“One day twenty people was wait outside this tunnel. Then, a Serbian bomb come and land on this spot, and ten people are kill in one second. The ten other was left three minutes before and was go in tunnel. I go with this group in the tunnel. If I stay outside, I not be here today to tell you this story of war.”—Jasmina, on one of her four trips through the tunnel connecting besieged Sarajevo with free Bosnian territory.
“I was begin university in 1991 in Sarajevo. The war was begin in summer 1992. I was have no clothes for winter, a kilo of sugar, two eggs, a couple milk and a couple coffee. After the war start, a kilo of sugar was cost thirty euro, a kilo of cheese the same. I was have no communication with my family in Dubrovnik before seven months, when a US soldier from Michigan meet my sister in Dubrovnik and she was tell to him about me and he say that maybe he help. One day I am hide in my apartment, and a UN convoy stopping in front of the building. And the American asked ‘is Jasmina live here?’ and I said yes I am she. He take me to the UN and give me phone to call my family. He give me a kilo of potatoes, and I feeling like he give me million dollars.”—Jasmina, proprietor of the guest-house where I’m staying in Sarajevo, on her war experience.
There is a kind of human being, terrifying above all others, who resists by yielding. Let it be supposed that it is a woman. A man is pleased by her, he makes advances to her, he finds that no woman was ever more compliant. He marvels at the way she allows him to take possession of her and perhaps despises her for it. The suddenly he finds that his whole life has been conditioned to her, that he has become bodily dependent on her, that he has acquired the habit of living in a house with her, that food is not food unless he eats it with her.
It is at this point that he suddenly realizes that he has not conquered her mind, and that he is not sure if she loves him, or even likes him, or even considers him of great moment. Then it occurs to him as a possibility that she failed to resist him in the first place because simply nothing he could do seemed of the slightest importance. He may even suspect that she let him come into her life because she hated him, and wanted him to expose himself before her so that she could despise him for his weakness. This, since man is a hating rather than a loving animal, may not impossibly be the truth of the situation. There will be an agonizing period when he attempts to find out the truth. But that he will not be able to do, for it is this essence of this woman’s character not to uncover her face. He will therefore have to withdraw from the frozen waste in which he finds himself, where there is neither heat nor light nor food nor shelter, but only the fear of an unknown enemy, and he will have to endure the pain of living alone till he can love someone else; or he will have to translate himself into another person, who will be accepted by her, a process that means falsification of the soul. Whichever step he takes, the woman will grow stronger and more serene, though not so strong and serene as she will if he tries the third course of attempting to coerce her.
Twice the Slavs have played the part of this woman in the history of Europe. Once, on the simplest occasion, when the Russians let Napoleon into the core of their country, where he found himself among snow and ashes, his destiny dead. The second time it happened here in Sarajevo. The heretic Bosnian nobles surrendered their country to the Turks in exchange for freedom to keep their religion and their lands.
Hence there grew up, well within the frontiers of the Ottoman Empire, a Free City, in which the Slavs lived as they liked, according to a constitution they based on Slav law and custom, and defied all interference. It even passed a law by which the [Ottoman] Pasha of Bosnia was forbidden to stay more than a night at a time within the city walls. For that one night he was treated as an honoured guest, but the next morning he found himself escorted to the city gates. It was out of the question that the Ottoman Empire should ever make Sarajevo its seat of government… . Often the sultans and viziers must have wondered, ‘But when did we conquer these people? Alas, how can we have thought we had conquered these people? What would we do not to have conquered these people?’
Your pictures are so great, and really artistic! Do you take them yourself?
Also, love the quotes and stories from people in the cities you meet. It really makes the places you travel to seem real and relatable and incredibly fascinating
Thanks! I do take all of them myself, though I have posted a couple of images from elsewhere on the Internet for demonstrative purposes (and I note where the picture is from when I do that).
“I hate the corpses of empires, they stink as nothing else. They stink so badly that I cannot believe that even in life they were healthy.”—Rebecca West, in Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, on the decay of the Austrian Empire and Ottoman Empire in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
“I was just a boy in 1999. I remember the day after the Americans — sorry, NATO — began the bombing, my father went to work. We lived in a small town, and he worked at the military factory. He heard the warning sirens, but they had rang before and then there was nothing, so you see, what happened after was just luck. He went down in the basement, he doesn’t remember why, and then a bomb hit the factory. He came out of the basement to find all twenty of his work colleagues, his friends, dead.”—A Serb I met who taught himself English by watching American action movies and listening to U2.
“You see, my mother-in-law she is the widow of a Lutheran pastor, and I know well that is a different religion from mine, but I think there are only two Christian religions in Europe, and one is the Orthodox Church and the other is the Roman Catholic Church. Now I know that my mother-in-law is not an Orthodox, for one of the things that disgusts her with me is that I am Orthodox, so it seems to me that to be Lutheran is to be some kind of Catholic. Perhaps a Catholic that lets his pastor be married.”—From a story told by an Orthodox Serb in Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, a travelogue written by Rebecca West during the mid-1930’s about her journeys through Yugoslavia. Some things never change: I’ve had this exact same conversation with Moldovans at least ten times.
This link is a little confusing, but click on ‘full screen’ for a slide show. You can click anywhere on the image thereafter to zoom in and read the text. The photos are the finalists from a youth photography contest sponsored by The World Bank.
This camp looks great! How did you go about planning it, finding participants and counselors, writing the curriculum, etc.? I'm sure it was a ton of work.
