Monthly Archives: September 2014

How Big is Your Trowel (Part III)


There are some places where you would think that until we arrived, the locals had never seen a woman hold a shovel. This could be reasonably inferred from the reactions of said locals upon seeing a woman hold a shovel.

But I’m here to tell you that this is a lie.

I have seen a Croatian woman hold a shovel, and she is a force to be reckoned with.

Gospođa Fruk is the owner and landlady of Fruk, a self-catered accommodation of sorts, frequented by our team of archaeologists, and, as far as I know, anyone else who might be hopelessly lost in rural Eastern Croatia. Located on one of the two main roads in Vrbanja, Fruk welcomes its visitors with a warm peach-colored exterior and flower garden with enough gnomes to take on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in a death match.

A stout older woman with short white shiny hair, Gospođa Fruk is the embodiment of the dictionary definition for “matriarch.” She is a shrewd businesswoman and attentive mother, grandmother, and wife. One day I asked her if she ever sleeps. Of course, she said. What a strange question. I don’t think it’s a strange question at all, and frankly, I don’t believe her.

Normal literary custom suggests that it is conventional to say that one rises when the rooster crows. I haven’t been on many farms, but every rooster that I’ve encountered in Croatia appears to suffer from chronic insomnia. One time Andreja even showed me a rooster that crowed all night long while wandering in front of traffic. To say that Gospođa Fruk woke with the roosters would be inaccurate because the roosters just seem to stay awake forever making as much noise as possible until they die of exhaustion. I’m sure the roosters are certainly a contributing factor, but more than likely it’s her military-grade worth ethic that compels her to be awake at dawn, known in America as “that-small-period-of-time-during-which-it’s-socially-acceptable-to-eat-at-a-Denny’s.”

It is quite possible that Gospođa Fruk is not a human, but rather some sort of bionic woman crafted from high-efficiency biomechanics, computers, and synthetic skin in a top-secret research laboratory with a grant to design a superhuman.

During my time at Fruk this summer, every morning after hitting the snooze button on my alarm fifty-three times, the fifty-fourth sound I would hear was always Gospođa Fruk sweeping the floor, her long calico dress swishing along with the motion of the broom. After that, she would feed the geese, water the plants, wash the laundry, hang the laundry, change the beds, work in the office, and on occasion when we’d return, we’d find her planting new flowers in places we didn’t even realize could accommodate more flowers. I don’t know about you, but if I water a plant, that’s enough chores for a week.

And these are just the things that we saw her do outside. I’m not sure what she was doing inside, but I’m sure she wasn’t lounging on the couch reading O Magazine.

You will not be surprised then to know that Gospođa Fruk, despite being a woman, is well practiced in the handling of shovels. She is so well practiced, in fact, that she wields it like a wizard and wields a wand, making others gasp in awe at the versatility of such a seemingly simple tool.

To be fair, I was not present when the following events took place. That said, the story has been told to me so many dozens of times, that I am comfortable enough to retell it.

One thing that a respectable landlady and businesswoman will not have in her guest rooms is a snake. This is wonderful for anyone who, again, happens to get hopelessly lost in rural Croatia because there are a lot of them and they’re huge. The last thing most normal people with well-functioning brains would want is to wake up next to a snake the length of your entire arm span. This season, the snakes had been doing particularly well because of the floods, so there were even more of them than usual. Wonderful if you’re a snake, not so great if you’re an archaeologist whose trench walls keep falling down because they’ve been undermined by snake holes. Is it just me or is the wall hissing again? This ain’t no Chamber of Secrets, Beady Eyes. Move on out.

As long as you aren’t the Crocodile Hunter, and you aren’t because he’s dead, chasing snakes out of the trench all day only to come home and find one in your reptile-free-sanctuary would be at least a little bit annoying.

