<![CDATA[Still Becoming - Home]]>Thu, 04 Feb 2016 00:27:14 -0800EditMySite<![CDATA[Down Days]]>Sun, 12 Jul 2015 14:50:13 GMThttp://stillbecoming.weebly.com/home/down-daysBlink- I'm in France.
Blank- state of mind.

I'm not in Sarajevo right now.  I'm on vacation with family in France.  I'm privileged to be here - rocky coastlines and quiet narrow streets where grandparents and grandchildren link arms and carry baguettes back to breezy summer apartments. 

But as I'm taking in the postcard-like landscapes, it is Sarajevo that beckons my thoughts - the busy mix of people milling around the public square in Carsija, the call to prayer, the approaching end of Ramadan, and beginning of Bajram, interfaith projects hanging midair, saying (a temporary) goodbye to people with whom I haven't had nearly enough time...  It's like a blackhole, the way thoughts consume me and I vanish mentally from a physical place.  I have no doubt that this will be an even greater challenge when I am back in the U.S.  

Sometimes, when I’m feeling down, I change in the company of others.  It’s a practiced automatic behavior.  I guess, a habit.   I hold my breath.  My posture shrinks.  And stiffens. I become solemn.  Walled. 

Some time ago I understood that sadness and depression – are not ok – especially for someone like me, who has had the world given to her on a silver plate with doilies and After Eights.  Feelings like this are not permitted, with the exception of extreme / tragic experiences.  In the context of an economically privileged life, there is no justification for feelings other than gratitude, joy, and constant momentum.  After all, these are the qualities we value the most in our society.  Efficiency.  Effectiveness.  Productivity.  Not that I don't value these things but living in Sarajevo, where there is a real feeling of community, of an emotional safety net (other safety nets - economic, physical health - these are a completely different story), has sharpened my critical lens.  

And “counting ones blessings” as my parents often remind me, does help to stir my own stillness.  When I think about both of them, and my sister, and our dog, and all the places I’ve been able to see, the anvil lifts a bit higher...  But lately,, I awake stumped.  The dullness, the emptiness.  Like there is a balloon inside me that keeps growing and filling with air – with nothing. It just expands, rolls over my organs – my heart, my stomach, squeezing out any realness, joy, passion, or excitement.  And then, suddenly without warning it bursts through my skin, and I am left sitting helplessly, watching bubbles of myself float away.



My dear friend Safet, an artist, also struggles sometimes with what he calls “down days.”  But these are fewer now he told me as he has shifted the subject of his paintings to “what is inside.”  Safet used to paint powerful portraits of everyday people who in his own words, “were assholes during the war.”  But shifting the content of his canvas to painting his own world (rather than the world outside as he told me), allows his voice, unfiltered, to color his brushes.  And so he tells me, he is feeling really good.

Safet has been telling me for months that I am an artist.  It’s a label I’m not sure what to do with.  However I admit, the one antidote to my own “down days,” an activity that reliably drains troubled waters within, is expression.  Writing.  Painting.  Hitting the ivories on the piano.  It is the process of moving all the emotion sitting in my body to some space outside -- expression.  It must come out.  Is all expression art?  Is all art expressions?

A few years ago another friend told me her secret for overcoming her own dark feelings.  It was a visualization strategy, one she’d learned and practiced from a book.  She would concentrate and visualize each dark feeling as a creature with a unique shape, color, smell.  She would try to see the feelings as clearly as possible, and then enter into a conversation in an effort to understand and minimize the feeling's control.   Writing often enables a similar outcome.  Using raw emotions and words I sculpt and express my experience.  There is a freedom in this creating and expressing.  I remember a memorable quote from Toni Morrison who also could relate.   

In moments over the last few months it has crossed my mind what I have gained, how I have changed over the course of this year abroad.  Keeping a journal since the age of six or seven, I have always written, but only for purposes of what seemed to be my own method of therapy.  To share these internal monologues publicly never occurred to me until this year when I started blogging about my experiences in Sarajevo.  And the positive responses from people who enjoyed reading the blog, has surprised me.  But the joy continues to come from within.  I continue to write for myself, in a dialogue with the outside world as I perceive it and always colored through the lens of my intellectual and emotional hyper sensitivities.  As I reflect on what I've gained, my thoughts dance around some sort of artist “coming out” party... I've already started compiling memories for future material... 
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<![CDATA[belonging/unbelonging]]>Fri, 26 Jun 2015 22:05:36 GMThttp://stillbecoming.weebly.com/home/belongingunbelonging-looking-for-communityDespite the fact that my commitments have slowed, time is still quickening.  Sometimes I have the feeling there is nothing steady to hold on to.  Relationships and visitors and goodbyes and travel-- everything is moving at a rate far faster than I can process it.  In Sarajevo, with so many changes afoot and pending goodbyes, sometimes it feels like the ground is shaking.  With so much change, what can I hold on to?

Lying in bed, listening to the voices and sounds of the city, my thoughts jump back and forth between two continents.  I try to reimagine work and life and old friends back in the U.S.  But then, will I be able to have coffee with Alma this week?  Can Safet and I do more interviews in Grbavica?  Is there time to plant flowers at the synagogue?  To teach a challah baking class before I leave?  What new people will come to Friday services in September when I am not there?  Am I completely replaceable?  At what moment does one begin to belong and then conversely, at what moment does one begin to unbelong?  


Morning coffee at Galerija
Sarajevo seems to take on a different energy in the summer.  Women in free flowing skirts and pants, cushioned platforms.  “Jutro, jutro… dobar ti…” can be heard as people stop and greet each other on the street.   Finally, the weather now seems to have caught up with the relaxed, care-free, warm energy of people here.  “Uživaj,” (enjoy) people will say.  The trees are full of green leaves.  Older women stand guarding doorways.  Teens and elders with like company sit side by side on the benches along Vilsona Setaliste (named for Woodrow Wilson).  

I was sipping a veliki macchiato soaking in the morning rays, savoring a buttery croissant sa makom (poppy) at the local semi-hipster hangout café Galerija across from the Academy of Fine Arts.   In Sarajevo a hipster café is really any cafe that plays anything other than American pop 80s / 90s or Bosnian Turbofolk.  At nine in the morning, it was a distinct salsa rhythm floating over the outdoor seating.  

An older man rested on a bench nearby.  His hands, resigned to his lap sat, were loosely holding a pair of crutches, and his faded beige cap and jacked looked as tired as he looked.  I watched as the Galerija bartender skipped over to him from the cafe, coffee tray and espresso in hand.  The old man greeted him with a weak toothless smile.  

A quick diversion....

