My grant period has ended, and I have returned to my home in the United States. The departure was as full of complications as my stay. There was the lost driver who was to take me to the airport. The pouring rain that seemed to occur whenever I left Mostar. The KM that I couldn’t convert back to dollars, even at the exchange in the Sarajevo airport. We went back and forth from one window to another to pay for excess luggage and cat travel.. But the end was also full of the same helpful and good humored people.
The first thing that struck me when I returned was how clean and shiny everything is here. And the absolute confidence and optimism that Americans tend to project. And how this seems sometimes like arrogance. The second thing was the material wealth that even I have. I lived out of two suitcases for six months, and I had forgotten that I had so many other clothes, books, and objects at home. The third thing was living conditions. Near our house is a new affordable housing complex, that is clean, shiny, and well made. There is a safety net here for people. And fourth, the animals. No stray cats or dogs wandering. Instead, I returned to two beautiful ( old) well fed cats.
But I also miss the relaxed atmosphere of Mostar. I am already back to rat race, the fast pace, the anxiety that besets this area. And the expensive, and less tasty vegetables, all neatly wrapped in plastic. In Mostar, you could buy a large bag of spinach that tasted and smelled of rich vitamins for literally pennies. Here, a large bag of spinach is expensive and less tasty. I laughed when I made coffee, American coffee, and said, this is weak. I am sure much more will strike me as the days past.
Reverse culture shock is real. You feel you have been away forever, and yet, it is all familiar. You catch yourself starting to say hello and thank you in local language. You start to continue your routines of the daily walk at the grocery and bakery when you realize the grocery is a mile away. The fast pace is another shock. And of course, talking to people who have really no idea what you have experienced. Definitely one thing that sticks with me is the tension, and the awareness of politics in every day life back in Mostar. My husband said it himself when he said, ” I can see it all in my mind. I can see the ruins, and the beautiful mountains. The cafes. The stray cats. ” It wasn’t the photographs that fix memory but one’s own mind that fixes memory.
But there is one piece of Mostar that I managed to carry: my cat, who is happily sitting in a window looking at nature. I wonder if she knows how far she travelled.