Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas

    I would like to take this post to say, Merry Christmas to everyone! I hope your holiday has been bright and special, full of family and friends, no matter where on this planet you are.

    My Christmas has been successful and beautiful. Simple, maybe, but I rather enjoyed it. There was the Christmas concert at church which was lovely, the teen group Christmas party where we played some great games and met lots of new people (alongside classic American apple cider and brownies. Perfection), then there was the American Councils Christmas party where we ended up laughing at Youtube videos (aka Christmas Sweats). 
Just ignore the fact that you cannot see my eyes in this picture...
    The funny thing with Christmas this year was that we had to go to school on Christmas Eve. Not your typical holiday festivities. But once that class was over, I headed home to get ready for Christmas Eve! Back home, Christmas Eve was always classiness to the max, so I got all dressed up, got my cards and hostess gift together, grabbed a taxi and headed off to Anna's house.
    Anna's house was lovely and every feeling you should have at Christmas Eve was present. The Christmas tree was in the corner, full of lights and ornaments, presents stacked underneath, the table set with Christmas napkins, and the smell of cooking food wafting from kitchen. Everything felt like Christmas Eve and I was finally getting that giddy Christmas feeling. When all the guests arrived, we talked, we played cards, we exchanged our Christmas traditions, we ate some absolutely delicious food (fish, if anyone was wondering. BUT IT WAS SO GOOD.) and exchanged our cards and gifts. Anna got me these absolutely lovely earrings and Savannah made a mixed tape of Christmas songs (which I love! I was seriously lacking in Christmas songs this season) and some cute trinkets from Arizona. After a few games of Egyptian Rat Screw, Hi Jack, and Cheat, we packed up and headed out to the church for midnight mass.

    The mass was lovely, and although I couldn't understand much except for the occasional "Jesus" or "Bethlehem" or "Christmas", it was still very pretty with a nice choir up above. And at 1:30 in the morning, we took our taxis home and fell into a really-excited-night-before-Christmas sleep. AKA Not actually sleeping.

    Early this morning, I woke up and Skyped my family back home where together we all opened our Christmas presents. Keeping Christmas tradition more or less, with a few tweaks. My mom played "It's the Most Wonderful Time" as she carried me down the stairs, just like it always used to be and then "sat  me down" where I could see the entire living room. Then we began the rotation of everyone opening a gift at a time and it felt like I had never really left. It was just like every other Christmas I had ever known, and it was fantastic.
    Then, the last present for me came along, the only wrapped present in my stocking (Thank you Mom for sending me my stocking!) and I unwrapped it eagerly. Inside? A gorgeous, new, purple camera. Fact of the day: my favorite color is purple. My mom then explained how she had e-mailed all of SHAKE, telling them to convince me to not buy a new camera until after Christmas, so I could use my stipend on it. It's absolutely perfect and I am enjoying it very, very much.

    The rest of Christmas was pretty much watching Christmas movies, drinking peppermint hot chocolate, and padding around the house with my new fuzzy slippers. Lots of Merry Christmas greetings over Twitter and Facebook and two over Skype, but overall, Christmas was a success. From my little Christmas tree, to the Santa hanging on my wall, to my host parents greeting me with a really happy "Sretan Božić!" Even the small, entirely Bosnian conversation I had today was a complete success, so Bosnian Christmas was wonderful.

    Anyway, I actually have school tomorrow, so I had better be off.

    Until the next holiday, aka NEW YEARS,

P.S. Some parting thoughts:

Friday, December 21, 2012

Not the End of the World?

     Pretty much this is just to say... it's 11:11pm (MAKE A WISH) on Friday, December 21, 2012 and we are all not dead. No giant apocalypse, no rapture, we're all still here.

    Well that was disappointing. Gettin' us all worked up over nothin' ya crazy Mayans.

     Anyway, guess it's time for bed. I got Christmas stuff to prepare for now that we're all going to have our big Christmas celebration.

     Until perhaps the real end of the world,

P.S. So tempted to post this... I think I will...

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Christmas Spirit

    When I first decided to spend an entire year abroad, I had to realize that included Christmas. Christmas away from my friends and family and in a country where it's not as widely spread. It's not as commercialized, it's not so easy to find every store decked out with greenery, holly, Santa Clause, and blasting Christmas music from its radio.
    Thankfully, here in Bosnia, Christmas is a little more common than most significantly Muslim countries. Some stores have Christmas trees (however here they are called New Years trees) and Santa Clauses in their windows, one store even had Michael Bublé's Christmas CD playing. Let's just say I wandered in that store for an hour just listening to it.

     Now, my host family is Muslim. Therefore, every day I wake up to a house stripped of lights, decorations, Christmas music, and the lot. No "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" on replay downstairs, no garland stringing the railing (if we had a railing), and most definitely, no giant Christmas tree in the corner of our living room. The snow here has completely taken over Sarajevo and the view from my house is simply a blanket of white. If you can even see the city, because sometimes all the smoke from wood stoves fill the valley and all I see is grey and white.

