Monday, April 9, 2012

20 Years Later

Friday April 6th was a somber day in Sarajevo.

As everyone knows, Sarajevo was the "home" of one of the most brutal sieges in human history- some say the most brutal ever. For nearly four years (don't  speed over that number.... think about it.... 4 years!?!), the city was surrounded by snipers and "mortar-throwers" making no distinction between targeting the military and ordinary citizens. People were killed while being on the streets, standing in bread lines, and resting at home. And while being at home, supplies were regularly cut off- which meant no running water, electricity, heating, or normal food items.... again, for nearly 4 years! The result was catastrophic physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and probably any other "ually" you can think of.

In case you hadn't noticed, I have made it a point during my time here to never write about the war. Why? I feel that too much of the world thinks of Bosnia ONLY in regards to war, and anytime they report back that's the first thing they talk about! People don't realize how much this country has to offer, like getting lost in the stunningly beautiful mountains and their bluish green streams, the depth of the culture and history, and, my favorite, finding a city full of people ready to sit down and enjoy a nice cup of Joe with you at a moment's notice.  For me, while it can be tough to be an expat adjusting to a new language and culture and being a world away from family and friends, I can count on just one hand the days I've wanted out (and 99.9% of reasons have been related to bureaucratic messes!).

For a taste of what I'm taking about, here are my favorite pictures I've taken over the last 2 and half years:
Downtown  Sarajevo at the Sebilj fountain
Near the Airport in Sarajevo 
In Mostar
Hiking in the mountains surrounding Sarajevo
Skiing on Jahorina- an Olympic mountain

Rafting on the Neretva River- 
Near Ajvatovica
"Wilson's Walkway" in Sarajevo- named after Woodrow Wilson

An aerial shot of Sarajevo, taken the fall of 2011
So, coming back to the post... why do I bring up the war now? And what's the significance of April 6th? Well, Friday, April 6th was not only "Good" Friday, it was the 20th anniversary of the siege on Sarajevo. In total, 11,541 of Sarajevo's inhabitants died. Again..... 11,541. If you're like me, 11,541 is just a number, not one that to comprehend fully. That's why I think the organizers of this memorial did something brilliant- they shut down the main road and lined it up with 11,541 empty chairs- each representing one person that died.

(To see more pictures, I recommend this post by Aljazeera, who now has a station based here in Sarajevo)

(Foto: Feđa Krvavac/

In addition to having these chairs placed out, there was somber music being played loud enough for all to hear and screens naming one by one each of the people who died. I can't confirm this anywhere, but I heard that due to the amount of names, the list ran all day but never repeated a name twice.

I was holding myself together pretty well until coming upon this part....

In case you can't tell, each one of these chairs is child-sized. Included in the 11,541 were 1500 children under the age of 16 killed during the siege. By the end of this day, each one of these chairs had something on them: a flower, a toy, a stuffed animal, a kickball, balloons, etc.  As people lined up to walk next to these chairs, pay their regards, place gifts on them, etc. the atmosphere was thick with sorrow, memories, anger, resentment, sadness, "blankness." 

As I stood there with tears in my eyes, I knew I couldn't comprehend what the people around me were going through. I was an observer- one who watched the war on TV, heard horror stories, walked on the mortar holes. I may live here and may experience GLIMPSES of the effects of it culturally, emotionally, spiritually, "governmentally," mentally.... But, again, I am an outside observer.  What was it like to have lived through this and see this memorial? That was the reality for the majority of those who surrounded me as I took it in. 

To think I live in a city (not a country, mind you) that lost 11,541 sons, daughters, brothers, sisters over the span of 4 years- and 1500 under the age of 16..... is incomprehensible. I've of course thought on this before, but never before has the truth of this sunk in as deeply as it did on April 6th. 

Today, the Monday afterward, life goes on as usual for people here. The chairs are gone and the street is opened up again. I know they wouldn't want the world to bring pity on them after this memorial but would want people to not forget what happened and honor the ones who died. Yes, I have come to increasingly realize that the Bosnians are a remarkably resilient people.

I took one last look at the chairs and that's when the reminder came... today is "Good" Friday. God used this somber moment to bring about a deeper understanding of what "Good" Friday is about. Due to  prejudice, pride, sin... these people lost their lives, and countless others were affected. And on this same day, we remembered One that due to prejudice, pride, SIN- willingly gave his life up and affected multitudes of others.

