Thursday, 4 August 2011

A Tribute to my friend Zaid.

Dear Friends,

Below I have copied what I posted on my Facebook as a note about Zaid.


São Paulo, Thursday night/Friday morning, 4th/5th August 2011.

A Tribute to my friend Zaid.

I am almost crying as I write this. In fact today is the most I have cried since my grandpa died; I don’t think any of the friends I am currently with even know how much I have cried. Not through fault of their own, but because I am so bad expressing my feelings. I do not know how to gain the confidence to adequately do so. So I suppose that’s why I want to write this tribute, memorial, eulogy, to show my pain at losing such a special person.

I imagine most, but not all, of you reading will know that Zaid Khasro, one of my roommates at the United World College of the Adriatic, Italy, where I have been studying for the past year, tragically died in a car crash a few days ago, in his native Iraq. When I first found out, I was in sheer denial and disbelief. Of course, it had to be a joke, especially the joker I know Zaid to be. I am currently in Brazil, volunteering with a group of students from the college in a favela in Sao Paulo. I have been able to channel many of my thoughts into this, and when we finish for the day I am too tired to think much more. Avoiding thinking about something like this is emotionally draining. Only today (Thursday) did I first properly cry. Skyping my dad, I realised how much I wanted to be with the ones I love, to comfort me through this time. This is only natural, and I must count myself fortunate to have such a comfortable, loving, family base. How devious Facebook, Skype and all these ‘new media’ can be, making us feel so connected, but it is as if at the last minute some Beelzebub shattered the image, right before I could touch the person.

As I said, Zaid was my roommate for a whole academic year. Living up to twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, sleeping, working, messing around in the same proximity, you get to know someone pretty well. You get to see the worst, and most importantly the best, of anyone. Zaid was one of the most stubborn people I knew. Raza, Gabriele (my other two roommates, all of us being first years, and as such going through the same experience of living away from home like this, I think we had a special bond) and I would constantly berate him, in the absence of parents to do so, for various things, his sleeping hours, his study patterns... But boy did he stick to his guns. He also saw the world in a different way to me, and in fact through this I was able to change so much about the way I see the world. It is hard to put into words what I mean, but let’s say we see a field, he sees a place needing trees, I see somewhere to play football, with this poor analogy I am just trying to illustrate how different perspectives can make you think. Again, boy could he argue why that field was, and should be, covered in trees.

At the same time, Zaid had a brilliantly unique sense of humour. No matter how annoyed, or sad, or whatever, he would always succeed in making those in his, what some would consider small, yet what those same people would also consider enviously close, circle of friends laugh. He was one of the kindest and most generous people I have ever met. Within days of our arrival at the college he would refuse any of my attempts to resist his offers of hospitality. He almost did not believe that being vegetarian my whole life was a good enough reason not to have some of his food. I know that hospitality is important to many cultures, but with Zaid it was deeply rooted within his soul. Zaid was pretty much the technical whizz of the college, although sometimes reluctant as difficult demands were made of him, he would always help out at college events for the technical aspects, never wanting to disappoint. He also possessed a very special skill at obtaining many different computer programmes and software at ease, and at no cost. As I wrote on his Facebook wall, following my learning of the awful news, “Y'alreet zaid I am sure you still have Facebook wherever you are, I'm sure you'll have found a way to get past god's firewalls.” The “y’alreet” being an example of the Geordie dialect from my city of Newcastle that Zaid so loved to hear, along with my British accent, he being so used to the American variety. I regularly saw people who had had virtually real contact with Zaid previously come into our room and ask him for something for their computer. Students simply cannot afford the extortionate prices most companies charge. Not only would Zaid give them what they want, or find it if he did not already have it, he would recommend other programmes for this person whom he had never much more than said hello to. He would then proceed to install, and help the person with all their problems they might have, given the sometimes unreliable nature of software acquired in this way. I am sure each person in the college could give an example of at least two things he did that improved their life, even if they do not know it. Whether it was something direct like getting a computer programme or receiving such items as chocolate, DVDs or bedclothes (don’t ask), or even in my case receiving prayer beads and a keffiyeh from Kurdistan, to less obvious situations, such as Zaid being a key player in the technical team for all the cultural and celebratory performances we put on, or him simply always offering to help if ever he should come across anyone with a problem, he was an often hidden pillar of our community, a community which will be ever much the weaker without his support. Before his shocking death, we were at times planning my visit to his house in Erbil, Iraqi Kurdistan, and I was constantly overwhelmed, in the most positive of ways, by all the things he wanted to show me. These included an eight-day tour of the region, about which he would not hear of me wanting to pay for, even contribute towards. That can only be testimony to a wonderful family, and an immense heart of his.

