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Bosnia Trip 2014-2015



Our group of Reading the Globe Ambassadors departs the great state of Texas headed for the European continent.


Departing


Yesenia Nichole Garner- Ready for Take Off


Today was such a confusing, exhilarating, and shocking day. Not only was it my first time ever leaving the country, it was also the first time I've ever stepped into an airport. I'm certain that any stranger could notice that this was my first time. I had no idea where to go or what to do. During the security check, I kept asking questions such as "Do I take my shoes off? Do I put my gum in the basket? What, I take my jacket off?" I was definitely holding up the line. Nevertheless, the group passed security check and headed upstairs. Wow, who knew that there are fancy restaurants, spas, and other stores upstairs? It was a whole new world.

Finally, we boarded the plane! The plane had personal tvs updated with the latest movies, pillows, blankets, and headphones. Our section was empty, so I switched from a middle aisle seat to a window seat. Turns out almost everybody had the entire row to themselves. I had to see my first take off! Thirty minutes later, I heard the pilot say, "Ready for take off." I looked out the window and stared with fascination as I saw the plane lift off the ground. The take-off was smooth; I wasn't scared at all. I was amazed. I could see cars and buildings gradually shrink and disappear. Forty thousand feet in the air and clouds surrounded the plane. It was time to enjoy the movies, snacks, and dinner provided by the attendants. Eight hours until we reached Frankfurt, Germany and transition onto another plane.

My first experience on a plane was remarkable and peaceful. I felt rather spoiled because we were provided with snacks, drinks, breakfast, and dinner. I even got to lay down and relax because I had the entire row for myself! As of now, we are quickly descending in altitude. We should reach Frankfurt in about twenty minutes. I truly hope the landing is as smooth as the take-off because I don't know what to expect. Eight hours into this trip, and I have already experienced many things. Now it is time to experience the history and culture of Bosnia, Croatia, Serbia, and Hungary.







Arrived






Zemun
Jualian Quesada- Zemun

The views of Serbia are often overlooked by its distant neighbors of Hungary, Austria, and Greece. The land however is dotted with views that are equally as beautiful as the history behind them. One such view is located in the Neolithic district of Zemun. This area consisted of winding cobble stone roads that led up into the elevated Gardoš Hills. As we trekked the land, we saw ancient churches and mosques that have stood the test of Mother Nature, Father Time, and the children's play of wars. While the walk up this high land was strenuous to say the least, the peak was absolutely captivating. The cold wind, light shower, and palettes of grey were in harmony with the white city horizon. At this point, the old city and rebuilt new city illuminated the sky as the bank of Danube River flowed through it like a fluid mosaic membrane.  Aside from the incredible view, the area was guarded by the Gardoš tower which offered a greater vantage point of the city.

On the dryer side of the hill lies the primordial burial grounds for the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim inhabitants. The stars must have perfectly aligned as the area in general was in such a picturesque tranquility; just like a dream. I have seen many views in my young traveling time, but the confluence of the height, history, and elements fixed a mental point that will stay with me the rest of my life.


Alejandra Padilla- Encounters with New and Old Serbia and its Weather


As we arrived at the Belgrade Fortress, we were greeted with the cold and misty Serbian air, the kind of air that makes it feel that frostbite is taking over your toes and fingers. I was surprised by how cold I was and kind of mad at the Laredo weather and my body for not preparing me for this climate. As we approached the main office of the fortress, I noticed the door was opened, and in my head I thought to myself, “Serbians probably really, really love the cold.” However, to my surprise it was overwhelmingly warm, like a human slow cooker (I imagined this is the warmth you would feel in a Viking’s den), and it even got to the point where I started feeling hot. Once we received our audio tour devices, we left the warmth of the Viking’s den and were again greeted by the wind. The faith that we had in our umbrellas was gone when we saw that they would not protect us from menacing wind, and in fact would riot against us by turning themselves inside out. I also noticed that the typical smoky essence that fills the air of Belgrade (because of all the cigarette smoking) was not present in the fortress; it was refreshing.

