Back

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I’ve been back in the States for almost a week now and so I’ve had a chance to let my experiences this summer sink in a little. There are things I already miss. I miss the twinkling lights on the hills surrounding Sarajevo at night, I miss the bustling old town and the little pieces of Turkish delight with my coffee. Things that were once so strange to me in the beginning, like the soulful call to prayer and the taste of fresh pita with kaimak, are now things that are normal to me but suddenly gone. In the grand scheme of life, eight weeks is not a very long time, but in the moment it was plenty long enough to build a little life for myself for a while. It is amazing how fast one gets used to a new place just by interacting with the world everyday. My mind replaced dollars with marks when thinking about cost of everyday items, my taste began craving the extremely dark and bitter coffee, my pleases and thank yous in Bosnian became so ingrained I said hvala to the customs officer in Boston. Adjustments happen even faster when coming back home to all things familiar and ones own culture and language but there are still adjustments. My experience in Bosnia is something that will never be forgotten. I hope to go back someday but even if I do not it is part of me now and I am sure as time goes on I will start to realize just how much I have learned and how much it has shaped my perspective.

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Bosnia: Two Months Later

Well, it has now been roughly two months since I left Bosnia, and incidentally now that I think about it this blog post is roughly two months late (sorry Ann). As I write this, sitting with my two pups in my stuffy apartment, the emotion that keeps coming up for me is gratitude. Thus, for this last blog post I would like to end by giving thanks to Bosnia and all the individuals and places that I encountered along the way. First, thank you to Ann for brining me into this journey. I am not sure I would have gone to Bosnia had it not been for that very first info session and even though we could not meet in person until the Munich airport, your passion and dedication to the course and to Bosnia were apparent to me from the beginning. Secondly, I am truly honored to have had the opportunity to bear witness to the stories of the country itself. It was truly remarkable to stand on the bridge where World War I started and to drink Bosnian beer from the same brewery whose water was such an important part of daily life during the war. In Srebrenica, as a group we had the honor of walking the same route where years before, thousands upon thousands of people literally were running for their lives. This was such an intense experience for me that I am still processing that day and will be for a while. Finally, to new friends made and relationships strengthened! In just two weeks Bosnia captured my heart, from the café across the street of the hotel to the teashop up the road. My only wish is that I had had more time to further my relationship and understanding of what makes Bosnia such a captivating country.

 

Well that is all for now, with love from Durango!

A Few Moments in Photos

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Small signs in another world serve as reminders of the scars that this country continues to bear.

I gaze at the physical beauty while marching to honor the lives lost in these woods.

Mars Mira will continue to soar through my mind, being our first glimpse into the horror of war and the strength of the human spirit.


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The sun sets over a sleepy village nestled below hills filled with those who meant to harm them just 22 years ago.

The hospitality that Saliha has shown us fills me with appreciation and awe of human resiliency and kindness.

I take another sip of rose water and return to our family dinner by her garden.


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Experiencing the city of Mostar from the top of a Minaret was a special moment in a country where the beauty of Islam has been shown to me in so many ways.

I look at the speakers above my head and realize the call to prayer has become an ingrained part of my day and an endearing part of my journey.


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Olympic Village from 1984 becomes the community in which my coworkers and friends live.

I marvel at the rings on the apartment complexes as we walk the streets to dinner and end the evening taking in the sounds of the river lazily running through town.


A  special thanks to the 12 amazing people I got to share some of these moments with…

Lessons Learned

I’ve traveled to a good number of places in my short lifetime. I’ve noticed that everywhere I go I pick up a few things that stay with me. Here’s what I’ve learned in Bosnia.

  1. No sorrys (sorries?) After spending some time here, I’ve caught myself apologizing for things I really don’t need to be sorry about. Occasionally I’ll say it at work, and and my supervisor will say “no sorrys.” I think it’s a lovely thought to keep. I can’t quite explain it, but it makes the real sorrys feel more genuine and the every day bumps and mistakes just feel less heavy.
  2. Embrace the weird. There have been many times on this trip where, between the lack of language skills and just being in Bosnia, I catch myself looking around and thinking “what the shizz nuggets is going on?” Through all of these times, I’ve learned that if you can look past being uncomfortable and embrace the situation, you tend to be a lot happier, and usually come out with a pretty good story.
  3. Shit happens. For the most part I generally feel I’m pretty easy going, but everything that could go wrong on this trip went wrong at some point. Getting lost on the way to work every day for the first week; losing our bags after the peace march – just to name a few (please excuse that non sentence). A big one that still hits a little close to home is losing my phone and laptop to a makeshift pool that happened in my purse after my water bottle spilled. I’ve been amazed by how great the water is here the entire trip, but I was hating every last drop after that happened. But, here’s the funny thing –  last night after our final group dinner, it was pouring rain out. We couldn’t get taxis so we walked home barefoot getting drenched in the process. It’s funny that the same thing that caused so many problems earlier on in the week also was the same thing that created my favorite memory of my entire time here. Shit happens, but there’s always a silver lining.

