The Balkans; Višegrad, Bosnia and Herzegovina

The small mountain town of Višegrad isn’t exactly a standard tourist destination but it is famous (at least in certain circles) as the setting of The Bridge on the Drina, a novel by Nobel Prize winner Ivo Andrić.

Almost no one we asked in Sarajevo knew precisely how to get to Višegrad. When we inquired at the Tourist Information Center, the nice people working there told us they weren’t sure about transportation to the town because they hadn’t heard from its Tourist Info Center in several days and no one answered their phone calls. So, basically, we had to just strike out in the town’s general direction and hope for the best (a tactic that has sometimes proved useful in Kazakhstan). In Sarajevo, there are two bus stations because Bosnia and Herzegovina is divided into two political regions. One bus station – the main one – is located centrally in town, people use it all the time, and everyone knows how to get there and what to expect, etc. The other bus station is located on the outskirts of town, is rarely used (comparatively), and almost no one knows how to reach it. You can guess which bus station we needed. The entire trip to Višegrad was like this: unfortunately tedious. I will spare you the details. It will suffice to say that we arrived around noon and, thanks to a bus schedule poorly adapted for tourism, our only feasible return transportation to Sarajevo passed through an hour later. So we spent the hour walking the length of the Mehmed Paša Sokolović bridge again and again, photographing the town from the kapia, sitting on the sofa, and recalling the events of the novel, of which the bridge is the heart and center. I regret that we didn’t make it into town but Višegrad is now beginning the process of constructing Andrić grad, a town within the town which, supposedly, will be dedicated entirely to the writer. So, obviously, we’ll have to return when it’s complete.


A UNESCO World Heritage Site! I’ll bet you didn’t know that.


The eleven arches have spanned the river since the 1570’s.


It’s big and stony. Perfect for strolling and congregating, two things that happen a lot in the novel. Also featured: a saboteur is impaled on a giant spike and displayed for a day while he dies, a young girl leaps over the side during her wedding procession and drowns to avoid the marriage, a respected community leader is nailed to a wooden post by his ear, and various death-guards behead people and display their trophies in the center of the bridge. And then there’s the second half of the book…


The bridge is on the river. The kapia is on the bridge. The sofa is on the kapia. Nick is on the sofa. Yay!


The view is quite nice. The older part of town is on the right bank.


Our short visit to Višegrad was worth any difficulty or extra cost incurred. The bridge over the Drina River is beautiful and intimidating in its apparent permanence. To have walked its stones and imagine the hundreds of years that it has spanned that piece of water is a dream realized.

We returned to Sarajevo for a day or two and hopped on a packed (overflowing) train for…

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The Balkans; Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

To fly over the steppes of Central Asia to Bosnia and Herzegovina is to gain an appreciation for trees; specifically the fact that there are still a good number of trees on the rest of our planet. The hills around Sarajevo are miles of rich, unrelenting green in August and I immediately sank into nature-shock. Corinne was more reserved. And after an hour and a half of waiting for the so-called hourly airport shuttle to arrive, she was decidedly unimpressed. But when we finally gave in against our better judgment and hired a taxi, it turned out that the guy didn’t want to rip us off – in fact, not only did he give us the price we were told was fair, he enthusiastically pointed out everything on our drive in from the airport and seemed to genuinely want us to have a nice stay in Sarajevo. Taxi drivers of Kazakhstan, take note.

The charms of Sarajevo are subtle and reveal themselves slowly so that after a few days you feel that you’ve actually gained momentum and that you’re just getting to know the city, not tiring of it. You come to appreciate the folks in Baščaršija for taking it slow despite working in the bazaar (a place we’ve come to associate with hassles, yelling, and general irritation) and after a few days you’re ready to sip from the Sebilj fountain in hopes that you’ll return to Sarajevo soon. The city has just the right mix of historical old town, globalized new town, and a lot of space in between; all of which contain interesting places to see and sit and enjoy life. We went to the top of the Avaz Tower for a dollar and had coffee with a panoramic view of the city. We took a long morning walk to the old Goat’s Bridge and back. We hopped on a horse-drawn carriage in Ilidža and rode down the aleja to the peaceful, waterfall-strewn Vrelo Bosne park. We climbed the hill through Alifakovac cemetery where almost all of the graves are dated 1994. We had Bosnian coffee and our first lokum (Turkish delight). We saw our first 3D movie – in English – in a huge cineplex. Maybe best of all, we had several portions of ćevapi, a sort of Balkan fast food made up of tender, spiced sausages stuffed with onions into pillowy, pita-like flat bread and served with a mound of kajmak (clotted cream).