There was really no people around and it felt nice that we had the old fortress to ourselves. All its “secret” halls and rooms were ours to discover, and all the paths and hills covered in withering cobblestones and pervasive moss were ours to climb. The fortress was separated from the present world by the Sava River. It was interesting to see the past and present of Belgrade at the same time and now that I realize it. All of Belgrade is a mix of present technology and its omnipresent historical architecture. I wish I had the power to alter weather and time in order to better appreciate the grandeur and beauty of the fortress, and I will make it my goal to revisit the fortress and give it the admiration it deserves.







Serbia

Javier Alonso- House of Flowers

One of Serbia's most loved and praised individuals is the late president of Yugoslavia, Josip "Tito" Broz. Despite the fact that Tito was a very authoritarian individual, his people continue to be loyal to him. This admiration was shown through the many touristic sites built in his honor. One such example is the May 25th exhibit. Through audio and visual presentations, we were able to get an idea of how much the people of Yugoslavia idolized him. It is evident that Tito inspired many, especially the youth of Yugoslavia. Countless letters and photographs were sent to him by children, and they all aspired to have the courage, honor, and honesty to maintain Tito's vision of the perfect society.

However, a true sense of devotion from his people was portrayed in The House of Flowers. The House of Flowers is a place of remembrance where all his most valuable possessions and gifts are displayed, gifts that were given to him from international elites, such as John F Kennedy and the King of Saudi Arabia. Nevertheless, the most captivating exhibit in the House of Flowers was Tito's burial site located in the center of the building. The scenery surrounding his burial site is adorned with vibrant and exotic plants that perfectly compliment the marble that incases his coffin. 

The overall experience was not only educational, but also inspirational, inspirational in the sense that you can see the impact that Tito's legacy still has to this day. Despite the fact that Tito is no longer alive, the citizens of Yugoslavia continue to celebrate the impact of his leadership. 

Flowers

Daisie Urdiales- Departing Serbia


As we departed and said our goodbyes to the grand Serbia, we anxiously waited to cross the border into the beautiful country of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Bosnia is the country that I have desperately wanted to visit ever since I learned I was selected to be one of the Reading the Globe ambassadors. At the outskirts of Serbia, I viewed a sight I had encountered only once before: snow.  The excitement that surged through my veins was unfathomable.

My heart stopped pounding at the sight of beautiful Bosnia.  I was in complete awe because all I saw was pure white snow. I was not the only one who felt instant adoration of the country's scenery; I heard the gasps and praises of my fellow ambassadors and professors. We looked outside of the bus' windows in amazement. The snow graciously blanketed the mountains that surrounded us on this journey. It was a winter wonderland that seemed to come from a dream. It was a sight to behold and it will forever be burned in my mind and heart.

As we reached the city of Sarajevo, the urge to fully experience the wonderful snow overcame us. A park was in sight and we quickly pounced on the snow that covered the ground. Suddenly, snowballs flew across the park. Laughter and shouts echoed through the evening air. This experience was a first for many of us. We indulged in a childlike fantasy that seemed impossible had it not been for this opportunity. This beautiful experience made me appreciate the marvelous wonders of the world and for that I am eternally grateful for this blessing.







Departing Serbia


Mosque
Alejandra de Jesus Guajardo-Visiting the Mosque: An Insight into Islamic Culture 


You are traveling abroad for the first time in your life; pictures come to your mind like rushing wind, all types of images, colors, even sensations. Nevertheless, nothing compares to what is actually waiting for you. Expectation is the first stage; the second, the exhilarating experience. Since I was little I always felt curious about Islamic civilizations, their development and interaction, their cultural and religious practices, things that for me are fascinating. Here I was in Bosnia, excitement filled the air. For the very first time in my life, I was going to get in touch with this wonderful culture. 

