With the days of summer long gone and the inevitable fall starting to creep in, I have found myself starting another year at Northwestern. With it, I have been bombarded with familiar faces and friends that have spent some time away from. They all eventually get to it in their own way, but each one will eventually ask the same question, “What did you do this summer?”
I cannot help but recount in detail the stunning things that I have seen and amazing stories that I have heard from the people of Serbia and Bosnia. Each recount, each retelling further anchors those memories and stories. As I retell each experience, they become more natural and more a part of me. This summer was not some surreal experience; it was a very real one. This was not someone else’s experience; this was mine and mine alone.
I will not ever forget the things that I saw and experienced in Serbia and Bosnia nor will I ever stop telling others about these things. As time passes, I come to appreciate more and more the opportunity that I was afforded and want to tell as many people as will listen to me. I have only an inkling what the future may hold, but I do hope that it gives me an opportunity to return to these places.
As I begin my last blog entry, I cannot quite put into words how much my study abroad experience has both impacted and meant to me, but also how strange it is to be back. I have realized this time and time again when people ask me, “how was Bosnia and Serbia?” I often reply, “I don’t even know where to begin.” However, I’ll give it a go here in this entry.
This summer has fundamentally changed my view on global inequalities, health and trauma. I learned from many knowledgeable experts in the field and learned just as much from individuals that I came to know during my time abroad. I had an opportunity to be immersed in not only one country but two countries, while also having chances to visit other countries. I enjoyed my time there so much that I’m currently looking for ways to travel back after I graduate.
The sense of nostalgia for Bosnia and Serbia began almost instantly once I returned from Sarajevo as I had become completely immersed in the culture and lifestyle of the Balkans. I realized that despite all that I would try explain and show, the experience was a very personal one that only those who went on the program with me could begin to understand. Although when remembering my time abroad, I usually end the conversation with people by saying, “it was the experience of a lifetime and I cannot wait to go back.”
Sarajevo is a beautiful city surrounded by picturesque mountains and has its own unique mix of eastern and western influences. It is easy to forget when walking through the streets that just a little over twenty years ago this city experienced the longest siege in modern history. It is easy to forget this when walking past all the cafes and seeing all of the faces in the crowd that are just going about their day as usual.
It is easy to dismiss the history of this city and be somewhat disconnected from the realities that Sarajevo has faced. The fact that war was a very real thing here in Sarajevo is something you start to realize more and more as you spend time in the city. As you get more familiar with the city, you start to recognize the places that people refer to when giving their accounts of the war. Remember that street with all the shopping centers and cafés that you are so fond of? That street saw sniper rifle rounds flying over head and mortar shells raining down on it every day. That alley with the nice bakery? Many citizens of Sarajevo lost their lives there. It is harder to be disconnected when you can attach a place, a name, or a picture in your mind to the things that you hear or to the memories you relive through the accounts of people who were there.
These kind of connections are not just a sort of sobering thing but also a reassuring one. This city saw the end of war and fighting no longer than twenty years ago, and yet the city was able to re-cultivate the things that made this city beautiful. The fact that there are cafés and bakeries in p
Sarajevo during and after war
laces where nothing but shrapnel and bullets could be found is a testament to the resiliency of Sarajevo. I cannot wait to see what change another twenty years will bring to this city of Sarajevo.
I have waited to write my last blog post until the end of the trip to allow myself some time to process the past few days. We have gone to various museums and listening to many testimonies, which have greatly impacted me and changed my outlook on many greater societal and global structures.
One of the most impactful moments of the entire study abroad program just happened a few days ago and this moment was visiting Gallery 11/07/95. The museum is the first memorial museum and gallery for Srebrenica in Bosnia-Herzegovina, which is an exhibition space aiming to preserve the memory on Srebrenica tragedy and 8372 persons who tragically lost their lives during the genocide. The moving exhibit showed various images ranging from the refugee camps to the individuals who lost their lives during the genocide. There were also various videos shown throughout the gallery concerning the Siege of Sarajevo and the genocide itself. Some of the most memorable quotes from the movies were discussing the genocide itself when mothers and wives were discussing their sons and husbands saying “humanity was taken,” “we were robbed of our integrity” and finally “to understand our situation and the war, you must be here to understand the war against the citizens.” Tears filled my eyes as I saw the many images and heard the trying testimonies.