It’s meat-flavored heaven.


The Sebilj fountain of Baščaršija, the old town square and market, is usually surrounded by more pigeons than people but the best ćevapi is just around the corner.


This very old little market, Bezistan, used to house Silk Road traders. Now you can find all the $5 sunglasses you could want inside.


Arguably Sarajevo’s most famous landmark, this is the bridge where hero/terrorist (depending on your take of history) Gavrilo Princip assassinated Franz Ferdinand, the archduke of Austria, and set off World War I.


Right at the foot of the mountains, Vrelo Bosne is a beautiful place.


The impact scars of mortars were ingeniously filled with red lacquer and are known as Sarajevo Roses, though they’re disappearing quickly as the pavement is replaced.


We wanted to play but it seemed like we needed a reservation weeks in advance. So we just stood around shaking our heads with the other spectators at one player or another’s ridiculous response to the Pirc Defense or inevitable failure to foresee an incoming pawn fork.


Corinne demos Bosnian coffee. Not as a straightforward as it seems, folks.


The hills of Sarajevo from Avaz Tower.


From Alifakovac toward Avaz Tower, center-right.

And while in Sarajevo, we took a day trip to…

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The Balkans; Introduction

Back in August, Corinne and I used the remaining twenty-six days of our annual leave (fastidiously squirreled-away two days per month at a time). We visited a place that most people from our part of the world are, at best, only vaguely aware of. And few of those people would consider this an appropriate vacation destination. Even the Brits we met were pretty unclear on Balkan geography (they were clueless on Kazakhstan) which is sad, really, and not just because they share the continent but also because the Balkans as a region is an incredibly diverse and fascinating area with cultural influences from the Slavic and Turkish worlds as well as the cultures of the Mediterranean. It’s a remarkable place which is unfortunately best known for destruction and violence and yet contains some of the oldest and richest cultural history of the Western world.

I should say: yes, it is safe (fun, even!) to travel to all of these places. The only destination in the Balkans which could be considered questionable is the Kosovo-Serbia border which we did not approach (and, economically speaking, Greece isn’t a great choice right now). The violence of the 90’s is a bad memory for most people which persists only in some bombed-out architecture. The people we met were very matter-of-fact and open about it and certainly aren’t eager for its return. They like the same things we like – a weekend trip to the beach, seeing the kids off to school on the first day, reading the newspaper over coffee, a new pair of jeans, and enjoying a meal and a drink with friends. The drink might be rakia rather than Yuengling but the principle is the same.

I should also say: the first goal of Huber vacation is always to relax and enjoy being somewhere new. Corinne and I never rush ourselves to fit everything into a packed schedule. If we don’t make it to see everything, we take time to enjoy the things we are seeing that much more. I’ll follow the same rule here: I may not get to everything but, hey, that leaves more for your own discovery when you visit.

We begin our journey with a quick jaunt through Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport connecting to a BiH Airlines flight to…

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We’re still here =)

Hi!!!!!

We’re back from our three and a half week of travelling around Eastern Europe/The Balkans and Nick is working on a blog post, but how do you scrunch 3 1/2 weeks into a post? He’s trying to answer the same question.

We’ve got seven more weeks in Karaganda and then we’re off to Almaty for medical and COS-ing (close of service).  The next month and a half are packed to the gills with site visits, conferences and tying up loose odds and ends.  I’m so lucky to still be teaching music and my kiddos are constantly making me smile.

We’re trying to finish strong.  Here, you’ll find pictures from the last three years of our service, I’ll try to post a few each day.  I hope you’ll enjoy looking at them.  Can’t wait to see all of you when we get home.

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We’re OFF! :)

For the next four weeks Nick and I will be traveling through the Balkans.  Just in case you’re thinking… where in the heck is that?!… Nick has put together a few pictures that should help!

1.  Sarajevo, Bosnia & Hercegovina

2.  Mostar, Bosnia & Herzegovina

3.  Dubrovnik, Croatia

4.  Kotor, Montenegro

5.  Belgrade, Serbia

6.  Monastery near Sofia, Bulgaria

7.  Plovdiv, Bulgaria

8.  Istanbul, Turkey

We leave today to catch a train from Karaganda to Almaty.  Tomorrow morning we’ll arrive in Almaty and spend the day getting coffee and doing some grant stuff around the PC office.  Then, Wednesday morning we’re off to the airport and we’ll fly into Turkey and then catch our connecting flight to Sarajevo.  We’re super excited!  We’ll update and try to post pictures as we go!