In the process of writing this, I am starting to feel a little better. I know that the pain will eventually, over time, subside. But I also know that it will always linger slightly, as it should, to remind me of a true friend, a loved one even. Something my dad said to me as we Skyped earlier has struck a chord with me, that what makes us human is our ability to react in the way we do to death, and as humans death is something that unifies us all. There is nothing truer than this. I imagine some of you may have felt uncomfortable reading this, but this is my way of reacting to a death, a truly tragic, horrifying, terrible, abhorrent, god-questioning, ridiculously premature and truly unfair death. Please take a moment to remember him, if you knew him, or if you are reading this as someone who did not, please take a moment to realise how lucky you are to be with who you love, who you care about, and think about those who are no longer fortunate enough to do so. Thankyou for taking the care and time to read this. Seriously, it means a lot.

Rest in peace, Zaid,



Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Sad News

Dear Friends,
I learnt earlier today (wednesday) that my dear friend and room mate of the past year, Zaid Khasro, the Iraqi primo, has been killed in a car accident. This has shocked all of us here and especially me, as I knew him the best out of all the people here. As such I am finding it very difficult, but will try to speak to the relevant people as soon as possible. Also having social service gives me something to do. It is very hard being so 'connected' yet so far, on things like Facebook... Overall the social service is going well, we have decided to focus on the children's centre in the favela more as the homeless centre is quite alright without our 'help'. I will try to write more soon,

This is a photo showing from left to right Christian (Indonesia), Moritz (Italy, Sud Tirol), Me, Zaid and Raymond (Hong Kong), all first years, some time in the first term.

Friday, 29 July 2011


Me again. This isn't the promised Kosovo blog, or pictures from Bosnia or Kosovo, since I am without my laptop, but instead I hope I can share some interesting stories from Brazil, or at least let my parents know I am still alive...

I am currently in Sao Paulo, Brazil's largest city, with something around 20 million people inhabiting the greater area. The sheer scale is something I've never contemplated before, and after five days I am still no closer to understanding what this much urban-ness means. A lot of people and a lot of concrete...

I am staying with my good friend Joao, who is my co-year at UWCAd. With us are Gabriel, my british 'secondo' (who is also incidentally the only person I have ever met who I am aware of having elevenses and afternoon tea as a daily fixture) and Davide, another Italian co-year, both also from UWCAd. We have all arrived early to Brazil, as the main reason for us coming is that along with a number of other students from the college, we will be spending three weeks volunteering with a number of organisations in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. For the first week and a half we will be working with a children's centre in a favela in Sao Paulo, as well as with a homeless charity called 'Minha rua minha casa' ('My street, my home'), and then in Rio de Janeiro we will be primarily visiting and helping at a children's home, which will be especially interesting as this organisation receives very little volunteer support, compared to some of the more commerical 'voluntourism' outfits there are around.

That starts on monday and I shall report in due course. Before that, though, I have had the chance to relax in a very nice house, with great hospitality provided by the Baltazar family. As well as a couple of late nights spent playing on the Wii, we have been able to sample a cultured, vibrant city. On Wednesday we visited a sprawling park set amidst a vast backdrop of skyscrapers, and enjoyed the winter sun with Joao and some of his friends, followed by a 5pm lunch at a shopping mall. It was a nice opportunity to speak to other young people our age, and as usual I am humbled by how well so many people speak English, and how much of an effort they make to accomodate us. I am actually picking up quite a bit of Portuguese (although the Brazilian 'dialect' varies from Portuguese Portuguese much more than American English differs from British English) but it just reminds me not only of how embarassingly ignorant, but also how poor our education system is that it does not push us to learn any languages. In my opinion it would be quite possible for children as soon as they start school to learn at least one extra language, eventually gaining knowledge of even three or four over their school career. Ultimately it is us who will lose out, as on a global scale how can we expect our graduates to compete with so many other, more talented people...? Anyway, rant over.

