As we reach the halfway point in our Sarajevo experience, I am still amazed to find that every single day, I find myself looking at random strangers on the street and wondering what their story is. I tend to do this even when I’m home, but here, this thought process is exemplified by the fact that not long ago, most people in this country lived through a war.
When I’m on the tram in the morning, for example, I constantly wonder how many people are able to complete their morning ride without actively seeing and thinking about the scars of the siege on Sarajevo. I find myself contemplating whether or not people are happy to still be in Sarajevo, or if they would rather leave it and the reminders of war behind.
Even in moments when I’m not actively thinking about what people have gone through, I am quickly brought back to reality. In Srebrenica, a couple of us stopped at a roadside stand to order ćevapi and get out of the rain. The stand operators were kind enough to offer us the shelter of their van while we ate. Two other young men joined us and in casual talk, one of them stated, “My father is here. Here in memory.” The statement was quiet and brief, but filled with emotion. I quickly realized that since he was about my age, he had endured the horrific loss of his father at around nine years old (and sadly, I also realized that his young age may have been why he was spared). Part of this young man’s story was shared with us in seven simple words, but those words will undoubtedly stick with me for the rest of my life.
There are also times that I find my mind drifting to the war even when I would least expect it. While rafting this weekend, I found myself wondering about our Skipper’s story, the story of a fisherman we passed along the way, and the stories of all of the happy Bosnians camping alongside the river. Everywhere I looked, my eyes found someone whose story was just below the surface and I couldn’t help but wonder what it was.
At the same time that I find myself wondering about tales of survival from years ago, I cannot help but to also notice how many people have seemingly found a way to move beyond those times and live happily in the present. On the many bus rides through the Bosnian countryside, it has made me incredibly happy to see children learning to ride their bikes, playing soccer with one another, getting into water fights, parents tending to their gardens, hanging out clothes, and watching their children play. In these moments, I realize the strength of the human spirit and am lifted by the thought that even though people might have a heartbreaking and life altering story in their past, it does not necessarily condemn them to a lifetime of sadness.