I was listening to an interview not too long ago where the topic was the stress inducing task of "finding the right person.”  Helen Fisher talked with Krista Tippett about the dangers of the expectations we place on what we seek.  Because of many factors - the thinning and unraveling of family and neighbor networks, sprawling urban design, ever-increasing privatisation of public space, and education and healthcare --- without local community support naturally we expect a lot from a potential spouse.  The emotional and social needs that were formerly filled by whole communities are now demands we expect a romantic partner to meet.  If nothing more, it is a thought provoking interview.  And it gave me pause to think, what if instead of the focus on finding “the right person”  we were instead urged to focus on finding (likely a better word here is creating) “the right community?”  

Back to the present...

I’ve decided that if you want to see the real people of a city, get up in the morning.  In Sarajevo before noon, in Bascarsija, one hears the most Bosnian and the least English, Turkish, Japanese, German or French.  One sees the shop keepers preparing their stores for the day, bringing the goods from inside out to the street where they can be visible to passerbys.  Shopkeepers, both men and women, can be seen bringing each other coffee on little trays.  One woman, wearing an apron, stood in the doorway of a shop holding a tray with several espresso cups and a large dzeva.  “Hoćeš?” I hear projected into the doorway as I pass.  

The street cleaners can be seen eliminating the last of the previous night’s evidence from the street, sucking cigarette butts from the cobblestone with a giant city-branded vacuum cleaner.  Leaning my head back and up towards the sun I see women from windows high above the street, shaking sheets, watering balcony plants, or sometimes just leaning out a window observing.  There are baristas laying out and straightening hundreds of outdoor cushions, preparing the cafes which will be full in a few hours with large thick boned men can be seen daintily sit on cross-legged, reading the paper in the sun and sipping espressos from cups smaller than the ones I used as tea sets for my dolls. 

...

Galerija’s outdoor tables are nearly all full. The cigarette smoke curling around the table legs and freshly opened umbrellas.  This is the place where people wear patterns and colorful pants, mismatched socks, smoking- they lean into the screens of their smart phones to check email. 

It’s a popular café.  People take their dogs here too, even inside.  The man at the table next to me bends over a small white husky puppy.  He stands up to leave and the puppy yelps.  A girl calls to the dog, “Dođi Rea!”  but the puppy stands and barks as the man crosses the street.  “Dođi!” she calls again, but the dog just stands, its tail wagging, barking, its eyes following the man until he is no longer visible.  


The old man across the street has now finished his espresso.  He's still sitting on the bench, half sitting, half leaning/stand.  His crumpled fist is slightly exented towards the sidewalk and I see a few women stop in front of him and reach into their purse for some coins which they wedge into his hand.  


The Latin rhythms over the cafe speakers play on and the sugar at the bottom of my coffee is finally starting to hit me.  

...

Local community in Sarajevo looks different from what I experienced in midwestern America.  Take for a moment, older people.  Firstly, in Sarajevo, they are everywhere.  On the street.  On the tram.  On benches.  In cafes.  Sitting by the river.  On the bus.  They speak and socialize loudly.  Their voices and bodies more visible than anything I can recall in the U.S. where my memories consist of a shriveled pile of visits to lonely, secluded residents at the Jewish Center for Aging.  Of course, certain professions – health care – deal often with seniors but I’m talking specifically about the presence of seniors in the public space.  Not a private, quarantined campus made out of linoleum hallways and 1970s-era carpeted multi-purpose rooms where people stare blankly at televisions.  Why does it like in the U.S. that people go quickly from age 75 to “nowhere to be seen?”  

Actually, in reality I think it is far less about the number and more about mobility.  If your neighborhood does not make it possible for you to walk, if it does not have sidewalks, railings on stairs, safe streets to cross, benches to rest, covered bus shelters… wait, hang on, hang on… a bus system, i.e. public transportation.   Despite its many steep, windy, and slippery cobblestone streets, I still see many seniors shopping, walking, and occupying public spaces.  It is common to see young people accompanying them on errands, walking on the street or sharing a bowl of ice cream at one of the many slastičarnas.  

A few days ago I was exiting the tram and noticed some commotion behind me.  An older man had slipped and fallen into the street while trying to get out of the tram.  As I turned around I noticed he was gripping a cane while struggling to get out from the small space where he lay trapped between the sidewalk and the train.  I hurried over but even faster there were three women at his side, hoisting him up, lifting him to his feet and guiding him onto the sidewalk and then to the bench under the covered bus stop.  As a foreigner, it was a remarkable scene to witness, particularly because, although frightening, the reaction seemed to unfold in such a natural way.  It was absolutely normal for three women in heels to not only be alert enough to see a man who needed help on the tram, but to react with the timing that they did and without hesitating, get him out of danger.  

There’ve been other moments where I’ve seen strangers, and different generations, interacting in surprisingly kind ways.  Women with strollers receive helping hands to hoist a stroller in and out of buses.  Despite severe problems with government accountability, a free media, mere wisps of an independent economy, Sarajevo citizens amaze me in the way they seem to so effortlessly create and exist in a communicative multigenerational community.   
Directions
It’s been a strange week.  One that included successfully giving directions in Bosnian.  One woman asked me which trolleybus went to Mrkva, a kind of landmark restaurant in the suburb of Dobrinja.  The other asked, the time of the last bus to Dobrinja.  I understood the question, replied with the answer, and was successfully understood in both instances.  A successful communicative transaction on both accounts.  A satisfying feeling of competency, of belonging followed.  Ego lifted.

Then however, there was the unsettling interaction that happened a few days ago.  I was looking for a new USB cord for my phone.  It was a rainy day.  I stepped into the electronics store around the corner from my building, carefully placing my umbrella in "the umbrella bucket" as I had learned to do.  A brief exchange helped determine that no, the shopkeeper did not have a USB cord for an iPhone.  As I often have to do in Sarajevo, I inquired if he knew about a store where I might find the item I was searching for.

“Da li znate drugu prodavnicu gdje…” I began.

Suddenly, he interrupted.  “Where are you from?”  He seemed surprisingly irritated.

“Uhh…uhh... Uhmerica…” I was startled by his interruption.

“Just tell me in English” he said shortly.  “It will be easier.”

“Ok,” I began again, slightly confused.  It was a question I was accustomed to asking in my practiced Bosnian, and had been for months.  I would go somewhere in search of some item.  They would not have it.  I would ask if they knew of a store where I might find it.  Standard protocol.  

But his temper seemed short.  He was a young person.  It’s always a little embarrassing for me when someone asks me to stop my stammering Bosnian and speak English.  The young man had a particularly condescending tone as if to say, “Stop wasting my time.  Just speak something I can understand…” 

“You know the Academy of Fine Arts?”

“Mmhm...”

“They sell Apple products.  You should go there.  Be prepared to spend.  It will be expensive.”

