Disappointment and Frustration

This week has been a both frustrating and disappointing for me. Since beginning my internship, I have worked hard to try and bring some order and structure to the organization. It has been tough going at first because the lack of a relationship and trust didn’t make the most welcoming work environment. Then there was how both supervisors had jobs, sometimes multiple ones, outside of the organization thus making scheduling a nightmare from time to time.

As the summer progressed however the first issue resolved itself and to a certain extent so did the second, that is until this past week. Last week, after meeting with E, it was decided that the three of us would come together next Wednesday to create an action plan for the up coming year. This made my day! I was so excited to see the organization moving in such a positive direction and to have to opportunity to be a part of it. However, as Wednesday approached it quickly became apparent that the meeting would not be happening.

Scheduling and communication are two elements that have been a constant problem all summer long. As it stands now, L & E have too much work in terms of both their MOBA work and their outside jobs.  I guess, if one is to have a problem, this is the kind to have, yet it makes things like running and developing the organization problematic/challenging as well.

I feel partly responsible for setting them on this path, which is why I am sad not to have the opportunity to see it through to the end with them. Who knows when our paths will cross again though. After all, E just said the 21st  (the day i am back in sarajevo before leaving for Belgrade) could be made into a deadline for something. 

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Follow your gut feeling

This weekend we went to Istanbul. What a magical city it is. The food, the people, the mosques, the clothing: everything. Ive learned some things in Istanbul, some ways that I will choose to live life:

1. Always say ‘yes’ (unless clearly you should say ‘no’): Kyra and I met the owner of a shop and his friend who invited us back to his shop twice to share his Iftar dinner with us which consisted of a meal, then some tea, then some hookah, then some fruit, then some tea, then some more hookah, then some baklava and some more tea. During this entire time we talked for hours as they taught us about their religion, Ramadan and everything philosophical in between. It all made so much more sense to me afterwards, and I was grateful to have learned so much from a local (thoughts that cannot be put into words really). So some may have said that going back to have dinner with some strangers we just met was maybe not the best idea, but I say always say yes because if you say no you won’t ever experience new things. Also as long as you listen to your gut feeling.

2. Always be willing and open to making new friends: I’ve stayed in many youth hostels before and on this trip especially I learned to always try to talk and get to know those around you. We were staying in a room with 3 other Australian boys who turned out to be (like most Aussies I meet) the most fun, open and genuine people. A crazy bunch they were. Some were uncomfortable with sharing a room with strangers, I say it’s an experience everyone should have. They have invited me to come Island hopping with them around Greece. Trusting in others is a beautiful thing when it comes to traveling around. Once again, as long as you listen to your gut feeling.

3. Find the light in not so light situations: Being constantly cat-called on the streets in Istanbul can get to you. As long as you laugh at it though, laugh with them and the entire situation, it was turned into a game of fun for me. We got “Charlie’s Angels”, “Spice Girls”, “You dropped something…my heart”, and some other maybe rude ones. Some were getting frustrated with all the calling, I say hey if they call on you laugh or call on them back as some others did. It’s never good to be stressed about unnecessary things (and this is me saying this knowing that I also do this a lot) however this trip made me realize to just not worry, be happy. As long as you follow your gut feeling.

This is the End

At the beginning of the summer, I wrote a blog entry on my first impressions of Sarajevo.  Now that the summer is coming to an end, my last entry will be on my final impressions and life lessons from this experience.  What I have learned and noticed could most likely fill a book, but here are the highlights in no particular order:

1) The food never stopped being delicious.

2) Teaching English made me realize how awful my English actually is (I just ended that sentence in a preposition. I’m hopeless.)

3) The multilingual skills of 90% of this country is truly amazing.

4) There is something to learn from every person I have encountered on this trip.

5) Certain days, my itinerary MUST be based off of which establishments are the most likely to have one or more of the following: air conditioning, Wi-Fi, iced coffee.

6) Hangry (Hungry and Angry) is a very real emotion.