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Andar for coffee today. 

“Andar backwards, you get Radn(j)a which in Bosnian means -a shop-“

In the place where I am sitting a man opened his shoemaking shop in 1933 the family business was passed down to his son and then his granddaughter.

By the time she had inherited the business, the craftsmanship of shoemaking had become something of a lost art.

She decided to turn “the shop” into a coffee house. Old handmade shoe molds hang from the wall keeping the essence of the family business alive.

The menu is in the shape of shoe with leather pages telling the story of the shop along with  instructions of how to properly drink Bosnian coffee. 

It’s by far the best coffee I’ve had in Sarajevo. 

“The  most important thing about Bosnian coffee is that you have to enjoy it. We Bosnians even have a word for it. ” Merak” = to do something from within your soul, with creativity or love, leaving a piece of yourself in what you’re doing.” 

This is truly the Bosnian way and Andar exemplifies this wonderfully.  

I shall return. 

Green Visions – not your average tour agency

When you hear ‘tourism agency’ you probably think about the highly organized trips in big international cities. Green Visions is not your average tourism agency. Green Visions is one of the pioneers of the adventure tourism in Bosnia and the Balkan region. Adventure tourism? Yes! One of the best ways to experience a country is in its wilderness, hiking, backpacking, mountain biking, and rafting. I have had the amazing opportunity to be one of Green Visions interns this summer. My top priority this summer has been to create and implement a social media plan for Green Visions and the Via Dinarica Alliance. Social media is paramount to any business today, but even more so for a tourism agency. For Green Visions, Facebook and Instagram are two of the most important aspects to their social media presence. Both platforms offer the opportunity to promote their business through photographs, which is extremely important for adventure tourism agencies. Photographs are the backbone and can make or break whether potential clients will book with them. It shows potential clients exactly what they will be experiencing and exploring. I have learned a lot about social media over the course of the summer. I have learned of different scheduling applications that will post your content for you, some were useless and not user-friendly while others are so easy to use it was hard to decide which one I should recommend to my supervisor. I have learned how a business works from the inside and that it is always a good time for a Bosnian coffee break.

You might be asking, what in the world does tourism have to do with International Development? Everything. Tourism can fuel a country’s economy but it can also destroy a country’s culture. Green Visions is combining tourism and development work with the local cultures. Green Visions is not just an adventure tourism agency, it’s also a cultural tourism agency. My supervisor, Thierry told me the story on how Green Visions was born. He and a friend were cross-country skiing when they realized they wouldn’t make it down the mountains to Sarajevo before dark. They just happened upon the highland village of Lukomir and knocked on their door to ask to spend the night. Then, Green Visions was created.

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Green Visions’ tagline is ‘Giving Back’ and they give back to Bosnia in the greatest possible ways. Because more and more people have been visiting Lukomir, both with organized tours and by themselves, it has to develop while holding onto its’ traditional culture. The largest obstacle? Trash. Before people starting visiting Lukomir on a regular basis there was no need for trash to be hauled out of the village. But now, trash needs to be hauled out and Green Visions is working with the local municipalities to try to work out a trash pick-up for Lukomir. Green Visions lives and breathes its tagline. In every place they conduct tours they are giving back in some way. They ask what the community needs and they find some way to get what they need.

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If you’re ever in Bosnia be sure to book a day tour with Green Visions. You won’t be disappointed.

Alone.

I did something last weekend that may seem small to some, but for me it was quite big. I went to Slovenia alone. I had never taken a trip by myself before and never saw interest or reason as to why someone would even want to do such a thing. When you live with 12 other people eager to travel on weekends what is the point in going somewhere alone? I’ve taken many planes across the US alone, I got myself to Bosnia alone, I spend time hiking alone but never saw the need to travel alone. I like sharing my experiences and memories with people.