“Ok, I’ll look. Thanks,” I said turning towards the door.

“Have a good stay in Sarajevo,” he called after me.

As the words settled in my ears I caught a glance of my own impermanent reflection in the shop door as I pulled it shut.  It felt as if during the few moments of that brief conversation a giant tree unearthed itself and was shaking loose the ground from its roots, the dirt raining down from the sky and into my eyes.  Have I really only been just a long-term vacationer?   At one point does one belong somewhere and at one point does one then un-belong?   How was the shop keeper supposed to know that I was just “some tourist” in town for the weekend – that although I’d never been inside, I’d still walked past his corner shop every day for the past ten months?  

...

Much as I like to pretend otherwise, particularly while sipping 'kafa' at Galerija, this question of belonging, and reminders of my own impermanence are never far.  Is it that transparent?  Through my thick English accent people can tell, I’m just a visitor.  For however long, they hope I enjoy my stay. I’ve been a guest, but no more.

But where these lines blur and sharpen still confuses me.  When I am alone, I can forget this more easily.  I feel at ease in Europe, in the small streets and local bakeries.  A primarily pedestrian culture dependent on public transportation.  Car-sharing.  Leisurely time with friends and family sitting outside as many days of the year as possible.  I remember in March, when the first warm rays of the sun seemed to be pushing through the grey late winter sky, the cafes eagerly pushed tables out into the sun, and to my surprise, despite the cold, the tables filled, people puffing on their cigarettes and sipping espressos. 

Although the world is very connected through internet, phones, Facebook and webcams, I continue to feel a world away.  Living abroad certainly created conditions for unique difficulties but in comparison I would take these challenges any day over the feelings of numb out of control, self or other imposed expectations I’ve experienced for most of my (relatively) still new, adulthood in the U.S.  

A few have told me that I fit in well in Europe.  In public, at least, I am "too relaxed," "too quiet," and "too reserved" to be a "real American."  And frankly, I've relished the distance from my home country.  Had I understood the opportunity of time and space to think, reflect, and reimagine who I might be away from the emotional and economic pressures that are in many ways the air we breathe in America.  It’s hard to see when we are so steeped in the system.  A system where “normal” is living in our cars by ourselves more than our own living rooms.  And where many don’t see seniors except for holidays or if they go to a hospital.  Sarajevo in 2015 is a confusing mix of old and new, religious and secular, east and west, local and foreign, but it’s hard to explain to people that despite all these layers, a sense of local community still exists here in a way that still remains a challenge for me to fully conceive.  



Meanwhile, news abroad from the U.S. is not making the situation any better.  A racist white American 20-year old killed nine people in a church meeting including a senator and the director of the library.  A dear friend, personally knew both of them.  Thinking back on my year, have any violent shootings occurred in Bosnia, a country that experienced a genocide and then was forced to sign a peace agreement with the nationalist aggressors?  Well, there was one violent attack ... The frustration is visible on the signs that line the highways (motorways) where people continually graffiti over the Cyrillic writing of town names (traditionally since Bosnia has a shared cultural heritage of two alphabets have always been used).  But the level of gun violence that occurs on a daily basis in the U.S. is something unfathomable to most Europeans. 

But in the U.S. the police have highlighted the deaths of unarmed black men, there are continued shootings, not to mention daily gun violence in many neighborhoods.  My former colleague, Ashley Walls, was passionate about this subject (among many).  In 2013 she wrote a blog post for Planners Network UIUC about the prison industry, and passionately on other occasions on her own blog.

Ashley is an important person to mention, perhaps also because I am thinking about her on this one-year anniversary of her death.  Like me, she traveled to a foreign place, with open eyes and an open heart.  Stunningly, and tragically, she contracted meningitis, and died within a week.  Her absence has left a large hole in the many communities she touched not to mention her family and many, many friends and mentees.

What I remember most about her was her strength, her persistence, her faith in God and an enduring stubborn optimism, that good will overcome.  I can't think of a message that needs more bolstering in the U.S. right now.  From abroad, we are laughable, an embarrassment, "the strongest country in the world" who seems ready, idiotically eager, to tear themselves down.  Lamenting over the lack of recycling in Bosnia (nothing - glass, paper, plastic - nula) a friend here gave me pause when she said, "Well... the U.S. may recycle some but they still consume and pollute far more than anyone else."  

It's true.  From abroad we seem out of control.  Our legislators cannot put limits to protect the environment - the lobbies that make dollars NOW are too powerful.  Our legislators cannot put limits on guns - the lobbies that make DOLLARS on the sale of guns are too powerful.  Our legislators have made baby steps on limiting the cost of healthcare but we maintain a culture that is emotionally stunted, one that prefers quick fixes than the sustainable more emotionally difficult work of deep and honest knowing.  From the lens of Europe, we appear to be a country incapable of sustainability, continually lost, a big rock on our own shores that just gets thrown up and down in the ever returning waves.  We are stuck in our own surf and as John Stewart eloquently put, allow ourselves to be distracted by fear and messages of foreigners or foreign attacks, of ISIS, which is easier than looking at our own ever widening self-inflicting wounds.  I have to be careful and intentional about seeking out stories of resistance and positive action in my own country or else... I may never want to come back.
Now, June is crumpling in on itself like a punctured parachute in the middle of my apartment.  In some moments it feels like all the emotions I’ve endured, the relationships I’ve built, the work, and the teaching, and the love, it is all unraveling, out of control.  As if suddenly everything in my entire life was now written in Italics, quickening its pace towards an unwanted punctuation mark- my flight home. 
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<![CDATA[bagels and ramadan]]>Wed, 17 Jun 2015 22:28:03 GMThttp://stillbecoming.weebly.com/home/bagels-and-ramadanramadan 
It seems unusually chilly for June.  I'm munching hot popcorn with the windows open.  Listening to the patter of the rain on the rooftops.  Below my apartment, in Old Town and dotting the hill across the Miljacka River, the lights of the minarets are twinkling through the dark cloudy sky.  

Walking home tonight past the recently renovated Turkish mosque I noticed the call to prayer was earlier (i.e. 10 p.m. instead of 10:45!) and the recitations seemed more major sounding, more commanding and even alluring than the normal more minor sounding routine chants.  It still surprises how "Jewish sounding" the chants can sound.  Sometimes the very drawn out "Allaaaahhhh" can sound a lot like "Ataaaahhhh."   If I didn't know better I might think they were in the middle of a bracha. As I walked past the mosque, I watched people arriving, greeting each other then quickly removing their shoes before ducking into the lit and crowded room glowing behind the arched entrance.  Some others waited in front of the mosque, on cell phones, glancing anxiously up the street as if waiting for tardy family members.  

