I still remember the first day we got in BiH. The nature was very inviting, and I couldn’t wait to settle down and explore the city. I was still a little bit sad because I enjoyed my time in Serbia and I wasn’t ready to start over again in familiarizing myself with a new place. For example, I was stressed out about laundry, I didn’t understand the currency, and I was mostly definitely sad to leave behind the amazing night life of Belgrade. However, I knew that as it didn’t take me long to get used to Belgrade, it wasn’t going to take long to get used to Sarajevo either. This journal is about what happened during the past month and the key lessons I learned.
The fact that Sarajevo is a small city, speeded up my process of getting familiar to this place and in less than a week I had already regained my independence. I took Miljacka river as the focus point (all roads lead to the river), and apparently this river goes through Sarajevo with its total length. I also took as reference point, the place where the two cultures meet which is very close to Hotel Saraj. There reference points helped me navigate the city without the fear of getting lost, and they helped me become more independent especially when planning out my days because I didn’t have to depend on anyone to take me to places.
People here are so open and very friendly. I was very surprised to see how open people were about sharing their personal experiences with us. Professors shared with us their war experiences, and their stories inspired me and changed the way I thought about wars and conflict times. Coming from Rwanda where most narratives about war are about victimization and blaming “the others”, I was amazed by how these stories were about survival and succeeding despite what happened. Having people share such personal stories to us made me also more open to share my story with others, and I was happy to receive positive feedback.
We were so lucky to meet so many people who are very passionate about what they do and I am going to mention few of the things I learned from them. One professor came with us to the trip to Srebrenica on his son’s birthday, which is also the date of his father’s death. I can only imagine how emotional this day was for him, but he still came with us because he saw this as an opportunity to celebrate his father by sharing his knowledge with us. I learned from this to take advantage of every opportunity no matter what circumstances in which they find me. Another professor shared with us how she kept working during the siege and I was very impressed by her passion. During this time people were dying while they are on the lines waiting for bread, and she still had the courage to keep going to work knowing that it wasn’t safe. I learned from her, that there shouldn’t be any excuses as to why we can’t use our skills/knowledge to contribute to the betterment of our communities.
Learning about the siege and what conditions people were living in for 3 years, made me realize that I have to be more grateful. So here goes: I am thankful for the water; I am thankful for the food. I am thankful that I was able to go to 3 countries (Serbia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, and Croatia) this summer alone. I am thankful for the friendships built here; I am thankful for all the connections I made. I am thankful the peace in BiH, in Rwanda and in Evanston. I am thankful that I can walk outside without being scared that someone could shoot me. I am thankful for my education, and most of all I am thankful that I am still alive.