HEART FULL OF GRATITUDE

This is the 8th and final article in a series that friends encouraged me to write after returning from a trip to Bosnia and Croatia in January and February 2011.   You can see all the photos from Bosnia here and Croatia here.

I sure missed my three kids!

I returned to Seattle on February 7, happy to be home and overwhelmed with gratitude and jumbled emotions ranging from despair to elation: Rahmetli Omer’s memorial, humanitarian work, media appearances, concerts, sightseeing, conversations with new friends and old, jet lag.  It’s still difficult to sum up this trip, so quit trying and just let it keep rippling through my heart, mind and soul.

Simply put, these articles were meant to be a mirror reflecting the goodness I saw all around.  It was an enormous privilege to bear witness to the strength, dignity, humility, resiliency, kindness and generosity of so many people, to the abundance of natural beauty, and the wealth of cultural richness.  It’s no bed of roses for those who live there, however.

My eyes were neither blind nor my ears deaf to the challenges facing people and their lack of hope for the future.  I was a guest in these countries and feel it would be presumptuous to remark about the political or economic situation, or try to see the future.  Lord knows there are plenty of people doing that already.  I’ll keep to matters of the heart.

To show my thanks and respect for Bosnian people and their culture, I will continue to sing sevdalinke as authentically as I can.  Is that going to change the world?  No, but I hope that for an hour or two, over the course of an evening’s concert, we can escape our problems together on the wings of song.  Perhaps we can soften some of life’s rough edges.  Certainly, music and community are needed more than ever with the world’s increasing strife.

With the board members of Sevdah North America, I will continue to support community efforts to keep this cultural treasure alive among Bosnian communities in the Diaspora, as well as share it with the general public.   Sevdah is a link to Bosnian heritage for children growing up far from Bosnia, a solace for elders and window into the richness of Bosnian culture for non-Bosnians.

So, to all the people who help me along the way, thank you for teaching me about music, friendship and strength.  Thank you for allowing me to be a guest in your countries and homes.  Thank you for your generous and warm hospitality.  You have given so much more than I can ever return.

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SIGHTSEEING WITH THE UHLIKS – ZAGREB

This is the 7th in a series of articles that friends encouraged me to write after returning from a trip to Bosnia and Croatia in January and February 2011.  These articles chronicle people’s generosity and kindness, emotions and experiences.  This article will focus on the wonderful memories I brought home the time spent with Lidija (pronounced Lydia) and Tomislav Uhlik in Zagreb from February 1 to February 6.  I’ve included some of the photographs here, but the complete set can be seen here.  I encourage you to look especially at the fabulous graffiti funded by the city.

Dear friends Lidija and Tomislav Uhlik

As if the musical experiences with the Bulbuli choir and Preperod weren’t enough, I also had the great joy of spending time with composer Tomislav Uhlik and his wife Lidija who took me to see a great many wonderful sights in and around Zagreb over the week I spent there.  Mr. Uhlik and I worked together ten years ago on a series of concerts in the Pacific Northwest of his beautiful work, Narodil se Mladi Kralj.  He had been a guest in Seattle in 2001 and now he was sharing his city with me.  A beautiful exchange!  Here are some of the fabulous things the three of us did together.

With Lidijia at the wheel, we drove north about an hour into the Croatian highlands region of Zagorje to visit two attractions, the Neanderthal Museum in Krapina and Trkoscan Castle.

As the website reflects, they can take great pride in the excellent and unique Neanderthal Museum.  As you enter there is a huge screen on one wall that shows a film in which a Neanderthal tribe is portrayed by actors in costume and makeup, giving a vivid impression of what life might have been like, all based on scientific research.  The scene in which a hunter’s arm was chomped off by a bear was particularly realistic, perhaps a little too realistic.

Neanderthal attack!

The museum takes you on a walk from the ground floor up a ramp on which a time line of earth’s beginning to the time of the Neanderthals is laid out.  It very effectively demonstrates just how new man is on this planet.

For those thirsty Neanderthals

After leaving the museum we headed across the street to the inevitable Neanderthal Pub.

Next tourist destination was the spectacularly beautiful Trakoscan Castle which sits high atop a hill overlooking the frozen Trakoscan Lake and thickly wooded forests.

Trakoscan Castle on its high perch

Originally built in the 13thcentury as part of a defense network, it has been damaged and restored by several generations of owners.  The castle houses a large group of portraits showing more than ten generations of the Draskovic family and their relatives.  The room that held the greatest appeal for me was the study of painter Julijana Erdody, one of the first established female artists of Croatia.  Her portraits of local people in traditional dress were simply beautiful.

Nice knocker

Each room, however, was breathtaking in its priceless antique furniture, instruments, armor and memorabilia.

The view from Presa Restaurant

Afterwards, we stopped for dinner at the wonderful Presa (wine-press) Restaurant on top of a hill in Krapina overlooking vineyards and forests.  It was a living example of te inspiration for Croatia’s school of naïve art.

The next day Lidija and Tomislav met me in Jelacic Square for a walking tour of the old town and lunch in their home so I could use their computer.  It is hard to believe how we managed to live without computers. Such a contrast to the 18 months I lived in Varna, Bulgaria, in the mid-80’s.  The only contact I had home was about three phone calls placed from a cabinet in the post office, the occasional letter and one great visit from some musical friends from Seattle. Now I get very nervous if I miss a couple of days returning emails and checking Facebook.

Zagreb was absolutely wonderful.  I had not been there since 1981.  The Austro-Hungarian architecture was still the same, but some things had changed significantly, especially customer service.  Back then the clerks in the stores didn’t have much incentive to be polite, so nearly every transaction was simply awful, one snarly person after another behind the counter.  Today, it’s a pleasure to go into the shops.  Many people are shopping, too, and they look terrific.  Happy, light and so elegantly dressed.  The public transportation system of trams and busses makes getting around so easy.  It really makes our transportation situation in Seattle look terrible in contrast.

Blocks and blocks of fabulous graffiti art like this

In short, Zagreb looked like it was booming, though I realize there are troubles enough there to make daily life challenging for its residents.

Was completely taken by this glowing lamp at the house concert

That evening Mr. Uhlik invited me to join them at a house concert at which one of his works was to be performed.   One in an annual series of concerts held by The Franjo Dugan Music Society, each concert is simultaneously broadcast on Croatian Radio.  The performers included the fine bassoonist Zarko Perisic and organist Zeljka Spincic.

