About the gains of losing earrings in Bosnia

 [wzslider]By Miruna Troncota

Miruna Troncota (b 1986) is a PhD candidate in Political Sciences from Bucharest, Romania with a study on the institutional Europeanization of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Before moving to Sarajevo, she lived and studied also in Austria, Germany and Slovenia. Under the pseudonym Miruna Vlada she published in Romania 2 books of poetry and few short stories. Selections from her poems were translated in English, French, German, Spanish and Polish and she organized numerous cultural debates and public poetry readings. In parallel with her PhD thesis she also plans to finish a collection of poems dedicated to her experiences in Bosnia, which will be published next year in Romanian and BCS language. For sharing your own thoughts on Bosnia, write her at miruna.troncota at   yahoo.com.

 Disclaimer nr 1: Dear reader, if you expect some touristic account on the time I spent in Bosnia, with description of the crowded kafanas and great Ćevapi or vivid stories about the marvelous Olympic ski resorts or salty lakes, you can stop reading right in this point, as you will be highly disappointed. This is not a text with touristic tips and tricks about Bosnia, this is a love letter.

Disclaimer nr 2: And by the way, I will use along this text the short version Bosnia as a denomination for the country of Bosnia and Herzegovina and I do it for rather intimate and extremely subjective reasons, as the two remaining and more commonly used forms are stumbling upon the desired softness of my letter – I hate how the abreviation BiH sounds like (it seems like a cheap clothing company, horrible!) and Bosnia and Herzegovina is obviously too long and it would cut the passionate rhythm of the letter by subsequent use. It may not be a politically correct choice, but for God sake’s, who can expect me to be politically correct in a love letter?

Dragi prijatelji i drage prijateljice, ( Dear friends)

This letter is for you, all the wonderful people living in Bosnia, the ones that I met and especially the ones that I did not meet yet. You are welcoming and full of humor, ironical even in most tense situations, wit and disappointed, powerful and tired. Lots of books and movies have been made about you in the last decades, as you fascinated cohorts of writers, actors, directors and singers all over the world. After living for a few months in Bosnia, I feel the same. Fascinated and outraged by you.  I feel at the same time extremely close and extremely far away from you. That’s why I chose to write a love letter for you, the people who live in Bosnia and who are not aware that so many people out there are in love with you. I am dazzled by you, by your authenticity and vulnerability, by your space of fearless freedom and joy for life. I feel you, but I don’t know you. I am here with you, but in a way I am still out there, far away. You need to be more aware of your beauty that makes all of us, foreigners, go nuts for you. I want you to be reminded of that from time to time. And above all, I want you to do something with our love.

I am afraid that this letter is just a form of hiding the emptiness of language in my struggle with expressing the reasons for my strong feelings for you. When strong feelings are put in language they may become rather vulgar, confuse or empty of meaning. But I will go on writing it, as this is the first lesson you taught me – when nothing makes sense around you, be stubborn and create your own sense out of it. And make it big. Beyond all these difficulty in expressing my strong emotions that come together with the lessons I have learnt from you, I still believe this love letter suits very well my purpose – to share my affection, to find logic in my emotions, to find great strength in my weakness. It may sound confusing and complicated, but the most important feature of such a text is that everybody who reads it should feel from the beginning to the end the untold message, should hear the unspoken voice, the ever present subliminal thought behind my every word here. The red thread of any love letter is comprised in the last two words that you can find at the end of it, before the final signature. It is as simple as that. You just have to take that forward.

Now let’s start playing a puzzle together. Wondering what postmodernism, laws of convex mirrors in physics, blossoming magnolias and lost earrings have to do with my love for Bosnia? In case you don’t have a clue, keep calm and read on. Hopefully, it will make perfect sense in the end. And if doesn’t, just skip the whole text and concentrate on the last two words at the end of the text, it saves time and it comprises the essentialJ!

Why I am writing this to you? Because I know that when something important is hard to be shown or explained to people around you, there is a simple and century-long proven solution to make it easier for others to understand – you write them a love letter. Not an email, not a like on Facebook, not a bunch of flowers or expensive jewels. But a long and complicated love letter. Of course, this requires a different logic for putting the puzzle together, so if you already decided to continue reading my love letter, then please respect the first rule – read it with your eyes and mind, but listen with your heart. Come on, it should be easy for you, according to your tourism promotion web site you live in the “heart shaped land” J so you have plenty of that around…

I write this letter in a dramatic moment of my life, but I have read in all the great novels that actually this is a perfect moment for sending a love letter. You need to be a bit desperate for it, it sells betterJ. I am serious now, I go through a hard time as this is the moment of my departure from Bosnia. Well, the other important lesson learnt here is that any moment of departure is in fact a moment of arrival (in the paradoxical way of everything that goes on in Bosnia, and actually in the paradoxical way of everything that is worthwhile in life). After my first kilometers outside Bosnia I will probably start getting closer to you than I am right now, in this sunny Sarajevo coffee shop, right behind your back. I leave Bosnia after few months of wonderful “struggle” with your unique charm and I feel as I will never get enough of it. I know you are sometimes perfectly aware of that, and I know you master it perfectly, like a beautiful mysterious woman who hides her blinking eyes in front of the charmed audience. It is a common process actually for all the foreigners who come to Bosnia for a while, and I am sure you noticed that. Everyone who comes here as a foreigner, does not leave Bosnia as a foreigner. There is for sure something poisonously gorgeous about you, that traps all of us inside you and you know it too well. Your beauty is imperfect and overwhelming, cruel and extremely warm.