    Therefore, this Christmas season, I have made it my mission to spread a little Christmas spirit. I started off with blasting Christmas carols from my laptop. Yes, Irfan thinks I'm strange, but it had to happen. I played my music, made my Christmas cards, and drank my hot chocolate. After phase one was complete, next step was the hardest thing to manage at first. The search for a Christmas tree.
     I didn't want a big tree. Just a little one to go on my desk that Medina could place my Christmas presents under that my mom wrapped and packed for me to bring. My mom suggested chopping one down from my backyard, my coordinators suggested buying a branch from a supermarket, other suggested a wreath instead. But I was determined on my little Christmas tree. It has been a tradition for me, for the past five years, to bring my little, pink, artificial tree with it's pink lights and gold ornaments, into my room. That's the way it's been and I wanted to keep that up. Even if it wasn't a little pink Christmas tree. So I embarked on my mission, determined to find that little tree.
     Yesterday, however, Medina took me to town to buy me a new pair of proper winter boots because Nizama didn't believe the boots that I had brought were sufficient for Bosnian winters. And perhaps she was totally right. On our way down, I asked Medina where I could buy my little tree. She remembers that I've now mentioned several times that Christmas is my favorite holiday and I wanted a tree. A few minutes after I ask her, we trek over to the other side of the street to a small store where I see the most beautiful sight. LITTLE CHRISTMAS TREES. I hope you can understand my glee as I purchased my little tree (intentional rhyme. I'm feeling like Dr. Seuss here) and ornaments and then had to carry it around until I headed back home. However, arriving to History class with a Christmas tree was pretty fun as SHAKE grew jealous of how awesome it was.

My beautiful Christmas tree!
    Also, when I returned home, my new winter boots were now purchased and sitting in my room. Today was the test run and they were fabulous. Thank you Esad and Nizama for my new boots! They are perfect!

    And now we go to today's news. I'll pass over school because there lies no Christmas spirit. Just a bunch of tests and essays, wrapping up the semester. However, when the final school bell rang, I headed over to the church I've been attending where they were holding their Christmas concert. The church has been fabulous and I've loved attending. The people are so nice and already I feel like I belong there. I love that sense of comfortability. I met up with Jovana, Selma, and Nadja, three girls from youth group who I have become friends with, as we waited for it to start. I then took a seat beside Jovana (who is also the pastor's daughter. I told her she was the Bosnian version of me.) as the first people headed up the stage to start.
    There were four acts altogether. A duet with a clarinet and a violin, a mandolin group (I think that's what that instrument was...), the American group, and the Bosnian group. They played traditional songs like Silent Night (Tiha Noć) and Auld Lang Syne (Svjetla u noći), but there were also traditional Bosnian songs (ones I'm not entirely sure what they were about...). By the end of the evening, it was just a lot of fun and a lot of Christmas. Something I definitely enjoy. The girls were so fun to hang out with and I am proud to say I'm making new friends.
     And I'm sorry for no pictures. I lost my camera, remember? However, Jovana took plenty, so when she puts them on Facebook, I will borrow a few :)

    When the Christmas concert was over and I returned home, I expected a quick "Hello, I'm alive, I have volunteering in the morning." type exchange with the host family before I headed off to bed (clearly that didn't happen because it's passed midnight and I'm still writing this never-ending post.), but instead I was ushered into the living room where Nizama then pulled out a little heap out of nowhere. First thing she pulls out was a tiny little Santa Clause on a swing. I started giggling and smiling at the present and was especially happy how Nizama noticed that I was going a little Christmas-happy. She then pulls out a little heart basket and tells me I can put letters from my friends (*cough* IF I HAD ANY *cough*) in there. When I think that's the last of the gifts, Nizama, with a huge smile crossing her face, opens a shopping bag and pulls out this gorgeous dark purple shawl, kind of to be used as a house coat or an extra layer. You can't really see the shawl in the picture, but you can see my scarf which Nizama bought for me in Travnik.
 Esad then pipes in that while they were down in Baščaršija, Nizama kept seeing stuff and would say, "Katie would like this. Let's get this for Katie." Can I just say this right here and now that I absolutely adore my host parents? They are so awesome. I just love them so much and feel so blessed to call them my host parents.

    Anyway, within the next two weeks, I will be attending our church's youth Christmas party with tree decorating and music and all sorts of fun, Christmas-y stuff that I am used to, as well as Christmas eve at Anna's house where we will be attending midnight mass. And then, Christmas morning, I Skype the parents for unwrapping gifts all together, just like it used to be. I just really love Christmas and I am showing people how a typical American (I'm not exactly "typical" though, am I?) spends their holiday.

    Until more Christmas adventures,

Monday, December 3, 2012

Winter Has Fallen

    Alright, so I guess it's time I announce the bad news.

    I officially lost my camera. It fell out of my bag somewhere between the tram, the French School for the Diplomatic Winter Bazaar, and going to school. That's a lot of ground to cover and not necessarily worth it. That camera was very old, so I suppose that's some sort of consolation. The downside is that I have to purchase my new camera and camera's are quite expensive here. Here goes the next month and half's stipend...

    In other news, on Saturday we volunteered for the Diplomatic Winter Bazaar (Dimplomatski Zimski Bazar) and that was great, but crowded, afternoon full of eating other nations foods (Switzerland, your gingerbread house looked INCREDIBLE) and viewing handmade trinkets and gifts. It was nice to see Christmas trees sprawled all around the building and it made me very, very excited. I'm even more excited that it snowed last night and Sarajevo is now a winter wonderland. It made me laugh though when I walked downstairs for breakfast and Nizama was staring outside intently.
     "Dobro jutro." I said, sitting down with my cereal.
     "Vidi, Katie. Snijeg." ("Look Katie. Snow.") She pointed outside, to the world covered in white.
     "Da! Znam!" ("Yes! I know!") I spoke, cheerily. I love snow. This day was awesome!
     "Ja ne volim snijeg." Nizama made a pouty face as she told me how she dislikes it. Seems like it's only Anna and I who appreciate snow... oh well.
    To top off another day of snow, Emma, Savannah, Anna, and I had a mini snowball fight in the street. It's sticky snow! You know what that means? Best. Snowballs. Ever.

     As for now, Christmas cards are sent and I'm going to be buying a mini Christmas tree or wreath soon and some Christmas lights to make my room a little more spirited. Irfan doesn't understand my love of Christmas, so I'm blasting some Christmas music right now to get him to understand. We'll see how that goes...

