‘war time child’ sharing stories

There’s no right way to express my thoughts on this experience. Quite frankly, I can hardly find the words. I’ve thought about this for a while now, as I was trying to figure out why it was taking me so long to write my second blog entry. I mean I just started and I was already falling behind. I even imagined some crafty or creative title, something to grab your attention. I even thought perhaps some fluffy descriptive words? But, I don’t really have any of those. I have this experience and after much thought I realized that it’s O.K. if I don’t have it figured out now. This is a process. Maybe I won’t have the words to express myself but I will try and relay them the way that I know.

So, I’ll be real. Yes, I’ve yet to make sense of some things and more than likely, I never will. On that note, these last 2 weeks (since my last entry) have been both physically and mentally exciting and exhausting. While I hate to be the one to focus on the downside of anything, I will in this case because I think it’s really important as I move forward in all of this.

They call me a ‘child of war’, consider it a nickname, I suppose. It’s one coined by an older generation of Bosnians for the young generation born in the midst of the war. This generation has no real recollections but is affected through the stories of their parents. These stories tie them closely to a part of history that they were too young to understand then but determined to never forget now. It’s an unsettling word, really. It’s a term that I’ve heard periodically throughout my life but never so much as in these last few weeks. But why I’m so intent on speaking about this is because it brings me back to an incident that I had while I was in Brazil this past fall.

It must have been within the first month when my Portuguese professor sent us off on a scavenger hunt around the city of Fortaleza. One of the things on the list was to get some gold fish and bring it back to his office. Well, on our way we fell upon this pet shop and immediately, the owner welcomed us in and began asking us a little bit about ourselves. When my turn came around, I introduced myself – area of study, birthplace and my journey to the States. As I finished, I smiled at him and looked to one of my group members to introduce himself. But unexpectedly, he stopped and his big smile immediately turned into grief. He repeated, “Bosnia?” I just smiled and shook my head, taken aback because I didn’t expect him to know. After a short conversation about the war and my life since then, we were on our way. But just as I was saying goodbye he pulled me to the side and asked me one thing: to get him a one dollar bill and write on it “Nermina – eu sou um sobrevivente (I am a survivor). His request really shook me up. Until that moment I had never thought of myself in that way and this lends to what I’ve been reflecting on these last few weeks in Bosnia.

While I anticipate many questions about my life, I didn’t prepare myself for them. I’m not sure how I would have gone about doing that anyway. But I’m realizing that it’s definitely taking a mental and emotional toll on me. Every introductory conversation involves talking about what happened to my family during and after the war. In any simple conversation, I lay out what I would consider to be some of the darkest times in my family history and to be honest; it’s a place of deep vulnerability for me. I feel it’s as if I’ve let someone into my home.

These conversations have been rewarding in many regards but exhausting as well. I suppose that’s just the nature of meeting so many people at once. Everyone wants to know who you are and what you’re doing now. However, when these dialogues are framed in a time before and after the war, I find myself overwhelmed. Part of me feels that I’m picking at wounds that have yet to heal. I thought that perhaps this trip would help me heal or find some peace. Maybe it’s too early to tell but it’s hard. Katie tells me that maybe those wounds are infected and need to be cleaned out. She makes an interesting analogy but I think to myself, how do I possibly go about doing that? How do I possibly find reconciliation in a tragedy that left so many people lost, hurt and angry? A tragedy that has laid the foundation of my life and that, upon reflection, consumes me to the point that I feel numb.

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