7) Tattoo parlors are very hospitable (also air conditioned, Wi-Fi capable and providers of free mochaccinos!)

8) A city full of stray dogs (i.e. Sarajevo) is much better than a city of stray cats (i.e. Istanbul)

9) Showers are seriously underrated.

10) When you see a bathroom, USE IT.

11) We are the strangest group sometimes and I am so glad.

12) People think I’m 26.

13) Bosnia is a more complicated country than can ever be imagined and one which I will never be able to fully understand. There is subtext to every situation, conversation and interaction.

14) Communal sunblock saves lives.

15) I’m really bad at packing for weekend trips.

16) The rest of the group is really generous with their belongings on weekend trips.

17) Drawing from The Collective, almost every question can be answered, regardless of how bizarre the topic may seem.

18) Headphones are essential in so many situations.

19) Little kids think I’m super cool.

20) Teenagers think I’m super lame.

21) More photos have been taken of me in the past two months than in the past two years.

22) None of us ever want to use an ATM ever again.

23) Vandalism is fun.

24) People from Sarajevo do not understand why we would ever like Sarajevo.

25) Drivers here are horrifying.

26) People here are so hopeful and also so hopeless.

27) In Bosnia, you are not supposed to say ‘thank you’ for medicine because it is simply expected that if you are sick someone will take care of you.

28) In Bosnia, if you sit on a cold surface, something happens to your ovaries (either they freeze or they fall out? Something was clearly lost in translation)

29) In Bosnia, if you put your purse on the floor, it means you do not respect your money and will therefore be poor in the future.

30) In Bosnia, if you sit at the corner of a table, you will never get married.

31) Splitting a restaurant bill is horrible. No one ever has change. 

32) In The Collective, there is no privacy, there are no secrets, and there are no boundaries.

33) The communal table in our hostel is like the Bermuda Triangle when food is at stake.

34) Nothing is quite as exciting as getting new stamps in your passport.

35) This has been the best summer of my life.

Time to go home!

Well its finally time for my last blog of the summer. This being a bittersweet time I find that I am absolutely ready to be home to see my loved ones. I have undoubtedly grown to love Sarajevo, Bosnian culture, and most of all, Bosnian people, however I know that it is time to leave. I will miss all the people and to be honest, it feels very bizarre reflecting on my wonderful experience in Sarajevo so soon. Here are some impressions of Bosnia in terms of what I will notice most when I leave.

 

Things Bosnia has that the home does not:

  • Time, time, time…. for any type of socializing a.k.a. long coffee breaks, long meals, etc.
  • Cevapi, pita, buhtla, salep, other sweets and delicious Bosnian food. However unhealthy, these will be missed.
  • The familiar smell of a pekara everywhere you go, accompanied by the concept of ‘free water’ in the many fountains found everywhere.
  • People speaking Bosnian (DUH, but still important to note).
  • Open green markets with the best most fresh fruits and vegetables… namely, tomatoes.
  • Hearing the call to prayer multiple times a day.
  • Surroundings unlike any other. A city with history everywhere you look whether it be a damaged building, an orthodox church next to a mosque, the beautiful countryside, a cemetery next to…well anything…. and the list goes on and on…. but basically there is a lot of stuff that Bosnia has that home does not including the good, bad, ugly and beautiful.

 

This list is simple. Kind of like the Bosnian way of life. Of all the lessons I have learned, the most important is the value of simplicity. Too often I find myself making little things complicated, or looking at situations as complex webs rather than what they truly are…. just another event in the game of life. Bosnia has taught me the art of making everything around you simple in order to be understanding and appreciative of everything the world has to offer. In order to explain how I came upon this realization it would be an intricate storytelling, but to say it ‘simply’ I will use my favorite quote taken from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off:

 

“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

 

I will now use my favorite word from Bosnian language class: Dovidjenja! (Hopefully I spelled it right!)

