Monday, September 22, 2008

Work is not a rabbit

A British girl needed a Bosnian guy to finish a particular task before she could continue her own work. But he was leaving for coffee, so she protested, "What about the thing I needed you to do?"He replied, "Posao nije zec." [Work is not a rabbit.] Meaning, work will not run away from you. When you come back from coffee, it's still there, waiting for you.

There's a combination post-communist apathy towards work, combined with a natural tendency in Mediterranean cultures to be relaxed and relationship-oriented, rather than task-oriented. There's a joke about two Montenegrins (allegedly the laziest Yugoslavians), standing by a river watching a woman drown. The first one says, "This is terrible! we are just standing here watching this woman drown!" The second replies, "You're right, it is terrible to stand here. Let's sit."

The Chinese have a proverb about a rabbit, related to work, but with the exact opposite message. "A farmer walks by a stump, when suddenly a rabbit runs into the stump and is killed. The lucky farmer picks up the rabbit for his dinner. However, every day from then on, he no longer works in his fields, but simply stands by the stump, waiting for another rabbit to run into the stump." Of course, in a Bosnian version of this proverb, the farmer would not foolishly stand by the stump, but rather sit down on the stump to take coffee and a cigarette.

I was telling a friend that I've started reading Moby Dick to pass the time while waiting for people. She laughed, thinking that meant I read 10 minutes a day, until I explained that that morning already I'd been reading for an hour!

I've found the Chinese proverb to not be entirely accurate in Bosnian life. Working here this past year and looking forward to another year here, I've found that "Good things come to those who wait"-- that life isn't a thrilling sequence of successful minutes, but episodes with commercials in between. Americans have perfected the art of using commercials to fetch chips and a diet coke, so that they won't be bored during their favorite shows. (Although given the American waistline, commercials would be better spent with pushups and crunches!) Would we miss out on the show because we dislike the commercials? Or maybe we'd just get Tivo to fastforward through the commercials. But the commercials in fact pay for the shows. The commercials are boring but they finance the shows we watch. Which could lead to a discussion about public television. But I really need to stop blogging and get back to work.

Is, or is not, work, in fact, a rabbit?

What is art?

Since I work for an artistic-cultural center and help to teach an art class, I was very interested to run across this quote by Vlatko Filipovic, a Bosnian filmmaker."God is the greatest director in the world. Whoever succeeds in catching, in writing down what happens before our eyes, that is real art." ["Bog je najboli reditelj na svijetu. Ko uspije uhvatiti, zabiljeziti, ono sto se dogadja pred nasim ocima, to je prava umjetnost."]

And while I am thinking about art, I wanted to include my favorite quote on the topic, from Tolstoy's "What is art?"

"The hero is no longer Dives by Lazarus the beggar; not Mary Magdalene in the day of her beauty, but in the day of her repentance; not those who acquire wealth but those who have abandoned it; not those who dwell in palaces, but those who dwell in catacombs and huts; not those who rule over others, but those who acknowledge no authority but God's. And the greatest work of art is no longer a cathedral of victory with statues of conquerors but the representation of a human soul so transformed by love, that a man who is tormented and murdered still pities and loves his persecutors."

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Local elections

Elections are a time of frustration for most Bosnians, who see a political landscape dominated by nationalist parties and littered with unkept promises of change. However, in spite of everything, they never lose their sense of humor.
These are campaign posters of the two main nationalist parties, complete with graffitied commentary. The first says, "Let's finish what we started", but it's been altered to say, "Let's finish the ethnic cleansing!" (This poster is for the main Croat party, HDZ, connected to the attempted ethnic cleansing of Bosniaks from east Mostar in 1993-4.)
The second poster is for the Bosniak party, SDA, with a photo of Mostar's old bridge and the words, "Transparents and effective administration"; the graffiti says, "You're a disgrace/embarrassment to us!" (Presumably a reference to SDA's alleged "selling out" of east Mostar to the Croats.)

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Public Transportation

When taking the night train (to catch a flight to Berlin) proved to be more eventful than I expected. Especially around Zenica. And provided food for thought about Bosnian society.

The train was packed, first of all. My first mistake was moving into a smoking compartment because it had fewer people, rather than forcing myself into a compartment with other European backpackers. There were always at least two people chainsmoking in said compartment from then on, but I was too lazy to move, mistake #2.

One man in the compartment was deaf and had only one eye. He was selling keychains and squeaky toys out of a duffel. When the conductor came to look at our tickets, he offered him 5 marks in lieu of a ticket (which would cost much more). The conductor pretended to be a bit miffed, but a father with two kids in the compartment chimed in support of the bribe-offerer and that was that. "hey, better for you,better for him," the father commented afterwards. "Don't forget you got support from me!" The first man responded by giving him a free key chain. The father bought squeaky toys for the kids.

The father and kids left and another man sat in the compartment and chatted with us. After he left, the deaf man said, "hey, he lives in Zenica. He's probably Mafia. But what is really important is a person's soul and heart, not how powerful they are."The conversation continued: "My family is so poor, we don't have food or clothes...Are you a student? ah, you went to college, you must be rich. hey, can I see your sunglasses? Here, you can have this keychain! No no, it's a gift!" etc.

Finally I told him I want to sleep. He helpfully suggested my putting my purse at my feet, but I decided to keep it by my side. I fell asleep... Whereupon he closed the curtains of the compartment and picked my purse, which I slept through and didn't notice until he had left. The bribe-taking conductor was sympathetic, but said this happens a lot, "especially around Zenica," and there was nothing the police could do.

Someone was obviously watching over me-- the one-eyed deaf man took only my cash, which wasn't a huge amount, and left my passport, cell phone and debit cards. (Also, he left me the key chain which he had "given" me.) Many thanks also to my BVS coordinator, who gave me some cash she had in marks and kuna, when I got to Berlin. (On the return train ride I had a friend with me--I have learned something about traveling on trains in the Balkans!!) How I miss living in a police state. I rode night trains often in China and nothing was ever stolen-- uniformed officers stroll the corridors constantly. The system there is set up in such a way that it would be impossible to bribe someone rather than paying for your seat, although I'm sure that the trains always selling out every seat (yay, population density!) is another factor.

A quote by an ethnographer I'm reading now -- "People do one thing, say another, and think a third." Clearly, this man had been planning to pick my purse the whole time (evaluating my possessions, trying to get me to put my purse closer to him) but, sleepy and lazy, I didn't bother to consider what he might be thinking or what he might do as a result.

While in Berlin I had another experience of Bosnian (?) poverty. A young Roma boy came up askingfor money, with a little sign in English that said, "I am from Bosnia-Hercegovina. I have 4children and need money for food.." etc. Obviously, this little kid didn't have 4 kids of his own! But we thought he might be from Bosnia and tried talking to him in Bosnian, which it turned out that he didn't speak at all. I assumed that meant that everything in the note was thus untrue, until talking to a friend here, who told me some of the Bosnian Roma who went to Germany as refugees only speak Roma and not Bosnian. So the little boy's parents could have been from Bosnia even though he couldn't speak any Bosnian...

I really want to go to social work school, to have an academic/professional framework by which to consider all of these issues...