Monday, January 10, 2011

New Thoughts for a New Year

I went home to Bechtelsville for a two-week vacation; to spend Christmas and ordinary time with my family, take advantage of sunny weather to do some outdoor work(clearing my conscious of not being around to regularly care for our many gardens) and take a break from the efforts, mental strain, here of learning a language and earning a job; to recreate a workable life. That idea of being home, like simply on a vacation, was a telling revelation that I no longer "live" at 254 Anthony's Mill Rd but rather have moved away, chosing a new address and community to inhabit. Of course there is inherently a cost in such life changes and I was affected, saddened, by this new telling reality of being distanced from loved family and friends and details of life in the States that I'm so accustomed to. But related to this is the freedom of addressing these changes, steps and gains, and honestly sharing your unique story and experiences with the people around you. Even though the two weeks flew by, it was my pleasure to bask in the blessing of family and was strengthened by their constantness and concern. I brought that embodied encouragement and love back with me to Sarajevo!

In a few words I would just like to say how the past months have been and what I am looking forward to here in Bosnia, in this newest of years. The last period in Sarajevo, from mid-August to mid-December, was the longest time I spent in country and I definately put a lot of expectation on realizing important aspects of life here- improving my language ability, ironing out my working possibilities to gain some sort of income and moving ahead with friendships to gain confidants and companions. As fall lingered and finally gave way to winter, I was more and more confronted with the reality that these desires would be a long way in the making and that the entire process, call it life, would be marked by uncertainty- lack of tangible, concrete success. In this I am challenged and deal well with those demands but I am also prone to regular moments, say every 10-14 days, when that courage and commitmant fails me and I sort of crash and burn. In those moments I rashly ask myself, "what the heck am I doing here", and allow sleep, a conceeded and long session of defeat, to gently ease my body and mind back to the starting point of hard work and the daily grind. In no ways am I saying, "woe is me", but rather it is startling how difficult normal life can

I was not necessarily looking forward to coming home, displaying my battle scars instead of medals of accomplishment but I can say that the season was one of success and meaning. Still working with Mozaik, I might say that I am rounding the corner of becoming a part of their team and continue to work on a design project related to a potential development of a for-profit restaurant; for a while now having initiated efforts related to business plan development and fundraising. All of it is insanely new and over my head but in that is opportunity to learn and slowly I have found people, both inside and separate from Mozaik, who are willing to help me on this learning curve. Besides Mozaik, I have founds some income as a baby-sitter and am looking ahead, with a little planning, to gain work in the landscape/gardening/design area. It's a stretch as every aspect of work here will be different and new: types of plants, landscaping infra-structure and gardening culture. All in all, I have to give it a try and learn along the way.

So now, as January is winding down and the romance of winter and a new year wears away, I know that I am going to be in for a fight. I would love to be in touch with friends and confidants from home and as always I am free to converse.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Birds of a feather...

I was enjoying my city view last night which was the usual east-west expanse of sparkling lights with strands and pockets of ebony forests or steep slopes mixed into the urban glow. Last night became a little more special as I realized the stadium lights were on in Grbavica and I heard the churning roar and applause of Zelio's fans (Zelio is one of Sarajevo's two main soccer teams and their name is related to the should here this one cheer when the whole crowd whistles like a wheezing, piercing train whistle!). Added to this mix was the evening ezan, call to prayer, which started "there" and then was followed by mosques within and around the valley..."here" and "right there" and faintly from somewhere. The whole scene was sincerely pleasant but also telling as well...

Sarajevo has always been an exotic city known for it's diversity and flare which punctuated every spiritual and secular institution and tradition here. This can be understood numerically when you see the statistics in which the town-city was represented equally by muslim, catholic, orthodox and jewish populations just a century ago. Today, Sarajevo proper is nearing a 90% muslim majority as croats and serbs left during the war and in their respective parts of Bosnia with larger populations, their authorities and ethnic gravitional pull are encouraging young students and professionals to "go home", seeking better fortunes in Zagreb or Belgrade instead of Sarejevo. Over time, heightened by the ethnic frenzy of the last war and continuing persuasion of "soft" nationalism, Sarajevo is becoming solely "muslim" and is quickly loosing the identifiable traces of diversity...except for the sacred edifices and facades of church and state which merely inhabit photographs anyway.