A little taste of something different

After spending close to two months in Sarajevo, it was nice to see and experience something new; that something new was Istanbul. The differences between the two cities are impossible to count. Sarajevo is relatively small city while Istanbul is a huge city. Sarajevo is surrounded my beautiful hills that are covered in houses; Istanbul is split apart by waterways. The people are also completely different. Here in Sarajevo you walk down the street and people are enjoying their time, drinking coffee. In Istanbul it felt different. I didn’t notice many people stopping for coffee but we were constantly being harassed by people wanting us to purchase their goods or spend money at their restaurants. It was actually something that I had never experienced with such energy. The waiters would do their best to talk to you and convince you to sit down. Looking back on it now, you can tell that Istanbul was a city built by merchants that would trade goods from the East to the West and vice versa. The Grand Bazaar was prime proof of this mentality.

Despite the differences however, there was one similarity that stood out: the Mosques. It seems silly to say since both countries are Muslim countries, however it felt comfortable to be able to still see these beautiful buildings spring up throughout the city and blend in with the city landscape. Of course the scale of the Mosques was on a completely different scale. The Mosques in Sarajevo lacked in detail compared to those found in Istanbul, and the call to prayer in Istanbul could be heard from everywhere in the city.

This trip was the perfect little getaway. 

Insert Lesson Learned Here

What I now know after my summer in Sarajevo:

  • How to post something on an individual’s Facebook wall
  • “Smang It” is not played at the ‘clubs’
  • Tea is best served with biscuits at a quirky bar with a goldfish tank
  • Tear gas is not cause for concern
  • Seeing the spot where a TV show is filmed is cause for a geek out
  • Being referred to as a collective is not strange
  • Handball is cool
  • Peaceful protests are cool
  • Family dinners are cool
  • 90s music at 3 a.m. on a Wednesday is not cool
  • My love for SYFY movies is shared
  • Gelato for 1 KM is the best deal ever
  • Running with an athlete is hard
  • ‘Neretva River’ is now my favorite color
  • Welcome Juice tastes delicious
  • The girls and boy on this trip with me are equally strong and supportive and wonderful
  • Sarajevo is fantastic place to spend a summer

This eight week journey is almost at an end and the time for reflection is upon us.  As in most of my endeavors, I enjoy stepping back to process what I have seen, heard, and lived, as in the immediacy of the moment all I can think about is sushi, a cozy bed, and my own bathroom.  I do know this experience is one of the unique ones in my life thus far, as it is not often I live in close quarters with 14 other people for two months straight in a foreign country.  The people I have met and the moments we have shared will stay with me for a long time to come as I finish my studies and embark on yet another journey (possibly alongside some of the people with me this summer).  So, as I wrap up my last blog entry (!) and my time in Sarajevo, I am not sad or confused or happy or content, but grateful that this summer was a reality and glad the time to be introspective is not limited to the time in which I write this post.    

Lessons Learned from My Summer in Sarajevo

For me, this summer has been filled with life lessons – new lessons as well as those that I needed to be reminded of. I am so incredibly grateful for my experiences here and the people I’ve met who have helped me to realize these things about myself. Here are just a few of those lessons:

1.) Be present in the here and now. Learn to be present and thankful for every moment (even the ones that are painful or difficult to be present in). In all the chaos of life, all we have is now. No time is wasted time. Stop trying to leap into the next moment and enjoy the current one.

2.) Be open to strangers and new people. Some of the most interesting and enlightening conversations I’ve had this summer have been with relative strangers. There is so much to learn from others but you have to be open in order to hear what they have to say.

3.) Travel, travel, travel!!! Never stop seeing new places and learning about different cultures and ways of life. Traveling makes you a stronger, more well rounded and enriched person.

4.) Be flexible. Traveling and stepping out of your comfort zone takes immense flexibility but in the end, it is completely worth it (see number 3).

5.) Be willing to challenge yourself. For me, one of the most challenging things I did this summer was teaching English. In the end, however, it turned out to be one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had. I’ll sincerely miss the kids and teens that I worked with this summer.

