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From the Bay to the Balkans

From the Bay to Balkans - A Unique Service-Learning Opportunity

A Unique Service-Learning Opportunity

In 2014, for the sixth time, a group of San Domenico students and teachers traveled to Bosnia-Herzegovina for two weeks of travel, service, and learning about international affairs and human rights. Over the course of the seven years prior, nearly forty students and four San Domenico teachers have traveled to the region, which is still recovering from the 1992-1995 ethnic conflict of the mid-1990s. In an effort to engage the local community, and contributing to the process of postwar reconciliation, participating students work with local youth, teaching basic English, facilitating art and dance, and coordinating sports at one of the only multiethnic summer camps in the country. The program, which was first established by San Domenico teachers Jill Hoefgen and Ian Sethre in 2000, includes local Muslim, Croat, and Serb children in the mountain town of Vares, about an hour outside of Sarajevo. Students also meet with representatives from a variety of international assistance organizations, such as UNICEF and the International Commission for Missing Persons, as well as meet with judges and the war crimes prosecuting attorney at the state court of Bosnia-Herzegovina, which now handles the majority of war crimes cases.

Read Posts from the 2014 Bay to the Balkans Blog

Bay to the Balkans 1: San Francisco to Sarajevo

After more than 24 hour traveling and three time changes, we finally arrived in Sarajevo.

The journey began as early as 5 am when we were awoken and started to get ready. SFO was unexpectedly busy at 6am that we waited for almost an hour to be checked in as a group.

Before the flight, we each bought something to eat such as bagel, sushi, and sandwiches, which turned out to be our last American meals in the next 15 days due to the short layover time in Chicago. In Chicago, we had to take a train to international terminal and go through security again. And at around noon, we headed to Vienna. The influence of Vienna as the city of music started as soon as we landed when classic symphony started playing in the flight. The five-hour layover time in Vienna was exhausting for us who were already tired that we all lied down on the couches, but it was quite an experience starting hearing people speaking language other than English. The hour-long flight to Sarajevo was less stressful compared to the other two; however, most of us slept during the flight to bring up our energy level for Sarajevo. And at about 3 pm, we finally showed up in Sarajevo!

Far from my own stereotypical perception of airports, the international airport in Sarajevo was dark and tiny, filled with the smell of cigarette smoke that proved to be present wherever we went. There were also a couple polices holding guns, which also made me feel a little insecure. Once past customs, we were welcomed by Edin, from the family who runs than pansion, and Fehro, who also brought us a huge bag of salty breads.

Luckily the rain stopped when we piled into two vans, so we had a very clear view of the city on the way to Pansion Lion, where we then stayed for the next few weeks. The city has completely different architectural and cultural styles as we traveled along main streets of Sarajevo. On one hand, the effect and damage of the war are still present especially on buildings that were half destroyed and never got repaired. On the other hand, huge malls and screens were also built in recent years with the aid from other European countries and international organizations. We also passed a historical museum that was closed simply because they did not have enough money to maintain it. It was also interesting to see couple expensive car stores on the streets such as Porsche because I thought in a country with almost 30 percent unemployment rate, those cars are seen as luxuries that almost no one can afford.

After dropping off our suitcases at Pansion Lion, Sethre and Jill took us on a walk around Bascarsija, the old town. The old town was distinctly different from other places, in that people seemed to be living peacefully free from the aftermath of the war, and stores such as L'Occitane en Provence and Mango also indicated that westernization the country is experiencing. Baščaršija is also unique because influences from Ottoman Empire, Austrian, and Serbia are all present, and the fact that numerous mosques including one as a gift from Malaysia, Catholic Churches, Serbian Orthodox Church, and synagogues are all within walking distance also created a culturally unparalleled juxtaposition. We ate our first ćevapčići as dinner and then walked out of the old town to BBI Center where we watched part of the World Cup 1st round game between Germany and Portugal, and witnessed Germany's 2nd and 3rd goal in this World Cup. We also heard from recent graduate Edna Siljdedich ‘14 that people had set off fireworks and shot guns in the sky for the first goal Bosnia ever made in World Cup the night before, while we were in the air. At around 7pm, we also met up with San Domenico alumna Negeen Suri Nawim’08, who lives here, at a downtown café, enjoying our first cappuccino in BiH. Most of the group then went back to our room due to the jet leg, while three of us went on a night walk with Mr. Sethre, exploring many hidden café, bakery, and gathering places where people watch World Cup together.

We were all exhausting and went to bed relatively early the first night.

Though exhausting, we successfully arrived in Sarajevo, where we can’t wait to spend the rest of two weeks in. And here the adventure begins!

