Expectations

If this summer had a theme, it’s “things are never what you expect” or perhaps more appropriately, “don’t expect”.

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The memories from the summer often don’t feel real.  I experienced so much. It seems like I’m reeling in my own feelings and trying to process all that I did saw ate touched and smelled. The daily churn of living in a city as magnificent as Sarajevo, combined with the trials and tribulations of hostel life, thriving in an incredible internship, and all the while trying to stop my brain from being Rose and focusing on the impending school year, seem to culminate in an unfamiliar numbness.  Did that really just happen?

 

Living in Sarajevo was so much more than I could’ve anticipated. I miss the sounds of call to prayer; the endless liters of wine consumed, the bread, the buildings, shit sometimes I even miss the smell of a freshly lit cigarette with morning kafa.

Dobre. It was so good. The cobble stone streets flooded with the freshest of spring waters and the potpourri of people.

 

Sarajevo has so much to offer, and coming back to the world of Starbucks, grad classes, SUVs and IPADS galore, I’ve come to the rapid conclusion that I need to offer something back. Whether it’s an academic, creative, spiritual or god knows what, what has stuck is this inherent need to acknowledge the world beyond the bubble.  Growing up in my family, I was perpetually exposed to new cultures and styles of living through my dad’s work.  As an adult I have made a point to travel- from Prague to South Korea and now the Balkans.  I have seen poverty and disease and death, but nothing, never like this. It hit like a freight train, and I’ll yield the scars (and new tattoo) for the rest of my life.

 

I have had several very personal conversations since being home about what Bosnia was like for me.  Returning home has not been easy, in fact it’s been the opposite. Even my own parents are slightly stooped to hear of my difficulties.   It was hard. Simplest way to put it. I don’t want to paint of picture of horror when I talk about Bosnia in casual conversations now, but to an extent it’s required.  The beauty of this region that I was able to witness and share through my photos is of a world that is very real.  I hope that through these images, and through the narratives of the people who participated in this program, that the world will acknowledge the realities of Bosnia. What’s also required is that programs like GPB continue to show students a side of the world that is often forgotten. I am so grateful that I got to participate in this program, and in every sense it has changed me.

 

 

 

 

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Photo reflection

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Going through my photos from this summer was nearly impossible to pick just 1 to write about. There are thousands. Essentially like asking me to choose a favorite color of Peanut M&Ms. There are no favorites here, they are all delicious. And I will eat them all, please and thanks.

This photo was taken on the most recent and final work trip I had working with Green Visions. A group of 8 women and 1 man (our lucky guide) summited Maglić Peak at 2,386 meters . It is the highest mountain in Bosnia, and directly translated it means “The Foggy One”.  Like something straight out of the Misty Mountain, the views would indeed make Gandalf swoon.  Sutjeska National Park is Bosnia’s biggest park, and was so aptly named because of a famous World War II battle that took place here. Our days hike composed of a border crossing, 360 views of meadows and limestone cliffs, summit coffee breaks and lots and lots of singing. We were the human jukeboxes, singing loudly for Nature and basking in amplified joy.

10 hours later, however,  we were all slightly frustrated, exhausted, stinky and within minutes of the finish line when the sun decided it would give us a sendoff fit for queens.  I couldn’t even be mad at the blisters taking over both big toes, the grumbling tummy noises from a rather conspicuous meat sandwich and the ache of scaling down a mountain.  It was like getting hugged by nature, and it felt amazing.

Sunsets are a magical thing, and dusk has always been my absolute favorite time of day. When the calmness hits, the air seems to suspend in absolute clarity. The receding warmth and the impending coolness of night collide in a transformative peace.  And oh the light- they don’t call it the Golden Hour for nothing.

This summer has brought emotional and physical exhaustion.  It has been some of the best and most difficult moments I’ve yet experienced in life, and it has provoked lots of reflecting, journaling and perhaps too many bottles of wine.  I chose this photo because as the end of our time here approaches, and the start of something new awaits, a sunset seemed both simultaneously appropriate, existentially profound, and humbly awesome (as it is a fairly epic photo, if I do say so myself).