Last night, as I was sipping coffee and willing thought, I realized that soon, "diversity" as a symbol and reality, will only be marked by those who "worship" at the stadium or mosque; board room or bar. I am not bemoaning the fact that Bosnia is becoming more western and modern, ever so slowly and painfully, but the suggested fact stands that the city is loosing its soul. Citizens know this and foreigners can sense it and helpless is the best word to describe the apprehension regarding the future. For me, the point is clear. As people, all of us, emotionally and programatically choose to surround ourselves with people just like be comfortable and part of the club...we suddenly find ourselves cheated of meaning and the dynamic inspiration to exist beyond our limited understanding. The frustrated engagement of those "different" gives the tension that pulls our hearts and minds forward out of the damp, cold shadows into a sunnier arena of diversity and potential to truly love our neighbor.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Back in Town...

Ramazan is a month long celebration of fasting (postic) and feasting (iftar) observed by many devout and nominal muslims here in Sarajevo. Every day at sunset, right around 8 o'clock, the lights in the mosques' minarets turn on in unison to a single rocket shot from a fortification above the city, signalling the time to join family and friends for the iftar feast. Yesterday, I was at that fortification, the zuta tabija, and among others, had a count-down anticipation of the rocket's explosion as striking sun-set colors and clouds bejeweled Sarajevo below us. In those prolonged moments, I welcomed myself back home to Sarajevo and promised myself that I don't have to leave anytime soon!

Yeah, I am back in Bosnia. I have been here for the better part of 10 days; getting back into the flow of things with relation to home, work and play. It is summer here; first time seeing so much sun and feeling the heat in this city that I have come to know as cool, cloudy and wet. You could say that I am going slowly, polako, as always some things change, friends have left and my own set of expectations and understanding have changed and flexed, requiring a new inventory of life.

Many of you knew that I left home in a flurry of activity near the end of July heading towards Europe. During that time, from July through August, I seized the opportunity to realize a dream I've had of doing a pilgrimage in northern Spain called the Camino de Santiago. A few years ago I heard about this pilgrimage in a travel writing essay and then just last year in a newspaper article from Louisville, Kentucky and since then I had been wondering when I could find the time to do this journey that takes weeks, involving walking hundreds of miles across pastoral Spain.

This pilgrimage dates back hundreds of years when medieval pilgrims began traveling across Europe to Santiago, Spain where the body of St. James is mysteriously buried. We are talking about the third largest christian pilgrimage sight after Jerusalem and Rome and interesting it is how the pilgrimage has retained popularity and meaning even today; now days the journey has gained more of a backyard travel feel for anybody and everybody, religious and non, who have the will to lace up their walking shoes every day and rough it a bit. Personally, I chose to do the pilgrimage because I wanted the time, the pace and labored time, to think and envision my upcoming adventure in Bosnia and that is also why I did the Camino backwards, starting in Santiago and literally walking east towards Bosnia. All in all, accompanied by great friend, Stevo Schanely from Boyertown, we walked clear across northern Spain accumulating 725 kilometers worth of stories, pain and shared memories. Even more specially, as the path continued after 1,2 and 3 weeks, I could sense my heart being opened to God and a growing sense of calm and purpose in my return to Bosnia: exactly what I was hoping to happen!

A highlight portraying this was my last day alone on the Camino, atop the very last mountain, Jaizkebal, that I had just summited. It was quite cool and cloudy and rain drops were coming and going with the strong breeze. I climbed up this little tower dedicated to Santa Barbera and stood high, arms outstretched to the heavens and in both confidence and fragility I welcomed my life, my destiny, my purpose and asked God for the strength to continue. And then I yelled; twice and very loudly for as long as I could. It was liberating and after that I put back on my hiking bag and ran down the mountain.

And all this to say, that I am back home in Sarajevo. I so much enjoyed being back home with family and friends in Bechtelsville and I didn't want it to end because I know, somehow know, that the coming months will be spent so far away from Pennsylvania. I feel blessed for all of the conversations and encouragement from many of you I was able to spend quality time with and I look forward to a continuation of that through emails and the like. I hope to also invest more time with the blog to continue to tell the story of this place, not neccessarily my story but the bigger story of the realization of light and beauty here!

And so, this is what I got for today. Blessings upon you all and once again I welcome your thoughts, questions and prayers.

much love,

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

How the story ends...continues.

