The morning of Srebrenica was almost calm. I ended up being in the car with Hasan, which did not click until we had been driving for a while. It was very nice being in the car with him and Ann. They were talking like old friends, discussing stories and memories of their times together. While heading to Srebrenica, I knew that I was going to face some very hard emotions. I did my best to really focus on mindfulness and be aware of where I was at throughout. The scenery was absolutely beautiful on the way to Tuzla, our first stop where we were going to the ICMP. The mountains were a lush forest of green. We would pass through towns and collections of houses, of course all with evidence of the damage from the war. Once we went passed into the Republic of Srpska, I felt almost more aware and on edge. I was unsure why I was so much more on edge, but it happened. We ended up stopping at this gas station. I thought we were first stopping to use the restroom, but I quickly found out there was more. Hassan pointed out two areas where men and boys were brought and where the mass killings took place. It was hard to wrap my head around that these horrible acts took place so close to where we were.
We continued on to the ICMP. I really focused on where I was at and in a way put up my emotional boundaries. The woman who greeted us and explained what her position at the ICMP was great. She clearly had established some very strong emotional cutoff to the work she does. No words can describe the smell where the remains are kept. Rows upon rows of remains and belongings, some identified and some not. The things that got me the most though was this book that the ICMP had originally used to help with identifications. The book had a bunch of pictures of belongings found with the human remains. I just kept thinking how much more personal this was for me. This was people’s belongings. The last things they carried with them. It made it more real. I felt conflicted because on one end I am sad for what happened, but then I am happy because there are people trying to in some small way make it somewhat ok again.
Next onto the bone man, Ramis. He lived on the side of a mountain where the Death March took place. Before the war he had lived in this place and returned many years after to rebuild his home and live out his years at. The house is quite large and has strawberry fields and gardens which is the family’s survival. This man blew my mind. He is tall and thin. Maybe in his 70’s. He does not speak English, so luckily we have Hassan to translate. In his free time, Ramis goes to look for human remains in the woods to pass onto the ICMP to be identified. He expressed feeling this is his responsibility to find the men and boys. He takes us to the side of the mountain where he recently found some human bones. He has not called the ICMP because he knew our group was coming. We arrive to the spot where Ramis has covered the bones with rocks to protect them. He shares his story with us about what he went through when the massacre happened and how he survived. He was very touching with how much finding the lost people meant to him. His main things he wanted us to take with us was “the truth”. I will never forget that.
Saliha’s home was truly one of the highlights of my trip. Saliha welcomed us all into her home like we were old friends. It is Ramadan, so she is fasting. She spent days preparing a meal for our group, even though she was unable to share it with us. I could not find words at time when it came time for questions. I felt her pain without words. She lost her whole family to this genocide, but continues to live and find joy wherever she can. She has a very beautiful soul.
The second day was really focused on The Memorial and Hasan. We walked from the town of Srebrenica down to the memorial to honor those who did this walk before the genocide took place. The walk was interesting. I struggled to really conceptualize what it must have really been like for the thousands of people racing to try and survive. The memorial was of course beautiful and touching. Hasan explained the events that took place leading up to the genocide. He also shared his story. We walked over to the other side and watched two videos. The first video I had seen and was prepared for. The second video however I was not prepared for. I have seen movies where people were killed, but to see actual footage of boys being executed made me hurt in such a way I cannot explain. I cannot understand what makes people hate other’s so much that they can just kill them without a second thought. I truly cannot understand and probably never will.
I thought I was ready for this experience, and in a way I was. I knew I would see horrible things and would feel sad and angry. I was not ready for the closeness I felt to those sharing their stories. It is one thing to see movies and read the stories, but to have a person who experienced everything look you in the eye while sharing what they went through is intimate on such a different level. The people I met were truly what I will take with me from this trip. They touched my heart in a way I did not expect.