The adjustment period after returning from a visit to the states is sort of like digging blindly into a bag of jelly beans and popping them into your mouth before you can suss out which flavor it is. Sometimes you hit the jackpot and other times you just feel like spitting them out. So yet another bittersweet return home to Bosnia. But I won’t bore you with the details. I think they are fairly predictable anyway.
I must say, however, the older I get the more the jetlag tends to kick my white ass. I am on day 10 and a good night sleep is still nowhere in sight. I sit on the couch in the evening and a thin layer of cement forms on my eyelids. It mercilessly forces these protective covers southward. I haven’t the strength to keep them open a second longer. I make my way to the bedroom and lay my weary head to rest. A few seconds pass before I realize, once again, that I have transformed into an agitated alligator. I toss and turn like an everglades 12-footer battling a stray python. I dive and roll as if I’m trying to defend myself from the swamp men putting a bullet between my eyes. I tire, of course. I turn less as the night goes on but my mind has been, until now, unable to trick my body that it’s not 6 hours behind my current physical location. So it goes.
Since my return I frequently get asked about my thoughts on ‘things’ here. The plenum. The ‘uprising.’ The next elections. American engagement (as if I have in any, way shape, or form inside information on US foreign policy). Ukraine becoming a distraction for the administration. But I am still in alligator mode. I am cruising with my head just above water, keeping a keen eye on things around me. My gut tells me the swamp men are carefully planning their next move. And they often do so by lying low, keeping quiet until the smoke clears. What they might have forgotten is that is where gator’s have the home court advantage. They patiently sit on the silty bottom, perfectly camouflaged into the natural surroundings, ready to defend what is rightfully theirs.
Everything seems out of tilt at the moment. Mother Nature brought spring early to our door even if we never really started any sort of winter hibernation. And now the early spring of late winter has brought on the Bosnian spring. I’m not so sure this is going to bring about meaningful transformation, though, despite the calls from many people I know and respect who are happy to finally see its arrival. Let me tell you why.
There is no doubt that things have reached their boiling point. I’m surprised we managed to put ourselves on simmer for so long in the first place. The injustice that rules our lives and our country is, in the slightest of terms, despicable. But have we asked ourselves the right questions…if any at all?
1. What is it that we really want? We rage about change yet haven’t really defined what kind of change it is that we are truly seeking. To be honest, I get a feeling that if laid off workers got the pathetic compensation and the measly benefits they are demanding they would would turn around and head home. The youth are just plain pissed off because, for them, everything pretty much sucks. I get it. But ‘We’ want ‘them’ to ‘change’ ‘things.’ Too many abstractions if you ask me. ‘They’ have already shown that the status quo works just fine for them. And ‘we’ put them exactly where ‘they’ are. So I ask, what exactly do ‘we’ want? Do ‘we’ even know?
2. We aren’t very good at seeing through anything to the end. We seem to have the attention span of a 2-year old. The politicians on the other hand, are incredibly gifted at riding out storms. One of the hang-ups I’ve always had about Bosnia is our lack of vision. We don’t have a clear vision of where we would like to be and how we are going to get there. Whatever that vision is will surely take a whole helluva lot of work. And work is not our strong point. How many of us are really ready to pull up our sleeves to get down to the real business at hand…and the real business at hand is social transformation. It won’t come on its own or by any supreme power. And it requires getting fucking busy. Nerad is our biggest enemy.
3. Some have said that these ‘balvane’ who run this country don’t respond to anything but violence. I beg to differ. Beyond a shadow of a doubt this will be a wake up call of some sort. How effective it will be, only time will tell. The Arab Spring didn’t produce many desired results. We haven’t seen the Arab world blossom or democracy sweep through northern Africa and the Middle East. Quite the opposite. We tried violence. It hurt. And it hurt badly. Do we really want to go back down that road? I surely don’t. My memory of the pain and suffering due to the ultra violence of the 1990’s is more than fresh. It’s a place I don’t want to go back to and a place I will do anything to keep my son from experiencing. We can burn buildings and go at it with the police…but what is it we are aiming to achieve by doing so? I’m afraid not too many of us have the answer or have even thought of the questions we should be asking ourselves.
