Thursday, June 18, 2015

Leaving Sarajevo

Less than 2 days in Sarajevo, I’m feeling very sad. I love this city, I love the Bosnian people, and on the whole they have been amazingly kind and warm and welcoming. It could not have been a better start to my life as a Foreign Service Diplomat for the United States.
I don’t want to leave, the kids are so well settled here, as am I, even the husband has a great job at the Embassy. But even with me asking, the powers that be said, “no, it is time for you to move on to your next assignment.”
I can understand, Sarajevo is a fantastic post, people would be lucky to get it, we were lucky to get it. Everyone in the system has to get a turn at good posts and at bad posts. If those of us at good posts never left, it wouldn't be fair to those at bad posts, no?
I still remember my Flag Day ceremony, that was the day all of us newly hired diplomats were told our first overseas assignment. I had really wanted to stay in DC as my first assignment, dip my toe into this Foreign Service world, second on my family’s list was Abu Dhabi, third was Sarajevo and forth Baku, Azerbaijan. My husband and I were sure that if we didn’t get our top choice of DC, we would definitely get our second choice of Abu Dhabi or our 4th choice of Baku (as no one else in my orientation class wanted Azerbaijan). We didn’t even really consider Sarajevo, just stuck it on the list. When my name was called and they said “Congratulations you are going to Sarajevo!” I could not have been more dumbstruck – um…what? I vaguely remember going through the motions of the ceremony, going to the stage to receive my flag and shake hands with the visiting dignitary presiding over the event.  I do recall that as she handed me the flag, she said, “You are so lucky, you are going to love Sarajevo.” Needless to say I was skeptical.
Also on memory lane is the day we landed in Sarajevo, my heart sank on first impressions. The city was so gray, so communist looking and what wasn't communist looking was damaged by war. At that second, I wanted to scream to the Embassy driver, “turn around, I want to go home.”
It is so funny to me to think of those moments now, as I have fallen in love with city and its people. I love how I can walk down the street and see at least 5 people I know, smiling and saying hello. I love how people are so kind with the kids, playing and talking to them. I love how you are treated like a family member as soon as locals get to know you. Every evening I get a bit weepy at the thought of us leaving. Ilhan and Eyshal have grown so much while here.

There is so much I will miss about this lovely and haunting country: the people, the greenery, the fruit market, the endless shoe stores that I love to window shop in, Eyshie’s teachers, Ilhan’s nanny and her family, our next door neighbor who doesn’t speak English but is super sweet, the tiny grocery store next to our apartment with the kind ladies, my flower lady, my egg lady, the old couple I buy vegetables from who always ask about the kids, the other flower ladies with the proper shop, my Gypsy lady and her adorable baby Riyadh and all the other wonderful friends we have made here. 
This is not a goodbye to Sarajevo but a farewell for now. 

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Pic of Sarajevo

Pic of Sarajevo, the city cemetery, this is adjacent to the cemetery that they had to make during the war. The picture shows the Orthodox portion of the city cemetery, with the church in the middle. Sadly because of the last war, the city cemetery is quite large (you can't get the full scope from this photo). My daughter calls the cemetery 'mouse city,' which is cute and I don't want to explain what the cemetery is really for. Let her keep her innocence a while longer, she is only 4.

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Bosnia as a Muslim Country

I had a friend post on Facebook inquiring if Bosnia is a Muslim country.  That is a tricky question, technically no, it is a secular country, with no one religion to identify. But yes, the majority of citizens identify themselves as Muslim. Its a mixed bag here of varying degrees of Islam, some very liberal others wearing the full head covering and body wrap. Also, Bosnia has two other major religions, Serb Orthodox and Catholic. It can't be forgotten that it was this religious divide that fueled the 1990's Bosnian war.

The first official census for the country since the outbreak of the war in 1991 is scheduled to come out this month. There is much controversy surrounding it. It will conclusively show the results of ethnic cleansing and a fleeing dispora - experts guess that the numbers will present a much smaller Bosnia, about 1 million less people then from 1991. The census could also show that there are much less Muslims in this country than originally thought. Than the question really becomes, is this a Muslim country without a Muslim majority??

Friday, May 29, 2015

Pope Visit to Sarajevo

Pope Francis is coming to visit Sarajevo, all residents of the city have been given this information sheet:

Dear citizens, pilgrimages and worshipers,
To jointly enable a dignified and safe visit of Pope Francis to Sarajevo on June 6, 2015, we are kindly asking for your cooperation and understanding.

You are kindly requested to:

-               Arrive to the transfer route and planned locations on time to wholeheartedly welcome our distinguished guest:

-               Presidency building (Marsala Tita)
-               Kosevo Stadium
-               Cathedral of Jesus’ Heart
-               Franciscan International Student Center (Grbavica settlement)
-               Diocese’s Youth Center - Pope John Paul the Second (Otoka settlement)

-          Do not park in the areas along the transfer route and buildings that will be visited by Pope Francis. The exact route and a temporary traffic suspension schedule, including parking bans, shall be published in the media on time.

