We arrived in Srebrenica after an all day drive through Bosnia to the town which borders Serbia by the River Drina. It is beautiful land, and through much of the last part of our trip our guide has us stop at various points along the way. Some breaks were for stretching, others were an opportunity for our guide and survivor of the genocide to talk about his experience fleeing through the woods and mountains around Srebrenica. The night we arrived it seemed a terrible storm was brewing.
We stopped where he crossed a highway – telling us that if that crossing had happened at any other time – that he may have been killed by Serb troops who were traveling by tank on that road. We stopped where he last saw his father and twin brother; forced into making a decision to take one path into the woods or another. He didn’t see them ever again. They are buried at the Srebrenica-Potocari Genocide Memorial Cemetery, side by side.
In some ways I felt guilt over being able to stop and get cold water, chips or share a laugh. I told myself “this isn’t how it was; this isn’t how they were forced to travel.” I did not want this privilege; how could I? I compared what was happening in my life when I was 19; compared to what his stories at 19 were about. I didn’t want to feel the guilt along side the deep level of sadness and empathy. If I had been born in a different country, at a different time – genocide could have been my experience.
For now, I can bear witness. Now I can share the truth. Now I can be present.