I’m not pretending to be a smarty pants. I don’t have many answers for the Bosnian quagmire. I do have a different take on the revolution, which, as I age, I see as the evolution of the mind (and so did Public Enemy). Change may come by violent uprisings but I ask is it the change we truly seek?
My revolution looks a bit more like this:
1. Boycott. Where it really hurts is not in the buildings where they reside but rather the funds they plunder on a daily basis. Civil disobedience comes in many forms. Sit-ins. Protests. Boycotting products tied to the corrupt elite or even refusal to pay taxes is, in my humble opinion, the most effective way to get their undivided attention. A collective boycott hurts and hurts bad.This requires us to educate ourselves and pulling our heads from the sand. If we want to see, we need to look.
2. Refusing to partake in the culture of corruption and NERAD. That means that we stop looking for stela to get a document or see a doctor or to pass an exam. It means that we stop taking shortcuts and start doing the work that is required to bring a society back on its feet. It is time to go to work.
3. Run for office. Or at least get involved. At the risk of sounding like Michael Moore, I really think there are a tremendous amount of talented people who (for very good reason) have been sitting on the sidelines. Political activism comes in many forms. The bottom line is that our country has been hijacked by a hoard of thieves and we have, by and large, either put them there or sat watching as they do their dirty deeds. It’s no time to rest on our laurels.
4. Many complain, myself included, that the war days were ‘better.’ The reason they were better is because we lent each other a helping hand. There was an unspoken solidarity among neighbors, friends, and perfect strangers that has all but disappeared in Bosnia today. Community, strong communities, is where social change takes place. It starts in the mirror and takes roots in our communities. Waiting for ‘them’ to solve our problems is a waste of hope and valuable energy.
Now perhaps I’ve got this all wrong. Maybe the powers that be will truly respond to the threat of violence. My guess is that they do NOT have the capacity to adjust their moral compass and that even the threat of riots will not curve their behavior. They will only scheme and scam more on how to spin this in their interest for the up and coming elections.
The rage and frustration that every citizen of Bosnia and Herzegovina is more than justified. And yes, we all need a vent when things get as bad as they’ve gotten. In that respect, I stand side by side with every normal member of our society who are earnestly searching for social justice and who are willing the pay the price to achieve that justice. If we’re going to burn down buildings simply for the sake of expressing our youthful rage, I’m afraid we’re barking up the wrong tree.
I believe social change is not only possible but probable. Whatever we’ve ‘tried’ so far has not worked. Maybe this will. I have my doubts. I understand this. I am not surprised by this. But I do question its form.
America had a supreme opportunity after 9/11 for some serious self-reflection. I feel in many ways we missed that great opportunity. I think these riots in the streets of Bosnia need to be a wake-up call directed at no other than us. WE need to be awoken. They are wide awake, robbing us blind whilst selling us the lies of division and fear. We are the sleeping ones in need of a wake up call.
When the war ended I remember one of the most eerie feelings was…the silence. During cease-fires there may have been a day or two, even a week by some freak chance, where the constant sound of machine gun and sniper fire was muted. But we always knew it could, and would, end at any moment. So ones guard was never quite down. Then it ended. And I felt uneasy about it.
I felt uneasy about being able to walk down a street where I knew their used to be a sniper looking at me through his scope. It made me uneasy because the body and mind fought with each other, one begging to let the guard down and other saying ‘don’t you fucking dare!’ The sounds of machine gun fire accompanied our lives for almost four years. It was as common as a trains rumble thru a city or a chain saw in a village. It guided us. Told us where to go and where not to go. And although it wasn’t a pleasant sound, it was a reassuring one – as strange as that may sound. In war, you take anything you can get to help you get to the next day. And the sounds of bullets being rapidly discharged from their cartridge did just that….unless, of course, one of those bullets had your name on it.