 

Green Visions. And giving back

Since the moment I walked in the door at Green Visions- tucked away in an odd shade of pink apartment complex that was built before the 1984 Olympics (most specifically, as housing for the Olympic competitors and trainers) it has been a remarkable experience.

 

I have been surrounded by enthusiasm, immense knowledge, invitations, failed and not so failed attempts at cross-lingual jokes, hour long coffee dates, bumpy van rides, stunning panoramas, and many many stories. The guides and staff at this organization have combined life experiences that would give Spielberg a real run for his money.

 

Everyday outside my office – when I’m here-  sits a fruit and vegetable stand, perched in the backseat of an old VW, with a lady selling the most appetizing of goodies. I resist the urge to buy it all, and she smiles at me as I pass by. Across the way is a coffee shop, a grocery store, and screaming children playing soccer in uneven rickety streets. The office itself is a small, bright space filled with enough information to travel the Balkans a thousand times over. The shelves and cases are stuffed with an eclectic combination of trail mix, bike helmets, camping gear galore, empty espresso cups, random collectables from travels, someone’s half assed collections of bottle caps, a not so hidden bottle of Rakia, and 3 chunky computers resting atop 3 clunky desks.  The door is almost always open, despite the Propou and the newly installed air conditioning unit. Depending on who is in the office first, a mix of Jazz or Enrique Iglesias can be heard.

 

So far I have been on several of Green Visions trips- ranging from day trips to multiple country multiple night ones.  Hiking, biking, eating, laughing, walking and sight seeing- professionals on all accounts. As local experts in the Balkan regions, Green Visions are frequently hired through a few bigger outside organizations to run trips.  As a traveler who has never really been ‘into’ organized group trips, I will say that Green Visions runs the itinerary pretty damn flawlessly. There is crunch time and down time, just enough nuanced information to provide an insight into place and time, and never a drowning of information.  Some meals have been arranged and reserved, taking the pressure off of ‘where to eat tonight’ and some remain open. Someone, somewhere, has clearly thought this out, and I think I know just the man.

 

One of the unexpected things I have so enjoyed about these leaders is the abundance of Naturalist knowledge among them. Most grew up more or less in the mountains, and can point out the subtlest of differences between two seemingly equal-looking white mushrooms, hunt for the freshest of raspberries, and know where to find fresh chamomile and herbs for the most flavorful cooking. This is their homeland. They are involved in Rakia making, chicken farming, sketching, underground punk music scenes, adventuring and once upon a time random jobs as sheep herders in Iceland. They have passion about this region, and it is clear from the moment their shoes hit the dirt that this, is heaven.

 

My role here at Green Visions has been primarily as a photographer. I have been on the road to take photos and promote not only the organization, but the newly emerging Via Dinarica trail. This epic trail spans 7 countries, across mountains and along coast lines, and is really the next big thing in outdoor extremism and perhaps a first of it’s kind in Europe. For the region, it is necessary and not to mention, totally badass. Tourism can bring immense amounts of money, and this kind of adventuring is really the image that is changing the conversation. Far too often people associate the Balkans, and Bosnia Herzegovina specifically, with a sort of gloomy war cloud- one that devastates populations and stagnates progress. Even my mom said when I first announced my trip here thought “Well is it safe?!”

 

To some extent the war here does linger, but it is not the story this crowd is dwelling on. There is so much more to tell- in the beauty of the mountains, in the depths of the canyons that rival that of the Grand Canyon, to the mystical aqua blues of glacier fed streams that puncture valleys and provide life to small farming towns, and to the people that have created new lives.  Green Visions motto is “Giving Back”; a phrase the emphasizes unity, humility, intention and community. I think despite maybe not fitting a traditional ‘economics’ label, this organization and the experiences I have had here contribute far greater to a hands on study of economics than anything I could’ve asked for.

 

I suppose at the end of the day, I have Ann Petrila to thank for this. A sure sense of panic erupted in my gut when she first read the job description for Green Visions back some idle day in April when I was meeting about internship plans- so I conclude with the sincerest of thanks, and do believe a bottle of good red wine is in order.