    Here are some pictures that I stole from my friend for what Sarajevo looks like right now. Winter in Bosnia!

    Also, today on the bus, an older lady sat beside me and had to squeeze some of her shopping bags between the two of us and she made sure that I was still comfortable and asked when my stop was. At first, unfortunately, I didn't understand her, but asked her to repeat. However, after still not understanding I had to regretfully bring out the horrible, "I'm sorry, I don't understand. I'm American" line (Izvinite, ne razumijem. Ja sam amerikanka if anyone was wondering). Instead of giving me the pitiful look and turning away, she simply spoke slower and clearer and used a few more actions to help me understand. So, lady on the bus, thank you for that. You didn't make me feel as incompetent as I think I am sometimes.

    I've also been regularly attending church (be proud, parents. Somehow I'm able to drag myself out of bed to go there on my own). Church has been fantastic for me because there's a little American corner with a whole other group of Americans who either moved there or this is their mission field. While most people would think that this would prevent me from learning Bosnian, I'm happy to say that you are wrong. The Americans there are some of the most helpful people and instead of coming up to me in English, they come up to me with some basic Bosnian and each week it's increased a little more. Plus, my friend and I had a small conversation entirely in Bosnian of why I love snow. Small successes each week!

    Anyway, I better go start my French homework... or my History paper... or my Bio write up... or something productive in general. Gotta love homework. *coughNOTcough*

    Until more Christmas things,

Monday, November 26, 2012

Travels to Travnik

    I love days where they originally plan to be quite simple and perhaps even a little mundane and then all of a sudden, your host family announces that you're going to Travnik! So last Sunday morning, bright and early (bright and early? Ha.) my host parents, Irfan, Medina, and I pile into the car and drive off. Now, while it was early, that only added to the prettiness of the drive.

    We arrived at Travnik a few hours (and snacks) later and headed instantly to a restaurant for ćevapi. While we ordered, Medina told me to order a full ten piece ćevapi after convincing me they were very small in Travnik. A while later, our food appears and all I see is this heap of ćevapi and bread and I look at Medina and say, "This isn't small!" She tries again to convince me that it, indeed, is smaller than in Sarajevo, but I couldn't believe her. Instead I just dive in, making it my goal to eat ten. About an hour later, I finished my last ćevapi, stomach bursting, when Nizama loads three more onto my plate. All I could do was stare at it and not touch it in hopes somebody else would eat it.
    Irfan, Medina, and I then took off to climb the mountain to the white fort. I was expecting a bit more of an arduous climb after what Irfan said. But it wasn't too bad at all. Right about the same amount of climbing I have to do to get home everyday after school. We eventually reached the fort after much complaining on Irfan's part, and the view was gorgeous. 

     We then toured around the fort for awhile, taking lots of random pictures and embracing the crisp, fall day. Nizama and Esad eventually came up to meet us where this lovely shot was taken:

Pretty much my host family in a nutshell.
    We walked around a little more, while Esad explained to me (with Irfan nearby for translation) what the fort was used for and how there are Serbian, Croatian, and Bosnian flags strung across the city because everybody wants to claim it. Even today there are still grudges about who owns what.

    After descending the mountain, we got in the car and headed to a very large shopping center where everything was so much cheaper than in Sarajevo! It was like bliss! Nizama bought me an absolutely gorgeous scarf and we ventured down to where an entire Christmas set up was. My heart soared with happiness when I saw the red, green, and glitter and the tall, artificial Christmas trees and Irfan just made fun of me. It's alright though. I'm going to introduce a classic Christmas to him when I start blasting Christmas carols from my room and buy a mini Christmas tree and lights. I am excited :)

    Shopping was finished and so was coffee (always include coffee) and we took off back home and in all, it was just a really nice day to get away. And to top it all off, my host mom also bought my chocolate. *Shrug* What can I say? She's awesome.

    Anyway, I have school tomorrow so I should wrap this up.

    Until Christmas carols dominate my iPod,

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Day of Giving Thanks

    Today is Thanksgiving in the United States and I think this day I am more thankful than I ever have been before. So many people have brought me where I am today, so many things have happened that have made me a better person. I understand I won't be at home with my family, indulging in a giant turkey, mashed potatoes, and some of the best food ever. Instead, I'm making my host family a simple pumpkin pie for a taste of home and tradition.

   But today is the day of thanks and I've realized there are so many things I am thankful for.
In no particular order, I am thankful for

  1. my natural family, who have encouraged me and helped me and prayed for me the entire journey to get here in Bosnia.
  2. my host family, who have accepted me as their own daughter or sister and have put up with my broken Bosnian and have made me laugh at so many different things.
  3. my coordinators, who have set everything up for me to be here. Whether they are in the States or Bosnia, they are the reason this has been such a smooth transition.
  4. the fact that I haven't gained any weight when all I've been eating is bread, Nutella, and meat.
  5. this gorgeous country that I have the privilege of living in.
  6. my friends here who have become my personal translator.
  7. my friends not here (I can't say just "back home" because I kind of have friends all over the world... and you know, I'm thankful for that too!) because they have supported me and loved me and I couldn't love them more.
  8. YES Abroad and Rotary Youth Exchange for providing me with two amazing exchanges. Neither one I would change for the world. Psh, I'm seeing the world, why on earth would I trade my exchange for it?
  9. technology and it's ability to let me keep in contact with friends and family all over the world. I mean, I just made pumpkin pie while talking to my mom in America. I love technology (but not as much as you and me, but still I love technology, always and forever :P)
  10. not having to watch a million games of American football.
  11. anyone and everyone who has been part of my life. Without you, I would not be where I am today.
     Thank you everyone for being a part of this journey and I'm sure my list could go on. I am now going to go indulge in the pumpkin pie I just made with my host mom which pretty much consisted of her showing me how it's done. I can't cook. Something you should know about me. So thank you Nizama for teaching me the amazing ways of using the kitchen!

