Gazi Huzrev-begova Medresa

On Tuesday night I was once again sitting in front of my peers and talking about myself and my life in America.  This time, however, there was a slight twist.  We (SHAKE) weren’t at Druga Gimnazija or at the Embassy; we were in a classroom at the Gazi Huzrev-begova Medresa.  For those of you who have no idea what a medresa is, it is a religious school of Islam.  In other words, it’s a boarding school where kids not only learn the general subjects but also learn about Islam.  I would say it’s comparable to a Catholic boarding school, but I’ve never been to one so I actually don’t know.

While at the medresa, we attended an Access Program class for English.  Access is a two-year program which provides English classes to medresas across Bosnia & Herzegovina, and upon completion students receive diplomas from the U.S. State Department.  It was really fun to sit in on the class and participate: we were discussing political systems.
“Can anyone define the term ‘left-winger’?” asked the teacher.
“Communism!” shouted a kid from the back.  The teacher just sighed.  “Anyone else?”
Our task was to break up into groups and role-play political parties and journalists: journalists asked the questions and the politicians had to answer them.  Being that it was a class, not everyone took the assignment seriously and some people (namely, my group) had really weird platforms that were impractical.  It just goes to show that despite all our differences, some things will always be the same.  Gotta love teenagers.

The kids we met were beyond amazing.  The first thing which I admire about them is their commitment to both school and religion.  I asked them a ridiculous amount of really weird questions, but it gave me an insight to their lifestyle.  From what I can remember (I heard so many new things that my brain imploded a little), their day goes somewhat like this.  They have class from 0800 until 2000, interrupted by prayer and mealtimes.  Then they have about an hour for studying, and lights out for boys is 2200, for girls: 2245.  Then they wake up at 0700 (or earlier) and do it again the next day.  On the weekends they have free time from 1400 to 2100, though!  They can also visit home on the weekends.  As for their classes, they take FIFTEEN.  Six or seven are religious, which can be Arabic, studying theology, practice of Islam, ethics of Islam, Shari’ah law,  the Qur’an, or other things related to religion.  Other classes are like ours: history, maths, Latin, English, Bosnian, sciences, and other general subjects.  The bottom line is that these students are my age and doing so much more than I have ever done.

As for the students, I think I made several friends that I hope will last for a very long time.  After our Access class, a group of us went out for coffee at a nearby cafe and got to talk more to each other.  (Here’s a tip: Bosnian coffee at 8:30 pm is NOT a good idea, particularly when you’re already in an excited mood.)  I sat next to Haris, Ajdin, and Katie (from SHAKE).  We talked about music and our favorite bands, then swapped names of different singers.  Ajdin gave me a bunch of Bosnian bands that remind me a little of the 80’s rock bands.  Here’s one of them, “Ne Nisam Ja”:
Haris likes Game of Thrones and sent me the books.  We talked about Frisbee and which sports we liked, and I accidentally revealed that I knew nothing about “football” (also known as soccer) teams in Europe.  I got asked why Americans like country music (I did not have a good answer for that question), and in turn I asked why Turbo-folk is popular in Bosnia.

This last remark is for the benefit of my American peers back home.  Although I hope you can just see this from my blog, I want to also tell you this specifically.  Despite our different religions, despite different ideas about God, Allah, or lack thereof, despite differences in personal style or ideas about modesty, despite different ideas about physical contact or relationships, and despite our different countries, we are still friends. It is possible to work past what might theoretically appear to be impassable barriers just by being respectful, thoughtful, and compassionate.  It can be challenging, and ignorance is the cause of a lot of miscommunication, but just based on Tuesday night’s experience I know understanding and friendship is possible.  A little respect, a little patience, and a lot of enthusiasm is all it takes.Here are my pictures!

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