Friday, June 30, 2006

Dubrovnik, Dubrovnik again, Sarajevo, then Belgrade and back to Sarajevo!

So, it has been a little over a month since I arrived here in the Balkans. It has been an interesting stay so far. After spending the weekend with a friend in Dubrovnik, my boyfriend, Arno, came to visit and we spent a weekend in Dubrovnik with a side trip to a nearby nature reserve island called Lokrum. A very nice time!! :o) Click here to see some photos from that trip!

>Photo above is from the balcony of our room.

We journeyed back to Sarajevo by bus, a 7 hour ride (the form of transportation I use most)...the next weekend, June 23rd-25th, we went to Belgrade which is the capital in the neighboring country of Serbia. (You might recall Serbia from the news stories for once being home to the tyrant & war criminal, Milosevic, and the subsequent NATO bombings in 1999, as well as to its recent separation from Montenegro because Montenegro voted for independence from Serbia). The bus ride was a grueling 8 hours each way with little to no air coming from the air vents--the ride back was ten times worse and like a sauna, literally. Anyhow, after some fun stops by the border police going to and from Belgrade, we did enjoy ourselves in the city.

>Photo above is from the walls surrounding Dubrovnik

pon entering the outskirts of Belgrade, you notice there is a Roma (aka gypsy) community living among trash heaps--there is a large Roma population in the Balkan region...Well, despite that, the city is a very modern European city which really surprised us. It felt more modern and city-like than Berlin. The food, shopping, and cafes are great there, not to mention still cheap...they even have a McDonalds which doesn't exist in the entire country of Bosnia. There are only about two buildings which NATO bombed which have not yet been rebuilt...the city has been rebuilt throughout history like 60 times or something, so they are used to it and quite good at it. Damage from the war is otherwise not visible. This city has great potential and I think it will again become one of the top European tourist destinations in the next ten years.

Click here for a lot of Dubrovnik photos from my first visit!

>Photo above is an example of mountainous Bosnia

I have been living in Sarajevo now and going to my internship for a month now. The city is nice, as I have already mentioned before. The nightlife (and daylife for that matter) is a cafe culture, going to the cafes in the morning, afternoon, and evening for coffee! Nobody eats at these places because they can't really afford to and you will literally find groups of people sitting there throughout the day just drinking coffee and sometimes juice. The nightlife is rather mild, not much dancing. Since the World Cup, large tv screens have been placed at all the cafes outside, which is where I've been watching several of the games. It's nice to sit there in the cool shade, sip on a beer, watch the games and the people go by. Walking around is a major affair in this city, and in other Balkan cities too. People dress to the nines, especially the women. Low cut, tight shirts and pants, and high heels, and usually lots of makeup. On average the women are pretty, but sometimes they overdo it.

>Photo left is overlooking city of Sarajevo

Work has been good. I have done a few projects for NDI normally consisting of doing some research on a problem the Bosnian government is encountering, write a report explaining the research and providing recommendations for legislation and policies to implement. I am also doing an independent research project for the Office of the High Representative, which is the organization managing the country. It's on local self governance...I know, so interesting for you, isn't it?

Well, Arno has come and we will hopefully see each other again in a month--he ended his stay here in style singing Born to be W
ild in karaoke at one of the EUFOR military base bars; the bar is an interesting place to say the least. ;) Also, one of my classmates is arriving tonight and she is interning somewhere else, so we get to hang out now. Next weekend, I am driving with Parish and his girlfriend to another city in Serbia, Novi Sad. There is a huge music festival going on and we'll be dancing in the hot sun all weekend.

> Photos: Me and Arno en route to Belgrade and one of the NATO bombed buildings, near some government buildings.

For more Belgrade photos (and more of Arno and I, of course) click here!

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Photos are coming...

Soon I will have photos from Dubrovnik (Croatia), Sarajevo (Bosnia-Herzegovina where I am), and Belgrade (Serbia) posted. Stay tuned, they are great!!! :o)

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Arrival in the Balkans, and Sarajevo...

Well, this is my first real time with access to the internet since arriving in the Balkans on 26 May. I flew into the city of Dubrovnik in Croatia (pictured left) which borders Bosnia-Herzegovina and is located on the beautiful Adriatic Sea. My friend, Matthew Parish (a friend I met in DC, as many of you know), and I had a beautiful room atop a mountain overlooking the old town of Dubrovnik and the sea. Breathtaking view, to say the least. I have taken tons of photos but because I lost my camera usb cord and haven't replaced it yet, I cannot upload any here....anyhow, we spent most of our time walking around the walled city, swimming in the clear water, having some beer, and relaxing. We drove back to Bosnia on Sunday the 28th and, let me tell you, it was one hell of a scary drive along the small roads curving in and out of the mountains--not to mention, the road signs were few and far between and when they did appear, were in cyrillic. I knew this region was mountainous, but nothing like this! It was also strange to see all of the destruction from the shelling and fighting from the war, which is visble everywhere.

Sarajevo has a really neat old town, which I live very near to. It's clearly a mixture of Eastern and Western worlds with churches, mosques, and synagogues all around. The setup of the market area is several hundreds of years old, not changing much since. The buildings in the city are generally drab and evidence of war is overwhelmingly present here. I found myself quite distracted by it when I first arrived trying to imagine what it must have been like to be here during that can see the effects of the experience on the faces of the older people here and the younger people seem to be resilient even though they too were subject to the conflict--I am sure they are more hopeful for a stable political future, but they also don't hold onto the prejudices to the extent of those in the older generations. Some of the nationalist political parties encouraging prejudices and seperatism does not help either.

If you didn't know, the majority of the population here in Sarajevo is Muslim but having said that erase the stereotypes from your mind because that isn't the case here. Muslims, Christians, and the Orthodox people here in Sarajevo are generally not practicing. Only a small minority of the Muslim women wear head scarves and most everyone drinks alcohol, which if you were a strict practicing Muslim, would not do. Intermixing, at least here in the city, is quite normal. As in the rural parts of the U.S. where you tend to find many more of the hardcore religious people who do not have as much exposure, if any, to other cultures as you get in say NYC or DC, the same holds true for the rural people here--they are generally more close-minded and prejudiced. It is unfortunate, though, that these groups acted upon their prejudices more so here which led to the war (upon strong encouragement from people like Milosevic). Furthermore, without proper functioning institutions, one of the main things I am working on improving during my internship, corruption is very present. You do everything through family and friend connections because you will either have to wait forever to get anything done through official channels or have to pay some kind of bribe. The 'rule of law' is something which most of the internationals here are working on developing...

Well, that was just a blurb of what's been going on in general. Arno is visiting me in two weeks so I will get to spend some time with him in Dubrovnik, hopefully taking a boat to one of the many nearby islands, before returning together to Sarajevo. Looking forward to it!! Take care everyone.

For some more info and photos of Sarajevo check out: