Monday, August 27, 2012

What Is Exchange?

What is exchange?

Exchange is change. Rapid, brutal, beautiful, hurtful, colourful, amazing, unexpected, overwhelming and most of all constant change. Change in lifestyle, country, language, friends, parents, houses, school, simply everything.
Exchange is realizing that everything they told you beforehand is wrong, but also right in a way.
Exchange is going from thinking you know who you are, to having no idea who you are anymore to being someone new. But not entirely new. You are still the person you were before but you jumped into that ice cold lake. You know how it feels like to be on your own. Away from home, with no one you really know. And you find out that you can actually do it.Exchange is learning to trust. Trust people, who, at first, are only names on a piece of paper, trust that they want the best for you, that they care. Trust, that you have the strength to endure a year on your own, endure a year of being apart from everything that mattered to you before. Trust that you will have friends. Trust that everything’s going to be alright. And it is seeing this trust being justified. 
Exchange is thinking. All the time. About everything. Thinking about those strange costumes, the strange food, the strange language. About why you’re here and not back home. About how it’s going to be like once you come back home. How that girl is going to react when you see her again. About who’s hanging out where this weekend. At first who’s inviting you at all. And in the end where you’re supposed to go, when you’re invited to ten different things. About how everybody at home is doing. About how stupid this whole time-zone thing is. Not only because of home, but also because the tv ads for shows keep confusing you. Thinking about what’s right and what’s wrong. About how stupid or rude you just were to someone without meaning to be. About the point of all this. About the sense of life. About who you want to be, what you want to do. And about when that English essay is due, even though you’re marks don’t count. About whether you should go home after school, or hang out at someone’s place until midnight. Someone you didn’t even know a few months ago. And about what the heck that guy just said.
Exchange is people. Those incredibly strange people, who look at you like you’re an alien. Those people who are too afraid to talk to you. And those people who actually talk to you. Those people who know your name, even though you have never met them. Those people, who tell you who to stay away from. Those people who talk about you behind your back, those people who make fun of your country. All those people, who aren’t worth your giving a second though. Those people you ignore. And those people who invite you to their homes. Who keep you sane. Who become your friends. Exchange is music. New music, weird music, cool music, music you will remember all your life as the soundtrack of your exchange. Music that will make you cry because all those lyrics express exactly how you feel, so far away. Music that will make you feel like you could take on the whole world. And it is music you make. With the most amazing musicians you’ve ever met. And it is site reading a thousand pages just to be part of the school band. 
Exchange is uncomfortable. It’s feeling out of place, like a fifth wheel. It’s talking to people you don’t like. It’s trying to be nice all the time. It’s bugs.. and bears. It’s cold, freezing cold. It’s homesickness, it’s awkward silence and its feeling guilty because you didn’t talk to someone at home. Or feeling guilty because you missed something because you were talking on Skype.
Exchange is great. It’s feeling the connection between you and your host parents grow. It’s hearing your little host brother asking where his big sister is. It’s knowing in which cupboard the peanut butter is. It’s meeting people from all over the world. It’s having a place to stay in almost every country of the world. It’s getting 5 new families. One of them being a huge group of the most awesome teenagers in the world. It’s cooking food from your home country and not messing up. It’s seeing beautiful landscapes that you never knew existed.
Exchange is exchange students. The most amazing people in the whole wide world. Those people from everywhere who know exactly how you feel and those people who become your absolute best friends even though you only see most of them 3 or 4 times during your year. The people, who take almost an hour to say their final goodbyes to each other. Those people with the jackets full of pins. All over the world. 
Exchange is falling in love. With this amazing, wild, beautiful country. And with your home country. Exchange is frustrating. Things you can’t do, things you don’t understand. Things you say, that mean the exact opposite of what you meant to say. Or even worse…
Exchange is understanding. 
Exchange is unbelievable. 
Exchange is not a year in your life. It’s a life in one year. 
Exchange is nothing like you expected it to be, and everything you wanted it to be. 
Exchange is the best year of your life so far. Without a doubt. And it’s also the worst. Without a doubt. 
Exchange is something you will never forget, something that will always be a part of you. It is something no one back at home will ever truly understand. 
Exchange is growing up, realizing that everybody is the same, no matter where they’re from. That there is great people and horrible people everywhere. And that it only depends on you how good or bad your day is going to be. Or the whole year. And it is realizing that you can be on your own, that you are an independent person. Finally. And it’s trying to explain that to your parents. 
Exchange is dancing in the rain for no reason, crying without a reason, laughing at the same time. It’s a turmoil of every emotion possible. 

