Friday, September 26, 2008

Bajram-yeah!

We've had some beautiful, sunny days in Mostar, so all the walking is more than bearable. I've just come from a meeting with Paul Reagan, our Headteacher, and I'm feeling a lot more enthusiastic and optimistic about life in general.
Time is passing so fast...there are never enough hours in the day!! Last weekend our room got a thorough cleaning. We moved the furniture and everything, and there were lots of disgusting little souvenirs from last year. We have permanent hot water now, but the plumbing to our toilet I backed up, with is both gross and inconvenient. Ah, well...that's Bosnia! Last Saturday was the first Open Mike party at abrasevic, and my roommate Una did all of our makeup for us. When I got home, there was a visitor in our room...a scorpion, right in the middle of the floor! I didn't think those even existed here!!
I've had my first IB exams this week, and classes have been made more complicated by the fact that so many people are ill. Now, it is Bajram, a Muslim holiday at the end of Ramadan. We have a week off of school, and tomorrow I'm heading here to Italy! I have so much more to share, but for now, I'll just say “ciao,” and I hope you all are well!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

More pictures

And this is one of my favorite pictures. It was taken before we went to the South African/American theatre presentation under the bridge last Friday. Oh, and the people are (going clockwise): me, Amitai from Israel, Dzana (my roommate) from BiH, Karolina from the Czech Republic, Srdjan from BiH, and Kalle from Finland.
This one is for Chris and Jessica...the men in the park are playing bocci! Every day there are tons of elderly men in their old-fashioned suits playing bocci here...usually more than are in the picture. It's so fun to watch how much they enjoy it, and it always makes me think of you guys!
Here is one of the main streets in Mostar...it's one of our favorites because you must cross it on the way to school, and it's full of cafes, bakeries banks, and malls. It's like a very long, narrow version of Walmart.
Some things are the same in every country...the graffiti on this sign says, "You are gay."
Ah, now these are the endless stairs on the way to Susac house. (pronounced Sue-shots) There are 112 of them, and they are deadly after a long day at school, but you can often find someone you know resting at the top. :)

Official Apology

Ok, guys. I obviously have some work to do figuring out how this blog thing works. I'm really not sure why the pictures are looking so awful and not all of the text is showing up. All I can say is that the internet comes and goes so fast that I panic and try to get everything into a post before all the work is lost! So, feel free to play mix and match with the pictures posted and what I wrote...I'll try to get this worked out next time!

Pictures!

Ok, only sometimes will the server let me upload pictures, but I'll try to get some on here. I know they're small, but you can click on them and see a BIG version. Here are the castle ruins we hiked to in Blagaj (pronounced Blah-guy. The castle belonged to a duke and was abandoned when his family fled the Turks.
Here's the river that was such a relief after the hike...
...and the cave it flows from.
I think this is a cool picture of a traditional Bosnian house next to the river.
This park near the school is one of my favorite places in Mostar! It's so peaceful...it's almost like another world.


alt=""id="BLOGGER_PHOTO_ID_5249659392860112226" /> As much as Mostar as recovered, I'll never get used to seeing the ruins.

Sunday, September 21, 2008


I'm having some trouble publishing pictures on the blog, so this one's a test run. This is a picture I took on my way to school...I live in the house with the blue roof.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Two weeks down!