But what I find with a lot of people today is a strong adversity to those sounds, even if they are just fireworks for New Years. It comes from a deep sense of trauma. Which brings me to my point.
Not too far from the house that we are building is a Yugoslav era firing range. Whereas most urban military installations have been moved, this one remains an active shooting ground. Civilians live literally 20 meters from this site. It is not fenced in. I’d say within a hundred and fifty meter radius there are probably over 100 homes.
So for those who survived the longest siege in modern European history, they get to be reminded of the tortuous sounds and feelings on a daily basis. The range is now used by local special forces, police and, yes, EUFOR soldiers. They come to fire boisterous live rounds that resonate across the entire valley, from Sedrenik, Gazin Han, Hladivode, Faletici and Biosko. From my home, 1.5 kilometres away, it sounds like the war has returned to Sarajevo. For the people living next to it, it sounds like the apocalypse.
What astonishes me, and pisses me off, is the arrogant disregard for the local community.How on earth can they allow the special forces and foreign troops to come play war in people’s backyards.
I looked into which European capital city has open-air firing ranges within 20, or 50 or even 1.000 meters of a residential area. Funny enough, I couldn’t find a single one. So while we are often getting European standards shoved down our throats, including human rights, EUFOR (EU led NATO military force in BiH) have no problem with psychologically torturing the local population. I wish I was surprised at the hypocrisy. Obviously I’m not. (I’d like to point out that there ARE functional alternatives not too far from Sarajevo in a much more isolated location).
I was recently asked by the national tv station BH1 to give an interview about this. After I gave the interview the ‘concessionaire’ approached me. He shook my hand and didn’t let go.
“Don’t you have anything smarter to do than this?” Although it wasn’t me that contacted the media nor was it my idea to bring up the issue, I got mad “Nope, nothing at all” I replied (admittedly with a chip on my shoulder). Still not letting go of my hand he moved his chin in the direction of the firing range where I had just given my statement in front of the camera “You know that is private property where you just were?! (slight pause) Is there democracy in America?” I wasn’t quite sure where he was going with this. My answer was “partially, at least, yes.” He shook his shiny, bald head “No, there’s not. You know in America that people have the right to protect their property, right?” Still not knowing is which direction he was heading I said “yes, they do.” His answer to that was “Even killing someone is justified, right?.” He squeezed my hand a bit more. Now I got his point. “And you were just on my private property, weren’t you?”
I’m not quite sure where the chemical imbalance that occurs in me in these situations comes from. Perhaps it’s a defense mechanism to not shit myself. But I was fucking furious. I wrestled my hand away from this 6’2″, 210 pound, bald-headed man…”So now you’re threatening me?!?!” There were four other people standing there in silence, including the reporter. “Your house is just down the road, isn’t it?” His threats became even more ‘subtle.’ He was definitely sending me a clear message. So I walked off and yelled “Don’t threaten me!” His only reply was “I’m not threatening you at all.”
At this point I had the rage. But I had also pissed off a very powerful and, by the looks of his car, gold necklace, and fancy watch, rich war veteran (which is not, by the way, the state of affairs for veterans who honorably sacrificed pretty much everything except breathing for this city).
What pissed me off even more is that I knew the locals has signed a petition that ‘got lost’ in the municipality, complaining about the trauma inflicted on their families because of this firing range. Yet no one would stand in front of the camera. Everyone clammed up. I understand why. Really, I do. But I have been there before and witnessed how everyone disappears when the going gets a bit rough. One time it landed me in a five year court battle. Another exposed me to systematic threats that were, thank goodness, empty ones. So I called the tv station. I told them if I was the only one giving a statement then they don’t have my permission to air the interview. They confirmed that no one would speak to the media. I backed out.