June 16, 2014

Bay to the Balkans 2: Historic Sarajevo

Today was our first official day to experience Bosnia and its culture. Lulu, Rachele, Jolene, Sethre, and Henry woke up around 6:00am to go to the bakery and market to get us all breakfast. It was raining extremely hard outside, and not many people were awake or out yet because it was so early.

At the bakery, Imaret Pekara, they got kifle—seasoned baked salty bread—and buhtle—donuts filled with Nutella. At the market they got small strawberries and fresh peaches. The food was so yummy and we can't wait until tomorrows breakfast. After we finished eating most of us went out to a small cafe to get coffee and tea. We walked a short distance to a very cute and cozy cafe.

The cafe would be considered extremely tiny in America, it could barley fit us all. In the cafe we ordered chai tea and Turkish coffee. They say good Turkish coffee should be “hot as hell, sweet as sin, and as dark as a woman's heart." The coffee was set up really cute on individual small servings and it tasted great.

After we left the cafe we went back to our hotel to get ready to explore more of the city. Finally we left the pansion and continued our adventure throughout the city. We first began by walking up a steep hill to a Muslim graveyard. In the cemetery there were no graves between the dates of 1992-95 because of the war, the dates were either before or after because it was inaccessible during the war and simply too dangerous to be in the open to bury people. By going to the graveyard we all got to see the different ways in which people were buried by their class and who they were, this helped us learn more about the Muslim culture and religion.

After the graveyard we went to the sixteenth century Gazi Husrefbeg Mosque. Before entering the mosque all of us girls had to cover their heads, either by purchasing hijabs—head scarves for women—or wearing their own. Outside the Mosque there was a large open space with a large stone wall surrounding the mosque.

Inside the mosque it had very light colors and no images of humans, only calligraphy. The mosque also had many pray rugs on the floors and high dome shaped ceilings. By seeing the mosque we were able to learn about the Muslim culture and religion, and what makes it unique in Bosnia.

The Muslim people were targeted by Serb extremists during the war from 1992-95 and experienced ethnic cleansing and genocide. Violence happened on all sides, but mosques were destroyed throughout the country and the Muslims seem to have been affected disproportionately.

After exploring the mosque we walked to the oldest Serbian Orthodox Church in Bosnia. In the Serbian Church it was very dark inside, unlike the Mosque, and the Serbian Church was a lot lower than the mosque and was underground. The Serbian church was smaller than the mosque, because the Ottoman Empire was mainly Muslim and the Turks created a rule that any other religious building had to smaller than the minaret of the Mosque. While in the Serbian Church we did not have to cover our heads, and inside the chapel there were many images of humans and religious leaders. We went to the church to experience the religious aspects of the Serbian culture and see how it differed from the Mosque.

Next we went to the Jewish museum, which had a lot of information about Sarajevo’s Jewish history, and Jews during World War II and is dedicated to 12,000 people from Bosnia who lost their lives during WWII. It was very interesting to hear that there were only around 1,000 Jews in Bosnia all together, most of them in Sarajevo.

Then we walked to the 19th century Croatian Catholic Cathedral which was a very large church with big stain glass windows. In front of the catholic cathedral was a very large statue of Pope John II. After walking around in the Catholic Cathedral we made our way to a Jewish synagogue, which had numerous Hebrew writings and interesting and interesting designs similar to the Mosque. After seeing the synagogue we were able to understand and see the Jewish culture and community of Sarajevo more. The synagogue is mainly used during holidays and sometimes on Fridays for Shabbat.

After visiting the synagogue we finally went and had lunch, we had three different types of pide—filo dough pies—burek contains meet, sirnica contains is filled with cheese, another, krompirusa, tasty potatoes and another with meat, and the last one, zeljanica, had spinach and cheese. They also gave us rotisserie chicken and potatoes.

After lunch, we rode the tramway all the way to Ilidza, past the airport, then we took three separate taxis and met up at the tunnel. The Sarajevo tunnel was a salvation during the war. We all got to walk through the tunnel, which gave us some sense of the of experience of the struggle people faced during the war.

Then when we left the tunnel we took the taxi's back to the tram and went back to our hotel. On the way back to the hotel we passed the site of Gavrillo Princip's 1914 assignation of Austrian Archduke Ferdinand which is known by many historians to have started WWI.

After relaxing for a little bit at the pansion, we had our first reflection session, in which we all met together with Jill and Sethre to discuss our impressions, what we had seen and learned that day, and how it made us feel.

We had our “Welcome” dinner at Park Prinecva, a nice restaurant on top of a hill, which had a gorgeous view of Sarajevo—our whole group along with San Domenico graduates Edna and Negeen, and some local friends of Sethre and Jill.