6.) And last, but absolutely not least, work to be happy every single day. There is no end to the sadness and turmoil that life will bring on its own. Strive to fill your life with as much happiness as possible. Do not dwell on things you cannot change. (A HUGE THANK YOU to Maja – one of the smartest, most amazing women I’ve ever met – for reminding me of this one!)

Thank you, Bosnia & Herzegovina – It has been an absolutely unforgettable experience falling in love with you!

Important Moments, Important Friends

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This picture isn’t the best one I’ve taken on this trip. It isn’t my prettiest nor my most interesting, but I’ve picked it to talk about because of what it represents to me. 

It isn’t a big secret that my internship got off to a rocky start. I thought one of my supervisors was an ass and I really didn’t know how I was going to work with him for eight weeks. Yet, after some brooding and a lot of bitching, I decided I wasn’t going to let his crummy attitude and my resulting anger set the tone for the summer and/or our relationship. There is nothing I like more in life than a challenge and so I set out to get this guy to like me, but more importantly respect me.

I like to say I’m a bit of a brat, but it is probably more honest or reasonable to say I’m ornery. I like to use humor to poke and prod at people because regardless of the differences that separate us, laughter can almost always be a common denominator. With that in mind, I treated this supervisor like I would anyone else in my life. I teased, I joked and slowly I wormed my way in. 

This picture is special to me because it represents a shift in the tide of the relationship between this man and myself. His offering to take Zabrina and I to where it was taken was our first tentative footsteps towards friendship. 

Europe and Genocide

When Srebrenica is talked about, rarely is it done so without the tagline “worst genocide to take place in Europe since the end of World War II” being added some where along the line. While I know this statement is accurate, I find it offensive.

War, genocide, murder are all ugly reminders of what man is capable of doing… regardless of where they come from and/or take place. However the repeated emphasis on Srebrenica location makes it feel to me as though society is saying because it happened in Europe it is automatically more tragic than when similar things take place in other parts of the world.

Yes, the Srebrenica genocide was heartbreaking and horrible, but is it more so than what took place in Rwandan or what is taking place in the Sudan? Why is so much emphasis put on location when it takes place in Europe but not Africa? Is Europe special? Are Europeans more important than Africans? Rationally, I don’t think that most people believe they are; yet I cannot help but wonder if the media/history is subconsciously making us feel that way. 

Blog 8 – Final Thoughts

Final Thoughts

Well, this is our last week in Sarajevo.  The hostel is gloriously empty, and so I have time to sit and think.  What will I miss about Sarajevo?  What will I not miss about Sarajevo?  What am I most looking forward to back in the States?

What I will miss…ok, I’m not going to lie, I will miss the gym.  It has been a savior to me throughout this trip, in that it has given me some alone time, given me hot showers, and generally helped me keep my sanity.  I will miss the Jadro Neapolitan cookies, because dang they are delicious.  I will miss my short commute, because short commutes are always wonderful things.  I will miss the ability to sit outside at a restaurant and drink a beer slowly, without a waitress nagging at you.  And I will miss the energetic fan zones at sporting events.  Volim te, Bosna!

What I will not miss…the crappy Bosnian internet.  That has been my single biggest annoyance throughout this trip.  Good bye and good riddance.

What I am most looking forward to…family and friends.  Clearly number one.  Skype helps, but it is definitely not a true substitute.  I am also looking forward to playing hockey again.  I’m scheduled to start the day after I get back to the States.  Hooray!  I also can’t wait for Mexican food.  I do believe that will be my first meal when I get back.  I’m looking forward to being able to use cards everywhere.  I’m really tired of the all-cash-all-the-time system.  And I am looking forward just to enjoying the rest of my vacation before school starts again.  Zoos, horse races, baseball games, sand sculpture contests, etc., etc., etc….

Do I have any advice for next year’s group?  I suppose my only advice would be just to do the best you can to…

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