Have an awesome August!! :) :) :)

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Energy sucked away…

So… today Nick and I took a trip to a clinic in Karaganda (think more like sketchy hospital).  At first when I spoke with our PCMO (Peace Corps Medical Officer) I thought I was going to get off easy by taking a few antibiotics since my symptoms have persisted more than 3 days.

But, our antibiotics were expired. WOO. psych. Terrible.

This means I needed to have an actual exam and then an actual prescription written and then go to an actual pharmacy… SO.. we headed out the door at 8:30AM to the doctor’s office only to get a call from the PCMO that we needed to go around noon.. BLEEN.

BUT, as we were walking back to our padyest (the front door to our apartment) in comes ZHENYA out of nowhere (our awesome neighbor whose family won a green card and they leave for America the same time as us!!!!).  She is like, DANG GIRL, WHATSA MATTER WITH YOU?! and I was like.. “I’m sick. bleh.” And she was like… “alright”  Then more russianrussianbrokenrussianenglishnick how do you translate this… russianrussianrussian, ending in Zhenya offering us a RIDE to the clinic at 11AM.  HOLLA!!!!!!!!!! :)

So, promptly at 10:58AM Zhenya (I LOVE HER AND HER EARLINESS) banged on our door and said she’d be waiting in the car.  Nick and I rushed really quick to get ready and head down.  Her hubby was waiting and we got in the SUV-ish car and drove to the clinic.  The whole way talking about their move to the states and they’re super excited and super nervous (which is so cute!!) :)  They’re adorable!

We get to the clinic super fast and we’re about 40 minutes early.  I see the first doctor for all of 2 minutes, then get transferred to another doctor (GET TO CUT IN LINE!!! HOLLA!!!) he shoves gauzy things up my nose (OUCH) and russianrussianrussain later I find out I need an xray of my freaking FACE. WHAT?! Yeah… have you ever had an xray of your FACE?!?!  Me either, until today. awesome.

So, after I get the xray and Nick and I wait for a long-ish time, the doc is like… “great! you don’t need surgery!” and I look at Nick like, “WAS THAT EVEN ON THE TABLE?! GEEEZ!”

He wants to prescribe three different kinds of pills and a bath for my throat, but our AMAZING PCMO narrows it down to ONE kind of pill (a SUPER AWESOME antibiotic and NO THROAT BATH! OORAH!).

So… that’s it!  Here’s the XRAY of my FACE. bwhahahaha.

 

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Energy Restored :)

Long time no see! :)

A lot has happened since Camp GLOW in Karkaralinsk, but then our blog was blocked for a while, but we’re BACK and my energy has been restored!! :)

A few updates!  Right after Camp GLOW in Karkaralinsk (about a month and 1/2 ago) I wrote a quick grant for a Teacher Training Summer Camp.  Nick and I prepared for about a week and 5 volunteers put on an amazing camp for about 35 teachers from our Oblast.  We taught them a lot of things and played a lot of games.  We were able to do a lot of arts & crafts projects that they can teach their students too!  There are a few pictures below of the camp.

For the 3rd of July, Nick and I hosted a 4th of July part at the American Corner in Karaganda!  A lot of volunteers from Karaganda came out to help.  We hosted an Independence Art Competition, shared some info about the 4th, had an awesome water balloon toss and then had tea and sweets.  We had about 50 people come out, so it was pretty awesome.

For the 4th of July, we spent the day in the capital of Kazakhstan… Astana.  We took a train early in the morning, walked around the city all day and then took another train back in the evening.  This city is confusing and amazing.  The buildings are wild and there aren’t many people hanging around.  We got to enjoy a good ole fashion 4th inside the Embassy complete with red, white and blue cupcakes and water balloon toss.  We had some good conversations, met some very interesting Americans doing work in different parts of Kazakhstan, and got to say goodbye to the latest group of PCVs leaving Kazakhstan (pictures in the slideshow at the bottom).

Next and more excitingly… Nick started a movie night/film club at the library in the center of Karaganda!!! The movie night/film club takes place two times a week on Mondays and Fridays.  The numbers keep growing and growing as word gets out about his movies!  This is one of the projects Nick has wanted to do for the longest time, since we’ve been in Kazakhstan, so HOORAH!  WTG Nick. :)

This past week, I just got back from Camp GLOW in Kokshetau (read more in the previous post) and I’ll do a huge update about that later.  It was truly the best week ever.  I had an amazing opportunity to work with the most positive and energetic people I’ve ever met and they really lightened my spirits and made me happy to be in Kazakhstan.