     Anyway, thank you again and I wish everyone reading this a very happy American Thanksgiving!

    Until we meet again,
My awesome host parents and sister :) Medina... what are you doing?

Monday, November 19, 2012

From My Hometown

    There's something about talking about your hometown that just makes you want to talk forever. Something about sharing where you are from and how much you really do love it there is special and you want other people to realize that your hometown is an amazing place to visit, even though not many people know about it. On Wednesday, SHAKE headed back to the Madresa to tell them about where we were from.

    It was nice to go back, first of all. I was happy that I remembered most of the people and they remembered us. And while we thought we'd be presenting in a classroom like last time, we were instead shuffled into a very large, very intimidating lecture hall. All of the girls laughed a little nervously and shrugged. Well. This is new. 
    Emma was the first to go, talking about Down South. She did the entire presentation with a soft, sweet Southern accent and I'm pretty sure she had all the boys swooning. Especially when she was saying the names of states included in the south.
    Next was me with the Great Northwest, while keeping the focus on Oregon... and then shifted Oregon to mainly Portland. I spoke about Portland's amazing food, the interesting *coughweirdcough* places there, and the general beauty of the Northwest. It's funny though, how talking about a place that you've lived your teenage years in can make you want to tell people everything about it and then have no idea where to start. All I continued to do was emphasize that the Northwest is gorgeous and awesome and people should definitely come visit.

    Savannah then stepped up to talk about the Southwest, because she's from Arizona. She had some gorgeous pictures of sunsets and rolling desert and a cactus in her front yard. She educated us about Native Americans and the Four Corners (something new on my bucket list) and it made me want to go there.
   Anna then followed with the Midwest, as she's from Wisconsin. It made me a little happy as she talked about winter activities because it reminded me of Canada. She showed us a vast amount of farmland and cows and then handed out American candy to all the Madresa students.
   Last was Helena with the East, because she's originally from New York. Anyone could tell that Helena has the biggest soft spot for New York and the east in general and she loves it for every reason. The history, the beauty, the people... and I guess that's what true love is :).

   All-in-all, Madresa evening two was a success and it was fun talking to everyone again. If you would like more information on the Madresa and what we were doing, go here for more information.

   Anyway, I have school tomorrow.

   Until more adventures,

Monday, November 5, 2012

Kitties in a Restaurant

    A nice aspect of the YES Abroad exchange are the excursions. We travel within the country to get a better feel for what it looks like, the history, and the differences and similarities of people within a couple miles of each other. Yesterday, we went to Mostar!

    Saturday night, Helena stayed over so it would be easier to arrive all together. Five hours of sleep later (it was Irfan's 21st birthday so he was celebrating! HAPPY BIRTHDAY HOST BRO!), we were up nice and early (5:30am. Why.) and drove off to the train station. Now, the first time I was on a train was in France, but it wasn't for very long. This train to Mostar was two hours and I was excited. It was an old train, but cute and, before we knew it, we were on our way to Mostar!
    After an absolutely gorgeous ride through Bosnia-Herzegovinian countryside we arrived in Mostar! We met up with Luljeta and another American named Sarah for coffee before we began touring the city.

   First stop was a mosque. Because we wanted to go in, we all decided on head coverings and wrapped up. After a few pictures we decided to brave the minaret and climb to the very top. I forgot that in order to get there, you need to climb stairs.

    For those of you who don't really know me yet, I hate stairs. But if I want to see something and I have to climb those stairs in order to accomplish this, I will climb. We crawled inside the narrow, winding staircase and, step by step, we got closer to the top. With Jell-o legs and aching feet, I stepped on the last step and into the sunlight to get a beautiful view of Mostar. The sun hit the surrounding mountains at just the right spot and illuminated the changing leaves. Once we were done looking around and taking pictures, we dismounted which resulted in another completely different exercise and hoping that you wouldn't slip on the way down. Which the way down was much scarier than the way up. Eventually, I touched solid, safe ground and slid against the wall repeatedly declaring how out of shape I was. You'd think after three months of walking to school and all over Sarajevo, I'd be used to this. Nope.

    We then headed to Mostar's Baščaršija, but turned down a road to where a traditional Turkish home was. We bought some postcards and admired the courtyard and then headed upstairs for more photos. The room was decorated in all the tapestries and there was a loom in the corner and the windows overlooked the river below and it was just really beautiful.
    But then in the next room, there lay a chest. It used to be used for the bride's dowry or for traveling and whatnot. Just a large, wooden chest. Luljeta went over and opens it and says, "So. Who wants to play dress up?" I see her pull out these puffy traditional Bosnian woman pants and I light up and my hand shoots in the air like a schoolgirl, "Me!" She hands me the puffy pants and matching blouse, I pull on the embroidered vest and Luljeta tied the handkerchief around my head and the end result:

KATIE THE BOSNIAN GRANDMA. I don't know how I managed to make such convincing age lines in my face in this picture, but I didn't even recognize myself the first time I saw this photo. I then took off the handkerchief and put on the fez because I currently have an addiction with fezzes. I blame 'Doctor Who'. Every time I see one it's always, "It's a fez! I wear fezzes now. Fezzes are cool." and people who aren't Doctor Who fans just give me weird looks. *sigh* It'll come along.