By learning about these different religions and viewing their places of worship we were able to see the minor and major differences between them and able to understand how similar some are, but also so different. Although today was such a busy day, we are all excited for the next days adventure in Bosnia.

Jolene & Shea
June 17, 2014

Bay to the Balkans 3: Sutjeska National Park

Today, we left Sarajevo and went to the Sutjeska National Park which takes two hand a Half hour to get there for a three-hour “moderate hike” (as indicated on the itinerary). After at least three hours, we arrived at a mountain surrounded by heavy fog. We should have reevaluated the meaning of the word "moderate" when we realized the driving time is different from the itinerary.

Before we started the hike, our guide pointed at the fog and told us that it was the tallest mountain in Bosnia. If there was not fog, we could see he was pointing at the Mount Maglic, which means foggy mountain in Bosnia.

The trail was really thin and we could not see the below because of the fog which made us feel scared. Sethre said it was steeper, slipperier, and muddier than any hike he had been on.

During the trip, it began to rain again, so we walked faster and finally got to tour destination, Kladopoljsk, which is located at the border of Bosnia and Montenegro.

We, eighteen people, ate lunch under a little roof sitting on two wet little benches. It rained more and more heavily. We headed back after lunch.

Once the fog lifted, the view was so perfect that we stopped a lot of times to take pictures. Wild flowers were spread across the meadows. Sasha said it was the most beautiful place she had been.

After we got back to the van, all of us were wet and tired. Everyone sprawled on the seats like zombies. Jill said at one point her teeth were chattering and she couldn’t feel her feet.

Although it was a "moderate" hike, we all felt it was impressive and the view was unique.

Coco said, “Aside from the four-hour bumping car ride, chilly weather, milky fog, slippery rocks, heavy rain that never stopped, dirty mud, and wet bushes that were as tall as my knee, it was alright and actually kinda pretty.”

June 18, 2014

Bay to the Balkans 4: International Commission for Missing Persons & Tuzla

Today was a tiring and emotional day. We all woke up that morning thinking we knew what to expect, but what we saw that day did not meet any of our expectations. We woke up early that morning to go to Tuzla, a city about two hours north of Sarajevo.

Tuzla is home to two of the International Commission for Missing Persons initiatives, the Podrinje Identification Project and the DNA identification laboratory. As the Missing Persons Institute is now under the supervision of the government, they are no longer an NGO and no longer receiving funding from other outside countries or other organizations.

Pazika Colo explained from the DNA lab explained this process of identification, noting that they can’t get a DNA match without sending out home blood sample kits to families who are trying to find their lost love ones. She also explained that they send out home kits instead of visits to the families homes to collect blood, because it was too much money to travel to all the major countries that Bosnians have now made their home.

Right before we entered the building at the morgue, Sethre warned the group about the smells in the MPI facility. We were then introduced to one of the lead forensic pathologists of MPI, Dragana Vucetic. She led us into the building. When we first entered the building, I noticed that the lights were off and the hallway was dark with some light shining in from the windows.

MPI's electricity has been cut. They no longer can have their lights on and they can no longer keep the morgue storage room cold.

When we entered the storage room we saw where they keep all of the remains of people found in mass graves and surface graves following the Srebrenica genocide. There was no AC on or refrigeration. It was dark and musky. I've never smelt the smell of death before. I did not expect it.

When looking around the room, I noticed rows and rows of body bags and paper bags containing clothing and other personal items of victims of these massacres in the 1990s. I was in complete shock. I didn't know what to say or what to do. For once in my life, I felt speechless.

Dragana gave a short but very helpful introduction on what MPI does and what she does. MPI collects all the bones for the body and they place them in the proper order. They also take one bone sample from the largest bone in the body if they find one of those. They send the bone sample to the ICMP DNA laboratory, where the bone sample is cleaned, dried, and ground in order to extract DNA.

Draga informed us that 80% of the bodies in the storage room are not complete bodies because mass graves were repeatedly moved around from place to place by the perpetrators. However, 120 of the body bags contain complete bodies. She also told us that there are 1300 body bags in the storage bag are all current cases.

We were shocked. We all have never been in the presence of actual people who have faced major atrocities. These skeletal remains that were in the storage room were people that lost their lives because of what they looked like, what they believed in, and their identity. Lots of thoughts ran through my head. I began to think about what it would be like if I was on the other side reporting my family member to be missing. Also, I would probably find out that my missing family member could have been dumped in a mass grave with thousands of other bodies.

It brought tears of sadness to my eyes. Just thinking about those human remains being kept in body bags because they're missing and no one can identify them. Wives and children and other relatives are waiting to find out where and what happened to their loved ones, but it's taking months and even years to put proper rest to their loved ones and thoughts.