Now, back in my apartment finally ready for bed at almost midnight the minarets are still lit.  And it's not just the minarets.  The same holiday lights that adorned Pigeon Square in December were strung up again yesterday.  Tonight is the first night of Ramadan, the holy month and major holiday for most of the colleagues and students I got to know this year.  And culturally, as I understand it, as well, Sarajevo becomes a magical place during this special time.  Taking one last peer out window before bed I can already see this - despite the rain, everything still looks a bit brighter, the hills and the wet streets reflecting all the lights.  I'm so glad to be here. 

the unwrapping of the sesame bagel


Back in January when my mom visited she brought with her a sesame Richie bagel.  Richie (or Richard, the name he went by after age sixteen) is an old camp friend of my dad's.  Richie owns two bagel shops in Providence, Rhode Island but he's been making bagels as long as I've known him.  I remember when he would visit us and my grandparents on Long Island, he would leave at two or three in the morning to get to work.  But his sleepless nights paid off.  Richie's bagels are now legend among family and friends and Brown college students.
  
To celebrate the official end of my Fulbright grant  (as of June 16 I'm now a free agent), I pulled the foil wrapped miracle from my tiny freezer and carefully (nay, nay, greedily) unwrapped it from the layers it had been wearing since Christmas.  I paused for a brief moment, pondering the freezer shelf life of bagels, but then quickly dismissed the thought.  I'd never been disapointed by one of Richie bagels and I wasn't about to start in Bosnia. 

It was... delicious.  Toasted with butter, tough at first bite then satisfyingly chewy but never rubbery, I devoured it.  I haven't missed a lot of food from the U.S.  Without hesitation I would say the food here is far better, fresher, and good healthy food is far more accessible whereas as in the U.S. it has a clear pricepoint.  But a good bagel is tough to replace and today, on the eve of Ramadan, I had a sesame bagel with butter and it was perfect.  Consistent with a traditional Jewish meal, I felt enornously guilty after consuming it, reprimanding myself for not saving at least a piece of it for my friends here who have never experienced a good bagel let alone heard of one. Thank Gd my sister is coming in a few weeks from Boston.  I've already requested a replacement stock. 
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<![CDATA[Teci Drino, teci i pričaj...]]>Tue, 19 May 2015 08:08:48 GMThttp://stillbecoming.weebly.com/home/teci-drino-teci-i-pricaj"Mo-lim?" I said groggily into the phone on a Saturday morning.  I was still in my pajamas, lounging in bed, my journal tucked between the folds of my lap.

"Ey," said the voice on the other line.  It was Safet. 

"Willl you do me a favor?"

"Sure, šta?" naively thinking for a moment he actually needed a favor.  

"Will you get dressed and wait outside your apartment in ten minutes?  Amir, Alma, and I are going somewhere.  So.  Ok.  We'll see you..." he was quickly hanging up.  

"Wait!  Where are we going??"  I had just made a to-do list and had been planning on a productive Saturday.  "Productive" is not a word used often in Bosnian.  In fact, they have a common word that means precisely the opposite.  ‘Čajf’ means to partake in an activity with deliberate slow pleasure.  I'm instructed to do this a lot.  "A little more čajf Rebecca," when they see me becoming restless in my chair after several hours sitting at the cafe.  
 
"I have a lot of work to do," I heard myself mumble into the phone.  Safet waited patiently on the other line for me to finish.  

"Not work.  Today is for vacation.  Vidimo se.  See you." He hung up.

...

It was a lot longer than ten minutes before Amir and Safet pulled up to the curb. I'd been waiting, sitting in what little shade I could find outside the pharmacy, trying to balance my daypack and a hot bag of white and dark kifle and kukuruzni hljeb (corn bread) for at least 25 minutes.  I'd given one mark (local currency) to one of the women sitting on plastic crates outside the building.  Today there were two, not more than three feet from each other, dressed in layers of clothes and scarves despite the warm weather, their small hands held out and faces wearing a similar polite toothy grin.  Occasionally one woman would stand, bag in hand, her swollen feet too big for her wool socks and clogs.

Finally Amir and Sajo pulled up to the curb and Sajo jumped out.  "Where are you going?  Where are we going?"  While sitting on the curb I thought the nice weather meant we were headed south to Hercegovina; a scenic route to the Adriatic dotted with villages offering fresh fruits, cafes and dramatic views of the Neretva River.  

 "We are going to Goražde," he replied smiling.  "How much bread do you have?"

...

It was about a two hours drive.  Usually it's a bit less but Alma ended up driving, and since she is a new driver, and the route is through the mountains, everyone was in favor of her cautious navigation around the steep curves and "crni tačka" (literally meaning "black point" these signs indicate the locations of common and lethal accidents).  

Barely 15 minutes outside of East Sarajevo we were in thick countryside.  The car hugged the curves and we passed tiny villages like Foća, places where really terrible suffering was endured.  "There's the memorial to the Partisans...  there's the bridge where they cut people's throats..." someone mentioned.  Sting's melodic "Shape of My Heart" was playing over  the speakers.  The lyrics seemed to mingle in the air and bite at my thoughts.  I peered out the window watching the steep rocky cliffs melt into thick, dark green grassy hills...

"I know that the spades are the swords of a soldier
I know that the clubs are weapons of war
I know that diamonds mean money for this art
But that's not the shape of my heart..."

And then as suddenly as we came upon it, we were past Foća, the car speeding along the little road, the sparkling Drina at our side. 
As we neared Goražde, Sajo tapped on the window.  

"There's a house there.  Teci Drina, tecni i pričaj.  Like the river that flows, so we must talk." 

"About the war you mean?" I said, my neck craning out the window hands juggling my camera.  

"About what happened." He said it casually, in his normal half-monotone used when speaking about the war.  As we passed the sign, the blue sky and shimmering river beckoning us onward, to the naive outsider the sign had the appearance more of an advertisement than an echo of a recent tragic past.  
We followed the sparkling green-blue Drina river into Goražde, a town also famous from the last war but for Sajo, a place with personal roots.  He used to visit his grandmother here, his mother grew up here, and the family still maintains the tiny stone house and garden overlooking the Drina and surrounded by comforting thick green hills.  We turned off the main road onto a long dirt driveway and the car rocked back and forth struggling to navigate over the rocks and curves while avoiding chickens, cats, and a herd of sheep, all combing the edge.  At the top of the small hill we parked and got out and stretched in the afternoon light.    
We gathered some firewood and pulled out the small sacks of čevapčici we'd carried from Sarajevo.  Sajo found a large flat steel circle (perhaps part of a large BBQ set once? It was unclear...) and laid it on top of the grass.  Slowly, he and Amir built a fire.  Alma and I sat lazily at the table, sipping drenjak sok (a thick, homemade fruit syrup that when mixed with water becomes fruit juice), occassionally swatting insects from our line of vision over the river.