But I am not sad, as I leave Bosnia in the period of blossoming magnolias. Yes, this end of April is exactly the perfect time to see and smell the elegant magnolia flowers in their entire splendor. It hurts to leave this wonderful place that has been my home for the last months, but since magnolias decided to accompany my trip in their blossoming wisdom then I am convinced that there is no reason to be sad.  So I would be redirecting my attention from the departure to the magnolias. This is important. Here I have learned to be always aware where I look at and to be aware that each time I see only from my very own and narrow perspective. This is how Bosnia has reminded me the golden rule of postmodernist relativity. Our eyes cut reality in pieces. Our eyes are able to see only pieces of the puzzle, only our minds can put the pieces together and see the whole picture. In order to see the whole picture, we need not only eyes, but also knowledge and lots of imagination. Children will never be able to finish puzzles if they would not use their imagination. It would not be exciting at all if they would not be able to imagine first the final result. Being able to imagine the final result motivates them, excites them, makes them tremble with desire and hope to finish the puzzle.  In this case, reason is led by imagination. Without our imagination, which comprises both our knowledge of the world but also our more abstract feelings, hopes and desires, nothing would make sense. My departure and the blossoming magnolias in the courtyards of Bosnia are both here and now, taking place at the same time. I should look at them altogether. The first impulse would be to think of my departure and to be paralyzed by sadness, but I just realized that by doing so I would not be able to gaze at the beautiful magnolias. The bitter taste of my departure would make the magnolia flowers fade away. These flowers need my charmed look on them for their blossom to be complete. Actually, looking at them, I can better understand why I am here. Because your eyes need my eyes. That is why I am sharing all these with you.

I started my intellectual journey towards Bosnia few years ago with my studies, I came to Bosnia several times before as a tourist, but I moved here in January 2013. All this time, I was pretty convinced that I knew what Bosnia is. My first shock happened during one of my first parties after I moved, when M., a Bosnian party fellow, told me in the middle of a discussion about Bosnia’s football team, while I was cheering their victory – “Come on, stop praising them, you don’t know the whole story. It’s nothing to be happy about. Well, I’m not surprised, as you don’t know anything about us. All you foreigners pretend you know something, but you don’t know a thing”. In the beginning I thought that this blunt statement was based on my poor knowledge of local football, as this was the topic of our discussion and I felt bad for expressing my happiness without knowing “the whole story” of the national football team. But despite my simplistic approach to the good results of Bosnia in football, now, after almost half a year spent here and dozens of contradictory discussions with Bosnians about all the bad things of their country, I can surely say that M. was damn right. I still do not know anything about Bosnia, in the same way I will not find on the National Geographic interactive online map “the dark blue river” from Mak Dizdar’s poems. But this does not stop me from feeling its cold breeze when I read his poems. I strongly believe that the Bosnia that I “see” is as real and as fictional as any map or any statistics and “objective” numbers about it. My only gift for you could only be this – the Bosnia that I love and that is real. Come on, do you think I am that crazy that I can write a love letter to someone who does not exist? J As Shakespeare repeated for millions of times, the beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. Why not trying to be the beholder of your own beauty, my dear people from Bosnia? Because whatever we see depends on what we are looking for.  As Roland Barthes and the other postmodernists poignantly described, the process of perception is neither passive, nor neutral and seeing ‘the real’ is an act of imagination.

You know that famous safety warning that is engraved on passenger side mirrors of motor vehicles – “objects in the mirror are closer than they appear”? It is the same with Bosnia in my eyes right now. This love letter may be a mirror in which the beauty of this land and of its people is much closer and intense than it may appear. That is why I feel far and close to you at the same time. So I think about the warning from our cars and I remind my friends in Bosnia that we should be careful that what we see in the rear mirror it’s a trick, a useful but sometimes dangerous trick. We should remember that it is essentially a safety warning. Let’s have a bit of physics now. Objects in that mirror are in reality more distant than we see them and this is because of the mirrors’ convexity which gives the driver a useful field of view, at the expense of making objects appear smaller. Because our brains compare how big a car looks in the mirror with how big it is in real life, and the greater the discrepancy, the greater the perceived distance. The explanation takes us back to that simple law in physics – smaller-appearing objects seem farther away than they actually are. That mirror offers a “usefully distorted” reality made in order to help the driver avoid accidents. When most of Bosnians are critical and disappointed about their country, based on the facts “they see”, I think that they forget that they actually look at their country in the rear mirror of their car. It’s easier, it’s practical and sometimes useful to do that, but it does not match with so-called “reality”. My impression is that Bosnia may be to “close” to your eyes in order for you to experience in full its intense beauty. This letter is just a reminder that what you see it is not the whole picture and you need imagination to see the whole picture, to feel your own beauty and strength. You have plenty of imagination, so use it!

