Thursday, September 30, 2010

"First it's a hobby, then it becomes a passion, and finally it's an addiction"

I survived my in-country orientation and my first event with state diplomats, people in nice suits and modest ties. It was a welcome party at the home of someone who works for the state department. The lovely apartment was painted in the TLC fashion, each room having one bright-wall and the rest white. The living room was accented with a bright blue, the hallway a welcoming orange, and the kitchen was a cheery yellow reminiscent of my bedroom in St. Louis. Mixing and mingling is always a skill to be honed, one I haven't quite perfected, but the wine served on fake silver trays and the tiny precise pastries filled with creamy cheeses, smoked salmon, or egg, made the conversations flow relatively easily. Perhaps it was the intricate etchings hung on the wall, or the presence of other people equally nerdy in their interests in the Balkans, but it felt strangely homely. Then off to a bar for drinks and chatting and absorbing. This is what I came back for, the smoky under-ground bars, young people dressed in funky outfits and hipster glasses, women with 80s hair, or short spikey-dos, and yet the conversations are of serious depth, oscillating between how to best do qualitative research and the pros-and-cons of ice ludges and parties that involve plastic swords. I don't know why but feels like an ideal that only comes to fruitation in my dreams.

One of the fulbrighters from last year is still lingering here, finishing up her research, preparing for a big move to switzerland with just a brief stay across the pond. She was kind enough to interduce us to local friends and researchers. At the bar I met her friend who is working on his Phd dissertation in the Balkans with a focus on how civil society and NGOS engage in post-conflict truth and reconciliation/transitional justice issues. We began speaking about Belgrade, and regional youth comissions, and common friends or names we knew. He asked many questions about my research and I fumbled with my words while trying to force some cohesive themes out into the thick-smoke-filled air... I felt inexperienced and young! There is an exclaimation point because rarely do I feel awfully 'young', but I have practically no experience doing this kind of research, it's like I'm playing house, but playing researcher instead. He responded positively to my project, "it's interesting" he said sure enough, but he also provided some really constructive feedback. To connect with another young person doing research and to hear about their own path and work helps me construct a framework to place myself in and understand my own goals and limitations. And so the web of connections and friends grows and hopefully multiples. I went home, to my dorm, feeling full and finally feeling like my feet were on some sort of ground, even if its still a bit wobbly or swampy at times.

Like katie, reading, finally, "If on a winters' night", oh the lovely words.

2 comments:

Sarah said...

Emily, you should go to Istria when it's warm. Sometimes I feel like we are talking about different Croatias--mine is dusty, and ancient, and slow, and red red red--but then I know they are still the same place when you describe the cafes full of old men. UHhhnn. I want us to go there together! I am doing my best!

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