The artists

Yes, organ and bassoon.  Doesn’t that seem like a strange combination?  I can tell you it was heaven.  In addition to Mr. Uhlik’s Tri Duhovna Stiha (Three Spiritual Verses), they also performed pieces by Bodecker, Bach, Morandi, Burkali, Knight and Elgar.  How divine it was to be seated in the front row, just two feet from the bassoonist in the glow of the beautiful home’s warm lighting.  After the concert, the guests enjoyed hors d’oeuvres and drinks being passed by waitresses.  We were the last ones to leave that night along with bassoonist Perisic.  We walked together in the freezing night down to Vlaska Street where we bid each other adieu.  I walked the last couple of blocks to Hotel Jadran by myself with the strains of Bach and Uhlik floating through my mind.

The following day, we met again to visit the Ethnographic Museum that houses a stunning collection of Croatian traditional costumes and artifacts.  I could write a full article just about this museum, but I’m afraid words could never capture the quality of its collection and displays.  Simply you must see it to believe it.  Looking at these original antique costumes, I was struck by how beautifully our local Croatian ensembles in Seattle, Vela Luka and Seattle Junior Tamburitzans, have reproduced costumes for their dancers and singers.  Bravo!   We also visited the office and rehearsal studios of the national ensemble Lado.

Though Lado on break, we did have the pleasure of observing a youth group in rehearsal.

The next day, Saturday, February 5, Lidija prepared a very special goodbye lunch at their home and we listened to recordings made in Seattle at the concert of Mr. Uhlik’s work.  It brought back such sweet memories.  To be listening to it with Tomislav and Lidija, in their Zagreb home, ten years later…well, I was simply overcome with emotion.  When the recording concluded and Tomislav put on one of my favorite pieces of all time, the theme song from the film “To Kill a Mockingbird” composed by Elmer Bernstein, I quite unexpectedly and embarrassingly burst into tears. I simply fled to the computer for a little cyber escape. Perhaps I was fragile from the three weeks of activities, emotions and fatigue.  Can’t imagine what Tomislav and his wife were thinking, but I guess they understood.

That evening we took the bus from Novi Zagreb back into the center to attend the production of Derdan (pronounce Jerdan) at Theater Komedija, the theater where Tomislav conducted for many years.  Derdan, written by Jakov Gotovac, is a long running musical theater piece, much like the Revels for those who are familiar with those productions.  It takes place in a traditional village and tells the story of a young woman who was to be married, however was in love with another.  The derdan is the coin necklace worn as the bride’s dowry.  I won’t give the ending away, but will say the show was very entertaining.  We enjoyed it completely, despite the 90 degree heat we suffered through in the balcony.

The Uhliks walked me back to Hotel Jadran after the show and we said our goodbyes.  What a beautiful time they gave me in Zagreb.  Never did they let me pay for a ticket, a meal or even a coffee.  I hope that I will have the pleasure of returning the favor in Seattle!  Thank you, Lidija and Tomislav!

Zagreb Cathedral

The next day, Sunday, February 6, I made a point of spending most of the day alone to ponder all that I had experienced over the three incredible weeks.  After attending the service at the majestic Zagreb Cathedral to give thanks, I took a long walk to Maksimir Park.

Maksimir Park

It was such a beautiful day, quite a bit warmer than it had been.  It was a joy to sit on a bench in the lovely park and people watch.  That evening I met Ismet Kurtovic, the director of Bulbuli choir, for a short visit over coffee and then headed back to Hotel Jadran.  My alarm clock rang all too soon for the 4:30am taxi ride to the airport.  I am happy to report that my trip back to Seattle was perfect and I was back in my own house a short 15 hours later.

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PREPOROD & BULBULI CHOIR – ZAGREB

This is the 6th in a series of articles that friends encouraged me to write after returning from a trip to Bosnia and Croatia in January and February 2011.  These articles chronicle people’s generosity and kindness, my emotions and experiences.  This article will focus on the wonderful memories I brought home from Zagreb from January 31 to February 6. I’ve posted a few photos here.  The complete collection is here.

In the first article of this series, I recounted my tough journey getting to Bosnia that ended delightfully with a 3-imam escort into Sarajevo.  You may find it noteworthy, I sure did, that the woman in the seat right in front of me on the bus leaving Bosnia was a nun!  Make of it what you will, but it seemed another wonderful sign that I was on the right path.  Not only that, but when we re-boarded the bus after a quick lunch stop for the drivers, “Da sutis” my all time favorite Bosnian pop song sung by Dino Merlin was playing on the speakers.  It felt like someone from above was giving me a huge musical hug.  Simply wonderful!

The bus climbed up the hills outside of Bihac to emerge onto a broad flat plain, a different world in so many ways.  We crossed into Croatia at the border with no problems at all.  As the bus drove on we saw the first welcome green grass, a relief after weeks of white.

Dear Amina Alijagic

Amina Alijagic was waiting for me at the Zagreb bus station on Monday, January 31.  Amina, who I met in Seattle when she was visiting family several years ago, is a board member of Preporod, the Cultural Association of Bosniaks in Croatia.  Through her kind endorsement, Preporod had invited me to perform in concert with their choir Bulbuli: http://bulbuli.net/#/ozboru/.  The generosity, hospitality and kindness I was given by Amina, Preporod’s President Senad Nanic, its members and Bulbuli is hard to describe, but I will do my best.

We grabbed a cab for the short and expensive drive to Hotel Jadran where we were both guests of Preporod.  Located in the center of Zagreb it was the perfect location.  We were within walking or tram distance of everything and our rooms were located on the back of the building so were very quiet.   We had a quick rest before heading to the Preporod office just past the central Jelacic Square.

Ajka writes in the concert details

The administrator Ajka, who greeted us warmly, was putting the finishing touches on the poster for the concert to be held the following evening.  As she did so, I had a good look around the office.  The first room you enter after walking up a flight of stairs is filled with literature including their excellent “Preporod Journal.”

Original cover art

The walls of the large conference room are hung with beautiful Islamic art including the original painting used as Bulbuli’s CD cover, a gift from the artist.  This room is also where Bulbuli holds its weekly rehearsals.

We didn’t stay long, however, as Ajka wanted to show us how to get to the Islamic Center where we would eat our meals.

Outside the mosque located in Novi Zagreb

A landmark in Zagreb’s modern quarter, the Islamic Center is an enormous complex, around 10,000 square meters, that encompasses three sections: prayer, social and residential.  It is located in the modern quarter of Zagreb.  City sources record Muslims in Zagreb from the middle of the 18th century.  Over the centuries the community has been a small, but important minority culture in Zagreb.

