Monday, March 23, 2009

A Lesson in Submission

My return flight from Bosnia and Herzegovina allowed for a day layover in Frankfurt, Germany. While planning my trip, I realized I would arrive in Frankfurt at 6:00 pm and my flight didn’t depart until late in the afternoon the following day. This was pretty exciting to me and I began searching online for the perfect, trendy hotel to stay in, right in the heart of the city. Well, I found the perfect hotel and my plan was to take a taxi from the airport to the hotel and then go exploring the downtown district of Frankfurt in the evening…it was all planned out and I was looking forward to it.

Howerver, just a few days before I departed on my trip my husband began to voice his concerns about this little “end-of-trip excursion” of mine. He was concerned for my safety, and just didn’t like the idea of me walking around Frankfurt by myself.
I was frustrated. I’m a very independent, stubborn person and I like to have my way. But at the same time, I totally understood where he was coming from, and tried to put myself in his shoes. So, because I love him, and would want him to do the same for me if the roles were reversed, I cancelled my reservation in my little, trendy downton hotel and booked a hotel that was right next door to the airport. Thus, producing these enticing photos of my stay in Germany.
Frankfurt Airport

Restaurant in Frankfurt

Authentic German Dinner

Authentic German ElevatorThere you have it folks! My grand tour of Germany.

Try not to be jealous.

Oh, P.S. I had a lovely layover in this beautiful airport in Slovenia. It was nestled in the mountains and felt like we were out in the middle of nowhere...and the espresso was out of this world!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

March Madness, part 3

The country of Bosnia and Herzegovina is sharply divided by ethnic barriers. There are the serbs, the croats, and the bosniaks, each with their own dialect, religion and customs. People from these three regions rarely interact and there are major prejudices towards one another. The purpose of the Youth Leadership Program (very quick summary) was to take 6 students and 1 teacher from each of the three regions (Banja Luka, Tomislavgrad, Tuzla), bring them together and have them visit the U.S. for 4 weeks, where they attended a Civic Education Institute at Willamette, worked on community service projects together, visited high schools, lived with host families, and overall learned how we as Americans come from all different religious and ethnic backgrounds, but still volunteer and work together to make our communities a better place…basically learning the rights and roles of active citizenship.

Having said that, I think one of the most rewarding parts of my trip was the very first day of the Pre-Departure Orientation. Lejla (Program Officer from the Embassy) and I waited in the lobby of the hotel for the different groups to arrive. They were all traveling into Sarajevo from their various hometowns. The group from Banja Luka arrived first, as shown in this picture.
I have to admit I was nervous to meet these teenagers, not sure what they would think of me and how friendly they would be. But they were the most friendly, polite, wonderful kids! They immediately greeted me with huge smiles and hugs and we sat and chatted while waiting for the other groups to arrive. The group from Tuzla arrived next and it was so cool to see the kids from Banja Luka spring up from their chairs and rush over to greet these kids, who normally they wouldn’t interact with. It was amazing to see them introduce themselves without any inhibitions. The circle got larger and there was much laughter and boisterous conversations. Lastly, the group from Tomislavgrad arrived and it was the exact same thing…immediate welcoming and we all sat around the table in this huge group getting to know one another. And this is the best part. Take a look at these pictures. These were taken right outside my hotel room door in the hallway. This is what it was like every evening. Every single student in the hallway, playing UNO, talking and laughing until the hotel staff would come up and tell them to go to their rooms. You would never have known these kids had just met. You would never have known these kids were from three distinct and divided regions of Bosnia and Herzegovina. It was an incredible thing to witness.

The daily sessions went well. I would cram each night, preparing for the next day’s sessions, and it always turned out better than I expected.
By the end of the trip, I was flat out exhausted, and couldn’t wait to get home to see my family. I will always cherish the memory of Olivia running up to me at the airport and hugging me as tightly as she could…ahh, I get teary-eyed just thinking about it. I had missed my kids so much, and it was hard to be so far away from them, and for such a long period of time. I also was able to surprise Sarah by picking her up at school the day I returned. It was so sweet to see her shocked, yet trying to maintain her cool composure while at school, reaction.

And…I get to do this all over again in March 2010. Actually, I don’t want to think about it just yet. Anyways, I’ll leave you with what very little pictures I took while in Sarajevo.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

March Madness, part 2

(Boarding my flight from Munich to Sarajevo)
The flights from Chicago to Sarajevo went by quickly. I mostly worked like a mad ape on my laptop, fine-tuning my materials. One of the coolest moments came as I was working on my “culture-shock” presentation for the students, and was able to reflect on my experiences of traveling to Russia when I was 15. I was able to use my experience and relate to what these kids would be going through. I had been praying that God would prepare the way for me to bond with these high school students for His glory. That I would be able to connect with them and build relationships, which would open the door for me to share the truth of the gospel with them as the program progressed. Long story short, He answered that prayer.