    We then left the Turkish home and headed down to Baščaršija which led us to Stari Most! The bridge was beautiful and big and perfect. Mainly considering it had to be rebuilt after it was blown up in '93. Luljeta told us that people would jump of the bridge for money and they would taunt people by pretending they were going to jump to earn more money. The jump is almost thirty meters! That's roughly fifty-five feet!
   Wanting a better view of the bridge we decided that it would be a good idea to climb another minaret in another mosque. Let's just say that my calves hate me today. SO we mounted the minaret and Emma filmed Savannah's back with me complaining the entire time. It was Paris all over again. However, reaching the top was lovely. Do you see how blue that water is and how gorgeous that looks? That's not even with a classy camera and sick editing. That's just beautiful nature doing it's work!
    We then explored Baščaršija some more where I found some lovely handmade bracelets made out of copper. Many of the gifts I could have bought, were also in Sarajevo, so I decided to save my money at that moment (because I've been bad going shopping all the time and not budgeting very well... whoops).

    Then it was time for dinner! We stopped at an outdoor restaurant where stray cats were roaming around and it was just overall a very pretty place. Throughout the dinner, the cats circled around our ankles and, being a bit of a cat lover (I love dogs too. I have no hate to either animal) I dropped morsels of food. One kitty in particular stayed near me the entire time and ended up curling up in a little ball on my backpack, resting on my foot. It was the cutest little thing I have ever seen! It was so soft and cute and I started baby-talking it. That was followed by some ridiculing by the girls. *Shrug* Well. What can you do? When we had to leave, I picked the kitty up and held it as it purred and then fell into a sleep. I did not want to leave that kitty, but I didn't know how my host family would feel if I brought back a kitten from Mostar. I ended up naming the kitty Mostar and held it until everyone was ready to leave. Even then, I was very sad to give Mostar up.

    We were then set loose to explore Mostar on our own. While we thought we would get lost or lose track of time, we ran into a Canadian! She overheard us speaking English and she stopped us, so we introduced ourselves and when she said she was from Montréal, I mildly freaked out and exclaimed that I am Canadian and I was from Edmonton. We were pretty much instant best friends. Not five minutes later, we ran into a YES alumni, Abe! We started talking to him too until we all had to say good bye because Abe was with his parents and the Canadian had to go as well.
    Emma, Helena and I then took off to explore Mostar for the last half hour which, guess what, included climbing more stairs. I sucked it up though and started climbing which led us to some beautiful ruins with trees and flowers growing through. I attempted to make some sort of symbolic metaphor, but Helena kind of shot it down.

    We then met back up with Luljeta, Selma, and Sarah when, all of a sudden, another YES alumni appears! Luljeta invited him for coffee, so we take off towards the new mall for late night coffee before our train ride home. By this point, we were all exhausted and once we were on the train (we got a little room like in Harry Potter. Thus began the discussion of who was who), we all fell asleep in our huddled positions.

   Two hours later, we arrived back in Sarajevo where I was so thankful my host-family picked me up. We got home, I quickly reviewed for our History timed-write today and then went to bed.

   Anyway, Mostar was a fabulous, albeit exhausting, day and I'm so glad we were able to go. If you want to follow my shorter adventures, feel free to follow me on Twitter @KateWells7 !

   Until I adopt a kitty or go on another adventure!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Let It Snow!

   This is more of a frivolous post. Not one to give people insight to exchange or Bosnia, but more of a little something that made me really, really happy. Are you ready?
   IT SNOWED. And not just that light, little fluff that melts away in a few hours like Oregon. It snowed and it's been sticking. Perhaps I shouldn't be too excited about snow like this, because it means that I have to wrap myself in scarves, hats, sweaters, gloves, and coats in order to leave the house. But snow also means curling up with tea or hot chocolate and the beauty of a world in white. It also means my birthday (four more months, but still). Snow equals winter and I just really love winter. Back home, the majority of winter was rain. Cold, wet, dreary rain. Snow can still mean sunshine! I was raised in Canada. I love snow. When it started snowing on Monday, Anna (who's from Wisconsin) started jumping around and demanded we go outside and frolic. Savannah, who's from Arizona, was a little more weary of the cold. But we braved the cool weather in our totally inappropriate clothes for winter.
   Anna instantly began running around, declaring to all of Sarajevo how much she loves snow, while I just laughed, pulled out my camera and started snapping pictures and Savannah hugged herself to keep warm. She did that until Anna grabbed her arm and started twirling her around in the snow. We were practically dancing around the park behind our school, looking like lunatics to anyone inside. Passerby's with their umbrellas and coat collars turned up against the wind, questioned our sanity with mere cardigans and summer scarves, jumping around the field.
   When our fingers became too frigid, we headed inside, snowflakes melting on our hair and we sat on the stairs inside to dry off and get warm. Some teachers passed us on the steps and started exclaiming in rapid Bosnian and we were all laughing, until a girl sitting on one of the benches in the foyer said, "She's talking about the concrete! You're sitting on concrete and your hair is wet!" We all started laughing again, because it's something we've all come to love about Bosnia. You never sit on concrete or else you're ovaries will fall out and you never go outside with wet hair or else you'll catch the draft.
   We then had a discussion about our names and Anna, Savannah, and I discovered our middle and last name initials are all the same and we just felt more like triplets than ever. And we realized that if Savannah were to marry a certain person, her initials could become ridiculously hilarious.

   Anyway, that was just a nice day in a nutshell. I bought my winter coat and gloves and hat and I am officially prepared for winter. Nizama loaded me with thicker socks for the house and two extremely heavy winter coats for when the weather becomes unbearable.

   Until more splendid days,


    I thought a creative, somewhat witty title wouldn't do Bajram justice. So this, my friends, is all about a day called Bajram! Bajram is also known as Eid al-Adha which is the Feast of the Sacrifice, honoring the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his own son. As my friend, Charity, compared it to, "Muslim Thanksgiving."