Amina at the fine restaurant in the Islamic Center

The restaurant at the Islamic Center is absolutely first class.  Everything tasted delicious and fresh, especially that day, as Amina and I were both famished after our long bus rides to Zagreb, me from Bihac and Amina from Lovran on the coast.

By the time we rode the tram back to Hotel Jadran, we had barely enough time to freshen up before heading to rehearsal for the concert near the Preporod office.   A beautiful intimate performance hall, its whitewashed stucco walls were hung with an exhibition of works by artist Mirza Serdarevic.   Bulbul director Ismet Kurtovic was setting up the sound system and pinning down the final details of the concert order that would include songs by me, Bulbuli, a male singer, and a conversation between President Senad Nanic and I.  It was a lot to balance in a very short amount of time, so nerves were a little frayed at that point.

A slightly crispy Bulbuli Director Kurtovic

The smiling faces of Bulbuli’s singers welcomed us as we entered, shaking hands with each one of them.  These women reminded me so much of singers in the choirs I have directed over the years:  regular women, mothers, workers, wives, sisters, daughters, with lots of life experience to put into their singing.  I felt an immediate rapport with them.  Though from two different countries and several cultures, we had common ground as women and as singers. I only wish I could join Bulbuli and sing with them every week!

Final repertoire selection

Mr. Kurtovic and I made the final selections of the songs.  Mr. Nanic went over the questions he would pose in our conversation.  Then it was time to see whether we could pull this off.  Remember, the concert was the very next evening and they had never even met me.  What an incredible leap of faith shown by Preporod!  The musicians started playing the forspiel, I came in on the verse and Bulbuli on the chorus.  Magic!  I turned around toward the choir with an enormous grin to find them grinning back.

Hurray! It worked!

A match made in heaven!  We had to go over a couple of rough places and correct some text I was singing to match Bulbuli, but overall it fell together very easily thanks to the great preparation of Mr. Kurtovic and Bulbuli.  I returned to my room flying high, unable to sleep for hours.

The next unknown, would anyone attend this mid-week concert?  Held on Tuesday, February 1, on a cold wintery night, it seemed likely that the turnout would be small.  However, we were delightfully surprised as people began to fill up the hall the next evening.  It was standing room only!

My nerves were jangling, my hands actually shaking.  It was an enormous honor to be invited to sing in Zagreb by Preporod.  My voice had cracked several times from sheer exhaustion the day before in rehearsal.

Would I sing well?  Would the people accept an American singing sevdalinke?  Would I be able to answer Mr. Nanic’s questions intelligently and fluently?  I was just this side of terrified.

However, when the music started I let my voice fly on the wings of the beautiful songs and in no time the feeling in the room overflowed with love.  It really seemed as if we were all enveloped in one large heart, so much beautiful emotion was flowing between us all.  Many people were singing along and even crying. The audience was so encouraging and interested in the conversation between Mr. Nanic and me. I was deeply humbled and appreciated this opportunity so much.

Sead Muhamedagic

A special treat that evening was a solo by Sead Muhamedagic, a blind singer who sang one sevdalinka in the German language.  His resonant voice and tender expression deeply moved all of us.

After the concert, Mr. Nanic invited me to his parents’ home for a wonderful meal.  His father, Kemal Nanic, has enjoyed a fascinating life and entertained me with amazing stories from the many countries in which he lived.

The dear Nanic family

I couldn’t be more impressed with this family’s decades long commitment to their community.  It was a delightful evening.

Rahmetli Omar Batiste

As we were leaving, Mrs. Nanic gave me a delicate black silk scarf, beautifully and tastefully sequined.  I wore it recently at the prayer service in a Seattle mosque for a man I’ve known since 1970, rahmetli Omar Batiste.   I love the symbolism of wearing this scarf, linking an old friend and new, and in a way, the Seattle and Zagreb mosques.

Party time!

Skipping ahead a couple of days, Bulbuli invited me to their Friday rehearsal on February 4.  Little did I know they had planned a party!

Can you believe how sweet?

The long table in the Preporod office was covered with food and beverages including a chocolate cake with my name on it.  They really touched my heart.

I had stopped at the flower market on the way to Preporod and picked up 30 tulips, one for each singer, which I passed out with a hug and kiss.  It truly was bittersweet because I adored them, yet knew that in just a few hours we would be saying farewell.  Trying to put that ‘sevdah’ feeling aside, we celebrated the concert’s success by eating, singing and even dancing a few kolos!  Now I have the beautiful Zagreb heart they gave me hanging on the wall by my computer, a daily reminder of our wonderful time together.

As I run errands in my car here in Seattle , I listen to Bulbuli’s fine CD.  The women sing excellently in simple 2-part harmony and the musical arrangements are absolutely fantastic.  Arranged by their talented director, Ismet Kurtovic, the music reflects his rock background.  For years he was a member of the popular Yugoslav group Drugi Nacin.  Mr. Kurtovic also wrote the song Mojoj Dragoj BiH which is practically an anthem.  It is a very good thing I didn’t realize who he was until after the concert.  If I’d known before that, I would have been paralyzed with celebrity shock.

This fun evening came to an end all too soon.  The only comfort is I have a feeling Bulbuli and I will be singing together again.  I’m ready!  Thank you Amina Alijagic, Senad Nanic, Ismet Kurtovic, Bulbuli, Preporod and your Zagreb community for your generosity and kindness!  Srce puno Zagreba!

Hvala! Thank you!

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Bosanka Krupa: A jewel for the eye and soul

This is the 5th in a series of articles friends encouraged me to write after returning from a trip to Bosnia and Croatia in January and February, 2011.  These articles chronicle people’s generosity and kindness, my emotions and experiences.  This entry focuses on wonderful memories created in the town of Bosanska Krupa from January 28-31.  I’ve posted some photos here, but you can view all of them here.

Bosanska Krupa

Dusk fell on the train from Sarajevo as it plowed through the black and white winter landscape Bosanski Novi.  I was en route to a town I’d only heard of about 4 weeks earlier to people I’d never met.  Somehow, though, my intuition told me all would be ok.  Little did I know that the experience would surpass anything I could have anticipated.

Jasmina and Almir

I stepped off the train on Friday, January 28, to the warm smiles of Jasmina Palic and Almir Kurtovic-Cupo holding a box of chocolates to make my arrival a sweet one.  Well, if sweet experiences held calories I would have left Bosanska Krupa the following Tuesday with another 5 kilograms!

Jasmina and Almir kindly dropped me off at the beautiful Suljic Hotel for a brief rest before meeting the folks at KUD Grmec cultural organization for rehearsal of the concert being held in my honor.   Established in 1946, KUD Grmec is well traveled and accomplished having traveled to perform in many countries.  It includes folklore ensemble, folk orchestra, choir, drama troupe.

