When I first told people I was going to Bosnia for a month, there were a lot of raised eyebrows. “Bosnia? Why Bosnia?”, “Isn’t it dangerous?”, “Wasn’t there a war there?” and “I hear there are land mines.” I got that a lot. Continue Reading
It’s late morning when we pass a huddle of sheep by the side of the road and turn the last rocky corner into Lukomir, Bosnia’s highest-altitude and most remote village. It’s tucked into the side of the Bjelašnica Mountain, home to semi-nomadic Bosniak sheep herders. It’s accessible via a ten-mile hike or by truck on crumbling switchbacks—except in the winter, when the only way to access it is on skis. It’s a cluster of small stone houses: short, squat, and steep to protect from snow. Continue Reading
Over 7,000 islands and not enough time. I was in the Philippines for three weeks and barely scratched the surface of this complex nation. It is a country that is as heartbreakingly beautiful as it is heartbreaking — from the famous beaches of Boracay and the cliffs of El Nido, to the slum-towns and poverty that affects roughly a quarter of the population. The Philippines is not somewhere I’ll soon forget.
For a short trip, I’m lucky to have seen the natural beauty, experienced many Filipino smiles warm hospitality, ate lots of delicious new foods and heard firsthand stories about the reality of poverty.
Here’s a brief itinerary of how I spent my time — where I went, what I did and where I stayed.
Jeepneys parked along the road to Batad. Parts of the road are new and saved us an extra 2km hike from the area known as ‘the Saddle’. (Mel Hattie/Mel Had Tea)
October 1 — Left Toronto airport in Canada. Head to Manila via Seoul with Korean Air.
October 2 — Arrived in Manila late at night. Headed to Manila International Youth Hostel for the night (There were four dead cockroaches in our room, plus the live ones outside. Would not stay again.).
October 8 — Take a kayak up and down Loboc river. Walk into town.
October 9 — Hike and taxi back to Tagbilaran airport. Catch a flight back to Manila with Air Swift. Kill some time in Mall of Asia then head to the Ohayami bus terminal where we catch the ice cold overnight bus to Banaue.
October 10 — Arrive in Banaue in the morning via the overnight bus. Check into our Banaue Homestay and hike the Banaue rice terraces.
October 11 — Rooftop jeepney ride to Batad entrance from Banaue. Hike around the Batad rice terraces.
October 12 — Tricycle to Ha Pao. Hike the Ha Pao rice terraces to hot spring. Come back to town in the afternoon and spend time in town. Catch the night bus back to Manila.
October 13 — Arrive back in Manila in the morning via the night bus. Check into Orchid Garden Suites and register for TBEX. Walk around the markets and catch up on some sleep.
October 17 — Pick up from Belmont and head to a Gawad Kalinga NGO village in progress in Quezon City. Spend the morning helping move gravel for home foundations and hanging out with people in the village. Get back on the bus and head to the Gawad Kalinga Enchanted Farm in Bulacan in time for dinner. Stayed onsite at Oasis hotel.
October 18 — Spent the day at Gawad Kalinga Enchanted Farm, meeting entrepreneurs and seeing their different ventures, looking around the farm, meeting people and asking questions.
October 19 — Spent more time around the farm, meeting people and catching baby goats. Leave the farm around lunch time. We’re back in Manila by dinnertime and check in at the Henry Hotel for dinner. After dinner, I repack my bag and catch a 9pm taxi to the airport.
October 20 — With the time change, I arrive back in Halifax at 6pm on the 20th. 33 hours later. I flew Manila, Seoul, Toronto with Korean Air and Toronto to Halifax with Westjet. I booked my flights with Skyscanner.
Woman walking across a bamboo bridge in Banaue. (Mel Hattie/Mel Had Tea)
Tourism and the Philippines
During one of the morning sessions at TBEX, the secretary from the Philippine Department of Tourism, Wanda Corazon Tulfo-Teo, addressed us attendees. She said that for every tourist who visits the Philippines, five jobs are created for three days.
There is an argument to be made about the negative impacts of tourism on the Philippines. In El Nido and Boracay, there’s the overload on the waste management system and negative environmental impact that comes with loose policies. In Banaue, the rice terraces are not kept as well as they once were because people would rather be in the well-paying tourism industry than tending rice.
Tourism can also be hugely positive. Tourism dollars can pull people out of poverty and create jobs that people are proud of.
