I recently returned from a trip to Bosnia-Herzegovina where I witnessed the high value placed by Bosnian women on looking beautiful. For over four years during the war, Sarajevo was under siege and basics such as food, water and daily safety were in short supply. Bosnian women, in part, fought back by looking as fashionable as possible. One woman told me, "A Cosmopolitan Magazine was as valuable to us as a next meal". This meant that any bits of cloth were often used to try and create a fashion statement, and Bosnian women would take whatever they could find and try to turn it into something extraordinary.
Today, wandering the streets of Sarajevo, a visitor is passed by elegant woman in the latest fashions resembling Milan. You'd think these women shopped in the new trendy stores of Old Sarajevo, such as Ralph Lauren, but you'd be wrong. Most of them are quite poor, and consider an evening of wandering and window shopping to be the limit. There is very little buying going on--simply put there is no money for anything extravagant. So most evenings end in a smoky cafe discussing how current fashion might be reproduced from already existing clothing. Which raises an interesting question. If you can't buy, why spend so much time in the stores? Because they are, as one woman told me, "A theater of hope. A reminder of what once was and could be again, letting us know what a better life looks like."
Towards the end of the war, a very important moral victory was won by the besieged people of Sarajevo. The international clothing company, United Colors of Benetton, opened a store on a war scarred road within 200 yards of "sniper alley", the deadliest deadly sniper spot in the city. The store was barricaded in sand bags, and a "shopper" would have to risk their life just to make it to the front door. Regardless of the danger, it was a very popular destination, and many Bosnian women sprinted past sniper alley to head directly to see the latest fashion possibilities.
Today there are many shrapnel holes in the sidewalk, a ghastly reminder of hopefully how far the country has come. The poet Mary Oliver wrote, "Imagine grief as the out breath of beauty". When confronted with fear, the Bosnian response is to rise above the forces of destruction and instead embrace that which enhances human splendor. You can see it in the many tiny rose gardens that dot the region, and of course in the individual fashion statements.
Anisa Suceska, program manager in Bosnia for Women for Women International (http://www.womenforwomen.org/), an organization that empowers women in conflict and post-conflict countries, said it well. “We cannot change the facts” she stated. “We can only change our situation.” No matter what your situation, there is always an opening for beauty.
Ask yourself how can I bring beauty forward daily? How can I partner more effectively with my own soul’s call for this essential, life giving quality?