At least half of the people in Sarajevo and Bosnia-Herzegovina have been through trauma. Despite all of these traumas and the war, people are optimistic and are some of the kindest people I have ever met. The optimism, perseverance and resilience of the people from this region is astounding and admirable. This trip has been eye opening in more ways than one for me and I will certainly never forget my time in Sarajevo and greatly look forward to when I will be able to come back.
Imagine the city that you called home became a battlefield. Imagine that the city became split right down the middle and people who were once neighbors are now being forced to fight each other to survive. This was a reality for the people of Mostar.
The first week in Bosnia we had the opportunity to travel to the Herzegovina region of Bosnia and to the city of Mostar. We were able to walk through the city of Mostar and learn about its history, both ancient and modern. We came to learn about what had transpired in the city just twenty years before.
The war in Bosnia saw the city of Mostar divided into two parts based upon ethnicity. The Croats held the western part of the city while the Bosniaks controlled the eastern parts of the city. People who may have once been neighbors were forced to fight one another. The Old Bridge which had long been a symbol of the city would be used by the media as symbol of the division among the people of Mostar (the media commonly referred to the bridge and river as the dividing line while an nearby street was the actual dividing line between the two forces). The Old Bridge would be destroyed by Croat forces and come to further symbolize the depths of the division among the people.
Over twenty years have passed since the war and the Old Bridge that Mostar has become synonymous with has been rebuilt, but it may take more time for the bridge between the people of Mostar to be rebuilt. The city still retains some of the ethnic divisions it once held with the different groups occupying the same parts of the city they did during the war. Some signs of division can still be seen in the city. The two parts of the city have become connected once again, but it may take more than some stone and mortar to bridge the gap between the people of Mostar.
Photograph: Darko Vojinovic/AP
The people of Serbia are no strangers to social movements. From the student-led protests in 1996 to the Bulldozer Revolution in 2000 to the protests and sit-ins of today, Serbians have come together to protect what they think is important using any means that they can.
During our time in Serbia, we were able to meet the organizers of two different movements taking root in Belgrade. Both had a similar goal: to not allow Belgrade’s commercialization to destroy its history and culture. One sought to achieve this by occupying theatres that had once hosted independent movie makers and cinephiles. Having fallen into a state of disrepair, these theatres were nothing but empty halls void of the cheers and laughs that had filled them in the past. Their real estate was tempting for many a buyer though. These theatres would be reduced to nothing more than supermarket chains and clubs. A group of young adults in Belgrade took it upon themselves to occupy the theatres and restore them to their former glory before this happened to them.
Another group in Belgrade had different means but a similar goal. Along with the development of Serbia economically came the interest of outside investors. The bank of the Sava River was a prime place for these investors to set their sights upon. Rallied behind the symbol of a duck, this group in Belgrade has sought to protect the historical and aesthetic features of this land along the river from the impeding commercialization.
Times have changed, but the people have not. The people of Belgrade still believe in the power of coming together and forming a movement. From revolutions to protests to sit-ins, the purposes and means have changed, but I doubt that the emotions that tie them together will ever really change.
Flying through the rainy overcast into the airport, the immediate beauty of Sarajevo was very evident. The clouds hovered over the mountains and the views from all over the city was breathtaking. When we dropped our bags off at the Catholic Seminary where we were staying, my friends and I started looking for a place to eat. There was a stark contrast in the city made clear by a seal on the ground dividing the eastern and western, Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian portions of the city each were spectacular in differing ways, which reflected the dynamic culture and legacy of the city.
I found early on in my time in the city that aimlessly wandering was the best way to explore and understand the city of Sarajevo. My time spent getting lost in the city was marked by trying local foods and drinks. In the first day alone, we founded two places that I am sure I will continue to frequent during my time in Sarajevo. The first place that we stumbled upon to was located in Bascarsija. We were told by Prof. Locke that the cevap, often described as minced meat fingers, in Sarajevo were the best in the Balkans. Wow, he was definitely right as everyone at the table was amazed with how great the cevap was despite having had them fairly often in Belgrade.