It didn’t take me long to feel defeated. I chickened out. What a pussy. Yet I promised myself last time that I will always stand when even just one other person is ready and willing. But not if I’m to go at it alone again. I didn’t do a good job at convincing myself. I still felt like a loser. Baldy had won.
I was at my house the other day when the boyz with the noise showed up to practice their wares. They fired for hours. I was instantly brought back to the war. I thought of the old baba that lives literally a stones throw from where they were shooting. She had not only survived WWII and the brutality of the last war…but was being forced to relive the trauma several times a week when they bring the old front line right into her living room. There’s no fucking humanity in that. None at all. It’s just plain wrong.
So, with tail between legs, I write this pathetic blog. And tomorrow the Europeans will show up, standards and ethics and all, to fire away in our neighborhood. And the baldhead walks away with a bag full of cash.
not to be re-published in any form without the explicit consent of thebosniaguy – which basically means not to be re-published, period.
The new census will surely show that Sarajevo is even smaller than we thought it was. Estimates put the four main city municipalities total population at just over 250,000. Granted, with East Sarajevo and the surrounding communities we eventually might reach 400,000. But still, we’re small. Smaller than I thought.
I don’t mind small places that wear big britches. In a lot of ways Sarajevo fits that match. In a lot of ways it doesn’t. We don’t have a Thai restaurant to speak of. This town is mainly white. I miss miss my brown and black brothers and sisters. We don’t have a good sports bar. There are zero no-smoking bars. But I’m not here to complain. Quite the contrary actually. We got smoothies.
Yup. You know, those deliciously healthy drinks that can also act as a meal. The drink that is sort of like pistacchio’s…you can’t have one but have to eat the whole bag. The smoothies I’m talking about don’t last long – they’re too good to dwell on or to be sabur with. I tried to savor the moment, really, I did. But I’m only human. One that loves smoothies. Boy, did they go down fast.
I had once toyed with the idea of opening up a smoothie/book shop. I’ve had lots of grandiose ideas over the years. Never managed to tick the box on this one. Somebody else did, though.
It is my pleasure to introduce to you – my fellow Sarajevans, visitors and ex-pats – the moment we all have been waiting for. Fresh smoothies. Organic teas. Delicious Illy coffee(s). Fresh squeezed fruit juices. And even cookies and scones… at Sirove Strasty Smoothy Bar. The icing on the cake? It’s non-smoking AND child friendly. Glory be. I have another winter friend alongside Torte i To.
I’ve been twice over the past three days. I will try to taste as much of them as possible (as a sacrifice to you crazy people who read my mumbo-jumbo). I must admit, it may take some time. I tried the Date & Nuts smoothie during my last fix. This melange of vanilla bean, banana, dates, walnuts, and nutmeg is much worse than a pistacchio addiction. Much worse. It may take me a while to get through them all. I’m not even going to go into the fruit juice combinations.
Sirove Strasty was opened by the yoga instructor pair of Mike and Aida. They have taken their passion for yoga and healthy living one step further. My suspicion is that the menu is Mike’s making. He’s 43 and looks as healthy as a 23 year old. The man knows his nutrition. Combine good nutrition with all the fresh delicacies behind the bar and you get a vice that you can actually be proud of.
My auto corrector keeps telling me that Smoothy is an incorrect spelling. So Smoothie or Smoothy, Mike and Aida’s Smoothy Bar (located right across from Havana Bar in the old town and next to Zeljo) comes with my highest recommendation. Fellow ferners, one less reason to complain about the long winter ahead of us. Another smoke free haven is born. Prijatno.
The Chronicle of Higher Education from the US spent a year researching and writing an article, or perhaps story would better suit its description, about Sabina and her research (http://chronicle.com/article/The-Science-of-Hatred/143157/?cid=cr&utm_source=cr&utm_medium=en). It is titled the Science of Hate. It’s the only thing in the entire length of the story that I disagree with. I’m not a firm believer in hate. I think it’s an easy label to slap on without having to deal with the true emotions underlying ‘hate.’ But hell, who am I to say?