Yesterday (thursday) was another lovely afternoon. We also experienced the buses for the first time, as previously Joao's parents had given us lifts everywhere. After meeting two of Joao's friends, Carol and Mariza, we were treated to what I can only describe in cliche' fashion as a 'rollercoaster ride', so much did the twisting and potholed roads rattle our bones. But it was very fun, nonetheless. We went to one of the kind of centres of the city, Avenue Paulista, which is certainly an urban hub of activity. Here we went to one of the events of an ongoing international animated short film festival ('Anima Mundi') and watched a series of short films hailing from as close as Rio de Janeiro and as far as Poland and Egypt. After this we went to enjoy some cafe culture for a short while, which ended up being about 4 hours, as we enjoyed basking in the hustle and bustle, watching the street sellers going about their business, the police duely taking their bribe from the brothel owner and the odd busker passing our way. We sampled the local 'Caipirinha' as well as the familiar greasy chips. Leo, another friend of Joao, joined us and added some appropriate Latin American communist spirit to the conversation.

Today (friday) was another lazy day, with us only getting out of the house by 4 (following a swim and a sunbathe), and instead of Joao, who had to work on the dreaded 'Extended Essay' for the IB, we were babysat by Carol and Mariza, who we had met the previous day. We went to another 'centre' of Sao Paulo, although this time a more modern one, again by shaky bus, to the Latin America 'Memorial', a collection of museums, offices, libraries and performance spaces dedicated to the history of Latin America. We were again here for the animated short film festival, and were treated to some gems from Quebec, Denmark and Iran, among others. Sadly, the problem with getting your arse into gear so late does mean that you tend to get less done, and this way of being was upheld by us having to leave as we were having a big dinner back at the house, a bit like Sunday lunch... but at dinnertime and with no meat (since Joao's family is also vegetarian).

So far I have seen very little of the city, and I think that when we start our work we will see yet another side, but I can definitely say that Sao Paulo has a lot, almost too much in fact, to offer.

Just a few interesting things:
-Billboard advertising is illegal within the city boundary. A highly civilised idea.
-Police cars have red lights instead of blue. I actually think blue lights make more sense. Especially in Sao Paulo at night you can see a hell of a lot of rear-break lights...
-Brazilian law dictates that all passengers flying to and from Brazil are legally permitted 32kg of luggage at no extra charge. Another highly intelligent law.

Oh yeah and so far I have not taken any photos, as I have not taken my camera out due to fear of pickpockets. Actually I get the impression that as long as you are not hanging your camera from a nice thin strap out of your vision on the outside of your rucksack, like any good 'gringo' should, there is not too much of a problem with theft. But we shall see... When or if I do take any photos, I shall dutifully upload them.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Rest of the course

Friday 10th June

Today we started with with a talk from a guy from the Nansen Dialogue Centre, an NGO working on improving dialogue between the different ethnic groups in BiH and also the region as a whole. It was very interesting when he pointed out the difference between dialogue and debate. Although obvious I had never really thought about this before, that for example when you are in a dialogue you listen to see what the other is saying, when you are debating you listen to see how you can respond with your point. Essentially debate is point scoring and selfish, since you always think about whether you look good, or whether your point of opinion has 'won', whereas in dialogue it isn't bad if you change your opinion, in fact it is a sign of maturity to accept when you are wrong and when something else makes more sense... I think many politicians could learn from this.
After lunch Annukka led a session on transitional justice, the difference between retributive justice, which looks back on what's happened, versus retroactive, which looks back as well as forward, engaging conflicting parties in dialogue. This obviously is quite relevant with cases such as Mladic being arrested... Following this we had a talk from a woman from the OSCE, the Organisation for Cooperation and Security in Europe, about education as a security measure, which also linked in to stuff the man from the Nansen Dialogue Centre had said about how schools can be used as great ways for resolving conflicts, or at least trying to, for example previously how following the war schools were all completely and utterly divided, whereas now they are starting 'Two schools under one roof' in BiH and even some occasional shared lessons (the UWC in Mostar is a great example of this as it also shares a building with one of these systems, so in effect there are three schools under the same roof - Croat, Bosnian and UWC). The final talk was from an american man, Kendal Palmer, who in fact talked about the Northern Ireland conflict and specifically Belfast as a divided city. This was especially interesting to me as theoretically I should know about it yet in schools in the UK we are taught literally nothing about it...

