies were taken to their graves where relatives, friends, and even bystanders helped shovel dirt on the burial grounds.

A week later, the students including myself returned to this cemetery for a formal visit that had been planned in advance. Only a handful of us experienced the ceremonial events that commemorated the genocide only a week before. Now the place was empty, desolate. There was definitely a different vibe than I had experienced only seven days prior.

The event was hardly covered in the international media and I felt a sense that it had already been forgotten and abandoned even more so after my second visit. I and other colleagues visited Srebrenica before our travels and I noticed a change between reality that occurred before the crowds arrived and then the subsequent feel of the city when the hype of the event the day of July 11th happened. I hope to never forget not only the emotion that encompassed the ceremony but also the sense of longing of remembrance that cries out from the grave and the people survived by the war.

Bosnian people, I am deeply sorry for your loss. I also want to thank you for welcoming me into your community during my time within the march and by demonstrating to me the events that conspired directly after. You are very strong and I hope the world never forgets the events that took place only recently.

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Memorable Photo

 

bobsled crazy

 

At the bobsled arena, we were given a chance to either display our artistic ability, present symbols that expose our inner selves, or write a phrase about something we believe in. Our creative expressions were displayed and immortalized by the permanence of the spray paint that we brought. At this location, we were able to be liberalized from the city and from the hindrances of observers. We were alone as a group and could be ourselves, the rambunctious and boisterous group that we were all along, yet here we displayed no self-restrictions on the volume of our voices or the energy that we possessed.

Although this trip was a culmination of our time in Bosnia, I feel that this photo embodies the dynamic and chemistry that we had built together as a team over the course of two months. During the confinement of our living space, we saw the positive and negative aspects of each other’s personalities. We managed to survive with some bumps along the way but we coped and dealt with it.

We had some contentious moments and frustrations but we also had a great deal of laughs that accompanied our journey. In this picture, we were able to be ourselves and present ourselves. There are no fictitious or fake facial expressions; people are being truly authentic in their silliness. As people were painting, we were not concerned about whether or not our “masterpieces” would be accepted by another. We had that deep connection where we were able to expose our inner-selves without the fear of judgment. We were close enough that we painted a symbolized portrait of ourselves, knowing that these expressions would not be questioned. (Even Jon became sporadically artistic in his painting.) We were comfortable enough with each other to show another aspect of our lives. This is what this photo and location means to me. I am glad we ended our journey at this location and was able to experience the warmth, acceptance, and brotherhood that we had developed over the past few months.

Full moon is rising*

BiH is the only place in Europe, maybe in the world, that has hosted and welcomed repeatedly for centuries all ethnicities despite any kind of differences.  Wars have been severely damaging but the country survives every time by its dedicated people who sacrificed looking for the best of the coming. 

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In this picture, a catholic church, an orthodox church, a mosque and small jewish temple hidden in the dark somewhere on the left all are lightened signs of the beautiful involvement and coexistence between humans regardless of their backgrounds.  A path where people walk, shop, smile, cry, chat, flirt, relax, read, work, eat, drink, etc, is called “Baščaršija”.  You just cant tell who’s who because simply there’s no difference, all are the same!  Hatreds is an evil feeling hidden in the souls that were raised by ill supervision or miss educating but not in the humans nature or innate.  The full moon on the right is rising and brining hopes to the city and it people.  the dark is around and been seen everywhere since the past is dark though the moon represents the future that it is bright and vivid as I believe Bosnia will be one day!

The final post.

I read an article recently about the hard part about traveling: returning home. And here I am, returned home. It’s sad and it’s exciting and its mixed with too many emotions to care to unpack currently. There are certain struggles to returning home after being away, for any amount of time, in a place filled with learning and growing on so many levels. What do you do with all of the experiences and memories and knowledge and growth that was developed once you leave that place? I am holding on tight, never wanting to let go. I want to remain in that place, both physically and emotionally. Part of you stays there, and new parts of you come home with you. How do you say goodbye to a place you felt so alive in? A place that was filled with amazing people, a long history, beautiful views, unforgettable stories told by the strongest people you’ve ever met. How do you say goodbye to the deep relationships you’ve made because locationally it just can’t be exactly the same? How do you live a relational based life when society does not allow time for that? How do you even begin to describe to people the impact that two months in Bosnia I Herzegovina had on you when the sad reality is they only are giving you a few focused moments? How do you take your growth and your new-found knowledge and incorporate that into your back-at-home life?

There isn’t one thing I would have changed about this summer, except for perhaps the length of stay. I am so beyond appreciative to have had this opportunity. In just the five short days I have been home, I have missed everyone and everything I’ve grown oh so close to. This summer forced me to take a look at myself and my life, which hasn’t been easy but has been necessary.

Thank you so much to Ann, who made this summer possible. The connections and relationships she has built in Bosnia over the years has allowed for numerous amounts of students to discover the wonderfulness that is BiH.

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Some of us at a BBQ thrown by my supervisor, Maja!

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A few of us from Wings of Hope 🙂

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My final friday in Bosnia at the Sarajevo Film Fesitval. 

Lessons learned

For those of you who don’t know, I came back from Bosnia and immediately had to start back at school, internships, and organization planning as well as preparing to move and starting a new job. It was really intense to come back to a place that hadn’t changed at all when I had changed so much. Over the last two weeks I have been reflecting on my time in Bosnia and lessons that I have learned that I don’t want to forget.

1. Taking time out to learn about people. It is easy to get caught back up in getting stuck in the busy hustle and bustle back in the states. Work is always a priority. In fact, my cousin picked me up and told me about a new rule passed at her law firm where employees were not allowed to talk unless they booked one of the conference rooms to discuss case related information. (Did I mention this was a law firm that specializes in employment law?) For me, it is easy to get caught up in school work and getting work done for my organizations, internship, and job while never really taking the time to talk to people about themselves. While in Bosnia, I began to truly appreciate the time I spent getting to know others and building incredible relationships. I will never forget the people I got to know and this lessen this has taught me.

2. Respecting different cultures. So many people have these different stereotypes built up in their mind about how people from different nationalities, religions, and political affiliations (and sometimes even different U.S. states) may act, dress, eat, or spend their free time. It is incredibly frustrating. To those who have traveled more than the average American, you realize that no stereotypes hold true for every person. I have always stood by while many people made insulting jokes about different stereotypes and not really said anything because their jokes, typically in private, were not hurting anyone. After this summer in Bosnia seeing how some people are treated differently based on their ethnicity or nationality, I understand more and more how these stereotypes, even when “just joking” cause others to treat people different. I think it is important to not let stereotypes cloud your perceptions and not just stand by while others are “joking” at another’s expense based on these stereotypes.

3. Slow Down!! Again, it is easy to get back into a super busy schedule, and getting stuck in traffic and letting all the little things in life build up. It isn’t just about building relationships but also about taking time out to be yourself, to do what makes you happy, and to cool down rather than getting frustrated with unimportant things. Traffic is a big example for me. Getting stuck in jam packed traffic on 25 can be so frustrating and I used to just be in completely terrible mood by the time I got anywhere. In Bosnia, I had to get used to the idea that you can’t always just hurry on to the next thing you had to do but instead calm down and enjoy your time where you are so that you can really take it in and appreciate it for what it is worth. I am not sure what you really get out of sitting in traffic but I have been better about just accepting the fact that no matter what I do all of these cars are going to be in my way so I can either get really frustrated and be in a bad mood, or I can calm down, turn on the radio or take the time to call a friend (using a hands-free system of course) and have a relaxing time to myself rather than stressing about something I can’t do anything about. 

While I was in Bosnia, I learned a great deal about the culture and history as well but for me the most important things I learned were these lessons that I know will help me to be a better, happier person in my future. 

Anger & Photos

At the Dutch UN base in Potočari, the soldiers left behind a number of graffiti. These range from the mundane to the crass to the outright offensive. One of the most infamous is below.

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Viewing these words at the base created a lot of anger in me. Anger at the soldiers, at the situation, at humanity. Cuss words flew within my head. How could anyone write such a thing? People were being raped and murdered nearby. People were dying from starvation and dehydration. People lacked basic necessities. Perhaps most enraging to me was the fact that there’s a window not 3 meters from this graffiti. Whoever made it may have been able to view the entire situation unfold when they wrote these 9 words on the wall. Frankly, wtf?

For a while after Srebrenica, I was not sure what to do with this anger. It seemed to blind and overwhelm me, encouraging me to scream out about these atrocities yet ignore any response. A closed one-way street. One of my favorite authors, Rachel Remen, states that “often anger is a sign of engagement with life” and “a demand for change, a passionate wish for things to be different.” Yea, that resonates with me. But what do I do with my contempt for this situation?

An answer appeared in another photo. One that uses the same grafatti but with a slight difference. Upon entering the permanent exhibition of the Muzej suvremene umjetnosti in Zagreb (Museum of Contemporary Art), visitors walk up a flight of stairs and are confronted with an enormous picture, over a story tall. Made by Bosnian artist Šejla Kamerić in 2003, the work superimposes those horrible words over a self-portrait of Kamerić herself. The contrast is startling.

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I do not doubt for a second that Kamerić felt anger around these words or maybe even the project. But she was able to channel it in a productive way. She received international acclaim for the work and brought a spotlight to the graffiti as well as Srebrenicia.

Now that I am back in the states, I pray that my anger from Srebrenica never goes away. It has the ability to blind us or to drive us toward change. Hopefully it’s the later.

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.

Favorite event attended.