Skippy, the site director’s dog, felt the same way. After a busy day of eating mice and frogs in the hot sun, Skippy was in no mood to be dealing with intruders and made her feelings known to Lisa, Andreja, and Gospođa Fruk. Gospođa Fruk’s husband emerged from inside to see what sort of problems the archaeologists and their reprobate dog were causing this time (the previous commotion had been caused by Skippy killing one of their chickens, so his concern was not unfounded).

Gospođa Fruk bent down and looked under the bed in the outdoor room. She stood up, nodded, and said something to her husband in Croatian, who returned with a pitchfork. Gospođa Fruk looked at the pitchfork and then looked at her husband with an expression that clearly said, “The hell do you expect me to do with this?” Shaking her head, she walked past her husband, into the tool shed, and returned with a shovel. Using the shovel, she then pulled the snake out from under the bed, decapitated it, then calmly picked up both pieces and put them in the trash bin.

And that’s the story of the time the Gospođa Fruk killed the snake under the bed.


How Big is Your Trowel (Part II)


Last night Amy Poehler came to me in a dream.

She appeared as I was running through the streets of Clintonville, Ohio to meet my new stepdad who would only talk to me if I was bound securely in aluminum foil and plastic cling-wrap and wearing a pink tutu and little baby shoes on my fingers, but she appeared to me, nonetheless.

You might be thinking, “That’s ridiculous. Mrs. Clark would never get married again,” and that’s correct.

As any respectable feminist knows, a Poehler dream is a blessed event, one in which the Great Amy Almighty graces the sleeper with her presence to bestow unto the dreamer her wisdom, comedic essence, and female empowerment.

I have therefore awoken slightly less disheartened, albeit a little tired from running with that giant box of foil and cling-wrap.

Through her divine visitation, I believe that the Holy Mother of Comedy guided me toward the realization that there is another reason I prefer that my mentors are female.

I want someone I can look up to.

Some might be wondering why a grown-ass adult woman needs a role model. After all, role models are those people you write about in middle school. I always wrote about the women on the show Animal Precinct because they were lady cops who saved animals, and that was super cool. In sixth grade, I would only wear blue hair scrunchies because that’s what Special Agent Lucas wore. I also wore an oversized cat sweatshirt from the ASPCA website and haven’t eaten a chicken nugget in eleven years.

But why does an adult need a role model? Is it because we millennials are stuck in some sort of prolonged period of infancy exacerbated by parental coddling, unrealistically high student loan debt, and economic recession, but really due mainly to our own laziness and ineptitude, as many of our older critics argue?

Contrary to the beliefs of Confrontational Baby Boomers (see God-Vaginas), we millennials are not looking for new mommies and daddies the second we leave the nest. In fact, at this point in our lives, many of us are actually quite capable of handling ourselves both emotionally and practically. I, for one, could balance a checkbook and operate a washer and dryer before I could menstruate. And no, puberty was not late. I hit it on time, thank you very much.

But if we can survive on our own, why do we need role models? And why do women in particular need role models?

Now, I’m not a psychologist, but I’ve been to plenty, and I feel like I can almost work this one out.

I think adult women need role models because we’re looking for reassurance. Obviously in academia it’s a good idea to have a mentor for practical advice so you don’t admit to being an avid collector of fingernail clippings on your CV. But it is just as important that mentors know we need them for reassurance and solidarity.

By the time we’re in graduate school, women are already tired. At least I am. We’ve clawed our way to the top since that practice SAT test you started taking in seventh grade. In grade school, we competed against each other to get the highest test scores. In high school, we competed against each other to get into college. We competed against each other in college, and then again to get into graduate school. Soon we’ll be competing against each other for jobs because, as we’re told, the job market is “highly competitive.”

Instead of always competing against each other, why don’t we start helping each other? We won’t be able to fix everything, but we can begin by being each other’s role models and supporting our colleagues as they become the Amy Poehlers of academia.

How Big is Your Trowel? (Part I)


Despite the growing number of women in archaeology, anthropology is still very much a boy’s club. I had been warned of this throughout my undergraduate career, but I only realized the magnitude of this problem recently whilst searching for potential Ph.D advisors.