    Bajram is mainly a day for family and friends. And my experience was exactly what I expected Bajram to be. We left early Friday morning for Tuzla, a city about two to three hours away from Sarajevo. The drive was gorgeous, even if the fog did cover the majority of the scenery. Three hours later, we arrived at Granny's house (Nizama's mom)! Also there were Nizama's brother, his wife, and two kids. The beginning was very relaxing. We watched some TV, we ate lunch, and we talked. Then everyone changed into nicer clothes and we took off for the house where the ox was going to be killed. We arrived at the house, where we were ushered into a room with other people who we were going to share the ox with. Within five minutes of sitting in that room, food and coffee were set out on the small coffee table as we waited for the ox.
    Eventually, Irfan said that we were going to go to a small town about twenty minutes away from Tuzla. So he, myself, Nizama, and her sister-in-law piled into the car and took off. We walked down a lovely street, all the stores closed because of Bajram - except the cafés, of course - and enjoyed a little fresh air and company, grabbed some lunch, and then headed back for, what I thought, the sacrifice.

    But it was not to be! We missed the killing by a few minutes and the men were already hacking the carcass away, separating meat. I looked at the ox and thought, "Ok, it's not so bad when it's all skinned. It just looks like meat." Then Irfan points to the corner of the yard where there lay the head of the ox, upside down, jugular flapping in the wind. I think the most horrifying part of that, was that the only reason I found that entire thing gross, was because of that white jugular. Sorry to give you a visual, but it was part of the experience and it's something you should know about Bajram! Just be happy I'm not including a picture!

   We were then brought back into the friend's house where we talked to some other people and I was congratulated on my basic Bosnian, because someone told them I didn't know any Bosnian. But when a girl's mom walked in, she walked over and introduced herself and asked if I wanted to have coffee and before anyone could say anything, I immediately responded with my name and that I didn't want coffee. The girl looked over at me and exclaimed that my language skills were good and I could feel myself blushing. 
Host cousin and Nizama's sister in law
    After a little while of talking, supper was brought in (my stomach was about to explode, I swear) which was pita, burek, and a stew of the fresh meat. When our meal was cleared, they brought out cake and baklava. One thing you should keep in mind if you intend to visit Bosnia: They are extremely hospitable and they will feed you until you are rolling around on the floor. And I love them for it!

   Night eventually came and we loaded back into the car with enough meat and food to last us a week. At least. The ride was silent as everyone curled into their own little corner and fell asleep. Well. Except for Esad naturally. Because he was driving.

  All in all, Bajram was just a day of friends, family, talking, and - most importantly - eating. And it was wonderful to be a part of and witness!

  Anyway, it's time for me to do some college apps!

  Until there's more news to share,

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Crisper Days

     Fall is starting to end here. Now, you must be thinking that that's absurd. It's only part way through October, how is it almost over? Well, in case you forgot, I live in Sarajevo. And in Sarajevo last year, they received two meters of snow. I am expecting snow within the next month. The days are getting shorter, the nights and mornings colder, and with all this beautiful season changing comes some other equally fantastic things.

   Two weekends ago, after volunteering at an adorable orphanage (cutest kids EVER), Anna and I decided on an impromptu hipster photo shoot across Baščaršija. It was completely random, but it felt exciting to do something spontaneous. If you know me at all, I'm not the spontaneous type really. I like plans. But running across Sarajevo taking pictures and being completely silly made me feel like I knew the city well enough to navigate the confusing, winding streets with a friend being absolutely ridiculous.
So serious.
So hipster.
lol jk
It's a long way down to freezing water.
    Fast forward to the next weekend, and it's time to volunteer at the orphanage again. We were separated into two groups; one for the toddler group and one for the early primary school kids. Helena and I were ushered into the room with the primary school kids and instantly we began playing Barbies and building things with Lego (evil, painful Lego) while practicing our Bosnian and the kids practiced their English.
   After an hour of playing, we were lined up to go downstairs to be on TV because the orphanage was auctioning art to fundraise. They had kid dancers put on a performance and two tiny children sing a Bosnian song dressed in traditional wear. They were adorable! I'm sorry I have no pictures, but it's a legal issue; one I'd rather not interfere with :) When the TV filming was done, we were dismissed and took off for college apps (oh the joys of being a Senior in need of scholarships)!
    While I was upstairs, all of a sudden I hear, "KATIE. DOÐIDOÐI KATIE!" I bolted down the stairs as I see Nizama in front of the TV smiling as she said, "Ti si na televiziji (you are on TV)." I look at the TV and see a commercial as I look back at Nizama. "At the orphanage! You were on TV." We waited for the commercial to pass, but it turned out that it was showing the auction part of the show, so Nizama told me to come outside and stand on the terrace with her. The sun blinded me as we walked out and we tried small talk, something and Nizama and I haven't really been able to do with my lack of language skills. Every sentence I was able to construct about the cat on the post or the inevitable snow that was bound to come soon (I was not actually able to say "the inevitable snow is bound to come soon), Nizama would congratulate me on that minor success, but to us, having a conversation was big. We both haven't been able to do it for so long and it was just nice. We then headed back inside where they showed the orphanage again, and sure enough, there we all were in the back with the kids. The only reason, I'm sure, that Nizama spotted me, was because that day I decided to wear hot pink. But that just lead to Nizama saying she loved that color on me and her telling me that when she noticed me it was like, "HELLO KATIE!" Not to mention my host mom is just plain awesome and she buys me scarves and tights for absolutely no reason other than she thinks I'd like it. 
Scarf from my host mom!
    Anyway, this upcoming week-end is Bajram and we're going to Tuzla which I am extremely excited for! Lots of pictures and a definite blog post will follow :)

   Until then,

Friday, October 12, 2012

Simply Sweet Days

    Remember how I said the past couple of weeks were extremely uneventful? I'm glad to announce that these past few days have changed that! Yay for doing things!

