This is to my wonderful coordinator who, so patiently, waited for me to write the blogs that never came. This is for you and my program. I hope y’all made it home safely. I’ll be joining you soon!
Where do I begin when I am honestly filled with a whirlwind of emotions? I know my words will not do justice to the experience I’ve had but I’ll try my best to summarize it in the most coherent way possible.
I can already feel a knot forming in my throat as I think about the fact that this is it – this is the end until next time. I’ve grown immensely from this journey. I reflect on how blessed I am to have been given the chance to return. As a refugee, that is a blessing that cannot be calculated. Many cannot return to their homelands and I want to express my gratefulness for all that I’ve been able to do. For all that I’ve been able to see. For the family that I was able to reconnect with and their warm welcome. Most importantly, for the better days that are in store for my homeland that allows me to feel its soil beneath my feet. Its presence I feel inside my soul and it is my source of strength and determination.
It’s been 7 years since the last time I stepped foot in Bosnia. I still remember the way I felt the day my sister Dijana and I landed. We were meeting my brother Dejan for what would be only the second time I would see him in my life. I was filled with emotion. My dream to return had finally come to life and I couldn’t believe it.
The summer of ’06 left me with a new sense of being. My heart was filled and I felt so rejuvenated. At 14 years old, I found my passion, drive and motivation. I came back to the States with a mission to do my best because I was going to do something with my life. My past would not hold me back but rather be a source of strength. I was determined.
7 years later, a year shy of my college diploma and many beautiful experiences behind me – I felt an urgency to return. I needed answers but most importantly, I needed to find peace. This journey took me on a whirlwind and I can’t tell you that I’ve received the answers I wanted. Many of them remain unanswered but I’m finding peace in that.
This journey was immensely difficult for me and at times, I really needed an escape. I found myself shutting down. I didn’t realize how much of the past I had repressed. I couldn’t understand how to simultaneously accept the past and be optimistic about the future. I was, also, overwhelmed with my own past – my family’s hurt and loss. I was seeing relatives for the first time in my life and for me that will always be a reminder of the past.
Over a phone conversation with my mother, she says to me ‘I raised you not to hate’. While short, her statement resonated with me throughout the trip. At times, I thought maybe that was my fall back. Perhaps it would help if I did. I thought if I could just hate then my hurt would subside and I would feel less weak.
But, my mother raised me not to hate and I am better because of it. I forgive those who have done wrong to my family and community. Justice will be served and I will use this experience to ensure that no peoples ever have to go through such realities. I am fortunate to have been given the beautiful experiences I’ve had thus far and this trip has only further engrained in me a sense of determination and strength.
So, as I sit here in a small café in Tel Aviv drinking a cup of coffee, I am ever more optimistic about the future. While I know that the tragedy of my homeland will not be the last in the world, I stand committed to all communities who have and continue to experience such strife. Their stories matter. As for Bosnia – may she see better days and may my community find peace where it is hardest.