Wednesday, February 18, 2009

I just got back from vukovar about an hour ago. It was a long bus ride back considering it snowed for the first time since I have been here. It was a strange feeling almost the whole way there and back. There is some universality to driving down a long highway through fields. At points I would look out the window and swear I could be on a part of 1-70 (well except for the lack of billboards). Anyway, after watching American movies on the bus, a bus that could have been driving through the us, arriving in Vukovar was a quite a shock. Many of the houses looked like swiss cheese. It is hard to even image the amount of bullets that had to fall to create such a plethora of scars. With us on the bus was our guest lecturer who had done field research in Vukovar in 2001 and 2002. He went on and on about how the city had been totally rebuilt. I think the majority of us were baffled by the difference in perception. All we saw were bullet holes and bigger holes, which meant tanks, and then places of rubble. However, mixed into the mess was many new pre-fabricated houses in pastel colors with no facades. The difference of perspective finally become clear when we visited the hospital that took in victims for the three months the city was under siege and which eventually was bombed and evacuated at the end of the three months. The hospital was the strangest place I have ever been. It really revealed how the whole city of Vukovar exists as some weird time-sace role of monument, national symbol, and yet a city that people live and try to move on in. This hospital still functions as a hospital, and quite effectively actually as one girl found out when she went to get an ear infection checked out,yet the basement is also a museum to the fall of vukovar. We went in to find the museum and were really confused. The man a the desk gave us wacky directions through the hospital from the entrance. After a couple of turns the directions he gave use make us walk through a waiting room full of people and kids waiting to see a doctor, and here we were four American students with cameras and puffy north face coats looking for a museum. At first we turned around thinking we had obviously gone the wrong direction when a lady motioned to use. And there, around the corner began a museum, which I have to say was one of the most shocking and bizarre museums I have ever been in. In effect they reacted the living circumstances and left the basement, holes and all, as it was at the end of the siege. We watched an intro film subtitled in English which had footage of the fighting. I finally understood why our lecturer kept raving about ho they had rebuilt the city. The entire city, every building, had been demolished to rubble. The city looked like the end of the world. Comparatively, vukovar today was a beautiful restoration. The basement of the hospital was cold, and small, and filled with cots, and operating rooms. During the siege the doctors never left and worked from 6 in the morning till 1 or 2 am only to spend all night sterilizing things again. On any day they received 10-50 new patients, including the delivering of a several babies during the siege. The museum, however, left me with strange feeling in my mouth. They had created these white-gauze covered figures throughout the museums as if they were the people. It seemed bizarre and distant and anonymous. Then one room was completely dark covered in mirrors with a red box in the middle. I am not quite sure the symbolic meaning. After the museum I ate some burek (really delicious Bosnian specialty, basically pasty filled with meat and cheese).

In the two days we were there we also had two really great lectures. The first was by a guy who did research after the peaceful integration of serbs and croats into vukovar (the political history is interesting, after the fall, and if anyone wants to know I’ll fill you in). he interviewed people about memories and talking to their neighbors. The reintergration of western slovania (the part of croatia that was taken over by Serbia for a period of time in the 90s) is considered one of the most successful UN peace plans. However, until this day, which is 18 years after the fall of vukovar, Serbs and Croats do not talk to eachother and do not put their children in mixed classrooms. The second lecture was given by a guy who works for an NGO here that is starting a project called the Nansen New School, which would be a public school that would take children of ethnicities, however, it is not open yet. Between our two lectures we explored the town and visited the Croatian defenders cemetery. This was also the first time I have seen a landmines sign. The field surrounding vukovar are still heavily mined. In fact for miles of the outskirts there are no fields, just wil grass because of the mines. Our last bit of business in vukovar was the visit to a small town outside of vukovar were there was a mass killing of Croatian fighters and a memorial and museum at the site of the once mass-grave. At this point it started to rain and we proceeded back to Zagreb on our mini-bus.

All and all it was a strange trip. On one hand, it is really hard to image and therefore hard to relate to and another hand it is emotionally jarring. I mean, the streets themselves are quite because you do not talk to your neighbor here. There are still problems with trust. In addition it made me question a lot of my right to come her and study someone’s suffering. Am I just prolonging the process of moving on? It is obvious you are in vukovar to look at the damage and I have to wonder how that makes people who actually live there feel.

On a side note we stayed at a really silly hotel and played bananagrams all night last night with the bus boys who tried to play but just couldn’t really play a word game with broken English. This was all after a group dinner at the hotel that consisted of lots of laughs, a game of telephone with our professors and ended with chocolate-walnut pancakes (aka crepes). It made me happy that we have a good group of people and funny professors who are nice and really care about us. I think we all needed a laugh after such a weighty day. Today on the bus we took our break with Nicholas cage by watching national treasure, quite a silly movie. When we got back Zagreb had a light dusting of white snow and my professor, who lives literally in the building diagonal from my apartment was taking a taxi and offered me a free ride back from the bus drop off. It was a nice way to keep my toes warm.

Anyway, now I am back “home” and am seriously contemplating joining a gym due my diet here. I did about 5 minutes worth of crunches when I got back and pooped out. I have a group meeting tomorrow morning and class in the afternoon, but I will post this as soon as I get some internet time.

Hope everyone is doing well!

Ps 1. My ankle is all-better
Ps 2. I met a Bosnian who had been to st.louis
Ps 3. Vukovar kind of looked like cement-land, for those of you who know what cement land is.


Sunday, February 15, 2009


Below: Croatian National Theatre. I didn't take this picture... but it looks Just like that!

It’s Sunday afternoon now and I have sort of just wasted my morning. Last night I rolled my ankle on accident, which isn’t a big deal unless you have to walk everywhere! So this morning I gave it a break and put some ice on it and I hope it is better quick. Dora was being my nurse! She was really good at it, she even brought me ice cream. I can’t remember the last time I rolled my ankle, but I have forgotten how much it hurts! Other than that things are pretty good.
Tomorrow we are going to Vukovar. It is a 3 hour bus ride. During the wars in 90s Vukovar was under siege for 3 months. Most of the fighting was fought between paramilitary groups. We watched a documentary about Vukovar that was hard to swallow. It was like little kids playing war but with real weapons. I will write more about it when we get back. We are only staying there for one night.
On Friday after class Fiona and I went to see the Rembrandt exhibition here, which was pretty incredible. It was all his prints, which I thought were beautiful and very delicate. Also, he made all these prints of “ordinary” people, which were kind of hilarious and included a man urinating.
Yesterday I had coffee with a friend and a guy from Zagreb who worked at my friend’s summer camp one summer. It was Valentines Day and people were selling hearts of the street. I have to say it made me a bit homesick, but my host mom gave me some delicious chocolates in a paper heart. I wanted to get up and go to a flea market this morning that only happens on Sunday but due to my ankle aching I didn’t go, which is too bad. I feel like I need to start traveling more or finding more adventures to go to on the weekends. I also need to find friends who will check out the museums with me. Ah too much to do and not enough time, or language, to figure out how.
Oh also we bought tickets to go to the opera soon at the national theatre, a beautiful Austrian building that I can’t wait to go inside!

Anyway, I have to go for Sunday lunch now with my big extended family.

Miss you all!


a little later... i came to this cafe to use the internet and it is absolutely adorable it is called Booksa. ankle feels better :)