This is my first time overseas and I have so far noted: the streets are narrow and the cars move impossibly through this tight maze, the air and sky are more beautiful than I have seen in a while, and this part of the world feels at times frighteningly different and yet very, very similar. And then in between the kafa and sladoled (gelato), we learn about the reason behind our trip here: The Social Work Response in Post-War Bosnia.
We went on a tour of the tunnel built in secret under the Sarajevo Airport during the siege. The tunnel allowed Sarajevans to escape and to receive items such as food, medicine, supplies, and weapons. Our tour guide told us about how he was a teenager when he joined the army, and how he now works as a physician’s assistant. While on a hill overlooking the valley in which Sarajevo is located, he told us that during the siege, the aggressors had demolished 98% of the buildings. Now, such a view reveals picturesque red-roofed buildings set against beautiful, green hills.
I asked the tour guide what percent of the buildings are repaired. He told me 98%, and then he said that they can repair buildings, but there is nothing that can repair the human lives lost. I nodded, and I regretted asking a question that I hope did not seem ignorant or flippant I tried to think if there was anything I could possibly say or ask to get at a more meaningful conversation. I had nothing to say.
Reverence was a topic in our class’s evening discussion and debrief. How can we be here with integrity? What does it mean to witness with integrity? My classmates discussed showing reverence for the people, the city, the stories.
There are so many stories here, from the traditional food and the items in the market to the small memorials of the deaths during the siege. Ann, the trip leader, reminds us that everyone our age and older was alive during the siege and has some story about it. But so many stories have been lost. My heart breaks for the lost stories, the lost lives.
It seems there is such a difference between the rosebushes, the art, the songs spilling from a restaurant and then the buildings that remain to be restored, the holes in walls from the shelling, the memories of the siege and those lost. This beautiful old city has so much of both. As I travel and learn, I will continue to think on what it means to have reverence for all that is in this place.