After several lazy hours of sipping juice (the boys Sarajevsko beer), eating, napping in the shade, and then more eating, (a true afternoon 'čajf') we got back in the car and headed into the small town to catch the end of the day.  

Goražde is a small village separated on two sides by the Drina.  During the war the residents built a footbridge underneath the main bridge so that both sides of town could be reached and out of the view of snipers on the hills.  The bridge is still there, holding tightly to the steel beams that fasten it.  Open to visitors we walked to about halfway, Sajo's tall frame having to crouch every few meters to avoid the beams.  I recalled hearing of people who were desperate to escape jumping into the river.  Standing on the wobbily footbridge, hovering merely over the deep rushing water, I contemplated how absolutely unappealing that option seemed. 
...
We stopped at a cafe along on the main street.  Filled with teenagers, seemingly dressed for a night out but from glimpsing the town I realized that the cafe and the pizza shop around the corner might be their only destinations.  

Before heading back to Sarajevo we sipped espressos and slurped ice cream scoops, breathing in the last rays of sunlight before saying 'good night / laku noć' to special Goražde.
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<![CDATA[The Mundane]]>Thu, 07 May 2015 21:07:32 GMThttp://stillbecoming.weebly.com/home/the-mundaneShelling peanuts is one of the most unsung yet effective methods for stress reduction.  First, purchase a large bag of peanuts, in the shell.  Next, seat your hinny at the kitchen table.  Pour a large mound of peanuts from the bag onto the surface in front of you.  (You may spread them out if you wish.)  Then, (and this is important), if you are wearing sleeves, roll them up.  Not down.  Finally, pick a peanut. Any peanut.  It doesn't matter.  Then, gripping the puffy little figure eight between your thumb and forefingers, transfer your stress to the peanut via a hard SQUEEZE.  Listen for the therapeutic POP of the shell as it crumbles and reveals a small, smooth, shiny... nut.  

REPEAT.

Tonight, amidst suspended self-judgement of a lacking social life and my preference for an early bedtime, I sat down at my kitchen table, with a bag of peanuts, and then listening to the call to prayer.   It was a meditative experience.  And not entirely owing to the peanuts.  The call to prayer has changed in the last weeks; the Arabic words echo through the hills now as late as  9:30 in the evening.  And the vocations seems to be becoming more melodic, and even at times hypnotic.  Tonight, with the windows open, the cool night air swept trhough the room, carrying the sounds, over my head and over the peanuts.   For a moment it seemed as if all the voices of all the different mujdin, were embodied in the skin of one, and this voice, was sitting across from me at the kitchen table, calmly, silently, watching me shelling peanuts. 

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<![CDATA[bosnian zumba]]>Thu, 30 Apr 2015 19:51:30 GMThttp://stillbecoming.weebly.com/home/bosnian-zumbaSince November, I've had a membership to When in Doubt, Go Workout Lifestyle Club, the small gym located on the second floor of a dusty 19th century Austro-Hungarian building across from a 12th century Serbian Orthodox church (really).  Located on the busy Mula Mustafe Bašeskije street, the gym's windows open up to the smells and sounds of the tram, cars, and other street travelers (people, dogs) who use the busy, narrow thoroughfare to travel to and from the center.  

Despite having an English name, (and what seem to be randomly selected 'inspirational quotes' in English - complete with spelling and grammatical errors on the walls) When in Dobut, Go Workout has an almost entirely Bosnian, female, membership.  Most of the classes follow a model of group exercise called Les Mills (originiating from New Zealand I've been told).  They are high intensity workouts set to the most horrifying techno/pop music possible.  This however, as the model proves, is indeed motivational, increasing ones strength by encouraging one to lift the weights higher and then to imagine hurling them at the speakers.    

Although I've been going to the gym for other classes for months, I've only recently discovered that a zumba class is offerred for a full hour on Wednesday and Sunday nights.  Zumba class, although not part of the Les Mills workouts, is equally popular.  Women arrive early and gather in the small locker room chatting in Bosnian and adjusting their spandex. One curious difference I've noticed here is that gym clothing is ONLY appropriate inside the gym.  I.e. wearing workout clothes en route or departing from the gym is not appropriate.  Most people exert some effort to eliminate evidence that they were at the gym.  The small room is packed after class as people use the hair dryer not for their hair but rather to dry off sweat, before changing back into normal clothes, reapplying makeup, and then departing. Clearly the lazy foreigner, I both arrive and leave in my workout tights.  One woman told me she thought I had to be German 'because they don't wear a lot of makeup.'    

The zumba instructor is a young guy, 20, 24 at most.  It's amazing how some information really does not require language.  This young instructor is one of those rare people who emanates pure, warm, positive energy.  He finishes each short routine with a deep gratitude-filled yogi bow towards the 20 females panting and sweating in front of him, before erupting into his own enthusiastic applause, yelling 'Bravo! Bravo!!' and then rushing over to change the music.  

Since I'm a newbie to the class, I tend to stay towards the back.  Arms high in the air, salsa steps forward and back, I find myself grinning widely from ear to ear, sometimes nearly laughing, attempting to syncronize with the group, and at the blissful absurdity of the entire scene.  We start with a little hip-hop, move into some Latin rhythms, and finally, end the hour with a high energy zumba-inspired interpretation of classic Slavic folk dance movements.  This is zumba in Bosnia. 

...

In the style of my heart-rate raising dance class, I will attempt in the next posts to bring you up to speed on the happenings of the last month. (Uh, where did it go??)  I've been really busy, in much better spirits, and the longer days have brought sunshine and new energy to the city that is clearly palpable.  "It's like Sarajevo is literally... (pause for dramatic affect) a completely different city now that the weather is warm," I explained incredulously to an American who's been living here for six years.  My friend and I were sitting on a bench in Veliki Park, behind the unpopular memorial to the children killed in the last war (unpopular because people think the monument is ugly) when she walked past pushing her toddler in a stroller.  She replied rather non-chalantly before leaving us.  "Yep. That's Sarajevo for you.  You hate it and then you love it."  

Čujemo se. (A common farewell greeting, literally meaning 'we will hear each other.')  

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<![CDATA[up at dawn]]>Tue, 31 Mar 2015 05:57:23 GMThttp://stillbecoming.weebly.com/home/up-at-dawnI’m up at dawn.

Thought I heard the faded call to prayer of the few early mosques that rise at half past five every day. 