From the moment we arrived in Sarajevo, I felt the strong influence of the Ottoman Empire. Sarajevo has many mosques because the Muslim population is the majority. Whether you are at the market place or on the streets, you will most likely interact with Muslims. Their kindness and hospitality is remarkable toward tourists.
Here we were, the day I expected had come. That morning I spent some money and time at the market looking for the perfect scarf for my first visit; I was too excited I guess. About fifteen minutes before our visit, a friend of mine taught us how to wear the hijab (head scarf). We looked beautiful wearing vibrant scarves. As we walked to the mosque, my heart started to race. Once we arrived our guide gave us instructions, told us to remove our shoes, and finally welcomed us. Walking inside we saw the beauty of the mosque, colorful but sober, simply amazing. The Muslim teacher explained what happens inside a mosque, their prayers, their protocols, and he introduced some concepts of Islam, as well as some parallels with Judaism and Christianity. After that, he encouraged questions and discussion. After we took a picture with him, I spent some time talking to him, a very enriching experience. My perspective now is broad and nourished with beautiful insight.

Ruth Solis- Scars Have Stories 

It’s easy to overlook the simple things of everyday life and even more so when there is war. Behind the politics, hate and thirst for power are the lives of everyday people, innocent and unsuspecting, whose worlds got sent spiraling down. These people have stories. Stories of when life as they knew it came to an end. It is a part of war that can be easily forgotten, but a visit to Historijski muzej Bosne i Hercegovine (Historical Museum of Bosnian Herzegovina) proves that there is hope for these stories to live on.

There is hardly a change in the temperature as you step into the museum. The heater isn’t on.  Elma, our exhibit guide, calls for our attention. We can see her breath as she talks. She explains that the museum has been having trouble with the funds to maintain it. The public has been showing little interest, and there is a fear that the museum might face the same fate as the one across the street – it might need to shut down. Off to the right is a stained-glass window shattered with bullet-holes on it left after attacks in Sarajevo. Sunlight peaked through the colored glass like hope through the damage of war. 

Elma walked us through the exhibit. There were many items donated to the museum by regular civilians who wanted to contribute to the story telling of the Bosnian War. Items included home-made weapons, military clothing, and food rations. Each item had a story attached to it. It was heart breaking to know how much suffering Bosnian people had to endure. The story became personal and so did this war. Elma was also able to tell her own story as we went along the exhibit. Danjela, our tour guide, also jumped in occasionally with her experiences during that time in history. These two women are so kind, humble, and cheerful. To have gone through such horrid times and not become bitter or cold is truly inspiring.

Bosnia is a country that has suffered great loss and survived. The Historical Museum of Bosnian Herzegovina embodies just that. It is the people’s story that this museum tells. For this, I will never forget my visit here. 








Scars

Yazmin Ornelas- SOS Children's Village



There is no better thing than the smile of an innocent child. That smile can immediately make anyone's day better and remind us to appreciate life. Today the Reading the Globe Ambassadors visited the SOS Children's Village, a program that provides a loving home for children who need them, in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina.

On the bus ride to the Village I jumped in anticipation with my bag full of toys, a gift I hoped could make one child smile and let her know many people care. 

Arriving at the village of houses, we split up into groups and were assigned one SOS Family to visit. My SOS Family had an SOS Mom, two sisters Kanita and Jivana, three young girls (who weren't home at the time) and a three-year old named Mia. We were strangers from another country, yet they welcomed us with their beautiful smiles. After introductions and a tour of their home, a small group of children led us to the recreation center. 

On the way Kanita came from behind me and linked arms so I could skip with her. I felt so honored that she bonded with me right away, and I knew at that moment this visit would be great. After a small presentation of the history of the SOS Village by the director, the children were anxious to start playing with the toys the TAMIU students had brought, so as soon as we were told to start playing, the children ran in all different directions looking for something fun to play. 