A new picture came to mind... what if we were to place a memorial with one red chair representing Him and then surround it with a white chair for each person affected... each person redeemed?  What an overwhelming picture that would be indeed!  Then again, seeing how God promises that people from all the families of all the nations will one day worship before him together (Psalm 22:27), this picture would be better served with the red chair being surround by every color imaginable, huh?

Till next time,

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Flight of the Bumblee, Minor Scales, and.... Ashtrays?

Even with the city (including myself) going into basic hibernation mode because of all this snow, there have been some new exciting activities emerging Kat-land!  How did these new events come about? Basically for 3 reasons-
  1. While in the states, people wore me out with the question, are you still playing clarinet?
  2. I've "graduated" from my intensive Bosnian language mode and am looking for ways to better get involved in the community and use my free time (and newfound language abilities!).  
  3. I received the God given conviction that God has given me talents, experiences, and things I just LOVE to do that I haven't been doing in Bosnia! Boo for that! 
So.... with all that in mind...  THIS is has been among the new activities/pursuits for me here in Bosnia:

Look mom! My Band-Nerd-Ness is out again!

For those that don't know, my life used to consist of endless hours in practice rooms, rehearsals, and performances. My college degree is in music and for a long time I played with the idea of pursuing a masters in clarinet performance. (My, o my has life changed since then!) That wasn't God's plan for me (at least not yet? Who knows?) and after receiving my bachelors, I went on to rock out as a band director in Texas and then moved to rock out here in Bosnia (well, without the clarinet). 
If you look closely you might be able to see some red curls around 
the 15 yard line on the left...
Well, to bring you up to speed, I've moved away from the land of marching bands, to go-coffee, and type-A-scheduling and to this coffee-is-an-event culture. Since I've returned back to Bosnia last fall, I've spent more time dusting off the clarinet and seeking possibilities in the music community.

All of this led up to one of the most surreal moments for me EVER- I found myself walking through some bland, narrow, communist style hallways for an audition with the clarinet professor at the local music college here in Sarajevo. Any "performance" butterflies were zapped away by the assurance that if God wants me involved he'll get me involved. Plus, I was WAY too entertained by my surroundings to be nervous. I just HAD to giggle when I finally made it to a practice room and had to move an ashtray off the music stand in order to place my music there. Then, while proceeding to suck in the lingering, musty cigarette smoke throughout my warm ups and audition, I was contemplating just how much my life has changed over the last few years. To say I enjoyed this "cultural" experience would be....... absolutely TRUE. :)

After "surviving" poisoning my precious, tender, American musical lungs, the clarinet professor, fitting in perfectly with the Balkan hospitality I've come to LOVE, graciously gave me the opportunity to join the clarinet studio for their weekly class and help with the students as I was able. Returning a few weeks later, I found out first hand that music CAN be truly be a universal language- including those pesky minor scales and altissimo notes that only clarinet players can fully appreciate (and whoever gets the "blessed" opportunity of hearing us practice them). Then, while I watched and listened to students work through the same musical pieces I picked apart in college, then receive instruction from a passionate and talented professor (all in Bosnian, of course!),  I couldn't help but be grateful not only for this opportunity but the way God had orchestrated events in my life that enabled me to be a part of this.

Where's has this led? Not to too much just yet. The city shut down after the snow, our schedules started to conflict, and Feburary was "exam month" where they didn't have any class. My hope is that now that we're defrosting a bit here in Sarajevo, more opportunities like this will come up. 

As for now, I hope you'll enjoy the video from a talent show I performed at a few months back. What I did was combine some random tunes, throw in a dzembe, and Voilà!! Seeing its inclusion of a hymn, Mozart, the Flight of the Bumblebee, Gershwin, a tradional Bosnian song and others.... dare I say there's no one else on the planet that could pull this off? :-)

(The video cut off before the grand finale but hopefully you'll get the general idea!)

Why do I write this post? My hope and my prayer is that it will encourage you to seek out what gifts and talents God has given you, then seek to use them both for your delight and His glory. Its been a great blessing to me. Plus, the thought that our God is delighted when we are delighted (and teaches us how to be FULLY delighted) is an ever increasing overwhelming thought to me. What a magnificient, personal, and good God we serve! 