Saturday 11th June

Today we went on a field trip to visit Sarajevo. After a two hour drive through spectacular mountains and lakes we got to the city where we picked up our tour guides. It's very interesting how the first thing they said was how they didn't like to be talking about the war, but since our tour was about Sarajevo in the war they had to. I suppose it makes sense, but stuff like that shouldn't be forgotten or brushed under the carpet...
First we visited the tunnel that connected the city of Sarajevo to the rest of free Bosnia during the seige by Serbian forces, where all people, Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks of Sarajevo were victims. We were able to walk in 25 metres of the tunnel, but it actually went originally for 800 metres. It was about a metre wide and a metre and a half high and was literally incredible that every single thing, electricity, armaments, food, all had to be brought through here. We watched a video on what life was like during the siege and it was quite powerful. Since the Serbian forces surrounded the city, there was one central part of Sarajevo known as 'sniper's alley'. This was essentially a region of Sarajevo where Serbian snipers were on the hills on both sides and so could shoot anyone who crossed, which was necessary as there was only one point to get water, the brewery, where natural spring was, and people on the east side had to walk 8km to get it. The video saw people running in zig zag so as to avoid fire, almost like a game as the sniper tried to keep up with the person. It is scary what people will do when they are simply 'following orders'. And it is also remarkable how resilient humans can be. After this we explored Sarajevo's Ottoman old town, where we went to the national historical museum of BiH and also had lunch in traditional style Turkish restaurant. I bought the all important thing, a BiH football shirt (a fake, but good one... and actually what's bigger here is Man Utd and Liverpool shirts...) Afterwards we carried on exploring the streets, and moved into the newer areas, and I can say that Sarajevo seems a very pleasant, cosmopolitan city, and although there are still scars it seems to be recovering well.

Sunday 12th June

The final day. If I'm honest we probably should've timed it so that the field trip to Sarajevo was the last thing, like a reward, also since it was the end of the week everyone was exhausted, but since it was a Sunday there would be stuff closed (there are many churches as well as mosques) so it didn't make much sense to visit then...
Anyway we started with a presentation from a very interesting talk from Sasha, an activist and organiser of 'Women in Black' on both sexism and the phenomena of rape in conflicts. She used the example of how demilitarisation is the one of the best ways to achieve equality, for example in Serbia, where militarism encourages patriarchy and vice versa, and often the church is used as a centre for encouraging this militarism. She also very interestingly pointed out that the strongest militarisation often occurs in peace time, and this is why it is so dangerous. The group she worked for led an ultimately successful campaign to remove conscription in Serbia and now there is a professional army, so no longer is everyone exposed to the patriarchal system.
After lunch one of our facilitators Alen, from BiH, led a workshop about the role of youth in peace building. He talked about his experiences prior to UWC with Save the Children and we looked at how young people and children are better placed, since they have not had the same scars as their parents, to bring peace to post conflict zones.
Faced with a depleting number since so many people had already left, we had our closing ceremony in the afternoon and then spent the evening relaxing in a cafe by the river.

Monday 13th June

Departure day. The college arranged for four of us to be picked up by car where we were taken to Sarajevo airport and then me to the bus station, where I was picked up by my co-year Nikolina, and her dad, who drove me to their house in the nearby town of Pale. Interestingly enough this town, which is part of 'eastern Sarajevo' part of the autonomous 'Republika Srbska', is where family of both Mladic and Karadzic, two Serbian war criminals, live. It was also the capital of Republika Srbska during the war. We had a walk round and now it is a fast growing new town, with a pleasant central square but if I'm honest it was a bit too new to have much character. Although at least there is still plenty of cafe culture. We met some of Nikolina's friends and had a nice stroll around, past her school and the Serbian university there.

I'm writing this on Tuesday 14th June, and this afternoon we will go to Sarajevo, and then in the evening I will get the overnight bus to Pristina, in Kosovo. Because of problems with my second year in Belgrade, I am staying an extra two days in Kosovo.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Ok, this post isn't about what I did, but important and hopefully interesting information about why Bosnia and Herzegovina has such problems and why the college is there and why I was there.