If you’ve ever attended The Ohio State University, you’ve probably been brainwashed into thinking that no faculty advisor in the country will want you, and you’ll be lucky to get into any graduate program at all, much less into a highly competitive yet slowly dying discipline clinging to life amongst crippling economic depression and administrative corruption.

This is fair. Many undergraduates admitted to OSU shouldn’t have even passed their fourth grade proficiency tests. That they survived to eighteen is a miracle because they probably can’t even read the illustrated warning labels on hair dryers.

If you emerged from your undergraduate career shaken and dependent on anti-depressants, but still wanting to pursue a graduate degree in anthropology, you are then faced with the task of finding a program and advisor, bearing in mind, of course, that no advisor wants you.

The good news is, that if all of the faculty dislike you equally, you are free to make choices based on your own personal preferences. This is how I am approaching the problem of finding a Ph.D advisor. I will have you know that it is not working at all because what I am looking for in an advisor is far too uncommon.

I am looking for someone with a research background in dental anthropology.

I am looking for someone who works at a university in the United States.

I am looking for a female.

Guess which one of these criteria is too much to ask?

If you guessed female faculty advisor, you’re correct! Congratulations! You win a spray bottle of vinegar and a cloth. Go give that glass ceiling a good cleaning, eh?

Now, some of you might be asking, “Why do you need a female advisor?” The sex of your dissertation advisor shouldn’t be that big of an issue. Maybe for most people it isn’t. Maybe I’m the only woman in the whole world who prefers to have female mentors, but I think that’s unlikely.

I need a female advisor because I don’t want to spend the next million years acting. I’ve never written a dissertation, but I’ve been told a million years is about how long it takes to finish one. As I’m not a sociopath, I don’t want to have to pretend to be smarter than I really am, or wittier, or more capable, or more masculine than I really am. If I wanted to be an actress, I would have studied theatre.

In looking for potential advisors, I have spent hours pouring over university webpages. On every single website, without exception, nearly all of the full professors are male, and all of the assistant professors are female. Every. Single. Website. That means that for those universities, males are receiving tenure at rates that far outpace women. So even though the number of females in anthropology is approximately equal at the undergraduate level, this ratio is grossly disproportionate in higher levels of academia.

This is the glass ceiling, ladies, and it’s fucking bulletproof.

God-Vaginas (Part II)


One of the most horrifying moments of my undergraduate career took place in the North Market parking lot in downtown Columbus. Fortunately, all of the people involved (except for the questionably homeless guy) are some of my best friends and, even though they are academics, have never judged me for my faith, and have never done anything to make me feel ashamed. Otherwise I might have pooped myself.

“Do you believe in Jesus Christ?” asked the Questionably Homeless Guy.

Oh, fuck. I had always been told that under no circumstances are you to deny Jesus.

Even if someone has a gun to your head?

Even if someone has a gun to your head. You’ll just go to Heaven faster.

I looked to Best Friends. They were absorbed in conversation and Polish mashed potatoes.

“I do,” I answered.

“Do you believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father?”

Best Friends looked up from their mashed potatoes.

“I do,” I answered quietly. I could feel my face turning all kinds of red.

“Do you believe that He came down from Heaven by the power of the Holy Spirit, was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man?”

“I do.” How much blood can flow into your face before it explodes? Best Friends were going to think I was so dumb. Virgins can’t get pregnant. That’s like Sex Ed 101. You have to have sex to get pregnant.

“Do you have any spare change?”


First, you can see that if this was one of my most embarrassing moments, obviously I didn’t get out much. Second, as humiliating as that experience was, I’m grateful that I don’t have to experience more alienation on a regular basis. I could be Jewish or a Muslim and be ironically patronized in a superficially friendly academic environment. I could be anything other than white and never be taken seriously in academia. Or I could be a female…

Oh, wait.

But aside from that fact, I am genuinely grateful that I’m as privileged as I am.

