The Bone Man

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“This is part of a scull, this is part of a finger, and this is a key.” Our translator Hasan explained to us once we climbed half way up the hill by Ramiz’s house. I had never seen or touched real human remains before I came to Bosnia and the reality of this amazes me and at the same time breaks my heart. I picked up the key and wondered the last time the owner of this key held the key alive. Was this a key to his home, or maybe to a box of personal belongings? When did the owner of the key realize they were never to return to use the key again? I thought about my own house key laying in my bag. I was overwhelmed with grief and sadness.

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Last weekend for our class excursion we had an incredible opportunity to go to Tuzla and Srebrenica to visit the Institute for Missing Persons, hear three survivors stories of the death march from the Srebrenica genocide. One of these incredible individuals is a guy we have coined “The Bone Man”. Ramiz Nukic has spent the last ten years of his life picking up bones behind his home on the sight of one of the hills of the worst massacres of the death march in 1995. It is estimated that around 1,000 boys and men were ambushed on this hill by the Bosnian Serbian Army when they were running for their lives on the march from Srebrenica to Tuzla. Mr. Nukic is a humble, village man in his fifties. He himself was only in his thirties when he was running for his life on these hills when he lost track of his brother and father. It was hard for me to begin to comprehend Mr. Nukic’s daily reality. After he finishes whatever work he has to do around his house, he then heads to what is basically a mass grave in his backyard to look for the bones of his father, brother, neighbors and hundreds of others that were killed during the death march whose bones are yet to be found. I am humbled and inspired by Mr. Nukic’s courage, resilience and willingness to do this work everyday despite the enduring pain, no compensation and the constant reminder of what happened in these hills only twenty years ago.

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