What exactly was I doing in Mostar? Well, I was attending what UWC call a 'short course', which does exactly what it says on the tin. They are basically ways that UWC can spread the movement of UWC to more people and hopefully spread the values and ethos, of peace and a sustainable future. These short courses vary massivly in shape and size, this one I was doing was organised by the UWC College in Mostar, one of the newest (and most interesting in my opinion) colleges of UWC, with only 5 years of existence. It was originally founded as a five year NGO, an educational project in an ethnically divided, conflict-scarred zone, however due to its successes at helping to heal wounds (I will go into this in a bit) it has now been established as an official school. The school is the only UWC to be located in a proper urban area (my college in Duino is near Trieste but actually in a small village. There is also a new UWC in Maastricht in the Netherlands but this is not what I would consider to be a UWC, like the one in Singapore many of the students simply paid their way in, and this spoils the UWC experience for those that got in on merit... I digress) and as such reflects massively the culture and feel of Balkan and Bosnian life. There is a very high proportion of local (as in from BiH - Bosnia and Herzegovina) students, and I know that there can be problems of the locals just hanging out with each other since there are so many, but this is not all of them and the problem is decreasing and does not stop others from having an amazing experience. Fellow geordie Megan is my co-year there and she absolutely loves it.
Going back to short courses, as I was saying this one was organised by UWCiM and the Finnish Cultural Foundation, who paid our travel expenses and funded all the speakers and activities. It was on the subject of Peace and Conflict Resolution, bringing together UWC students and local high school students of Croat, Serb and Bosnian ethnicity to try and help us to learn about the subject in a very real situation. Other short courses are organised by UWC national committees (the bodies in each country responsible for making selections to send students to the various UWCs) or other colleges. Some have UWC students facilitating, taking part, or both, such as this one, and always include young people from the local area.

A bit about BiH. Located in the cradle of Croatia (our soon to be newest member to the club), with Serbia on its eastern border and Montenegro to the south. Following WWII, BiH was part of Yugoslavia. This was created by Josep Broz Tito, who led the resistance to Nazi occupation in WWII. Tito established Yugolsavia as a communist federation of 6 republics, formed because of historical (mainly mediaeval kingdoms)existences prior to occupation by the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires and also the existence of ethnic identities linked to these often poorly defined mediaeval kingdoms (in that no one knew exactly where the borders were, what made people different etc). These republics were Serbia, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia and Montenegro. Tito saw that to make a united, powerful Slavic state these ethnic tensions had to disappear. Although there had been problems between these ethnicities during the war, Tito and his regime brutally suppressed all talk or reference to any differences between peoples in Yugoslavia. Whilst most of the republics were quite ethnically homogeneous, BiH differed in that it had many Croats, Serbs and Muslims (Bosniaks).
Tito rejected Stalin and presided over the non-alignment movement during the cold war, consisting of nations that did not want to be part of either the west or the east. Being non aligned allowed Yugoslavia's economy to grow strong in the 60s and 70s and to promote socialism without being distracted by the cold war. The UWC of the Adriatic, the one I attend was founded in 1982, mainly because of its proximity to Yugoslavia, and the eastern bloc, in an attempt to bring young people together from a divided world. In the 1980s the economy began to stagnate as more and more money was spent on armaments and defence, for fear of either the west or east invading.
After Tito's death in 1980, and with the economy not so strong, Yugoslavia started its decline. Slobodan Milosevic, a senior communist was initially hailed as a saviour for Yugoslavia and became president of the federation in 1989. However, he basically pulled out the pin of the ethnic time bomb, when he made a speech saying that Serbs were being repressed by Albanians in the autonomous region (which acted effectively like a republic) of Kosovo, part of Serbia. This went against the taboo of not speaking of nationality or ethnicity in Yugoslavia, and effectively opened the floodgates to a tide of conflicts that had been building for quite some time, especially in recent years. Atrocities committed in WWII by various groups on others and ideas of glorious pasts, as well as fear spread nationalism and resulted in some hugely destructive ethnic wars during the 1990s.
BiH was where perhaps the worst atrocities were committed in the war between 1992 and 1995. This was caused by Serb political parties and Croat political parties declaring the relative independence from BiH, supported by the relative armies of Croatia and Yugoslavia (effectively Serbian). The democratically elected government of BiH did not accept these declarations of independence and so issued a referendum on secession as a WHOLE national sovereign state of BiH, including Serb and Croat peoples, from what remained of Yugoslavia. The people voted a majority in favour of secession, since a majority were Bosniak, or Muslim. Armies were mobilised by all sides and although Bosnian (I will use the term Bosnian, rather than ethnic term Bosniak, since there were both Serbs and Croats who fought for a united BiH) defence forces (who were poorly organised and badly equipped) in fact (according to the BBC) fired the first shots on some Serbian people, the Serbian army was the first to launch proper military action, moving to take control of all the areas of BiH where Serbs were the majority. Bosnian defences were really poor and effectively the government of BiH ceased to control the nation. Bosnian and Croat forces initially teamed up to fight against Serbia, however the Croatian army also turned against Bosnian forces as Croatia wanted land.
These conflicts, between all three groups, led to huge displacement of people (estimated at more than 2 million) and thousands of deaths, casualties and huge social scars which will lead the country divided for a long time. Perhaps the most (in)famous was the seige of the capital of BiH, Sarajevo. The city in fact had a very mixed population, with around 70% of mixed marriages between Serbs, Croats or Bosniaks. Serbian forces surrounded the city and under the command of Ratko Mladic, pummelled the city for three years. There was just one way in and out of the city, a small tunnel underneath the airport, which was UN controlled territory. This linked what remained of 'free' BiH to the city. Atrocities were committed by all sides. In 1995, the Dayton Peace accords were signed, mostly bringing the fighting to an end. This led BiH mostly as it is today, divided into two parts, Republika of Srpska and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. These operate as generally autonomous regions of one nation.

