07
Aug
10

Still here…

So, since my last post I have left Sarajevo for the summer which was certainly bittersweet.  I flew on the scariest plane from Sarajevo to Vienna.  Spent 3 days in Vienna fighting off an ear infection, night bus to Prague.  Get to Prague go to hospital for antibiotics – diagnosed with ear infection and tonsillitis.  Wander around Prague for 2 more days, night train Prague to Krakow.  Supposed to be very scary train but was quite comfortable and, fortunately, uneventful.  Wandered around Krakow, took a tour of Jewish Krakow, Schindler’s factory, Krakow Jewish ghetto, Auschwitz-Birkenau.

I have 2 more nights in Krakow then night train to Budapest, two days in Budapest until my parents arrive then we fly to Kosovo.

Minus the ear infection and clogged ear I’ve been fighting for the past week my whirlwind tour through Europe has been great.  Vienna was nothing like I thought it’d be.  Prague was gorgeous.  Krakow is awesome.  Looking forward to seeing Budapest.  Looking even more forward to not traveling around with about 60 pounds worth of luggage strapped to my body in one way or another.

26
Jul
10

weeks gone by

Well, it’s the last week in Sarajevo.  While I absolutely love this city I am ready to move on with my summer travels…only because I know I will return to Sarajevo at some point in my life.  These are my final impressions, and I will write about them again in a few weeks after I’ve let everything settle in my head.

Sarajevo is a geographically a long and narrow city.  Mountains border it to the north and south.  Its history proves that its set-up is both advantageous and disastrous.  Mountains have protected Sarajevo from invasions centuries ago, and they were also the platform for the siege from 1992-1995 as the Serbs set up snipers in the surrounding hillsides.  I love looking at the hills everyday, seeing the houses dotting them and clouds covering the tops.  I will especially miss looking at them at night and seeing all the lights and minarets.

Most people talk about cooled relations between Serbs and Muslims.  They hate that BiH is broken up into the Federation and Republika Srpska but with only 15 years passed since the war the ethnic tension is still very much prevalent.  If that doesn’t change Bosnia will be facing another war in the next twenty or thirty years, if not sooner.  History from the 1970s and 1980s is beginning to repeat itself.

With a 35-40% unemployment rate corruption clearly rules.  The government is corrupt which is old news, but organized crime from neighboring Balkan states is seeping into Bosnia.  Who is going to stop this if the heads of governments are the primary beneficiaries?

Two things that will never change: smoking and sitting for hours in a cafe.  There is so much smoking in Bosnia that not only does the smoke not bother me anymore, but I can identify brands of cigarettes by their smell.  A Bosnian’s favorite time to smoke is while socializing in cafes and bars.  The two go hand-in-hand.  Someone told me that Bosnians don’t have such things as lung cancer and disease.  (Not true, duh, Bosnia has one of the highest rates of lung cancer in Europe).  I also know that as long as the socializing for hours during the workday continues the country’s economic development will continue to stall.

I will miss seeing the Parliament and Holiday Inn each day on my way to work.  I’ll miss filling my water bottle at the Central Mosque two times a day.  I’ll miss strolling Ferhadija and Bascarsija each night, stopping at “Egypt” to get the world’s best vanilla ice cream.  Honestly, I’ll also miss $1.75 beers.  I’ll miss Zjelo’s cevapi – so far I haven’t found any that compares to it and probably never will.  I’ll miss cherry rakija, and other flavors too – I don’t discriminate – but cherry most of all.

I won’t miss going back to vegetarianism.  I won’t miss the cigarette smoke.  I won’t miss hand-washing clothes and letting them airdry on the balcony.  I won’t miss almost being hit by a car at least 4 times a day.  I will not miss walking past 6 police officers holding AK-47s and staring at me as I walk by the American Embassy twice a day.

Everybody should give Sarajevo a chance.  It really is a beautiful city that deserves to prove itself as a greater part of Europe, not a war-torn city of the Balkans.  I’m anxious to see what Sarajevo is like the next time I return.

22
Jul
10

good news on a rather lowly day

Kosovo’s independence is legal!  That should be enough to celebrate.  After almost 2 1/2 years Serbia is finally silenced (hopefully) and Kosovo can continue with its development.  I’ve had a less than stellar day so at least this little nugget will give me something to hold on to for the remainder of the week.