-          Close your windows and do not stay on your balconies during the movement of a convoy with Pope Francis along the transfer route and at locations he plans to visit.

-          Do not throw any items on the transfer route and locations of his visits (flowers and such), as a way of greeting Pope Francis.

-          Do not use private vehicles but take an organized transport to arrive to Sarajevo.

-          Please adhere to the instructions of the Church’s Committee for the Visit of Pope Francis, if you are arriving to Sarajevo in an organized manner.

                We kindly ask you to cooperate with the police and to:

-          Pay attention to unfamiliar persons moving in the residential areas, along the transfer route and on the locations of Pope Francis’ visit. In case you notice such persons, please contact the nearest police official or call 122 or 033/779-118 that has been newly designated police number for this visit only.
-          Contact the nearest police official or call 122 if you notice suspicious unattended items.
-          Do not bring arms and other items that may be used to inflict injuries; do not bring alcohol.

Please note that:

-          There will be an increased presence of police officials on the transfer route and along the buildings that will be visited by Pope Francis, so you can contact them if your need any assistance or information.
-          Police officials deployed in the buildings along the transfer route or the buildings that will be visited by Pope Francis shall conduct a thorough inspection of persons entering the buildings, especially those who are non-residents.
-          Police officials shall leave written notification of removal of vehicles on vehicles and entrance doors of the buildings located immediately along the Pope Francis’ transfer route.

Thank you for your cooperation and understanding.

Security Sub-Committee 

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Things I shall Miss About Sarajevo

Just a few of the things I'll miss about Sarajevo:
1. The people, all the wonderful people in our lives (Jelena our nanny, the flower lady, the old vegetable couple, all the local staff at the Embassy, our friends made through the Garden House, Jasna my language teacher, the flower store ladies who always gave Eyshie a free flower, the sweet shop ladies in the store next to our apartment, our egg lady, the cashiers at Mercator who started to recognize me and were nice.

2. The kindness of strangers, all the time I was pregnant with my second, whenever I rode the tram, without fail, in a second, someone would get up for me to sit down. That never happened the entire time I was riding the DC metro.

3. The beauty of the land, just lovely, rolling green hills, vibrant colors everywhere.

4. The ease of life here - small city that fit my tiny family perfectly, I loved that you could be walking up the street and meet a dozen people you know on your way home.

5. The history, a deep and varied history courses through the veins of this place.

6. The fact that most Bosnians love Americans - rare in this day and age to go to a country where they like us, they really like us.

7. The family friendly attitude of everyone here. We could take baby anywhere and no one ever asked us to leave, even when he was in full temper tantrum mood. Actually what was even better, they would take the baby and play with him, calm him down. So amazing!

8. The daughter's pre-school, she really thrived there and the teachers were so loving, we will miss that!

9. Cost of services, from hair to taxis to nails, all very cheap and of the highest quality!

10. The kindess and warmth of everyone we meet here, be it a five minute interaction or for the entire two years, everyone was also welcoming.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Books as a Luxury

There is this adorable little bookstore down the street from where we live here in Sarajevo. The family and I visit it if we are walking into town on a Saturday or Sunday. There use to be two employees that we would always see and as I walk home I would see them nearly daily and wave a hello as I passed the store.
Last Saturday we went into the bookstore (has a surprisingly large collection of books in English) and I asked the lady about the other person, the guy who was there a lot but I hadn't seen in months. She told me she had to let him go (thankfully he found another job) because the store doesn't make that much money. As she said it, books are a luxury. That made me so sad, still does.
Society here is quite educated but owning a book is expensive, unemployment is rampant, when one has to make a decision on what to spend money on the necessities win. I know they have libraries here but I'm not sure of how easy or not it is to get books.
I firmly believe the access to books, to reading, literature is important, nay vital to a society's growth and development.
After hearing her say that I bought a couple of children's books to give to the family I volunteer with, so hopefully they will have more books around the house, to encourage reading and learning.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Marijin Dvor

This is a picture of the Marijin Dvor - this particular main street was Sniper Alley during the Bosnian war. This picture was taken after the war, as they started to clean up. I am amazed at this picture because of how much has changed. I think this pic was taken in the early 2000s. I wanted to find a picture of this exact spot from today but have had no luck.  It looks very different, now there is a mall where the two trucks are sitting and there is a mall across the street - caddy corner from those trucks. The tall white stripped building is still there, its the Parliment building, but the city is so much more built up now.   Now you would see billboards and tons of cars on this street, it is the main thoroughfare of Sarajevo.  Goodness how times have changed!