Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Home for the Holidays

Dear Friends-

After a long process of travel from Sarajevo, through Europe, to home, I arrived safely in the States last week- just a few days before Christmas. I have to admit it was kind of nice arriving so close to Christmas day and seemingly bypassing a lot of the holiday frenzy and hellabaloo that goes with it. Christmas came and Christmas went along with the residual snow then nasty rain then balmy Sunday and now bitter cold- I do thank God for blue December skies and clear winter nights.

What I also thank God for was the amazing life he gifted me with in Sarajevo. I could not have asked for a better realization of my time there as I learned and lived well. Not knowing what to expect across the board, I was able to make incredible progress with the Bosnian language, make a "home" complete with many friends and sense of community, and I was able to define my future volunteering and professional opportunities.

All of that, I believe, is leading me back to a round 2 return trip to Bosnia at the end of January with a potential three month stay in mind. I am excited for this stepping stone period to continue language learning and develop my relationship with Fondaciju Mozaik as I finish the existing design project, seeing where that leads, and jump into other ongoing projects. Also, daily life will be similar and different as I continue teaching English and visiting old friends but will also have an apartment in town and more opportunities to spend time with friends and colleagues.

In a real sense I believe many of you have shared this adventure with me. I thank you for your kind notes of encouragement and interest and I trust I will be able to spend quality moments with you as I am home this January. I have a story to tell and so do you and we can learn from each other. Needing a break, the blog will be on the "down-low" for a while but I promise to revamp it when I return to Bosnia.

Feel free to contact me whenever by phone- 484 941 2450- or by email at
Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and blessings upon you.

Friday, December 11, 2009

More Top 10 Sarajevo Sentiments (#4-7)

Not much of an introduction is needed. I can see the day coming when I will be leaving Sarajevo and truly my heart aches a great deal concerning this temporary departure. Beyond just saying that I love it here, I want to give you some concrete, albeit abstracted, reasons why? I trust that you understand.

4. When you travel or live away from home, so much can cling to your name as a clear reference to where you come from and who you are. I have chosen to “wear” the abstracted name of Luka both abroad and at home as I like its ring and enjoy the resulting conversations. Well, I have gotten another name over here and it is also story worthy. My newest name is Amer, which is obviously short for American but is also a traditional Bosnian/Turkish name so it stretches. Members from the hiking club “Lisin” gave me the name and really adopted me as a son. Then my host father Haso, got such a kick out of it that he now calls me Amer, as do my co-workers at Mozaik. When saying Amer, try giving it either an extra “rolled r…ihhh” or “rolled r…ay” at the end and you might get it right!

5. There is an evident rhythm to life here. Dramatically, the “ezan,” Islamic call to prayer, resonates throughout the city five times a day. For me, it is a powerful experience to hear it punctuating the landscape as dusk is befalling the city- first one mosque and then another in a harmonious give and take. Married to the ezan is the churning commotion of traffic that is something in between NYC and small town USA. As an observer I can simply breathe and hum along to the melody that is.

6. In Sarajevo I can bend the rules. With the preliminary schooling as a Landscape Architect (I think I am a pretty good one?) I am here working with Mozaik on a mostly architectural project; developing plans to rebuild a historic Ottoman house that is a marriage of purely traditional and appropriate contemporary artistic/functional elements. In the states I could never touch a project like this and I have been making the most of this unique chance.

Another oddity is my opportunity to sit in on grammar classes and help teach some English classes in the Hadzici middle high school. In America I would be screened, processed and preened (it rhymed) before I could step foot back in middle school but here I am blessed with friendly and trusting connections and a looser system.

7. Friendship is interesting. I think our western tradition promotes an initial bond of trust; until that trust is broken, and, you can become “best friends” or brothers after one drink or experience. (Please note that I am not na├»ve about the depth of our momentary, western friendships but the moral legacy of trust is meaningful!) From this part of the world, the reality of trusting friendship is a longer process forged over shared time, committed communication and acts of compassion and respect. However, there is spacious room here for outstanding measures of friendship in-the- moment among strangers.

For example, on the tram yesterday I had the briefest of conversations with an older guy relating to irresponsible youth and when he exited he invited me to go out for coffee- “dali ti zelis izaci na pitce?” Saying “no” due to my schedule, I thought about it, got off the tram and went along with the invite so that maybe, Aid and I can someday be better friends.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

More about Mozaik

Mozaik is a team of fifteen talented employees and volunteers, a dynamic combination of non-profit and for-profit enterprises and is located in the Skenderija neighborhood overlooking center city Sarajevo. It has been a pleasure to get to know the Mozaik staff and feel at home at their office and as I begin volunteering with them, I am more comfortable aligning my goals and talents with theirs.

I shared with you a few blog episodes ago that I was in the “getting to know you” phase and there was the basic opportunity to casually volunteer with Mozaik leading to possible future employment. This positive embrace from Mozaik, and specifically its directors, was for me a solid step towards establishing a life in Sarajevo. Since that beginning time, I have been able to jump on board with s specific project regarding the renovation of an Ottoman period house complex into a ethno-cultural restaurant highlighting one of Mozaik’s for-profit companies: EthnoMozaik.

Let me give you a quick glimpse of what Mozaik is doing. Since its beginning back in 2000, Mozaik has developed a strong profile of successful program implementation in the non-profit sector including work with youth empowerment and rural community development, special needs inclusion and social justice, cultural heritage and related tourism development. Building upon these successes, Mozaik has emerged as a community development foundation positioned to start new innovative development programs, including for-profit companies; expanding the scope of their existing and future programs.

Mozaik’s for-profit companies demand a brief introduction. Currently, Mozaik is launching a PR agency that promotes and manages events geared towards positive social responsibility for businesses operating throughout Bosnia and the region. Thus, MaSta Ltd, is developing a social responsibility consciousness in Bosnia both programmatically and as a for-profit company.

Another for-profit company is EkoMozaik which is currently engaged in a heavily invested agri-business that is developing honey production, medicinal and aromatic herb management and beehive construction. This launched project has successfully created thirty out of a projected fifty jobs and could reach its goal of organic honey production next year, 100 tons, that would make it the biggest honey producer in the country and region; meeting a specific market need and developing Bosnia’s agricultural sector and creating more resources for Mozaik to use in the community development sector.

Lastly, the previously mentioned EthnoMozaik, is a natural next step for Mozaik as it realizes success with MaSta and EkoMozaik, expanding its work directly into Sarajevo. Tourism has suffered greatly due to Yugoslavian war of the 90’s and general ignorance and lack of tourism services throughout the country. Mozaik wants to address this market opportunity through developing an ethno-cultural restaurant highlighting Bosnia’s diverse cultural and historic identity through an educational dining and entertainment experience right in Sarajevo where tourism is strongest. The restaurant will also be a natural outlet for consistent sales of organic products coming from rural communities. While making a strong profit to further Mozaiks community development projects, the restaurant will most importantly be a concentrated effort to celebrate everything Bosnia is from border to border.

And so, I am currently investing time in this EthnoMozaik project. With any old house, this one being around 200 years old, there are no original documents and plans so I am creating “original” plans. The house must be totally rebuilt so there is an amazing opportunity to redesign the interior and courtyard of the house (in an appropriate Ottoman with modern and sustainable methodology) while returning the exterior facades to their exact original appearance. So, as a landscape architect, I am happy to get started working on this project and let the house come to life detail by detail.