Back in the USSR (Day 3)

Saturday, June 28, 2008.

We wake up in Sanski Most (bridge on the River Sana) to coffee, eggs, and hot dog-like sausages made of beef, not pork. Delicious.

Our workshops start with an exercise in elementary art classes: we must draw some symbol that represents ourselves. We exchange symbols and explain their meanings.

We move on to an exercise in stereotyping: What do people think about Americans? Bosnians? Western Europeans? This is fascinating.

We are also made to list six different identity groups we feel we belong to. Then we slowly cross off the ones that are least important to us until we have just one identity left. First off the list was “active citizen”. I kept crossing out my identity until the only category left was “daughter”. With so much confusion and change in my life lately, I figure the one bit of identity I should rely on is that which has been part of me the longest. (“Sister” was a close second, but I had to cross something off. Sorry Jo.)

We concluded the afternoon with a debate and dialogue and discussed the differences between the two. It was calming and refreshing, and even quite a bit hilarious given that our topic of debate/dialogue was whether it was better to jump into water when swimming, or to slowly ease in. It was a nice wrap up to a day spent discussing prejudices and stereotypes.

Our new Bosnian friends are wonderfully engaging, smart, honest, and assertive. “The youth center will close because the municipality doesn’t feel like budgeting for it,” says one 16-year old boy. “It’s no wonder 90 percent of kids in Sanski Most smoke: there’s just nothing else to do,” says another 17-year old.

Even the Western Europeans working in Sanski Most admit they are not sure what will happen here if a budget vote in September doesn’t pass.

I eat dinner with two of our new friends. Conversation is facilitated by Ajla, a native Bosnian who now lives in DC, who escaped to Florida when war reached Prijedor in 1992. She translates our conversation in the strange consonant-heavy sound of Bosnian. The language is odd, but beautiful; old, and just a little aggressive sounding. Our new friends are sad when they say a new movie theater has been built in town: they can’t afford a 5 BAM ticket to a movie that was popular in 1971, which is when most of the movies being shown here were released. There is just nothing to do: the pools are small and crowded, the soccer fields have been paved over, and no one is interested in organizing games or groups.

After dinner, we really go out! We crossed the bridge, and even in the fading twilight, the bottom of the Sana was visible. I walked through Euro-Trash heaven (Katrina, you would die!) on the way to the Caffe Camel Diskoteque: an Eastern-European oddity of a dance floor owned by the Camel tobacco company. The theme of the club is obviously Egyptian and Camel apparently has no qualms with shameless self-promotion. We had cheap drinks and ended up with tequila for Ann’s belated birthday. Techno music was inescapable and provided a beat for our hilarious attempts at dancing. Last call was at midnight and even though we were exhausted, we decided to keep on drinking.

We headed for a more quiet bar near our hotel. They had a dance floor and a beer garden and York (from New York), Shannon (from Seattle), Sean (a girl, from Philly), and I spent most of our time analyzing our group dynamics and personalities and asking our host, Omer, about his high school and what he’d like to do in life.

We spent a good deal of time calming York down from what could have been a knock-down-drag-out. We enjoyed watching the stars through the beer garden awning, amazed that there are still places in the world where stars can be seen clearly. We shared Carlsburgs and Coca Colas in glass bottles and savored the taste of the soda sweetened with sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup. We laughed when a techno remix of John Mellencamp’s “Authority Song” was played in Bosnian.

Around 2:00 am, we shuffled home. We debated going skinny dipping in the crystal clear Sana, but changed our minds when we dipped our feet into the freezing mountain water. Instead, we settled for bread baked fresh from our hotel bakery and headed for our beds.


3 Responses to “Back in the USSR (Day 3)”

  1. 1 Mom


    It was sooooo good to hear your voice last night!! It sounded as if you were emotionally drained. I’m sure, by now you are feeling very fortunate that you live where you do.

    I love the fact that your identity came down to “daughter.” I am extremely proud of you, my daughter. If that was the one identity that you had left in the game, then it was a great one and the one that fits!

    I’m sure you are making lifelong friends with the group of people that are there with you. I can’t wait to hear about everything when you reach the American land once again. Keep up the good work!!

    I love you and keep missing you lots,


  2. 2 Katie

    I see how it is. Haha, jk jk. Sounds like you are learning a lot!!

    Techno remix of “Authority Song”…niiiice!

  3. 3 Dad

    Whit, The stories are great keep them coming.

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