~ Lulu
July 18, 2014

Bay to the Balkans 5: UNICEF, Investigative Reporting, and the State Court for War Crimes

Today began with a very hurried walk to the United Nations headquarters to visit with UNICEF (United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund) building on the opposite end of the city of Sarajevo from Baščaršija.

After lots of, "are we there yet’s?" we finally made it to our meeting—30 minutes late. We had to go through security and show our passports in order to enter the UN building, which thankfully was a quick and easy process. Our group was then taken to a conference room where we were seated and offered refreshments.

After introductions were made and names were exchanged, we listened to and participated in four very informative presentations. These presentations focused on the children and youth population of Bosnia and Herzegovina. We took notes on statistics from all of the ethnic groups, including the commonly ostracized Roma population. Sadly our meeting was abruptly stopped because of our tight schedule, even though many of us would have loved to stay for hours to continue discussing the issues and obstacles that kids in Bosnia and Herzegovina face.

  • Some interesting and surprising facts we learned about at UNICEF today.
  • Only 4% of the Roma youth population was immunized.
  • 52% of the youth population in BiH stated that they would leave the country permanently if given the opportunity.
  • Only 1/4 of BiH high school and college graduates are employed.
  • Only 3% of the general population in BiH is interested in adopting a foster child.

In order to make it to our next appointment/meeting on time, we caught three taxis. Yes, I said there—and even then it was a squeeze for those of us sitting in the back seat with a mini Sethre sitting on our lap. We made our way to headquarters of the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN). Unlike UNICEF, their building was dilapidated and occupied to its maximum capacity. (We later found out that they will be moving locations because of their organization’s expansion.)

We met with Denis Dzidic, an experienced and insightful reporter and editor for BIRN, which is a specialized news agency that follows war crime trials after the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina from 1992-1995.

Denis described to our group how the news agency began because the people of Bosnia didn't have access to war tribunal news and information that they had every right to have. The organizers of BIRN wanted to, and successfully created a news agency that was not influenced by politics. BIRN focuses on writing their reports on issues from the perspective of all three ethnic groups in order to convey their central message to the whole country, not just a part of the population.

After grabbing a quick lunch at Mrkva, a hot spot known for it's cevapi and it's brightly painted walls, we took taxis to the heavily fortified state courts of Bosnia and Herzegovina. After going through security, for the second time in one day, we entered the building free of all cameras and phones. We were then taken to one of the courtrooms used for war crime tribunals, and other cases relating to the war in Bosnia. We listened to three presentations, each focusing on different parts of the court and how the system works including the legal department and the witness protection program. To wrap up the meeting, we watched a clip from the trial of several Bosnian Serb officers responsible for the massacre at Kravica and experienced what a real war crime trial would be like.

On our way back from the courts, we stopped by the sarcastically made sculpture of canned beef and snapped a quick group shot before returning to Pansion Lion, our home in Sarajevo.

Much to our group’s dismay, we decided to walk back. Even though it was a hot day and the walk was long, it gave us time to process all of the information that was given to us throughout the day. Admittedly, we walked about half way before waving down a few taxis to drive us the rest of the way home

~ Maddie
June 20, 2014

Bay to the Balkans 6: Ecotourism and a Visit to Lukomir

Bosnia's primeval forest ceased to amaze us as we hiked the slopes of Mount Bjelasnica and marveled in its sister mountain region, Traskovic. Buried almost as deep and the Rakitnica itself is the small village Lukomir, known for its placement at "the end of the world." The path made on the edge of Mt. Bjelasnica, primarily made by shepherds and their flocks, led us to a corner of Bosnia not seen by many.

Not far from Old Lukomir, the original land the village inhabited before deciding on moving further up the mountain, was a small cliff-side opening. With a panoramic view of some of Bosnia's most famous mountains and a beautiful waterfall cascading to the valley where they meet, our guide Alen Causevic amazed us with his knowledge of the terrain and history of BiH.

Although it seemed as if Alen could continue for another three hours just on the historical reference of the mountains and their part in Bosnia’s vast connections to the Black and Adriatic seas, he led us to a small house at the base of a ledge that marked the end of the village. There Saliha Comor and her mother, Rahima, treated us to a delicious lunch of fresh sirnica (cheese pie) and krumpirusa (potato pie).

The language barrier was difficult at times between us and the mother-daughter pair, but a simple “Hvala”—thank you—seemed to mean more to them than a conversation that required a translator. Saliha also treated us to coffee and tea after we ate, followed by a display of handmade wool socks and wooden spoons. These women, and many of their neighbors, sheer their own sheep, clean the wool, dye it and then use it to make thick socks that usually help keep warm in the harsh winters there.

