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...

1 comment:

Kristin Flory said...

Hey Katie, look at what Allison wrote on a recent blog about social workers - albeit in Belfast!
-- Kristin