This summer I will be working for the Washington, DC based Advocacy Project and I will be stationed in Tuzla, Bosnia-Herzegovina with the community-based organization BOSFAM. This is my story.
Tuzla is a multiethnic town in the eastern part of the Federation of Bosnia. That is what sets it apart from other cities in the former Yugoslavia.
Yesterday was a day of many emotions. In the morning, I embarked upon an adventure with one of the younger women of BOSFAM, Biljana. She took me up to Slana Banja (literally meaning “Salty Spa”, but it’s more of a park area) and over to see the two salt lakes that Tuzla has.
I have learned in my week here that when Biljana and I set out on a walk somewhere, I should never expect it to be short and sweet. She is very exact in making sure that I understand and see everything that Tuzla has to offer. It is also mentally draining in that the only thing she knows how to say in English is “no speak English”. On Thursday, we were supposed to go to the post office. This turned into a two hour-long trek around the city visiting two mosques and an orthodox cathedral. Moral of the story is that I should have known what was in store.
I was completely stunned with the lakes. It was a little slice of the tropics in the middle of Bosnia. Biljana finagled our way into the park for free so “the foreigner” could see how pretty Tuzla is.
Then things got physical. She had us hiking and climbing steps up to the top of a small mountain (I should remind readers that while I am from California, I do not take kindly to humidity even when it is only technically 70 degrees Fahrenheit outside). It was so worth it. We had a front row view of the nicest vista in town. We could see all of Tuzla stretched before us like a perfect postcard.
On our walk back, we stopped to eat some sour cherries and take more pictures. Biljana had worn me out. And it was only 11am. We returned to BOSFAM and had our ritual Bosnian coffee (some would attempt to call this mud, but I assure you, it is delicious). Then, one of the weavers approached me. Zifa speaks less English than Biljana but told me that there was an event in the city in an hour. It was in remembrance of Srebrenica. I had previously garnered that Zifa had lost a son and two brothers in the genocide in 1995, so I knew this was important to her. I gathered my things to get ready to leave.
When I first met Zifa, I immediately knew that I would like her. She has a very warm and inviting personality and is constantly smiling. The more I find out about her, the more I am impressed with her strength.
The event in the city happens every month on the eleventh as a constant reminder of Srebrenica and a plea that it never happens again. Mostly women attend and carry colorful cushions of the names of those killed and still left unaccounted for. They stand in silence at the main square for a few minutes, pray, and then it is over.
As we walked back to BOSFAM, I thanked Zifa for bringing me with her and sharing this experience with me. She smiled at me and said, “Vi ste moje ljepotice.” You are my beauties.
We returned and Zifa got back to work on her loom and Julia (my colleague) and I went upstairs to visit with a few of the other women. That was when I heard something that would really solidify my love for Zifa. She never goes to the square for this protest because she sees the picture of her son’s face whom she lost 16 years ago. It is too difficult. She only went because we were here. I wanted to hug her, I wanted to cry, and I wanted to just say “thank you” a million times over. I wanted to show her how much it meant to me that she showed me her past in such an intimate way. All I could do was to barely articulate, “Hvala.” Thank you.
Below is a link to my youtube video about the protest in the main square.