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,