I do love challenging myself and forcing myself to try new things knowing that in the end I will usually find a liking for it. In this way, my time alone in Slovenia was no exception. I enjoyed wandering and exploring Ljubljana at my own pace, stopping to take pictures when I pleased. I discovered a food festival going on outside along the river and indulged in different flavors and people watching. I made friends with my hostel mates and we laughed and explored the local beers over funny travel stories and puppy watching. I spent time at Lake Bled writing and reading amongst the trees and beauty of nature. Traveling alone was the peace I needed to ground myself. I loved stopping to listen to musicians playing in the streets and think back on the treasures this summer has brought. Ljubljana is a special place where the smiles are infectious. Everyone has a dog and everyone rides their bike. The recycling system there puts most American cities to shame.

I know I will look back on this experience as a highlight of the summer. There were no life altering realizations but I did leave Slovenia a little bit more whole.

Some lessons learned

As the summer comes to a close, I thought I would share a bit of what I learned from living with 11 women this summer. I was one of two males in our cohort, with Brandon being the other male and quite a bit older (he has a son around my age). For some men that may sound like a bit of a nightmare, but I thoroughly enjoyed the experience just as much, if not more, than if I was in a more mixed group or an all-male group. So, at this point, I thought I would share a few lessons and insights that I learned along the way, and maybe impart some wisdom on my fellow men.

  • Mansplaining is real. I’ll admit I am particularly guilty of this one. I didn’t actually realize how bad of a mansplainer I was until I started getting called out. A lot. Like a lot, a lot. I would like to think I improved at this, but I will leave it to my fellow Global Practice Bosnia friends to be the judge of that one. All I can say is I get it now, and I’m trying to knock it out. As for other men, you probably do it too and it’s annoying, so cut it out.
  • Women can be just as potty-mouthed, crude, and inappropriate as a high-school boy’s locker room. This one speaks for itself. Suffice to say, I wasn’t lacking in the same kinds of colorful conversations I would have at home with my guy friends drinking at the local dive bar.
  • There are just some conversations men do not need to chime in on. A lot of men (and just people in general) feel compelled to be a part of every conversation that is happening around them. Yet, there are some conversations that men, in particular, should not contribute to if you are privy to being there for. It’s not our place and we simply cannot relate or understand. Sometimes it’s just better to listen and observe with couth.
  • Talking about feelings and venting is actually a good thing. I thoroughly dislike talking about feelings or even admitting I have them. Yet, talking about feelings and listening to other’s feelings and venting was a big part of the summer. It’s a healthy and perfectly normal thing to do. Although I am still a bit squeamish about it, I can appreciate that I should be more in touch and vocal about what I am feeling than I did when this all started. It was a good lesson to learn.
  • Men can be creepy. The number of stories I heard over the course of the summer about the shitty, creepy things men do to women was shocking. I used to think that women may have blown this out of proportion, but not anymore. Men simply do not know how to act around women and it’s pathetic. It doesn’t take much to polite and respectful, but it seems to be more of a struggle for a lot of men than I was previously aware of. It made me a bit ashamed to be a guy actually. I’d like to think being raised by my mother I know better, but I cannot speak for the rest of my fellow men.
  • We are all just people. That’s it. It doesn’t matter that I lived with mostly women this summer, we were all in the same boat. It wouldn’t make a difference who I lived with based on sex, gender, ethnicity, religion, or whatever. We are all humans coexisting in a foreign country together, pursuing new experiences, and trying to make the best of our time here. I have made some truly great friends on this trip and bonded much more than I thought I would.

I would like to thank my cohort for one hell of a summer and some good lessons learned. I think my future girlfriends will agree, you all made me a better man. Thanks for tolerating my mansplaining and not giving me too much grief along the way.

Niti jedna žena nevidljiva

Decorations on the office walls at Fondacija CURE

Last week at my internship I spent a solid 20 minutes scrolling through photos of sculptures of topless women on the internet. It’s not exactly what I had envisioned working on this summer, but it turns out that sometimes when you’re looking for information on feminist sculptors, much of the available content is visual. And I can’t complain about receiving academic credit for it.

Fondacija CURE is a feminist activist organization in Sarajevo with an extensive list of projects. I stumbled upon the stone breasts while researching an artist who will be attending CURE’s annual feminist art festival, to assemble her bio for the website. Researching some of this year’s guests has been my main project for the last couple of weeks, as the festival is about three weeks away. Unfortunately, I won’t be here to see it, but this event is a pretty big deal for the organization.

