We just spent two days in Srebrenica, the site of the worst massacre on European soil since World War II. We fit so much into those two days and I am not sure I have yet processed our time there enough to adequately put into words what the experience was like. We were fortunate to spend time with some amazing individuals who so graciously shared their time and their stories with us. I think the greatest takeaway I have at the moment from the experience is that going to Srebrenica and spending time with people who were there humanized the genocide and allowed me to see it in a way that I don’t think I would have ever achieved had I not gone there. 8,372 men and boys were systematically killed just for being who they were. 8,372 is a number on a scale that is hard to comprehend. Knowing the scale and the magnitude of a crime is so important, but I think when you get too deep into numbers and statistics it can also take away from remembering the human side to what happened. Every single one of those individuals was someone’s family member. We spent an evening at a woman’s home, Saliha, who let us into her home, cooked an absolutely phenomenal dinner for us, and spent time talking with us. She lost her husband and both of her sons. I can’t wrap my mind around that one fact. She lost her entire family. Our guide, Hasan, who spent so much time with us and showed us all around the Srebrenica memorial lost his twin brother and his father. The sheer magnitude of loss and the pain the survivors will live with forever is so difficult to contemplate. I can’t help grappling with how much the losses feel so meaningless. There was no reason for families to be ripped apart, for wives and mothers to lose their husbands and their children. Over eight thousand people lost their lives simply for being themselves, for holding a Bosnian Muslim identity. It makes me wonder when or if the madness of xenophobia and divisiveness will ever come to an end. Still today, we don’t know how to live in peace with those of all different backgrounds. It reminds me of the political climate in the U.S. today and the sadness and fear I feel when I hear such hateful rhetoric directed towards those of varying ethnicities or religious identities. I don’t understand where the hate comes from, why we can’t learn from these tragic moments in history and work towards preventing a horrific crime like what happened in Srebrenica from ever happening again. I hope and wish for more understanding, more compassion, and more acceptance in our societies.
As tragic and tear-filled the two days in Srebrenica were, and there were so many tears, there were also beautiful moments of light and joy. It is hard to explain how those two such strong, disparate emotions can co-exist and can change from one moment to the next but that was the experience. Saliha and Hasan who have lost so much and endured so much pain, who have experienced the worst humanity has to offer, both are such incredible, radiant examples of the resiliency of the human spirit. It would be easy to imagine Saliha who lives alone in a secluded house in the hills and has lived alone for the last twenty years since losing her family as bitter and shut down and someone who has given up on life. She is exactly the opposite of that image. There is a deep sadness that she will always carry with her, but she simply radiated light and kindness and generosity. She has traveled to the U.S. and to England. She cooks up a storm, enough for five times as many people as those she is hosting. Hasan spoke about how we can survive anything and that it is a choice on how we live whether we let things make us bitter or whether we choose to find happiness in the little things we have. He said whatever life throws your way, whether your boyfriend leaves you or your job is terrible or whatever it is, you can choose to let it make you sad and let it dominate your life or you can choose to find the joy in what remains and not fixate on what you have lost. You can find joy in anything if you choose to. I am butchering his words, he said it much more eloquently than I can recreate here. But I will never forget that moment, how beautiful and inspiring and positive his message was. I feel so humbled and so grateful to have had this experience and to have learned from someone who has experienced so much tragedy and who exudes such a positive energy. My time in Srebrenica gave me the gift of these lessons that I can’t necessarily explain or come close to doing justice to with words. All I can say is that I am immensely grateful and I will never forget my time in Srebrenica.