Exchange is everything. And exchange is something you can’t understand unless you’ve been through it.

I found this on the Internet somewhere and it pretty much summed up exchange in a way that I never thought I'd be able to describe it. Thank you, to whoever wrote this, for writing feelings that I couldn't even begin to describe.

Anyway, that's all I really had to say today :)

Until I have some super awesome story,


Sunday, August 26, 2012

A Taste of Bajram

    So this is a week overdue, but I feel it's necessary to tell you about Eid/Bajram/end of Ramadan :)

    Last Saturday evening, was the big celebration of Bajram, which is the celebration of the end of Ramadan which is a 40 day fast. What happens, is everyone goes out and it's a big party all over the city. Restaurants serve traditional meals, stores stay open late, and then you spend plenty of time with family and friends for the next three days.
     On Saturday evening, Helena, Anna, myself, and Emma went out for dinner with Selma and Luljeta (our coordinators) and we were all allowed to bring a member of our host family. We met down in Bascarsija, by the Sebilj which is a kind of well and if you drink from it, it means you will return to Sarajevo.

    After we all drank from the Sebilj, we headed to the restaurant where our feast began! Instead of describing every piece of food, how good it was, or how I couldn't finish it all, I'll just show you pictures of the deliciousness known as BOSNIAN CUISINE!

Topa! You dip your bread in it. 
A chicken soup with cream and vegetables

PITA (cheese, meet, and broccoli)

Stuffed pepper and meat

Broiled apple, stuffed with walnuts, topped with syrup and whipped cream.
    It was all delicious and so much fun hanging out with everyone. When our meal was finished, we headed out for coffee (of course) and spent the next couple hours talking and sipping away. All in all it was a fabulous night with amazing food and lovely company.

    On to other news because I haven't written in a week:

    Interviews: Since we've arrived, we've had four. Two for a news station, one for a news article, and the last for the US Embassy! I feel like a celebrity having all these interviews and it's been a lot of fun. I've also noticed I've mentioned that I love their food in every single one of them...
US Embassy Interview

    Volunteering: We volunteered at a Senior Retirement center, which pretty much meant us making food for a bunch of people! We fried up vegetables like tempura, which resulted in fingers covered in egg, flour, and bread crumbs, and the delicious smell of fried food following us around all day. We will also be volunteering at a youth center and an orphanage in the near future. Volunteering was a lot of fun though, and the elderly people definitely enjoyed seeing young girls cooking them food and attempting to speak Bosnian.

    American Embassy: We went yesterday and it was great! Very educational and the people did their best to explain what is happening in Bosnia and the relations between the US and BiH. They also have an amazing secret room which we were privileged to go into :)

    Sarajevo: We had a tour of Sarajevo where we got an excellent look at the diversity of the city. We went up to the ruins from when the Turks kept the city walled and the view was incredible
We visited a Serb-Orthodox church, a mosque, a synagog, and a cathedral and all were absolutely gorgeous places and I so much enjoyed that (very hot, but worth it) day!
    On a separate day, we went to this beautiful area with waterfalls and it was buried right in the mountains

    What I've Noticed:

  1. Men wear man purses. Actually it's a satchel. Like Indiana Jones. It's cool. :)
  2. From 8 in the morning to 8 at night, it can reach up to 110ºF or 45ºC
  3. Houses do not have air-conditioning.
  4. Seedless fruits do not exist.
  5. Bosnians like to have tapestries all over their floor. And they are beautiful!
  6. Coffee is a daily ritual that cannot go unbroken. YOU MUST HAVE COFFEE.
  7. I have mentioned that I love their food in all four of our interviews.
  8. Walking in heels on cobblestones is actually possible. Painful, but possible.
  9. Sunsets here are gorgeous.
  10. I can hail a taxi like a pro.
  11. I cannot figure out the tram/trolley/bus.
  12. I missed peanut butter, reusable water bottles, and Chapstick more than I thought I would.
  13. Bosnian classes are killing me, but that second when I speak Bosnian I feel super proud of myself.
    Anyway, I better go to bed. Going shopping tomorrow! Whoop whoop!

    Until hopefully not to long from now so I don't forget things I've done,

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Four Days Later... And you know nothing...

    Being a bad blogger is kind of sad. I mean, how hard can it really be to write about your life? Let me tell you, it's a lot harder than it's cracked up to be. You don't want to tell people every detail, but you don't want to do what I did in my last entry and tell them that I'm simply alive and in Bosnia. You want to make it short and sweet and informative. So here we go. A breakdown of the past few days.

