Less than three weeks left

March 14, 2018 | Hanna, DVM, Alternatives, Bosnia, Svitac Bosnia, research officer

I officially have less than three weeks left of my internship, and it’s hard to believe I’ve come this far. While there are so many different things I have experienced, and learned, and been a part of, I think the most integral has been about assumptions and biases we carry as foreigners when travelling. Despite all my best efforts to be neutral and even minded, there were indeed things that I had already thought I understood or knew before I came to Bosnia and Herzegovina. If you don’t know much about this country, the biggest thing it carries is it’s very recent war which lasted from 1992-1995. I won’t even attempt to give a synopsis, but would encourage anyone reading this to do their own research. What you need to know is that it was multi-ethnic, complex, and absolutely devastating to everyone who lived in this country (regardless of their ethnicity). It’s left in it’s wake ethnic tensions, economic disrupt and uncertainty as to what comes next. As my time here comes to an end, I’ve reflected on the assumptions I had made and tried to figure out the starkest contrasts I’ve noticed.

With the war in mind, and knowing it’s only been 23 years since it’s end, I really did thing that people here might be closed-off and perhaps unfriendly. There are stereotypes of ‘Balkan’ people which typically include: low levels of intelligence, aggressive personalities, and unfriendliness. In reality this couldn’t be further from the truth. There are too many examples of kindness, curiosity, and deeply moving conversations I’ve had with the local people during my stay here to write about them all. I’ve had the fortune of meeting and knowing people of all three ethnicities in Bosnia, and I’ve yet to have a negative interaction. Everything has happened to me from older ladies giving me candy in the park just because, to my landlord sharing her birthday cake with me, to shopkeepers giving me extra things (such as a beautiful copper spoon in Sarajevo) for free because they appreciated my business. The people in Bosnia are hospitable and truly want to move on with their lives. Even though they have been through so much hardship and such horrifying situations, they continuously try to live their lives to the fullest and enjoy the positivity. Of course, I am generalizing, but that is my personal observation. In fact, the assumptions I had made about people all proved to be mute and I’ve felt incredibly fortunate to learn from the people around me. The thing that has proven most difficult, which I hadn’t even thought of when preparing to come here, was the physical aspect of the country itself.

While the war has since ended, the country itself still bares the reminders of it’s past to this day. You cannot drive more than 45 minutes in any direction (or the directions I’ve gone so far) without seeing a cemetery or an individual tombstone along the way. The war did not discriminate based on location, and as a result, it seems like wherever you go, somebody has died there. This was shocking and uncomfortable for me, because back home, you only ever see tombstones in cemeteries, and you only see cemeteries when you choose to go to them. Equally, you usually assume the people in those cemeteries died from causes other than genocide. In addition to cemeteries, it is very common to see bullet holes and other damages to streets/fields/buildings/cars where ever you go. They are remains from the war where active combat was almost always present. In Sarajevo, they are actually painted red and called the “Sarajevo Roses” and are meant to be a reminder to people in hopes of inspiring another war to never start again. I do understand this importance, but it was another shocking visual for me. As well, there are many houses and buildings purposely left in their destroyed state as reminders, and sometimes from lack of funds to rebuild.

There are visuals everywhere you go in Bosnia about it’s past, but it is important to look at them as reminders, and to look to the people in this country to actually learn about what happened and how it can be prevented from happening again. I hope to squeeze every last bit of information out of the people as I can before I leave, and am infinitely grateful for everything I’ve had the privilege to learn and do so far.

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