Oh, Tuzla, how you have already stolen my heart and made me already dread the thought of leaving you at the end of the summer. A few people told me before I arrived here that BiH has the best of Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean and so far, I agree. So maybe the slow pace of Tuzla needs to be picked up in order for things to get done, but on a sunny afternoon, an hour at an outdoor café suits me just fine. And its traditional food, reminiscent of the Eastern European cuisine I sampled as a child growing up with a Polish grandmother, is so tasty that I pity vegetarians who venture into the country.
I have already fallen in love with this city. However, many of the young people I’ve met think I’m completely insane for saying that. To many of them, their city is small, second-rate compared to Sarajevo, and a place to be no one. As Ena (my English speaking savior) tells me, she and her friends call it “mahala” or a place where everyone knows everyone and everyone gossips. Okay, so I do get that. I feel the same way about where I grew up (Delaware has the highest per capita rate of private schools in the U.S. – there’s bound to be a lot of mahala). But Tuzla is just so much more than a small town where everyone knows your name.
Because the Serbs did not take Tuzla during the war, many Bosnians from around the region took refuge in Tuzla and remain here today. While it is unfortunate that so many people are displaced from their homes, it makes Tuzla a city with a diverse ethnic population and colorful city life. Tuzla-according to some locals, but I of course cannot claim these are opinions held by all its inhabitants-is a city of tolerance and progression (at least in the younger generation). It is my understanding that unlike the tension found in Sarajevo, Tuzla remains generally free of ethnic tensions between Serbs, Bosniaks, and Croats. That’s a big deal considering BiH has a three-president rotating presidency (once I understand that, I will try to explain it in the blog).
As for Tuzla being a place to be no one, I have to completely challenge that statement. Home to dozens of NGO’s, Tuzla has produced very remarkable people who want to-and have-change the course BiH is headed from a country tangled in recovering from war, a corrupt government, and ethnic tensions to a prosperous and transparent nation. A lot of work still needs to be done to achieve that transformation, but the individuals I have met make me confident BiH will get there eventually. That, to me, is being someone and a really amazing someone at that.
All of these aspects make Tuzla the perfect setting for BOSFAM. For an organization that strives to create understanding between ethnic groups, Tuzla offers a diverse sample of the population of BiH. And while hopefully BOSFAM will receive grant money to reopen a center in Srebrenica, Tuzla offers an atmosphere of understanding and welcoming citizens.
As you can probably tell, I am already very fond of Tuzla. Is it a “sexy” destination – no, not many people even know where it is. However, as far as destinations to witness some really amazing transformations taking place in a country stuck in its own complicated past, Tuzla is at the top of my list.
Posted By Kelsey Bristow
Posted Jul 7th, 2009