Well, the winds and rains have come, and I'm told they'll be around for the rest of the winter. It's a nice change from the heat we did have, and no camera can capture the surreal beauty of the clouds around the mountains. A week ago Sunday was the hottest day we had, and it also happened to be the day of our compulsory hike. The trip was led by Namal, my English teacher, and some other staff. Namal is a Sri Lanka with a British accent; he has a candid manner and was wearing a tshirt with a picture of Native Americans that said, “Homeland Security: Fighting Terrorism since 1492.” I liked him immediately. We took a bus to the nearby town of Blagaj and then hiked up the first ridge to the ruins of a castle which belonged to a duke in ages past. That was a real treat for me; I loved eating lunch in the shadow of the walls and imagining the people who used to walk the same paths. This was my first hike, and I was exhausted after the first ridge, but we continued on up a rocky ridge to an old watch tower. By that point, most of us were out of water. Namal was disappointed in us I think, but he let most of us cut the hike short and go down to the town of Blagaj. There is a famous river there that runs out of a cave. It's so cold that people often die from immersing themselves in it too quickly, and it's so blue that tourists have been known to ask what the locals use to color the water. Resting by the cliffs and dipping our feet into the water was an awesome way to end the day!
Our classes started the next day, but we've still managed to have some fun! We broke the ice with a gender confusion party, where they guys dressed up as girls and vice versa. It was pretty crazy, but running around the house finding clothes to borrow was a great way to get to know everyone. The second years also put on a variety show for us, which included skits making fun of every aspect of UWC life from teachers to dating to what it's like to go back home. They also performed Ka Mate, a school tradition. It's a tribal dance from New Zealand that is now a part of most school functions, and it's pretty much the most intimidating thing you can imagine, complete with black clothing and war paint.
Aside from the planned events, I've also enjoyed some time getting to know people and discovering Mostar. Last Saturday I went shopping with Dzana (my roommate) and Maya (my neighbor). We got caught in the rain but still had fun looking at shops. There was a football (aka soccer) game that night, the first big one since I've been here. This one was expecially big because Mostar's “Croatian” team was playing Mostar's “Bosnian” team, and the rivalry between them is really intense. In fact, there is often some violence and chaos as a result of these games, so the city was swarming with 450 extra police officers, and we weren't allowed to go out on the town that night...not that I would want to! Instead, we stayed in and I showed some friends how to make sloppy joes. We had a blast and everyone loved trying the American food.
I've changed my classes about 5 times this week, but I think I've finally settled on Higher Level English A1, Biology, and Economics and Standard Level Maths, French ab initio, and Chemistry. We also started CAS (Creativity, Action, Service) this week. My action is yoga, and I had my first class on Wednesday. It's SO relaxing, and a great workout, but I'm thinking about taking up ballroom dance as well. My service is working in the school greenhouse, which is really new to me, but I love it so far! Still, since one of the main reasons I came to this college was to be able to work with the local people, I'm going to talk with the CAS coordinator and add a second service, possibly at a refugee camp. And if that isn't enough on my schedule, I have several Creativities including Arabic lessons, Chinese lessons, and Links Group where we get in touch with people at other UWCs and talk about issues they've had and how they've resolved problems on their campuses. Oh, and I'm trying to organize a group of international students who want to learn the local language and find a tutor to give us lessons. It promises to be a productive term.
I should probably get some sleep now, so I'll stop. In the future, I'll try to post shorter, more frequent posts rather than these occasional monsters. I think about ya'll A LOT and hope everyone is well, but to prove that I am enjoying myself here, I've stared a new list. So enjoy!
Things I like about BiH
1.The ice cream...it's fresh and at 1 KM a pop, it's irresistable.
2.The taxis...pile 6 or 7 people into one and you can go across town for 1 KM each (by the way, that's less than $1 US.
3.The bread...it's incredibly cheap (about 1 KM for a loaf) and won't be more than a few hours old when you buy it. We even have a building by our house that looks deserted by day, but by night is full of people baking bread which they will sell to you extra cheap!
4.Wild figs and pomegranates picked straight off the tree...I've never tasted anything so sweet. (Are you noticing a theme here?? The food is great, and I think I'm gaining weight despite all the walking. But I don't mind saying my weight in kilograms because the number is half as much as it would be in pounds.) ;)
5.The hospitality...Bosnians are very affectionate, and it's nice to be randomly hugged, touched, or kissed on the head or cheek. It's hard not to feel loved.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

