Leaving

I haven’t started packing yet, so it hasn’t quite hit that we leave tomorrow morning. The last two weeks have flown by, and yet the amount that we have learned about this country and each other feels like it could have only taken place over a full summer.

Here are my feelings I’m able to identify right now, about leaving:

Gratitude, for this opportunity, to learn with a group of incredibly intelligent and compassionate women, including the two that lead us through the whole process, challenging me to learn about myself as well, while providing the support we needed throughout the program.

Humbled, by the generosity, strength and love of each person we were able to speak with. From women that lost their entire families, to men that survived execution sites, to our van drivers that shared their stories with us, to the copper craftsman that drank coffee with us as we sat on the floor of his shop, everyone we met was hospitable and gracious.

In awe, of the power of nature to heal and provide, the beautiful scenery everywhere we looked juxtaposed with crumbled houses leftover as a reminder of a time of utter destruction, now blending peacefully into the greenery and wildflowers.

Confident in my abilities, to learn, to live out of a suitcase in a tiny room with three other women, to process hard experiences with a group, and to recognize and acknowledge my own feelings.

And sad, that this trip is ending. The shared meals, laughs, tears, support, and sweat have created a comaraderie with this group that will stick with us. All the feelings, as Ann would say.

Until next time, BiH.

Bosnia

Contemplating my time in Bosnia is difficult, as it has been filled with so much information and so many different emotions. I think of the quote, “To see it is to understand it”, and while it seeing it has provided me so much insight into the genocide, I don’t think I will truly ever understand how an atrocity of such magnitude was committed. However, seeing the faces and hearing the stories of people who have survived provided me with such a better understanding of resilience in the face of unimaginable violence. However, I’ve also noticed how many similarities the beginning of the Bosnian Genocide has to what is currently happening in American, under the Trump administration. 

Perhaps what is so baffling is the deniers of genocide. I know I’ve mentioned this previously on our blog posts, but it is still shocking to me that people deny a genocide that has been so well documented and has so much physical evidence. 

My favorite part of Bosnia has been the people that we’ve met during our time here. I have met some of the most remarkable, kind people. While we were here, I became sick, and while it was frustrating, I was able to witness how kind and supportive people here are. 

Many of the people we met here were also survivors of genocide and had lost their loved ones to imaginable horrors. Yet they demonstrated resilience and resistance to hate. On multiple occasions we were told by survivors that they do not have ill wishes towards the children of genocide perpetrators, one even stated they would give candy to the children of Serbian Bosnian Army members. 

For me, the largest take away from this trip is how important it is to tell the stories of genocide, and how to honor those who died by making sure that their stories are not forgotten. I believe the retelling of their stories is essential to preventing future genocides.  

War Crimes Court

Attending the war crimes court invoked a mixed emotional response; on one hand, it was encouraging that some of the perpetrators of the genocide have received sentences for their crimes, it is also angering that not all who participated are tried for their participation in the genocide. Also, it is immensely difficult for survivors to testify as witnesses to the crimes of genocide. 

While we were at the war crimes court, we received an overview of the court process and developed an understanding of what a trial for a genocide-related crime looked like. While many things were similar to court systems in the United States. 

The presentation also described how witnessed are treated in the court, and what preparations are essistenal to their wellbeing and safety. Most witnesses are annoynomas and protected.

Our presenter showed us videos of a few people testifying to the crimes of genoicde, and it was incredibly difficult for them. The women who presented stated that she had to call the ambulance on multiple occasions, and mentioned that the stress of testifying had caused one person to go into cardiac arrest. I believe this serves as a testament to how traumatizing the process of testifying against genocide perpetrators is. 

We were made aware of the steps that are used to try to protect witnesses; including having a victims advocates. Victims advocates serve by preparing the victims to testify and advocating for their needs while in court. As a social worker, I took particular notice of the role of a victim advocate, and I personally believe that this role is essistenal to war crime trials. 

Attending the war crimes court and watching the videos of the witnesses who testified solidified how absolutely terrifying it is for survivors of genocide, and how difficult it is to come forward as witnesses and testify against those who perpetrated the genoicde.

Farewell for now…

How do you even begin to say farewell to Sarajavo? For starters I first would like to acknowledge the group of women I have had the privilege of sharing this experience with. Their openness to express themselves and their understanding has helped me to process in my own way. Our learning experiences here will forever be one that only we can understand and cherish forever. I feel so blessed meeting so many women with so much compassion and love in their hearts. I do feel comfort knowing that this is only the beginning of our blossoming friendships. We will always have Sarajevo.