Love is the only appropriate response. In a Gawad Kalinga village in Quezon City. (Mel Hattie/Mel Had Tea)
Some people would say the natural beauty of the Philippines is its most attractive feature, but really it’s the people. People everywhere met us with hospitality and kindness. I couldn’t turn a corner without someone saying, ‘Good morning, ma’am”. In the slum I visited, the kids called me ‘Ate Mel’, big sister Mel, and asked to see whether I had Pokemon Go on my iPhone.
Pokemon Go didn’t work, but Alto’s Adventures did! These kids live in a Gawad Kalinga village in Quezon City. (Mel Hattie/Mel Had Tea)
The Philippines are beautiful, friendly and affordable. One day you’ll be swimming through a hole in a rock to a secret beach and laughing with your guide as he cooks red snapper on the back of your boat, the next you’ll be brushing up on your colonial history and acknowledging your tourist privilege. If you ever get the chance to go, you should take it.
My travel partner for this trip was Lauren Marinigh over at Twirl the Globe. She’s Canadian too! You can find some great itineraries on her blog.
This past week a whole reservoir of love flew from Canadian pens and keyboards towards Gord Downie and The Tragically Hip. The man, machine, poem and his band have made us cry and reminisce as they toured one last time in the wake of Downie’s incurable glioblastoma — terminal brain cancer.
The Hip finished their tour last night in Kingston, Ontario, the band’s hometown. CBC live streamed the whole thing.
Project setup lit on the side of a house by four shower curtains.
Gord Downie and The Tragically Hip, a Canadian treasure
For any non-Canadian readers: Gord Downie is an amazing performer and all-around badass who never held anything back on stage, who made you feel like being Canadian was cool, powerful and poetic. Whose lyrics could be mumbled by drunks and intellectuals alike and shone a light on all the idiosyncrasies and secrets that make up this big land north of the 49th parallel.
As a young liberal arts student, The Tragically Hip’s songs were a part of the musical wallpaper of my high school and university years. It was on the radio as you drove from Lennoxville to Montréal. New Orleans is Sinking was playing in a Halifax bar before your friend’s band got up to play. You woke up hungover and put on The Hip while you made pancakes.
The Hip’s records were like a friend you could trust. Whether recovering from a broken heart, a broken family or a broken world, you could always put on The Hip’s records as a safe place.
American bands and albums are nice, but Gord made a narrative path for a generation of Canadians to tread on, with our own problems and possibilities.
I just wanted to share how we celebrated The Hip’s final concert, like many other Canadian across the country, with a bunch of friends and a backyard projector.
Projector machine glow.
Weeks before we had made plans to all gather in the backyard of our friends’ house.
The day before our friend Gab had gone around to all her neighbours’ houses in the North End of Halifax with cookies and simultaneously invited them to the concert while pre-apologizing that it was going to be loud.
Gab and Ryan, friends and backyard owners. ♥︎ (Mel Hattie)
Yesterday morning, Rob and I drove out to Burnside to rent a ridiculous six thousand dollar projector that used to belong to The Trailer Park Boys. We then hit up Long & McQuade in Dartmouth to rent a pair of Yorkville speakers.
As we were loading them into the back of the van, an employee idly kicked an empty space along their rental wall and said they should consider sweeping the space since it’s never clear — everyone in the city was renting gear to stream The Hip’s concert and had cleaned them out.
In the backyard, we glued four white shower curtains together to make a twelve-foot square screen. We stapled the glued curtains to two 2″x4″ beams to hold the top and bottom of the screen straight.
Using some ‘industrial strength’ twine from the dollar store we lashed the screen to the side of the house out of the second floor bedroom and bathroom windows. There were cables coming out the windows, out from the basement. A computer might have fried because there was no grounding.
Production friends are the best friends to have. <3
The concert started at 9:30pm Atlantic and friends and neighbours arrived, bringing air mattresses, lawn chairs, chips and beer. There was a keg.
Gab is a talented designer and made these awesome candy shish kabobs. Another friend, Allie, brought a legendary spicy cheese dip, the recipe for which she rescued from a restaurant chain she used to work at before it closed down.
People make things happen
When people come together, whether it’s to build a rocket ship or have a backyard concert, awesome things happen.
We the north.
