Minorities & Diversity

Alice in Bosnialand

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My local friends often joke at my expense. They are saying that I’m Alice in Wonderland because I still believe I can make a difference even though our reality is still painted with dark colors of segregation, hatred, social divisions, powerlessness…. They are saying, just look at the world we live in - look at all the grief, pain and sorrow; look at the country in which we live in… Whence enthusiasm that something will change for the better?

Maja Pecanac -- Alice in BosnialandIs it possible to live in Bosnia and Herzegovina?!

All of those who live here will probably say: “Yes, it is.”

Other Bosnians, who live elsewhere, will respond logically: “No, it is not possible, otherwise we would not have had to leave it …”

How can I personally answer that?

As I am someone who actually lives here in Bosnia, I would say: “Yes, it is”, but… I would add the eternal “but”.

The “but” implies a number of things: For example, that you want to be here, or that you have a job here, or that you have like-minded people who are waiting for you on the weekends to have a drink to, as we say in Bosnia, “go brainless” in order to remain mentally stable.

Actually, you need a big fat reason to continue to want to live in a country that is divided in so many ways. For those of us, who stayed in Sarajevo, Tuzla, Mostar, Banja Luka, Trebinje- in our country- it takes some kind of mental repatriation to help us perceive the reality in which we live. We need patience. A lot of patience. We always end our thinking with a conclusion: “Well, it was hundred times better before,” only to realize that we must once and for all leave this mantra where it belongs - in the past.

One related question to be asked is: “Should I just “squat” in my country and accept things for granted, or should I work on the prosperity, even beyond the borders of my homeland?!”

Yes, because borders to help others simply shouldn’t exist. Today, it is our right but also an obligation to become involved in global events, especially taking in mind the time when we were isolated, and when help was denied to us. And true, I too sometimes have second thoughts and contemplate on how my help can really mean to someone. How relevant my contribution can ever be? Can I, a citizen of Sarajevo, the tiny dot on the map of the world, do something for my peers in another country? What is the extent of our powers, and how and whether, in general, should we network?

When I attended the Global Youth Connect in New York City Program on Human Rights this past summer, me and my friend from Mexico went to Bronx (NYC, USA) to distribute food stamps in front of one hypermarket. I was approached by a woman, an elderly woman, with wrinkled face, soft smile and sad, overly sad eyes. She was Puerto Rican, and she had heard that the person before her spoke English, and she was just about to pass by me, but then she hesitated. I asked her, in Spanish, whether she needed some food stamps. Relief on her face was obvious. “Yes”, she quietly replied. She has children and grandchildren and nobody is working. I gave her the form, and I asked her to give it to the woman inside the supermarket. After several minutes, a woman with sad eyes came back to me, now with her husband, who kept silent. She told me that they wouldn’t give her the stamps because she was illegally residing in the United States. “But we have to eat too” she said almost whispering,” as if she was asking me…

Well, yes. The system is like that everywhere. Legally, it is all under the law. But that does not mean it is not full of holes and harsh. It would be too painful to think that it can’t be different. On that day, my friend and I helped many people to register for the food stamp program. However, I will never forget the woman from Puerto Rico. In a way, she is personification of reality, and its other side of the coin.

The overall situation was unreal. Me, a woman from Sarajevo, and my friend, a woman from Guadalajara together in the city of New York, Bronx, distributing flyers for foods stamps to those who could not afford them and who came to the USA mostly from Latin America.

So, the moral would be that it is certainly possible to act globally, with the foreknowledge that help is not always 100% feasible. And, in doing so, it does not matter whether you are helping “your people”, “their people”, “the others”, because my understanding of the world we live in goes far beyond the borders of my country, my continent and my “safe” zone.

And to confirm this, I will share one event that although seemingly trivial, remains forever etched in my memory. It was a letter I received in 1993 from Florence. It was written to me by an eight-year-old boy, my peer. He wrote to me that he was sorry that the war was going on in my country and that it was “an ugly thing “. He also wrote to me that he wanted me to know how “he and his entire class had been thinking about me and my friends.” He also wrote that he was sending me his white baseball “that always brought happiness to him, but now he wanted me to have it, because I needed it more.” He also drew hearts in his letter. And he painted with crayons the sheet of paper he was writing on.

When I grew a bit older, I realized that this boy took part in the project of international peace building. And even though it may sound funny, that boy did help me. That day he brought me a smile and a gift - baseball, which I still have.

Young people around the world can help each other. I am thinking of sending this baseball to my friends in Palestine and Israel. To hand it over as a baton.

And I have friends elsewhere too. I have friends all over the world, but I do not have enough baseballs. And I am aware that I, as an individual, I cannot do everything alone, but if there is a line of my peers, with baseballs in their hands, standing behind me, the chances of doing something are greater and more certain.

Not only do we need others to come to Sarajevo, Mostar, Banja Luka, Tuzla and other Bosnian city to work with us, or to send us baseballs, but occasionally we need to go elsewhere to work in solidarity with others, as I did with my friend from Mexico in NYC.

When I traveled to Hannover in 2010, to participate in the training course on intercultural theater and social inclusion, I met young people from Spain, Russia and Germany. During the 15 days of the program, we were spending 24 hours together. Language did not represent a barrier. We understood each other. Age was not an issue either. Personal beliefs mattered even less. Simply, we all gathered in one place, we, young people with similar visions, ambitions, desires, and with one goal — To make better. Better Hannover and Munich, better Sarajevo, better Madrid, Zaragoza and Valencia. Better Moscow. Better us. A better world.

My “local” friends often joke at my expense. They are saying that I’m Alice in Wonderland because I still believe I can make a difference even though our reality is still painted with dark colors of politics, segregation, hatred, religious and ethnic divisions, social powerlessness ….They are saying, just look at the world we live in - look at all the grief, pain and sorrow; look at the country in which we live in. Whence any enthusiasm that something will change for the better? It is perhaps true. At the moment Bosnia and Herzegovina seems like a very sad place for persistence. Still, if I sat too long in a chair and watched all this misery and bitterness, I would become a part of the landscape, I would sank into it and I would drown in it.

Maja, center, with Erica from the US (left), and Rose from Rwanda (right) — on the NYC Subway

Well, I suppose I could compare Bosnia to the rabbit hole in which Alice falls in. Bosnia is even more absurd than Alice’s world, but it shouldn’t be an excuse for us to stand still and do nothing because we could be the change. And like Alice, we could be that grain of sanity and justice. When Alice asks the Cheshire-Cat which way to go, he replies that she should, first, know where she is going. She explains that she doesn’t really care as long as she gets somewhere. So should be with us. We should go ahead, move forward and connect with others and when thinking about everything that is wrong in our homeland, accept that no country is perfect. Isn’t that a fact?!

And when trying to be the change, we should especially keep in mind that ten years ago, it was not possible to sit in front of the computer in our rooms and chat with friends in other parts of the world. Today it is possible. I can call five friends from five different parts of the world just to have a “cup of coffee” with them on Skype. So - why not take advantage of the benefits of global networking and send a virtual baseball around the world?