I knew as I prepared to participate in this grand adventure it was going to be a neat experience. However, nothing could have prepared me for the life changing activities we participated in during these past fourteen days.
Every single activity was a first time event. My first time I left the borders of the Continental United States of America. My first time in Europe. My first time experiences just kept on occurring one after another for two weeks.
Our dinner at the Brewery set the tone for the rest of the trip. Having diner in a place we had learned about having such a conflicted history. A place where water, “the nectar of life”, could be procured during the siege on Sarajevo. This life was also used as bait for sniper and mortar attacks on innocent civilians simply trying to survive. The tight space of the street, the openness to the high ground of the surrounding hills, and the lack of adequate cover in the area. All of these gave context to base our learning upon.
Our next adventure was a day filled to the brim with activities. We visited the tunnel the people of Sarajevo depended on to deliver the necessities of life from the outside world. Seeing the work and effort they exerted to survive this ordeal left me in a place of appreciation for the basics of life I take so much for granted. We then traveled to the 1984 Olympics bob sled event venue. Walking down a portion of this track gave me an opportunity to reflect on where I was during in 1984 and the wonderful impression of this beautiful Yugoslavian city. To think about how less than a decade later it was used as sniper nests to kill the people trapped in the city below.
Humans are indeed strange creatures. We finished the first day with a visit to the Jewish Cemetery. A beautiful area set on a hillside overlooking the ancient city. A space where for hundreds of years the Jewish population have laid their loved ones to rest. To learn the struggles of the Jewish people during the nineteen thirties and forties and the fact that a majority were displaced or put to death by the anti-Semitic movements of the era. Such beautiful places humans have chosen to destroy one another.
Our next adventures took us to Tuzla and Srebrenica. Looking at the history and events not so far past which culminated in genocide. What a profoundly emotional experience. At first I was in a shock as I stood in the International Commission for Missing Persons (ICMP) morgue.The forensic archeologist who presented the cold realities of investigating such an atrocity. The business of gathering evidence for justice proceedings and sorting out evidence and remains to return be returned to families. Then traveling to the ICMP DNA evidence processing and record keeping facility to observe the world class work of preparing flawless irrefutable evidence to bring those responsible to justice.
The last leg of this trip was to Srebrenica and Potočari. This has to have been the most inspirational and impactful event of my journey to Bosnia. Meeting Hasan and SuliHa. Hasan is working tirelessly to keep the memory of the atrocities at the forefront of the world’s consciousness advocating for victims and families of the genocide which occurred during early July of 1995. Hasan’s efforts are inspirational and encouraging that progress can be made on issues which seem to present overwhelming obstacles.
Meeting the Judge at the war crimes court put a face to the ongoing justice proceedings we heard so much in Tuzla and at the memorial in Potočari. Knowing the Judges have to hear of the details of these horrific events day in and day out and still and go home to their families. How they keep doing the work in spite of this is admirable. I personally could never do this kind of duty to society. Visiting the United States Embassy illustrated some of the work we as social workers could do on the macro level of social work to make a difference in the world. Listening to both the Embassy liaison and the Professor at the University of Sarajevo made me wish I could find a place in this venue.
I know the doors have probably shut to due to age and family circumstance to personally participate in this area of work. However, for me there can always be a fondness for the work and a relationship with those doing the work as a supporter of their valiant efforts.
There are so many other pieces of the experience I have not shared in this writing. As this has become part of my personal story I have gained a new dimension to my view of the world. A view which has been vastly expanded and enriched for having participated in the adventure. I am a better person for having taken the journey. Thank you to all of my new friends I have met and then shared together the adventure of a lifetime. Until we meet again may your find happiness and gratitude in all of your lives…