Tuesday, March 11, 2008

There's no place like home

I have some friends from the UK visiting Bosnia this week. They came 3 years ago as tourists and have been coming back every year since. This time they are here to look for land. They are ready to sell their homes in England and move to Bosnia. Let me tell you why.

We all sometimes give this place a hard time. And sometimes, well, it deserves it. However, i realized (again) today just how much magic this place really holds. Listen. These folks from Norfolk, a city just to the northeast of London near the English coast, want to pack up their lives and come to here. Sounds crazy, I know. But there is something to it.

We chatted today about many things. Amongst the unavoidable topics of discussion with us ferners is the mysterious pull Bosnia and Herzegovina, and particularly Sarajevo, has on many of us. Lots a reasons always come up. But the bottom line is that Sarajevo, and indeed most of BiH, is a place that can quickly and easy feel like home. Not home because things are just like the way it is wherever we have come from, but home because their is an ease, a comfort, a strange but powerful feeling that one is safe here.

Now I know after the death of Denis (and not to mention the brutal war where we slaughtered each other) that may sound strange. But take a look from our perspective.

I lived in Nahorevo for almost five years. For you Sarajevans who don't know where that is (and there are many...shame on you :) ) Nahorevo is a tiny village about 6 kilometres to the north of pionirska dolina tucked in a tight valley just below Bukovik Mountain. It's a fabulous place. And one that I am grateful to have called home for so long. I often rode the bus to town. So did 6 year old first graders.

Their parents had no concerns allowing 6 year olds to take public transport to town and to walk to school, unattended, on their own. They were never in danger, really.

On one of my trips back to the United States I was in Toys-r-Us looking for a present for a friends kid. It was just after the war in Bosnia and most of my thoughts and actions were as if i was there. There was a little girl looking at a toy out of her reach. I, as any good Bosnian would do, naturally stepped over and handed her the out-of-reach toy she was eyeing. I also began to speak to her...that too, seemed perfectly normal - to address a person standing next to you.

Several seconds later her terrified mother lunged towards her. She grabbed her little girl and whisked her away from me. Security guards followed me the entire time i was in the shop. I left the shop feeling like a child molester. I was shocked. Then sad. And later angry. This is what has happened to us in the west. We can't even talk to or help our community's children.

My friends have two small children. Both of them attract attention here like bees onto honey. People smile, grab, hug, laugh, squeeze, play, tickle and pamper these kids to death. My friends can't believe it. We have such a strong love and compassion for children here...and a generous openness towards children that is a rare gift in the western world.

And for foreigners, a place where you feel your children are safe is a place that feels like home.
We also chatted about how the word kidnapping doesn't even exist in the Bosnian language. We chuckled at the mahala mentality of many....because it reminded us that despite its occasional annoyance, our mahala's actually serve as a checks and balance system. Although social pressures can sometimes hinder individualism, it is these same social pressures that somehow creates a value system that is geared towards community rather than authority. These social 'norms' forces us take responsibility not just for ourselves but for our children, family, and honour.

This may sound like hogwash to some...but despite the many liberties found in the western world, we have lost one precious thing because of it - close knit communities that both protect us but at the same time gave us obligations towards that same social network. The western world is on its own...by choice. And that may spell the death of a nation.

When we lose those bonds we also lose some of the intangible boundaries that define the rules of the game naturally laid out by ones group. I hope we don't lose that here.

Sarajevo is a home away from home. And for many of us is becoming a safe haven from some of the evils that are tormenting us from the so-called west.

Does that sounds really fucking weird?


1 comment:

mobibob said...

I am always captivated by pictures of hands - I try to imagine the hard labor and tenderness that occurred to give them their texture and lines. The photo of the two young and old(er) at the bottom of you blog is very captivating. Did you take the picture or did you find it somewhere?