Actually, I can’t take credit for any of that. The camp was organized by Winrock Moldova and funded by the Liechtensteinische Entwicklungsdienst. The business curriculum is part of a larger Winrock project, IATA, and Winrock volunteers use the same course materials in seminars throughout Moldova. The life skills components are, to my knowledge, mostly leftovers from previous years the camp has been held. In short, most of the hard work was already done for us — I just had to show up and work my magic.
None of this means, however, that we counselors (who were chosen after an application process) didn’t add to or change things about the lessons: two of my contributions, for example, included using a poster-sized, theoretical resume of Barack Obama’s as a sample (in Romanian!) during the CV-writing session, as well as stretching a condom over my hand and down my forearm during the contraception lesson to demonstrate to the girls that yes, the condoms are in fact big enough for your man, no matter what he says. (We also lampooned this in a skit at the talent show the last night of the camp when another male counselor, dressed in drag and pretending to be a camper, stretched the condom over his foot.)
From last Monday until yesterday, I was working at a summer camp for girls from the age of sixteen to twenty-one who have an interest in opening their own businesses in Moldova. Applications were mostly distributed in smaller communities throughout the country to girls who come from especially disadvantaged backgrounds. Apart from creating jobs and creating a better-trained contingent of women for Moldova’s workforce, the idea for this camp is that if girls feel like they have economic opportunities at home, they will be less inclined to emigrate to find work, to remain in abusive relationships, or to take chances that will lead to them being trafficked abroad for exploitation.
Somewhere around seventy girls applied for forty-five slots; out of the forty-five chosen, thirty-nine showed up last Monday to head to camp with us. I was one of a dozen counselors who would be teaching the campers courses on basic economics (e.g., supply and demand), how to write a business plan, how to make a budget, how to prepare a CV and a letter of interest, how to interview for a job, and dealing with corruption, in addition to life skills sessions about family planning, breast cancer screening, and domestic violence. By the end of the week, the girls, in small groups of three or four, would make business plans (including a comprehensive budget, strengths-weaknesses analysis, and a timeline) for ventures they might pursue in their communities.
On the first day of the camp, T-shirts were distributed, on which the girls were supposed to draw what they dreamt of becoming. At this point, they were very, very timid. Most of them seemed as if they had never been told that they could accomplish whatever they wanted in life, as long as they put in the effort, and as a result many of the T-shirts were practical: one girl drew a police officer, for example, while another drew the logo of Microsoft Windows — she dreams of being a computer specialist in her town.
Many of the week’s highlights came when the girls were asked to come up with and act out different scenarios, mostly in situations involving communicating with men. I helped teach the sessions on domestic violence, for example, and we asked the girls to act out different situations involving the different phases of abusive and healthy relationships. After seeing three sets of girls act out these scenarios, I was saddened to see how similar all of their impressions of how Moldovan men treat women — namely how little respect they expected from the men in their lives — but encouraged by the new confidence I could see in their eyes when they left these sessions.
The business plans the girls presented at week’s end were simply amazing. In past years, the camp participants had usually presented fairly unoriginal ideas for Moldova — another corner store, for example, or another hair salon — but this year we encouraged them to be especially creative. Some of the businesses included:
A home cleaning service
A pet kennel
A business that produced bales of hay from the grass growing on unused land
A children’s birthday party entertainment service (e.g., clowns)
A pet grooming service
An organic tomato and cabbage farm
These may not seem especially original or fanciful ideas to the American reader, but without exception these ideas all offer products or services (or an original way to reduce overhead, in the case of the hay-bales) that are unheard of in Moldova’s cities, towns, and villages. (For example, people are only now beginning to bring cats and dogs into their homes in the larger cities in Moldova; thus the pet-related businesses.) All of these plans came with complete budgets and marketing schemes, and were presented to a panel of judges in PowerPoint — probably the first time many of these girls had used the program.
As the week unfolded, I was amazed at how the girls opened up to us. I got the opportunity to get to know some bright and talented young women with poignant stories. One eighteen-year-old girl, for example, an orphan, lives with her younger sister in an extra room at the technical school in her village. Quiet and timid the first days of the camp, she didn’t leave to get her bus home until she had hugged each of the counselors for at least thirty seconds.
Another girl, a sixteen-year-old, applied to seventy high schools in Romania to have a chance to get away from her parents. Blessed with an amazing signing voice evocative of Fiona Apple and Nina Simone, she had found a way to study music — in secret, at a friend’s house — even though her parents continue to refuse to support her (for half of her life she had lived with her grandmother; I got the impression that her parents hadn’t planned to have a child when they did). She had taught herself English to such a point that she could speak better than my best twelfth-graders, though her father refused to pay for lessons for her because she once brought home a B on a test. Thankfully, she will be in Romania for at least the next three years, with a chance to blossom like I know she can.
One of my fellow counselors is a prime example of how life-changing this camp can be. A few years back, she was a camper, and ended up using what she learned at the camp to open a small cafe in her village. What’s so wonderful and sad about her story is what inspired her to open this business: she wanted to make money so she could afford to bring her mother home from Italy to be with her and her younger sister. Now, the cafe is a success, and though her mother is still abroad, she’s been able to enter a university to continue her education — an opportunity that she probably would not have had were it not for what she learned at this camp.
I can safely say that this last week was one of my best in Moldova, and it reminded me of why I came here. These girls give me the hope that my time spent here is not in vain and that Moldova does in fact have a bright future.