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

7 comments:

King of Useless Knowledge said...

You amaze me Leah. When I was your age there was no way I would have had the faith or the courage to do what you're doing. I'm proud of you and will be praying for you.

Andy said...

Leah!

Okay, you definitely covered everything about Mostar much better than I could. I only got through half of my blog entry, but I think I might borrow a little from you. But really great job; you convey pictures very well.

Best,
Andy

Jessica said...

Thanks for the post, Leah!! Wow, you have experienced so much in just a short amount of time and you have 2 more years there!! Wow!
Miss you! Went to that Chocolate place last night w/Doug and Shana...kept remembering how we wanted to take you there before you left...we will must go sometime when you are home!! You would love it!
Keep the updates coming!! I love hearing about your experiences!

Papa and Granny said...

Hi Sweetie,

Sounds like you will be having a great time and seeing lots of neat things. I googled the route to Mostar from Split and it looked very scenic. A cousin of Mike (Hoyleton Lumber yard) who lives in Germany spends his vacation in Split each year and Mike visited near there on a cruise last year. He said it was a beautiful area. We will try ro catch you on Skype sometime. Let us know the best time of day. Have a great weekend. All our love, Papa and Granny

Derek Harlan said...

Wow. Asics, Brooks & Mizuno make the best running shoes. I'm not too sure if you'll come across any of those brands, but thought you may find that helpful. :)
You are certainly missed here at CHS, but we all wish you the best & thank you for having the blog.

jane m. said...

Dear leah-
thanks for sharing this info with us. I love your descriptions of life in Bosnia and UWC-BiH. Hope your feet are holding up.

Susan said...

Leah
Sounds like you need a pedometer...
Sue Settle