Oh, and by the way- if you're from the Chicago Symphony and find my rendition to be inspiring enough for me to join your organization (I knew the Phantom of the Opera would lure you in!), I MIGHT be able to find some time to put in you my demanding performance schedule. :)

Till next time-

Sunday, February 19, 2012

How this "Texanka" Survives Her First Real Winter

For those that may or may not have heard, Europe has been hit with a brutal winter these last few months, and Sarajevo has not been immune! Check out the collection of my favorite pictures from the last few months of snow-craziness. 

The first few pictures are not my pictures, and I'm sad to say, thanks to people stealing, posting, sharing without linking it back to the original, it was impossible to find the original photographers! So, sorry for not giving credit where it is due, but hopefully you'll be able to appreciate these as much as I do! 

After about 2 days of continuous snowfall, this is what the city looked like. This is a beautiful view above one of the cemeteries in Sarajevo.

The majority of those wholive here didn't have any problems bigger than the nuances of having to dig out cars, walk more, etc., but there have been reports of roofs caving in, structural damage, people dying, and issues like the one above: the snow sled off the roof and locked the people inside. 

People out enjoying the "walking street" in Sarajevo.. 

Those lumps would be cars... 

I've actually liked having to walk on the main roads for a while! For a few days the trams weren't working and very few cars were able to get around. 

A view from behind to Sebilj fountain in Bascarsija. 

I WAS looking for a pet... 

I always knew Bosnia was short on money, but this is ridiculous... 

This was one of the wider walking lanes. It felt like a giant ant colony for over a week with everyone walking in straight lines through the "snow trenches" everywhere. There were also reports of stores being bought out of food, but I didn't see TOO much of that in Sarajevo.  

Okay... now what??? 

Forget snowman.. those of us that grew up with the ghostbusters movie may have a different idea who this reminds us of... 

The remaining of these pictures are from my camera. The first few are of documenting the adventure of that was cleaning out my car. 

(My car is the 2nd lump from the right, with the spare tire sticking out through the snow)

Now begins the adventure of car cleaning. The first step was to find the windows...

Then give an 80's style, punk, quasi-mullet hair cut... 

After nearly 3 hours, it was good enough for now! 

We went to a village to see what we could do as a humanitarian aid organization. Snow shoes were the best way to get around in some areas. The sticks coming out the ground were someone's back fence. 

From the Begova mosque- in my opinion, one of the most beautiful architecture spots in Sarajevo. 

And from where I call the "running street." My training will have to wait a bit. :)

As I'm posting this, we're in the midst of defrosting and I'm walking through the city dodging snow and ice clumps falling from the rooftops. Besides being shell shocked by a monstrous heating bill, feeling a bit trapped in the city, and feeling burdened for those that have had many problems due to the snow and cold, I haven't minded the snow too much, especially as this season as given birth to my newest obsession: 

Have I mentioned lately how thankful I am to live in a city surrounded by Olympic mountains??? 

Till next time, 

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

New definitions of NORMAL

(From inside the blue mosque in Istanbul, Turkey)

There's something that happens when you live in a foreign country- things start seeming "NORMAL." I must admit that this term, without me knowing it, has taken on a different definition over the last few years, especially considering how people use it to define what a "normal life" is. (what does that even mean, anyway?) This would partly explain my absence from the blogging world. This is honestly what I thought at times.... "how can I fill up a blog with even more stuff when I can't think of anything ABNORMAL to write about?"

To catch everyone up to speed, I'm actually writing this post from my old alma-mater, the University of Oklahoma (BOOMER!). To be exact, I'm sitting in the Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher Garden- a nostalgic place for me- I fondly remember multiple stressful moments of last minute cramming for college exams and other college antics on this part of campus (I hope all the former OU phi lamb officers are giggling with me on that one...). Here's a picture just taken from my computer:

Back to the topic at hand.... Here's something I've noticed since I've been back from Bosnia: things that used to seem ABNORMAL to me have all of a sudden seemed NORMAL, and things that used to be NORMAL seem all of a sudden ABNORMAL. The former would be identified as cultural immersion (possibly a post for another time?) and the latter (what I find to be incredibly amusing), reverse culture shock.

Some examples of reverse culture shock:

Grocery Store Breakdowns! The grocery store is a common place for reverse culture shock. The culprit for me?? The bottled water aisle!
Really people???? Do we really need an entire aisle of bottled water? Isn't Antartica filled up with the remnants of this??