 

 

 

 

Some photos of my coworkers and I on our adventures.

 

Me and my giant boys on our last night in Montenegro.

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Setting up the best picnic lunch of all time on a winding road in Montenegro.

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Coffee breaks and smiles.

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When in doubt, follow the Sabinas.

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Oh Surprise, you wreckless mule

Blog theme “What surprises you the most?”

Surprise- it can be a loaded word. Sometimes surprises are wonderful, life altering moments that you’ll always remember. Like, “Surprise you won a million dollars!” or “surprise your sister is engaged!”. Those surprises, Im totally good with.  Other surprises, like, “Hey there’s a tarantula crawling up your leg” or “ Surprise you got a parking ticket and the cop is literally walking away now!” those…are not so great. I could do without, and my heart thanks you for listening.

Moving to Sarajevo, I anticipated a smorgasbord of surprises in both contexts. Whenever you visit a new country, it seems that both of the surprise-types are almost inevitable, and in some cases welcome. You kind of want both; to fulfil a sense of adventure and adrenaline, and also to reassess the reality that you’re out of control.

 

I’ve never lived in a Muslim city before, and as a group we’ve arrived right in the middle of the holy month of Ramadan. I had heard all about the call to prayer that I was to witness, and how the call was fairly majestic. To to be honest, I have only heard that now a handful of times and it’s now been over a week.  So I am not really surprised by it, but rather in a way comforted when I do hear it because it reminds me where I am.

However, what I have learned, and what has truly surprised me these last 10 days, is the remarkable canon shot that goes off at roughly 8:30 PM that marks the end of the day of fasting. I could be sitting in the hostel, attempting to soak up what little internet connectivity I can get my hands on, out at a restaurant, exploring new parts of the city or in the mountains and suddenly this giant BOOM erupts; and I kind of always lose my shit.  I suppose it’s largely that I have not been avoiding food or drink all day (rather quite the opposite) and so therefore I am not counting the seconds until I can indulge in the Iftar- the meal to end fasting- and so the canon shot is entirely unpredictable and I’m not checking my watch.  It’s without a doubt routinely and unequivocally surprising.

I am also surprised, and wonderfully charmed, to see a side of Muslim culture that isn’t being smeared on headlines in some overwhelmingly negative fashion.  My reality of living and working within these communities is nothing but positive. In light of all the recent tragedy in the world that largely frames anyone wearing a head dress as evil, it enlivens my heart to see interactions that are just people living. It’s a beautiful thing, and a gentle reminder that you shouldn’t assume that everything you read is fact.

 

The world needs more of these types of surprises. To recognize that different does not mean bad, and that maybe being out of your own element, accepting and learning from surprise is actually ok.  So please, world, bring on the surprise.

 

Just leave out the bugs, those I can do without.

 

Miss Sarajevo

When we arrived to Sarajevo in mid-June, there was a general sense of quiet and tranquility that blanketed the city. Most of its citizens were maintaining their Ramadan fasts, and until the sunset Iftar, the city didn’t fully spring to life. Once the cannon from the Yellow Fortress fired, Sarajevans flooded the cobbled walkways of Baščaršija.

My first experience of the city was a far cry from my final experience in the city. The opening of the Sarajevo Film Festival coincided with our last night in Sarajevo. The Film Festival was a communal outpouring, and summoned everyone in the city to participate in some capacity. New cafes and restaurants sprung up overnight, and an infectious energy permeated the city.

The Sarajevo Film Festival began during the siege, and showed how the Bosnian’s refused to let the siege dictate all aspects of their day-to-day lives. Bill Carter’s Film, Ms. Sarajevo is one film that is emblematic of this, and even went on to inspire U2’s Song, Miss Sarajevo. Despite constant shelling and warfare, Sarajevans fought to maintain their identity whether it was in the way they chose to dress, or their unique sense of humor. The image from Ms. Sarajevo that will continue to resonate with me is of the young women in bathing suits unfolding a banner reading, “Please don’t let them kill us.” The woman who went on to win “Miss Besieged Sarajevo” went on to say ”there were numerous appeals to end this war, we asked for help in all possible ways but nothing worked…so this was another outcry to draw attention and have someone do something. We just wanted this war to end.” Other clever jabs at media came when Sarajevo surpassed Leningrad for the longest siege of all time and the local radio station played the song “we are the champions.” Another story from the war that evidences the Bosnian’s attempt to lighten the somber mood was when a Serb painted “This is Serbia” over a post office in Sarajevo. The following day, someone wrote over it, “no, this is a post office, you idiot.”A28oPvhCMAEo58o