Even academia, the safe haven of reason, is not free from people who want to poke around in your god-vagina. For academics who are supposed to take a relativistic approach to their studies, anthropologists seem to forget that they are allowed to treat the religious practices of their colleagues with the same relativistic respect that they normally reserve for their subjects. There isn’t a ban on appreciating Western religion for its cultural value, and there isn’t a ban on believing in a god or gods just because you’re an intellectual. And quite honestly, you’re doing a disservice to the rest of the world by patronizing them for engaging in cultural practices that don’t appear to have a direct scientific outcome.

Now, to be frank, I’ve always had some self-esteem issues to begin with. Working in an environment where colleagues are, on a fairly regular basis, dismissing Western religions and mocking faith exacerbated this for a while.

What if I can’t be a real scientist because I believe in God?

What if they have x-ray brain vision and can read my thoughts and know that I believe in God and think I’m stupid?

What if this skull in my hands comes back to life and yells, “Stop touching me! I want a REAL anthropologist!”

Actually, that part would be pretty great because it would need its mandible to talk, and I can’t figure out how to put it back together, so if it could reassemble itself, that’d be super helpful.

Lately though, like God and your genitals, I’ve decided that I don’t give two shits. This sounds like a decision you’d come to over a long period of time whilst preparing for a religious sacrament or diving into a self-help book, but I actually decided on my level of shit-giving in the span of about twenty minutes in a run-down church in Zagreb.

Located in the heart of what must be the world’s biggest farmer’s market, Dolac, the Church of St. Mary was built in the sixteenth century and quite possibly has not undergone any renovations since that time. It’s easy to imagine that its bile-yellow exterior must have at one time looked more like sunlight than dog vomit as the church of the Blessed Virgin looked down at Her patrons in the marketplace. The bell tower is typically Eastern European, with gilded markings against a dull green bubble and a gilded cross at the top struggling in vain to stand out against the back drop of the unending construction project that is St. Stephen’s Cathedral. A worn statue of the Blessed Virgin guards the entrance, shedding flecks of paint faster than you can say, “lead poisoning.”

Hesitantly, I walked into the church, dipping my hand into the basin of Holy Water and collecting instead a finger-full of slime. Reluctantly, I blessed myself, making a mental note to sanitize my hands and forehead upon leaving.

Inside, the church was silent, but not empty. I made my way to the last row of pews, genuflected, blessed myself again, and sat. Behind me, a line of women stood waiting for their turn in the confessionals. In the row across from me, I saw a nun on her knees whispering the Rosary.

The windows were narrow, and the room was dim, lit only by some battery-operated plastic candles. The walls were little more than solid gray stone decorated with the Stations of the Cross and cobwebs. Outside it was ninety-degrees, but inside it was cold and damp, and it smelled like a wet basement and mold.

I looked at the alter lined with plastic flowers.

I should pray. That’s what churches are for.

When’s the last time you prayed in church?

Um. February? I think I went to part of an Ash Wednesday service…in 2013.

That’s a long time.

Church is depressing. I prefer to pray in the shower where no one can see. One time in the shower, I told God that if we got a snow day, I’d fold all my underwear for a year instead of shoving it in a drawer, and it worked.

I started by saying the Hail Mary. That’s a good starting prayer. It’s also how Catholics call God. It’s like dialing the operator, and she’ll put you through to Him. I don’t know why, in 2014, God still relies solely on a landline, but He does.

I apologized for the normal Catholic stuff- not praying more, not going to Confession since 2006, and in general, existing.

I thanked Him for the opportunity to travel and study, and that I hadn’t yet died in a plane crash.

In 2004, when I was beginning preparations to make my Confirmation, the nun in charge of the whole shebang asked if I ever prayed to my dad. No, I answered. What’s the point?

There might be a point, but like most people, I try to avoid things that make me feel like Jack the Ripper is slicing through my heart with a hunting knife. So I rely on Holy middlemen to do my bidding.

Please tell Daddy that I miss him, and love him, and thank him for the scholarship, but we could have found another way. He didn’t have to go. We could have found another way.