What originally was planned to be a quick trip turned into an excruciating decision... "Do I get bubbly water or non-bubbly? Mineral or spring? Store brand or fancy brand? 6 pack, 12 pack, 2 pack, or one bottle? Flavored or non-flavored? And why in the world is the gallon less expensive than the 20 ounce???"

I later braved the SAME grocery store again thinking I was ready. I planned to buy some fruit to compliment my lunch, then was in shock at the size of a peach!!! I actually stopped someone in the store and vented.... "Really????  This can't be natural!!!"

I ended up buying one to eat and another one for show and tell. I was sad most people weren't impressed with my "discovery." 

Here... take my bag.... I went into a large office building and there was a security guard at the door. Without thinking about it, I automatically walked directly to them, pulled off my backpack, and started to take out my laptop so they could look at it. The security guard looks at me, laughs, and assures me he doesn't need to search my bag. Apparently I travel too much....

Another passport stamp please!!! I've been driving back and forth from Texas and Oklahoma quite a bit. The drive usually takes around 3 1/2 hours to go from McKinney, Texas to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The first time I crossed the border, I felt flustered, thinking, OH NO! I FORGOT MY PASSPORT! Do you get it? I thought I would need to get it stamped before crossing over into Oklahoma, cause that's the NORMAL thing, right? Get a stamp as you cross a border? Then, it hit me... oh yeah... I probably won't be getting a stamp from the Sooner state anytime soon. That is, of course, Texas does something crazy like secede! 

So... what do you have? While sitting a Mexican chain-restaurant, the waiter hands me a menu. I glance at it for about 2 seconds, toss it aside, and ask "So... what do you have today?" Meaning... I know you handed me this menu, and these are your food options, but NORMALLY restaurants don't really have ALL this food back there. So, what do you really have available today? He looked at me a bit puzzled, named some things, then told me to look at the menu. Oooooh..... Is  that what that thing is for? 

"I can't today- I have a coffee.For anyone who has lived in Sarajevo, this is a normal statement. Why? The word "coffee" is not just a drink, but an event! If you want to say you want to spend time with someone in Sarajevo, you'll say something like this: "Idemo na kafu." Which translated directly says "let's go on coffee." So, after my brother asked me if we could do lunch, I naturally replied with this NORMAL sentence: "Sorry, I can't! I have a coffee!" He thought that was as good of an excuse as washing my hair. 

(this is what came with the coffee in Travnik, Bosnia and Herzegovina. When you do the conversion, I paid about 85 cents for this package.) 

Am I on an episode of the Bachelorette?  Ok, time for a bit more personal one! First, a sidenote- as a disciple of Jesus Christ, I base my definition of "available bachelors" on one core condition: "Does he lead and inspire me to love God on a deeper level?"  While the abilities to give great back massages, climb mountains, have a strong jaw line, (I know, I know... super important, right?) and grill a "mean" salmon and asparagus are up there up there, this is the first characteristic I'm looking for. Secondly, the church I attend in Sarajevo has anywhere from 10-20 people that currently attend weekly, and at most will have 0-2 1/2 available "bachelors" in attendance. So... with that background... imagine this:

I arrived in the states on a Friday evening and stayed with one of my BFF's in Washington D.C. Well, my arrival coincided with a surprise birthday party for one of the guys of the church they attend. To set up the scene, on the exact evening of my arrival to the states, I went to a birthday party that started at 2:30 A.M. my time (HELLOOO jet lag!) that not only had a plethora of Mexican food (mmmmmmm!!!) but also had more available "bachelors" in attendance than the total amount of people that attend my church in Sarajevo! Plus... shocker.. they were speaking ENGLISH!!! After getting over the initial shock factor of it all, I decided to embrace my loopy-sleepless state, enjoy a few too many chips and salsa, and laugh at the "NORMAL" experiences my life puts me in. :)

This doesn't include my driving habits (Oooh... so we don't honk at everyone we pass??? Why is he saying I'm "number one?"), common courtesies (You mean I don't have to interrupt people to get a word in?), and my deteriorated ability to speak English (prepositions are over-rated anyway!). Just know that when you live and work cross-culturally, the adventure and cultural mishaps don't end once your feet hit your NORMAL "home" country again. (again, wherever that is).

