Thursday, July 26, 2007

Last week in Bosnia

So it's been another busy week, but as of 6:30 tonight the official part of my trip will be completed!

Spent last Friday taking a day trip to Mostar, site of the famous Old Bridge that was blown up in 1993. It was a beautiful town to see.... evidence of the war was everywhere, and nice new rebuilt buildings stood next to buildings completely devastated by shelling. The old town and bridge were very nice, and the Neretva River runs right through town. I went by myself, and it was really relaxing to have coffee and lunch at cafes by the river, as well as to have the opportunity to wander around town and see the place on my own. The afternoon got really hot though (like over 110 degrees), and I headed back to Sarajevo (on the air conditioned bus) without staying to check out the night life. Mostar is a college town, so very fun, but not worth the heat at the end of July!

Took it easy last weekend and just hung out in Sarajevo. Got some souvenier shopping done, and spent some more time wandering the city. Nothing too exciting to report. Got up to Vareš on Sunday afternoon and began to prepare for our last week teaching! Luckily, we had an easy week planned, with our art show, movie day and picnic going on. The Vareš summer festival began Sunday night, so we definitely needed a more laid back week (translation = lots of late nights out in the town.) There was live music every night, and there was more than one cafe open past 11 p.m. Nothing too crazy went out, but it was definitely nice to see the town with more energy, and with about twice the population, since all of the people from the surrounding villages come down to the city center for the festival.

Wednesday was our last day at school, and it was a lot harder than I thought it would be. I really got attached to these kids over the last 4 weeks, and it was hard to say goodbye.... especially when they're all asking if I'll be back next summer. I can see why Jo, our project coordinator, keeps coming back, and feels so attached to the place.

So we came back to Sarajevo this morning, and now tonight we have our final reflection, then our closing dinner. Hoorah!! I'm planning on just lounging around for the next two days, and seeing the last few things in Sarajevo I hoped to see (mainly nightlife) then I leave Sunday night for Ljubljana, Slovenia. Im taking the overnight bus, then spending two days there in a hostel that used to be a jail! Should be really neat. Then catching a train Wednesday morning to Vienna, where I catch my flight to London. Whew! I'm definitely going to be exhausted by the time I get home on the 8th, but I think it will all be worth it.

One other fun note... made it to the black market last week to pick up some DVDs, and had the new Harry Potter movie the day after it came out, as well as about 5 other new movies. For less than $3 each! Haven't been able to get the book yet, but should be able to in London...

Time for reflection, so I hope everyone is doing well, and I can't wait to be home in just a few more weeks!!

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Lots to talk about this week....
After having a nice relaxing night back in Sarajevo last Thursday, our group headed to Srebenica, Bosnia, which is the site of the 1995 genocide where over 8,000 Bosnian men and boys were killed by Serbian forces. We visited the memorial site and graveyard, and toured the factory where UN soldiers held 5,000 people in hopes of saving them. (After keeping the people there for two days, they were forced to kick them out - basically handing them over to the soldiers waiting outside.) The memorial site was very touching and emotional - it reminded me a lot of the Vietnam memorial, with lists and lists of those killed during the genocide. We also watched a video that included footage of those 9 days, and showed the men basically marching to their death, as well as the soldiers laughing and joking about what they were about to do. It was really difficult to watch. The video also showed President Clinton, who visited Srebenica for the dedication of the memorial. It was a clear reminder of just how little we (the U.S.) did to prevent so much of what was going on.
After leaving the memorial, our project coordinator had our drivers take us to one of the mass grave sites that was recently discovered and in the process of being excavated for bodies. I didn't even get out of the car - to me, it was a little morbid to stand around looking at unidentified victims of this horrific incident. I felt as though we were acting as tourists taking in the sights, and just didn't feel it was respectful of the people and families who still don't have closure. The students who did go thought it was very interesting to hear about the work being done by ICMP (the International Center for Missing Persons), but for me, it just didn't feel right.

To make ourselves feel better (and who am I kidding, just to have a good time) myself and Chico decided we should get our butts over to Novi Sad, Serbia, for Exit Fest, one of Europe's biggest music festivals. We got there early Saturday morning, and had a great day wandering the city, hanging out on the shores of the Danube, napping in the park, and drinking lots and lots of coffee. Later in the day, we headed across the river to this giant old citadel where the festival was held. We got inside before there were too many people there, and had the opportunity to wander around and see the grounds without 50,000 other people. The line up for the night we were there was Lauryn Hill (pictured above - yeah, that's right, I was that close!), Basement Jaxx (who rocked) and Snoop Dogg. So I got to see Snoop Dogg play from 2-4 AM, with about 30,000 Serbians singing every word right next to me! It was quite the experience. For the rest of the morning there was a huge dance party going on, but I just didn't have the energy so Chico and I headed back to the park to get a little rest. After sleeping on a park bench for a few hours, we did some shopping, then headed to Belgrade in an attempt to find a bus back to Sarajevo.