   Day of arrival: From the moment I left the airport, there was a visible difference. And I'm not just speaking of the airport parking lot which is about a tenth of the size of PDX.
 Esad, Nizama, Medina, and I packed into the car, (after somehow managing to fit my nearly overweight and oversized suitcases.) snapped on my seatbelt, and headed home! But not before stopping at some places to pick up food for my first meal. I wish I grabbed my camera to take a picture of this place because it was SO cool, but I was in a little daze. It looked like a really old, really destroyed outdoor mall/shopping center except all the stores were filled to the brim with fresh produce. It looked cluttered and crowded, but the people were all so nice and it seemed like everyone knew each other. We then drove a little farther up to buy cevapi (pronounced cheh-vap-ee. My computer won't do the stupid accent on the c)! The smell was amazing as it filled the car and then we began our ascent to my home for the next ten months.
This is not my home :) This is the drive from the airport TO my home .
    The drive up was beautiful and amazing and different. It was almost like sensory overload though, don't get me wrong. Slowly we climbed the mountain (which everyone tells me it's in the center of town because that's where Sarajevo was first made, but on the map I'm at the edge) and the view continued to get more and more beautiful. And the driving up there made me glad I was wearing a seatbelt. And the seatbelt made Medina laugh at me. She looked over and said, "I noticed you wearing the seatbelt. Nobody wears them here. It's just kind of, pfftt." She flicked it with her finger and, sure enough, no one was wearing seat belts. I caught glimpses of other drivers. No seat belts. The roads were narrow (like they are all over Europe) and the drivers a little more daring, but seat belts were like a useless item. Now I'm getting into the habit of not even touching them. Should be interesting going home in June...
    Upon my arrival at home, Mugdim and Irfan were there to greet me and take my bags up to my room (hallelujah). They brought me up to my room and they opened the door, and not going to lie, it felt like Extreme Makeover: Home Edition (except with no camera crew inside). I walked in and my eyes got big and a smile crossed my face. The yellow walls were comforting and the wooden ceiling, desk, wardrobe (oh yes, I said a wardrobe), floor and bookshelf just made my room feel like a nice cabin. I have a gorgeous rug on my floor and some beautiful paintings on my wall. (And yes, mother, I will take pictures. Don't worry.)
    I then headed downstairs for my first meal! Cevapi with tomatoes, plums, and jogurt. 
CEVAPI! (sweet meat, onions or sauerkraut, and a giant pita.)
It was all delicious, I was just so excited that I could hardly eat anything. Plus Bosnian meals are for typical, full-grown, American males. Not for a 17 year old girl. My family eats in the living room and Nizama joked with me that it was like a picnic because she usually cooks and today she didn't have to.  Dinner was a lot of fun and Irfan made fun of me when I would point to food and ask what it was in Bosnian. Having older brothers, I know that teasing means I'm already part of the family. And I feel like it. It's so comfortable and they are just the sweetest people.

    Medina then gave me a tour of the house (except the basement which remains the current mystery). The bottom floor is pretty much the entrance and then Medina and Mugdim's suite. Second floor is the main living space. Kitchen, extra room used for food storage, bathroom, living room, and Esad and Nizama's room. And the balcony. And that balcony leads out to the most beautiful view I have ever seen a house have. I don't think I'll ever get used to how gorgeous their view is:

   After eating, watching some Bosnian TV, and talking with Medina, Mugdim, and Irfan and then having them translate for Nizama and Esad. Nizama and Esad are so sweet and I can't help but feel so much guilt that I didn't try to learn more Bosnian. Hopefully within the next couple weeks I'll be able to. Once my internet was hooked up, courtesy of Irfan, I quickly sent everyone a notice that I was alive and well (because I know that if one of my friends who I talk to everyday didn't post something on Facebook for three days, they were likely to be dead). After spending some time with the host family listening to and watching Bosnian TV, and unpacking my overloaded suitcases, I decided it was best I be off to bed. At three in the afternoon... which resulted in me waking up again at 7pm... and then again at 3am... and then finally at 5am and I decided sleep wasn't going to happen.