A new way to remember

Hey.
As all of my American friends know, today is September 11. I got to commemorate the anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks in a pretty unique way that I'd like to take a minute to share with you.
Over the past few days, I've made friends from Afghanistan, Iraq, and every corner of Europe, so an outburst of American nationalism hardly seemed appropriate. Instead, my co-year Andy took the initiative and had everyone meet around 9:30 pm at “the Circle,” a sort of stone amphitheater where we like to hang out. Andy spoke about his memories of what happened on that day in 2001, about how we mourned the loss of businesspeople, firefighters, family, and friends, and about how our young minds began to ask questions about hatred, patriotism, and our own safety. He also focused on how much hope it's brought him to come here to a UWC where we can love without borders...if only our countries could do the same! After that, we joined hands and I said a prayer that the families still hurting from that day would be able to go on, that the civilians suffering from war in Afghanistan and Iraq would see peace and an end to the destruction SOON, that politicians from every country would forget their plots and plans and remember their humanity and the people they represent, and that we as students would have hearts of compassion and be willing to do whatever it takes to have peace among ourselves and among our countries. Then, we took a moment to reflect on the tragedies our various countries have suffered while Andy reloaded the batteries in his flashlight. :) He played a revised version of “Sing” by the Dresden Dolls on his guitar. One of the lines of the song is, “There is thing keeping everyone's lungs and lips locked. It is called fear and it's seeing a great renaissance.” But tonight, there was no fear, just hope, hugs and kisses, and maybe a few tears. I have to be honest...in the past few days there have been times I've wanted to give up on this whole UWC thing and head home. It may never be easy, but the unity I had a taste of tonight is worth great sacrifices! It gives me courage to dream about how far we can go with some determination and humility. And I can't think of a better way to pay tribute.

Friday, September 5, 2008

The adventure continues...in Mostar!

Hi everyone! I'm here in Mostar, and it's absolutely a STUNNING city. The mountains around it are much larger and more dominating than you would guess from the pictures; looking up and seeing peaks all around is a new experience for me. You feel like you're cradled in the city because you can see at exactly what point on the mountain the buildings end.
I got to Croatia with no further delays (although I did get chosen for the additional security screening in Washington, and they forgot to give me back my bag of liquids.) I was in Zurich for only a couple of hours, but I'm in love with Switzerland! It's the most healthy, natural, and idyllic looking place you could imagine, and the security people are exceedingly friendly! I was met by a driver in Croatia where my bags were actually rerouted and arrived on time! He didn't speak English, and I was shocked by how different Croatia and Bosnia look. It's like elements of Italy (villas and grapevines everywhere) created in a sandy, scrub environment. The way the buildings and everything are actually reminds me a ton of Ecuador. My experience there is SO helpful...I think I would be REALLY freaked out if I didn't have those memories to draw on.
Anyway, I couldn't sleep at all on the flight to Zurich so I could hardly keep my eyes open in the car to Mostar. I think the driver was laughing at me. When I got here, I had a Coke with a couple of 2nd years while I waited for my roommates to arrive and open the door. My roomies are all blonde-haired and blue-eyed, but Europeans say that means we're smart. :) Isabelle is from Holland, Una is from Kosovo, and Deana (pronounced dj-AH-na) is from BiH. Una is more outgoing than the rest of us, but we get along great. The room is nice with a bathroom (though the shower is just a ceramic spot on the floor with no curtain), wardrobes, tables, and a little kitchen. We are in the process of choosing classes, getting to know the city, and also being initiated by the 2nd years.
Today, I visited the school for the first time. The exterior of the building is being completely renovated, so it's hidden by scaffolding, but the inside is nice. When the gymnasium (the school) was built, it was the most prestigious gymnasium in the Balkans. Today, I chose my classes (English, French, Economics, Visual Arts, Biology, and Math). Some of the courses I wanted aren't offered, but I'm satisfied.
Having to walk so much in this heat has made me realize how out of shape I am. For instance, yesterday, we walked to school in the morning, had 2-hour walking tours of Mostar, walked to lunch, walked around shopping (and got lost, which means more walking), walked back home, walked to school, and walked/ran around the city for 3 ½ hours on a scavenger hunt set up by our 2nd years. And then we walked back home. I've calculated it, and I spent about 7 hours actually, physically walking from place to place. I was away from home for about 10 or 11 hours. I couldn't believe this, so I calculated it again and it's true. I'm understanding the Biblical practice of washing feet in a very real way. :)
I've now been to the famous Stari Most bridge, several mosques, the Turkish house, a cathedral, the tourist markets (there were some US troops shopping there, which was unexpected), and several other historical places. They're even more beautiful and interesting than in the pictures. I've tried the famous coffee here; it's good, but very strong. I mean seriously, it's just coffee, none of that cream and flavoring stuff. I've started to learn the language, but I'm having trouble remembering words (not to mention names!) I just finished dinner, which was a local dish that tastes like hamburger and came with fries and ketchup. Today, I went to a merkator where they have Levi jeans, Dove, Suave, and Pantene conditioner, Pepsi and Mountain Dew, Orbit Gum, Nike and Puma shoes, AIR CONDITIONING, and all sorts of things that make me feel at home. I also had my first gelato today-it's great, but not as good as the “real” thing in Italy, I'm told. We are free tonight, and some students are going to a party at an abrasevic, but I'm staying in to clean my room, watch a movie with some friends, and REST! In the next few days, I will try to put some pictures up so you can see a little of my new life! Please keep my fellow students and me in your thoughts and prayers—we are very happy to be here, but the homesickness is starting to hit and we are realizing that two years is a long time to spend in this unfamiliar place. In closing, here's a short list I've started of things I've learned so far. I love and miss you all!!

1.Sandwiches shouldn't be skimpy. Make them using a whole loaf of bread.
2.Screw speed limits. Just go until there's something to slow down for.
3.That gunshot at night doesn't mean the war's started again. It just means that the Muslims fasting for Ramadan are allowed to eat dinner.
4.Shower curtains are quite unnecessary (maybe this is just in our house; I don't know).
5.As my friend Nina says, Bosnians don't have a lot of taboos. You can talk about anything with anyone, and it's good to make jokes about things. Also, Bosnian culture is very relaxed. Every minute doesn't have to be planned out, and lingering over a hike or a meal is good...more time to enjoy it!
6.In some countries, students are paid to go to school.
7.Too many leaders equals too little accomplished.
8. Arrogance is ridiculous...you always have a lot to learn. :)

PS- I know some of you wondered about a mailing address. The safest thing is to send both letters and packages to the school. Because it is a prominent institution, the mail is more likely to be delivered and not tampered with. The address is:

United World College in Mostar
Gymnazija Mostar
Ċ panjolski trg 1
88000 Mostar
Bosnia and Herzegovina

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

A Great Adventure (and by great I mean I wish it hadn't happened)

Hey everyone,

Yesterday was quite a day! The crew didn't show up for my flight out of St. Louis, so the flight was delayed while they found a replacement. Well, because of this I missed my flight to Munich, and now I'm sitting in a hotel in Washington, D.C. It's quite an adventure trying to re-book a plane ticket, and it involves a lot of walking and several hours of waiting. But it's done now! I'm heading to the airport in a few hours and catching a flight to Zurich, and then on to Split, Croatia and Mostar just one day late.

I'm actually kind of glad I got to spend the night in a bed, shower, and rest up a little. I just wish I could have seen a little more of the capital... I had a voucher for the hotel restaurant, where I got the most scrumptious fish and chips ever. I'm enjoying a little quiet time here in my room before heading back to the airport in a couple of hours. Don't know for sure when I'll have an internet connection again, but probably not for a few days. I know I didn't get to say goodbye to everyone I would have liked to, and I apologize for that, and I hope to be in contact soon.

With love,
Leah