Mr & Mrs Dzevad Grosic

With their years of experience, president Dzevad Grosic and the members of the KUD had everything in place.  The concert hall was ready, the band well rehearsed, invitations and publicity distributed, and the young ladies of the KUD ready for their part.  I couldn’t have been more impressed.

KUD Grmec

The concert hall was bustling with people there for the rehearsal and concert preparation.  The band was tuning up.  Folks were setting up chairs.  Discussions and plans were being finalized.  I walked onto the stage not knowing how the band would sound, whether they were able to make sense of the information I had sent from Seattle in advance concerning the keys in which I would sing, and whether we would have any chemistry to make the music come alive.

Would there be any chemistry? Yes!

In about five notes of the first forspiel I understood that this was a fabulous group. In only three rehearsals they had mastered my material perfectly and, yes, there was a lot of chemistry between us.  This was a great bunch of guys!

Words aren’t able to communicate accurately the depth of emotion I felt at the concert.  KUD Grmec had paid me a great honor holding this concert. They had gone to so much trouble on my account.  I was truly humbled.

Krupa concert

The public gave me such a warm welcome that my soul soared above their beautiful rivers and mountains.  As we joined together singing sevdalinke we were all transported with joy.  As if that weren’t enough I was given a number of gifts by KUD Grmec including a beautiful oar that is now hanging on my wall.  Local artist and guitarist Ibrahim Bajric gave me a gorgeous watercolor of the River Una, as well.

Artist and guitarist Ibrahim Bajric

These will be constant daily reminders of the unforgettable kindness and generosity I experienced in Bosanska Krupa.

Afterparty!

The after party at a nearby restaurant was simply icing on the cake, a great opportunity to celebrate the concert’s success and our new friendships.

During the day, Jasmina and Almir treated me like a queen taking me on sightseeing tours of Bosanska Krupa and environs, restaurants and coffee shops.  The scenery was stunning.

The turquoise River Una

Nothing could have prepared me for the area’s natural beauty.  I had heard that the Una was considered the most beautiful river in Bosnia and even in winter I had to agree, its turquoise color glowing in the snow.  The vertical river canyon walls simply left me awestruck.

Peekaboo view of Krupa

The town itself is a jewel situated between the rivers, its hills affording a gorgeous view at every turn.  Almir shared with me photos of the destruction Bosanska Krupa had suffered during the war.  The amount of rebuilding is more than impressive, reflecting a love and commitment to the town by its wonderful people.

In addition to music, I was in Bosanska Krupa for another reason, to deliver a donation from people in Seattle to the organization Pomozimo Nezbrinutu Djecu Opcina Bosanska Krupa.

Jasmina and Almir delivering aid

In addition, I brought gifts from the Seattle King County Chapter of the American Red Cross to the Bosanska Krupa chapter of the Red Cross Society of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Red Cross worker Hase Icanovic

Hase Icanovic the Red Cross worker in Bosanska Krupa, was kind enough to educate me about his work in the area.  I will share information about both organizations in a Seattle presentation on World Red Cross Day, May 17.

The Facebook page Pomozimo Nezbrinutu Djecu Opcina Bosanska Krupa was started by Jasmin Halkic in 2009.  Mr. Halkic is a freelance reporter and works for hayat tv as a correspondent. He sought out someone in the town to implement and handle the tasks locally.  Almir Kurtovic-Cupo stepped up and Jasmina Palic soon joined him six months later.  With Mr. Halkic, these two young humanitarians have become my personal heroes.  They saw a need and decided to fill it by providing 300 sandwiches each day to local school children in need and monthly food deliveries to families.  Unemployment is a staggering 40% in Bosnia so many families are struggling to make ends meet.  The organization depends on donations.  As more funding is available they will expand to more families. They are in the process of completing the legal paperwork to become an official organization.  Jasmin, Jasmina and Almir are making a real difference in the lives of people in Bosanska Krupa and all who hear about their work.  Bravo!

Jasmina and Almir offered me the privilege of accompanying them on food deliveries to three families so I was able to see their work first hand.  Not only are they delivering needed food, they treat these families with dignity and provide much needed empathy.  It was beautiful to watch.  The three families they currently deliver aid to include:

  • a family with two disabled children, the mother is emotionally unstable and the father comes and goes.
  • a single out of work dad whose wife died of cancer, their 16-year old son and daughter who had to drop out of school to take care of family needs.  The neighbors bought them a milk cow for them some months ago to keep them going.
  • The third, a family with six children, the 3-year old boy with leukemia.

Mr and Mrs Halkic

I am indebted to Jasmin for bringing Bosanka Krupa and his family into my life.  With warm Bosnian hospitality, Jasmin’s parent invited Jasmina, Almir and me to their home for a wonderful visit over coffee and sweets.  Mr. Halkic later came to my hotel to give me a set of beautiful crocheted work his wife had made. 

Mr. Halkic, by the way, is absolutely hilarious.  I cannot wait to see them again some day!

I also had the great pleasure of spending a wonderful evening in the home of Emir Besic and family.

Emir Besic and family

He and his wife Remiza are doing so much to help the people in Bosanska Krupa.  They help individual families and Emir does specific work with the fire department.  Emir wrote and starred in a film depicting the true story about his experience in the war, “Slunjska Brda, Zivot ili Smrt.”  He would very much like to get this film released with English subtitles.  That being the final evening, I returned to my room and packed for the next morning’s departure.

It was so very hard to say goodbye to Jasmina and Almir at the bus station in Bihac, but I had to go to my next stop – to sing with Bulbuli Choir in Zagreb.  I have to admit I shed a few tears.

Farewell

In just a few days Bosanska Krupa and its people had settled into the center of my soul.  Miles and time may separate us, however, KUD Grmec, Jasmina, Almir, Mr. and Mrs. Halkic, Ibro Bajric and all my new friends in Bosanka Krupa will never be far from my thoughts and heart. Your  kindness and generosity were overwhelming.  Thank you and best wishes for every success and happiness!

Wonderfully, there was a nun in the seat in front of me on the bus as I left Bosnia from Bihac en route to Zagreb for a concert with the Preporod organization and Bulbuli Choir.   You may remember I traveled with three imams into Bosnia.   What’s with that?  Coincidence?  Fate?  Divine intervention?   Whatever it is, it’s beautiful!