More than an hour away from the nearest civilization and still set in the rare ways of early settled life in BiH, Lukomir was not hit by the wars of the 1990s. Seeing as the town faces harsh winters and had only about 70-120 inhabitants at various times during the war, Republika Srpska could not afford the risk of losing men due to the elements over actual combat.

This was essentially the time when the village hit its peaks population wise because it was too risky for seasonal inhabitants to migrate back to the cities, Sarajevo being the most popular, where many of them held jobs and lived partially.

While our feet sunk in a mixture of mud and whatever droppings were left in the road by various animals, we walked from house to house viewing how people had lived for hundreds of years. There were people from all ages tending to the fields, flocking herds and hanging laundry. Time seemed to slow there, moving at its own pace. The constant vibrating of a phone and beeping from technologies did not force people to disengage from each other, there people visited their neighbors and held regular family dinners. A sense of community filled the air carried it's away into the fields, filled with sheep and Shepherds, surrounding the village.

No matter how much we wanted to stay and engulf ourselves in this way of life, we had head back to Sarajevo. There we were met with crowds of people radiating with pride for their country as Bosnia entered its second match in the World Cup. This was the nation's first time being in the World Cup and the spirit could be seen from all corners of the capital. We stayed up to watch the match at midnight and though they lost to Nigeria, the city still cheered on their team into the early morning.

A few of us even got into the excitement, roaming the city right before the match with Sethre and Jill. While taking pictures with the crowd in the Fan Park, set up just for the games, we we're stopped by Edis Zeljkovic to be interviewed about the games on BHTV1. Jolene and I were projected on the big screen in the Fan Park and TVs across the nation.

June 21, 2014

Bay to the Balkans 7: On the Other Side - Republika Srpska (Visegrad and Srebrenica Memorial Center)

Today was one of the most emotional challenging days for all of us as we went to Republika Srpska—the Bosnian Serb Republic—one of the two political entities along with the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, experiencing the environment almost twenty years after the war on the other side.

We started the day by watching Bosnia's second game in World Cup at midnight, wearing jerseys and being surrounded by enthusiasm and national pride in the capital. However, these totally disappeared when our van drive into the Republika Srpska in the morning. Like someone describes during the reflection at night, what we feel there is a kind of “unwelcomeness”.

The first impression Visegrad left to me was an unusual silence. The town was quietly lying on both sides of the river Drina. To start off, Sethre reads part of the introduction of The Bridge on the Drina, the Nobel Prize winning novel by Ivo Andrić.

We then walked across the bridge, overlooking the historical river. For a minute, I could not stop myself imagining blood instead of water in the river during the war. The beautiful scenery and the massacre that killed 3,000 people only two decades ago forms a contrast that made me suddenly feel out of place. Most people around the river seem to be Serbian tourists. They took photos with the bridge and the town with smiling faces, which to me was sad because it seemed almost a denial of the magnitude of the atrocities committed there. This also brought up my concern about children from different ethnicities learning different versions of history and the war in particular.

Five minutes away from the bridge is an ongoing construction project of a fake historical town called Andrićgrad meaning "Andrić's town", which will be used as primary filming settings for Emir's film Na Drini ćuprija based on The Bridge on the Drina. Inside this Andrićgrad, everything is built modern, and it even includes a movie theatre. Visitors were drinking coffee, eating ice cream, and taking photos with Petar II Petrović-Njegoš, the Serbian poet who celebrated ethnic cleansing in his work. It was very depressing for me to see people acting this way in a town where ethnic cleansing took place not so long ago, unconcerned about innocent people died during the war right in this place. And it seems to me that many even regard people such as Petar II Petrović-Njegoš as heroes. However, on the other hand, in order to understand the war better, I think it is also important to know the other side of the story and try to understand all perspectives and rationales.

After a long drive, we finally arrive at our next destination, the Srebrenica Genocide Memorial at almost 4:00 pm. In this so-called “safe area” declared by UN, more than 8,000 Bosniaks, mostly men and boys, were killed on July 1995.

Here in this cemetery, 8,372 Muslims from 13 different cities or towns are buried, and more are unfound or still in the process of being identified. Inside the gate, the outdoor mosque and the huge plaques containing lists of names and dates of birth caught my attention immediately.

The sloped stone was hundreds of meters long with people who were identified listed in alphabetical order, and behind this massive tablet, thousands of white gravestones stood next to each other.

