How does one have final reflections on an experience that will continue to impact you for the rest of your life? Now that I have been home for a few days, I don’t think that you can. The experience I had and relationships that I made while there will continue to change and grow with me even now that I am home. There is absolutely no part of my time in Bosnia this summer that will not be with me forever. The country is truly incredible and I already miss so many things about it. The people, the landscape, the history which carries both tragedy and strength and the future of the place. Being fortunate enough to be welcomed into a culture that is so warm and inviting. It isn’t just something that one experiences. It is something that changes you. Something that makes you look at life and the things that were once so normal a little bit, or a lot, differently. What I once took for granted or failed to notice about the world that I live in I now see a little bit clearer because of my time in Bosnia. Because I think it is impossible to have final reflections on something that continues to impact you for life, for me it seems more relevant to reflect on one of the lessons about the world and/or myself that Bosnia has given me.
Bosnia and the war that continues to have a deep impact on the people is a complex topic that cannot be understood by simply reading a few books or watching a documentary. What I thought I knew about the place, the people and the conflict prior to going pales in comparison to what you learn from actually being there. Talking to the people that the books have boiled down to facts and figures and names on a page. Standing in the places that were once only spots on a map where tragedies occurred. Being able to relate those places to people that you know now. That is true understanding. When watching the short film at the Srebrenica memorial, most of which was comprised of clips from documentaries that we had watched before coming the reaction that I had to the film and the meaning that it had for me was so completely different from watching it at home. Because I was standing in that place. I had now seen what before was only an image on my laptop screen. I had met and talked with people who were the nameless victims in the films. It was the same video clips but the impact and level of understanding completely changed. I thought I knew about the war and its effects beforehand based on watching these videos at home. I knew nothing. Experiencing the country, the people and the places made that clear. Even now that I have gone and done those things, this experience has shown me that you never really know as much as you think you do. There is always a deeper level of understanding to be had. More complexity to be uncovered. Reading the books, watching the documentaries, looking at pictures were all just the tip of the iceberg. Being there and doing what we did gave us a little more depth, but there is still more to be uncovered and grappled with. Understanding this about any topic or event is something that will make me strive for deeper and better understandings of everything. And it will also serve as a reminder that you never know as much as you think you do. If one is mindful of this it allows you the possibility to contemplate the complexities and the many different ways that Bosnia and the war, or conflicts in other parts of the world actually exist. By realizing that you never know or fully understand anything it humbles you and leaves you open to so many more possibilities and ways of helping.
I could write a hundred pages (don’t worry, I won’t) and not even come close to talking about all of the ways in which Bosnia and its people have impacted me. It would not even scratch the surface. It has given me the understanding I talk about above. It has given me the gift of making truly amazing friendships that I will have and cherish forever. It has shown me just how privileged a life I lead and made me redefine what privilege truly is. It has taught me how to slow down, find a sense of inner peace and focus on what is important, both for myself and in the world. Bosnia has clarified for me so many things and given me so many gifts. It is truly impossible to put them all into words. It is a place that will be with me forever and one that I will definitely be going back to.