Thursday, December 5, 2013

A different type of Thanksgiving

          I arrived back in Osijek yesterday afternoon from my week of traveling. Honestly, I was not happy to be back. I had such a good time exploring new places and reconnecting with old friends that I had no desire to come back to my life here. However, today has been a great day. I was welcomed back to the library with a hug from Joška, the oldest volunteer in the library. He had told me before I left that I was not allowed to get married when I was gone because I was needed in the library. Although he was joking, I could tell that he was happy today that I was back. Joška actually just received an award tonight for his great volunteer work in the library. I joined a vanfull of people form the seminary to go to the old city where there was a special ceremony on International Volunteer Day for Joška and others receiving awards. As I celebrated with him, I realized that although I am not completely comfortable or happy here in Osijek, I have found a place where I belong. And driving through the city on the way home tonight, I realized that the streets and buildings are familiar here. Slowly, Osjiek is becoming my home.
          A week ago I boarded a bus at 10:30 pm, which drove through the nights with many stops, before finally reaching Split around 10:15 am. The last three hours of the trip, although were really slow with a million stops, was absolutely breathtaking as it went along the coast. I was finally able to see the Adriatic sea, islands, and coastline for which Croatia is so famous. It really is as great as everyone has told me and I would strongly encourage everyone to go and see it! After leaving my backpack in a locker, I took off to explore the city. I was blown away by the old city with all the winding paths and darling buildings. I walked along the sea then hiked to the top of this hill overlooking the entire city. I ate a Thanksgiving dinner of an ice cream cone, while sitting under a palm tree. By the time I met Julianne, the BVSer living in Split, in the early afternoon, I was worn out from walking and the long night on the bus. Although Julianne had to work, I enjoyed staying in her apartment and being able to video skype my family (YAY for working internet!)
          Friday morning, Julianne and I took a 10:55 bus to Mostar. This was a four hour bus ride, but the first two hours were once again along the coast. As we headed into Bosnia, I was able to observe the countryside there. I was surprised at how much the mountains and even houses reminded me of Iraqi Kurdistan! My director, Kristin, and BVSer Stephanie met us at the bus station and we took our stuff to Stephanie's apartment before going out to get some groceries to make our Thanksgiving dinner. The dinner turned out great! We had mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, stuffing, corn, beans, chicken, pumpkin pie, and ice cream! It was all so delicious! Saturday morning we got to explore Mostar a bit.
          I found Mostar really interesting. It is a more Mediterranean climate (although it was cold when I was there) so there are palm trees and pomegranate trees. The city was once a part of the Ottoman empire and Turkish influences are still everywhere. I was so surprised to feel like I was back in Istanbul looking at the different souvenirs. Mosques are prevalent all over the city and you can drink Turkish coffee and eat baklava! I loved feeling like I was back in Turkey/Iraq! The other interesting par of Mostar is that you can see remnants of the war everywhere. There are many bombed out buildings still standing around the city. Saturday afternoon we went to a nearby town to see the mouth of the river and an old Dervish building. We drank Turkish tea (just like I became accustomed to) and ate Turkish delight and rice pudding. It was so nice to escape the cold and have time to relax. Later in the day, I was able to read for a long time before going to to eat at a great local restaurant. It was really nice being with the other BVSers, hearing about their projects, and learning more about my neighboring country.
          Sunday morning I took a two and a half hour bus ride from Mostar to Sarajevo. The ride was goregous, as we travelled along a river. As we got higher in elevation, there was snow everywhere. And although I am not a fan of snow, it looked beautiful. Seriously, the villages looked like mini winter wonderlands! My friend Miriam, then met me at the bus station.Miriam and I knew each other when I was very little in Kansas. Our parents were in the same church small group, but Miriam is five years older than me so even then we did not know each other well and I moved away when I was six. Miriam is doing SALT (a volunteer program with Mennonite Central Committee) in Sarajevo this year and when she heard I would also be in the Balkans (the Mennonite world is very connected), she got in contact with me in Phoenix this summer and we decided to meet up. And it was great! Although we really did not know each other, we connected right away and I felt right at home staying with her. I actually felt more at home with her than I have felt since coming with her. There is something about being with another Mennonite and Kansan that makes me feel completely comfortable and at home.
          My three days in Sarajevo were spent walking around, making and eating food in Miriam's apartment, drinking hot chocolate (white hot chocolate!) at a local cafe, salsa dancing, meeting the other MCCers, buying food at local markets, talking, touring her work, and much more. Although I did not fall madly in love with Sarajevo like I was expecting to, I did enjoy it. It was a lot more what I was expecting Croatia to be... it does not feel like a Western place. But it is bustling and busy, which I loved. However, it is also really dirty and smoggy. I did not really enjoy my hair smelling like smog after an afternoon walk. One of the other things that I did was learn from Miriam how to make zwieback. Now zwieback is a Russian Mennonite bread recipe that I grew up with. However, my mom never learned how to make them and thus I have also never known. But Miriam not only knew, she had worked at a bakery in Kansas for two years making them, so I was learning from the best. It was great to not only get to know a new place, but connect back with my own roots. I hope to make zwieback myself once I get my own apartment when I move to Zagreb.
          The week was truly spectacular, but now I am back to work in the library. But it is less than three weeks until Christmas which brings with it more traveling and a new adventure!

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