Tell him I do archaeology now. He would like that. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.


God-Vaginas (Part I)


Having a religion in the U.S. is a lot like having a vagina in that it’s everybody else’s business, and there’s always someone out there trying to change it. Personally, I don’t understand this preoccupation with religion. Much like a vagina, as long as you’re not flapping it around in my face and not using it to kill people, I don’t care what you do with it. Some people, however, make it their personal business to poke around in other people’s god-vaginas.

Jehovah’s Witnesses are a prime example of this phenomenon. I suppose I should say Confrontational Jehovah’s Witnesses because it’s unfair to generalize too much.

Growing up, you could always tell when the Confrontational Jehovah’s Witnesses (hereafter referred to as CJW’s) were in the neighborhood. A line of cars would appear in the cul-de-sac, noiselessly, as if placed there by the hand of God Himself. A procession of women in linen dresses would then make their way from house to house asking occupants if they’ve heard about the Word of God. How they think you could live in the Midwestern United States and not have at least a vague idea of what Christianity is, I’m not sure.

Coming from a fairly small blue-collared town, not a whole lot else of significant entertainment value went on, and as children, we found watching the CJW’s and the ensuing panic amongst the neighborhood adults almost as good as Saturday morning cartoons.

Sometimes my mom would get a warning call from one of the other neighbors, an unfortunate soul who had opened the door and now wanted to protect others from falling to a similar fate.

Sometimes we would see them first.

“Mommy! The Jehovah’s Witnesses are coming!” We would yell. We knew the drill. It was the same drill we had carefully perfected for Christmas carolers. Don’t talk. Turn off all the lights. Hide in the basement.

CJW’s are not alone in their quest to systematically destroy the Amazon by distributing literature in attempts to convert their victims.

Which brings me to the topic of Confrontational Protestants.

Now I know I said that it’s unfair to generalize, but I admit that I tend to lump most Protestants into one category. I understand that there are a gazillion different types of Protestant- Methodists, Lutherans, born again Christians, and whatever that English one is, for example. But I don’t know them all because frankly, I don’t care, and God probably doesn’t give two shits either.

Confrontational Protestants (hereafter referred to as CP’s) seem to be in the business of condemning people to Hell, also while systematically destroying the rainforest like their CJW brethren. If you’re looking to have an identity crisis, seek out a CP. They’re fond of saying things like, “You’re a really great person, and I accept you for who you are. But by the way, you’re going to Hell because you haven’t accepted Jesus into your heart, and all your dead family’s in Hell.”

They seem to be stuck on this idea that Catholics don’t know who Jesus is.

Sometimes you might get really lucky and find a CP who doesn’t want anything to do with you, and that’s great. For example, a CP might have a child in school with you, and you aren’t allowed to play with that kid anymore because you’re a Catholic and your eternal sin might ooze out your nose and get all over his Pokémon cards. At first this might seem like a bad thing, but this is a good way to limit the number of head cases you have to deal with when you reach adulthood.

Catholics of course, are not without blame, and they too come in the confrontational variety. As a confirmed Catholic, I can only speak to the internally directed confrontation, but I’m sure Confrontational Catholics (hereafter referred to as CC’s) are just as bad as their non-Catholic counterparts. Divorced? Not okay. I’m not sure what happens to you, but it’s probably bad. Gay? Not okay. Birth control? Nope. Pregnant and unmarried? Don’t bother coming back to church until you’ve had the baby. And by the way, you’re going to Hell. Can’t get your kids to Sunday Mass because you’re visually impaired and can’t drive? Maybe God will forgive you, but it’s unlikely.

Why would someone join one of these Hell-condemning cults where people force you to undergo procedures where bits of Jesus are inserted into your right ventricle, you might be asking. First of all, not everyone who identifies with a religious affiliation is a confrontational self-absorbed Hell-condemning maniac who thinks that “eternal sin” can be spread like the flu. Second, it’s none of your business.

But my religious affiliation, like all of my reproductive organs, seems to be everyone else’s business anyway.