Next blog I will return to normal diary mode.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

The week so far...

Me again. I have had a fascinating, intense, exhausting three first days here at the UWC in Mostar. I'll try to recap them as efficiently (efficiently since I want to be short, but not cut corners, as in still make it interesting...) as I can.

Sunday 5th June

I suppose breakfast kind of reflected the geographical location in which it was being served, as in not quite european (the two options consisted of bread and jam, and tea.) Now I know they're stingy with breakfast on the continent... actually for 15 euros it was pretty good.
I took the bus to Zadar bus station (sadly didn't get to see the sea organ) from where I took the 10 o clock bus to Split, Croatia's second largest city, further down the coast. After this (stunning - sea, mountains) journey I had a couple of hours for lunch in the ancient centre of split. My lonely planet informed me that the locals are proud of being the bearers of the Roman emperor Diocletian´s huge deathplace (literally, it´s basically a palace that he built to die and be buried in). I then took the bus from the bustling sea port to Mostar, another almost four hour journey. Sadly I didn´t get a stamp from the border guard, and I didn´t really feel like asking... It was really interesting the transition from Croatia to Bosnia and Herzegovina (it´s official name is this, however for space let´s just call it Bosnia), almost as soon as you cross you can see that there is less money around, roads, buildings, cars. Also really oddly there are cars parked for kilometres upon kilometres (sorry guys, Europe´s turning me metric...) which have just been abandoned. I later asked a Bosnian, and they told me that since there is no infrastructure for disposal of cars, people just dump them. And then they use them for spare parts.
I arrived early in the evnening to Mostar bus station, expecting to be met. This was not the case, in the end I waited for a while, chatted to a young guy who went to Australia during the war, and then eventually resigned myself to walking to the college (luckily the college is pretty well known, and especially tourist places speak the lingo). Fortunately, as I was walking I bumped into a group of slightly out of place looking people, who recognised my UWC hoodie and all was well...

Monday 6th June

We started off with icebreaker games and introductions; in total there are 70 of us, about 20 UWC students (about half of whom - no idea if that´s grammatically correct - are from Bosnia or the Balkans) and the rest are all local high school students, with the exception of a handful of students from a government sponsored IB school in Banja Luka, the capital of the Republika Srbska, the other autonomous region of Bosnia and Herzegovina (it´s incredibly complicated, I shall have a go at explaining at a later point). After lunch, Annukka, the Finnish organiser of the summer course (she is a graduate of UWC USA; the course is funded by a Finnish organisation)gave an introduction to Peace studies, and then we were thrown into the deep end by the college´s (acronomym UWCiM, literally UWC in Mostar) history teacher giving us a three hour talk on the history of the Balkan regions, from mediaeval times until today! In the evening we had a nice time relaxing at a local bar called ´Old Man´s´, so named because normally it is full of old men...

Tuesday 7th June

Annukka led the morning workshop, about tools for conflict prevention. In the afternoon we were joined by Janine di Giovanni, who talked to us about her career and reporting from conflict zones. We then analysed some of her articles in groups, and very bravely of her she asked us when we were all back together again in the hall to give our critiques. In the evening we ended up doing creative stuff, I chose to do some what´s known as ´Theatre of the Oppressed´, I have come across it before and it´s a really interesting way of raising powerful issues. Since we were being filmed for a documentary on the summer course, we didn´t do any potentially controversial issues, let´s say sexual abuse could be an example. We basically showed the scenario of a university Dean (I played the corrupt Dean,character modelled on Tony Blair crossed with Malfoy, not a nice fellow) getting his daughter good grades by putting pressure on the daughter´s teacher. But the twist is that we repeated our performance, and during the second showing, the audience could stop the play at any point to switch themselves with one of the characters (except the protagonists, the teacher or the daughter, so either swapped with me or one of the other students in the class) to try and resolve the solution, without a corrupted and/or conflict solution being the end result. In the end, no resolution was found, but at least it showed how effective this theatre can be at raising awareness of issues.

