Well, I am here just past a month now. I am settling in, I suppose, though I still have a long way to go. My language it still extremely limited, so social interactions tend to frighten me. :-)

I will admit that I first thought the differences were not so great. I liken it to being in a dream. Everything pretty much works the way it should, but there are differences that are subtle, but let you know things are what you are used. If it were a dream, it would be mostly visual clues that hint at incontinuity. The toilets and doors are slightly different. The roads are narrower, most often. There are a ton of minimal observations you could make on what is different. I amuse myself still when I see a sign for people crossing.

There are 2 types of the sign. Warnings are triangles pointed up. These are white with bands of red and orange on the outside, and shadow people strutting within them. It is kind of a fractal: each difference shows another difference- the shadow people look different. They are a little taller and skinnier, I think. Their stride more confident. Heh, but I digress.

The second version of this sign is what amuses me. (Photos someday.) On the left side of the triangle, the bands of color are broken out, all jagged. It gives the impression that the shadow people were caged, and something blew a hole in the wall, which they are escaping. Free from the sign at last! Unite brothers! The photo will amuse you when it comes. My guess is that it shows an area where people are inclined to pop out at random, rather than a controlled environment. Don’t ask me what that means. I suppose you could say I am waking up from the dream and noticing the world around me. I can pick out the personalities of houses I walk past. I can see details that were lost in my fog of newness before. I know my way around better, so perhaps I can concentrate on these details better. Though, things like chickens in the yard, I noticed from the first.

A lot of perspective comes from the office, here at OSCE. If you have a chance, pick up the (previously) mentioned Dahl’s On Democracy. It provides an overview of what is trying to be done in BiH. Not the exact plan, mind you, but the ideals being striven for with all the work. Perhaps the most disturbing perspective is the contrast between the state of democracy here and the US. Most anyone working in this field can rattle off the problems with implementing the democracy in BiH: corruption, apathy, political infighting…

Does the short list sound familiar to anyone? BiH is an emerging democracy fraught with problems, many which most emerging democracies don’t share. Like, BiH lost its infrastructure with the war. But, that aside, the problems are what you might expect to encounter when people are new to the ‘system’. I think most anyone in the States, if they are honest, will admit democracy has got a problem. Don’t believe me? Look at how many people show up at election time. Do an informal survey of why people don’t participate, why they don’t vote. I would say the US is a democracy in decline.

The BiH is on the way in, and it looks like the US is on the way out. I have felt this for years (about the US.) I never had the right words for it. Now, I can see where it is going. The US faces many of the same internal problems as BiH, and it worries me.

Other perspectives come from the stories people share. People casually will tell me about when they returned to their homes, or having to ferment for alcohol so they could cook during the war. Sometimes, you can catch phrases that seem out of place, that don’t match the work they are doing. Usually, it highlights how people feel about different ethnicities. It is sublte, but it is there. I think that I am relaxing enough that I pick up on the turns of phrase, or the changes of attitude. I have enough background now to understand it. At first, it seems awful, but then I remind myself that I wasn’t the one chased from my home, who had friends die before me. It makes the righteousness of our culture and the acceptance of diversity feel more tenative, and that makes me nervous. I mean, what can you say?

So, yeah. I am getting a lot of perspective. Not surprisingly, it wasn’t the ones I thought I would get. And perhaps that makes it more valuable. Afterall, if it only conifrmed what I thought I knew, I wouldn’t be growing much, would I? :-)

Posted by Andrew     

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