Ok, so we had some little physics, magnolias and postmodernist relativity of perspectives in order to explain that Bosnia it’s all about where you look at. What else? Aha, now I have to tell you about my “earrings” problem. It’s not complicated. I have a great skill – I lose earrings. I am still considering how to write this in my official CV because it is really a skill. I am becoming a professional earring loser. In the best moments of my life I lose one of my earrings.  But it’s like completely vanishing. It’s gone, within seconds, bam!, I am off with only one earring. It takes talent for that! Even after years of practicing it, I still can’t get used with losing my earrings. In the beginning it was a very painful process as I am fond of my earrings and losing them hurt me a lot. You may laugh at this and consider me a total drama queen (which in fact I am J) but sometimes I even cried for that. But then I realized that it’s not about the earring itself, it’s about my feeling of possession. It’s about the way I perceived the loss. Now, I changed my perspective. I do not feel it as a loss, but as a form of connection between me and the places I visit. The earring has its own trip, I have mine. The earring is free, it can go on its own way, I do not posses it. Often, I have the feeling that those lost earrings come back to me in a different form. They are the smiles of the people I do not know, waving at me spontaneously in the street or inviting me under their umbrella when I am in the bus station and outside its heavily raining. The earrings come back to me also in the sweet Dobro jutro that a nice old lady tells me in Markale every morning. They are part of the everyday gifts that I receive. What goes around comes around. And so do my lost earrings. Actually, one of the strongest ties between me and Bosnia is done through the dozens of earrings I lost in here. Well, again – it depends where you look at. I just don’t see them as lost.  It’s a gift that a certain place is giving me by “stealing” my earring. It’s intimate, even though a bit cruel. It’s gaining, not losing. I call it “paying a rent for hope”. Because hope is not for free and it’s not cheap either. This is my other lesson from Bosnia. I am now convinced that for all the things that we lose, we gain more hope. It’s as simple as the rules of the stock exchange. We have to pay a rent for hope in order to deserve it. Hope is our most necessary luxury and we must invest in it. Bosnia took lots of my earrings and this is for me like a commitment. What do you invest in your hopes?  Sometimes I feel that you do not invest enough, which makes the picture bleaker that it is in reality.

More often I am outraged by you, people from Bosnia. This love letter is also a revolt. Whenever you guys talk about Bosnia, something grim and negative must dominate the whole picture. And I think this is not fair. Not for the country, not for others and not for yourselves. Yes, I am not blind (even though being in love is the most productive and wonderful way of being blind). I also see the bad things, we all see them in our countries, our families, our own mirrors. But I always have the feeling that your attitude is like that line in Chris Marker’s movie, “Sunless” (Sans Soleil) from 1983 – “If they don’t see the happiness in the picture, at least they’ll see the black”. Don’t stop at seeing only the black. Get to the colors, too. I wish that this Bosnia that I am in love with would be your Bosnia, too. But sometimes I felt a huge fracture between what we are shown and what we see, a space of shifting interpretations and doubt. Being in love has nothing to do with politics. It engages with the seductive qualities of fiction, which call for the suspension of disbelief, and encouraging confused senses. Being in love makes you weak. Its not about logic, and it’s not about black and white. It is about being courageous for the wild beauty around you. It’s about using vulnerability as the source of your strength. It is about not trusting your eyes and remembering that you just look in the rear mirror of the car. That is why we are given imagination. To use it for love. And that is why we are given also reality. To use it for enhancing our imagination and our power to love. We should not use one against the other, but one in the benefit of the other.

And yes, if at a certain point you may have thought that this letter went on a very pathetic streamline, yes, you are completely right. I was pathetic. But I think it’s great to afford yourself to be pathetic from time to time and I am not ashamed of it. It comprises exactly what I felt in Bosnia – pathos, the ancient word for passion, which often scares us and makes us want to avoid it or hide it, as it is intense, unpredictable, sometimes violent and deep. Like the “dark blue river” (modra rijeka) in Mak Dizdar’s poem. But what can be more marvelous than that? I do not believe beauty can be perceived and understood without passion. As I undergone all these stages during my stay here, my text cannot be otherwise but pathetic. But being pathetic means also being courageous to confront your weaknesses. And you taught me that.

I am only one day apart from my departure from Bosnia, and there is a line from a poem by Herta Muller which comes to my mind obsessively – “Sometimes things acquire a tenderness, a monstrous tenderness we don’t expect from them”.  This is what happened to the Bosnia on my mind these months. And this is how I found a huge strength in my weakness of not understanding you. For this, and for all the other unspoken things that you gave me, my beloved people of Bosnia, hvala vam.

With love,



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