I don’t think religion and faith have to be the same thing. For me, religion is part of my cultural heritage. Sometimes I go to Mass, I take Communion, and in the winter I get ashes smeared all over my forehead. I never drink the wine though because that seems to be the number one way to spread SARS.

I am 100% confident that God gives zero shits about whether or not I do these things. I am also 100% confident that God doesn’t give a fuck what you do with your genitals. Penis and vagina? Fine. Penis and penis? Cool bro. Vagina and vagina? Right on. I’m sure he also doesn’t care about which type of birth control you’re allowed to use. Don’t want a baby right now? Fine. He has other stuff to concern Himself with, like Ebola and the international one-man shit-show that is Vladimir Putin.

Talking to God in the Shower


I can’t be rude on purpose.

This is a problem.

You see, it’s not that I’m stupid or naive. In fact, I like to think I’m quite the opposite. I often think the absolute worst about everyone until I have reason to believe otherwise. People can be bad, and I do not warm to them easily. In the words of my role model Agent Mulder, and those of my lesser-known role model Catherine Clark, “trust no one.”

I do not trust anyone.

I’m just not good at showing it.

Take, for example, a recent encounter with a panhandler.

“Excuse me there for a second, love,” said the woman as she approached me. “Could I bother you for a pound? Listen, my car broke down and I need to get the bus. I’m pregnant, and it’s too far for me to walk.”

I quietly responded that I didn’t have any money, as I had only just moved here and used everything I had (which was sort of true). I popped my headphones back in before I could hear her response.

My mental response, however, was quite different. It went something like this.

Oh no. If you’re going to interrupt my playlist, you better be dying. Just because I’m the only white person with all her anterior teeth within the city limits doesn’t mean I’m an idiot. That “my car broke down and I’m pregnant-“ heard that one before; we have that in the US too, you know. And by the way, you are NOT pregnant. That ship has long sailed, lady.  Oh, and pregnant women can walk. You are an embarrassment. 

This thought process is not congruent with the reaction.

This is not dissimilar to a recent encounter with a panhandler in Zagreb.

Nor to the other gazillion panhandlers in Zagreb.

Nor in Columbus.

Although there was panhandler in Columbus that I managed to scare off. He asked if I had any spare change. I said no, but I had some chocolate vaginas and would he like one. He didn’t ask me for money anymore after that.

Anyway, I do not trust people. I assume that when panhandlers ask me for money, they will use it for drugs. When I pass youths on the street, I assume they’re going to mug me.

So you see, the issue is not that I am too trusting. It’s that I’m too polite.

I’m working on trying to rectify this. Really. Sometimes now before I go out I listen to Eminem. Then I practice frowning and puffing out my chest to make myself look bigger and less pleasant. If I had a tail, I’d try puffing that out too.

I find it particularly difficult to be rude when I’m traveling. After all, it’s not my country. Who am I to be rude to the locals?

Before going to dig in Croatia, I stopped in Sarajevo for a few days. I had heard that it was a unique mix of cultures, a meeting point for Eastern and Western Europe.

And it was. Within the same city block there was an Orthodox church, a Catholic church, a Synagogue, and a Mosque.

I had never seen a mosque before. Growing up, everyone was Catholic or Protestant, descendants of either Irish or German or both, and if you were Catholic you were going to Hell said the Protestants. Did you know your dad’s in Hell? Yes, you’ve told me that a thousand times I think.

I stood at the gate of the mosque in the old city center. I couldn’t enter, said the sign on the gate. My legs were showing, sticking out of a skirt that was too long, and my arms and shoulders were exposed in a tank top. My frizzy hair was poking out of a bun in every which way.

I was indecent.

Allah doesn’t like it when your hair’s not covered.

Jesus doesn’t like it when you wear hats in church. Face forward, you aren’t to look behind you. Don’t look at the clock during Mass. Fold your hands like this, now like this. Kneel down. Stand up. Stop hitting your brother. I’m telling Sister Jane. Don’t say His Name.