Sabina does not deal with politics as some may think. She is not in the business of pointing fingers. What Sabina does is try to measure human emotions, which, as we all know, are not always rational or even explicable.
The journalist, a soft spoken and exceptionally detailed Austinite named Tom Bartlett, visited us this past spring. He was genuinely intrigued not only about Bosnia and its schizophrenic plight but about how to move this place forward. He was objective. Thorough. Curious. A good listener. A great researcher. He shares a lot in common with Sabina.
Today some of us celebrate statehood day for Bosnia and Herzegovina. Probably about half of us don’t. What encourages me, though, is how many people still care about this place. Bosnia and Herzegovina is, quite frankly, piss-poor at nurturing its friendships. We have not tuned in to the abundance of soft spots that many fine people all across the globe have for this country and ALL its people.
The road ahead for us here in Bosnia is, at best, uncertain. It’s a reality that seems to come with the territory. Experience has taught me that not much of anything in life is black and white. Even if at times we all wished it were that simple, it simply is not. Our personal experiences shape our world view…if indeed we have a world view to speak of at all. For me, the value of what Sabina is doing is that it measures how we feel and not what we want or expect the outcome to be. It is an honest and open approach not only to science but towards basic human relations. For me that means to learn to respect feelings regardless of how absurd or misguided we might deem them to be.Regardless of the rights or wrongs, it’s fucking hard to wipe away an emotion. It’s hard for any of us to truly look in the mirror and acknowledge a lifetime of trash we carry with us, not to mention letting go of a torturous past.
What Sabina is looking for is the path forward…a path that is based on the fears and desires of the people that have to embark on that journey – in their own time and their own way (with perhaps a little positive manipulation here and there). Her research has proved that there is a way forward, although it may be contrary to what our logic (including mine) may tell us. The most valuable lesson I get from living and sleeping with Sabina’s research is that there is no place for assumptions or even wish lists. It has to be a clean and honest slate.
My ramble is over. Sretan Dan Drzavnost for those who celebrate it. And for those who don’t an honest desire that you will one day feel comfortable joining us. We would absolutely love to have you. And if not, that’s ok too.
We had just moved into the second half of the second half and it was still nil-nil. We had all gathered for Bajram, or Eid (sort of like Muslim Easter) as we usually do. But this time the table was set around the tv. It was the final World Cup qualification match.
Sabina’s uncle sat next to me and although I didn’t count, I’m betting he went through an entire pack of napkins to swab the sweat off of his forehead. Her father took Persin to calm his nerves. My mother-in-law paced in the kitchen just out of view of the television until even that became too much. She banished herself into the other room. Sabina spewed out conspiracy theories about how Greece paid the Lithuanians to ‘play harder’ to beat Bosnia in our bid to reach our first World Cup. When I asked where she heard of such a ridiculous accusation and what her sources might be for such a claim, the entire male side of the family turned on me like I was a secret agent for the Greek national football team. Of course the Greeks had offered them money to beat us! Just look how the goalie is playing! (Silly me).
I sat in a room with a medical doctor, pharmacist, social psychologist, physicist, 2 mechanical engineers, an architect, and a certified accountant. The general IQ level in the room was fairly high. But that did not stop the madness. After 65 minutes of a no-goal game something had to give. Sabina’s uncle, the medical doctor, ordered her to change seats with her father. Then a very serious game of musical chairs ensued. The karma wasn’t right for a goal. We had to shake things up. In all honesty, I just had to pee. So i got up, peed, and stood next to the tv instead of going back to my seat.
Minute 68 the house broke into complete hysteria. Bosnia erupted.
