Marching from Tuzla to Srebrenica to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica Genocide exceeded whatever expectations I might’ve had on the bus to Eastern Bosnia last Tuesday. For three days, myself and five other students joined roughly 12,000 others to walk from early morning to dusk along highways, backroads, and chalky dirt paths. Twenty years prior, men and boys followed a similar route fleeing to free land in Tuzla during the Bosnian War in 1995. Along our march we were constantly reminded of the ease in which we traversed the same country; there was no fear of land mines, hunger, thirst. Every ten kilometers or so we were greeted with fresh fruit and water.
Attempting to explain the amount that we witnessed over four nights at the Peace March and commemoration ceremony would make it sound like we were there for a month. Time passes at a different rate. Instead of listing of day by day events, I’d like to single out a life lesson I wasn’t expecting to learn.
Most of the participants in the march were Bosnian men and boys, but a strong representation from the international community existed as well. On day three, an Indonesian-Canadian man sat down near our group in a large field where we had all stopped for a break. He had just graduated from college and was spending the summer traveling around Eastern Europe. Explaining his story to us in a self-mocking manner, he said that he was having his “find myself” post college travel time, and travelled to Bosnia to finish out Ramadan and participate in the Peace March.
So many fortunate young people, myself included, have the time and resources for similar “find myself” journeys. But this guy had the right idea by traveling with purpose. The Peace March is not a hike in the woods to reflect on yourself, your life, and your purpose in the world. It is a march, which for me, as a foreigner, represented solidarity in supporting the Balkan communities devastated by the war in the early 1990’s. It takes people out of anxiety-lined comfort zones to support a greater movement. I was forced to always think about the present moment because something exciting or interesting happened every step of the way. Thinking about how much the next downhill would hurt my knees, or how much sleep I wouldn’t get that night, served no purpose whatsoever.
In typical Bosnian fashion, the march gave back to me when it was far from necessary. It seems to be that those that have the least, give back the most, and I couldn’t be more grateful. So here’s a huge thank you to the kid cowboy-camping in the field who offered me his meal box (when we stayed nearby in lush tent), to the military general who filled my water bottle because he didn’t want me stepping on glass barefoot in the camp, to the man who chopped us off a tree limb for our CO flag because our sad stick wouldn’t do, and to that Canadian kid who taught me a lesson in inner-stillness and selflessness when I least expected it.