After dinner, we decided to continue walking around aimlessly in Bascarsija and decided to run into a random café. One of my friends, who frequents the Balkans to visit family, suggested that we try salep, a Turkish drink. The drink was a creamy, sweet drink that was sprinkled with cinnamon. Again, I was blown away and went back the following day to get the same drink. I can tell that I am going to love Sarajevo and I’m only a few days in.
As my friends and I wondered the streets of Belgrade looking for a coffee shop, we stumbled upon Ulica Café. Immediately once we sat down a man came over and gave us a nod. As we began to struggle with the Serbian menu, the man said I can translate for you in flawless English. His warm and inviting demeanor encouraged us to come back, particularly on the following Friday when there was going to be Cuban music and tango.
On Friday, we walked up to the café and looked for the man, who apparently owned the place, who ran over to us. He had a great smile on his face and shook all of our hands, excitedly telling us he could grab some tables for us. He grabbed a few tables, which had a reserved marker, and encouraged us to sit and let us know that the band played very well earlier. I looked around at my friends, not sure how good Cuban music could be in Serbia, but when the band started I was blown away. Almost all of the people in the café jumped up to tango with a partner, while my friends and I just watched in awe. As we sat there, the owner came over and encouraged us to dance with homemade milkshakes. We then got up and danced the night away.
This night was one of the many many examples of Balkan hospitality that I have experienced in my time here. Despite all the recent conflicts and extensive foreign interventions, the people of Serbia often go above and beyond in terms of helping and extending hospitality to everyone. Whether it was bringing out free drinks for us or giving directions when we were obviously lost, the people of Belgrade were exceptionally hospitable.
It has been a long day of errands and preparation for my impending trip to Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. I jumped into bed to finally end my day and get some sleep. I lie there and think about how nice it is to be back home in my bed. I lament the fact that I will have but just a few days to enjoy home before I am off again. After a few minutes of tossing and turning, I finally drift off to sleep.
At the same time in a nightclub a few miles away, a very different scene is unfolding. Forty-nine people have just been shot and killed with another fifty three injured. The sounds of sirens and the cries of victims and first responders fill the air. This is all the work of a single man. A tragedy has just hit my community.
Over the last few weeks, I have been learning about the histories of Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina in anticipation of my trip. If I have learned just one thing about them, it is that these countries are no strangers to tragedy and bloodshed. Both have endured many hardships that would break the best of us. So why was it so hard to see them for what they were?
It seems so easy to dismiss these things as more historical events, to dismiss the deaths in Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina as mere statistics. These are things that have happened in far-off places some time ago. I am visiting these places and learning about them, but these events and people have nothing to do with me. These were thoughts that may have creeped in at some point or another. Looking at these things in this way is so very easy until a tragedy strikes home.
While the magnitude was different, the pain is the same. The pain in Belgrade, the pain in Sarajevo, and the pain in Orlando are no different. As I travel to Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, I hope that they can forgive me for neglecting their pain. Theirs is as real as mine. I hope that in my travels in these places I am able to learn more about what happened and how they have begun to heal their wounds. These countries saw terrible things and persisted through them. My hope is that Orlando can carry on as well.
An Orlando Memorial
Srebrenica Genocide Memorial (Srebrenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina)
Photo exhibiting excitement for the upcoming experience
What are your plans for the summer? The question that is continuously asked around Northwestern and at home. Everyone wants to know what you are planning on doing or accomplishing over the summer. Every time someone asked me this question, I would excitedly say, “I’m going to be studying abroad in Serbia and Bosnia!”
Through my time at Northwestern, I have mostly learned about others culture or health in a distant way. Reading about a culture from someone who actually lived within the context or about how certain determinants of health increase disparities within certain communities. This is the reason I am so excited about this study abroad opportunity. This program gives me an opportunity to completely immerse myself in not one but two different countries and cultures. I have an opportunity to understand the relevant health and political issues that are present in both contexts. The Comparative Public Health program gives me a chance to learn about the context in which I am actually living in. The people who are going to be teaching the content are actually experts in the country or have lived through the Yugoslav Wars.
As a person who is very interested in public health and conflict, this program is the perfect fit for me. I will be able to understand how each country has worked through the conflict to increase health outcomes in their countries.
So with all of this excitement, I look down at my floor to see two large suitcases waiting to be packed. The time has finally come for me to start my adventure in Europe!