Ibisevic scored the games only goal, sending Bosnia and Herzegovina to its first ever World Cup. Screams. Howls. Hugs. Praying to Allah. Rakija/moonshine shots for everyone. I went from traitor to hero. The doc stood up and thanked me, thanked America, for standing up for Bosnia. He wasn’t kidding. It was true, I did stand for the final twenty minutes of the game. But I knew if I even attempted to go back to my seat I would be shunned by a room of superstitious Muslims.
So I stood for the team. I made my sacrifice. Yes, the goal was my doing. It was ordered by God, America, and the angels. I was simply the means to channel this great gift. We outdid the Greeks with their devious bribery schemes. So much for the Greek Gods.
I was helping a Swiss tv crew do a documentary on Bosnia some years back. I can’t recall exactly when but I do know it was summer. They asked me to take them to Lukomir, the highest and most isolated permanent settlement in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It’s as close as one gets to a medieval village in this part of the world.
It was early morning and a weekday, so there were no tourists milling about. Most of the younger people from the village were going about their daily morning chores of milking the cows or taking the sheep out to pasture. I greeted a handful of the village elders as we wandered through their highland homesteads. We made a loop and upon our return I found a village elder, Dedo Duran (rahmetli), sitting on a rocky outcrop in front of a stone barn. He seemed lost in thought. I sat down a few meters to his left in silence.
The tv crew seemed confused. The producer politely asked me what I was doing. I wasn’t exactly sure… until I was. My answer was “I’m keeping him company.” I told them that more elders would soon appear and that they too would just come and sit. Dedo Duran rolled a cigarette. The producer seemed puzzled, doubtful even, of my answer. Within a few minutes a few elderly men strolled over, lifted their pants at the knees and sat down on comfy spot on the rock. Within ten minutes there was six of us there, minus the tv crew, sitting in silence.
I think the producer thought I had staged this for him. I assured him I hadn’t. He asked one of the gentlemen who had come over and sat near Dedo why he did that. Without hesitation he explained ‘It’s ok to be alone in ones thoughts. But we should never leave each other alone. There are enough hard things about life here, we don’t need to make loneliness one of them. We depend on each other. So I sit next to Dedo Duran just like he would come and sit next to me. We don’t always need to speak but its important for everyone to know that they are never alone.’
The other men gazed at the producer in quiet compliance. Dedo Duran licked the cigarette he had just rolled and stuck it onto his bottom lip. This highland shepherd had just laid out, in the most simplistic of terms, the nature of our existence as social beings.
The producer, ecstatic about the elderly man’s profound answer, turned to me, still puzzled, and asked “But how did you know to do that?” At that moment I realized that this was the first time that I was one of ‘them.’ I was always warmly welcomed there. I felt accepted. There was most certainly a reassuring mutual trust among us. But I wasn’t one of them. Not until that summer morning.
So my respect and admiration for ‘them’ transformed into a sense of belonging. And what I was grateful to belong to was not a state or a nationality, but rather the circle of ancient knowledge, often unspoken, that indigenous people possess about the value and essentials of our social fabric. They connect naturally.
Which leads me to my point…
White westerners have the habit of romanticizing or demonizing ‘old world’ traditions and lifestyles. We tend to view indigenous peoples as poor folks who, of course, need our help to be like us. But for me the highland lifestyles of the western Balkans are a precious – and rare – window into our not-so-distant past. I have learned a tremendous amount from the simplicity and wisdom of mountain peoples, whether they be in Lukomir or Lamay.
In my travels and wartime gigs in the western Balkans over the past 20 years I have discovered a small glimpse of the magic, warmth, and ruggedness of the people of the Dinaric Alps. It is not a pathetic illusion of a fairy tale world. Their lifestyles are difficult and, sadly, dying. They too grapple with problems of the world, old and new. But there is a fierce self-reliance that inspires me as much as the dramatic and pristine nature that is their home.