I feel so much privilege when knowing that there are very few people who are allowed many of the experiences that we have been provided with throughout our trip. All thanks to Ann and Sladjana the dynamic duo. Ann with her willingness to utilize her connections to show us true authenticity of the country from stories to the artistic abilities of Bosnians. Sladjana with her bilingual abilities, getting us through each day and every bump in the road with ease. I know so much planning and hard work was put into the organization prior to coming here and adapting to change in our schedules as time went on Im sure was not easy.

I am excited to go home and sleep in my bed as I think about home but I immediately begin to think “well that just happen” in disbelief of everything we experienced in such a small amount of time. I’m stressed about packing and getting back into the US something I have yet to experience as an adult. While thinking about each person that we have met from survivors and political leaders, to taxi drivers who revealed the truths about the denial of the genocide that no one can understand. How am I going to go home and explain this experience accurately and respectfully? Has been the question for days now. I’m sure there is no right answer and as I think about this I am reminded of saying our farewells to Hasan. We had hugs of good bye as I walked away hearing Hassaan say “tell your grandmother I said hello” confirmed that I have made life long connections here in Bosnia. I will never forget this experience and I will never forget the genocide “the truth prevails” as the saying goes here in Bosnia. 

There are no right words

I write this in Sarajavo age 29 and approximately seven generations after the genocide of Dine people along with many other indigenous peoples. I find myself disappointed with my major lack of understanding before coming on this trip. I see myself as an advocate for indigenous people and seek social justice for marginalized groups but yet I have been so oblivious to the genocide that has taken place in my life time. Yet I expect it to be common knowledge that Indigenous peoples exist standing strong with strong ties to the land and to our languages and traditions. It now seems unfair for me to expect that from people coming from all backgrounds to know my history when I literally had no idea where Bosnia was on the map prior to graduate school. Many times, during this experience I have felt the pain of my ancestors and recognize the lingering pain and suffering that many indigenous communities are forced to live with and struggle to understand to this day. It is known that historical trauma exists amongst indigenous people but it is denied continuously or seen as a historical event that took place and we now have to move on. The simple fact that there are no accurate numbers associate to represent the lives lost, pictures or videos to reveal the horrific events makes it easy to dismiss the suffering of indigenous people. Structures have been built and roads have been paved with no awareness or care of the traumatic events. We are now a burden to the systems that have been created through the treaties that are constantly being broken. We have census numbers to identify us as indigenous people similar to the way Jews were numbered during the holocaust. It is a fact that if I choose to have a family with someone who does not identify as Dine my great grandchildren will not be able to attain a Certificate of Indian Blood or CIB as Dine (Navajo). The wounds of my ancestors bleed through the systems of oppression and it’s a continuous fight. The battle to simply exist as indigenous people is one that will be life long and true for my children. 

I find myself shedding tears as I acknowledge and appreciate my new perspectives. I sat here for days trying to find the write words to express the beautiful moments we spent with the survivors. Their dedication to our group specifically has been incredible and the generosity they have provided has made us feel welcome and safe here in Bosnia. They have allowed us into their lives and created an authentic learning experience for our group. It has been a whirl wind of events that we continue to process and comprehend. Talking with the survivors has helped me to understand the tragedies that took place on a deeper level. In the first few days we were able to meet Hasan a survivor of the genocide who stayed with us for what felt like half our time here. When first meeting him, we knew him as the author of his book Surviving Srebrenica. It was unbelievable reflecting back on the content of his book while shaking his hand. When he spoke, you could feel the kindness in his heart and good intentions. I could see the trust and respect that he had for Ann immediately and we soon found this was true for each person we met in Bosnia. Hasan was definitely an unexpected support to each of us gently explaining and mentally preparing us for what would come next. 

I will never forget the survivors that I was privileged enough to meet from Tuzla visiting the International Commissions on Missing Person’s to the Women’s association. Our days felt like one very long emotion fill day but sitting with Saliha, Nora and Mafia mothers and sisters of those killed in the genocide brought me back to the moment. We sat in Saliha’s shade house awaiting our home cooked meal embracing the beauty around us. We ate amazing food prepared just for us and after listened to their stories. They each spoke with so much strength and did not shed a tear, while I sat there holding back my emotions with watering eyes. As I sat there I became overwhelmed processing their stories thinking about my mother, grandmother and great-grandmother and what it means to be a Kinyaa’aani woman. I spoke to Saliha, Nora and Mafia about where I come from and I asked how their belief systems ensured their survival and through this conversation we felt a connection with an over powering amount of emotions that lead to tears from each of us. Later they each looked me in the eye and hugged me with so much love and compassion as my grandmother would. The whole evening is one I will hold dear to my heart and also learned that I need to be more understanding of others.