A favorite event I’ve attended? How about literally the entire past seven weeks. One week left (this was written two weeks ago) and I am in no way ready for it to be over.
-For starters, hiking Lukomir was incredible. Beautiful view, lovely village, and delicious food and coffee. I’d love to spend longer then half a day in the vast and indescribable beauty that it contained.

-Kravica falls was absolutely breathtaking- literally, jumping the water took your breath away because it was so cold. The frigid water was made enjoyable by the beauty and incredibleness of the waterfalls all around us.

-Spending a weekend in Croatia was relaxing and extremely enjoyable. There is nothing like being next to the Adriatic Sea all day long with great people.

-The entire Srebrenica weekend was filled with individual events that were powerful, educational and so important. The people that we met and the stories that we heard will stick with me for a lifetime. I am truly grateful for that experience.

-The opportunity to enjoy a private concert by a incredibly talented musician was such an honor. Her passion and love of playing is evident in her every move. Never have I ever experienced someone with such passion- truly inspiring.

-Banja Luka was a relaxing weekend filled with so much laughter. I appreciated the time to travel to a new place.

-The opportunity to visit the bobsled was wonderful. Not only was it a great bonding time for our group, but how many times do you get to walk an olympic bobsled track? It was a very neat experience, and tagging it up with various nicknames, designs and pictures was by far an experience to remember.

-Due to meeting such a wonderful friend this summer, I was able to spend a long weekend in Serbia this past weekend. Visiting Belgrade was filled with fortresses, museums, slava’s, and royal family compounds. It was a great last weekend to be had in the Balkan region.

 

 

An addition: while I wrote this before I left, I am posting it now, don’t ask me why. I have been back 5 days and the top question I have received? “What was the highlight?” As you can see, I cannot answer that. The past 8 weeks was the highlight, that’s really the best way I can even begin tonanswer that.

A Shepherd and his Sheep

I was fortunate enough to have my immediate family visit me in Sarajevo during their summer vacation in southern Europe. While they were visiting, I took to role of tour guide and was in charge of fitting Bosnia and Sarajevo into two and half days for them. One of my missions was to take them outside of Sarajevo into the beautiful country side that surrounds the city. I loved all of my hikes that I did in Bosnia, whether it was on Bjelasnica Mountain (only an hour or so away from Sarajevo), or in Sutjeska National Park (3 hours away). On Thursday we headed towards Lukomir with one of my favorite guides with Green Visions, Benjo. On the way out, we spotted this flock of sheep with the shepherd, and it turned out to be quite the shot. The whole scene with the gravel road winding through the photo really captures how Sarajevo and Bosnia can take you back in time to a world that you thought only existed in NatGeo stories and History channel specials. This is one of my favorite pictures that I’ve taken while in Bosnia. DSC01099 

Goodbye Sarajevo!!!!

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As our time in Sarajevo comes to an end, I find myself on a rollercoaster of emotions ranging from one extreme to the other. One day I will be ready to jump on a plane and fly home to the comfort of New Mexico (and good Mexican food), and the next I will realize how I am just now getting used to Sarajevo. I have learned so much here-about myself, about Bosnia, Sarajevo, and people in general-but I feel myself fighting to stay here because there is so much more I have yet to learn! After my time spent in Bosnia, I don’t believe I will ever be comfortable taking quick trips abroad. If I can still be missing so much after spending two months in Bosnia, how can I possibly expect to take in a new culture in a shorter period of time? To learn a country takes time and patience (I have lost all respect for cruise traveling-a single day in a foreign country? What good does that do?).

I have learned so much here, but I will briefly outline a few of the most important points.

*Patience: living in a crowded hostel for two months requires an incredible amount of patience. Pick your battles carefully. Is it truly worth it to argue over something small and ridiculous? Also, friendships take time to develop, but once they do you realize how worthwhile all that patience was.

*Appreciate what you have, because there are always others living much worse off than you. There are those who have lost everyone they ever loved in the war, suffered extreme trauma, had their homes and personal belongings washed away by mudslides and floods, so what right do I have to complain about a cold shower in the morning or a crowded hot tram? It’s the whole picture that matters, not necessarily the tedious details. You take in what you have, and you are grateful.

*Eating pita everyday will make you gain weight like crazy.

*Coffee and cigarettes will make you age much faster.

*Listening: in the U.S. we never take enough time to sit down and have meaningful conversations for the simple pleasure of enjoying someone else’s company. Slow things down every once in a while. When was the last time you interacted with someone for the sole purpose of friendship and not hoping for some kind of personal gain? Everyone has a story, and all of our stories matter. The more we listen, the more we learn, and the more we are able to expand our mental barriers and drop our stereotypes and expectations.

*Cheap gelato stands create a dangerous habit.