Last night we went to a soccer game – the Muslim Sarajevo team against Tel Aviv.  I’ve never seen more police per capita than I did last night.  And I’m only 60% sure the two loud bangs during the game were not gunshots.  We’ll never know though.  I left with about 10 minutes left but I think Sarajevo lost 1-0.  I didn’t notice any rioting so I guess it’s not a big deal.  The choreographed crowed of chanters, however, would probably tell you differently.

Not much more to report here.  I have 5 days of work left and 7 days left in Sarajevo.  As much as I love Sarajevo I am mentally checked out and ready to travel around Europe, and even more ready to get back home and do some good ol’ fashion porch sittin’ in quiet Elmira.  Maybe I’ll detox from all the cevap, sirnica and pivo I’ve put into my body and get back to eating more than 2 food groups.  A girl can dream.

Tomorrow begins the annual Sarajevo Film Festival.  It’s a week long party that was literally moved to July this year so it avoided Ramadan in August.  Muslims gotta party too!  Morgan Freeman is going to be in town and that’s all anyone can talk about.  I imagine I won’t be seeing him or any other famous people but there will be plenty of people watching to do.  The weather is supposed to be a bit cooler so walking around Sarajevo and finally taking pictures of the city should be fun.  As well as some souvenir shopping.

21
Jul
10

Journeys

Last weekend we went to Dubrovnik for vacation.  The city is beautiful, the water is so clear you can see schools of fish swimming underneath you, and the food is amazing.  Getting there from Sarajevo, however, was a bit of an adventure.

It must have been the heat and excitement of the trip that caused 5 of us to get on the wrong bus at the Sarajevo bus station.  We only realized it when the ticket collector checked our tickets and started giggling.  After the quick shock of panic left our bodies we bought tickets to the next closest bus station.  At the station, after a 45 minute wait, we got on a bus to Mostar.  Once in Mostar we saw the next bus to DBV didn’t leave until after midnight.  With that, we had a nice dinner next to the old bridge and enjoyed a few hours in a gorgeous part of town.  We ended up getting into DBV around 4:30 Friday morning.  After a little nap we were sitting on the beach so all was good.

Coming home on Monday wasn’t much different from the outbound trip.  We bought a return ticket while still in Sarajevo so we got to the station about 30 minutes before the bus was scheduled to leave.  The bus was there but we were told we needed seat reservations, as well as the ticket.  We went to the ticket window and of course all of the seat reservations were sold out.  The next bus that would honor our ticket was at 10:30 at night.  No way.  So we bought a $30 ticket on the 3:15 bus which arrived at 4:15.  From DBV to Mostar there was no AC and I think a little part of all of us died on that trip…or melted.  We switched buses in Mostar and arrived back in Sarajevo by 9:45.  We can kind of laugh about it now.  But since I still have the cold I had for the entire trip to DBV I’m not laughing as much as I could be.

As the DBV journey ended I realized I’m ready for the Sarajevo portion of the summer to end as well.  A little bit of missing everyone (and my cat) back home, excited to travel around Europe for a couple weeks, and experience English and the creature comforts of the good ol’ US of A all play a factor in me now counting down until next Friday when I fly to Vienna.   Sarajevo’s been awesome but all good things must come to an end.  The next 8 days will be spent exploring parts of the city I have yet to see and taking pictures which I have yet to do.

13
Jul
10

not your average tourist

As my dad told me the other day, he likes that I like to travel places that are off the beaten path for tourists.  I still have never been to a tropical location or white sandy beach (definitely want to go there) but the places I’ve been have been pretty incredible.  Lake Baikal, Siberia; Kosovo; Bosnia, to name a few.  These places are definitely not geared towards tourists but they certainly attract a certain kind of tourist.  A fellow DU study abroad peer advisor also commented that  my blog is different from other DU students who are studying abroad.  I guess that just comes with the territory of being in the Balkans, concentrating on international humanitarian law and law of armed conflict, and studying international human rights.  Those three things, when put together, don’t exactly scream “let’s go to the Bahamas!”