I come from a collective culture that is influenced by the individualistic westernized culture, which makes it hard to be understanding and compassionate of those who show hate and deny your existence. Especially for those who tell you we are all people, this is true but having respect for where each person comes from is what I feel we lack as a culture in the states. Hearing over and over we are all people and hearing we are not any different is disrespectful to groups who are different. People were forced and are being forced to assimilate in attempts to erase the differences that clearly exist. There is so much separation along with hate and revenge seeking it is overwhelming to think about. It all comes back to the lack of love and respect.

Hvala Sarajevo

Where do I begin… I cannot believe it is our last day. I have many emotions running through me. I’m sad because I have become great friends with so many of the ladies and we have had such a great time together. So many laughs and tears but although our time together in Sarajevo is coming to an end, we now have these great friendships to bring back to the states! On the other hand my body and emotions need a bit of a break to process. Emotionally I’m exhausted from all the ups and downs and just need some time to return to my homeostasis. 

This has been such an amazing experience that I will never forget. It has opened my eyes to so many different perspectives which will definitely have life long effects. I feel as though parts of me have matured in different  ways and really forced me to think about my life and how I got to be here. Every single person I have come into contact with has a story about the war. Each and every person lived through the war. This made me appreciate where I come from and the life that I live so much more. Our country has a lot of its own issues, but how fortunate we are to be able to disagree with our government without being put in jail or spied on by our neighbors. Living in the states has a lot of benefits that many countries don’t have. Which can easily be forgotten.

I am so grateful to have experienced this journey with all of these ladies. We have spoke a lot about how we were basically strangers two weeks ago and how most relationships need time to develop and become unique, we crammed those months or even years into just a few days! Also how we are all apart of this inside joke (that actually isn’t funny) or experience that only we can understand. It is one thing to watch the documentaries and read the books but it’s an entirely different ball game when you see it, hear it and meet survivors yourself. I am sad to leave, I’m sad to say goodbye but I am so grateful for this experience. 

Ps. If you ever have the chance to visit Bosnia, make sure you do it!  

Responsible Tourism

How do we honor and support the people of Bosnia without participating in exploitation and voyeurism? I once went with a team to build houses for homeless families in Mexico. On our way home, we stopped at Disneyland. I remember feeling badly about having fun at such a lavish place after seeing people living in poverty. I feel similarly now as I walk through the touristy marketplace of Sarajevo. Residents of this city are still recovering from the siege, and I am considering which thickness of Turkish towel to buy. This feels incongruous. I wonder how my trip here can be most supportive to the recovery of this place.

I think it is important to support the economy here. The unemployment rate in Bosnia is high, so money from tourism is important. Yet so many who visit here do not know Bosnia’s history. We have encountered visitors who seem more interested in taking from than participating in this culture.

We had the privilege of learning about working with copper from an UNESCO artisan. He took time to speak to us about how he makes his wares. He showed us how to discern the quality of these goods. He served us Bosnian kahva (coffee). Another group of Americans interrupted during his talk. They were pushy about making purchases. They picked the lower end goods from his store. They did not take time to learn about the four generation history of the store and the beauty of what is made in it. 

The conclusion I draw from this experience, and others we had here, is responsible tourism requires learning about the place I am visiting. It is taking the time to understand its history. It is listening to peoples’ stories. The survivors who told us their stories have asked us to share them. I will take this responsibility seriously. Watch out United States. I am coming home, and I have important stories to share!

Thank you Bosnia

The past two weeks have flown by. It seems like just yesterday that I was frantically running errands and spending hours upon hours preparing for my trip abroad. Now I sit here and write my last blog post, sipping my last cup of Bosnian coffee and taking in that last breath of beauty in this magical place. Bosnia truly has become my home away from home. Not only did I learn more within the last two weeks than I could have ever imagined, but I also grew as an individual and have learned a lot about myself. 

I honestly feel quite bitter sweet about leaving. Part of me is sad to leave a place that has quickly become so special to me. Whereas the other part of me is happy to return home and bring back all that I have learned and experienced. However, that too frightens me. In America we live such a different lifestyle: one that many are fortunate enough to live as a privileged life. With that, I ask myself how can I make people see the truth behind Bosnia? How can I truly share with them the unbelievable stories of torture and pain the Bosnian people have gone through? How can I make a positive impact on the Bosnian people from afar?