    Day 2! Headed downstairs for breakfast and because it was so early (I waited until 7am to go downstairs because I doubted anyone would be up. As soon as I heard some activity, I couldn't wait) and Nizama was the only one up. We then went through a game of charades and pointing, saying yes or no, and laughs to decide what I wanted for breakfast. My first breakfast was eggs, bread (one piece with cheese and meat and another with honey), and milk. Doesn't sound that big, but I couldn't finish it! One thing about eating bread here. You don't have a little slice and call it good. You have a piece about an inch or two thick and then lather it in meat or cheese, jam or Nutella (OH MY GOSH I LOVE IT).
    An hour or so later, Nizama and Esad took me to the American Councils were I felt so sad again that I couldn't talk with them. But that didn't stop them from joking with me and trying to make me understand. At the American Councils office, HAKE (because Savannah isn't here.) had our orientation and then we took of for our school (skola) where we met Tomo who is our school coordinator. He is a really nice guy and he joked with us a lot. Two hours later, we found ourself back in our hot school for our first language class. It was at least 100ºF in there with no air-conditioning and jet lag was kicking in on overdrive. By the end of what should have been a fairly easy class turned us to look like this by the end:
l-r Helena, Emma, and Anna
    At the end of class, I thought I would be able to go home, eat, and then go into a coma. Instead I was picked up by Medina and Mugdim and we headed out to Baščaršija -> aka Old Sarajevo! It's an incredible place and has a very strong Turkish influence. And that is where I had my first cup of coffee! Well... Bosnian coffee :) SO GOOD. So strong... but amazing.
    It was then time for home, we ate and then I crashed.

   Day 3: I'm going to start giving you less detail and just start speeding through things. Day 3 (August 16) consisted of finishing up Orientation and getting our White Cards! Which technically means we are legally allowed to stay here for a year! Yay! After we headed up to the Twist Tower for an amazing view of Sarajevo! So many exclamation points!
    Following lunch and coffee, we headed for language class which is slowly getting better. For everyone who thinks they stink at a language, I feel your pain. Once language class was over, we were interviewed for a TV station which was definitely a new experience. I was the only one who was asked to speak some Bosnian, so I decided on the two sentences that I've been practicing for the past six months. Irfan then picked me up and showed me around Sarajevo. When we stopped for coffee at Tito, it started to pour. Like, thunder, lightning, get-completely-drenched-if-you-dare-to-enter-it type pour. Mugdim had to eventually pick us up and once we were home we had "pie" which they call "pita" which is pretty much a giant pastry stuffed with cheese or meat or potatoes. SO GOOD. And in the time it took me to eat one piece, Irfan had already eaten three and was wanting more.

    Day 4: After another interview for the newspaper, we headed out to the Museum! Absolutely gorgeous place and the art and the artifacts are stunning. I honestly wanted some of that jewelry from behind the cases. Too bad it's priceless and as soon as I touched it, it would crumble. Outside of the museum was the beautiful Botanical Garden with more tombstones and gorgeous trees and flowers. We then went out for lunch with a lady from the Embassy named Sunshine! During lunch, we were interviewed for another TV station. All these interviews make me feel like some celebrity and I'm enjoying every second of my five minutes of fame. We were then sent of to language class and then Medina picked me up to show me how to use the bus! Little unknown fact: Public transportation is like, the one thing I will never use. I think it's unsanitary and confusing and there's weird people. Now, while it was really hot and it smelled like BO (because of the heat), everyone is very courteous of your space and the bus drivers are extremely nice! The driver today stopped the bus so he could talk to his friend on the road. Being late does not exist in Bosnia, I've noticed. At home we ate stew which was delicious and later, all of us were outside watching the sunset, talking over coffee and slowly I was able to make out a few words.

    Day 5: TODAY! Which means I'm generally caught up. We had language class this morning which I could feel myself thinking faster to answer questions and looking less at my notes. While I do have homework, I'm not too worried because this weekend is Biram/Iftar/End of Ramadan! So we don't have classes until Tuesday! When class was over, I took the bus home. All by myself. I'm not even going to lie, I am extremely proud of myself. Because it was Saturday, not many people were on the bus and it was just nice. I don't think I'll mind riding the bus as much as I think I would.
     As for now, I'm heading off for Iftar with Helena, Emma, Anna, Selma, our coordinator, and Irfan. I am excited to experience this and hopefully I will keep you more in the loop for when things happen. Perhaps then I won't leave you with a giant entry that may bore you to death.

    Anyway, time to go!

    Until there is more news to tell,

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Departures and Arrivals

    It's August 15 which means, since yesterday, I have been in BOSNIA. WOO HOO! But I'm going to go back a few days for the good byes.

