Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Culture Shock

It’s a good thing I love to walk, because I’ve been doing a lot of it ever since I got here! Very few women drive in Sarajevo and the men take the car to work, so walking is the main mode of transportation. We’ve used the bus, the tram and taxis too, but too many taxis gets expensive, and the bus and tram only go so far...not up the big hill to Kate’s house. So we walk! You’d think with so much hill walking everyone would be fit and slender. Not so. The women here are quite portly, and it’s not hard to figure out why.

After feasting on cookies and cake before going to bed on my first night here, we woke to a quick and early breakfast of coffee, cookies and cake for breakfast. There was a bowl of apples and oranges on the table that weren’t offered but were sitting there, so I asked Kate and she said yes, they were for the taking, but no one usually ate fruit in the morning. So I salvaged my first meal by eating an apple and a left-over string cheese I had in my travel bag. We had to be out the door by 7:30 to catch our bus by 7:50. No time for jet lag...after 28 hours of travel and a 9-hour time change, I was on a 3-1/2-hour bus ride into the Bosnian countryside to visit a war memorial! Halfway through the trip, we stopped at a roadside restaurant and store for a Bosnian coffee break. Bosnians do not get coffee to go. It doesn’t exist. Always you sit, smoke and drink coffee together. We didn’t do any of that. I had already had my coffee for the day, and most of the girls on Kate’s exchange program don’t drink it 5 times a day either, so we bought a snack for the bus ride (healthy popcorn for me and Kate...Kate's host sister brought more cookies!) And then we walked around the pretty area, admiring the view of the river, mountains and trees and playing with the cats and dogs who are everywhere here. After the coordinators and bus driver and another local Bosnian accompanying us had their coffee break, we got back on the bus and continued our trip. The countryside was dotted with once-beautiful homes, now empty...their roofs caved in where a mortar bomb had hit them, their brick walls crumbling, the plaster pockmarked with gunshot wounds, the doorways dark and empty, and trees growing up from the inside with branches reaching out through the windows. Some of the more salvageable homes had been converted into storage buildings to hold hay or equipment. Most stood empty, broken and forgotten...forewarning us of greater sadness ahead. Our destination was the town of Srebrenica on the border of Bosnia and Serbia. In this quiet and beautiful place tucked into the mountains a mass murder of approximately 8500 men took place, under the watchful eye of the United Nations peacekeepers. The tire factory in town, which was the main source of employment, was designated a "safe zone" by the UN for the Bosnian people under attack by Serbian forces. That safe zone ended up being a death sentence. How convenient to have everyone from Srebrenica and all the surrounding villages gathered in one spot! Saved the Serbs a lot of work. After separating the men from the women and children, the men were gunned down. Most of those who tried to escape into the hills met with a grim fate as well, either dying along the way because of injuries or the arduous hike through tough terrain or being discovered by Serb soldiers and killed. Entire clans were wiped out, as here extended families live together, many sharing houses and land. It was a sad and somber trip and rife with political and religious tension. I was hearing the story from another point of view...those who were actually the ones being attacked. I also understood why those who are not Christians have such animosity towards religion. It was religion that caused the war...religion that spawned the hatred...religion that drove men to kill. But it is the work of Christ on the cross...He sacrificed his life for us, erasing sin and death, and ushering into the world not religion but relationship with a loving God who lovingly gave His son and lovingly gathers us into his family as a father and teaches us to love one another. World religion leaves out Jesus. Everything is God, Allah, Jehovah. But without Jesus there is no access to God. Jesus is our peace and he’s broken down every wall!

