It is 10am, the sun is starting to heat up the office and I am sitting infront of my computer trying to figure out a new way to keep my office cool. I have been at work for only an hour, I haven’t done much in terms of actual computer work, yet my day has already been full of activity. While every day is different, there is some type of daily routine which I have become accustomed to.
As usual, the day starts with a round of coffee for all those present. Even I, who never drank coffee before coming to Bosnia, now drink 2 cups of coffee every morning, dipping my cube of sugar in it like a local. Bula is here today, which means that I will have my future read. I turn my cup upside down and wait for the remaining sediment to pour onto the saucer.
She picks up my cup and immediately gives me a big “aaahhhh”. I will get a package and a phone call this week, both will bring good news. A man is thinking about me and another will apparently make me cry. She points out an elephant image, which means that I am a strong woman and a sun, which indicates happiness. One after another, I dip my ring, middle and indicator fingers in the sediment – each indicates a wish and the imprint lets her know if it will come true or not.
While I don’t believe in these fortunes, many women in Bosnia put great value on them. Many apparently pay money to have their futures read, often wanting to find out if they will see their loved ones again. A fortune teller who tells a woman that her husband or son is alive and will come back one day, will give that woman the hope that she needs to get through her daily activities.
After coffee, I first go through all my emails to see if anyone has responded to my numerous inquiries. I then prepare more mailings, work on a proposal and revise the latest draft of all the website changes. I go to a meeting with CIT, the IT company here in Tuzla that is responsible for the maintenance and revision of the website.
After another round of coffee later in the afternoon, I leave for the internet cafe to communicate with my colleagues back at the Advocacy Project in Washington. They are researching various avenues for me and it’s good to keep informed.
In the evening I am invited to a bbq with some friends here in Tuzla, both international and Bosnian. Today I am surprised, as there are three Serbs from Belgrade who have been invited. I am astonished at my own reaction to this. Immediately I distrust them and I don’t even know a thing about them!
It takes me all night to come to terms with my emotions. I realize that I have inevitably taken sides by working primarily with Bosniacs (Bosnian Muslims) during my time here. I watch my Bosniac friends interact with them as they do with me or anyone else. I question this on the way home, commenting on the fact that I was affected by the fact that they were Serbian.
“They are good people”, they tell me, “just like you and me”. Yet they do say that there are no problems with them only because these guests were Serbian, not Bosnian Serbs. That’s a different story. There is such a fine line between the different ethnicities here and it takes much more than a summer in Bosnia to understand it all.
However, as I get home and think about my day, I realize that everything I do here, whether it’s drinking coffee, having my future read, working with Bosniacs or meeting Serbians at a bbq, will bring me closer to understanding this country.
I also understand that if I can manage to create ethnic barriers in my own mind in such a short time, breaking the ethnic walls down among the locals will take years. But, as I witnessed tonight, it is happening slowly and maybe in time, even Bosniacs and Bosnian Serbs will refer to each other as “good people”. I, for one, will not make the mistake of pre-judging based on ethnicity ever again.
Posted By Pia Schneider (Bosnia & Herzegovina)
Posted Jul 20th, 2004