Life is Beautiful even in Sarajevo
Before explaining why I think life is great here, I will give the details
about my job situation. I have been getting comments that I am being very
evasive with info on my jobs and that perhaps I am working for the Bosnian
mafia and don’t want to admit it. Actually, I know that some people think
that the way I seem to manage travelling to so many obscure and distant
places (Cuba, the Gaza Strip, Hungary, Transylvania, Bosnia and Argentina)
is because I am really a secret agent of the CIA. Don’t worry I am not CIA
material even though they have already tried to recruit me. My dad
intercepted the phone call from the CIA recruiter and made it very clear to
me that we did not come to the US for me to become a spy. Thanks Dad, it was always a dream of mine to be the female James Bond!
How is Susan going to fund the rest of her Balkan stay?
Job #1 Starts tomorrow and I am not sure what exactly I am supposed to do.
The French Cultural Center is organizing a European Literature Festival in
Sarajevo this week and have asked me to be an all around interpreter/hostess
for the invitees who do not speak Bosnian or French. (They already have
Bosnian-French interpreters.) So, I will find out tomorrow at 9 am who I am
supposed to translate for and what language they need. The festival sounds wonderful. One of the aims is to gather young authors from the Balkans and other international writers living in exile to show the similarities of experiences of intellectuals exiled because of dictatorships, war, etc in their countries. Orhan Pamuk and Jorge Semprun are featured attendees.
Job #2 Starts in the beginning of October and is exactly what I came here to
do. I will be working on a project with a non governmental organization
(NGO) called Mercy Corps-Scottish European Aid to create job opportunities
for current residents and Croat and Moslem returnees to the Rspublika Srpska
(Serb part of Bosnia). Since most of the areas are agricultural, I will
basically be doing a feasibility study to figure out what are the
possibilities for farmers to sell their surplus crops to agricultural processors or
exporters. I will be liaising with other NGOs to find out what projects they
have in the region and I will be finding out what inputs agro processors in
Bosnia need. The zone I will be working in is in central and northeast
Bosnia, full of Serb hardliners, so it is important to make economic
programs which incorporate all of the religious groups to not stir more
This is the perfect job for me because economic development has always been
an interest of mine and it is necessary in these areas. Homes for the
returnees have been constructed. However, to encourage people to move back, there
have to be job opportunities or people will just not go to their pre war
homes. Part of the Dayton Peace Accords was to facilitate ethnic minority
return and this is hard especially in hard line areas.
From the agricultural side, it is silly that so many agricultural products are imports.
Why is there Spanish milk and yogurt in Bosnia when there are plenty of
dairy farms in Bosnia with no market access? I have nothing against Spanish
cows but it is ridiculous to import products which can be made domestically,
especially in a country with such high unemployment as in Bosnia. There are
also lots of contraband products in the market which avoid Bosnian import
duties and undersell the domestic products. For example, I love this
Croatian yogurt brand called Jogabella, but I can’t always find it most
likely because the shipments aren’t regular and are dependant on whatever
the smugglers bring in on certain days. Bosnian dairy producers have to rely
on the poor transportation infrastructure to get their goods to market and
are therefore at a disadvantage to the more powerful smugglers and
When my sister was working in Ecuador, my Dad told people that she was
running around the Amazon catching butterflies, when she was actually
working on a scientific study for the World Health Organization. (She was
really annoyed when she found out what my Dad had been telling our family
members.) So, I hope that he doesn’t tell people that now his youngest
daughter is hopping around mine fields in Bosnia picking raspberries for her
job. (Anyway, the raspberry season is over and I am not going to hop around
any fields, that’s for sure!)
This study has to be done by the end of the year, so I should be here until
November or December for sure.
Job #3- I just heard from the US State Dept that they can offer me a position
as an election supervisor or monitor for the Bosnian elections in Nov. I am
not sure if I can manage to work out the timing so that I can do the Mercy
Corps project and the election thing. We will see.
LOSING MY MIND
On a visit to a collection center for Bosnian Serb refugees in Lukovica in
the Rspublika Srpska, I had a brash awakening with the power of propaganda
and brainwashing. The collection center, a former army barracks, smelled of
urine. Each family had a room to itself and the bathrooms and the kitchen
were communal. On the subject of Serb offenses during the war, these
refugees claimed that the Srebrenica massacre never happened, there were no mass rapes by Serb soldiers, that Karazdic and Mladic (war criminals) are great men and any Bosnian Serb would protect them in their home to keep them from being caught
by international authorities. I couldn’t believe what I heard from these refugees. As I heard these awful (false) statements, I was horrified, but did not show my emotions as I did not want to argue with these brainwashed people. To be honest, all I could think was
“I don’t want to know the truth”. If I were to talk to people on all sides
of this conflict to try to read between the lines and distinguish what
really occurred, I would most likely lose my mind. Seriously, Bosnia is fundamentally terrifying. People tell me opposing things, I feel like several fire hydrants are blasting water at me simultaneously. Hopefully I wont go crazy like some of the other internationals.
After World War II, there were Poles and Germans who lived next to
concentration camps and claimed that nothing out of the ordinary happened.
Last year in Argentina, I also heard educated people tell me that there were no “desaparecidos”, the 10,000 disappeared people during the
last Argentine dictatorship. I thought that such nonsense could only come
from uneducated people, prone to demagoguery. No, unfortunately, even those
who are seemingly thinking people can be brainwashed. Orwell’s 1984?
I have been really taking advantage of this cool fall weather to explore
Sarajevo. Before, when the summer heat was unbearable, I did not muster up
the will to trek up the hills to explore Sarajevo. Now, I revel in the fall
hues of the city, the red rooftops, the apple trees and the autumn leaves.
My eyes dazzle at the shear beauty of this place.
Yesterday, I ran into two Bosnian twins I always see in town and I asked them
how they keep so cheerful and smiley and they said, “Life is beautiful. The
situation here is sad, but you have to be hapy with the small things in life
like meetings with your friends, listening to music, walking on the street.
etc. Happiness is inside of you. People go looking elsewhere for joy, but it
is all inside of one’s self.” What great wisdom. I think I have learned a lot
in the past year, especially from my discontent last year in Argentina. I
went there with expectations and I came here with few if any, and that is
the key. I am not searching for happiness abroad, I am learning to foster it
Today, I was taking a walk around my neighborhood and enjoying the view.
Despite the fact that there are destroyed houses and three cemeteries on my
street with many graves from the war, seeing so many people rebuilding their
homes made me feel good. People are moving on with life. Yes, I could go
absolutely nuts living amongst destroyed buildings, shell marks, beggars,
corruption and the like, but this is such a gorgeous place and I have to
look beyond the war and appreciate today.
During these past few weeks, I have been in euphoria, spending a lot of time
by walking around with my walkman, but very very happy. I don’t mind being a
hermit and I enjoy listening to the radio while I am doing stuff in my
apartment. I don’t have a tv, so my contact with the outside world is only
through Radio France Internationale, Deutche Welle’s superb English
broadcasts and Voice of America’s broadcast of National Public Radio on
weekday nights. It’s as though I am living 50 yrs ago, depending on the
radio for information and entertainment, but that’s OK.
I have a lot on my mind and I have more to write, but I need to leave the
Mercy Corps office and walk home. The office is not centrally located, but
in a beautiful area by the zoo and psychiatric hospital. So if I do lose my
PLEASE WRITE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Postal mail is great (subliminal message)
BUY INTL STAMPS AND SEND ME LETTERS AND POSTCARDS.Please
Susan (the undercover CIA agent walking around with a walkman listening to
salsa music in Bosnia)