So those were my musings on the long bus ride back to Sarajevo. Yes, it was an intense start to my visit! But we also had taken time for fun, having lunch in the town of Srebrenica at a little restaurant attached to the owner's home.  We could watch the wife cooking our meal from the big open windows to the patio...everything fresh and homemade.  I ordered authentic goulash served with three huge pieces of homemade bread and washed down with more of that strong, dark, sweet Turkish coffee---always served on a silver tray from a fancy pot.  When we returned to Sarajevo, instead of going home, Kate’s host sister, who had accompanied us to the Srebrenica war memorial, took us to Old Town. This part of the city is alive with activity and full of beautiful buildings dating back 500 years...remains of walls from the Ottoman Empire, ancient cathedrals, synagogues and mosques, and gorgeous structures from the Austro-Hungarian era, now housing stores and markets and cafes. We had gelato, which was delicious, and I sipped from the fountain that promises those who drink of the waters will one day return. We listened to musicians play and admired the beautiful wares in Copper Alley. We were approached by a group of American women, who heard us speaking English and introduced themselves. Kate says when you’re in a foreign country it’s exciting to hear your own language and everyone will stop and introduce themselves. We wandered on until, finally, after a very full day, we climbed into a taxi and headed home...for more cake and cookies! We visited with the family and then went to bed around midnight. I dreamed of Snow White’s evil step-mother who was trying to kill us because we were Christians while the wild dogs hunted us down in packs. It wasn’t funny until the next morning.

But Sunday dawned sunny and beautiful. Kate and I headed to church by taxi. I was excited to visit Kate’s church. This is where she had found her "place." We were welcomed warmly as we entered the little church, which was in a house. The kitchen and bathroom were still there and one bedroom had been turned into a meeting room, but the living room and probably what had been the dining room were opened up to form one large room across the width of the house, and this was the sanctuary. In the windowed nook in the center of the room, the worship band set up and the pulpit stood. There were 40 to 50 people present, with a balanced mix of young and old, students, families, locals and foreigners. On the far side of the room was the "American" section. There were enough Americans who attended to warrant a translator, which was very nice for me. When we had been seated, a woman sat down next to me and said hello. I introduced myself as Katie’s mom, and she said, "We’ve already met." Confused, I looked at Kate, who was looking past me at someone else. I turned around, and there was the group of American ladies we had met the day before in the market! We all exclaimed at how amazing it was that we would cross paths in the market and then end up in the same tiny church the next morning! The service was great...good worship, with all songs I knew---although I couldn’t sing them in Bosnian---a good message on following Christ, a great time of communion with fresh-baked bread and real wine, and a time of fellowship afterward with pizza. Everyone spoke highly of Kate, and I was able to meet all her friends. From church we walked downtown, hitting the mall first so I could finally exchange my money, then having coffee, of course, before we walked down to Sarajevo’s beautiful park on the other side of the river. When we reached the park, which was huge, we took a horse-drawn carriage ride to the scenic side...there were beautiful old hotels circled around a large fountain, pony rides and cafes leading to a long promenade past gorgeous homes belonging to ambassadors and foreign dignitaries. At the end of the promenade, we "alighted from our carriage" and entered the walking paths, which meandered through the park along the waterways, over bridges and through the trees. It was beautiful. The water flowed right through the trees, almost like a forest growing up out of a lake. There were swans and ducks swimming on the clear water and flowers and blossoms blooming on the banks. The apex of the creeks and ponds was the waterfall, and that is where we ate our dinner. There was an outdoor patio and deck built out over the water, and Kate and I got the table at the very furthest point, closest to the falls. With all that fresh water flowing around us, we both found we were in the mood for fish, so we ordered the trout (and they boasted that it was fresh-caught from a local lake). We lingered until the sun began to set and the waterfall mist turned chilly rather than refreshing. We began the very long walk back to town and then caught a bus to take us up the mountainside to Kate’s house...well, got us close to Kate’s house! There is yet another uphill walk from the bus stop. Our feet were pretty sore from all that walking and we were both pretty sure we had blisters. I knew I did because I was almost to Kate’s house when I felt a bursting sensation and a sharp sting. My blister had popped and now my sandal strap was rubbing against my raw skin. I limped the last few yards home. We spent the remainder of the evening visiting with the family, watching Bosnian TV (hilarious!), eating juicy oranges from Spain, and finally heading upstairs for a hot shower and a cozy bed. I had no trouble sleeping that night!!


1 comment:

  1. It's Srebrenica and Vrelo Bosna (the park) is on the other side of the CITY, not river.
    But other than that... :D