I cannot possibly write down all the different impressions that I have taken in since I arrived in Bosnia late last Friday night, otherwise this blog will never be published. But I will try to mention the most important. It has been quite a change – I was in Washington just last week and after almost 50 hours of travel, I now reside in Tuzla, in an apartment with two Bosnian roommates.
On Monday, my first official day at Bosfam, the day began with a round of coffee for everyone (I was soon to learn that this is a daily ritual). Having coffee together is a Bosnian tradition and serves as a modus for conversation exchange on a daily basis. Although I don’t speak Bosnian (and I wish I did, it would make it so much easier), the women told me their stories. Beba (the Director of Bosfam) translated.
I am overwhelmed with the pain and frustration still so evident in some of these women – having lost husbands, sons or relatives during the war and in the ensuing massacre of Srebernica, many live in cooperative centers waiting to return to their hometowns. Others don’t want to face the anguish of going back to the place of their own personal hell.
Many are fighting against the system. It seems that before the war, it was not customary for women to own property (although not against the law). Having lost their husbands, they must now find ways to obtain the necessary papers which will enable them to leave the cooperative centers and to reclaim their homes. There seem to be continuous struggles. I can now fully understand the need for a place like Bosfam, which not only helps these women earn a living but provides them with a place they can go to for emotional support. Many still need it and not a day goes by without a woman coming in to seek support.
So what has my work entailed and what will I be doing during my time here? My first two days were spent learning everyone’s names and getting to know how Bosfam works. Beba and I had a long meeting on Tuesday afternoon for me to determine what she wants me to do and for her to determine what I think I should do. We agreed on many things and have now laid out a workplan with specific tasks for me. In addition, we have set a tentative plan about when to go visit the Bosfam shop on the US Army base and when to go to Srebrenica. I think it is important for me to see how the entire network works before I proceed.
My biggest frustration has been the language and my lack of knowledge thereof. Although speaking both English and German has been a plus – most people tend to speak a little of one or the other – there are still many people who don’t speak either. This is the case of most of the weavers here at Bosfam. This will make my work more challenging and time consuming, as I will always need someone present to translate.
I have tried to use my hands and feet as they say, but besides the comical image this results in, I don’t usually get very far. I start my first Bosnian lessons tonight. Although I am realistic enough to realize that I won’t be able to learn the language in such a short time, I do hope that it will give me some basics which will enable me to have some small conversations here and there. And if not, at least I will be able to say a little more than just my usual “ja ne govorim Bosanski” (I don’t speak Bosnian).
That’s it for now. I expect to have a whole array of new experiences to share next week, as I become more involved in my work here and become aquainted with more people. Dovidjenja!
Posted By Pia Schneider (Bosnia & Herzegovina)
Posted Jun 3rd, 2004