Friday, August 28, 2009

It's Getting Hot Out Here!

I stuck a battery in my alarm clock yesterday and was alarmed to see that the display read 90 degrees Fahrenheit inside my room. Still, I'm reluctant to complain because I know that for Mostar, this is good summer weather. It could be worse.
I'm pleasantly surprised to see that there have been a few changes in Mostar since I left in May, namely new construction projects and a new clock in Spanski Trg. It's digital temperature display has been hovering around 40 degrees Celsius (about 104 F) each afternoon, but I have yet to see it rise above. I thought nothing of it until my co-year Milana informed me that the city of Mostar is known for lowering the official temperature by several degrees during the summer. The reason: economics. Bosnian law states that a heat advisory must be declared when temperature rise above 40 so people will stay at home, but to keep businesses going the local government feels the need to step in.
Even they, however, could do nothing last week when the new gadget broke and began displaying temperatures of 88 C! Matt and Rowan tell me the press jokingly toted Mostar as "the hottest city in the world." But even with temperature tampering aside, I doubt Mostar comes close to challenging the real record, and that is something to be thankful for.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Before We Enter the Twilight Zone

To My Dear UWCiM Family:
I'd just like to say that I am loving these few days of bliss...reunions and meetings, shopping and setting up rooms, lots of 'firsts', no real check-in, no real stress at all except that one time Seb told us about the IB deadlines (please DON'T do that again...). I'd also like to note that right now, we seem to be seeing the best side of everyone. The most carefree, most humorous, least complaining, most optimistic, and all around most exceptional "us." It's charming. And lastly, I'd like to say that when IB gets ahold of us, when we temporarily stop sleeping and noticing the sunshine but start coming to the conclusion that we're surrounded by idiots and begin biting each other's heads off, I'd like you to remember the current me. Of course, I will do my best to remember the preferred you as well. And perhaps we can all make it through this thing with our heads intact.

Back to the Balkans

Anyone who has visited this part of the world can tell you it's pretty different from...well, anything else you're likely to experience. I'm now back in Mostar after spending a day in Zagreb/Banja Luka, and it didn't take long for the essence of the land of unique contrasts. I've seen the ruins and new construction, smelled the frighteningly strong coffee, caught a wiff of those pekarnas (bakeries) my tastebuds love so much, and experienced hospitality to put the rest of us to shame (I couldn't get to bed with less than two cookies, some cheese, bread, and juice and a bag of snacks for the road, and I still felt I was pushing the boundaries of politeness). The Illinoisian in me was even surprised by a pekarna called "Blagojovic." But what sealed the deal, reminding me that I'm not in Kansas anymore, was getting my first receipt for a paid entrance into a public bathroom. Now what am I supposed to do with that?

For anyone who's interested, this video shows the view from my balcony. Yes, balcony. :) It's a good room, and needless to say, I'm pretty excited.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Lending a Sterotype-bustin' Hand

I hate to come back from my blogging break with another entry comparing Europe to the US, but knowing how many American stereotypes I've come up against in Mostar, I can't help but give my Dutch friends a hand with theirs!

I'm back in Europe after a long summer holiday at home. My first stop is at my rommmate's place in the Netherlands, a small country for which I had big expectations. As Isa says, it's known for featuring both ends of a spectrum: the traditional clogs, windmills, cheese, and cows versus the liberal legalization of euthanasia, marijuana, and prostitution. But I feel obliged to say that in spite of their presumed reputation, the Dutch do not have a noticably absent elderly population,walk around stoned all the time, or consider becoming a hooker a desirable career path for their daughters. In fact, as a whole the Dutch appear to be one of the most wise, healthy, well-informed, and amiably humorous nations I've visited so far. The government seems to be revising policies that don't work, and Isa's family at least seem to see their laws not as a guide to Dutch living but as a way to deal with inevitable issues and treat everyone as fairly as possible.

Obviously one can't always form an accurate impression in only a few days, and I am still ready to look with a critical eye at some of Holland's policies, but the naïvety of being too quick to judge was driven home to me last night while we were watching TV. There was a special on Dutch TV comparing attitudes towards drugs, alchol, and homosexuality in the draconian government of Singapore and...U of Chicago spring breakers in Cancun. I'll leave you to imagine what they had to say (and do!), but my Dutch hosts' disgusted reactions reminded me that while their laws might be more liberal than Americans are comfortable with, my own countrymen might learn a bit from their self-control.