Wednesday 8th June

Our first lecture of the day was from Annuka again (by the way she has various degrees in Peace and Conflict studies and politics, in case you were wondering about her mandate...) on the subject of UNderstanding conflict and conflict management, focusing on how differently different people see conflicts, and that the only way you can hope to peacefully resolve one is by understanding (not necessarily agreeing with) all the viewpoints of the parties involved. THen we had a fascinating insight from a Balkans analyst, Srecko Latal, on the developments politically, economically and socially from pre war to the present day (he was interestingly highly critical of Paddy Ashdown, when he was UN high representative of the country, as Ashdown basically instead of letting Bosnians take control, added more layers of bureaucracy and took away control from the Bosnian people. He was much more complimentary of Lady Ashton in her recent peace efforts in the region as EU foreign representative) It seems like Bosnia has some interesting times ahead, especially politically (by the way I am forcing myself not to go into much detail, for example about political problems etc, for ease of reading, but if you would like to know more you can either post a comment or ask questions when we next see each other...) Following this we had the afternoon off, taking buses donated ´From the People of Japan´, to a truly spectacular place named Kravice. Basically it is a large waterfall area, where you can swim in the various streams at the foot of the cliffs and just have a great time, enjoying the sun and swimming in the crystal clear water of the river... In the evening programme we watched a (at times harrowing) documentary by an anthropologist following the lives of residents in a village in northern Bosnia during the war, showing how at first the Muslims and Croats were united against the Serb enemy (at the time Sarajevo, Bosnia´s capital was under seige from the Serbs)however for whatever reason, Croatia turned against the (majority in the country) muslims. We also watched the documentary when the anthropologist returned six years after the war to see what had happened to the people she met. It really showed just how devastatingly unnecessary and utterly destructive the war was. Although it was good, since it focused mainly on Croat attacks on Muslims, there was general consensus that we also need to acknowledge that the Muslims committed similar atrocities, as did the Serbs.

Thursday 9th June

The day´s proceedings were mainly taken up by people from the Red Cross, who were running workshops on International Humanitarian Law. Through a series of interactive workshops and scenarios we came to learn what IHL is, and what its purpose is. IHL basically is only applicable in times of armed conflict, and aims to protect the needs and dignity of those involved. Human Rights Law is what is applicable in peace time. Interestingly I had not realised how much the Red Cross´s work focuses on IHL in times of conflict. Following lunch, a graceful old gentleman came to talk to us about the importance of dignity and its role in avoding conflict. He spoke little English, since his work consists of training teachers and students around the country, but managed to engage us in thinking about ourselves and how important dignity is (the most effective thing was when we looked at the case of Elizabeth Eckford and Grace Lorch, the black student who was nearly mobbed by a crowd determined not to let her be the first student at a previously all white high school, and the white woman who led her to safety. By looking at why Grace Lorch did what she did, and cosnidering things such as making up Lorch´s biography, profiling why the conflict occurred, among others, it really made all of us think about compassion and dignity). After this workshop, which the man very tactfully finished an hour early (on top of the packed programme - from 8 till 8 most days we don´t go back to the residences where we´re staying, especially because it is quite a walk from the school to the residence - it was hot and people were tired) a big group of us (when I say ´us´and I am not talking about in the workshops or scheduled stuff such as the trip to the waterfall, I normally mean the UWC students, local UWC students from Mostar, and the students from the IB school in Banja Luka, with a couple of high school students) went to the old bank building. The school building the UWC uses is basically the ´gymnasium´(grammar school) which was completely bombed in the war, but was rebuilt with donations from various european governments (although not ours) and is now a truly magnificent building to study in. This is situated on ´Spanish Square´, a major junction in the road that seperates the Muslim and Croat sides of the city (prior to the war these divisions did not exist). Burnt shells of buildings can be seen on both sides of the road, still left over from the war. THis is normally because of lack of funds and/or ownership issues (many people left the country during the war and haven´t returned). In the case of the old bank building (or actually it was pretty new, it was only just finished at the start of the war in Bosnia in 1992), the bank is currently in turmoil and so has left it completely untouched. You can literally walk in the 15 (approx) storey building right off the street, into where the rotating doors should be, into what used to be a large welcome lobby. However everything is just burnt out or vandalised. The first floor is the only one that seems to have avoided being trashed, my supposition is that this was too low to be of strategic use (snipers easy to spot, trees blocked vision of gunners etc) so avoided being emptied. Or maybe it was the only floor in operation since the builidng was new. It is strewn with papers, computer manuals, smashed screens, desks, everywhere there is glass since the building was coated in glass. We went to the top and saw a spectacular view, Mostar is nestled in mountains, but you can still see the destruction, fifteen years on.
A great day was capped after dinner by a man from Finland who was part of the Finnish NGO, SaferGlobe, who gave a talk about the arms trade, not just on Finland (who is surprisingly bad on the arms trade) but the world. The man (whose name I don´t recall, the Fins are fond of their syllables...) was kind of young, in his thirties and was clearly dedicated to his work. And the work he does is really important. In broken English he managed to explain to us just how many armed conflicts there are in the world (this website shows all the ones as of 2009, and you can look at the world map showing all conflicts since 1975, and you can explore different types of conflict and look at the conflict histories of each country)we looked at how much money is spent on the weapons trade (this website shows the realtime increasing debt of the USA, there is also a link to other countries´. We discussed how powerful the armaments industry is, especially in suppressing awareness raising (becuase if more people were aware, there would definitely be much stronger political will to clamp down on these companies, as we have seen political will in Germany especially clamp down on nuclear power)and also the damages on societies following armed conflicts, as well as the impact on guns on society and also the growing ´de-personalisation´ of armaments, as weapons (for example a man sitting clicking a mouse to fire a missile from an unarmed drone does not really think about who he is killing). What makes me disgusted is that we have one of the world´s largest weapons companies, BAE systems in Britain, so really we are disgustingly hypocritical when talking about human rights, since we aid so many abusers of rights. Although the timing wasn´t great (evening was the only time since the guy had flown literally hours before to Sarajevo, and is going back six hours after giving the talk, as he is running a scout camp!) and the guy wasn´t so used to public speaking, it was a really insightful evening.