Now I am sitting at the kitchen table, gazing towards the windows, watching the dark blue blanket slowly lighten at its corners.  There are a few stars left in the sky but they are quickly fading.  I awoke from nightmares, out of breath, but watching the colors in the sky is calming the nerves.  In fact, I realize, I really don’t look at the stars enough…

Last night, Mirjem had offered to teach me how to make Bosnian pita so, despite my exhaustion, I headed over to her and Eli’s apartment in the middle of Old Town.  It’s a 100-year-old building, that Eli lived in as a child, I learned.  We washed and cooked the spinach and mixed it with an egg and a good cup of both mladi and travnički sir before spreading the mixture over sheets of phyllo dough to bake.  Then she served a large pot of Bosnian coffee and little buttery trapezoids filled with apple and nuts.

But back to the present and why I’m awake at this hour of first light:

I was in the middle of several dreams.  The first, nonchalantly telling Mirjem, who – in the dream – also happened to be in a bed next to mine, that I was having trouble sleeping because of the strong coffee, when suddenly the dream shifted to an airplane being steered by my two cousins.  Ben and Jodi were going over emergency procedures, which involved jumping from the plane with essentially a gym bag when the pictures shifted again and then I was on the downed German Wings flight, as some sort of bizarre omnipresent observer, watching, moments before their death, the flight attendants scurry and struggle to open an Emergency Exit when suddenly, in a single second, their lives and dreams and souls dispersed. 

Then again, maybe in the few minutes of sheer panic, perhaps there was a conscious thought that the lesser of two evils would be ceasing to exist in a flash rather than try to out-starve or out-freeze a mountain with nothing on your person but a parachute.  In the bizarreness that is restless sleep, I suddenly resumed my place again in the dream with my cousins who had been freeze-framed in the middle of a brother/sisterly argument about the gym bag rescue procedure as we hovered effortlessly in midair.

Subject change.

When I came home last night there was some serious smoke curling out of the dumpster just outside the apartment building.  I tried, in my best Bosnian, to explain the scenario to the owner of the small neighboring hotel, which also shares the dumpster.  The owner, a tall, gaunt Bosnian man, greeted me with a friendly “Dobro veče” (good evening).   I cleared my throat.  “Mislim… vatru… smeče” (I think [pause] fire [pause] trash”) while trying to convey concern through my facial muscles, to which he seemed not at all troubled.  He replied with something which sounded like “No, no… something…gas” which, unfortunately, was no more of a comfort.  He smiled, and so I smiled, and politely left.

I realized a few minutes after, as I was trudging up the stairs in the apartment, my nose increasingly attentive as I ascended, that perhaps he had said “vatro-gas-ac” which means firefighter and would also explain why I heard the word ‘gas.’  Although it was after 10, I rang my neighbor’s bell.  A sweet Slovenian violinist, she is fluent in both English and Bosnian.  She stepped into the hall and gave it a good whiff, before her eyebrows wrinkled and she said, “Smells like gas.”  I nodded.  We headed down the two flights of stairs to the landlord’s sister, who answered the door in a boxy white pajama set.  A quick conversation ensued between my neighbor and the sister, and when the door was closed, the neighbor turned to me, “It’s only the trash.  She doesn’t seem concerned,” so we trudged back up the stairs to our flats.  A few minutes later, my bell rang loudly several times in a row.  I answered it to a breathless man spewing a rush of words.  As anyone who has experienced a language barrier knows, a great deal of information is communicated through affect and body language.   The man was out of breath and in his body language I couldn’t tell if we needed to leave the building immediately or if he was just excited that something interesting was happening.  The verbal communication was not much better since the phrases I caught were, “I don’t know!” and several times the word, “Up!”  My neighbor then heard the commotion and peeked her head out the door.  She smiled and nodded in my direction, “He says, he doesn’t know where the smell is coming from but it’s not gas.”  Upon hearing English he looked at both of us, and began descending the stairs, grinning and pronouncing “Sve je Ok!” which I wished had been shared at the beginning of his expose rather than at the end, but nevermind...  So we said goodnight again, and closed our doors, trusting the honest goodness of people here to take care of us foreigners (I’ve never had a reason to doubt).  I, unknowingly, headed off to a restless night sleep. 

It’s not that my own or others’ mortality has been on my mind any more than normal really, (I have to laugh at myself a little when I think that someone who readily admits to a history of neuroses knowingly chose to spend the year in a post-war/genocide context) but I’m definitely a bit more vulnerable here, and when traumatic events happen, here or elsewhere, I tend to put myself through the emotional wringer.  A lot of things have been on my mind of late, not the smallest of which is my own future, but last weekend my good friend Eli was singled out and attacked whilst sitting with a group of people in the middle of a café in the neighborhood where both he and I live.  Yesterday, in talking with my friend Safet, he affirmed the motive is still unclear, although I know from talking to him earlier, he vaguely knew the person who did it (although, in Sarajevo, a small city, this is not uncommon).  The press reacted as if they’d won the lottery (one of Sarajevo’s few Jews -- attacked!!), so much so, that despite having a head injury (the person tried to hit him on the head with a metal chain, which broke, but Eli still needed several stitches next to his eye and on his hand) he decided to address the hundreds of phone calls he was receiving from press all over Bosnia  - and neighboring countries - with a press conference at the synagogue less than a week after the incident.  Over dinner my friend inquired about the choice of location.  Why align it with religion by holding the press conference at the Synagogue?  Why not have the press conference at his home, the hospital, or a public space?   I struggled with this, since I agreed, but yet… didn’t.  I think it lies somewhere at the nexus of history, of trauma, of victimhood, of a space that feels safe... where he has ownership, and control, which as a minority, doesn't happen in majority owned spaces...  I don't know...  it's hard to articulate but I never questioned it.   

. . . 

Waiting for the oven to finish preheating, I stood hunched over the counter, watching Mirjem as she prepared her special topping for the pita (sour cream, two more eggs, little oil and salt).  She explained with unrelenting enthusiasm and nostalgia for what was ‘the time of Tito and Yugoslavia.’  “We celebrated everything! Christmas!  Bajram!  Eid! … Your religion was your business!”  I pushed her with questions.

“You didn’t get in trouble if you went to the synagogue?”

“No!!” She exclaimed.

“No one was hurt if they wanted to go to the mosque?”

“No!!” This time making a face at me.

“And did you invite your neighbors over for Shabbat dinner?”

“Of course!  But it’s my business!” she sternly spoke before continuing, “You can’t go around in the public saying ‘you need to be Christian or you need to be Muslim…Ohhh Tito! … He was a very good man, you know? Very good… leader!“  She said this last part with extra emphasis by prodding me with the spoon.

. . . 

The sun, now fully ascended, is shining unrelentingly through my kitchen windows   And with the mosques now at rest, the nearby cathedral bells are awaking to the day.  But, perhaps I will try a little more sleep.