So I love that I was together with friends, celebrating The Hip. I love that the set list was 30 songs long and included three encores. I love that they played ‘Bobcagyeon’, ‘New Orleans is Sinking’, ‘Wheat Kings’, ‘Grace, Too’, ‘Ahead by a Century’, ‘Tired as Fuck’ and so many others. It makes me happy that #InGordWeTrust is a thing.
This morning I woke up to a Tragically Hip Spotify playlist. I love these photos I took last night even though it was so dark and they’re so grainy and objectively not good at all.
I love that Downie used the national stage last night to bring attention to first nations communities up north.
“Prime Minister Trudeau’s got me, his work with First Nations. He’s got everybody. He’s going to take us where we need to go… It’s going to take us 100 years to figure out what the hell went on up there, but it isn’t cool and everybody knows that. It’s really, really bad, but we’re going to figure it out, you’re going to figure it out.”
“A promise to this country. I mean the Prime Minister… We’re in good hands folks. Real good hands. He cares about the people up north, that we were trained our entire lives to ignore. Trained our entire lives to not hear a word of what’s going on up there. But what’s going on up there ain’t good. It’s maybe even worse than it’s ever been. So it’s not on the improve and we’re gonna get it fixed. But we’ve got the guy to do it. To start. To help.”
Almost five years ago now, on October 21, 2010, Downie came to Bishop’s University with his other band, The Country of Miracles. They put on an amazing show that was attended by maybe a hundred people.
Gord Downie waves to the crowd at Centennial Theatre, October 2010. (Mel Hattie)
I was just starting my third year of university and shooting at the concert so I could write an article for the university newspaper. Gord let me get up close and made me feel like a real concert photographer even though I was a self-taught kid who barely knew how to use a camera.
The theatre had just flooded a week before and it was a miracle the show was able to go on at all. The river had risen 7.3 metres and 900 people left during evacuation.
The piece I wrote has long-since been swallowed by The Campus archives, but I’ll always have the photos and the memory.
Gord sharing a moment with a fan in the crowd.
Thanks for everything, Gord. You were the coolest guy. Ahead by a century. You helped a whole country figure itself out.
If traveling through Bosnia, there will come a time when you’ll be pulled into a street café or someone’s kitchen, seated, and offered a thimble-sized cup of what looks, smells and tastes like hot, sweet, thick bitter mud.
This is bosanska kafa. Bosnian coffee. Hot, thick and strong, it’s a staple in the region and brings people together every day and has the miraculous power of drawing conversations out of people.
Meals, entire afternoons and evenings can slip away over the table as you sip with family, friends, strangers and those you’ve only just begun to know. In Sarajevo especially, you are never out of sight of a coffee shop.
People will sit for hours, chatting or arguing. Everything and anything in a person’s life can be raked over a cup of coffee. I had a lot of Bosnians tell me their high unemployment rate is also why so much time is spent in coffee shops, so it’s both a social and economic imperative.
In modern Bosnian cities of course you can find espresso and drip coffee, but the heart of the culture really lies with this brew that matches their sometimes-dark sense of humour.
I drank more coffee during the four weeks I was in Bosnia than I had the entire year before.
The sweet comes with the rest of the coffee service on a silver tray. You’re meant to dip the sweet into the coffee to be sucked or nibbled on like a cookie. Kuca Sevdaha, a café in Sarajevo’s old town, Baščaršija, serves sugar cubes and Turkish delight. (Mel Hattie/Mel Had Tea)
The coffee arrives on a tray — often made of etched or imprinted copper, one of the country’s traditional crafts. Bosnia’s mines provide the metal and people here have been working with copper it since before the Ottoman era, although it was the Ottomans that advanced copper
Nijaz Jažić runs a copper etching shop with his son Kenan in Baščaršija. I bought a Bosnian coffee set from him (the one blurred in the foreground) and, naturally, as I was watching him finish an engraving he brought some Bosnian coffee for me. Their shop is called Kazandžijska Radnja and is at 71000 Sarajevo, Kazazi br. 13. Nijaz creates all his own designs (they’re on the corkboard in blue). (Mel Hattie/Mel Had Tea)
Bosnians also have a delightful tradition of serving their coffee with a glass of water. You don’t have to ask for it, it just comes on the tray, de facto. This is perfect, because your mouth often feels dry after the astringent bitterness. I wish all coffees came with water.
Bring me all the water please. (Mel Hattie/Mel Had Tea)
When you take the coffee, don’t drink the last sip. You’ll get nothing but a mouth full of thick sludge.