It was a bittersweet departure leaving the city in the midst of the film festival. The festival represented an impressive array of work from around the world and from emerging filmmakers. It also brought life to unique venues around the city, including open-air cinemas and screenings in historic buildings. Even if a film lacked a star-studded cast, or is marginal in its outward appeal, it managed to draw an impressive assortment of attendees. The film festival represents Sarajevo’s annual dedication to the arts and unity in diversity.

The 20th Century’s Most Complex Forensic Investigation

Human remains line the walls from floor to ceiling at the Podrinje Identification Project (PIP). PIP is one of three of the International Commission on Missing Person’s (ICMP) facilities, and one of two that deals directly with the human remains related to the fall of Srebrenica. The ICMP was founded in 1996 by President Clinton to address the issue of missing persons from the former federal republic of Yugoslavia, and its extenuating conflicts from 1991 to 1995. Thus far, over 70% of the victims that went missing from these conflicts have been accounted for. ICMP has worked alongside governments in the region to accurately identify 16,722 persons, of which 13,964 relate to the conflicts in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The numbers, particularly those related to Srebrenica are staggering, and fail to bring justice to the havoc that was wrecked on this once harmonious, and diverse region.

Srebrenica represents one of the most complex and comprehensive forensic investigations of the 20th century. It has taken over twenty years to find 90% of the estimated 8,0000 victims, and those that have been found were scattered across a territory spanning 2,800 square kilometers. The most complicated forensic challenge has come in the form of locating and identifying the victims. The initial mass graves, also known as primary graves, were unearthed and the bodies were removed and buried in a series of secondary sites in an attempt to conceal evidence. As a result, body parts are scattered throughout multiple sites. Body remains have been found at up to four different sites.

The ICMP was initially utilizing a traditional forensic method of identification for these bodies, however, it became increasingly evident that this method had its limitations. The arduous process of identifying victims of the conflicts warranted techniques that weren’t yet available. The ICMP developed DNA identification in order to more conclusively identify the remains. This is done by taking DNA profiles from blood samples of family members with missing relatives. The DNA profiles are then analyzed and compared, and the bodies are identified. In one instance, a woman came in for a blood sample in hopes of identifying her son who was presumed dead in Srebrenica. The ICMP was able to find a match to her blood, but it was deemed too old by traditional forensic investigation to match the profile of her son. Further investigation revealed the match to be her father who was killed in WW2 alongside the river Drina in Eastern Bosnia.

The ICMP is uniquely indebted to one individual for his tireless assistance in finding the remains of Srebrenica victims. Ramiz Nukic scours the hillsides near his birth home in Kamenize, eastern Bosnia day after day in search of human remains. He has no job, but feels that it is his moral duty to help the ICMP in their identification process. Since 1999 when he began his search (in hopes of finding his father and brother), he has brought countless families closure by finding their loved ones in this tragically beautiful countryside. He recalls the day that he fled from Srebrenica, and hardly recognized his own home, because the hillside surrounding it was covered with the dead. Each time he discovers bones he contacts the ICMP who then take away the remains to be identified through DNA analysis. He stated “I feel bad when I don’t find a bone…. But am happy when I do. Because one family will find closure.” The ICMP found the body of his father this year, and he was able to bury him at the Srebrenica memorial on July 11.IMG_8713