Dear Friends i Dragi Prijatelji-

It's been a long time since March when I last posted and my Bosnian life evolved, climaxed and transitioned as I returned home just last week. So much happened and the intensity of it all partially explains why I was not my blogging self. It is not a dramatic story to be told but I would like to share the nuts and bolts of my spring in Sarajevo and where I am at today.

As most of you know I am a landscape architect trying to work within the community development sector in Bosnia and the way to do that has developed through Fondacija Mozaik which is a community development foundation based in Sarajevo. I was volunteering with them last winter where I started developing one of their projects involving an Ethno Restaurant and I was able to jump back on board that project to bring architectural plans of renovation through the conceptual and design development stages. To help the foundation get this project into the fundraising stage, it was decided a model displaying what the restaurant could and would look like would be most helpful in "selling" the project so I decided to tackle that need. And thus I became a model maker and sold me soul to hundreds of hours of sometimes frustrating, other times groovy detail work over my last two months in Sarajevo. It was worth it and the model developed well as I left Mozaik with an almost finished product. The idea is that they can introduce potential donors and partners to the Ethno Restaurant project when they visit the office and see the model on display or we can take it to a presentation and plop it on the board table and say, "This is it!" Additionally, in taking charge of this project and it's development, I was able to explore my architectural design capabilities and show to the foundation what I can do and how I can assist them in the future. Here's the model!

And so, some other thoughts about the last months in Bosnia. Overall, life was normalized and routine as there was a mix of work and play. Some friendships kind of dissolved while others gained strength due to increased shared experiences and a looking ahead to the future. I was also able to interact with the city with more background knowledge and appreciate it as part of the daily grind. My ability to speak was increased and with that I felt more comfortable in the office and more inclined to deeper conversations with friends and entertaining encounters with strangers.

These thoughts were kind of chaotic and mismatched. I would love to get together with many/any of you and tell you more about Bosnia and I. Also, over the next few weeks I would like to reveal some of my journaled thoughts and gut feelings about Bosnia and potential development there. So...stay tuned.

Feel free to give me a call or send an email so that we can get in personal touch! 484 941 2450

much love

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Lab coat for Mirsad

Dear Friends,

Let me tell you a story. Last year I became friends with Selma who is a Veterinarian student here in Sarajevo. Before I left in December she told me about a Pathology professor in the department who was an amazing professor and in love with Cornell University which has a world renowned Veterinary faculty. Even though Dr. Mirsad Kadrić had no physical ties to Cornell, I sensed it's importance to him and felt compelled to get him a gift from the university.

So, after the New Year I made first contacts with Cornell and right away I knew it was going to be a battle as the gift I desired to get was no small thing; a veterinarian lab coat with the official Cornell insignia. Fortunately, I met the "right" person, the Dean's secretary, Patricia, and she committed herself to finding a coat and finally we got some luck- she found one last lab coat that was meant for upper level veterinary students when they transition up. So we found ourselves a lab coat for Mirsad!

Now, just to make it more official, I wanted to embroider his name on this lab coat and I knew the right place to go- the Firestore in Gap, PA. It is an amazing place thanks to the owners, the Witmer family, and because of their embroidering department, they were willing and able to help. So, we were able to put Mirsad's full name in cornell red across from the faculty's insignia. Cool!

You can imagine how excited I was to come back to Sarajevo with this snazzy gift. I had to curb that enthusiasm a bit as the university starts later in the year and my friend Selma was all kinds of busy and she was our connection. But, last Wednesday I was able to meet Mirsad and exchange this gift...

Obviously, he was totally surprised and maybe unsure of the why's and how's. I tried communicating to him that I understand he is a very accomplished and talented professor whose commitment to his students and integrity as a professor (not so easy here in Bosnia) are shaping the lives of his students. He confessed, that he is not sure of his impact within the department but assured me that he is happy and committed and I could sense that he has purpose and passion.

In closing, let me explain the significance of this I feel about it. First of all it is a pure extension of friendship and goodwill from one place to another- between strangers and among "peers" in the veterinarian world. To feel the kindness of a stranger is a great thing! Also, I believe this gift could inspire Dr. Mirsad to keep on, keeping on! Please imagine a scenario where you give your life for something (maybe educating generations of veterinarian students) and all you see is complacency within the overall educational, political, social and economic structures of your society and you have to "entrust" these students to this society; to sink or swim. I feel this gift could encourage Mirsad in this journey and maybe even impact his students to see the Cornell insignia and dream of realizing any and every dreamlike goal.

