Shweta Dewan

Shweta Dewan (Bosnian Family – BOSFAM): Shweta was born and brought up in Zambia. This has greatly influenced her outlook on development and her understanding of society. After completing her BA in government from the University of Texas at Austin, Shweta returned home to Zambia to work with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. She went on to work with the USAID-funded American Institutes for Research, where she gained practical experience implementing microfinance projects for widows and young school girls. She later worked at United Nations Children’s Fund in Zambia. At the time of her fellowship she was a graduate student at Columbia University pursuing a dual-degree in international affairs and public health. After her fellowship, Shweta wrote: "I feel that so many people still do not know about the magnitude of what happened in Bosnia and the effects that still make the lives of so many in Bosnia so difficult. There are still many eyes to be opened – something the Advocacy Project has learnt how to do well, and so yes, I do feel that there is a message that needs to be made heard, and supported, with AP’s help."

Sarajevo and beyond!

15 Jun

Sladoled, hvala and dobro…these were my first few words in Bosanske! I should survive considering they mean ice-cream, thank you and good. They should change the name of Bosnia and Herzegovina to ‘Sladoledland’ – there’s ice-cream after every 20 steps here…which is fantastic! I was able to go with another one of AP’s peace fellows, Antigona, to Sarajevo last weekend. There were enough signs of the war and of much construction to make up for the lost infrastructure. I have never seen so many buildings riddled with bullets – yet, people continue their usual business in those very buildings. Some tried to cover up the holes making the buildings look like they were going through puberty. In Tuzla on the other hand, much of the building collapses are because salt has been extracted from the ground and has left spaces in the ground which tend to weaken the foundations of buildings.

In Sarajevo, several buildings looked like this

In Tuzla, buildings were as damaged but because of different reasons

It’s interesting how societies try to overcome their past – “that’s life” as Beba, the Bosfam founder says often. Here, people are jolly, hospitable, giving and always make time for coffee (“kafa”) breaks. Apparently, you learn to move on and because you’ve seen so much during the war, it becomes normal…even the remnants of buildings and the reminders of lost relatives. In my time of being in Bosnia, I have met people who ran after being buried under bricks when a missile was shot at a building they were hiding behind, and others whose children survived solely because they were shot and thought to be dead. More than 10 years after the war, many more still don’t know where their family members are. Some, possibly considered fortunate, have received closure by being able to give their loved ones a respectable burial in the many graveyards that pepper the landscape here.

The number of cafes in Bosnia speaks for the fact that there’s always time for kafa here

Us at the Park Prinčeva Restoran with a fantastic view of Sarajevo…and coke which tastes exactly like Zambian coke! Woot woot!

A part of the 1984 winter Olympics bobsled track covered with skilled graffiti….ya man! (Cool Runnings reference)

For 1,400 days, bullets pierced walls and lives as Serbian forces surrounded Sarajevo and took aim. Being in Sarajevo and being able to understand the geography made the vulnerability of the city much easier to understand. The forces left with the blood of more than 11,000 people on their hands. The UN kept watching and is now despised by many for not providing any sort of protection. The airport was under UN control and this area was the only path to free Bosnian territory. VIPs were given importance and allowed to use this path, but for the thousands of people living in Sarajevo, there was no such luck. Because there was no other way that ammunition, food or the wounded could be transported, a tunnel (pronounced toon-el in Bosnian), 800 meters long, was created under the Sarajevo runway to connect the city to free Bosnian territory. It began from the garage of a house which still stands. Today, they allow tourists to walk through a small section of the tunnel, starting from a different building, which I’m certain is an entirely different experience than what thousands of people went through 15 years ago. As one of the guides told us, the tunnel took 2 years to dig. It was started at the same time on both sides of the airport and they met in the middle. Apparently, 400,000 people went through it at some point of the 3.5 years. Some said that the Serbs knew about this but did not do anything to stop the people passing, but I personally find this difficult to believe.

Sarajevo under siege

An unexploded hand grenade in the tunnel’s tourist center

Remnants of UNHCR plastic sheeting are common in Sarajevo (although, this is in the tunnel museum and solely for tourist purposes)

The house where the tunnel was actually created from

Sarajevo airport – where the UN troops once were – to the right, the tunnel resurfaced near an apartment building

I am already into my second week here…and time is flying. The stories I hear of the war are so intriguing and the similarities between Bosnian, Indian and African cultures are fascinating. Not only do elders force you to eat more and more as soon as a morsel of food is taken away from your plate, but families ensure that their hosts eat first and then they help themselves, and all three societies (at least once) insist that they pay the bill if you eat out. These similarities, so far all to do with food and hospitality, seemed more evident since we were discussing these mannerisms with a German lady who currently lives in France…where things are fairly different.

Chess in Sarajevo

Baščaršija in Sarajevo – pronounced Baash-char-shee-ya

Much more to come…hope you keep reading and enjoying the pictures…

Posted By Shweta Dewan

Posted Jun 15th, 2008


  • Owen

    June 17, 2008


    Fascinating, Shtweta! You’re a good guide. I’d be interested to hear if you’ve picked up any awareness of / reactions to the Nuhanovic/Mustafic and Mothers of Srebrenica civil court actions in The Hague this week against the Dutch state and the United Nations.

  • Shweta

    June 24, 2008


    Hi Owen – thanks for your comment – there actually hasn’t been too much of a reaction specifically in Bosfam. Right now, since it is getting closer to the anniversary of the massacre, emotions are surfacing and people seem to be getting restless. Many women here tend to be in denial that their family members have died and still have hope that they are alive somewhere if they have not been identified in mass graves…it is a really sensitive environment, and will get more so as we inch closer to July 11th.

  • Owen

    July 2, 2008


    The judgment in the Mothers’ case is going to be given on July 10th, which is a very unfortunate date whichever way the outcome goes, and of course it’s likely to be impossible for anyone involved in the case to attend the judgment and be present at Potocari on the 11th. (The decision in the other two cases won’t be given until September 10.)

  • Stefan

    July 2, 2008


    “Serbian forces”, or Bosnian Serbian Orthodox Christians. There is a whole world of difference in a area trying to heal. Inaccuracies or loaded statements surely are no help with that process.

  • Shweta

    August 7, 2008


    Hi Stefan,

    Thanks for visiting my blog. I hope you understand that I was not trying to offend anyone with it. By using the term Serb forces, I am simply stating just that – regardless of what religion they were, they were Serbian and they were part of the armed forces who partook in the massacre. And as unfortunate as it is, everyone I have spoken to refers to them in the same way I have. I apologize if it caused you any grief, but I am simply saying it the way I have heard it being said here by everyone, regardless of the nationality or ethnicity of the person saying it…

    Hope that clears the air. Thanks again.

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