Tag Archives: Bosnia

Celebrating Bosnia’s Beautiful Victory

It’s a big day for Bosnia as the country’s football team the Dragons, earned its first place ever in the sport’s greatest tournament, the World Cup, by beating Lithuania 1 – 0.

I woke to Jas and Cookie dressed head-to-toe in team regalia.

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While I was at work, the two spent the afternoon wrapping up Bean in the team logos,

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recording their own private celebration of the winning goal and sharing a chocolate bar following the victory.

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During all of the revelry Jas managed to even cook up a traditional Bosnian veal stew for dinner

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and send me a text declaring that our 2014 summer vacation would involve sleeping in tents in Brazil.

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Idemo u Brazil!

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Remembering Srebrenica

Today, July 11 is the eighteen year anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre, the greatest act of genocide during the War in Bosnia. You can read the countless writings on the details of this day and the thousands of men, women and children who lost their lives online. Here at the big american, we’d like to take a moment to remember those who lost their lives, to send strength and love to those who were victimized and lost their families. For those who stood by and watched, it is our hope that you have spent and continue to spend every day having learned from your mistakes and living more courageous, more valiant lives.

 

For Akif, who we lost one year ago today. You are with us always. 

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The Magic Show–For Bosnian Moms Only

We pulled up to the tiny cultural arts center in Donji Vakuf. Excited for Cookie’s first magic show, I took her out of her car seat, saddled her on my hip, turned and froze. Ahead of me was a crowd of women and children. All women and children–there was not a man in sight. In the parking lot behind me cars were pulling up and dropping off, men at the wheel speeding away, women and children on foot. Jas put his hand on my back and guided me into the building–the slightest smirk on his face that usually appears when he sees me engulfed in culture shock. 

In America, a “family event” like a magic show is for the whole family. In Bosnia, I discovered that evening, it is for moms and children. Not that men wouldn’t be welcome to join in–they just don’t. It’s not their place. Their role is to provide for their families, not to indulge in the children’s fun particularly after a long day of work and particularly when there’s a soccer game somewhere in the world and a television broadcasting it. 

Parenting roles are very clearly defined by gender in Bosnia and as such are reminiscent of 1950’s America. This has rankled my sister-in-law Jasmina since she got married and had children. As the men in her family always took a more active and therefore unorthodox role in caring for the home and children, she wasn’t prepared for her husband’s more traditional ways. At the time of our visit, she had just ended a cooking strike to get him to help around the house. “If I can work full-time, then he can help take care of the children and the house” she told me. “Until then, he’s not eating.” 

Once in the auditorium I was relieved to see a few males in the back of the room, then distressed to see them exit after kissing their children. We found seats next to M. the wife of one of Jas’s childhood friends and her children. She gave Jas a sidelong look. “Aren’t you going to watch soccer with the guys?” she asked.

“Yes, you can go,”  I piped up.

He looked at me smiling. “That’s ok. I’ll stay for awhile.”  

See my face? I’m praying that the guy sitting behind me stays for the show. He didn’t.

The show started. I tried to pay attention, but I couldn’t get comfortable. The magician was the only other man in the room. It was like Jas wasn’t meant to be there. Or shouldn’t be there. After urging him to head out for the tenth time he rose from his seat. And that was when Cookie decided that he wasn’t going anywhere. When he tried to put her in my lap she squealed and squirmed. I spent the next twenty minutes trying to coax her to stay with me. The other women began to take notice. I’m certain they did. What kind of mother was I? Why wouldn’t my little one sit with me? And who was this man I married? Didn’t he have something better to do than sit and watch a kid’s magic show? At home, such thoughts would never have crossed my mind, but here I felt cloaked in inadequacy. 

Jas stayed for the whole thing. He was one of the first in the face-painting line with Cookie at the end of the show. Towering over the women, smiling from ear to ear as a butterfly was painted onto her cheek. Grinning for the camera. The women looked at him, then looked at me and my empty, empty arms–theirs all full of children.

A happy, happy Tata.

A happy, happy Tata.

As the group began to break up, Cookie and I, M. and her children and a few other women headed to a cafe close by.  Jas hopped in the car to meet his friends at the bar and catch up on the soccer game, planning to pick us up later. Cookie was sleepy at this point and easily settled into my arms and I felt better as Jas drove away and we all walked to the cafe. And then Cookie started to cry and squirm. She had had a stomachache the night before and as I tried to comfort her now I could feel her forehead heating up. I said goodnight to the women and walked the seven blocks home, holding Cookie all the way as she refused to walk.