As I looked over, I could not even see the end of the gravestones, and I absolutely could not find words to describe my feelings at that moment. It was more than sadness or even anger. I felt intrusive and a sense of humiliation. Every single one of the names and the gravestone was a person once alive, who had a family, and was denied the chance to become whom he or she was meant to be even though they did nothing wrong. This was the sin of humanity that we all share, and therefore should all be ashamed of. I could not imagine that the road that we just drove on was the road to death for thousands of Bosniaks, and that under where I was standing were people's bones and also their family's deepest grievances. It is particularly hard for me to notice some were killed when they were 12 or 13, and if those people were still alive, they will probably have their own families by now.

After taking some time to walk around and reflect on our own, the atmosphere was one of the saddest, and everyone started to form strong connections with those whom we are not personally related to after we immerse ourselves into the culture.

We went to the photo gallery and then started heading back to Sarajevo after this long day. Most of us could not walk out of the cemetery without tears and some even starts crying. Even though we read many articles and watch movies about the war beforehand, I feel like no one can really get mentally prepared until we are actually in the town or in the cemetery, where everything is so vivid and the feelings are so real that I believe we will never forget.

July 22, 2014

Bay to the Balkans 8: First Day of Summer School in Vares!

Today was the first day of summer school! Us girls, Sethre, Jill, Henry, and Graham all woke up early to catch a bus to Vareš. We left the hostel at 7:15 and walked through Bascarsija to the bus stop that is right next to a market and a Serbian cemetery where the assassins of Franz Ferdinand are buried.

We had hurry on the walk because we were afraid we wouldn't catch the bus; we were all sweating. Shea, Sethre, Graham, and Henry were about five minutes behind us because they were getting breakfast from the bakery, Imaret Pekara. Lots of kifle, krofne, and chocolate goodness! The bus ride was about an hour and a half. However, a little over halfway through, we had to switch into a van because of remnants and bad roads from the floods. A tiny van! This van really only should hold about 6-8 people, but we fit all 21 passengers from the bus into it! Four people had to squeeze into seats that is supposed to only hold two and at least four people were standing.

Finally, we drove into the town of Vareš. I could really see the remnants from the war. The town had many storefronts and buildings that were not occupied or even cleaned out. They were just left there. A lot of the buildings were run down.

Vareš is beautiful though; there is so much green! The mountains are full of trees.

The bus stopped and we walked to the high school where we met Zlatan—a former participant of the camp and graduate of the high school where it is held.

Immediately, we saw dozens of children waiting outside the high school doors! We were so nervous. I didn't know what to expect! I was most nervous for the different languages.

Shea, Maddie, and I were doing sports so we planned to play different games and versions of soccer or ‘fútbol’ as they call it.

Maddie, Shea, and I were soooo nervous! Then, suddenly, I heard roars and stomping as the children ran down the stairs to the gym. A wave of boys and even a lot of girls rush in and start kicking a soccer ball around. Shea, Maddie, and I controlled the situation and the kids listened to us so well!

At first, we started playing cuppies, a fun soccer game, but that didn't work out because of the language barrier. Then, we set up two teams and just played.

Jolene, Lulu, and Daria taught art. They made puppets! Coco, Claire, and Sasha played games like Uno with the children.

The first day, we made so many friends! At first, I was scared about the language barrier, but it went so smoothly because I used motions to explain my words.

Camp went by so fast the first day since it's only about 2 1/2 hours. After, we took the bus back; we didn't have to take the van... Weird.

When we were back to Sarajevo, we went to the Siege Museum where we walked around and looked at newspaper clippings, clothing articles, miscellaneous writings and art, and pieces from the war in Bosnia. They also had an exhibit on the ICTY.

We all went to dinner on our own, but most girls got doner kebabs! I stayed up with Shea and Sethre watching the Croatia vs. Mexico World Cup game. We went in around 60 minutes and then suddenly Mexico scored three goals!! Croatia lost.... 3-1.

The first day went so smoothly and amazing. The kids were inviting and sweet and I'm sad it went by so fast.

June 23, 2014

Bay to the Balkans 9: Settled into Vares Summer School

With a couple days under our belts, the group felt more relaxed entering the summer school today. Again we were greeted with smiling faces, and this time with hugs also. It seemed to be a bit harder keeping them out for the five to ten minutes we needed to set up, go over our group plans and disperse to our activities.

As much as I love being in the art room the first day and connecting with most of the younger kids, I chose to do sports again.Tuesday was my own personal feeler day, to see where I stood with all the talented athletes in the gym. After realizing that I will never be as good as some of them in soccer, I went into this day with a clear head and decided that I didn't care if I missed a kick or got hit in the head with a ball. Both of which I experienced multiple times.