Flowers from dear Jasmina

Posted in Balkans, Bosanska Krupa, Bosnia and Herzegovina, KUD Grmec, Red Cross, Sevdah, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

IN AND AROUND SARAJEVO – WEEK TWO

This is the 4th in a series of articles that friends encouraged me to write after returning from a trip to Bosnia and Croatia in January and February 2011.  These articles chronicle people’s generosity and kindness, emotions and experiences.  This article will focus on the wonderful memories I brought home from Sarajevo from January 23-28.  Some photos are included, but you can see all the photos here.

The sebilj where people meet in the old market Bascarsija

The 23rd provided a needed rest after the intense emotions of the previous day’s memorial service for Omer Pobric.  I spent the morning in meditation, prayer and writing.

The beautiful Selma Babic Prolic

That afternoon, my dear young friend Selma Babic Prolic came to Halvat Guesthouse for a lovely visit.  I met Selma when she visited her sister in Seattle several years ago when she melted my heart by singing several sevdalinke with her achingly beautiful voice.  Her real passion, however, is East Indian music.  It’s ironic.  I’m an American who sings sevdalinke and she’s a Bosnian who sings East Indian music.  A crazy world!  Our time was way too short, but I hope she will be in Seattle within the next year where I will hold her to her promise to stay with my family for part of her visit.

That evening I met Dr. Semir Vranic at the sebilj, the public water fountain in the shape of a gazebo in the main square of Bascarsija.  It is not only a source of cool refreshing water, but a landmark where Sarajevans regularly meet or stop to chat.  Dr. Vranic was a close friend to Omer Pobric, is a member of the Sevdah Institute Omer Pobric, and a generous source of information about sevdalinke and its artists.  His website and blog are among the finest available resources for sevdah-related information and his website and blog.

Dr. Semir Vranic

Semir has provided me countless articles, books and recordings, and become a good friend in the process.  Thank you, Semire!

Bascarsija, the old market of Sarajevo, is such an incredible place.   Many people have written about its beautiful atmosphere of shops, restaurants serving čevapi and pita, mosques, churches and people strolling through its streets.  I love it all, but one feature that I love the most is that it’s guaranteed you’ll run into someone you know.  Not just friends, but celebrities and politicians.  For instance, my heart almost stopped when I met pop singer Dino Merlin.  On another occasion, walking with Jasmin Odobasic I met Jovan Divjak, a General in the Bosnian army during 1992-95 war, and is recognized by Sarajevans as their beloved defender.  Speaking of politicians, Mr. Odobasic took me to the office of Stjepan Kljuic.  Now a journalist book distributer, Mr. Kljuic was Bosnian Croat politician and a member of the presidency of Bosnia.  He also founded and was president in 1992 of the Olympic Committee.  I urged him to write his memoir based on the stories he told us in just a short hour.  He’s led a fascinating life.

Zaklina Ninkovic, International Relations Director

On Monday, January 24, it was my great pleasure to visit the Red Cross Society of Bosnia and Herzegovina where Zaklina Ninkovic, International Relations Coordinator, as well as other wonderful staff members devoted their morning to informing me of their work.

The range of their activities is impressive, particularly considering the limited resources under which they work.  Here is an example of some of their many programs: mine risk education, training for trainers, first aid, disaster awareness, climate change, tuberculoses initiative, home care for elderly and disabled, and community development programs.  I was particularly impressed and pleased to learn of their youth development programs such as the “Red Cross Values” and “Red Cross in Action  – Promotion of Human Values,” as well as youth camps such as “Friendship Without Borders” that includes a peaceful reconciliation component.   Their office has one worker who works specifically with Roma people and communities.  The Red Cross cooperates on a number of projects with the ICRC with whom I met the following day.  We ended our morning with the entire staff over coffee and cake.  I was extremely touched by their hospitality.

I would encourage people in North America to support the work of RCSBH through donations and by urging family members in Bosnia and Herzegovina to become volunteers.

That afternoon I had the great pleasure and honor of meeting Majo Dizdar.  Himself an accomplished journalist and photographer, he also has the distinction of being the son of one of Bosnia’s finest poets, Mak Dizdar author of Stone Sleeper.  Such a jewel!  Majo generously offered to take me to the National Museum.  What better guide could I have than Majo Dizdar, author of Sarajevo, The Tourist –Historic Guide (Sejtarija, 2007)?  Unfortunately, the museum was closed unexpectedly that day, however he suggested we visit the historic Svrzina Kuca instead.

View from a balcony at Svrzena Kuca

That turned out to be a real treat despite the frigid temperature.  The English-speaking guide there gave me a royal tour of the beautifully restored house, an example of the architecture and life-style of the Ottoman Bosnian Muslim population over the past two centuries.

One of many inlaid furniture pieces

Svrzena Kuca bedding

The rest of that day was one treat after another.  A young journalist came to Halvat to interview me for the newspaper San.  Later I met my Seattle friend Nihad Dozic and his wife for a meal in Bascarsija.  Nihad is a saz player and performed in a number of concerts in Seattle.  Hearty congratulations to them on the birth of their son!

Mrs. Himzo Polovina

Finally the evening was topped off by something I’d anticipated with enormous excitement – a visit to Fikreta Polovina, the wife of the late Himzo Polovina.  Again, Semir and I met at the sebilj and walked the short distance to Mrs. Polovina’s home.  My heart was pounding with excitement as we climbed the stairs to her door.  I truly had to restrain myself from throwing my arms around her with joy, but with great strength of will managed to maintain an appropriately respectful demeanor.  My eyes drank in everything about their home, knowing that this was the place where Himzo and Fikreta had shared their lives together.  Himzo ranks among the greatest of the sevdah singers, but for me he and Nada Mamula are the finest.  As a psychiatrist, perhaps he was in tune with emotions or perhaps it was just a gift.  Whatever the reason, he was the master of tender expression.  Omer Pobric had shared anecdotes about working with Himzo and described how meticulous he was about pitch, phrasing and text in recording sessions.  It was extremely moving to be with Fikreta in their home, to see the shelves of Himzo’s awards and memorabilia.  Himzo, Nada, Safet, Omer, Silvana, so many of the greats are gone.  Now she shares her home with four oversized cats and tends the garden in her summer home whenever she can.

Fikreta Polovina & Dr. Semir Vranic = buddies

I want to sincerely thank Dr. Vranic for introducing me to Mrs. Polovina.  It was very difficult for me to accept the gift of a silver Bosnian coffee service from her.  It is I who should be showering gifts on her.  However, each and every day I will think of her as the set gleams in the light from my windows.

Upon returning to Halvat Guesthouse after a day filled with so many experiences and emotions, I was overwhelmed by feelings about life and death, the speed of time passing, history, friends old and new, humans’ humanity and inhumanity.  A potent brew on which to sleep, knowing another full day was in store for me.

