September 11 is a date forever ingrained in my generation’s minds. Even though we are almost too young to remember it, the events of that day have quietly molded our lives into what is known as “The Post-9/11 Era.” Because I was living in Upper Michigan at the time, in theory I was untouched by the attacks. I knew no one personally who had died, and now I have no memory of that day. That is hard to admit, because now it is something that matters so much. I was 15 before I saw any footage of the Two Towers burning, or worse still, people jumping from those buildings. I know my brother watched the live news in school and saw those images in real time, as did the rest of the nation. I was only six on September 11, 2001, and I didn’t understand the gravity of the situation. My parents did their best to shelter me from most news related to the attacks, which was not difficult to do living in Escanaba, Michigan. I’ve lived in northern Michigan and central Wisconsin: both are secluded, isolated areas of America. My home towns are surrounded by farmland, not people. Wausau, Wisconsin is spread out over miles. I’m never quite sure when I’ve reached the edge because the city seems to just melt into silos and fields. It’s a beautiful place, and so the concerns of the crowded, busy metropolises never seemed as important to me. I never experienced the realization that America was not as unshakable as we had thought. I rebelled against the waves of patriotism that have lined my life, mocking them and becoming cynical about the United States government. I will never support war, and I refused to put my faith into a government which invaded another country.
It was also difficult to sift through stereotypes, misinformation, and general ignorance about Islam. As I mentioned before, I’ve lived my entire life in the Midwest. Until this year I had never met anyone who was Muslim. In January I applied for the YES Abroad scholarship, and in April I was accepted. The world was open to me, and I was terrified. I was scared to leave home, unable to think about leaving my friends, and aware that I could have a very straight-forward senior year, or I could come here where every second is challenging. However, I committed to the program and now I have lived my first month in Sarajevo.
A different religion isn’t the most challenging part of my experience in Sarajevo. Admittedly, not many of the people in this city are conservative Muslims, but those who aren’t still consciously follow the values presented in Islam. It’s comparable to the many agnostics in the United States who live by Christian values. I didn’t know what it meant to be a non-conservative Muslim. Last year, I thought no such person existed. Now, most people I see or speak to identify with Islam but don’t pray five times a day. They don’t wear headscarves or burkas, many drink alcohol, and some eat pork.
Depending on how religious someone is a person may observe the holy month of Ramadan. I am in awe of the people I met during Ramadan who fasted. My Bosnian language teacher was one of them; it was brutally hot in our classroom and yet her religious devotion didn’t interfere with her job. She simply and quietly persevered with her teaching and her fasting. It was an impressive balancing of responsibilities. I, on the other hand, do not live with a Muslim family and so I only celebrated Bajram (Eid) at the end of the month. Another thing about Sarajevo is that people like to celebrate, so non-Muslim-me was welcomed to enjoy the food and customs of the holiday.
No one spoke to me about 9/11 today. There was no minute of silence in school to honor the dead, which I have grown to expect. It was a reminder that here, nothing happened on September 11, 2001. It was also a reminder of how privileged America is, how prosperous a country it is, and that there has been no war on American soil for 147 years. Bosnia and Herzegovina has been nowhere near that lucky. I am unbelievably fortunate to have been born an American, and living abroad has made me aware of that.