The second to last weekend of this semester happened to be a four-day one, giving me some time travel the country on my own. When I came to Bosnia two years ago, I had bought a postcard that had a map of Bosnia with the names of a few cities. Srebrenik’s name was there too, though it’s not a big city. I also happened to meet a girl from Srebrenik and the moment she told she was from there, I hoped that one day she would invite me to her home. Non-touristy parts of Bosnia are not very “visit-able” without knowing someone there (and Srebrenik would be one of those places). There usually is not much for a tourist to do on her own, whereas spending time at a local’s house provides cultural immersion, and is a great experience of its own. So when I knew everyone in Bosnia was having a four-day weekend, I asked that friend whom I had met the previous time I came to Bosnia whether I can come over her house for a night.
In line with Bosnian hospitality, she and her family readily accepted my request. And I hit the road for Srebrenik early on Saturday morning. It was the small and lushly green town I had expected. I was greeted by my friend and her uncle when I arrived, and together we drove to her house, which was in one of the villages of Srebrenik, rather than the center. Throughout my stay, I was treated to lots of Bosniain coffee and delicious Bosnian food. I got to stroll through the small forest of her village, see the huge and beautiful centuries-old fort of Srebrenik (the fourth fort in Bosnia I had visited so far) situated on top of a hill, giving a great view of Srebrenik. I got to walk on the wall of the fort and feel a barrier between myself and that great view dissolve, as if I was in the air (despite my slight fear of heights—and yes despite the small risk of dying if I lost balance and fell—yikes!). I found out that Srebrenik was a center for one of the brands of my favorite snack in Bosnia—peanut puffs! Importing peanut puffs from Srebrenik to the US is now on my list of things to do when I’m rich. The next day, I got to see my fifth fort in Bosnia in the nearby city of Gradačac, which my friend and her family graciously took me to—I had never even heard of that city until they mentioned it.
During my one-day stay at my friend’s house, I got to hear about their war experience as well. Thankfully, there was no active war in Srebrenik, but there was a frontline in the nearby Gradačac. During the war, my friend’s family (or mom should I say, since her dad was in the army) hosted refugees in her house for 9 months. They were refugees she had no ties to, and she was not obligated to host them. She simply did so out of her humanity. At the end of those nine months, one of the woman refugees gave birth—in the living room—and named her daughter after my friend’s sister, who was 14 years-old at the time. When my friend was born, second child and sibling to a 14 year-old, she was named after the woman refugee. It made me wonder how the Syrian refugee crisis would have looked if everyone had shown that much grace.
With my second to last weekend down, I only have one more weekend to go in the spring semester. I had always wanted to see how families lived in the outskirts of Bosnia, away from big cities like Sarajevo and Mostar. I’m glad I got to see that, even if for a little. It certainly was a learning experience, and I’m already working up plans in my mind to host summer programs in Srebrenik in the future for American students, in order to enable cultural exchange with this wonderful city and its wonderful people.
By: Enise Koc
Program: Balkan Language Initiative
Term: Spring 2016