Belgrade was definitely an interesting place to see, but very run down. You can tell it was once a beautiful city, but has lost its charm. We had dinner at a beautiful restaurant on the Danube, then walked the city before getting on our overnight bus to Sarajevo. (Let me add that we were absolutely filthy, can't have smelled too good, and completely exhausted. It was a fun bus ride.)
We immediately went up to Vareš after getting in and showering Monday morning, and taught school as usual all week. We only have three more days in Vareš (and I only have 10ish more in Bosnia) and I know that I am really going to miss this place. I've gotten so attached to my students, and can't say I pictured feeling this way 2 months ago. Next week is the Vareš summer festival and our school picnic, so I think it will at least be a nice sendoff and a good way to say goodbye.
Came back early this afternoon and went to visit the Bosnian Federal Court with our class. Extremely interesting, and since we watched a portion of the trial of some of those charged with the war crimes committeed in Srebenica, it was a nice bookend to last week's trip. So off to reflection now, and then heading out to enjoy one of my last weekends in Bosnia!!

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Some pics...

Didn't have a whole lot go on outside of school the past few days, so I thought I'd post some pictures.

This is Nula, the reservoir / quarry sometimes used for swimming in Vareš. Thing is, it's toxic thanks to the local mining. Oh well - they don't seem to mind, but I can't say I'll be dipping my feet in anytime soon. Pretty to look at thought.

This is my entourage of girls, who hang out on this wall and watch the boys play soccer all day.

And these are my afternoon boys, who love to play Uno and B.S. So much for teaching English. :)

Off to Srebenica tomorrow (the location of the 1995 genocide) then hopefully heading to ExitFest to cheer up!!!!

Sunday, July 8, 2007

So I had a pretty laid back weekend, and was bad and acted like a true American. Friday afternoon I went to a ˝Thai˝ restaurant, and then walked around Sarajevo's version of a mall. Basically the same as ours, with lots of salons, clothing, shoes, and cell phone shops. However, in their mall everyone is smoking and sitting in the multitudes of cafes.

Had a great sushi dinner with my friend Kim the other night, then met up with the other group of DU students here. If I haven't mentioned, there is another group of 10 graduate psychology students from our university here on an unrelated program. They're all much closer to my age (and have much more similar social lives) and it was nice to get to spend some time with them.

Saturday morning everyone in my group but me headed to Mostar, a city about 3 hours from Sarajevo, while I went to the US Embassay for the 4th of July picnic. Free beer, great salads and dessert, and probably the best cheeseburger I've ever had in my life. Oh yeah, and did I mention the Marines were manning the grill? I met some really nice Americans that work for the state dept. who have invited me to their softball games and ˝Marine movie night˝- apparantly the guys get sent new release movies the day they come out in the states. It should be fun. I can't imaging having the lives of these people though - they switch positions every two years, and have very little say in where they end up in the world. They definitely have a very strong community amongst themselves though, and I was grateful everyone was so welcoming to me.

Saturday night I went out for dinner with Emily (one of the forementioned DU students), then she, I and my friend Sharif went out dancing. Quite the experience!! The DJ played the most random music, including The Twist, the Macarena, La Bamba, Love Shack, and Justin Timberlake and the Black Eyed Peas. So much fun, and watching the Bosnians make me feel like a good dancer.

Remembered that yesterday I wanted to comment on the women /fashion here. Whenever anyone is out, they are dressed to the nines. At ten in the morning, the girls are wearing clothes and makeup like they're ready for the club on Saturday night. It's definitely strange. And the guys are big fans of tight t-shirts - although, thinking of you boys back in Denver, maybe that's universal! I definitely feel like a bum, because it's almost unheard of to be seen out in flip flops and and capris. It's not like that's the only thing that makes me stand out though, so I've gotten used to it. :)

Well, it's time to go catch the bus to Vareš, back to my lovely little students. Will write more when I'm back in Sarajevo.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Week 4 update...