Because of their shared Ottoman history, it’s understandably similar to Turkish coffee (some would call it the exact same) and Greek coffee, for that matter.
No matter what you do, do not — I repeat: Do NOT, call it Turkish coffee in front of a Bosnian person.
Bosnian names for coffee things
On the tray you have your džezva (‘jezz-va’), the larger pot with a flared base. This is what your coffee comes in.
Then there’s the fildžan (‘phil-john’), the tiny ceramic cup without a handle, into which you pour your Bosnian coffee.
Rahat lokum is the name for the sweet we’d call a Turkish delight, and the lump of sugar is called grumen šećera.
The Doctor’s House hostel in Sarajevo offers this handy guide in their kitchen. There are many džezvas and small ceramic cups — no respectable Bosnian house is without them. (Mel Hattie/Mel Had Tea)
How to make Bosnian coffee
Add the hot water along with a few spoonfuls of fine-ground coffee into your džezva.**
Stir it around, like you would a hot chocolate.
Put the džezva on the stove and turn it up medium-high. We want to heat it up so that a thick foam called the crema forms on top of the coffee, but we don’t want it to boil.
When the crema forms, take it off the stove and spoon a bit of crema off the top and put it into your cup. This is the good stuff. If you’re drinking with more than one person, each one should get a bit in their cup.
Then pour from the džezva to finish filling each cup.
Sip slowly and smile.
** This is actually what distinguishes it from Turkish coffee, where the grounds are mixed with cold water.
So that’s the spiel on Bosnian coffee. Even for a tea drinker like myself, a small but mighty cup of bosanska kafa in the morning just felt like the right way to say hello to the day in Bosnia.
Have you tried Bosnian coffee? Have you been to Bosnia? Did I get anything wrong? Let me know in the comments below!
Sarajevo is a city unlike my own. The language is Bosnian. Islam is the majority religion. The coolest place to hang out is an old Ottoman market. There’s a thick nostalgia for communism. The youth unemployment rate is 60%. Downtown buildings are riddled with bullet holes. There are scars in the sidewalk painted red where people were killed by mortar shells during the 1992–1995 siege.
Despite these differences, I never felt uncomfortable here until I saw a man spitting and swearing without restraint at people in a LGBTQI advocacy march. That’s when I started to realize the scope of the homophobia in Bosnia.
IDAHOT Silent Protest
On the morning of May 17, the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (“IDAHOT”), I and some Project 1948 colleagues walked to the Parliament of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. It’s a modern building near the city centre along the banks of the Miljacka river.
A teenage participant in Project 1948’s photo-voice project told us the about the silent protest taking place, organized by the Sarajevo Open Centre (“SOC”), an advocacy group in the city that gives a voice to LGBTI and women’s rights issues.
When we arrived, we met volunteers outside, handing out copies of the SOC’s annual ‘Pink Report on the State of Human Rights of LGBTI People in Bosnia and Herzegovina.’
Delila Hasanbegović is volunteer with the Sarajevo Open Centre. She gave me a copy of the Pink Report, published in English and Bosnian. (Mel Hattie)
The Pink Report calls for the legal recognition of same-sex couples as well as protection against discrimination based on your sexual orientation or gender presentation.
Volunteers spent an hour handing out copies of the SOC’s Pink Report as people entered the parliament building. (Mel Hattie)
Naida Kučukalić is a program coordinator with the SOC. She says the silent protest is about reminding their allies inside as well as the rest of the parliament that, “we are here.”
Naida Kučukalić has been with the SOC as a program coordinator for almost two years. She says getting Bosnians to understand LGBTQI rights as an intersectional issue would increase the social pressure for policy change. (Mel Hattie)
Reading The Pink Report will give you a more comprehensive overview of the situation in Bosnia, where homosexuality was only decriminalized in 1996, but in a nutshell:
Where their human rights stand
Same-sex partnerships are not legally recognized, homophobia is common, as are attacks and harassment of LGBTQI people. Hate speech based on sexual orientation or gender identity is not illegal.
Attackers often face no repercussions, like the March attacks at the Art Kriterion Cinema, one of the few LGBTQI-friendly bars in Sarajevo. Earlier in the year, Kriterion hosted the Merlinka Festival, one of the country’s few regular LGBTQI events. Those who can often travel to neighbouring Serbia or Croatia, where the LGBTQI situation is not great, but many find better than Bosnia.