Another cool little way God provided this was, while on my flight, the movie Twilight came on. This is a movie I would have never chosen to go see in the theatre or rent on DVD. I ignored it the first time it came on and kept working. The second time it played, I shut my laptop and decided to watch, merely for the purpose of resting of my brain. This movie ended up being a huge bridge for me to connect with the Bosnian girls. They were all HUGE Twilight fans and we were able to have many engaging conversations about the movie. :) It was clearly a “God thang” that he allowed me to see that movie before meeting the girls.

Anyways, arriving in Sarajevo, I was exhausted and prayed for strength and clarity of mind. Oh, and it was frrrreezing there! I snapped this picture out of the window of my taxi cab.I took a taxi to my hotel, dropped of my luggage and went straight to the Embassy…totally intimidating experience. The Program Officer, who I had been previously corresponding with, was one abrasive, type-A, aggressive lady. She was all business. Inside, I was shaking and having one of those “I just want to do laundry all day, every day again” moments, and on the outside I was putting on my most confident “don’t mess with me because I know what the hell I’m doing” faces. :)

I survived the meetings and traveled back to my hotel, thinking I was going to crash and get some much needed sleep. However, I found it impossible to go to sleep. (dang jet lag!) I ended up watching two entire movies in Bosnian with no English subtitles, before finally nodding off for a few hours sleep.
(The ever-exciting view out of my hotel window. Amazing that you can travel halfway across the world and look out your window, and still feel like you're in Salem.)

To be continued…
(Suspenseful, I know!)

Friday, March 20, 2009

March Madness, part 1

Looking back on the month of March it’s hard for me to remember much other than work. Unfortunately, I was immersed in it...or more like drowning in it. We (Willamette University) received a grant from the US State Department to administer the Youth Leadership Program with Bosnia and Herzegovina. The grant began in September 2008, and by March it was in full swing. Of course, as Program Manager, my wheels were turning 24/7 from recruiting host families, interviewing host families, tracking expenditures, preparing and submitting the quarterly grant reports, creating and constantly tweaking the program schedule, recruiting local non-profits to work with the students, recruiting Willamette professors to teach their sessions, and ironing out all the logistical kinks that come with administering a month long program. By the time March came, I was only 1 month away from the arrival of 18 students and 3 teachers from Bosnia and Herzegovina.

On March 8th, I headed over to Sarajevo to conduct the participants’ Pre-Departure Orientation. I was to arrive one day early to finalize my preparations. The next day was to be an all day meeting at the US Embassy in Sarajevo with our program officers, and the next day was to be the start of the 5 day long Pre-Departure Orientation, which would consist of all day sessions from 8 to 5. I was responsible for providing all the materials, and giving two 2-hour presentations daily. Since I was putting together 21 binders, each containing 60 pages of materials, (that I created, thank you very much!) I decided to pack the empty binders, and arrive 1 day early in Sarajevo, take my thumb drive to a print shop and print all the pages of materials and assemble the binders. This way I wouldn’t have to lug around all that printed material on the way over. And surely one full day was plenty of time to finalize the preparations.

Well, I arrived at the Portland airport for my departure and sure enough…my flight to Chicago was delayed. No big deal, right? Wrong! As I waited for hours upon hours at PDX I slowly began to realize that I was going to miss my connecting flight from Chicago to Munich which then connected me to Sarajevo. This ended up meaning I had to spend the night in Chicago because the next flight to Munich didn’t leave until the next day. Which meant I would arrive in Sarajevo a day late…I would literally go straight from the airport to my meetings at the Embassy. Aaacckk! There goes my prep day!
(A self portrait of my extremely frustrated self in my Chicago hotel room)

So, once I arrived in Chicago, instead of seeing the city, I spent most of the night and the next day in a Kinko’s shop, printing materials and assembling binders…it was great fun. This was one of those moments where the thought crossed my mind, “Why did I complain about the monotony of dishes and laundry when I was a stay at home mom? What I would give now to be home in my ugly sweats, no make-up, hair in a pony tail, and folding laundry on the couch while listening to the sound of my kids fighting with each other and my husband coming home asking what was for dinner.” I seriously would have sold my left arm for it.(This picture sums up everything I was able to see while in Chicago.)

(However, being stuck in a fancy hotel has its benefits...aka room service!)

To be continued...