Nick and I are busy planning for our trip to the Balkans in August and thinking often about my Mom.  Mom was just diagnosed with breast cancer and is working through steps to take care of it in the quickest way.  She is doing great, but we wish we could be there.  It was especially hard while at GLOW, getting information and not being able to Skype, but now that I’m back in Karaganda for the next week and a half, it’s been amazing and having the opportunity to “be there” without actually being there is incredible.  Please send positive thoughts her way.  She’s been in great spirits, but could always use more. :)

That’s all for now.  Enjoy the slideshow. :)

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CAMP GLOW in Kokshetau

Camp GLOW!

I just got back from my most favorite week in Kazakhstan.

My friend Hannah just put on the most amazing women’s leadership camp.  A large part of why this week was the best ever was that each girl brought something different and new to the table and opened up in a way that made each and every volunteer feel special.

It’s one of those moments when you realize all of your work is worth something and we’re here for a reason.  Working with the amazing energy of all of the volunteers this past week has renewed my energy and I hope to do one more big project before I leave: A Fitness Conference.

Camp GLOW in Kokshetau was a huge success!  Awesome job Hannah, Rachel, Alix, Katie, Holly and Hil & Caitlin! :) WE ROCK. <– check here for awesome pictures!!!

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Camp GLOW!

Well, Camp GLOW ended a while back, but I’m feeling better and better about it as the weeks progress.

Here is a a video summarizing a little about the camp and the song was created by a group of awesome GLOW campers with imaginations and creativity beyond words.

Enjoy! :)

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Clouds.

The weather is cloudy, but I’m trying to keep a sunny disposition  (the cloudy part of this post is much longer than the sunny part, but just try to make it through).

Recently, the past four weeks, I’ve been struggling.  Truly, struggling.  So many questions… Why did I put so much trust in the Board of Education?  Why did I blindly believe everything they said? Why didn’t we have them sign a freakin’ document agreeing to their terms back in February?  Would it even have mattered?

….

Back in January, when Nick and I returned from America, I went to my counterpart and discussed the idea of Camp GLOW.  She was so. excited.  The next day, she’d already scheduled a meeting with our director to discuss it and then the next week we were already meeting with the board to discuss optional means of funding (my CP is amazing).  The board shocked us all when they agreed to FULLY FUND travel (to and from the camp site, which is 4 hours away) and room and board for ALL 90 (their number) girls from Karaganda Oblast (including volunteers).  Not only was this what I’ve been working toward MY ENTIRE SERVICE, but it was finally happening.  A totally sustainable project… entirely funded BY THE COMMUNITY.  ENTIRELY.  It’s amazing.  Truly amazing.  Instead of being ecstatic, I should have been suspicious.  I should have questioned, instead, I let it ride and hoped for the best.  Hoped they would keep their word. Hoped they would see the value in teaching girls from the community how to be leaders in the world.

Last week, the board pulled 2/3 of the their funding.  Leaving us with only funding for room and board and the camp.  Looking back on it now, I should have just thrown a temper tantrum and cancelled the camp (maybe then they would have realized their importance in funding the camp… maybe).  Instead, my counterpart and I have been trying to find money EVERYWHERE we can… it’s exhausting.  I can’t tell you how many nights I’ve gone to bed at 7:30 or 8 just because I can’t think about it any more.  I can’t tell you how many mornings I’ve woken up at 5:30 and have worked STRAIGHT on this and then had to go to school to still teach lessons.

…this story doesn’t have a happy ending.  We had a meeting with our girls yesterday (all 78) and they each had to pay for food and travel.  It’s exactly what the board wanted.  They requested that each girl paid for her own food and travel and it makes me so angry because THEY said they would pay for it and then they didn’t. WHO DOES THAT?!  What kind of ORGANIZATION does that? WHAT KIND OF ORGANIZATION THAT SUPPORTS THE EDUCATION OF CHILDREN DOES THAT?!

…oozhas…

So, that’s the cloudy part.  The sunny part is that I’ve got the best support network in the world.  Nick has been so, extremely helpful at keeping me sane.  Hannah has been there every single step of the way, even though she wasn’t obligated to.  The volunteers working on the camp are working hard to make everything great and I’m so appreciative of their speedy replies to emails.  My counterpart, who has done more for this project than I can even fathom still has a smile… so.  Who am I to complain?

Camp is in one week.  There is still so much to do.  But, they’ll be done with a genuine smile because I’m still super lucky to be working with such amazing people.  You live, you learn.

Have a wonderful day. :)

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