Just as the day before, the kids stormed into the gym like a stampede of rhinos. The first fifteen minutes are always the hardest, the kids are just so full of energy and want to play. However in order for everyone to have an equal amount of playing time, whether it be in soccer or basketball, we had to split them into teams. An action that by the second or third game meant nothing as some decided they didn't want to play anymore or the game just simply turned into a shoot out between some if the best players. Although we always managed to wrangle the kids back into a controlled game when we threatened them with a break time, something they dreaded because that meant they had to leave the gym for fifteen minutes.

As the games continued, the tensions sometimes boiled over. Friends were made and exchanged remarks towards each other over bad kicks or occasional fouls but nothing really amounted to any physical violence. We tried to ease this tension in any way. At first separating the kids seemed like a good idea but they usually always found away back to each other and the process would have to start all over again. Then by coincidence on of us happened to get hit by a ball while sorting out a small dispute and anger turned into laughter as the children found something else to think about. Unfortunately this newfound subject was out pain.

As the day came to an end, we had bittersweet feelings boarding the bus that afternoon. Knowing that we only had two more days left with the kids motivated us to make the best of the remaining hours we had in Vareš. With heavy hearts we vowed to poor our souls into every minute of the maybe 5 hours we knew we had with them.

June 24, 2014

Bay to the Balkans 10: More Summer School in Vares

Today was our third day of summer school and it went pretty well. Claire and I did games. Daria, Maddie, Sasha, and Coco did sports. Rachele, Jolene, and Shea did art. Wednesday is the hump day of the week and I noticed that the number of children increased more than Monday. All of the children were so sweet and respectful. They said please and thank you. There was never a moment of disrespect between the students and teachers.

Claire and I played Uno with a few students before they left to go do friendship bracelets in the art room with Rachele, Jolene, and Shea.

We found ourselves sitting with only two students at the table with the deck of Uno cards. I started to ask them questions about how long they have attended the summer school and what was their favorite activity. They both said that they have been going to the summer school for three years and they both really enjoy Art.

After our little match of Uno with the students, we went outside to play with chalk, jump ropes, and frisbees with the group of students that Jill corralled together. Claire and I both played tic-tac-toe with some of the girls. It was really nice to see their faces glow with happiness when they won. Their smiles made my day.

The summer school ended around 11:15 and we went down to the square and ate our usual lunch menu. After lunch we caught the 12:45 bus back to Sarajevo. When we got back to Sarajevo, we visited the Twist tower, which is the tallest building in the region, with its 35 floors. We took an elevator to the top.

We could see everything from up there, including the walled US embassy with their two tennis courts and half court basketball court. It was our only chance to sneak a peek. After the twist tower, we walked a bit to a cafe that Jill and Sethre wanted to take us to. We sat and laughed for a while and ate French fries. We talked about how good the day was and we talked about the children a little bit and about the ones we felt we were creating a connection to. We all felt like it was already going to be hard to say goodbye.

June 25, 2014

Bay to the Balkans 11: Last Day in Vares

Today was the last day of the multiethnic children's summer program, and it was truly bittersweet. We woke up early for our regular walk to the bus stop, got breakfast from a bakery nearby, and had the normal 90-minute bus ride to Vareš like we have done in the previous days.

Normally I go to sleep on the ride there, but today I stayed awake for the entire ride to Vareš. When we drove up we could see all the kids through the window waiting for us outside the school with eager faces to get the day started.

As we walked up to the school and through the doors, the kids greeted us with smiles on their faces.

Today Sasha, Claire, Daria, and Shea did sports with kids in the gym. Meanwhile, upstairs Lulu, Rachele, and Coco did art, and Maddie and I did games. We combined the games and art category in one room, therefore when we did face-painting for second half of the day other kids besides kids in the art category could participate. For the first half of the day we had two games of UNO in the back of the room, while the other kids made face masks with construction paper and string in the front of the room.

Since I was in the games category, I played a many of games of UNO with the kids. They were really interested and excited about the game. Even when the first person officially won, they didn't get discouraged that they hadn’t won first.

But they wanted to continue playing until there were just two more people left playing. Next, we took a 15-minute break and the kids left to get snacks from a bakery near the school or just to get out the classroom for awhile to get fresh air.

After the break the kids got back and me and Coco set up face painting in the back of the room and many kids came around to line up and pick out what design they wanted us to paint on them. It was really busy, but also really fun. The kids were excited to get their faces painted, and some of them even wanted more than one design painted on them. When we were halfway done with face painting, we took a quick second to go down to the gym so we could all take a group picture with most of the kids. After we took numerous pictures with the kids, some went back upstairs and painted a few more kids’ faces. After I was done, the school day was over and we said our goodbyes to all the kids and gave them our names so they could add us on Facebook. When all the kids were gone we all–Sasha, Daria, Maddie, Lulu, Rachele, Jill, Edna, Sethre, Jolene, Shea, Claire, Coco, and a few older kids who helped in the program–cleaned up the school by throwing away trash and wiping away the paint that might have gotten on the tables.