They invite NGOs, a variety of officials from Bosnia and Sarajevo-based embassies, and the media to the opening of the festival. I’m told that in addition to the attendees from all parts of Bosnia who come, there are regular contingents of (primarily) women who make the trip from neighboring countries. There are great efforts taken to ensure that young women, economically disadvantaged women and women from marginalized communities can attend the festival, and to ensure that they are represented on the stage.

In addition to celebrating feminist art, CURE’s activities include monitoring of policy and lobbying of political leaders, coordinating activist demonstrations in Sarajevo, holding educational workshops for youth around the country, and various other projects, such as screening the textbooks used in public school for content which normalizes domestic violence. In short, they’re kind of a catch-all for feminist causes in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Which you kind of have to be when you’re one of the only organizations doing this kind of work.

One of my personal frustrations while learning about Bosnia’s history has been my perception that women are not adequately represented in much of the material or public commemoration of the violence in the 1990s. There are many reasons for the way in which the culture of memory has developed, and it’s certainly not my place to come in and dictate how someone else’s experiences should be memorialized. As any self-aware feminist in development should know, it’s not the outsider’s place to impose their beliefs on another community; a well-meaning foreigner who dictates how women (or any marginalized group) should act just perpetuates their oppression in a different manner than the power structure that has oppressed them in the first place.

In my role as an intern, it’s my duty to listen to my supervisors at work and then decide how I can best assist with what they need, in their context. Not surprisingly, the best contribution I can make looks different in practice than I might have imagined it to look prior to being here. While it seems to me that assembling an issue brief or research report would be my optimal work output, sometimes what my supervisors actually need is for me to sift through the nude sculptures to find the background info. And if I want to contribute to the feminist movement in Bosnia, or to the field of international development in general, this is how I feel I can best do it responsibly.

But, aside from taking the opportunity to condemn imperial forms of feminism, I mention the issue of women’s representation here to illustrate the importance of an organization like Fondacija CURE. They’re a small NGO created and run by Bosnian women with the intention of elevating the voices of other women to create a gender equitable society. On the front page of their website right now, there are links to articles about female survivors of sexualized violence, rural widows, and queer women in Bosnia. They design projects and events that suit their communities, using tactics to mobilize and empower local women in their own lives, while also advocating for institutional change in Bosnia. Rather than trying to achieve gender equity by enforcing it on the unreceptive masses from a position of power, CURE works directly with marginalized groups to determine how best to serve and advocate for them. As with anything new, they encounter some resistance from the more conservative elements of society, but their fight is their own. And who better than Bosnian women, of various intersectional identities, to create and define change that will benefit Bosnian women?

The Elusiveness of Time

Previously mentioned when discussing my internship and the difference between working in the United States and in Bosnia, I mentioned that time seemed to be elusive here. This exact concept is the thing I loved and will miss this most from the summer, but also the thing I cannot wait to get away from. It has been both a blessing and a curse. While I’ve discussed this with some peers and they call it a “European thing” I didn’t experience it as much in the other European cities I visited during my time here.

Looking back on my summer in Bosnia with just four days remaining, I’m wondering how eight weeks went by so quickly. It feels like just the other day I stepped off the plane for the first time in Sarajevo and got hit right in the face with the ridiculously humid June air. On the other hand, I look back and look at all of the places I’ve been and all the accomplishments that have been made, and wonder how this eight weeks still has four days left in it. Waking up without an alarm has been the greatest reason that time has seemed so elusive this summer. An appointment or meeting with someone will be set for 7pm, but don’t expect them to show up until 7:15pm at the earliest – it’s just how things go. Time isn’t real. People aren’t tied down to be places or do things, and the laid back environment and lack of care for the time is a beautiful thing. However, while this has been wonderful, I’m nervous about reintegrating right back into the busy American way of things. I start an internship about two weeks after I return to the United States and I know it’s going to be rigorous, with no elongated coffee breaks or leaving early because it’s hot out or really, just because. Don’t get me wrong, I’m so beyond grateful to have had this experience, I’m just nervous that getting back into a routine is going to take a lot longer and be much more difficult than I would like it to be.

All in all, if you ever get the chance to travel to the Balkans, or even better, specifically Bosnia, do not be alarmed as you slip out of your organized, rigorous mode, and into someone who doesn’t care about what time it is, or why it takes an hour and a half to have a coffee. The elusiveness of time is something that should be experienced at least once by everyone in their life.