Monday, April 17, 2006


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It wasn’t until she was sitting in front of me that I realized it had been four years since I had last seen her. Four years ago, she gave me a voice in a country where I didn’t speak the language and wanted so desperately to assimilate. Four years ago, I stood beside her as guns shot into the air, a bag of candy was broken over her head and a car full of Bosnian men stormed her home and carried her away to domestic bliss. Since then, our lives had diverged.

We met at the Jefferson memorial on one of those first warm days of spring. The cherry blossoms had just finished their annual bloom and a light breeze swirled the remnant petals through the marble columns, coming to rest in the space between us.

“You look good.” I noticed that she had straightened her hair, gone blonde and had her teeth fixed.

She looked me up and down and responded with the cultural equivalent.

“You look the same.”

We both smiled and filled an awkward silence with warm memories of a late summer and fall spent deep inside one another’s worlds.

The year was 2002. The setting was a war ravaged, recovering Bosnia.

Before I arrived in Bosnia, my knowledge of the country was contained in books I had read to write my Thesis. Until I met Sher, my introduction to her country was the chilly reception of my Serbian neighbors. As my translator, Sher allowed me to have ears.

I heard from Muslims, Croats and Serbs, men, women and children, soldiers, government officials and farmers. In Bosnia, the unspoken rule is that you do not ask people about the war. That being said, people want to tell you their stories. And once word has spread that you listened to one tale, people begin to seek you out.
Like scorned lovers, they can’t wait to tell you their version of events as if somehow they can vindicate themselves, set the record straight, win you back, just so they can tell you they never wanted you in the first place.

I listened.

But when my contract ended I packed my life into a tiny suitcase, their stories into the forefront of my awareness and I left to join my colleagues in the Former Soviet Republic of Georgia. I vowed to dedicate my future work to the countries development. I got e-mail addresses and phone numbers. I cried when I promised Kasmir I would come back for him.

But the international presence in Bosnia was fading, agencies and organizations were leaving and funding was scarce. Like so many other countries ‘liberated’ by the hand of international intervention, the foreign invaders didn’t stay long. After the photo ops, political declarations, tasting of the local food and sampling of the locals, we packed our aid, our policy and our jobs and we headed for the next big world disaster.

I was no different from the rest.

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posted by Pop Culture Casualty @ 4/17/2006 06:29:00 AM |


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