    Monday was supposed to be pretty uneventful. I just came home, slumped on my bed, and started Skyping my parents for Canadian Thanksgiving. Then Medina came in and asked if I'd like to attend Fashion Week in Sarajevo which was Monday through Wednesday night. Excited to be doing something, I quickly got ready in my classiest clothes and set off. The fashion show was held in an old hall that used to be used for military. I fell completely in love with the old architecture and paintings and  decided that this was where my wedding was going to be held. Medina and I found our way past doormen, security guards, and hosts until we found two seats and then the lights dimmed, the music started and the first model started strutting.

    The fashion show was amazing and feeling rich and classy (even though in reality I'm a poor high school student) was priceless. After the designers came out and everyone applauded, the guests were invited for an after-party down below. Medina and I made our way down as we found a table and watched people stream in and out of the room, grabbing drinks and nibbling on weird cheese. Photographers from TV stations and newspapers were circling the room and a few took our picture. Not going to lie, I felt like a celebrity even if absolutely no one in that room except Medina knew me.

    Then Medina's cousin called to meet up for coffee so we met outside and took off for Baščaršija (but not before taking a few model poses ourself, of course).
    After meandering through Old Town, we found a cute café to sit in, grabbed some cake, and talked until Medina thought it best we go home. I did have school in the morning!

    Tuesday was very possibly one of the best days ever. Not because anything extraordinary happened, it was just pleasant beyond words. I began simply enough with classes, one of which I made a terrible (luckily people found it funny) mistake where a spider was in the class and I began yelling "KILL IT" as the majority of the class voted on saving the spider and taking it outside. When I was confused why no one killed it, one of my friends, Zuki, leaned over and said, "it's against the Muslim religion to kill a spider." I felt instantly humiliated and awful for yelling in the middle of class to kill the spider, but everyone found it hilarious, which I was grateful for. Let's hope I never make that mistake near a mosque...
    After a few classes and then lunch, I was then left with a few empty blocks. Anna then revealed that she brought her frisbee along because she is in love with ultimate frisbee and intended on making us all play. However, we were not on her level, so we decided that for the first day we would simply throw it around. The sun was warm and the weather actually perfect for simple sports, we made our way outside and started tossing the frisbee.
    It started off just four of us girls, tossing it nonchalantly while talking. Then one guy joined us. Then another girl. Then more guys. We soon had this giant group on the other side of the park, tossing the frisbee over trees and trying out weird throws that Anna had taught us (hammer throw is a little weird, however I'm getting very good at the forehand).

    Eventually, everyone had other classes except Emma and I. So we remained outside, she finishing essays and I wrote letters. When it started getting chilly, Emma and I headed out to Metropolis (only our new favorite café) and grabbed some coffee and food where we waited until the girls were done because next thing on the list was... Medresa!

Access class!
Part of the Access class that took us on the tour :)
    Medresa is a school in Sarajevo much alike to a Catholic boarding school, except instead of Catholicism, they teach all about Islam! When we arrived at the school, they told us we didn't need to wear headscarves, but by doing so, we stuck out like a sore thumb. Everyone in the school instantly knew who we were as we made our way to the Access class. Access is a class which focuses on English and that day's topic was politics, but not before the initial introductions and questions. But, much to my happiness, we got to ask the class questions too. We asked them about their insane school schedule (classes and prayer pretty much all day. They have fifteen-sixteen
classes a day. SIXTEEN.) and their life in general. We then had a tour of the school from the students and then returned for our mock political parties getting questioned by journalists thing! We were separated into groups and the teacher came around to tell each group what they were doing. She arrived at our table and said, "You are the winning politicians and you have to let us know what you have planned for a project to change something in the city." Our big plan to change Sarajevo? Animal shelters! My group worked really well together and they were the nicest people. Because of the cramped room, I was kneeling at their table and a girl continued to insist that I take her chair. I told her the floor was fine, but eventually they all squished together so we could fit. When the class was over, a group of them invited us all out for late night coffee.

l-r Haris, Anna, myself, and Ajdin. I look evil, I know...
    Late night coffee was so much fun. Beyond fun. I suppose looking back all we did was drink espressos (worst idea ever at 9pm) and talk about music and cultures and just everything, but it turned out to be an evening of making new friends (however cheesy that sounds). We exchanged band names and songs we should try out and we all talked like we had been friends forever. When it was time to leave, everyone insisted that we'd have to do it again sometime and I could honestly say that I hope this happens. All of these kids were definitely some of the nicest kids I've met. They were pleasant and talkative and we were all equally interested in each other. All I can say really, is that Tuesday these past couple weeks just keep getting better. New things to do and new friends and every day here just makes this experience more enriching.

    Anyway, I better be off. Volunteering in the morning!

    Until more sweet days,

P.S. The video is an Arabic reading of the Qu'ran by one of the Access students. She only read for five seconds until I shoved the camera in her face :) Sorry!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Adventurous Adventures in the Land of Wells

    The past three weeks haven't been very eventful, unfortunately. Mainly, the routine of wake up, eat, school, coffee, school, home, homework, Internet, sleep. But in the past few days, I have been on some adventures! And I am excited :)

Race for the Cure!
   Last Saturday was the Race for the Cure. Skye, our coordinator from DC, was visiting/working and she was here for the weekend! We met up by the National Museum where people set up booths with free snacks, drinks (especially coffee), and music. They had a ZUMBA team up on stage for about twenty minutes doing routines and we all joined in for 'Moves Like Jagger', but we were laughing too hard to really concentrate. After about a half hour or so of wandering, we thought the race started and we accidentally missed it. So we started walking down the river, talking and "catching up" to the race.
What happens when you have the road to yourself :)
     Well we never came across another group of walkers for the Race for the Cure and eventually we looped around and were back at the start. Just as we crossed the finish line on the other side of the river, we heard the gunshot and everyone took of running down. We all looked at each other and laughed at our mistake and decided we could do something else.