SOS1


SOS2


A girl named Mirjana wanted to make bracelets, so I took out the bracelet kits that I brought from America and a couple of the Reading the Globe Ambassadors made her three bracelets. One had her name, another spelled TAMIU, and another was a collection of green beads. Her face was just glowing with happiness. It's amazing how something so simple, like the company of someone who didn't even speak her language and a couple of toys, could make her smile.       
There were many other children and many other toys, and I can't speak for everyone's individual experience, but I know I speak for everyone when I say these children have been through so much, and it was an honor to make their day with a couple hours of company. In the future I hope we can contribute more to the SOS Children's Village and come again to visit.

Angelica Salinas- Leaving Sarajevo

Sarajevo


Leaving Sarajevo in the country of Bosnia-Herzegovina was a bitter sweet moment for me and I'm sure everyone else, but as I boarded the bus I was excited that we were on our way to Zagreb in the country of Croatia. The bus ride seemed to happen in the blink of an eye. One moment I was asleep on the way to Croatia and the next I was waking up at the Bosnia-Herzegovina border with Croatia.

After getting all of our passports stamped, we had two more hours to go until we arrived to our hotel in Zagreb. The two hour drive seemed the longest. The weather seemed to change at an instant. We went from snowy weather to breezy and sunny weather. As we arrived at our hotel I couldn't help but feel blessed because the hotel is very beautiful. I feel very blessed to have this opportunity and I can't wait to see what Zagreb has in store for all of us. 


Reyna Ortiz- Past, Present, and Future 

In the last couple of days we have had several lectures regarding the former Yugoslavian states: Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia. Although all three countries share a common history, like the conquests of the Ottoman Empire and the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, in actuality this shared past of a people once united by the words, "Brotherhood and Unity" succumbed to the intolerance of ethnic differences and divisive leadership. A peaceful past unforgotten by many of the people, a past not spoiled by their differences but characterized by unity under their communist ruler, Josip "Tito" Broz, ended at the time of his death. 

Years after the war the people of these countries continue to suffer the consequences as their future remains uncertain, and their recovery from the war is still on-going. As I walk the streets of these cities, it is difficult to imagine that there was ever a time of war or that it happened during my lifetime. Bosnia, Serbia, and Croatia are proof that the past can mean nothing and everything.



Past




Conflicts
Sergio Barragan- Lessons in Conflict 

Visiting another country is like diving into an aquarium. You've always seen it and admired it from afar, but now you have the chance to experience it and be a part of what goes on from the inside. My time abroad has helped me learn about a part of the world that would have normally gone unnoticed. The Balkan states have a very rich history and culture that was built over many ages of conquest and battle. There has always been disagreement or conflict over territory between these countries. The land has been under the control of many famous empires, including the Roman, Ottoman, and Austro-Hungarian empires. This constant redrawing of borders and shifting ideas produced a very diverse array of people. The main nationalities that emerged are Bosnian, Serbian, and Croatian. All three are similar but have some differences that are large enough to lead to discrimination. These differences based on religious and cultural intolerance led to the Bosnian War. Genocide and crimes against humanity were committed against thousands of citizens. Like all wars, it was devastating and costly (you can still see ruins around the cities) and saw the death of an unreasonably high number of civilians.  Unfortunately, many land mines are still left primed and ready to explode, waiting for unsuspecting children playing in the fields to trigger them. Organizations exist throughout these countries in order to aid those who have been rendered incapacitated. Thankfully, the casualties related to landmine detonation have been greatly reduced in these countries.

Andres Marcos- A Painted History

Today, the group visited the Croatian History Museum in Zagreb. Although it wasn't a typical two to three hour museum visit, the portraits there depicted remarkable people that lived and fought in World War I. These people include Francis Joseph I, who was the king of Austria-Hungary, and whose heir to the throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, was assassinated in Sarajevo on June 28th, 1914, triggering the beginning of the bloodiest war to that point. Last year, World War I marked its 1st century point since its beginning. 