After Jas learned that we were at home (having been texted by M.), he did his own disappearing act that night, drinking and catching up with his childhood friends until the wee hours of the morning. I gave Cookie a bath and dressed her for bed. I administered some Tylenol when her fever spiked. I rocked her, walking up and down the balcony for what seemed like hours until she fell asleep, my muscles aching and shaking. I cuddled and soothed her back to sleep each time the pain from her head or tummy woke her up.

For the first time that night I was adequate. And exhausted. And not a little jealous of my husband.

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Bosnia’s Shades of Red

We’re usually in Bosnia at this time of year and probably would be at this moment if I wasn’t days away from expecting my second babe. I am missing our time there and thinking back on our trip last summer in my mind’s eye, I see bright flashes of red. Looking through the photos from our last trip, red is everywhere.

The chairs in the garden

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A pint of wild strawberries

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This stroller

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The garden fountain’s spigot

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Sarajevo’s Olympic Village playground

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Balcony roses

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These crocs bought at the market (as ugly as the originals but without the price tag)

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A mountain of market tomatoes

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The glow of the fire cooking the evening meal

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What colors do you see in your travel memories?

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Meeting The Big American

The day I met The Big American was one of the most uncomfortable days of my life. Jas and I were finally able to take a trip to Bosnia together. After years of dating, I had never met his parents, seen the home he’d grown up in, the field where he played soccer, or the hill he’d sled down in the snow. This was my first opportunity to see his past. That would all have to wait as first he wanted to tour the country a bit. He’d picked Mostar as our starting point as the city was celebrating a 700-year old diving competition on the Neretva River. Nothing could have prepared me for the day ahead.

Mostar, is a city of extremes. Its hills are rocks and sand, its air dry and tight. The Neretva naturally separates the city, and inevitably separated the people by religious backgrounds following the war. An enormous cross on a hill overlooking one bank and a mosque that could fit double the city’s Muslim population on the other provide visual labels as to who belongs where. These sights, the ringing church bells competing with the calls to prayer, the crowds that had gathered for the diving celebration speaking a language so alien, can be jarring to the wide-eyed inexperienced traveler that I was. But nothing assaulted me like the heat.

It was the kind that burns you even in the shade, that seeps through the bottoms of your shoes and climbs to the tips of your ears. I dunked my head repeatedly into the Neretva, drank liters of water and stripped to my most decent layers but nothing could stop the heat and soon my cheeks bloomed red and my head pounded. Wandering down the sand-colored stone streets, squinting behind my sunglasses, I spotted through my delirium The Big American, a wide-brimmed straw cowboy hat outside of a shop underneath a pink sign of its namesake. It was a familiar and welcoming shape, like a slice of apple pie, and I bought it without a second thought. It didn’t save me that day from a fever, nausea or bouts of vomiting from heat exhaustion but it became my constant companion during that first trip.

While practical, The Big American was not the most fashionable purchase I’ve ever made. If clothing reflects a message to others about the wearer, then The Big American says: “I’m not from around here, have no sense of style or proportion and did not look in the mirror before I left the house.” It is ridiculously large for my head, always clashes with the rest of my clothing and inevitably draws some unwelcome attention. During our travels throughout Bosnia and Croatia, Jas and I had multiple conversations that typically sounded like this:

Me: People are looking at me.
Jas: They’re not looking at you, they’re looking at The Big American.
Me: Yes, but I’m wearing The Big American.
Jas: Actually, it’s wearing you.

Me, my father-in-law and TBA which has gotten in the way of our hug. This photo makes me realize I will also need to address my choice of eye-wear at some point.

That’s why I left The Big American behind with my future in-laws, never expecting to see it again and even forgetting its existence. And yet it continues to show up. Inevitably at the beginning of every return summer trip I realize I’ve forgotten to pack a hat and when I say that I’m going to the market to purchase one, my sister-in-law disappears into the house and returns with The Big American in all of its loud and gaudy glory. I grab its brim like the hand of an old friend and perch it clumsily on my head.

“I can’t believe you kept this,” I say.

“What else would we do with it?” she replies. “It’s your hat.”

So whether I like it or not, it seems that The Big American is indeed mine. No matter how many times I visit Bosnia, no matter how long I stay or how much of it I see, this place continues to perplex, frustrate and amaze me and that ridiculous cowboy hat always brings a much-needed touch of the familiar.

On this last trip, my sister-in-law anticipated my forgetfulness and left my hat out for me. My daughter, this being her first trip to Bosnia, came across it sunning its ugly self on a stool and plopped it on her head.

For the first time ever, The Big American actually looked cute. And if it can evolve, then maybe I can too.

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