Othmane's Diaries: Getting to know Bosnia and Herzegovina
Right after completing my first Master’s year in Geopolitics from the University of Reims (France) earlier in July, I flew to Banja Luka for a new experience this summer: I will be volunteering for two months at the new Futures MakerSpace launched in Srebrenica by BH Futures Foundation, through various kinds of activities.
Meeting Bosnian classmates during my Erasmus stay in Ljubljana and visiting Sarajevo for a few days last year made me want to discover Bosnia and Herzegovina on a deeper level. Moreover, I am convinced that initiatives which tackle very local issues are in fact, in many aspects, a form of smaller-scale geopolitics – and are therefore particularly interesting to me. Yet this internship is also about broadening my skills and knowledge in fields with which I am less familiar.
For my first four days in Banja Luka, I was shown around the country’s leafy second largest city by Nevzudin Došić, my host, and Nikola Bujak, an AIESEC member, and introduced to the foundation’s work by Vildana Hrnjić, a former scholarship recipient and long-term volunteer; Nikola and Vildana are actually the ones who had interviewed me through Skype for this opportunity. Randomly enough, I met there another guy from France, Alex Rousselet, who was also going to Srebrenica on the same weekend to promote his European inter-makerspace mobility program, Vulca. It was nice as well to exchange anecdotes with some fellow international interns (from seven different countries) whom I met at a youth center called Zdravo da ste. Among those anecdotes was the new Bosnian name that my new Banja Luka friends gave me: Osman Tabić. Now I am one step closer to becoming a Bosnian citizen.
Five hours of curvy driving, including a ćevapi stop in Tuzla, and there we were, volunteers and brilliant STEM students from all around the country, in notorious Srebrenica, to attend the Futures Academy. The Academy is a traditional gathering of the BH Futures Foundation, that is organized three times a year, with the goal of enriching their students with professional skills. This time it was taking place in Srebrenica.
First impression: no, it certainly doesn’t seem as lively and prosperous as Banja Luka, but it is definitely more peaceful than most of my friends back home would ever imagine! And more importantly, the nature around it is surprisingly gorgeous. I immediately realized how undeserved the town’s negative reputation was, simply because of a relatively recent historical event that could have happened anywhere else. That was precisely one of the questions we got to debate on the different (English-speaking!) workshops that were organized on the Futures Academy: lack of visibility for the area’s touristic assets (Guber mineral water spring, Stećci tombstones, etc.) but also limited job opportunities and entertainment, and little sophistication in the local agriculture (goat milk and cheese, raspberry picking, beekeeping).
Our approach was to first go to the concerned spots and listen to the people’s perspectives and needs, then sit down and brainstorm about the many ways that technology, via the Futures MakerSpace, can help solve these problems in the short run. But the workshops were not the only highlight of the weekend: there was also the actual inauguration of the Futures MakerSpace, with the presence of national media representatives, a number of relevant guests and visitors, and of course the project’s instigator and the foundation’s father, Eddie Čustović. I met Alex again for the occasion, and I am glad he connected me to a fellow geographer, based in Paris, for further cooperation.
Finally, what better way to end this intensive weekend than a typically casual, Bosnian barbecue dinner, with one of the students, Emina Mahmutbegović, playing the accordion and the whole crowd singing along melodies of sevdah and other folk songs. I wished I knew the lyrics too! But if anything, the language barrier, generally-speaking, only makes me more determined to learn the local language. That will be one big personal challenge for this summer.
The following day started with an emotional visit to the Potočari cemetery and Kravice memorial. Then because the Futures MakerSpace needed some more time to start operating, I traveled back to Tuzla in the afternoon with Eddie and Haris Selmanović (a student who is also one of the main organizers), to stay there for a couple of weeks – which is a great chance to find out about another Bosnian city…beyond the tasty ćevapi. Once we arrived, we went to freshen up in a salt lake downtown (!), and there I had an overview of the city’s atmosphere: rather laid back, multicultural, open-minded. For the rest of the week, I have been hosted by another member of the organizing team, Ali Mokayes. While he is busy working on his own tasks during the day, I get to discuss with Vildana, through Skype, the marketing plan for the Futures MakerSpace’s first workshop, using problem/solution trees and brain-writing, and to read more about Srebrenica’s history and current socio-economic situation. I also have time to put the finishing touches on my Master’s thesis so it can be published on the program’s website, do some freelance work, and deal with some personal bureaucracy.
When the evening comes, we either hang out with a group of students from Australia, meet up with other volunteers from the foundation, attend musical events, or even have dinner with Ali’s dad. So far so good!
Written by: Othmane Tabit (Osman Tabić / Осман Табић)