While I was in Bosnia, I began thinking of things that I would do differently next time.
First, I would bring my computer. I intentionally did not bring my computer on this trip, so I could “unplug” a little. I had my phone which I thought would be adequate.
I learned something about myself, though. When I journal with a notebook and a pen, I tend to write little notes to myself. Reminders of the day. Conversations occasionally, but with minimal extras. When I write on my computer, I write complete sentences. Or complete thoughts. (<– see what I did there?) I edit, delete, rewrite, and write a little more — because the process of writing helps me to unfold my thoughts more completely.
For two weeks, I didn’t do that. Now I am left with a hopelessly tangled knot. I try to write about an experience I had there and I can tell something isn’t right about what I just wrote, but I’ve lost the moment. Sigh.
So — next time, the computer travels with me, and journalling will be worked into the schedule.
Second, I would bring more gifts. I was overwhelmed with the generosity of the Bosnian women. They gave us clothes, jewelry, hand-made lace items, plums — not because we needed them, but because they wanted to express things that only a gift can express — Thank you. I appreciate you. I want you to remember me. I was thinking of you and I wanted you to have this.
Quite frankly, I wasn’t prepared at all for that. I had thrown a few things in my bag to give, and gave them on our last day. (Stay tuned for a future post about that.) But I really wished I had more, much more, because I wanted to say all those things that only a gift can express. (See previous paragraph.)
Third, skip the brick brigade.
Ostensibly, we were there to help build a house. I was a little skeptical of my part in that from the get-go, but figured there must be something I could do. A prerequisite for the trip was the ability to carry bricks uphill. Well, we carried them downhill. And not even that. We formed a brick brigade and passed them down the line in the many-hands-make-light-work spirit. Moving a palette of bricks took, maybe, 20 minutes. It just felt like, um, fluff — well, as fluffy as brick-moving can be. Later in the week, I saw a truck deliver bricks much closer to the work site. It made me wonder how much of the original delivery site was so that the Americans could feel useful. I didn’t want to feel useful; I wanted to be useful.
Which is why, fourth, I would have volunteered more in the kitchen. On the last day, I went into the kitchen with the Bosnian women. Perhaps I should have stuck with moving bricks because I was pretty terrible at scraping potatoes. Had I started earlier in the week, by this point, I might have gotten the hang of it. Had I known I would be doing that before we left, I would have brought some peelers. As gifts. To say, I want you to remember me — every time you peel potatoes.
But peeling potatoes and cutting cabbage were the highlights of my week. We communicated through hand gestures (when the translator stepped out) and demonstration. We laughed at my clumsiness – ineptness needs no translation and neither does laughter. The women asked if I wanted to make the traditional pie, but, if I couldn’t peel a potato well, I was afraid what I would do to the pie.
Next time, though, I would head straight for the kitchen. I would help with the daily bread-making and soup-making. And I would learn the Bosnian way of rolling out pie dough. (It was pretty amazing!)
Last, I would leave the photography to other people. If I had left my computer home so I could be unplugged, I should have left the camera off so I would stay in the moment. I’m not the greatest photographer. One girl on the trip was truly gifted in that area. My pictures are adequate at best.
Once, when we went out on a boat, Amina, our translator, asked me to take a picture of her. The first three or four pictures that I tried to take were so bad that she turned to someone else. I should have warned her that I was lousy photographer.
As the week went on, I took less and less photographs. I tried to memorize the things I was seeing, smelling, tasting and feeling. All the pictures in the post were taken by someone else — proof that I didn’t need to take any.
A number of people have asked if I will go back to Bosnia.
I guess I need to, if only to do it better.
4 thoughts on “Things I Would Have Done Differently in Bosnia”
It sounds like it was a worthy experience for you.
Your candour is refreshing and even if you feel you missed the opportunity to write and rewrite and ease your words into meaningful order by not taking your computer, as your reader you make delightful sense in retrospect. I particularly relate to your need to BE of help not simply be fobbed into feeling helpful. If you have the opportunity you WILL do it differently because you have taken the time to reflect on how it really was. I really enjoyed this piece.
By not writing in the moment I think I missed two things — one, not remembering all the details, and two, not properly sorting it all out. But then, not writing in the moment meant I had to BE in the moment. It was probably a reasonable trade-off.
I’m sure it was but of course we all have our preferred process and being thrust out of that can be disorientating and actually disabling at some level. I am back in Grenoble and received the delightful surprise of you PC when I collected mail. I have no Wi-Fi right now and am managing with just my phone (clearly you understand the issues) so my properly contracted personal thank you will need to wait til I am equally properly connected. But thank you. Really it made a rather bleak homecoming to yet another temporary home shine warmly. 😊
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