    Anna, Helena, Savannah, and I then became tour guides for Skye and we took her up to the White Fort way up on a mountain. We tracked down a taxi that would take us up there and soon we were at the beautiful mountaintop. We were all talking loudly of course, until a man came around the corner and started hissing at us in Bosnian. All of us turned wide-eyed and looked around to see a camera crew. Filming a movie in Bosnia? Say wha...? We pointed to the fort, as if asking permission to go in. The man nodded and we silently made our way inside. Just then we see this:

    Those are two ninjas climbing the fort. Day = made.

    After silently touring the fort, we decided to climb down the hill through a steep, beaten path. Skye was being extremely cautious because her shoes were slippery. As Skye successfully made her way down, I began to say, "That was so entertaining watching you go down so careful-" and just as I am finishing my word, I slipped on a rock and fell straight on my bum. Helena and Skye started laughing hysterically and, at the moment, all I could say was, "That was really ironic." and I began to laugh. Helena breaks from laughing to say, "No, that was karma." Oh karma. Sometimes I really hate you.
    After looking around a bit more, we then headed back down the hill eventually landing in Baščaršija. We stopped for ćevapi and then went shopping with Skye, showing her the area we have become so familiar with (except we still get lost in Baščaršija. So confusing).
    Fast forward a week, and it's Friday! We had no school on Friday because of World Teacher's Day (Dear Teachers who have taught me these past 12 years of school - you are awesome and I couldn't have gotten here without you. Thank you so much.). I met up with Andrea from school who told me about a youth conference her church was attending. She heard me saying once that I was looking for a church and so she invited me to come along. After a quick coffee (anarchy in Bosnia!) and all the information I needed, I took off to meet up with Helena. We went shopping around Baščaršija, looking for gifts and I bought a few. Making a dent in gift buying early! So, you're welcome Char, Grace, Es, Soph, Ash, Anna, and Mom. I got you presents! And I mailed my postcards and letters, I was definitely feeling accomplished.

     We met up with Anna and had lunch (a delicious vegetarian pizza, if anyone was wondering) and another coffee, this time we took our dear sweet time. Helena then had to go home, so Anna and I explored Baščaršija some more and we came upon a secret section! It's really hidden away, but it had the coolest stores where I bought two of my gifts (and bound to buy more) and Anna bought her now favorite (and only) ring. Anna and I then practiced our Bosnian smiles :)

    A few hours later, I headed off to the youth conference! In short, it was a fabulous weekend full of awesome worship (American songs in Bosnian. And I thought life couldn't get any better) and meeting all sorts of people. I stayed up probably way too late and definitely regretted it when I'd have to get up in the morning and drag myself back to the other side of the city. When I told Nizama about the conference, she was so happy that I found something to do and was going to church again. I forgot how much I love church and worship. And because of my new friends, I have plenty of places to go to with friends already there. Goal = accomplished.

    Anyway, I leave you with a taste of Bosnian worship music. Enjoy :D

    Until more adventures,

Friday, September 14, 2012

Month Anniversary!

    The plane touched down and I felt a sense of exhilaration like never before. I glanced out the window to see high mountains, lush trees, and old buildings. The flight attendant said something in Bosnian and my ears perked to a flurry of words I'd never heard before and, if I didn't realize it before, it hit me now. I was in Bosnia-Herzegovina. I had just flown across the United States, across the Atlantic Ocean, and across most of Europe. We got off the plane and the smells of a new place filled my nose. My eyes tried to take in every little thing and my ears tried to understand every word.
    We passed security and soon saw the people who I have come to love and appreciate more than ever. The people who have accepted me as their daughter or sister or American student. The people who have taught me the simplest words and bore through my broken language skills. The people who have guided me along. Those who I have laughed with and those who I will be seeing for an awful long time.

    Today marks my one month of living in Sarajevo. In this one month, I feel like this has been the most educational and incredible experience I have lived. People from every background imaginable have become my friends and school is a blessing in disguise with all sorts of kids. Through these people, I have learned all about a new lifestyle.
    How eating is practically a religion and you do not skimp. Ever.
    How coffee is the link between you and friends.
    How the TV is almost always on.
    How college ruled notebooks are about as foreign as I am.
    How public transportation can make you get really used to people practically hugging you.
    And above all, this exchange has taught me so far that the world is full of all sorts of places and people that are as curious about you as I am about them. They have pleasantly surprised me with their customs and I surprise them. Sometimes I even surprise myself (like how American high schools are actually quite alike to the high schools in movies). I have loved this past month and I am so excited to live here for the next school year.

    I came here on a hot, sunny day in August and now I sit in my room looking at the nonexistent scenery because the fog and the rain are covering it. I look forward to the many new things I will learn, the people I will meet, and the adventures I will be a part of. I am excited to learn the language, eat their food, and, above all, become a Bosnian!

   And so, my first month is over, but I have nine more to go! Nine months of learning, friends, and adventures. I am excited beyond words.

   Anyway, it's Friday evening and I think it's time to socialize.

   Until later news,

Medina and the Monkeys :)

Emma being cool.

Ready... ready...

OH MY GOSH DELICIOUS FOOD. Chicken and po-tay-toes :)
Uh... Irfan?
We couldn't find our Bosnian class...
Sliva (prounced sh-lee-va - aka plum) jam!