ICRC staffers - Zorica Lucic & Natasa Halapic

Tuesday, January 25, a week had past since arriving in Sarajevo and the time was speeding by.  The day started with a meeting at the International Committee of the Red Cross.   The purpose of the visit was the same as yesterday’s meeting with the Red Cross Society of Bosnia and Herzegovina to learn about their work and deliver gifts from the Seattle Red Cross office. I was so impressed by the breadth of their work, again with extremely limited resources.  Though it has been 15 years since the conflict ended, more than 10,000 people remain missing.  The main focus of the ICRC was initially on tracing, but that has transitioned more to provide psychosocial support to families of missing persons, as well as to give support to the Missing Persons Institute.  The ICRC also does great work with youth such as their program for BiH teenagers “Exploring Humanitarian Law” and “Introduction to Humanitarian Law.”  The ICRC and Red Cross Society of Bosnia and Herzegovina cooperate on many of these of activities.

Serge Marmy, Head of the ICRC delegation

It was a distinct honor to finish my visit to the ICRC office with Serge Marmy, Head of the ICRC delegation.   Thank you and your wonderful, committed, hard working staff.  I look forward to sharing all I learned in a presentation in Seattle on International Red Cross Day, May 17!

At Noon that day I met Omer Pobric’s sister Havicaat the café in Hotel Europa that looks like something out of 1940’s Vienna, with its high ceiling, small tables, white linens and natty waiters attending to the elegant patrons.

Havica, Omers sister

The atmosphere at Hotel Europa

Havica wanted to discuss what might happen with the ‘Sevdah Institute Omer Pobric’ in the future.  It is difficult to say at this point, but certainly everyone involved knows that they can call on me, Sevdah North America and many others who want to see Omer’s legacy preserved.

Cafe Bill Gates on the same block as Hotel Europa

That afternoon I met once again with Mukadesa Suljovic and Hatidza Tanovic.  Sevdah North America would like to facilitate having two archival films produced by BHRT in the 1960’s re-released with English subtitles.  To date, we have not been successful in identifying the right person at BHRT with whom to talk.  These films are of excellent quality and show sevdalinke being sung in a cultural context.  If translated into English, they would provide an excellent educational tool for Bosnians living in the Diaspora as well as non-Bosnians.  We will keep working toward this goal.

After meeting a few friends for dinner I fell into the wonderful bed at Halvat for a long and delicious sleep.

Interview with Hayat TV at guesthouse Halvat

The next day, January 26, was a full day of media appearances.  First, a crew from Hayat TV arrived at Halvat to film an interview.  Valida and her husband Mumo, the owners and operators of Halvat, were extremely understanding at having their guesthouse taken over.  Many thanks to Jasmin Halkic for setting up this interview in advance of my arrival.  Mr. Halkic is a cameraman with Hayat in North America.  Now living in Toronoto, he is originally from Bosanska Krupa. Thank you Hayat for this opportunity!

ALPHA tv program

That afternoon I was invited to appear on a television program in Sarajevo called ALPHA.  The tram ride to their studio was long and people were packed in like sardines. I have to admit I wasn’t at my best, feeling almost faint by the lack of air in the tram and roasting in my warm winter clothes.  However, when the cameras started rolling it was smooth sailing, thanks to the professionalism of the program’s hostess who made me feel so welcome.

All too soon the last full day in Sarajevo arrived, Thursday, January 27.   After shopping for books, I met the gifted young singer Alma Subasic and her family at Art Kuca.  We hadn’t seen one another since 2007 and I was struck by how much she had grown up.  Now 16, she is poised and wise beyond her years.  We shared a wonderful hour together – short, but sweet.  Alma is a light of hope and inspiration for Bosnians in North America.

Alma Subasic and her family at Art Kuca

Wherever I go they sing her praises and adore her.  We discussed the possibility of her performing in September in New York and Washington DC as part of a planned tour organized by Sevdah North America, and perhaps a more extensive tour during the summer of 2012.  Alma said, “I would love to come to America to sing for my Bosnians.”  I respect her parents very much for carefully managing their gifted daughter’s musical career and instilling wonderful values of family and education in their child.  Bravo!  Alma loves to sing, but hopes to become a physician.  She is a very good student and speaks English perfectly.  I am quite sure whatever she chooses to do professionally she will be a success.  Alma is also extremely kind.

Selmah Kapidzic

As an example, she has taken time to be in contact with a young singer in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, Selmah Kapidzic.  Selmah is only 9 years old, but is gifted with both singing and dancing talent.  She idolizes Alma so receiving encouragement from her is beyond meaningful.  Brava, Alma!

The rest of the day was spent saying farewell to friends and packing for the next leg of my journey.  I dreaded the sound of my alarm clock that morning.  I hated to be leaving Sarajevo and my friends there, but Bosanska Krupa was waiting. The next article will include the unforgettable experiences and dear people I met in that beautiful town.

Sarajevo train station

I took a cab to the train station with my favorite cab driver Adis Burek who had taken me to several stops over the past two weeks.  Jasmin, Zlata and Hajrudin were there to see me off.  Settled in my compartment, the train slowly pulled out of Sarajevo, leaving half my heart behind.

Posted in Alma Subasic, Balkans, Bosnia and Herzegovina, ICRC, Omer Pobric, Red Cross, Sebilj, Sevdah, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Saying Goodbye

Mr. Omer Pobric (1945-2010)

January 20, 2010, I remember getting the call.  Omer Pobric had died.  What?  My mind reeled with the news.  Not Omer!  He was a living legend, bigger than life, father, husband, brother, composer, writer, patriot and producer; one of the most productive individuals under the sun.  Omer was one of those people who you expect will live forever, but God chose a different fate for him.  I didn’t take photographs at the memorial, however readers can see photos from happier times here: http://www.marysherhart.com/2006stories.html

 

He was driving home on the freeway back to Mulici from Sarajevo.  He reached over desperately trying to find his heart medication as the pain wracked his chest.  He managed to pull over, but wasn’t able to get the pill before it was too late.

Here I was a year later, en route to participate in a memorial program on Visoko TV, the day before the religious service.  Esmer Pita, my friend and  Omer’s former cameraman, picked me up in Sarajevo.  As we passed one overpass on the freeway, he pointed out the place Omer took his final breath.  My chest clutched as I looked out upon the icy scene and imagined Omer’s fear and then acceptance of God’s will.

However, it wasn’t until the night of the religious service on Saturday, January 22, that it really hit me.  I traveled with Omer’s great friend and Bosnian hero Jasmin Odobasic.

