Lukomir: Home Away from Home

The Dinaric Alps traverse the Balkan Peninsula, and are home to countless rivers and lakes, steep gorges and canyons, and interestingly, the world’s tallest people. This past weekend, Global Practice Bosnia ventured to Lukomir, a village nestled in the Alps, and discovered it to be a home away from home. Lukomir is Bosnia’s highest, and most remote village, and coincidentally is located at the same elevation as Denver, 5,280 feet. The thin, fresh air was enervating and called to mind hiking trips in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. It wasn’t difficult to discover why the locals have such a hard time separating themselves from this special place during winter months. The younger generations in Lukomir recently made the decision to move the older generations from Lukomir to Sarajevo due to sub-optimal living conditions in the winter months. In the spring when the snow melts, the village elders make their perennial trip up to Lukomir. Samra, a 20-something resident of Lukomir, relayed the story of how each spring she loves witnessing the elders return to the mountain, amazed by how they defy age and gravity, bounding up the mountain with smiles stretched across their faces.IMG_8962

The trip was called the “Three Generations Trip” and was put on by Green Visions. Once we made the trek up to Lukomir, we had the privilege of spending time with three generations of women that have heartily resided in the mountainous village for nearly a century. These three women, and many others, are symbolic of a larger ethos that I’ve come to love about Bosnians. They are tenacious, imaginative, and equipped with a fabulous, wry sense of humor.IMG_8908            In post-conflict countries, there is a constant process of re-defining and re-categorizing the notion of happiness. I was reminded of Viktor Frankl’s book entitled “Man’s Search for Meaning,” in which the author uses his experience at an Auschwitz concentration camp to find meaning in all forms of existence. Frankl mentions the Greek word, eudaimonea, which refers to a state of having a good indwelling spirit or being in a contented state of being healthy, happy and prosperous. In the face of adversity, it’s remarkable how Bosnians did not let the war define them, and how their resiliency is what allowed their country- and it’s spirit to remain intact.IMG_8969

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Contrasts: Bosnia and Home

After a full week living here in Sarajevo, I am only beginning to understand the culture that is, at points, a leap and a bound away from the American lifestyle that we often times grow so used to.

Through my previous experiences abroad, and through conversations our group has had, I have learned that it is important to be cautious when comparing and contrasting different cultures because it can quickly lead to hurt feelings or judgement on someone else’s way of life, even if that wasn’t the intention. Saying that, I still believe that it is important to be honest about how some things differ from how we expect them to be, or how we can confused as to why someone did or do not do something and how that could be a reflection of their culture. Reflection on the relationships between cultures is important, but I believe that there are times when we should tread lightly.

One large example of where I see a contrast to American culture is in the workplace. I can only speak about my own experience but I have heard similar experiences from others. As I arrived to my first day of my internship last week, everybody immediately stopped the work they were doing, and we all sat down and had coffee together and just started talking about the possibilities for the internship as well as other, less formal things. These (what I deem very relaxing and wonderful) coffee breaks can be instigated at any point in the day, and often more than once a day. Instead of putting your head down and plowing through as much work as possible during the eight hours that you’ve got, as sometimes I believe is the attitude in the United States, there seems to be a serious emphasis on the relationship atmosphere in the workplace. Taking half an hour (or one or two or three hours) to sit down, take a break, and learn more about the people you work with can be tremendously beneficial, and I believe that advantage is well recognized here.

Another place that I see serious differences from my lifestyle back in the states is simply concerning daily interaction with people in the city. I have been exposed to it once before as I began my eleven months in Brasil last year, but I have now remembered how much I dislike being completely incompetent when it comes to speaking the native language of the country/area in which I am staying. Daily tasks such as buying “one bus ticket please” all of a sudden become increasingly more difficult, not to mention trying to communicate that I would prefer my scoop of ice cream in a cup instead of a bowl. To my (and every other american that unfortunately can’t speak a lick of Bosnian) luck, many people who work within the center of the city have a good grasp on English. Slowly but surely, I am working on my Bosnian, but every day is accompanied by the occasional language barrier that causes frustration on both sides of the conversation. I forgot what this feels like and sometimes makes me feel like the stereotypical, somewhat arrogant american who can’t take the time to learn someone else’s language, as the entire world has done for us.

On a brighter note, the architecture that surrounds me every day continues to delight me as I walk to the bus stop or down the street to get ice cream. Our hostel is pleasantly placed in the center of Sarajevo where there are many older buildings and cobblestone sidewalks and streets. The tall (ranging from three to ten or more stories) buildings that occupy the area where we live have an old, rich with history feel to them that I think is hard to get anywhere in the United States, especially on the DU campus or in small town Northfield, MN. Some architecture in the city dates all the way back to the medieval period and the invasion of the ottoman empire.

Lastly, I have never lived in a place where Christianity is not the main religion. Though I am not necessarily religious myself, religion seems to play quite a role in many lives here in Sarajevo. Sarajevo, as a predominately Muslim city, is just beginning Ramadan (the ninth month in the Islam calendar that is traditionally observed by Muslims as a month of fasting) so every night right around sundown there are cannons that will go off to signal the call to prayer. The hostel is also located near a Mosque, so depending on the time of the day, sometimes I will be walking by the Mosque and see people removing their shoes and praying in the entrance, a somewhat foreign ritual to me, despite my frequent joking claims of being cultured and worldly. All in all, I haven’t really been exposed to many other religions besides Christianity and my exposure to Islam here is serving to be quite enlightening and educational.

The photos are from a hike up at the village of Lukomir, which is located at about 1500m above sea level and is the highest and most remote village in the entire country. As we returned to the village from our hike, we were warmly greeted with homemade bosanska kafa (bosnian coffee), homemade yogurt, and two varieties of pita (bosnian stuffed pastries/pie), krompirusa (stuffed with potato), and sirnica (stuffed with cheese).

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