Many of us wrestle with the challenge on how to protect and preserve this precious heritage – both natural and cultural. There is certainly no single or simple answer. But along the Dinaric Alps that stretch from northern Albania all the way to Slovenia are dozens of remote, traditional villages that have lived in sync with some of the most spectacular mountain scenery in all of Europe for many centuries. So it seems logical to try and connect the dots as, forgive the cliche, there is strength in numbers.
This will manifest itself through a project called Via Dinarica. I believe it’s an idea whose time has come. I will ask you to join us on this journey and share with your friends.
This song has been in my head for days. It won’t leave. I don’t want it to.
Being that I have been obsessively listening to it for days it struck a chord (no pun intended) with me yesterday, July 11 – the 18th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacres. It is always a sad day here on that day. Many are flooded with emotions and look to vent in any way they can. Many use social networks, like the one I’m using now. Some are angry. Some spew hate. Most are just overwhelmed with sadness by the fact that we could do this to each other.
Waiting 18 years to find 2 bones of your baby so you may bury him has to be a major head fuck for the mothers of Srebrenica. It is for me. And many still wait. Waiting is all they can do.
The lyrics of this most brilliant song seemed to fit the day yesterday. I have always found solace in music. And I found it in this song on that very sad day. This is for the mothers. For me. For you. For all of us. Listen….
And I came home
Like a stone
And I fell heavy into your arms
These days of darkness
Which we’ve known
Will blow away with this new sun
And I’ll kneel down
Wait for now
And I’ll kneel down
Know my ground
And I will wait, I will wait for you
And I will wait, I will wait for you
So break my step
You forgave and I won’t forget
Know what we’ve seen
And him with less
Now in some way
Shake the excess
But I will wait, I will wait for you
And I will wait, I will wait for you
And I will wait, I will wait for you
And I will wait, I will wait for you
So I’ll be bold
As well as strong
And use my head alongside my heart
So tame my flesh
And fix my eyes
That tethered mind free from the lies
But I’ll kneel down
Wait for now
I’ll kneel down
Know my ground
Raise my hands
Paint my spirit gold
And bow my head
Keep my heart slow
Cause I will wait, I will wait for you
And I will wait, I will wait for you
And I will wait, I will wait for you
And I will wait, I will wait for you
Usually when the father of the bride addresses both families at a wedding he speaks of his love for his daughter, how pleased he is to welcome the grooms side into the family, and (whether he believes it or not) that his son-in-law is a great man that truly loves his baby girl.
Not my father-in-law.
At our wedding, exactly a half decade ago to the day, my 6’4″ father-in-law stood up, champagne in hand, and gave a speech a little something like this…
“Today is a very important day for me and for all of us. This wedding shows the unbreakable bond between Bosnia and America. America is a great friend of ours and this is one more step in solidifying the good relations between our countries. Good foreign relations between America and Bosnia is key for us, for without America, Bosnia wouldn’t be here today….”
He carried on a bit more and I do believe he mentioned his daughter at least once in his state of the union speech. He is the only man (or woman) in my life who has successfully quelled my criticism of American foreign policy. He doesn’t want to hear it. And can talk volumes louder than I and is not at all shy about drowning out my misguided dissent with his boisterous voice. Bless him.
Five years ago today we gathered in the Derzelez House in Sarajevo’s Old Town. This house is the oldest Ottoman home in Sarajevo, dating back to the 17th century. There was only room for our immediately family and a small handful of close friends. In hindsight, the municipal ceremony must have been somewhat confusing for my family. The official from the municipality who legally married us carried on for some fifteen minutes about the rules and regulations of marriage and the state. A ceremony certainly inherited from Bosnia’s socialist past. I could see some of my family members cock their heads in confusion every now and then. Nothing like a cultural exchange during your wedding vows.
Just after the ceremony we moved to the ‘big room.’ This is the room where my father-in-law gave his inspiring speech. Then Sabina went to each of her family members and introduced them and what they meant to her to my family in English. I followed by doing the same for my family to Sabina’s in Bosnian. I thought that would be a nice touch being that most weddings, besides having the same soundtrack (Celebrate Good Times, c’mon!), often find the brides family sitting on one side mingling only amongst themselves and the grooms side doing pretty much of the same.