Two activists embrace in front of parliament. Sarajevo is a small city, about 500,000 people live there. Many of the people who came out to protest knew each other. (Mel Hattie)
It’s not safe to be gay in Bosnia
One young woman I met through Project 1948 told me she stopped being active in the LGBTQI community because she was worried about losing her job. Another teenage boy told me if he held hands with another boy in public, he would expect to be beaten.
With Sunday’s shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, it has once again become painfully and tragically obvious that hatred is putting LGBTQI youth at risk globally.
At the end of their designated one-hour protest, the group gathers for a photo op. Their sign, “RAVNOPRAVNOST SADA!” is Bosnian for, “EQUALITY NOW!” (Mel Hattie)
In Bosnia, being any kind of minority can cause you trouble. The Bosnian constitution segregates its citizens by ethnicities. Officially, you can be bosniak, serb, croat or “other”.
The country has three presidents: one bosniak, one serb, one croat. People in the “other” category are unrepresented in the government. They include roma, jews, Montenegrins, Albanians and anyone else who doesn’t fall into one of the three main ethnic groups.
Minorities won’t stand together
Kučukalić says that while there are people in the city who are willing to come out and stand up for equal rights for the “others,” they’re much less willing to come out and defend LGBTQI rights.
“It’s frustrating,” she says, “It’s all intersectional. You have gay Roma.”
Their first ‘unofficial’ gay pride parade
After their hour is over, the group decides to walk with their rainbow flags a few blocks along the river towards one of the few queer-friendly cafes in the city, Kino Meeting Point.
“It’s like our first gay pride parade,” says one girl.
People on the streets stopped and stared.
The parade wasn’t planned ahead of time. It just sort of happened naturally as everyone left the parliament building together. (Mel Hattie)
A woman stops to watch the parade. Sarajevo has never had an official gay pride parade. (Mel Hattie)
I ran ahead to take photos, and as I’m waiting for the crowd to come towards me, a man steps out of a cafe. He points to the group marching with flags and asks me what is going on.
“Gay pride parade,” I say.
His response is immediate and vehement. “Gays? Fuck gays.”
He starts spitting at the people in the parade as they pass by. For the most part they just ignore him.
This person was shouting obscenities at the parade and spitting at them. (Mel Hattie)
After I take his photo, he turns to me, “What the fuck are you doing?” He starts yelling, “Fuck you. Fuck you,” then takes a step forward, puts both hands on my shoulders and shoves me hard enough that I take a few steps back. I left him and joined the parade.
No one was hurt, but I was frustrated by the interaction and haunted by the image of a young boy who was peering around the man’s leg as he shoved and spat at strangers in the street.
What bothered me most afterward was how normal this person was, and how no one person on the busy street intervened. Meeting him under different circumstances, he might have even invited me for a Bosnian coffee.
For a couple days afterward I would look at people on the street and wonder, “are you secretly filled with hate?”
Making friends at Kino Meeting Point (Mel Hattie)
Luckily, through Project 948 I met and interviewed so many amazing Bosnians fighting for better human rights in their country that those feelings quickly dispersed. Nonetheless, it only takes one person to ruin it for everyone. Imagine if that spitting man was the only person I met in Bosnia.
After the march, we sit down with the activists at Kino Meeting Point to have a coffee and cigarettes, a Bosnian ritual. If you come to Bosnia, expect to drink a lot of coffee.
Relaxing after the protest at Kino Meeting Point, one of the few gay-friendly cafes in Bosnia. (Mel Hattie)
The atmosphere amongst the activists in the cafe is one of jubilation. Kučukalić is smiling but pragmatic, “wait until we see what happens on social media.”
One young woman, Nera Civonisem, was also protesting. She’s wearing a huge grin over the rim of her coffee cup, “Come on, man. Today we marched with flags.”
Elsewhere in Sarajevo, intersections were covered with rainbows, and there’s a cautious, hopeful feeling that change could be on the horizon.
A crosswalk in downtown Sarajevo, painted with rainbows for the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, May 17, 2016. (Mel Hattie)
I was on assignment in Bosnia for Project 1948, an NGO that encourages Bosnian youth to pursue policy change and tackle problems in their society through inter-ethnic photo-voice projects, interviews and community building activities.