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<![CDATA[what i didn't know]]>Tue, 10 Mar 2015 01:20:58 GMThttp://stillbecoming.weebly.com/home/what-i-didnt-knowI didn't anticipate that my sixth month would begin to look and feel like the hardest one yet.  Now that my physical senses have adjusted - the snowy hillsides that rise up on either side of the river, the smell of the city, the way the cobblestone alleys are carefully manicured by men using brooms made out of long sticks; the local pack of dogs who usually stand around in the middle of the square alternating between looks of extreme boredom and humping each other... something about my surroundings has become 'normal' which, surprisingly, has set off some sort of internal alarm.  It's as if it's taken my mind THIS long to finally realize, Shit.  I am FAR away.  

Yesterday, when I rammed my knee into a metal pole sticking out from the ground for no good reason, wasn't the first time that having a lot on my mind had caused some sort of physical 'wake-up call' (read: accident).  In my short two-year graduate program I managed to have three minor concussions.  A few years before, (and a few days before I was to don a bridesmaid's gown for a friend's wedding) I flew over the handlebars of my own bike.  My high school friends can probably each recount at least one time when I fell down the stairs while on the phone with them, and then there was the proud time my senior year of college when while taking a nap, I fell out of the bed and needed ten stitches under my chin.  

Melissa, the Fulbright Scholar and Professor of Art who arrived in Sarajevo last week to begin teaching and giving workshops, had encouraged me and Katie (the Fulbright Researcher here) to attend a march for International Women's Day.  I was a bit skeptical due to the 'negative' (as in, absence) activism in the public space.  In the fall I had been become really disenchanted with the endless stream of human rights/social justice/tolerance/dialogue/fill in blank nice word here film festivals, which, despite their grandiose themes were devoid of real dialogue, conversations, and momentum regarding how to address the glaring issues of unemployment, corruption, poverty, nationalism, pollution, and public health just outside the doors of the theater.  True, I'm a tough critic, since sitting in dark movie theater has never been my preferred activity, the experience, often wrought with emotional exhaustion and coupled with physical atrophy.  Another confession, the women's and LGBT groups here, are probably the ones I'm least familiar with, so I headed out the door to the march with a bit of optimism in my step.  

I was walking at a brisk pace.  The sun was peeking out from behind the clouds.  Things were going well although I was a tad nervous about being late (the tram had not come and I was betting I would beat it on foot).  I had not been out of the house yet that day and the few sips of coffee I had before dashing out the door had done little to dent the foggy Sunday morning haze I was clearly in.  I noticed a group of women gathering outside of The Jewish Museum.  There were security guards and several people with reflective vests.  Several were milling about with signs that it looked like said, 'CURE' the name of the organization I thought might be organizing the event. Suddenly I was confused.  Didn't Melissa say BBI Centar?  Did she mean The Jewish Museum?  Was this a different group? Were these people part of the same event, or maybe a different organiz...WHAM!

The pain was slow at first but then unrelenting.  You know, the kind of pain that causes long drawn out sentences in your mind as if doing so might somehow give you time to actually reverse what idiotic thing you just did?  It was a familiar internal monologue.  Shit. Shit shit shit shit shit shiiiiiiittttttttttttttt... 

My mind and my body have always had a unique relationship, at times so in-sync that my Alexander teacher told me he had never seen a student's body respond 'so quickly'  In other moments, so disconnected, that it physically feels like there is a hole, or open space, where I thankfully do indeed have an abdomen.  Akin to the famous image of the Wizard, a giant hovering smoky green head.  The experience has been echoed in tango dance trainings, where I've been told I lack core strength.  But I know I have deep capacity for connection, it's just a matter of finding my remote control.  

As I was doing dishes this morning, attempting to reduce swelling with my leg awkwardly propped up next to me on the counter as if it were a ballet bar, I thought more about this strange and difficult six-month state.  I've tasted a drop of anticipation, that the end of 'the year' is not so far away.   What will it be like to not hear the dogs at night anymore?  To not see the hills and the mountains of Trebevic, Bjelasnica, and Igman?  What will it be like not to see the crinkled faces, the lines of worry, the weary smiles puffing on cigarettes?  The men drinking coffee and the women donned in fur?  The soft clicking of heels on the cobblestone, the hijab-wearing girls linked arm and arm.  The call to prayer.  What will it be like not to live alone in this bittersweet apartment, in the neighborhood where my friend grew up but now can't afford, in a city more pulled apart by the haves and have nots, the religious and the secular everyday, endlessly bruised by politics and and disinvestment and forced to whore out memories of war... 

This morning I was supposed to meet Mirjem but had to call and cancel due to my current pain while ambulating.  'Ljubim te' ('love you,') she said casually before hanging up.  I was speechless, allowing the words to hang in the air, as I contemplated that after six months there are a few people who really cared about me.  What will it be like when I can't easily meet for coffee with Alma, or Safet, or see Mirjem and Eli at the synagogue?  Will these people and their lives slowly dwindle from my consciousness after I leave?  

I feel more split than ever.  Orbiting thoughts of my world back home that exist in my mind, that I watch through my screen, and yet more fully existing in my, still lonely, still uncomfortable, physical world here, which can now safely be called routine.  I didn't know this would be.  That it would be hard now.  Caught between the state of more fully being here and with one eye open, cognizant of my departure inching closer, with every sunrise and sunset.  On some days it feels like I'm caught inside a snowglobe, waiting to be awoken from a very long dream.   ]]>
<![CDATA[the seven o'clock prayer]]>Wed, 18 Feb 2015 18:19:19 GMThttp://stillbecoming.weebly.com/home/the-seven-oclock-prayerI'm listening to the call to prayer, just a few minutes before seven.  The mujezin, calls a long, drawn out, Allah Alaikum, and his voice slowly diminishes, brushing over each Arabic word in one final chant; one final plea before the day is done.  

I've heard it so many times now, it's almost interesting to note my reactions to these prayers and melodies, that bellow out from the top of the minarets just outside my window.  When I first arrived they were enchanting, signaling I had truly arrived to a place that was far from home; then I had my 'sing-a-long phase' when I would find myself mouthing, trying to listen and copy the sound of the Arabic syllables.  Today it was near numbness, and maybe the smallest ounce of comfort and I sat in my bed, exhausted from reading more news about the violence at a cafe and separately a synagogue in Copenhagen.

Were we not just here?  The media is certainly jumping on the bandwagon.  'There is SO MUCH NOISE everywhere!'  I want to yell from the top of the minaret.  Nothing is ever as simple as it seems.  I don't like the continual portrayals of 'the Jews' as victims.  The families of the young murderer are as much victims as are the victims of the dead.  Are we not all suffering here?  Aren't we ALL responsible, as a society, for the violence that perpetuates?  