Like Mido said (that’s my father-in-law), this was not only a joining of family but of continents and nations, right? So we thought it would be a good way to break the ice and encourage shuttle diplomacy. It worked.
It was a good day. And every day since then has been even better. My ‘better half’ (whatever) truly does make my life that much better. I am grateful for her friendship. I adore how much she loves our son. It fascinates me watching her grow into her own. It never ceases to amaze me how committed she is to changing me (keep tryin’, hon). I love how she thinks she is always right fully knowing that it is me who is always right. I am eternally thankful that we allowed destiny to do its thing! Happy Anniversary Sabina.
My Dad enlisted in the Marines just after he finished college in 1968. I was born on the base where he was stationed in Cherry Point, North Carolina (it’s definitely one of the reasons I’m a Tarheel fan as well). As a kid I loved to rummage through his old chest and try on his uniforms and admire his photos. His Dad was a career National Guardsman. My brother was US Army. My other grandfather was army too, serving in Germany at Remagen Bridge during WWII. My Uncle Dan, rest his soul, was a career Navy officer and served all over the world.
In all honesty, it never crossed my mind (at least as an adult) to serve in the armed forces. I was never attracted to guns or the prospect of a drill sargeant hurling insults at me let alone going to war to fight. I’m more the Hunger Project or Save the Children type of guy.
In my late teens and early twenties my worldview started to take shape. Part of that view was vehemently anti-war. Soldiers were, in retrospect, unfairly placed in that basket as well. But what I didn’t understand as a young and at times angry man was the dynamics of war and where (and how) to steer those emotions.
I came to a brutal war zone in 1992 with an army jacket that had a large crossed-off AK-47 patch across my chest. Sort of like a no-smoking sign. It didn’t take me long to figure out that every male between 18-55 had a uniform on (and an AK-47 in hand). The entire population was mobilized. There was no choice in the matter. Fight or flee. So most of my friends were soldiers. And to my surprise many of our views were rather similar. Our day jobs were just a bit different.
That period taught me a lot of things. I did a lot of growing up. I had often confused my dislike of the military industrial complex with ordinary men and women asked to do extra ordinary things for their family, community, and country. I was flat out wrong. Let me tell you why.
The support our troops slogan was and still is a nasty manipulation tool to me. The American public’s rejection of the Vietnam War led government to rethink its propaganda management. Vietnam Vets, as usual, were given the short end of the stick on their return home. The frosty and even bitter reception at home, however misdirected, led to a major shift in how the government would present America’s entry into new wars. It would deflect blame and responsibility from itself through emotional blackmail…and a very sensitive one at that. The troops. Our brothers. Fathers. Sons. Daughters. Sisters. Supporting our troops became synonymous with support our war. And to me the difference is night and day. My idea of supporting our troops is to keep them safe at home. I don’t support any war.
I now know what its like to be on the front line. I understand the rush and terror of continuous bombardment. I get what it’s like to dodge sniper fire in a foreign land where next to nothing is familiar. I developed a deep respect and equal dislike for snipers. It’s no walk in the park for any soldier to implement the agenda of their government. War is hell. Full stop. Soldiers, their families, and countless civilians have paid and still pay the ultimate price any way you look at it.
Soldiers are all too often mandated to do a governments dirty work. Whether it’s Bosnia, America or Chechnya. But what has been clear to me for sometime now is the need and desire for many of us to serve our community or country. We may do it in drastically different ways. But the bottom line is that for most of us it’s our way of doing the right thing and giving something back. Intent is 9/10th’s of the law.
So to all of you, like my friends Lawrence White, Robert Kendall, Ed Brinkley and CJ Watson, who have served and sacrificed in any capacity for community or country I have two words for you. Respect. Peace!