Final thoughts on Bosnia.
I’m really not sure what to write here. It all happened so fast, I wish I had more time, the cliché’s could get out of hand if I am not careful.
More seriously though, in the short time we did have in this country I have learned so much more than I thought I would. I’ve learned about things I didn’t know I needed to learn about, let alone expected to discover. It was one thing to learn about a new culture and about a genocide that occurred, but there was so much that went on here that I could have in no way prepared myself for. Has there ever been a more impactful two week period in my life? I’ve had life changing moments before, but this experience seemed to go on and on and on. And I don’t mean that in a bad way. I loved almost every minute of this trip (outside of a few very close calls with regard to making it to a bathroom on time), but the amount of tragedy and pain present in this city and in this people has been at times overwhelming. I believe this moment for me was best captured as we watched the videos on the massacre that occurred in Srebrenica. There was a point in the video that focused on the death march specifically. At one point during this segment the video starts to show all of the empty clothes found in the mass graves from this march. At first there are just a few empty shirts and pants, but as the emotional content of the video was coming to a climax, it continued to show pair after pair of different sets of clothing from exhumed bodies. It went on for several minutes.
That moment, for me, describes how submerged in the tragedy we have been as a class. It didn’t stop the entire time we were here. And while we saw some exhibits perhaps designed to give us a sense of closure in the war crimes court, or to appreciate the beauty that still exists in the city though our Lukimor hike, the tragedy never stopped. We never stopped driving by buildings still crumbling to the ground after their destruction 20 years ago. We never stopped walking past Sarajevo Roses as we traversed the streets of the war torn country. We never stopped hearing tragic stories from locals in passing conversations even after we left the guided tours and heard the planned stories from Hassan and SuliHa. And I’m realizing that is the trauma that the people of this country still experience today. Its the country some of them have been born into, never knowing or experiencing anything different. And as time passes and the older generation passes on, I begin to ask the question, will things ever be ‘normal’ again?
There was no normal for Sarajevo, for Bosnia, for Yugoslavia, for whatever country was here before that. As Hassan told us, during the war people yearned for Tito to come back, but even then things weren’t perfect. There has never been and will never be a ‘normal’ Sarajevo. There will only ever be the Sarajevo that exists in the present moment, and that city is the city that we make it.
I’ve learned more about myself and about my cultural identity then I did in nearly an entire quarter of Power, Privilege and Oppression while on this trip. And while the friendships I’ve made on this trip, and the meaningfulness of the photos I’ve taken will likely fade over time, the messages I have taken from the heart of the people of Bosnia never have to. These messages will likely be different for all of us as I read through each reflection here and see just how different and unique all of our perceptions are. But the impact that they have on us, maybe for the rest of our lives, doesn’t need to differ. We were given the opportunity to see a country, a culture, a people at there most vulnerable state. They shared that with us. And now it is up to us to honor that story and make the message we have taken from it have an impact on our lives. Only then will the lessons learned from Hassan, from SuliHa, from Srebrenica, from whatever it is you found meaningful, only then will those lessons be worth something.
Its been a pleasure to get to know all of you over these past two weeks!