On a personal note, looking at the portraits and the paintings of those events, I felt like a part of history because they showed exactly what fighting and living through these years was like. Thanks to Oskar Artur Alexander and many other war painters, I was able to blend in to the times of the war and understand the situation that was lived one hundred years ago.

Painted History

Nadia Tabbara- Discovering the World


There is nothing better than discovering the beauty of history with the people you’ve grown to adore. Exploring Budapest I created an unofficial family that is made up of the Reading the Globe student body. Among them is one new friend of mine who had Budapest, Hungary on his list to visit before he dies. Seeing the happiness in his eyes when we arrived made me even more eager to explore it, eager to see what made this destination worthy of his “list”.



Discovering



The first memory that comes to mind is the Buda Castle. Traveling by bus, reaching higher and higher in altitude, I saw the castle from the corner of my eye. I’m a sucker when it comes to fine architecture, and though I’m not an art student nor as articulate as I wish to be, everything was perfect!  Every statue, every column, everything was breath taking. The hike too was breath taking, if you are as unfit as me. While catching my breath now and then, I started to notice the crowds. There were people from all over, from different backgrounds, from different countries -- all here. What we all shared in common was our love to discover the world.

On our last evening here, I sat down and listened to a CD I bought from a group of “gypsy artists” who played during our farewell dinner.  It made me wish that I could stay here longer.


Luis Antonio Diaz- Transitions and Budapest

While many of the transitions to the countries Serbia, Bosnia, and Croatia were highly anticipated, our travel to Budapest, Hungary proved to be both the best and saddest of them all. While we were all so excited to be going to one of the most visited cities, we all soon realized that the trip would soon come to a close. Trying to keep the good times rolling though, we gave our best wishes in Zagreb, Croatia, to our last tour guide, Danjela, and took off for the great city of Budapest.  With our new guide, Anna, we began the trek and went through the already familiar process of transitioning to a new country. Having been informed that we would be able to experience Hungary's national holiday, the 1848 Revolution, I could hardly wait. 

Of course with all the constant traveling not many of us, myself included, stayed up for the bus ride over but nonetheless when we caught our first glimpse of Budapest I was surprised. Belgrade, Serbia was a structural modern type city, Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina had a beautiful mountainous snowy city and Zagreb, Croatia was a modern city filled with parks and flora for miles around. What I saw in Budapest was nothing like I described for our past destinations, no. Budapest, Hungary had a river flowing from under plenty of bridges and had structures that were beautifully made and amazing to see! Every city had its forts and Budapest was no different. After finishing off the day by visiting amazing sites, I knew our times in Budapest would be some of the best ever.







Budapest

Leslie Sabrina Sanchez- Until Next Time 




Goodbye




It’s 3:00 a.m. and we are up and ready to head out. Man, where did the time go? It seems as if it was just yesterday that we were heading for the airport in Houston. This trip has been astonishing. Not only did I get to know my peers, but I learned so much about myself and discovered the rich history of Eastern Europe. If someone had asked me about Yugoslavia a few months ago I would have been clueless, but if you ask me or any of my peers now...trust me when I say--we are experts! The opportunities we have had because of the Reading the Globe program have been more than I would have ever imagined. Never did I envision myself traveling to a foreign country without my family, much less at 18 years old. The memories we have created from the snowball fights, the SOS Children's Village, the Belgrade Fortress...to crowded transportation, and even getting lost in the subway will never be forgotten. The times spent together at our welcome dinners, class discussions, and especially our farewell dinner will forever be cherished. As for the scenery, I can speak for my peers and myself, when I tell you it was BREATHTAKING! Ibn Battuta once said, "Traveling- it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller." There are too many stories to wrap up in one post, we have so many to share. As we head home we are certain this isn't a "goodbye", but a "see you later". Until next time Eastern Europe.  Laredo, we will see you in a few hours.