Kozara National Park

Today, our CIM team decided to take advantage of the snow and low temperatures and travel a bit from Sanski Most into Kozara National Park.

Skis! Before we found out there were no ski boots...

The park, with small mountain peaks and lush evergreen forrests, was only about 40 minutes west of Sanski Most.  Here, Mevludin (one of CIM’s Co-Directors) said we could rent skis and snowboards and other equipment to take part in the fun.  Surprise of surprises though, they claimed they were out of ski boots!  At first we suspected that their response had only been to spite me (a foreigner, and an American one to add insult to injury!) but when one of the Bosnians went afterwards we found out this was the sad truth.

No worries though, because us peacebuilding hippies know how to be creative, resourceful, and fun….  We took our two sleds and a whole mess of plastic bags and used them to jet down the ski slope with alarming speed and absolutely no control over our course.  I was skeptical about the efficacy of plastic bags – my french friend Maxime handed me a yellow trash bag and all I could say was “I don’t know if this will work, Maxime.”  I got on and pushed a bit downhill and – it worked.  It worked REAL GOOD, if I can be colloquial about it.  All I can say is I started yelling “To radi!!!” (it works!) as Bosnian children trying to learn to ski lept out of my path.

It was a fun day with the group.  Kozara is stunning, especially in the snow.  After some hot drinks we walked a bit to see the monument Tito built to memorialize The Partisans who were killed in World War II.  It was a pretty imposing piece of work:

Partisan Monument

And what’s a Bosnian National Park without a tank?

Et, voila (can you see how living with a French roommate and working with three Frenchies is rubbing off on me?).  Bosnia’s natural beauty (and quirks that make you improvise and become more flexible the longer you are here) is why it was such a fabulous day.  Who could argue that this was not worth the trip?

Aerobik Klub Sanski Most

Tonight, some of the Center for Peacebuiding [local and international] volunteers and I went to an aerobics class.  All I can say was that it was amazing for so many reasons….

1. The Richard-Simmons type instructor (a man in sweatpants) leading a class full of women

2. The incredible agility and fitness of Bosnian women of all ages!  I swear, I have never seen a fat Bosnian woman.

3. The room in which it was held: the “body building center” with weight machines from 20 years ago and amazing, glossy posters of huge muscle men with manly, Bosnian names.

4. How it made me feel like I was in 1980s Yugoslavia.  Is it possible to have jugo-nostalgia without having lived there?  Because I think this class gave it to me.  We even had step blocks and did fun arm movements to music!  It made me feel like I could be an extra in this 1983 Eurovision entry from Yugoslavia:

Please take note that this song is called “Đuli” – very similar to the name Julia – which means that all the older women who’s prime of their lives included 1983 think it is adorable to sing me this tune.  Excellent.

4. Really though, the exercise was great.  It was a fun bonding experience with the other ladies volunteering and will keep me in shape despite the cold air and snow-covered ground that makes me want to curl up with some Bosnian mint tea.

I’ll definitely be there on Wednesday and I hope I can get a shirt like the one I saw tonight that proudly read “Aerobik Klub Sanski Most.”

Ovdje sam. Opet.

So I’m here, in Bosnia, again.  It was a bit of a journey to get here – New York to Amsterdam to Zagreb (via plane) and a 6 hour bus ride from Zagreb to Prijedor.  Crossing the Croatian-Bosnian border was buckets of fun because we had to get off the bus and stand in a line as border patrol checked our IDs in the frigid night air.  But I got here!  I took the one taxi at the Prijedor bus station (a city about 30 minutes from Sanski Most across the entity line in the Republika Srpska) because my friend and CIM’s director, Vahidin, was trapped in his village because of meters of snow!  That slightly scary taxi ride (think dark, snowy, winding roads in an old car without snow tires) came just in time.  Sure, there was snow on the ground in Bosnia when I arrived, but it wasn’t until the day after my arrival that Bosnia got hit hard – just look at these photos from Sarajevo!

I traveled from Amsterdam by plane to Zagreb, Croatia. Then took a bus down into Northwest Bosnia (through Banja Luka, highlighted on this map)

Driving through Bosnia’s villages, it felt like I was coming home but also starting a new journey all at the same time.  In the snow, everything seemed new and exciting and different.  I’ve never visited the country in the winter and it looked foreign and beautiful.  Maybe it was the severe jetlag from traveling through 4 countries in 24 hours, but I got that same fire in my belly that I had the first time I came to the Balkans.  It was exciting to feel both comfortable in the language and culture, but completely unsure of how my life in Bosnia will turn out in the coming weeks, months, and who knows, maybe years.

Sanski Most Kanton (municipality) is in red.

I want to write so much more about my life in Sanski Most right now.  My apartment is beautiful and very close to work.  I will be working with the most incredible peacebuiding organization I’ve ever known, with equally incredible and passionate international volunteers.  Bosnian life feels so familiar – the coffee, the removing of shoes at the door, the call to prayer five times a day.  But I know that really long blogs are hard to read so I’ll just have to stick to regular, shorter entries.  So you’ll just have to come back and see my photos of beautiful Sanski Most in the snow and all the other pieces of my life.   And I have to go study Bosnian language anyway!

Pozdrav iz Serce (Wishes from the heart)

Julia