    Saturday was all packing. After a Skype call with Medina and Nizama with a lot of laughs and assuring me and my mom that I will be safe and happy, I set down to work. Hours later, I packed in one of the last items (because I had church the next morning) and lifted my first suitcase stuffed with way too many shoes and purses and gifts. (Hey Mom, they loved the Moose Munch!)
    Sunday was my last day at RockPoint Church. So many good byes and people that I love. You are all fantastic, wonderful people and you made my leave so much harder. Not that you changed my mind. I am quite happy here :) In the afternoon, I finished my packing with my luggage weighing in at a whopping 99.5 pounds. Oi.
    That evening was my good bye party with some of my best friends. We got dressed to the nines (not quite, but still) and headed out to the Jory for dessert. It was so lovely and I thank you all for the gifts and the letters that I will keep close to me. You are all fabulous, gorgeous people and I love you so very much. For the laughs, for the tears (from laughing), for the sometimes violent sprees we would have such as Indian Leg Wrestling. I love you <3
    I then returned home and watched the Closing Ceremony of the Olympics with all of them, and we belted "What Makes You Beautiful" together. *sigh* That's just what makes us awesome. We then said our good byes late at night and I still had to finish up packing.

    Day of departure! Almost missed my flight because of a stupid Visa thing, said a quick good bye or else I was going to miss my flight and then took off. Fast forward 21 hours and, ta-da, I landed in Sarajevo, BiH!

   Customs was a cinch and all our luggage had arrived (except Anna's, but it's here now) and then we walked through the gate to see our host families! Nizama and Medina were waiting for me and I was greeted with a warm hug and smiles.

    We immediately took of and met up with Esad (host father) and we headed to my new home!

    Sarajevo is a beautiful city and it's a mixture of so many things such as:
    1) It's a mix of modern and sleek, old and beautiful, gorgeous scenery, and war torn.
    2) There are all sorts of people and I even found some fellow Americans while walking around today.
    3) There's a Mexican restaurant :) And a very Turkish foundation (thank you AP Euro for letting me know what went down a couple centuries ago)

    I would love to tell you more and I know you're probably like, this gave me nothing, but my battery is about to die because my convertor doesn't work. I promise I will post tomorrow (if I'm awake) with pictures and details.

   Anyway, I had better go downstairs and help with dinner. We're having stew tonight!

   Until my laptop is charged,

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Out With the Old, In With the New

    I leave in less than a week (five days tomorrow at 7:42am) and I have finally begun the necessary. Packing my bags, gutting my room, Senior pictures, and getting my early graduation gift. So today, I write you from my very own laptop in my living room watching the old Batman and Robin. WOO HOO! Thanks Mom and Dad for my present :)

    Monday was the start of our church's Vacation Bible School which we have spent months prepping for and planning and at 9am that morning, fifty kids came racing through the door, squealing and full of energy. Can't exactly say the same that early in the morning. But with a latte by my side, I managed to wrangle 14 kids together to make Team Bears!
    After VBS on Monday, my dad and I headed out to the mall to get my laptop. They thought I was a college student so I received a discount on the computer, and a gift certificate for apps. Thank you, Apple! I hugged my laptop the entire way home and my parents were laughing at my giddy smile. No more bumming off of the parents' computers or my siblings' laptops. This baby is all mine.

    On an exchange related note, my room has exploded out into the hallway. I have bins full of garbage, donations, college, and random future stuff that I don't want to bring with me or give away. There is hardly any walking space upstairs and my room isn't any better. In fact, I should probably be packing and cleaning instead of telling you what I should be doing. And to prove my point, here is a picture of the disastrous hallway ->
True packing will (and must) begin this week and not just throwing clothes into my suitcase like you can see in the picture.

    And to top everything off, I finally got my haircut! Now, you may all be thinking that this isn't very important. Well. I haven't had a haircut since Freshman year. A haircut is long past overdue. After the haircut, my sister took me out to begin Senior pictures. We only did a few compared to the many most people put up, but we only had an hour to do as many as we could. But we're going out tomorrow to finish after VBS and before youth group. The pictures so far look fantastic, and I'm so glad I have an artsy sister who is extremely skilled with a camera.
       As for now, I have still too much to do and I have been spending too much time on my new toy. Well that and VBS and planning last minute dates with all my friends for one last "Hurrah!" So perhaps I should get down to business (but not to defeat the Huns).

    Anyway, I better make my room a little more spotless and the hallway a little more crazy.

    Until Bosnia perhaps! Unless something amazing happens :)


PS I have been in contact with Medina, my host brother's wife, and she has decided to leave my house a complete surprise. No picture, but hopefully a Skype date soon!