Tellus: (tel’us), n. 1. [Latin] earth, soil, and the land; a country; the world. 2. a collection of Willamette University student’s insights, stories, photos and thoughts from their experiences studying abroad.

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Just Passing Through

I wonder how they choose where to build monuments, or when to clear forests? It’s as if we believe we are gods, born to carve out the earth, here to shape and reshape the world around us. 


Walls. Forts. Gates.

Through Pile Gate I enter Dubrovnik. As old stone walls guard the heart of the city, it is as if all the charm and culture from the past has been kept here in soft captivity. I walk along the Stradun, and as I glance to my right, I notice ascending stairs every twenty feet or so. As the top of each staircase nears the ancient walls, the walls pour out their memories and whispers and the past streams freely down to touch the city’s core. It all collects near the steps of St. Blaise, where the city’s rich past lingers and permeates the atmosphere. I could live here; this city is beautiful.

Stones. Bridges. Mosques.

As the modern cement turns to cobblestone, I greet Mostar. Known as the Orient of the West, this city is colored by the eastern influence and its legacy within the Ottoman Empire. I pass a hammam, markets gleaming with silk and gemstones, and Turkish monuments. This culture is new to me. My eyes and my mind strive to reconcile the visions of bazaars and minarets before me with stories I have heard and pictures I have seen. Though I peruse a mental catalog of images, nothing matches the stunning arch of the bridge or the scent of cevepcici that wafts through the air. I might stay here; I want to linger in discovery.

Again, I wonder how they choose where to build monuments, or when to clear forests? It’s as if we believe we are gods, born to carve out the earth, here to shape and reshape the world around us. Only now there are too many of us. We are running out of mountains to blast, and we have turned our gaze from to the earth to people. Now we grab fiercely to the hearts of those around us. We hold them close as we gently chip away at the cage surrounding the beat, until we can steal the very core with a soft tug and then marvel at our fine work and craftsmanship.

Just as the monuments of Dubrovnik and Mostar were crafted and then altered, so too were their inhabitants. As recent war scarred cherished cultural monuments of the cities, conflict also marked each citizen, meticulously engraving caution, fear, and understanding on the people. A missile did not merely target the flag raised above Fort Imperial, it also penetrated the lives of sailors, officers, and citizens who died defending the city. Those who did not perish fled, those who did not flee hungered, and those who hungered wondered: when will shelves once again bear food? As the souls of city and citizen intertwined, identities were given new lines and redefined.

Someone once made a path about my center, the way people tear at the earth to make green spaces in the hearts of cities. With a crooked smile as a spade and piercing eyes as shovels, my heart slid through the cracks created. As it hit the air, I saw it break into 47,493 pieces. I counted every. last. one. of. them. I wanted to find them…

As the war has passed, fragments and shards have been collected to rebuilt to cities. In Mostar, the same stone amassed for the original bridge hundreds of years ago once again made the journey to reassemble of the arch. Likewise, the people themselves have began to reconstruct. Inhabitants are still collecting their parings and pieces. They dust off the memories of laughter until they are once again visible, they place the horrors of loss on a bookshelf to serve as reference. They are retracing the lines and contours of daily life, again and again, until they have memorized a path well enough to make things seem as if they had never been broken. Yet, although time has allowed the marks seared onto people to burrow beneath their skin, traces can still be found flowing in their veins. New fragments align with the old, once again carving the human landscape.


These are not my monuments; I bear neither the burden nor the beauty of these foreign cultures. I am simply passing through.

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