ok, that´s me for now, sorry about the length,I kind of got progressively longer, I will try harder next time... but it´s just there´s so much to write about!
I will also include a brief summary of the causes of, events and consequences of the ethnic wars in 1992 - 1995, as it really is worth knowing about.

I will upload photos when I´ve taken ones of all the stuff I mentioned (eg school building).


Saturday, 4 June 2011

Hello again everyone. Hmm well anyway I have decided to trial a new format of my blog (aka actually short posts) on my current trip. I am at the moment sitting in the very comfortable youth hostel in Zadar, Croatia. Today I got the plane from Stansted to Zadar airport (we were the ONLY plane - it seemed like the airport hadn't changed since communism...). I managed this despite the best efforts of both my train to stansted this morning... And just to describe what I am doing in this neck of the woods, I am on my way to Mostar in Bosnia, where I will be taking part in a short course (one week) on peace and conflict resolution organised by the UWC there, with other UWC students and local high school students. After that I will briefly stop off at Nikolina's house (my co year) in Sarajevo, and then Marko(my second year) in Belgrade before spending five days with my co year Egzon in Kosovo, and then come home...
Today after arriving I wondered through the surprisingly beautiful old town of Zadar and then found myself confusedly following Google maps' instructions to the youth hostel (with a bit of help from the good old lonely planet as well ;) ) and on the your's walk I found many a relaxed person bathing in the (much clearer than trieste) waters of the adriatic, to the backdrop of the Croatian islands. After finding my rudimentary but blissfully empty hostel dorm, I enquired about local eateries, and ended up eating at 'Nana Rima' a local pizzeria. Although I ordered a takeaway I in the end stayed talking to two of the waiters for over an hour. One of them the older one, Kruna, knew an astonishing amount about British history and was able to tell me more about the history of Elizabethan England than most average British people (including myself) would know. In my first day, although at times stressful (travelling with ryanair is never not...) I have found a really friendly place and people.
Tomorrow I get up early and I will try to see the famous sea organ of Zadar, however if not I will simply get the bus to Split (further down the Croatian coast) and from there to Mostar. Over and out.
P.s. apologies for the lack of nice, readable formatting, however since I do not have my laptop I am writing this on my phone (actually quite useful - with the hostel's WiFi I can access everything on my phone, meaning I don't have to lug (or worry about) a laptop...)