For me to answer this question successfully, I think it would be easier to answer, what has been my most meaningful experience so far, as well as asking what has been the most pleasurable experience of this trip. No wait, that isn’t right, I don’t think its right to call this cultural experience a trip. Calling this a trip would imply its just been a vacation, a way ‘see the sights’ of Bosnia. I have to admit, it has been far more then that, encouraging me to question deeply held American beliefs that until recently I was unaware I had. I apologize if that sounds convoluted, I just want to express that there is a difference between traveling for pleasure and relaxation, and what we are doing here: experiencing cultural heritage and trauma.
The most meaningful experience of this trip for me happened as we drove through the country side of Bosnia in route to Srebrenica. Before that point, I think the trip was just a trip. We toured the city of Sarajevo, saw the pieces of the war still left over in the physical damage done to the buildings of the city, but it just hadn’t sunk in for me yet. Jadranka told her story and was so generous with everything she shared with us those first two days, but it just didn’t feel like I was talking to a local. I don’t mean to express anything negative about what she gave us, it was just that due to her position as our guide, sitting at the front of the bus, speaking on a microphone, gave me the impression we were talking to a guide, not a local. And while there wasn’t anything wrong with that, it just didn’t sink in the same way as I would experience on the drive to Srebrenica.
Halfway through our journey to Srebenica we had the pleasure of an interpreter joining our group. And out of no where as we were driving, this member of our class started a conversation with the driver of our van. As they spoke in Bosnian, the topic of the conversation soon turned to the war and what had happened to his family during the conflict. It felt so genuine and unscripted. Ann hadn’t scheduled this driver so he could be our tour guide and tell us about his experience. Here was just a man trying to make a living, talking about his past and how it had changed his home. That was the moment this class turned from a trip into an experience. He shared his story, and as I have since found out, everyone, every single person present here during that time, has their own story.
Last quarter I read about cultural trauma and how a culture can carry the trauma of their families for generations as is it passes vicariously from one generation to the next. I read about that concept, spent maybe one hour all together considering it, and felt that I understood what it meant, not only as a concept, but what that would feel like because the author described it to me.
I am breathing in a cultural trauma right now as it is being passed from one generation to the next right before my eyes. As one generation ages and a new one in born into a country free from war, the people I have talked to now will pass on this tragedy as a memory and lifestyle to the next set of Bosnians. What will it mean for how people live? When the older generation passes on, who will remember what the country was like before the genocide? How do you heal a wound that existed years before you were born? And how could I, never having truly lived this experience, have any impact whatsoever in solving it? I have more questions then answers tonight unfortunately.
As our time with our driver came to an end I was given the pleasure of saying goodbye, and though we had a member in our group that could have interpreted my words to him if I had wanted, I chose to express my gratitude in my own way: giving a gift. While a small Colorado keychain might not be much, the way the driver accepted it, and showed his gratitude for it was enough to commemorate for me our time together. That for me was the most pleasurable experience of the trip. Being able to look into the eyes of a stranger, whom I only know a few words of language to communicate with, and know that he had shared with me his story, a piece of his culture. It wasn’t about the words we exchanged, or the similarities we had. For us to form this bond all it took was an open mind and a willingness to listen. To try and understand what he had gone through. That acceptance and willingness to see things from a person-in-environment perspective is at the heart of what we do as social workers, and to experience it in person was an experience I won’t soon forget.