Semester at Sea Fall 2006 Voyage banner


Resilience in the Face of Disaster


By Esther Cha

It’s been less than 50 years since the war. It was a devastating catastrophe and the city of Dubrovnik was scarred forever. But it’s hard to imagine such a time and place in the city that I visited. In “Fear, Death, and Resistance: Poetics of Resistance” the authors make you think about the “complexity of the devastation of war” and how it encompasses the things around it. Although this war is still fresh in the psyche and morale of the people, the post-war reconstruction had effectively covered up the wounds of battle and transformed this town into a new “vernacular”-- one where tourism pervades it.

At first the off-season tourist town of Dubrovnik, Croatia seemed to hold little promise. Most stores were closed and the usual buzz of life was barely discernable. It seemed as if the local residents had gone into hibernation as the last of the tourists made their retreat back into real life.

The walk into old town from the ship showed fleeing glimpses of the few people who were going about their day. Otherwise the streets and what local establishments were open were deserted. This perceived void of people, however, lent to the quaintness and subtle beauty of the city. The well-cobbled streets winded between countless stone buildings that became more and more individual with each passing. I decided to walk the wall and was thus split from my group as none of them wished to fork over the 20 Kuna that was required as the student entrance fee. I met yet another student that I had never seen on board the ship in the past two and a half months at sea and after making proper introductions we proceeded to walk the wall together. From above the city we saw and heard activity; it turned out that SAS had taken over the city and large groups of SASers were roaming the winding streets of Dubrovnik like packs of hoodlum children well versed in the secrets of this quaint city. Breathtaking views of the smooth tofu-like sea completed the peaceful ambiance of the city.

While appreciating both the natural and man-made beauty that day I noticed a Spiderman jelly ball lying in desolation on top an enclosed rooftop. The seemingly out of place jelly ball got me even more curious as to where all the locals could be. I only had to glance off to the side to see it. So often I've been preoccupied in seeing and "experiencing" everything that nothing short of what fits exactly into my imagined experience is accounted for. Luckily Alex was sitting on the wall forcing me to slow down, stop and smell the grapes. I'm sure there were roses in this country but what fragranced the air on top of that wall of Dubrovnik were the grape vines. Led by my nose, my eyes were drawn to the grape vines that formed a canopy above entrance to a home. Kids! Studying kids! I jumped off the wall and walked on over to these little kids collaboratively working in their workbooks. None of us could speak each other's language but smiling and laughing though perpetual pictionary, we ended up eating the grapes that hung above and around us before they ran off for an impromptu game of hide-and-go-seek. Deciding that miming was a lost art I rejoined Alex on the wall when we first saw people jumping off the rocks into the ocean...

That is a whole another story for another time (or you can just watch it on video as I'm sure numerous people captured that horrendously long embarrassing hour on tape) but to smoothly round this one out I realized that there's always so much life going on all around that if I would just be open to them I'll be privy to experiences that otherwise would've been overlooked.

From the taxi driver Sev, whom I saw every night, the restauranteurs that I enjoyed long meals with, to Petra, the dog who followed us out into the Adriatic Sea-- Croatia was awesome. We've been all around the world and it's always been the people (and animals) of each place that make it special.

Return to course home page