Semester at Sea Fall 2006 Voyage banner


Finding humor in Croatia

By Allie D'Amanda


            I read about the ethnic conflict between Bosnians, Serbs, Croats, and Slaves, and I was ready to meet people in Croatia who hated each other.  I tried hard to keep an open mind and attempt to understand the history and political strife which lead to their conflict.  I read and heard reasons for the war in the former Yugoslavia, and I looked for some solid explanation, but all I found were more questions.  In an essay entitled Poetics of Resistance, Lada Cale Feldman et al note that, “systematic and analytic reflections on the war as a cultural situation lend unintentional legitimacy to a catastrophic human state” (1).  It makes me wonder why I was even looking for an answer as if one would justify the war itself and I would finally understand. 

As I stepped off the ship, I found myself wrapped up in the beauty of this dream-like place and those images and stories of war faded from my mind.  I walked past buildings with bullet holes, war-time graffiti, and broken windows without even stopping.  I was seeing this country but I wasn’t looking.  It wasn’t until I was riding with my friends in a car with a local college student named Irena with her friend Mike that I felt the words from class take shape.

Mike was driving and they seemed to have a connection, maybe friends, maybe more, I couldn’t tell.  We all sang along to a tune on the radio and chatted about how our trip around the world has affected us and what we look forward to when we go home.  I guess I was feeling unreserved at that moment, and I asked her why our professors warned us that we might see ethnic conflict, because I hadn’t seen anything at all.  I might as well have slammed the car’s breaks because the halt in conversation was daunting.  Maybe I shouldn’t have asked. I thought to myself.  She must have seen the redness flow to my cheeks because she said aloud, “it’s O.K.”

            Irena then went on to tell me that she was from Serbia and went through a brief history of the conflict erupting after the break up of the former Yugoslavia, but it wasn’t until the part when she got to her relationship with Croatia that Mike interrupted.  She said in a sly way, “the Croats just will not lay off the Serbs. They try and push us around like they are better than we are.” She smiled and nudged Mike and he laughed out loud.  “What are you talking about?  You know we’re better than you are!”  I laughed nervously, as did my girl friends in the back of the car.  Irena and Mike went back and forth with their playful banter, and soon we all relaxed. 

            It’s funny how young people can make light of a situation that has caused so many people pain and suffering.  But it is also an aspect of life that we cannot live without.  If we were to live in a world laden with negativity and conflict, how would we survive?  How does anyone cope with strife in his or her own life without an element of humor?  Yet, we must not go about life ignorant, naïve, or forgetful of the destruction and evil war yields either.  Instead of looking for answers in order to legitimize (intentionally or not), something as horrific as war, wouldn’t it be better to look to the future with a smile and hope for peace?

Return to course home  Send me your comments: