small victories

This is, as I reread it, a very muddled post as many ideas and feelings about living and teaching in a divided city in a complex country.My goal here as a Fulbright scholar is to understand another culture and, by extension, explain my own culture. This is perhaps, an impossible task. Having lived in Estonia, I can understand some of the cultural differences between here and the states. But I also find myself forgetting at times the complexity caused by the various ethnic geographical political divisions.

I teach Croatians, who are the minority of the 3 ethnic majorities, but I live on the Bosniak side of a city that is majority Croat in a Croat region. On the Croat side, they have already put up a manger, and trees. There will be a Father Christmas there, too.  Here, on the Bosnian side, there is a distinct absence of decorations.  It is a pleasant change for me from the states, where every shop is full of Christmas decorations from late October onward. I have lectured at the Bosnian University, and often wonder what it would be like to have classes there, or even sharing classroom with both students.  When I travel elsewhere in BiH, I can feel a sea change in mood.  And in lifestyle.  There are a few women who wear a burqua here, or even a head scarf. And they are seen only on the eastern side, just as nuns are glimpsed only on the west.  In Sarajevo and elsewhere, that is a far more common sight. In Zenica, I saw shops selling modest Islamic clothing. Here, I have yet to see such a shop.

The other day, a student who has never talked in class told me that he had met an American woman living in Mostar, and asked her if she had voted and served on a jury!  Why did he ask this? Because in my intro to American culture course ( aka the Western), I told them that these are really the only two expectations for American citizens. (They were surprised. There are no jury trial here, they said, and voting remains fraught with corruption and compromise. )  So, at least someone was paying attention.

You just never know what gets through and what doesn’t.

In class, I find myself making connections between these topics of American culture that I have chosen to teach, and the situation here in BiH.  I am not sure if the students do, and I leave it up to them.  I wish I could stay to help develop a set of American studies courses, but the English literature department seems quite tied to its British literature. Even the states, it is a trick to convince people that American literature and culture is indeed as valuable as the old country’s culture. Perhaps it is our cultural pre-occupation with technology and practical skills that leads us to ignore our own culture contributions, or to consider them lightweight.   Yet, a survey of our literature and art reflects an inventiveness that is rare elsewhere: Jazz, rock, rap, film, free verse poetry, the skyscraper, baseball, and basketball all come to mind. I try to share as much as I can to dissuade people that we are a shallow culture, that likes fast food and big cars.

I am looking forward to my winter break of traveling up north and into the RS ( the Republic Sprska).

BiH is a very complex place, and complicated, too. There is a remarkable beauty in this complicated tangled culture that I will miss.

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