Till next time,

Saturday, October 16, 2010

What Can a Year do for You?

The rumors are true, I've lived in Sarajevo for OVER a year now! 
Here's looking at you, kid! 
 In honor of the big milestone, I thought it would be fun to give a compare and contrast to what my life was like before as a shower scheduling, burrito eating, softball playing band director in Texas to my life now as a planner-losing, cevapi devouring,  ski-loving English teacher/Bosnian language learner in Sarajevo, Bosnia. 

I normally teach adults, but I love this picture too much to not post it...

Then: When entering a shoe store, I say "good afternoon," look around at the style I want, ask for my size, then pick between the regular, narrow, or wide version.
Now: When entering a shoe store, I say "dobar dan," and immediately ask if they have anything in my size (10). If by some rare chance they do have something (again, a rare occasion), it is usually something that would have been before my grandmother's time.

Then: I drove an average of 45 minutes a day. 
Now: I walk an average of 45 minutes a day.

Then: I had the emotional stability of a doped up reggai bass player. (Its aaalllll goooood)
Now: Often times I have the emotional instability of a mom who gets teary-eyed watching Hallmark commercials. 


Then: I said I would update my blog weekly.

Then: If I drove in a straight line at 80 miles an hour for 3 hours, I would get from the top of Texas to somewhere in the middle of it (If I'm lucky...)
Now: If I could drive in a straight line for 3 hours at 80 miles an hour (not that that's possible right now), it would get me from Bosnia to Budapest, a country with a completely different culture, language, food preferences, currency...

She may benefit from a trip here...

Then: I liked long distance running and ran a lot of miles.
Now: That hasn't changed, but now I count in kilometers and thus have a higher sense of achievement.

Then: Saying "you have too much time on your hands" would come out of my mouth A LOT.
Now: I honestly can't imagine saying that to anyone right now, and I honestly think most people need a lot more "free time" on their hands.

Then: I could barely count to 100 in Spanish, my "second language."
Now: A month ago I was able to share my testimony all in Bosnian, specifically telling how Jesus brought me from living an over-achieving, world-pursuing, "rat-race" feeling life to a life with peace, redemption, purpose, and heart-awakening adventure.

Then: This is the setting where I performed the clarinet... (see the red curls in the background?)
Now:  I now perform in an English pub and WITHOUT music. To put it all together, I'm an Irish woman playing Scottish folk music in an English pub while living Sarajevo. Whew.
(To my musician friends, I want to add that this whole playing by ear thing intimidates me a whole lot more than Shostakovich ever did...)

Then: Sleep came as I could have it and it was not a high priority.
Now: I learned very quickly how meaningless my 30 hours of weekly language study was without sleep, so getting a good night's sleep is HIGH HIGH HIGH on the priority list!

Then:  Good hiking would happen MAYBE once a year, and this after a loooong road trip to Colorado.
Now: If I want to and the weather is cooperating, I could wake up tomorrow and go hiking in the gorgeous mountains surrounding Sarajevo!
Then: My identity was wrapped up in how busy I was, how well my students were doing, what my ratings were at contest, and the things "I'd" achieved thus far in life.
Now: I'm learning more and more that my identity is found in the One who created me, and by seeking Him with all that I have, I more fully understand who He created me to be.

Then: Culture shock= scary.
Now: Reverse culture shock=scarier!!!

Then: Going to coffee meant sitting with someone for an hour, maybe 2 if we're lucky.
Now: Going for coffee could be an all-day event, and I make sure to block out at least 2 hours each time.
traditional Bosnian coffee
For all you schedule lovers...

Then: School dates would be set the April before the next school year. 

Now: A friend of mine didn't know when the last day of school was for her child until THAT DAY. They kept saying things like "maybe 2 more days... maybe next week... could be tomorrow.."

Then:  I would schedule the exact time I would eat, take a shower, and go to bed.
Now: I get a little stressed when someone tries to plan a coffee (or skype, etc.) with me a week before.

Then: Each week would look VERY similar.
Now: One of the most dreaded questions I get is "What does a normal week look like for you?" because there is no normal week....

And finally, in honor of football season:

Then: I thought Bevo was a fat cow. 

Now: I still think Bevo is a fat cow and am waiting for someone to correct me on this...
Mmmm... barbecue... 

Till next time,