The well renowned Sociologist Seymour Martin Lipset once noted that „Those who know only one country know no country“. With that in mind, when I received the offer from a friend to visit the town of Prnjavor in Bosnia and Herzegovina, I wasted little time to seize the opportunity. It was the summer of 2012 and for almost two weeks during the month of August. I lived with a Bosnian family. Among numerous other things, I was able to learn more of the traditions, the people, the food, and with all this going on we even squeezed in some time to create a short film. The trip was one in which I was able to gain a knowledge of something far beyond those borders which are usually accessible to a young Caribbean boy.
My trip to Bosnia started off from the capital city of Serbia, Belgrade. From Belgrade I took a bus to Prnjavor, a small city to the north of the Bosnian capital city of Sarajevo. The first thing that stood out to me as we drove toward the Bosnian boarder were the vast pieces of land which in some cases were occupied with various different crops like corn and fruits of all different kinds. But mainly corn. In sharp contrast to my homeland of Trinidad, in this part of the world, there were no mango trees, no plum trees, coconut, sour-sop or avocado trees. Just corn. I thought to myself, „they may lack variety, but this would make for a sure endless supply of our beloved trinidadian „corn soup.“
As we drove down miles and miles of smooth asphalt, I thought of the almost unlikely situation I was in. Only a year before I would have considered such a reality completely impossible. A Caribbean boy like myself traveling over 5000 miles from the Caribbean island of Trinidad to Bosnia in the Balkans. An unlikely reality, but a reality all the same. At around 10:00a.m. on August 23rd I arrived at the bus station where I met my host and friend Bozidar, along with his younger brother David. We made some stops to handle some paper work and then made our way to their home. Nearing the home I could see a basketball ring down the corner, a small vegetable garden in front of a nicely shaped cream house that seemed an exact replica of one you may find in Malabar(Trinidad). Outside the house, Ms. Prgonjic was waiting, with a wonderful smile. I remember being greeted in typical Balkan fashion with one of the first questions to me being whether I was hungry. Food became a rather consistent theme of my stay in Bosnia (in a mostly positive way I should add).
I remember that we ate so much, that there was one point in time I was too tired to eat anymore. We also paid a visit to a ‘Carnival’, which for those of us who know what a Carnival really is, this event could probably be better described as a ‘Fair.’ At this ‘Fair’ I some how ended up being one of the main attractions, given the obvious rarity of black people in this part of the world. My encounters were usually of a positive nature filled with many simple questions but most of all welcoming smiles. I usually left it up to Bozidar to explain the details, probably giving off the obvious fact that these ‘Trinis’ (Trinidadians/people from the island of Trinidad) could have little patience once pressed.
About twice during my stay I played football at a nearby school located only walking distance from where we were staying. Football, being a sport not only well known for its cross-culture appeal but also its development of camaraderie and understanding between cultures, proved in this case to be a strong source of mutual understanding. Not only was I able to play alongside some of the guys, but while chatting, many of them shared their knowledge about Trinbagonian football players like Dwight York and numerous other Caribbean sportsmen. I even got the nickname Didier (Drogba) for my prowess in front of goal.
Regularly we would go for walks throughout the town of Prnjavor, with each day bringing its own unique surprises. On one particular day while walking, we encountered an elderly lady who was somewhat taken aback by my presence. This particular old woman was unable to hide her surprise, and asked almost immediately, in her ‘village’ dialect (which Bozidar translated) whether I was in search of a wife.
My time in Bosnia was filled with numerous experiences, all of which can’t be put into this limited space. But the reality of being there, eating, laughing, competing and even flirting (as old as they may have been) with folks showed the capability of the human spirit to stretch across the gulf of differences and find common mutual ground. As different as we may be.