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.

Friday, February 12, 2010

From my Journal

October 27th, 2009

As I wander these crowded and desolate streets, impossibility makes me linger and wonder. Even though I've been here before, in reality or deja vu, I must have missed the compositioned warmth now demanding my respectful attention. At the crossroads of moving forward or away, my emotions sway on those chords of what could be, if I simply go. If I dismiss today's moment I will cripple the intentions of my creative spirit. And if I fail myself today, will not the plague of fear inherit those childlike dreams of tomorrow and every next year? So it is that this moments choice is not about deciphering the best direction towards the best destination, but knowing that each step and pause voices my feelings of belonging, and not hopeless abandonement.

My best guess is Sarajevo. Tomorrow's back alley will lead me farther east then the comforts existing over here. Nickels and dimes will be hard to come by and my identity will often be mute or comically basic as I learn Bosnian and adopt/marry into culture. In this journey I do have allies and friends who understand, but known it is the coming moments of gripping solitude. I trust I will cling to that threadbare vision and better known words of truth and affirmation coming from above and around. I can sense a growing quiet; a resilient calm regarding this coming season. I sense vision and revelation becoming friends in darkening Sarajevo.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

To the Women of Mozaik, with exceptional traits rubbing off on their male colleagues!

Because you need to know, Sarajevo lies along the same latitudinal line as Syracuse, NY which is 43degrees. So, maybe you can better imagine the environment and climate here…and then…know that Sarajevo is nestled among Bosnia’s Olympic mountains so there is an intensity of uncertain, wintry weather. So many people from here and home ask me about the general weather conditions so now you all know.

I am committing this blog update to the women of Fondacija Mozaik. As demanded by one colleague, I have to write a biography and include a chapter celebrating the amazing group of women that constitute Mozaik. Overall, 73% of Mozaik’s team of fifteen are women. Besides making this place a home, as only women can, they are ferocious negotiators and leaders and have each played a role in placing this NGO on Bosnia’s development map. Specifically regarding my coming into the Mozaik family, they have made me feel at home since day one and I can best describe this through discussing my recent search for an apartment.

As hopefully you know, my beautiful time spent with Haso and Sadeta in Blazuj needed to transition into a life spent in an apartment closer to Mozaik and downtown Sarajevo. I was excited for this transition and only hesitant leaving the comfort of my Blazuj home and increased financial need due to living on my own. So, all of last week I was patiently and painstakingly looking for suitable apartments, which included making frustrating calls in Bosnian and running into dead ends with too expensive or inaccessible apartments. This reached a crescendo on Friday afternoon when I came back to the Mozaik office, frustrated by the unfruitful journey. In response to this, everyone in the office started calling family and friends, looking online and in the newspaper for possible places; pursuing leads with just enough charm and determined negotiation needed in Bosnian affairs. It was quite a scene and I just went with the flow.

Just before leaving the office to check out a seemingly decent prospect, the women were all together chatting and one of Mozaik’s board members, Medina, was with the group and she flat out suggested that I live in her flat. Medina who lives in Raleigh, NC, is visiting family here in Bosnia and consulting with Mozaik and offered to let me stay there indefinitely. Amazingly, her apartment is within walking distance of our office and the city center and she is only asking for minimal rent! It also has an amazing view of Sarajevo from it’s elevated location.

Her offer was met by enthusiastic confirmation from all of our colleagues who were all guaranteeing their help in getting anything I need for Medina’s mostly unfurnished flat. For now I have an air mattress and a water-pot to make coffee and that is enough! Already, our secretary dropped off for me some sheets and a Santa mug and all else will come, in time…

I cannot explain too well how I felt leaving Medina’s, I mean “my”, apartment. I walked into town and just sighed and breathed in the air of blessing and welcomed the rest from a worried mind. This is just one more instance in my Bosnian journey when something good has come so richly and in timely fashion. Once again I can just point to the friendship and hospitality of these people here in Sarajevo. I thank God for each of them and especially these women of Mozaik who treat me so well. I hope in time I can give back even more of myself to these people and this city. For today: “Thanks”

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

From Bosnian Muslim religious leader, Mustafa Ceric

"The truth is that Muslims in this country do not understand Islam...They do not practice Islam, they have only their names which are Muslim, and that is a tradition. Some of them do not even know they are Muslim. And yet, as Muslims in this country, we live in a paradox all the time. On the one hand we are European, on the other we don't know what to do about Europe. We cannot at the moment love it, we cannot trust it, we cannot hate it, we cannot deny it, for we are part of it. We are in the similiar position in relation to the Serbs and the Croats, with whom we share this country, and who disagree between themselves over everything except one thing: their relationship to the Muslims, and their common need to destroy us. We simply do not know what to do, or where to place our faith.

