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 cafĂ© 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!