I still do not know how I can explain my experiences late last week. During this part of the week, I walked as part of the Peace March (Marš Mira). The three-day, 20 mile-a-day walk was exhausting physically and mentally, but also intensely rewarding. I felt so humbled by the experience in ways that are difficult to communicate, and I was honored to have the opportunity to join the other 10,000 marchers. The march, like most of my experiences in Bosnia, bounced back and forth between somber (for lack of better term) moments and laughter/camaraderie, of beautiful surroundings and harrowing tales.
Talking with the individuals along the way was perhaps the greatest example of this. Standing out like a sore thumb, we were asked about where we came from consistently. What started off as introductions, often turned to the reason why we are here. Throughout the course of the march we met survivors of the genocide in Srebrenica as well as those who had lost family members. This alternated with jokes about many things including how we were lazy for stopping and eating (this joke was funnier at the time because it actually referenced something from my home town and this particular Bosnian had been living there since the end of the war). Food was shared and genuine interests in other parts of lives were also expressed.
One of the many things I will never forget about these conversations is how welcoming of our presence on the March people were. Initially, I had been hesitant to join, as I am an outsider to the events. While I wanted to honor those who lost their lives and those who soldier on, I was worried that it was something I should not be a part of. However once I learned that I was welcomed, I was fully on board. This welcoming was apparent from many of the people I talked to along the walk. The refrain was “I am glad you are here” or “I am honored you are here.” A few times we were thanked for being there with the person being on the verge of tears. The last one was especially difficult to hear, not because I didn’t appreciate the sentiment, but rather I felt honored to be given a chance to honor those involved. For me, it was an honor to hear their stories and get to know them. I felt as if my presence was not enough to use such words. I was also called brave by some Bosnians in Sarajevo and those along the march, yet all I did was march and listen and talk. Further, there were internationals who have done this before and continue to do this.
Since the end of the March, I have been trying to grapple with everything that I experienced over those two days. This especially, I am beginning to see how these could be applied to the marchers, yet, being me, I still have a hard time applying it to myself. I am more likely to talk about it terms of others. I am sure with time, I can begin to understand this still, however it may take at least another week.