As I continue to reflect on my time here in Bosnia, I reminisce over the incredible people I will forever be grateful for. The Bosnian men and women touched my life in a way that I cannot even put into words. Their gratitude and utmost love for all beings is more and more admirable as the days go on. I am also thankful to have experienced Bosnia with an incredible professor who has inspired me in many ways. I admire Ann and the love and devotion she has for the Bosnian people and culture. She is an incredible woman whom I am honored to know. Sladjana has also been another blessing in my life. Her loyal friendship was apparent from the first time I met her and her passion for others lights up a room. Both Ann and Sladjana are respectable women whom I look up to and aspire to be. I am also grateful for my peers and the many friendships I have gained as a result of this experience. With many of us now having matching tattoos, and with the close memories we share with one another, we will always have a special bond. 

In all, I leave you with this. Never forget Srebrenica. Never forget the genocide. Istina pobjeduje. The truth prevails. 

Thank you Sarajevo for opening up your hearts and opening up your world. 

Hike to Lukomir
Sarajevo Olympic Bobsleigh and Luge Track

The Journey Continues

I continue to be amazed by this new world around me. The streets themselves have so much to tell as they yearn for people to understand what they have been through. What surprises me the most is how the Bosnian people open their arms so willingly to others. They truly thrive off of the company of others and sharing who they are and the accomplishments they have had in life. I will be walking down the streets of Sarajevo and feel an immediate sense of belonging. I feel safe and secure, even more so than I have felt in my own neighborhood. As a person who strongly values connection with others and enjoys social interactions, I feel that I have had the opportunity to truly bond with many Bosnian men and women throughout this experience. The conversations I have had even within a five-minute time frame have opened my eyes to a world of love and acceptance that I have not had before. 

I walk into a coffee shop and I am asked where I am from, but not in a condescending way but in a way of curiosity and excitement. Then I find myself in a conversation about what America is like and the wonderful things the Bosnian people have heard about it. This in itself shocks me. Although I am proud to be an American and I am proud of where I come from, I am also very disappointed in many aspects that now shape American culture. When that pops into my mind I then remember what the Bosnian people have gone through and the despair they continue to face 25 years later. In their eyes, they must see other countries as being stronger and more stable. 

As I said before, the positive nature and the unbelievable grace the Bosnian people possess is truly inspirational. They have every right to live in anger and hurt, but they do everything they can to live in happiness and prosperity. As I continue my journey here in Bosnia and then return home, I will make a conscious effort to truly experience life through positivity and love. I will work to not take things for granted and be grateful for all that I have. 

Thank you Bosnia.  

Love Locks on Bridge in Sarajevo

Strength and Solidarity

The past three days have been a whirlwind to say the least. From driving to Tuzla and visiting the International Commission on Missing Persons and the Women’s Association, to spending the night in Srebrenica, then spending the day at the Genocide Memorial Center and eating dinner with some Bosnian officials, and lastly, attending the International Conference in Sarajevo: Stop Holocaust & Genocide Denial

It truly baffles me how resilient the people of Bosnia are. I have never met such inspiring men and women. My most memorable moment from this trip thus far is when we met Saliha, Nora, Mafia. The second I met these three incredible women, I instantly felt connected to who they are, what they have gone through and the strong, independent women they have become. I did not ever think my heart could feel so empty yet so full at the same time. These women have gone through more tragedy in their lifetime than anyone could ever imagine, but they are the most humble, genuine people. 

Although the past three days have been long, draining and very emotional, they really put things into perspective for me. I have had much time to reflect on what I have learned and the things I have seen. As I reflect, I realize that I am overwhelmed and not quite sure how to process all that I have been exposed to. However, at the same time I realize that as much as I am astounded, I cannot imagine what the people of Bosnia must feel. They are the ones who lived through the war and continue to live through the aftermath of the genocide. I am just an outsider looking in and the amount of sadness and loss I feel is so great that I cannot even explain it, yet the people of Bosnia have learned to live their lives and continue to live with the utmost amount of love. 

I have heard over and over again that Bosnians do not feel hateful towards those who have wronged them, despite the horrific incidents they have faced. Instead, their hearts are filled with love and humility. They continue to have hope and live in peace and harmony, despite it all. The positivity the Bosnians reflect is unmatchable. They have every reason to be spiteful, yet they think and behave in all ways grateful.  

Bosnian Coffee and Turkish Delight
Sarajevo Cathedral