Metaphorically over the rainbow, a had a conversation with a friend last night who is LIVING the message that we need to hear.  The media will continue to feed us, to tempt us, to lure us, in the same way that an addiction does, to trauma-like news stories that attempt to simplify good and evil.  As if when we watch something terrible happening on the news or read about it online we can emotionally remove any responsibility from ourselves.

'But here is our responsibility,' she reminded me.  'We must have our focus on the good, not the bad.  We have to try very hard to see the few people who make the difference.  We must not fear each other."

And in this conversation I gained some strength, because I must admit, I do feel afraid for the world.  But my friend reminded me that it is each of our actions, one at a time, one relationship at a time, one conversation with someone you didn't know, these are the ways that the world heals, even if we can't see our own repairs, we must have faith they are there.  

Sarajevo is such the glowing example of tolerance.  For 500 years the Ottoman's ruled here in a famously pluralistic society where many religious and cultural traditions flourished.  Sarajevo pulled together an army of its citizens from all religious backgrounds to defend itself against the nationalist Serb army in the 90s.  And it is in Sarajevo that my friend the Tauber's have recorded countless stories of Jewish families who were saved by their Muslim neighbors from Nazi concentration camps and in the 1990s war, it was the Jewish community building that became a center for delivering food, and medical supplies, and the mail(!) to all Sarajevans.

How can we tell THIS history!!?? And THIS story??? Counter to the one in the media which tells me one singular painfully false narrative of Muslims as 'perpetrators' and Jews as 'weak victims backed by the west?' 
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<![CDATA[what is safety. what is fear.]]>Mon, 16 Feb 2015 08:35:01 GMThttp://stillbecoming.weebly.com/home/what-is-safety-what-is-fearA conversation with a close friend last night touched on many global political, philosophical, and religious topics.  And it touched on my 'fear nerve,' one which I will admit, may be slightly more activated than others but then again, I'm the one living in Bosnia and Herzegovina right now so... I continue.

I know the world is governed by hidden truths and hidden political, even psychological motives.  In trying to answer the question about why wars still exist, my own thinking has vacillated between blaming extremist, politically genius and manipulative leaders to foreign interests and greed for resources, to even pride and ego.  Why did the U.S. invade Iraq and Afghanistan?  And has Iran ever attacked another country?  There's even the economic reason that wars make money and that is why wars continue, because states want them.  But then there was another statement that was made, that the West used the Jews as pawns to hold onto the Holy Land (Israel).  Do you really think Britain cared about the Jews?  They were only using them.  And ISIS.  That's another plot of the West.  And then there's the issue of cultural imperialism, that contradicting Western values is a political assault, an immoral statement, impermissible.  The West is destroying local culture and community in Sarajevo.

This is not the first conversation I've had like this.  Indeed, in a lesson about Christmas in the United States I shared with my students demographic data.  Less than 2 percent of the U.S. population is Jewish, less than one percent is Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist... essentially, we are a majority Christian country and we have some religious minorities.  My students did not believe me, and even said they thought the statistic was wrong pertaining to the number of Jews.  They thought it was much higher.  I told them, "No, American Jews are a minority" but still the pervasiveness, and attachment to, false information was troubling.

I never deny many of the dangerous and harmful impacts of Westernization, of neoliberalism, and yes, American culture.  Western culture is deserving of many many criticisms.  Indeed I feel it's dangerous presence here, and it is palpable how Sarajevo in many ways remains "an old city" different from it's nearby EU counterparts.  I was wondering the other day about poverty.  Does Sarajevo indeed have more poverty than other comparable European cities?  Or do more modern cities simply hide their poverty better, relegating it the edges of the city where more wealthy citizens and tourists would never venture?

I listened as my friend painfully described how 'the West' knew what was happening during the war here in Sarajevo, indeed there were many many journalists here, staying in The Holiday Inn Hotel.  "They just laughed and when we needed help the most, they blocked us."   I know too that international forces controlled Sarajevo's airstrip and the only entry and exit to the city.  The level of corruption among these international forces led Sarajevan citizens to build the Tunnel of Hope.  It was built by everyday people, engineers, shop owners, taxi drivers...  "It was a miracle that the city was able to pull together to defend itself" according to my friend.  I could not agree more.  The Bosnian Army, was a conglomeration of everyday Sarajevans, of all religions and ethnicities (representative of the city) which fought to defend Sarajevo against the nationalist Serb army, which had an ethnically pure agenda (far from the reality and ethnically mixed history of Sarajevo).  If everyday citizens had not bravely come together to defend the city, it is very likely history would be different.  

Many people here feel that the West did more harm than good here.  At the moment when the Bosnian Army was about to defeat the nationalist Bosnian Serb army the United States demanded a cease fire and the parties were forced into peace talks.  People have told me this situation would have been if the United States had demanded the Jews have a peace talk with the Nazis.  The ethnic agenda of the nationalist Serb army was not democratic, pluralistic, and had successfully carried out a Muslim genocide in many eastern Bosnian towns.  To my knowledge, many of the individuals who carried out these war crimes still walk free, and even hold political power in towns where no Bosnian Muslims exist anymore.  In some towns there is genocide denial, and the war is spoken about as if no Muslims ever existed.  History is told by the victor so it goes... 

There is also the high unemployment here, the poverty, the lack of opportunity.  I read an article recently about European millennial feel more disillusioned than Americans, they feel less hopeful about their future, they have much less faith in education or credentials to do anything for them.  I definitely feel this here and I wonder if there is a danger in it.  With so much time to think, to not be productive, is one more prone to dangerous conspiracy theories?  And then...there is this dangerous problem I see that all conspiracy theories are born from the tiniest grain, the tiniest grain of truth, but then it gets blown up, enlarged, exaggerated to incredibly untruthful proportions, and then this spurs more hatred, more resentment, more feelings of righteousness.  When we lack opportunity, we look for a scapegoat?

Conversations like the one with my friend make me feel uneasy.  I always felt safe from global war in America.  There were moments I felt unsafe in a neighborhood, or perhaps at a party, but these were small, largely controllable environments.  And the neighborhoods I thought to be unsafe, I could avoid.  In essence, living in my comfortable bubble of physical safety and privilege, was easy.  I know not all Americans have that privilege and how many young children wake up or have to walk to school in neighborhoods where their physically safety is threatened.  My immediate neighborhood does not feel unsafe here.  But beyond the cozy walls of my little apartment it feels like there is something bigger growing, swirling, maybe swelling.  Something behind the Internet waves, behind Facebook posts, everyday conversations.   Something psychological.  Or even religious or spiritual. Something I can't control.  Stopping hate in this new millennium feels like the scariest thing I have ever encountered. 

To be continued.]]>