Reflecting on Srebrenica

I’ve been trying for the last 24 – 48 hours to wrap my head around everything I have seen and experienced, but so far nothing I have come up with seems to be working.  And part of me is wondering if thats how the families of the victims of the genocide have been feeling for the past 20 years as they too comet to terms with what happened.  “Why did god let this happen?”  “Why would god let them do this?”  Our story tellers, Hassan and Suliha, both said that they went through period in which they asked this question over and over, looking for someone to blame other then their Serbian neighbors.  As they spoke these words, I felt myself unconsciously thinking the same way.

I found myself angry for a crime that wasn’t committed against me, feeling resentment toward a people I have never met in the Serbians, from a place I’ve never been.  And yet, as Hassan continued, he, of all people, was the one to speak of forgiveness.  To speak of letting go.  Here was a man that marched for days, running form a cultural geocode, telling the story of how his father and brother were murdered, and yet it was him to spoke of forgiving those responsible for their deaths.  Suliha was the same way.  Choking back tears, a woman that had lost everything expressed that she was no longer angry about the death of her husband and son, the destruction of her house, and the loss of her family that the war had brought upon her life.  Instead of preaching anger and resentment, Suliha had found solace in knowing that God would rule with the ultimate judgement.

I am not a religious man.  While I was raised catholic, I no longer believe in God in the same way as a traditional religious person would.  However, I do believe in the power that religion has in Suliha’s life.  That believing in a power, to judge right and wrong, allows her to let go of an incident that she might otherwise not be able to.  For her, it seems like a second chance.  A chance to life a life free from anger and hatred toward another people.  While she still feels remorse and sadness about what happened, Suliha was at least able to let go enough to continue with her life, to not contemplate suicide as she put it.

It made me wonder about the cultural differences between us.  In America, a woman still grieving the loss of a husband and son, twenty years after their death, might be shunned and told she needs to ‘get help’ and talk to a social worker to come to terms and accept these loses to move on.  But here, Suliha seems at peace.  She isn’t being pressured by any of her family or friends to get help, to them she is at peace and should be accepted as such.  What’s right?  How would you use your American social work skills in a place so different?

I don’t know how long this will sit with me so uncomfortably, or how long it will take to find meaning in all of this.  Is there a meaning to be found?  I am sure it will be impossible to get the same meaning that a local would experience, but what can I take from this for myself and for my own experiences as a social worker.  From everything I’ve seen, it has been so impactful to experience all of this 2nd hand rather then 3rd hand, reading it from a book.  Just walking through the streets, every single person has a first hand experience of how the war has effected them.

I walked into a t-shirt shoppe today and spent 15 minutes talking to a young woman tonight as she explained that at 7 years old 3 Serbian soldiers came into her home and threatened her family.  They all thought that they were going to die.  She said she was too young to remember exactly what happened, however, her father went outside with the soldiers and when he came back, he the soldiers left.  To this day she hasn’t asked her father exactly about what happened and she has chosen not to.  Everyone here has a story.  Everyone here has their own perspective on what the war has done.  And I believe what I have taken from today is how important it is to value and experience the story with an open mind.  I could sit here and talk about how much I hate Serbians, and how they deserve the same, but that wouldn’t do justice to the people who’s stories I have experienced.  For me, the most important part of this experience will be honoring these people by retelling their story and giving it the attention that each individual has given me.  They showed me their experiences, allowed me to feel their emotions.  It is the least I can do to show them respect through giving their story to others willing to listen.

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