*You can always find ways to communicate even if you don’t speak the same language as the other person. Very few of the members at my internship (the Center for Healthy Aging) speak English, and yet I have developed a strong relationship with them. I’m sure we look ridiculous as we try and communicate through hand gestures, acting motions out, and yelling, but it’s actually a lot of fun! (and I even end up understanding some of the conversation).

*The elderly are hilarious! I never thought I would have that much fun working at the Center. They are so full of energy and so eager to learn new things (which makes me feel a bit lazy). Centers for the elderly population are very rare in Bosnia, which makes working at the center even more of a privilege. The elderly here are so full of life and respected in society, unlike in the U.S. where I feel people put their parents away in depressing homes as soon as they can. Getting older doesn’t mean you have to stop living. Hanging out with the members has made me want to be crazy, fun, and take in as much life as I can until the day I die.

*Friendships do not depend on age similarities.

*Packing rain boots is never a bad idea.

*When it starts raining, umbrellas for sale magically appear every five feet.

*People will be people, no matter where you go. In the light of friendships, all our differences become irrelevant. I realized how ridiculous the negative stereotype of Muslims the U.S. promotes is. In every culture and every religion there are good and bad people, that’s just the way it is. Wherever we go and wherever we are from we will always experience the same human emotions-love, loss, happiness, grief, exhaustion-this alone should unite us.

*True justice is rare, not only here in Bosnia but in every single part of the globe. How can the international community allow war criminals to go free or only face a few years in prison?

*Laundry takes a few days to get done, and don’t expect your clothes to be completely dry.

*Having a coin purse is a necessity in Bosnia or else you’ll be digging through your bag every time you try and pay for something.

*Women are not treated as equals to men. Observing Bosnian culture has helped solidify and strengthen my strong feminist beliefs. As I researched and observed the way women act, dress, and are treated by men in Bosnia, I started to analyze how women are treated back at home in the U.S. Yes, women in the U.S. enjoy far more rights than women in other countries, but we are still not treated as true equals to men. The battle for women’s equality is long from over.

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Overall, I am very glad I came to Bosnia. As it being my first time living abroad (and I just turned 20), I consider the choice I made to come to Bosnia a very brave one. So many people, both at home and in Bosnia have asked me, why come to Bosnia? And I have never had an answer, I simply reply, why not Bosnia? I feel privileged to have lived in and experienced a country that most American’s know only as the place where that horrible war happened (and I don’t think I’ve met a single American that could locate Bosnia on a map). Bosnia is off the beaten path, and I guess that’s what attracted me to it in the first place. Studying the violence that took place in the 70s and 80s Latin America made me want to visit and study a place that had experienced recent national trauma. We are truly privileged as Americans to have never experienced all-out war on our soil. Grasping how such tragedy could happen to people who look like me and love the kind of things I love was and still is difficult. As privileged as we are, I believe it is our personal duty to do as much as we can to help those that have lived through true tragedy, even if that means just taking the time to listen to their story or trying to engage in their culture.

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Make no mistake, as much as I learned this summer, my time in Bosnia was far from easy. Living away from home is one thing, but living in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language is another matter entirely and takes a lot of patience and mental strength. This is the first time I have been in a foreign country without living with a local, and I realized living with a local is by far the best way to experience a country. I don’t think hostel living (or living with Americans while abroad) is right for me. Had I a choice, I would have lived instead with a local family, and I am glad this is what I will be doing for the next four months while I study abroad in Spain.

Salt Lakes Tuzla
Salt Lakes Tuzla

Though I am ready to go home, I know I will cry when I have to say goodbye to my friends from my internship. Relationships develop over time, and in the last few weeks I have just began to be close with my coworkers. I could never have really experienced Bosnia without my Bosnian friends, I owe them so much. Amra especially, I will miss you so much.

 

What I’m looking forward too when going home?

*A haircut-my ends have become dry and split and my bangs have grown so long that I have started to resemble a sheepdog.

*Being able to use English with more than a few people.

*Hot baths.

*Fruit smoothies (ah Jamba Juice)

*Speaking Spanish.

*Home cooked meals and Mexican food.

*Driving my car

*Harassing my sisters

*Not having to fight for power outlets.

*Fast wifi!

*Peace and quiet at night without Cheers right below me.

*Being with my family.

*White Sands

*Skinny dipping (don’t worry, our pool is in the middle of a pecan orchard so no neighbors).

*Hearing the bells ringing from the Catholic Church in old Mesilla.

*Going to church.

*Letting my feet be finally able to heal (every pair of my shoes I brought give me blisters in different places, so walking is always a bit painful). I think at the moment I have 13 blisters on my feet.

 

A few of the things I will miss:

*My friends at my internship (I will miss them the most).

*Hearing the call to prayer everyday at 1pm.

*Spending time with the members at the Center.

*Cheap movies.

*Visiting exciting new places on the weekends.

*One-scoop gelato.

*Having Fridays off.

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