So, this was my story about a lab coat for Mirsad. Hope you enjoyed it and I would just like to warmly thank Cornell University and the Firestore. Go team!

Much Love

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Introducing the April Baseball project

My colleague, Eldar, and I are beginning Little League Baseball teams here in Sarajevo. Maybe you could help? Thanks

Friday, March 5, 2010 On

Dear Friends-

That was an extremely cheesy blog title so please forgive me. An early March snowstorm here in Sarajevo is blanketing my creative spirit with that lulling sense of sleepiness and quietness. Overall, I have not felt too inspired to write anything on the blog (hence, not doing so for two weeks) but please give this update a chance to materialize. Wow, that was a pitiful introduction!

I can say that life has not been overly dramatic recently and maybe that is why I feel I have nothing to say. And in that vein, maybe this is why I need to write; to express the necessary normalicy of living with resolve and purpose in "foreign" places that can become so casually familiar. And so it is that I am getting used to life here in Sarajevo and I will say that it is a confetti mix of day to day happenings and a deeper realization of opportunity here. Let me explain...

As you know, I was working on one of Mozaik's projects regarding efforts to create an EthnoRestoraunt here in Sarajevo's historic center. I am in the middle of these efforts as I am developing plans for reconstruction of an Ottoman period house that will be the restaurants home. So, from conceptualization to diagrams to model-making, I am wearing the "hat" of architect and designer and...I freaking love it. I told my sister yesterday that it feels so good to be designing again; working with layers and layers of trace paper and letting the house come to life at my finger tips. Of course, I am not an architect, but the opportunity Mozaik has given me to bring this project forward into fund raising has given me the courage to be creative and expressive, digging into this awkwardly new design world. All in all, the project is going well and next week I will begin making a scaled model that will fully express the houses potential character.

Earlier I spoke of my life lacking drama so I would like to tell you about my recent trip to Srebrenica. Most people have heard of Srebrenica, even if they know nothing about Bosnia or the Balkans. Srebrenica is synonomous with genocide, war and failed international peace-keeping. Srebrenica was a tiny city kilometers from the Serbian border and home to about 6,000 people of which 70% were Bosniak/Muslim while a similiar Muslim majority was intact throughout the entire Srebrenica municiaplity with around 35,000 inhabitants. One of the most ravaged cities in the war, Srebrenica also realized unspeakable atrocities with the most notorious crime happening on July 11th, 1995 when thousands of men were systematically killed. An area called Potocari, pictured below, is final home to the 8,300 persons and counting murdered in Srebrenica during the war.

Today, Srebrenica is meagerly inhabited with Bosnian Serbs and Muslims trying to scrape together a meaningful life. I was in Srebrenica with my friend Selma, as her families guest and I was introduced to "life as normal" in post war Bosnia. A few quick observations:

I am sick of seeing bombed and burned out houses and buildings strewn about the beleagured landscape. Literally 60% of the buildings you see are not lived in and are either mere shells or charred and ruined. It's sort of like driving in a pristine natural area and then coming upon hundreds of acres of forest ravaged by wildfire. Each desolate house represents a family devastated.

Optimism is ruined hearing story after story of people, lovely people, unable to make significant steps in positive directions- economically, emotionally, relationally, educationally; To see them stuck.

My heart breaks to be around young adults my age who have lost fathers and brothers and uncles; having to live in refugee camps and locked in cells of depression and frustrating futures. To look them in the eye and remember every blessing I take foregranted. Talking to my friend Selma as we were driving and she was fighting back quiet tears in retelling the loss of her father; any attempts to comfort through words were hushed by the lyrics of a Fleet Foxes song playing on the stereo...
"There's nothing I can do
There's nothing I can do
There's nothing I can say
There's nothing I can say"

I guess Srebrenica is a kind of cruel drama we all wish would never happen.

As I look out of my apartment, as newly pictured to the right, I see freshly painted houses and a clean coating of sodium white snow. I guess life is as dramatic or as boring as we allow it to be. Soon I will step back into the confusing world outside this nucleus of comfort. I trust some of my expressed words touched home and made sense. Thanks for listening and richest greetings from Sarejevo.