Since its inception nearly two centuries ago, the ICMP has become the world’s leading authority on missing people. Its headquarters have been transferred from Sarajevo to the Hague to become a permanent global body. The techniques pioneered at the ICMP have helped identify victims of natural disasters, political repression, drug crime, apartheid and war. Countries where it has proven successful have been in Thailand, the Philippines, Chile, South Africa, the United States, Iraq, Colombia and Libya. The ICMP provides some degree of consolation for the widespread deaths that occurred in Bosnia and Herzegovina by bringing families unrequited solace and closure. Upon entering the PIP headquarters, you’re overcome by a sense of helplessness when confronted with the scope and complexity of those missing. In the short amount of time we were able to spend with Ramiz Nukic, it was amazing to see how one individual was able to overcome such a daunting physical and mental mission. His tireless pursuit and humility have been integral to the success of the ICMP, but more importantly, have called those directly and indirectly involved in the Srebrenica genocide to redefine how they choose to deal with and confront loss.IMG_8787

Moving Fast and Slow

This weeks marks my first month abroad, away from Denver, and the end of our second week in Sarajevo. Somehow this place slows down and speeds up time simultaneously. Time is slowed by long afternoons drinking coffee until the sun angles horizontal with the streets, so the umbrellas don’t do much good and you’re wondering why you’re drinking caffeine at this time of day. The days fly by when dinner lasts three hours and six courses for Iftar (the meal at the end of the day during Ramadan), and all of a sudden it’s 11:30 pm and past my regularly scheduled bed time.

The beginning of my time in Sarajevo has been this oddly mixed pace, that leaves me falling asleep hard and fast every night. At my internship with Green Visions, I spend most of the mornings and afternoons becoming acquainted with the office, website, and social media. The online presence of Green Visions and Via Dinarica (the long distance hiking trail in the Balkans) easily sells itself with beautiful vistas and rich cultural traditions.

Later in the afternoon, the pace accelerates and I start to wonder where the day has gone. Yesterday, I walked around town looking for bike shops to rent out road bikes for the marathon from Bihac to Srebrenica, which is probably akin to finding a vegan restaurant in rural Kentucky. The plan is to ride as a part of the Green Visions group and experience all of the Bosnian countryside from next Wednesday-Friday. The ride is a part of the Srebrenica 20-year memorial, and roughly 270 people are preregistered for the race. I am so appreciate of Green Visions for taking me on this summer, and connecting me with the passionate people and unique landscapes of the Balkans.

Sarajevo: A Meeting of Coffee Cultures

The history of Bosnia is very much intertwined with the history of coffee. The Bosnians were by no means pioneers in the coffee movement, however, their geographic location placed them at an ideal crossroads to incorporate coffee consumption as a meaningful daily activity. My first impressions of Bosnia came when we crossed the border from Croatia to meet up with our Bosnian tour guide, Faruk. Faruk insisted the most important thing we do before exploring his country was to get to know each other over a cup of coffee. imagesWe marveled as he managed to make an espresso last over an hour. While slowly sipping, he explained the importance of coffee, and the role it has accorded in most Bosnians’ lives.

Once outside Africa, coffee beans were utilized and quickly spread throughout the Ottoman Empire in the 16th century. Shortly after, when the Austrians defeated the Turks in the Battle of Vienna, it was discovered that the Turks leftover spoils were in fact coffee beans. The Austrian officer who received the spoils used them in Vienna’s first coffee house. He helped make the coffee more palatable by adding sugar and milk to the acidic coffee.imgres Bosnia, whose history is uniquely indebted to both countries, has assumed their own identity that is a delicate balance of East and West. Strolling through the old town, you walk across a compass with two directions: East and West. The compass symbolizes the country’s tug-of-war between the Ottoman Empire and the Austro-Hungarians, and how despite the pull of both empires, Bosnia managed to emerge as their own unique entity.

Our first cup of coffee drew to a close, and Faruk used the dwindling time to discuss – what else – Starbucks. He remained baffled by the company’s success. Why would someone enjoy being corralled into a line only to be served a large, syrupy coffee only to leave 10 minutes later with very limited interaction? Coffee, he said is meant to be shared, and is an opportunity to spend time with loved ones. Coffee is a special opportunity to cherish time with one another, and you never know if you’ll see someone again.. It’s a common quip that in Bosnia happiness is not measured by the amount of wealth you have, but by the number of close friends you have. Coffee is merely an excuse to enrich these relationships. img_2294-0