Jesus Christ.

I peered through the gate and watched all the men, women, and children gather for prayer in a Holy place where I was not welcome.

Nothing new.

“Hello,” came a voice from behind me. I turned around and saw a young man about my age, perhaps a year or two older.


What are you doing?

Just watching.

Are we different?

Not much, no.

Where are you from?


Are you afraid of Muslims?


We are a kind and peaceful people.


Are you traveling alone?


That must be lonely.

It’s not.

Are you busy tonight?


Do you want to meet in the city center? We can go for ice cream.


I thought you said you were not afraid.

I’m not.

Then meet me for ice cream.

Why don’t we just go now?

It’s Ramadan. I’m fasting. I’m a good Muslim.


I knew there wouldn’t be ice cream. I’m not stupid. Why did I meet him? To show him that not all Americans were bigots? That we’re not all afraid of Muslims? To apologize?

For what?

For being American and existing, duh.

We met on a park bench. It was dark. I could hear the tinkling of the little bells in the memorial for all the children who died in the war.

Should we go for ice cream now?

No, let’s stay here.

I think we should go for ice cream. It’s dark here.

Kiss me.

No thank you.

Come on.

No thanks.

Why not? Won’t you kiss a Muslim?

I don’t want to kiss anyone.

Kiss me.

No thank you.

I inched away on the bench. He inched closer.

Please kiss me?

I don’t know you.

He took my face in both his hands and kissed me. I tried to turn away. He had strong hands. His tongue was hot and wet in my mouth. I gagged.

Kiss me back.

No thank you.

Kiss me back.


Come, let’s go to my place. You can meet my mother. Maybe if she likes, we can get married, and I can move to America.

I think I should go. Bye.

Are you sure?


Can I call you?

I don’t have a phone.

Back at the hostel, I took a shower with the water on all the way hot.

The Floods (Part III)


As I said before, in Bosnia you do not need a prescription to access birth control, and as an American, it had never even occurred to me that this was a possibility. I would sooner have believed that the moon landing took place on my left ovary than I would have believed that some women can access birth control without first experiencing the emotional trauma of a pap smear.

It is not uncommon then, for women to come from other countries to Bosnia to stock up on the anti-procreation pill. When we went to Bosnia this year, I did not know that we were going as progesterone-pirates. Otherwise I would have gone prepared with something to trade– money, clothes, or a kidney, for example. Next year when I go to Croatia, I’ll be taking a Bosnian detour faster than a rich old white guy can say “DEFUND PLANNED PARENTHOOD.”

There are two main roads to take to get into Bosnia from Vrbanja, the shorter of which runs through Gunja, a village on the banks of the River Sava. Geographically lower than many of the surrounding areas, Gunja had been one of the villages most severely affected by the flooding in May.

After talking briefly with herself, my progersterone-partner-in-crime decided that it was best to take the road that ran through Gunja. We were leaving the next morning, and still had some business to take care of in Vrbanja, so we were on a tight schedule.

The distance between Vrbanja and Gunja is only about thirty kilometers, but as we neared Gunja, it began to feel like a different place and time altogether.

“Well I can already tell this was a bad idea,” said my co-conspirator as she lit a cigarette. To my right I could see the River Sava, perfectly still in the setting sun.

On either side of the road lay bags of sand and signs that had only months before been roadblocks. Guardrails lay in twisted piles of metal. Beyond the road was acre upon acre of rotting crops, toppled over on themselves in black and brown heaps. In the distance, pillars of smoke told of farmers burning the debris that was their livelihood.

In the village, homes stood like empty shells. Broken windows and missing doors revealed houses with only walls and roofs. Inside there was nothing. There was no furniture. There were no toys. There were no pictures hanging on walls or carpets on floors or flowers in gardens. There was no laundry on lines. There were no children in yards or men in pubs. There were only signs on houses forbidding entry, and piles of rubble that might have been homes.

More than anything, there was nothing, like life itself had been turned off.