Kelsey Bristow

Kelsey Bristow (Bosnian Women – BOSFAM): At the time of her fellowship, Kelsey was a rising senior at Georgetown University majoring in English and Justice and Peace Studies. Kelsey’s interest volunteering began at High School when she worked with at-risk children in Appalachia. Kelsey as one of two undergraduate students in the 2009 cohort of Peace Fellows and worked closely with her advisor at Georgetown University to turn her experience in Bosnia into a thesis paper.

“You never know what your profession will be.”

10 Jun

Today is the first time I really feel like I can write a blog post worthy of Bosfam and the women who work here.  That is not because every moment since I arrived in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) has not been enriching or interesting (trust me, they have), but rather, I did not know how to express my first impressions in a way that would do justice to the amazing organization and people that make Bosfam such a wonderful and warm place.  I also cannot help but feel that I am not a worthy person to relay their story.  They have welcomed me into their town, family (Bosfam family), and lives without hesitation or questions.  I have entered their lives ignorant of so many aspects of BiH, the war that changed the country and its people forever, and the Bosnian language.  Perhaps my eagerness and desire to learn about all these aspects makes me the least bit worthy of the experience I am having this summer. I feel that explanation of my feelings towards BiH, Bosfam, and my ignorance of so many aspects of life here was necessary before I start this blog.

Sajma and Djeva weaving a Memorial Quilt

Nestled on a small road right outside the center of Tuzla, Bosfam has, only after 5 days, become my literal and figurative home away from home.  Living in an apartment above Bosfam, it’s comforting to know that from about 6:00 AM to 6:00 PM at least one of the women is downstairs weaving beautiful carpets.  In only 5 days, I have caught a glimpse of Bosfam and BiH that makes me realize they are two remarkable places.  I know that many people, especially people who live here, would disagree with that statement.  However, their perseverance to carry on with and make their lives better is admirable and awe inspiring.

Afternoon Kafa at BOSFAM

So far, my encounters have largely been with the women at Bosfam and people around my age (20-something’s and early 30’s).  While the war has had different effects on everyone, one common phrase-borrowed from Beba, the director of Bosfam-is, “You never know what your profession will be.”  Perhaps that seems like an odd phrase to sum up my first impression of Bosnians, so let me offer an explanation.

I have found that life and time in BiH is put into three categories: before the war, during the war, and after the war.  Before the war, Beba was a mathematics primary school teacher in Serbanica and later principle of the school in which she worked.  During and after the war, Beba became the director of Bosfam in Tuzla and instead of teaching children, she opened Bosfam as a place for occupational therapy for women and a place to generate income through weaving carpets.  She told me, “My mother always said, you never know what your profession will be, and she was right.”  Instead of grading math tests, she is concerned with making sure Bosfam has enough resources.  Many of the women here did not weave, or weave for income, before the war.  It is my thought that if you asked some of these weavers 25 years ago if they thought they would be weaving to generate income now, their answer would be “No.”

The people in BiH I have met in my generation and the previous one also make the statement, “You never know what your profession will be,” valid.  I suspect that when these young people were children and teenagers before the war, they aspired to have different professions than what they do now or desire to do now.  I have met many (about 3 out of every 5) young adults who would like to devote their lives to causes such as, international criminal law, prevention of genocide in countries across the globe, raising awareness of the ongoing struggles BiH faces, and other very noble and worthy causes.  Of course, no one will ever really know if the war alone had this effect on these young Bosnians, but it surely introduced them to the horrors and human rights violations war brings.

Life and time here really do seem to be measured by before, during, and after the war and to borrow another quote from Beba, “That’s life.”

Posted By Kelsey Bristow

Posted Jun 10th, 2009

1 Comment

  • Pat Bristow

    June 19, 2009


    Kelsey, What a noble cause to be involved with. This will be and experince you will not forget and will enrich your life as well as those you are helping. Take care. Keep the Blog updated. Love, Aunt Pat

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