We also gathered up all the left over supplies from the program to give to some of the kids who were waiting outside. Once we were done we had about two more hours in Vareš. With this time we bought lunch at a nearby bakery and walked around Vareš to explore the village. After this, our bus arrived and we were on our way back to Sarajevo.

When I look back on our time with the kids at the summer school it was really fun and enjoyable. I built connections with many of the kids through the activities such as UNO, art projects, face painting and playing soccer with them. I learned a lot from them and I believe they learned a lot from me too. The language barrier wasn't as hard as I thought to would be. Although not many of them speak English and I don't speak Bosnian well, we understood each other. I can't believe that the children's summer program is officially over.

I miss the kids already and hope to come back to Vareš for another summer program within a year or two to see them.


Bay to the Balkans 12: Centenary of the Assassination that Started WWI

Today was the 100th anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand.

This morning we did not have to get up as early because we did not have summer camp. We all woke up around 8:30 but did not have to leave until 9:30. Rachele and I went to the Bakery, Edin Pekara, where we got two chocolate croissants, four hot dog rolls, four different types of chocolate baked goods, and two cherry jam croissants. Rachele and I brought all the food back to the hotel and we all ate in our room.

After eating breakfast we left at 9:30 to go to a museum which had an exhibit at 10:00 am. The exhibit included many different objects present during the assassination including the weapon itself, Gavrillo Princip's pants and replicas of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife's outfits on the day of the shooting. The exhibit was very interesting and provided the group with lots of information on the assassination and the assassins. We learned that there were more people involved in the assassination besides Princip and everyone but one of them was either 20 years old or younger.

After the exhibit we went to an old Serbian mansion. In the mansion there was lots of old furniture, a living room, a mothers room and a fathers room. After walking through the mansion we walked back to the area where the museum was and looked at a replica of the car Archduke Franz Ferdinand was in during the assassination. Then we went to a cafe to get drinks and relax for a little bit.

After getting drinks at a cafe by the river we walked down to an outdoor photo exhibit called "Making Peace". The exhibit targeted youth and had many different double sided posters that featured pictures and descriptions below the pictures.

A lot of the girls were surprised by how many of the pictures and events were familiar to them. For example images from the Vietnam War, Mostar and the two Atomic Bombs in Japan. There were also many events and people that we had learned and studied in US History and Social Justice including the process of mircoloans, the Cambodia war crimes, Martin Luther King, Jr., Jane Addams, Gandhi, Albert Eisenstein, Nelson Mandela, Eisenhower, Eleanor Roosevelt and Vandana Shiva.

There were even events and images based on the war, including some from Mostar and Srebrenica. It was very interesting to go through the exhibit and even though we went the wrong way the different categories and process was very educative.

After walking through the sidewalk and reading each poster we went to get lunch. Sethre and Jill took us to a very very good restaurant called Mala Kuhinja. At the restaurant their was no menu, the owner just came over and asked if we had any allergies or did not like any type of food. He then started saying some of the stuff he might bring out and we all agreed and said that we trusted him.

Our first course was chicken vegetable soup and mushroom cream soup. Next we had a very yummy and fresh salad with cucumbers, tomatoes and celery. (I believe this one salad was the most vegetables we have had on this whole trip besides potatoes). Our third course was stir-fried with red peppers, mushrooms, grapes and zucchini which was served with yummy yellow rice. Our fourth course was beef and mushroom covered in a white creamy sauce served with perfectly seasoned potatoes. After the meal we all were very hot, tired and full.

Some of us went back to the hotel while others went onto another exhibit. The exhibit was called Sarajevo 100 and featured many posters related to the war and the postwar problems in this country. Sasha said it was very cool and interesting to see art related to the war.

Once everyone got back to the hotel we had some down time to relax and hang out. After relaxing some of us went to one of our favorite restaurants, Doner Kabobs and brought back pita bread filled with either chicken or beef, tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce and chili sauce. We all ate in the hotel and talked.

At around 6:00, Sasha, Rachele, Claire, Coco and Daria went to an orchestra performance by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra at Vijecnica, the newly restored town hall and national library. Sasha said the orchestra performance was very fun to see because there were lots of people, foreigners and even some ambassadors from other countries. The day was very relaxed yet educative, especially when we all went to the exhibit on the street.

June 28, 2014