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,