Mr. Jasmin Odobasic, Omer's great friend and Bosnian hero

The weather was frigid in Sarajevo and the roads treacherous, as we drove from Sarajevo to visit Omer’s grave before the service started that evening.

We parked and walked across the busy highway into the cemetery’s entrance, the path leading first through the Christian headstones and then into the Moslem section.  Jasmin left me for a few minutes while he located Omer’s grave.  After several minutes I heard his voice from a distance calling me to the grave.  I felt as if caught in a Bergman film, black trees, white snow, stumbling over the uneven ground hidden below the deep snow, catching myself on the headstones, black birds flapping overhead, sounds of a funeral at a distance.   I wanted to see the grave, to say goodbye to Omer, but dreaded the sight.  Yes, we all must go, but still it was a shock to see Omer’s grave.  In the Moslem tradition, his headstone is a simple marker symbolizing our equality in death.

Mr. Odobasic graciously left me alone at the grave for a few minutes to say goodbye and pray.  Omer and I had had a complicated relationship that started well and ended with him cutting off contact with me.  I traveled to Bosnia from Seattle, halfway around the world, in the dead of winter to try to make it right, something I had failed to do when he was alive.

My love for him and his family had never waned, though our misunderstanding will remain one of the saddest burdens I carry in this lifetime.

Jasmin and I were silent as we got back in the car and drove the next few miles to Mulici where the Sevdah Institute Omer Pobric and the Pobric home are located.  The confusing roadwork around Visoko, the ice and falling snow, the horrible smell of the leather factory, all contributed to the surreal feelings we were both having.

As we entered Mulici, my stomach was a knot.  As I walked into the Pobric’s courtyard the first person I saw was Omer’s dear wife, Munevera.

Munevera Pobric on right with a friend in 2007

Our eyes met as we walked toward one another.  Her arms reached out and encircled my neck as she buried her head into my shoulders and wept.  Next, was Omer’s daughter Zlata Pobric Sojko whose reaction was similar.  I was struck by their strength as they nearly immediately fought back the tears to regain composure.  Seeing Zlata’s kids Ali and Esma four years older than the last time I’d seen them made me jump for joy.  We had had so much fun playing together on my past visits.  They had grown up so much.

For me, having lived with the Pobric family while recording with Omer for two months in 2005 and 2007, it was nearly impossible to imagine the family without him.  He was a great man whose passion for music defined their lives.  Munevera constantly cooked and served the daily guests to the Sevdah Institute, in any given day that could mean up to five different groups.  She lovingly made up Omer’s bed every evening and helped him change his t-shirts several times a day during the hot summer months.  Zlata’s two children adored Grandpa Omer and he loved them without boundaries.  If they were in the same room together, he was holding, kissing and playing with them.  Omer helped Zlata and her husband Hajrudin as a loving and committed father would.  He was the family’s North Star.

The Pobric family in 2005

The Pobric's cardak

It was such a privilege to be at the one-year memorial service, to bear witness to such an intimate moment in the family’s life.  The women gathered in the Pobric home while the men and imams took their places in the cardak, a sound system linking the two buildings. The experience is too sacred to describe in detail here, but I will never forget the quiet prayers of the women’s whispered voices, the sound like a rainstick, the tears, the profiles of women in deep prayer and reflection, my eyes exchanging loving glances with little Esma’s, and the sight of a mother holding her little girl so tenderly.  It will remain a singular moment in my life.  After the service concluded, the women went into a flurry of activity bringing out dish after dish of delicious food and desserts – food, the universal expression of community and love.

The Begovic family in 2005

Speaking of community, directly across the street from the Pobric home lives the Begovic family.  I met them during my first month in Mulici in 2005 and we’ve stayed in touch ever since.  This family, like so many in Bosnia, faced enormous troubles during and after the war, however, their strength has kept the family strong, their three beautiful children healthy and at the top of their school classes.  One of their children, Mirnesa, is an extremely talented writer.  She has published two books, earned awards and promises to be one of Bosnia’s notable literary figures.

Despite the sadness of Omer’s memorial, I was so much looking forward to seeing them, perhaps having a coffee, however it was not to be.  Fate played another sad card.  The very day of Omer’s memorial, they were at the cemetery saying goodbye to one of the grandmother’s, the one who Mirnesa’s mother Merhima cared for so diligently over the past years.  I did go over to the Begovic home, but stayed for just a moment.  The family was in mourning and deeply distressed.  I hope we will meet again during happier circumstances for I love them very much.

Finally, the evening was over and it was time to take our goodbyes after a brief visit with old friends like Hamza and Fehta.  The snow had been falling throughout the evening and was still coming down.  The 25-minute drive back to Sarajevo turned into a 2-hour white knuckled journey on sheet ice.  By the time I arrived to the comfort of Guesthouse Halvat, my emotions were frayed like an electric wire.  I was filled with gratitude, sadness, exhaustion, and relief for the love that the Pobric family had met me with, for being welcomed back.  Thank you, Munevera and Zlata.  God bless you and your dear family.

This is the third in an 8-part series of articles about the generosity and kindness I received in Bosnia and Croatia on a 3-week trip in Jan-Feb 2011.  These articles are published in Bosnian at the Bosnian Media Group.  All the photos of the trip can be seen at my photo blog.  Photos from previous trips and more can be seen on my website.

Posted in Balkans, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Omer Pobric, Sevdah, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

In and Around Sarajevo – Week One

This is the second in a series of articles that friends encouraged me to write after returning from a trip to Bosnia and Croatia in January and February 2011.  These articles chronicle people’s generosity and kindness, emotions and experiences.  This article will focus on the wonderful memories I brought home from Sarajevo from January 18-22.  I’ve included a few photos here, but you can see all the photographs here.

Sarajevo

As you read in the previous article, the journey to Sarajevo was long and eventful.  Guesthouse Halvat, where I stayed in Sarajevo, was a wonderful refuge to rest and unwind from that exhausting journey and the following days, each one filled to overflowing.  I highly recommend this clean and cozy guesthouse owned and operated by the extra charming Valida and Mumo Vilic.

Valida and Mumo

Just about one block from the heart of Bascarsija, its location can’t be beat.   Here is a link to the Halvat website: http://www.halvat.com.ba/

Sadly, the main purpose of this trip was to attend the 1-year memorial of Mr. Pobric’s death.  He and his family had given me so much that I wanted to be there for them.  Unexpectedly, my stay in Sarajevo turned out to be a whirlwind of activity and the two weeks flew by.  This was really the first time I’d had the opportunity to experience Sarajevo.  I had been to Bosnia in 2005 and 2007, but those trips were to record and perform with Omer Pobric at the Sevdah Institute in Mulici near the town of Visoko.  I mainly saw the inside of Omer’s car and his recording studio, though had seen enough of Sarajevo to have fallen in love with this unique city.