So not a lot has happened since my last post.... we finally got classes started in Vareš, and though I was a little intimidated my first day, it's gone really well. The first two days I had a class of about 30 7th and 8th graders, but on the third day we split the groups up into morning and afternoon classes. So now I have these really adorable 5th graders in the morning, and then my little entourage in the afternoon. I've got this group of sassy little girls, and these rowdy little boys that follow me around town like some celebrity. I can't say I don't enjoy it!! Outside of school, things in the town are nice. There's only about 8 cafes / bars so bar hopping entails walking about 5 steps. Kind of fun. We definitely stand out like sore thumbs, and I always have the feeling of being watched. I think by Thursday people were sort of used to us, so hopefully next week will be a little less awkward.

Thought I'd take the time to write about some random Bosnian observations.... speaking of being watched, the feeling is definitely there in Sarajevo as well. There aren't a lot of American tourists, so while some people do speak English, we definitely stand out here as well. I go to a couple of the same places fairly regularly, so there are some people that recognize me (I guess) but again, the feeling of being looked at strangely or being watched is pretty prevalent. Now I know how all the Asians feel in Denver...

The bathrooms here are definitely another major difference.... most of them in the apartments or restaurants are ˝normal˝ but in a lot of the public places or up in Vareš they're basically holes in the ground with little spots for your feet on either side. I've learned to pee like a guy, which is actually sort of fun.

Hmm... I had a few other things I was going to write about, but I just spent 15 min on the phone and forgot most of it. Oh well. Will update in a few days when I can think of more..

Hope everyone had a great 4th of July! I'm going to a belated celebration at the US Embassay tomorrow, then off to Mostar for the night, then back up to Vareš til Thursday, but I'll try and touch base sometime during the week....

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Week 3 Recap

Well, it's been another busy week but I'll try and cover everything that's happened...

Think I left off on last Saturday, when the girls and I decided we should go to the hugest event in Sarajevo all summer - the Haris concert. It was.... interesting to say the least. Haris is one of the most popular Bosnian pop stars, and of about 35,000 people in the stadium, I think we were the only 4 that didn't know all the words to every song. It was in the old Olympic stadium, which was kind of cool to see, and quite the experience. Decided to leave early and hung out with some beer-drinking policija on the way out. Apparently they're members of the Bosnian SWAT team and do crowd control at concerts. Quite entertaining. This is my friend Officer Bajune (have no idea if that's the right spelling - it's pronounced Bah - yune- nuh.)

Went to the ˝black market˝ Sunday morning to get a cell phone - another interesting experience. It was really hot out, and I wasn't feeling so good by the time I got home. Ended up coming down with a fever, and then tummy problems, and spending the next 3 days on the couch. Not so fun. The heat wave has broken now though, which is sooooooo much nicer.

On Wednesday our other coordinator got here, and we got to go up to Vareš, which is where I'll be Sunday - Thursday for the next 3 weeks. It's this little mountain mining town about an hour outside of Sarajevo, and it's like a different world. The weather is beautiful, and I think I'll really to get to know the people and everything in this town inside and out. We went to the school and met our students on Thursday morning. I ended up with the classroom of the oldest students, so it looks like I'll be spending my mornings with 30 7th and 8th graders. They are quite the handful!! I'm a little nervous, but we'll see how it goes tomorrow...... The pic to the right is a waterfall in Vareš that we took a little walk to.

After our reflection Thursday night, myself and two other Vareš students, Hadley and Chico, decided to head back to the Croatian coast. We took an overnight bus to Split, which is about 4 hours north of Dubrovnik, where I lived before. It was absolutely gorgeous - beautiful weather, coastline, boys, and not nearly as many tourists as farther south. The city's most famous feature is an old palace in the center of city, which we walked around. This is the coast to the right. We took a mini boat cruise on Friday night (which only cost about $10) that was incredible, and had some really good food and wine.

Two other students joined us Saturday morning, and we decided to take a ferry to Brač, a local island. Also amazing. Got there around 2, and immediately hit the beach. This is me ˝swimming˝ in the Adriatic, again. The sun was a little hot for me, so after about an hour my friend Bethany and I decided to rent scooters to cruise around the island. So much fun, and just incredible views of all the little island towns, and fields and fields of olives and grapes. I'm starting to realize that I am much more into Croatian culture than Bosnian!!! Think I will try and make at least one or two more trips back to the coach. Even with all the tourists, everything is just so laid back, beautiful, and fun.

Time to go now so we can catch the bus up to Vareš for the next four days. Hope everyone has an amazing 4th of July, and wish me luck with the middle schoolers!!!!