We are "Muslims" now, because they did not allow us to be Bosnians. And now that we are Muslims, they all say "that is a religious category, not a nationality, it doesn't count." And so we say then can we please be Bosnians after all, and they, Europe included say no, because there is no Bosnia any more. I feel like screaming to the Serbs and Croats: Why are you so scared of us? Whey are you so obsessed by us? Why are you incapable of leaving us along? Why do you need to exterminate us and our culture? Why does our culture offend you so much that you need to do these things to us"?

Dear Friends,
I feel excited to learn about the history, culture and moral traditions of Bosnia and the Balkans region. In particular, I think aspects of the Muslim story should be shared with you back home so that their can be mutual understanding of Islam in the european and global arena. This excerpt is a passionate appeal from an Islamic teacher, resonating with me as I live life within this Muslim community. Feel free to ask questions or relay comments. Thank ya

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

First Days back in Sarajevo

Well, I am back in Sarajevo or maybe back “home” is a better statement. It was wonderful being back home with loved family and friends for a month and not easy to leave again, but there was a lot of internal, churning emotion driving me back here. Arriving to a snowy Sarajevo on Sunday night I felt totally at peace and ready to make life happen again: continue learning Bosnian and interning with Fondaciju Mozaik and give/receive blessing from old and new friends alike. I never did finish the rundown of Top Ten Sarajevo sentiments so I would like to wrap them up with returning impressions of Bosnia.

8. There is something uniquely and discreetly magical about Sarajevo and the people here. Something you have to believe in and discover or else you might miss it. I have keenly felt the hospitality and the helpful guidance of so many people here who moments ago were perfect strangers. And overall, these people suffer the weight of historical and present-day prejudice that is most absurd.

In a previous Top Tenner, I shared a brief story about Aid who I met on the tram and ended up taking a coffee together. We were not able to meet up again before I left in December even though he was most earnest in seeing each other so I assured him I would see him at the end of January. Answering my first text message he excitedly told me about his amazing new job and insisted on meeting for coffee as soon as possible. I have a hard time believing this myself, but Aid is committed to helping me because…he believes in me and wants me to succeed here and thinks I could help tell the world that the people of Sarajevo are good people. Sitting in the café with Aid, I just settle into the vinyl bench, feeling lucky and loved. I need to be here!

9. Coming from the states, I arrived in Budapest and made travel arrangements from there to get to Sarajevo with time for a brief rest weekend in the Hungarian capital. While there I met up with an Italian volunteer working in Bosnia who was attending a conference on forced migration. Spending two evenings together, I was invited into her new network of conference friends, all volunteers, and a few of them had lived in Bosnia. It was very encouraging to hear their stories of life there and sense how jealous they were that I was returning to Sarajevo while they dispersed to places like Libya and Spain. What strikes me is the impression Bosnia leaves upon souls and the shared nostalgia of life here.

10. Life is real here. Not to say that life in Bechtelsville, Pennsylvania is a mirage or dull but I can say that it is different. I sense daily that knife’s edge reality of emotional darkness and light, success and disaster, love and hate, joy and suffering. In most conversations the dialogue will range among these reflecting this distressed normalcy. In talking to Aid yesterday, he readily confessed animal urges to react ferociously to insults and injury and in the next sentence made it clear his commitment to peace and forgiveness. In accepting and wearing these most basic of human tendencies, there is the freedom to express and reach out towards the light and I wish I could aptly communicate how often I have been warmed by that light.
Life is real here. Contradictory and every rough edge softened by snow and mist.

I hope these thoughts are helpful. It’s hard to explain feelings and observations sometimes but I am trying. Beyond these dynamic aspects of life there are the daily nuts and bolts activities like commuting, staying warm and committing to language learning that is an aggravating daily battle. A routine is going to develop as I find and settle into my new apartment and live within the boundaries of the daily grind. Overall, we must all find the glory and possibility of meaningful work and play within our own schedules and I am quite happy about mine here. Blessings upon you all and thanks for reading!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Back to Bosnia!

Please contact me if you would like to connect before I head back to Sarajevo!