My time in Bosnia has so far been amazing.  With fewer than 3 weeks left and a trip to Dubrovnik quickly approaching I’m not sure what else I can experience.  I’ve crossed off a couple bucket-list items, been to places I’ve never heard of, met people whose entire families were murdered…you get the idea.  But what is interesting about Sarajevo is if you came here with no idea that it was under a siege for 3 years just last decade, and 100,000 people died during the war, you wouldn’t be able to figure it out just exploring the city.  The people are upbeat, talkative, enjoy going out until the early hours of the morning.  Try to take away their coffee and cigarettes and you may lose a hand.  Maybe it is that no one wants to talk about the war if they don’t have to.  Or maybe it’s because the generation that you see all over downtown and in the cafes were children (or not even born) when the war was going on.  Whatever the reason it is clear that it is a country that knows how to enjoy life and live each day for what it’s worth.

It’s hard to write an upbeat blog if you live in Bosnia for a summer, especially if you travel to villages of mass ethnic cleansing and genocide,  but that’s what I’m studying so that’s what I write about.  The more I see, the more I learn, and the more I can hopefully develop my career path.  But don’t get me wrong, Sarajevo is wonderful and I prove that by going out every night to a different cafe or bar and laughing with all my friends, just as Bosnians laugh with all theirs.

I promise once I get into Vienna, Prague, Krakow (minus my visit to Auschwitz), Budapest and finally Kosovo for the wedding of the year my blog will not focus on mass murder and poverty nearly as much.  I promise!

10
Jul
10

why do passport stamps feel so important?

My trip to Paris in 1999 was the first and last time I visited a country that was predominately Catholic.  Since then I’ve visited Russia, Kosovo, and now Bosnia.  All these countries are either Orthodox, Muslim, or a mix of both.  While in Ljubljana, Slovenia this past weekend I realized that the aura of a Catholic country is much different than that of an Orthodox or Muslim country.  I’m not saying one is better than the other, and since I’m not a huge fan of organized religion it doesn’t matter to me which countries I visit for my own personal beliefs. 

 Maybe it’s because Orthodox churches and Islamic mosques look much different than Catholic churches, or maybe it’s because the way the cities were built to make the church or mosque the center of the city – I don’t know.  But it is interesting to think about, at least for me.  In my short time traveling around I realized that Orthodox countries are less economically developed.  Why is this?  Of course hundreds of wars and rises and falls of empires have something to do with it, but is there another predominant reason?  Does stability find its home in Catholic countries, at least post-WWII?  If so, why?  Is there any correlation whatsoever or am I just making this up?  Maybe I’ll look into it when I get back to the U.S.  I’m sure many dissertations have touched on this topic.

 I don’t feel more comfortable in one type of city or country than the other – all are beautiful and interesting and full of culture in their own ways.  I’m excited to see what Vienna and Prague look like compared to Zagreb and Ljubljana, and even Paris.  Since I went to Paris 12 years ago my memory is a little fuzzy about it but I hope I can still see a comparison. 

 Right now I’m sitting on a bench at Platform 6 of the Ljubljana train station waiting to get the 14:48 train to Zagreb (2:48 for all you uncultured Americans out there), then sitting at the Zagreb train station to get the 21:something train back to Sarajevo, arriving early Sunday morning.  It still takes me a few seconds longer than it probably should to subtract 12 from 21 to figure out that my train leaves tonight sometime after 9:00 pm.  Clearly I will never join the military.

07
Jul
10

True hero

These past two days I attended a conference hosted by the Center for Justice and Reconciliation, an organization started by an American friend living in Bosnia.  Two of the guests on Tuesday were Fikret Alic and Ed Vulliamy.  I had the awesome opportunity to hang out with them until the wee early hours of Wednesday morning.  (By now you should be googling/google imaging these people).  Fikret is the icon of the Bosnian War, much to his dismay.  When Ed, who discovered Fikrat in the concentration camp in 1992, mentioned Fikrat’s name in the bar, Fikrat joked that he should get $20 million each time his name is mentioned.  After he said, “If I could pay someone $2 million for my picture never to have been taken I would’ve.”  I almost left at 11 p.m. but it started pouring.  Had it not started raining I would’ve missed the chance to talk with these awesome men and really get to know them beyond their war stories.

Tomorrow morning I am headed to Zagreb via train and I’m going to hop up to Ljubljana.  I’ve never been to either country/city.  I’m excited to get out of Sarajevo for a couple days and get a couple more stamps in my passport!  I will make sure to take plenty of pictures and post them when I get back Sunday evening…after the world cup final, of course.