Art Kuca was my first stop on January 19 to meet friend and music critic Ognjen Tvrtkovic who divides his time between London and Sarajevo.

Music critic Ognjen Tvrtkovic

Art Kuca, or House of Sevdah, is a must see not only for lovers of sevdah, but for anyone looking for a beautiful environment in which is have Bosnian coffee, traditional  non-alcoholic drinks and dessert.  Tables are set in the courtyard of the surrounding stone building.  Friends who have visited during summer rave about this lovely oasis.  In winter there is a roof over the courtyard and heaters warm the air to create a very cozy environment.

Visit the website at:  http://www.artkucasevdaha.ba/

Art Kuca also known as Kuca Sevdaha

The sevdah museum is located in the surrounding building.  It features the biggest stars of sevdah: Himzo Polovina, Safet Isovic, Nada Mamula, Zaim Imamovic and more.  Though light on detail, it is wonderful that there is a museum devoted to sevdah, a cultural treasure of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

After our meeting, Ognjen graciously walked along side me with his bicycle to my next date with the Tanovic family in their home in Marindvor.  Hatidza and Mevludin Tanovic are the parents of Oscar award winner Danis Tanovic. It was quite by accident I met Hatidza in 2007.  Those who read my article about getting to Sarajevo will chuckle to learn that the Sarajevo fog was again responsible for our chance meeting.  It was December 2007.   I had just completed recording two CDs and two DVDs with Omer Pobric, soon to be released by the way, and was heading home.  The airport was packed with travelers when it was announced that flights would be delayed due to fog.  I decided to grab a cup of coffee while waiting so went into the coffee shop, me and everyone else in the terminal.  Scanning the room, there was literally only one chair left at a table occupied by an elegant woman.  I asked if it was free and she invited me to sit.  We struck up a conversation and it turned out to be Hatidza Tanovic whose sister-in-law, also kind of an amazing coincidence, is a good friend of mine in Seattle, Ulfeta Basic!

Danis Tanovic with parents Hatidza and Mevludin

The following week the Tanovic’s invited me back for a delicious meal prepared by Hatidza and they surprised me by also inviting their son Danis. A very special treat, indeed!

After a lovely visit in my broken Bosnian, I said goodbye to the Tanovic’s and headed back to Guesthouse Halvat.  That evening I had the great joy of meeting the family of my dear Seattle friend Jasminka Kujundzic.  She had told me so much about them that I felt we were already friends.  It was an evening of conversation and jokes. I am grateful to Ismet, Jasminka’s cousin, who helped arrange my stay at the Halvat guesthouse.  Jasminka’s Aunt Sena sounds exactly like Esma, Jasminka’s mom.  It was a joyful evening, though I was keenly aware of Jasminka and Esma’s absence. It is so hard on families to be separated.  The time and distance is so painful.

At one moment I felt my eyes closing on their own accord and it was time to call it a night.  Ismet kindly drove me back to Halvat for some much needed rest.  Not only was the journey long, there is a 9-hour time difference between Seattle and Sarajevo.

However, knowing my time in Sarajevo would be so short, I did my best those two weeks to fight back the fatigue and embrace every second.

The next morning, January 20, I took a taxi to the Radio Television Bosnia and Herzegovina (BHRT) to appear on the local television program Sarajevo Morning for a memorial to Omer Pobric, along with Omer’s long time friend and Bosnian hero Jasmin Odobasic.  It was a real honor for me.  Afterwards we stopped for coffee with two journalists, friends of Mr. Odobasic, when Mukadesa Suljovic stopped by our table.  She is the BHRT Ethnomusicologist and surprised us by inviting us to her studio to record a radio interview.  I was grateful for these opportunities to express my condolences to Omer’s family and pay tribute to this great man.

Mukasea Suljovic, Ethnomusicologist at BHRT

From there Mr. Odobasic and I went to the Bosniak Institute, an endowment from the late Dr. Adil Zulfikarpasic.  It is located in a former Turkish bath and houses a library, gallery and meeting space. A breathtaking collection of modern and historic artwork is beautifully displayed in galleries on multiple floors.

From the collection at the Bosniak Institute

There are also fine examples of traditional costumes, carving, textiles and metalwork.

Traditional room at the Bosniak Institute

One should really devote several hours and return on more than one occasion to digest these treasures.  Our English-speaking guide provided a wonderful look into the Institute and ended the tour by giving me the book The Bosniak, Adil Zulfikarpasic in dialogue with Milovan Djilas and Nadezda Gace (Hurst & Company, London, 1998).  I simply cannot wait to return to the museum for a longer visit. Their website is: http://www.bosnjackiinstitut.ba.

The following day, January 21, my friend and former Sevdah Institute cameraman Esmer Pita arranged for me to participate in a memorial program on Visoko TV.  As it turned out, Esmer also planned a visit to see Edina Begovic who had been Omer’s right hand at the Sevdah Institute.  With true Bosnian hospitality, Dina had prepared a feast for dinner and the time quickly flew by over fascinating conversation.

Then Esmer and I were off to his home where I would meet his wife, mother, two adorable children and sister for the first time.  Their house sits high atop a hill overlooking Visoko.  We drove through the dark snowy woods to reach it, sometimes as if in a bobsled flying through the turns.  Hanging onto Esmer’s arm we crept up the icy stairs and into the cozy warmth of his home.

Esmer and his adorable daughter Melika

What a beautiful family.  It was a real joy to spend time together, but before you know it we had to head out to Visoko TV.

It was wonderful to see familiar faces: the beautiful Meliha who hosted the program, her husband and camerman Haso, and Mirza, one of Omer’s regular guitarists and member of the Sevdah Institute Omer Pobric.  So sad that it was Omer’s death that brought us together again.

Visoko TV

Meliha began the program speaking of Omer in her graceful manner.  I could feel the lump in my throat growing with her every word.  Then when they showed a clip of Omer on the television screen just off camera it took all my strength to fight back the tears.

By that time it was very late and the roads had turned to sheer ice.  Thank goodness Esmer’s wife accompanied us back to Sarajevo so he wouldn’t have to drive home alone.  Still, I held my breath after they dropped me off in Sarajevo until they called to let me know they had arrived safely home.

In my next article you will read about the memorial service held at the Pobric home in Mulici on Saturday, January 22.

Artwork at the Bosniak Institute

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