I could probably write a hundred posts about my time in Srebrenica and the people that I have met never really come close to expressing all that it was and all that it will continue to be. There are so many different facets to the experience, the emotions, and the levels of understanding that my time there will be something that I contemplate and consider for the rest of my life. In some ways, there is no putting into words the vastness of what Saliha, Hasan, and the others that shared their stories with us have experienced. Words also can’t do justice to how lucky I feel to have been able to meet them and get a glimpse into their world. As lucky as I feel to have been able to do so, in some respects the experience also made me feel slightly like I was intruding on a very private thing with which I could not relate and therefore had no business witnessing. I had this feeling initially when I went to watch the trucks carrying the caskets pass through Sarajevo on their way to Potocari. It seemed as though the entire city was there to pay their respects and remember those that were lost. How often does one stand in a crowd on a city street in almost complete silence with everyone around you lost in thoughts and emotions about something that you yourself had no part in? The pain and the mourning that was happening all around me seemed at once very private and very communal. And made me feel as though I was eavesdropping on a very personal conversation. Of course, I too was there to remember and mourn with the people of Sarajevo and BiH and to pay my respects, however modest they may seem to me, to those on the truck. In thinking about it over the past few weeks, it was not a spectacle that I was witnessing but instead something that I was experiencing with the people of Sarajevo.
I had this same feeling upon being welcomed into Saliha’s home and hearing her truly courageous story. She has lived through things that I cannot even begin to understand yet she was opening her home to us. Cooking for us, letting us into her private experience, and letting us see her pain. What right did I have to be given such a gift? As I sat there listening to her story it felt as though anything that I might be able to say would be so incredibly small in the face of her experience. Although we were there to learn about her and from her, it felt as though we should be doing more for her, not the other way around. To have her share her story with us, wipe away tears and then ask who needs more coffee was such a surreal moment. And one that seemed to happen over and over again throughout our trip. While driving down the road listening to Bosnian music our bus driver almost casually described where he was caught by Serbian soldiers as a young boy. He waved his hand towards the side of the road, told his story and as we all sat there taking in the profoundness of what he had shared he turned the radio back up and on we went. For us something that was so profound and touching was for him, just life. Something that he survived and drives by every day.
For us the war and what happened at Srebrenica is something to learn about and try to understand on some deeper level, for those who survived it, it is an everyday part of existence. It is truly remarkable and inspiring to have been able to meet these survivors and share in both their pain and their everyday existence. In some ways, their capacity to do so highlights the wide range of human potentials. Learning about the genocide and the terrible things that humans can do to one another is the negative extreme of humanity’s great capacity. On the other extreme is the great strength, survival, compassion and community that people like Saliha, Hasan and our bus driver have despite having seen the worst of humanity’s potentials. In sharing their stories and their pain, they have given us the gift being able to better understand both the genocide and their inspiring ability to survive and share. In thinking about these things it has become clear that rather than being an unwelcome spectator to their pain, we are in fact an invited and welcomed member of their experience.