Well, it happened. Homesickness hit. I know I have a hard time leaving home – always – but I never know if or when I’ll miss Colorado again after I’ve settled in and started to fall in love with my new, temporary home. This past weekend, though, has been one for the books. I participated in the Marš Mira (pronounced Marsh Meera), known as the Peace March. The trek retraces 62 miles of mountainous terrain where 10,000 Muslim men and boys attempted to escape from Srebrenica during the 1995 genocide.
I love hiking. I love being on the trails, romping around in the wilderness. My people at home can attest to the utterly joyous abandon I experience in the Colorado mountains. Off the grid I am refueled, I am inspired, I am in love with living.
Marš Mira was the antithesis of these climbs. It was one of the most draining weekends I have ever experienced – physically, emotionally, intellectually, spiritually – I felt like all of me was crushed.
We started the climb off with around 4,000 other people – mostly men. We hiked, and hiked, and hiked. As we hiked through towns throughout the countryside, people filled the sides of the streets and trails with spam-like sandwiches (bleh), Turkish delight (bleh), Fanta, water, Bosanska kafa (coffee!), apples, and bananas – so. many. bananas. 18 miles later, we finally arrived at our first camp site. The Bosnian army set up our tents, which I’m pretty sure were from the Yugoslav era. Winning.
It took them 2 hours to set up every single tent, but they somehow always forgot to set up ours. So after they were out of uniform, their commander made a group of them come back and set up the Americans’ tents…#privilege. We tried to smile and say ‘Hvala!’ (Thank you!), but we mostly were met with annoyed grimaces. I always felt uncomfortable, but they wouldn’t let us set the tents up on our own. Oh well.
The next morning, we set off on the longest and hardest climb. I mostly hiked with my friends Rose and Eric. I loved walking with them because we could have incredible conversation and also complete silence. We seemed to know what each other needed, especially when we started passing the mass grave sites.
We saw the first one shortly after starting out on the second day. This is my journal entry from the day. I don’t have the capacity to process it all yet:
Today was hard. Really fucking hard. Yesterday we hiked 17.9 miles, and it was long. There were a bunch of towns, too, which made it really feel like an event/race…they were handing out food, drinks, smiles – it just didn’t sink in. What we were doing didn’t sink in until today. Today we walked 21.8 miles over 4 mountains, not by many towns, and in tremendous heat and humidity. And as I started complaining in my thoughts, we passed by the first mass grave. Shit. Stop complaining. We were talking about football – Eric, Rose, and I – about how we prefer the nosebleeds to box seats, how Broncos games are way more fun sitting with the fans and getting rowdy. That’s when we saw the first marker for the mass grave. 153 massacred. That shut up conversation pretty quick. Ya know the scene in Mulan where the army is singing and they come upon the army that was slaughtered by the Huns? It was kinda like that. The number on all the t-shirts – 8372 – felt much weightier. It felt like a ton of rocks just dumped into my backpack.
We finally arrived at camp and I still hadn’t been able to poop. And at this, I broke down. The porta potties were REPULSIVE. Pee was everywhere. There were feces on the seats. I had to step up and straddle the seat because I couldn’t even squat low enough to go, or else I risked sitting in human defecation. It was sweltering hot, I was sweating bullets, I was all stopped up, and I burst into tears. I had a short self-talk – PULL IT TOGETHER LAURA – and decided I would recess to the woods from now on. Just not the woods with live landmines…which pretty much meant I didn’t have many options.
The final day, our 3rd day, we woke up in a mist. It felt appropriate. Somber. Quiet.
21 miles later, we tip-toed down the steepest grade of the hike into the cemetery and memorial site. People lined the streets with quiet tears streaming down their faces. I spotted Ann and some of the other DU students who came for the memorial but didn’t do the hike. I fell into her arms. She said, ‘You’re so close.’ We kept walking through the crowd and into the memorial. Instead of a crowd, the families of victims lined the marble slabs engraved with the names of those massacred. They were sobbing. We were sobbing. I felt crushed.
We watched the men carry 127 green caskets out from a warehouse into the cemetery to be buried the next day. And that’s when I crashed. I’m not sure if it was food poisoning, heat exhaustion, dehydration, or some combination of the three (according to the Bosnian docs, it was the ‘propu,’ aka cross breeze…?), but I went downhill fast. In the next few hours, I was puking into a bag as my friends held my hair back and called Ann to come to our hostel ASAP. She arrived with Hasan (more on him later), and they rushed me to the emergency medic tent at the camp (where we THANKFULLY did not have to stay a 3rd night. Again, #privilege). They hooked me up to an IV to get in fluids, anti-nausea and pain meds. I felt like hell. I had chills and was shaking all over. I wanted my mom. I wanted Derick. I wanted to be home in bed, comforted by my in-house pediatrician and loving boyfriend. I wanted to be anywhere but there. The IV slipped out of my vein so they had to redo it in my other arm. It seemed like an eternity until I was finally back in our hostel. I threw up one more time and passed out for the remainder of the night.
I missed the actual memorial ceremony on the anniversary, 11 July, because I couldn’t move from bed. After pushing fluids on fluids, I started to turn around that next evening and recovered over the following 12 hours. I physically feel much better as I sit back in Sarajevo typing this, but I’m just exhausted. I’m emotionally drained and depleted and am missing home. As I process the weekend more, I was able to write an email to my boyfriend that better encapsulates more of my thoughts and emotions towards Srebrenica – to the weekend, to the town, to the genocide. Here is just a piece of it:
I’ve been moved to tears a number of times already today, which let’s be honest, it’s not that hard these days. I feel like I’m waterworks waiting to happen; I’m a raindrop away from the floodgates opening. I feel like I need a good cry, I just don’t know if it will stop. I want to cry about so much. I want to cry of exhaustion, of missing you, of not having your arms around me, and not starting our day together. I want to cry for not holding hands over two fried eggs and toast and being able to look into your stunning blue eyes and tell you ‘thank you, I love you.’
And then I think about the people who cry over missing home, but will never get to go back. I get to come home. I get to return to you, to your arms, to our breakfasts together, to your love, to our adventures. But there are people around the world who never get to go home. Who don’t even know what home is. There are people HERE who never get to go home; people whose homes have been inhabited by other people because the government told them to move in after the war; people whose houses were flattened by a mortar and then replaced by a church because the government denied land ownership to the people who were forcibly removed. I want to tear down these churches. I want to scream at the ‘religious’ people here. Who is your God? Where is justice! Where is grace! Where is love! NOWHERE. You call your fucking building a church. You have no idea what church is; the church is not a building. The church is people and you are liars. thieves. murderers. Don’t call your building a church. Don’t call yourselves followers of God. THIS is what I want to scream.
I want to cry for the people who leave their homes in mass exodus. I’ve never felt such a strange feeling as I did leaving the first day of the Peace March. We were thousands and thousands of sheep driven out from our starting point. We had no idea where we were going. We had no idea when we would arrive at our unknown destination. But we were CHOOSING to do this. We were choosing to leave. We knew in 3 days it would be over. I’m crying for the refugees who left here and didn’t know how far they would make it, if they would be captured/taken to a concentration camp/raped/tortured/murdered. I’m crying for the refugees all over the world – Syria, Iraq, Burma, Cambodia, South Sudan, on and on and on – who live this reality EVERY SINGLE DAY. They don’t get to cry over blisters. They don’t get to cry over being in a makeshift tent hooked up to an IV. They don’t GET to be hooked up to an IV. They don’t get treatment. They die. They have to die. I’m crying because I get to live, and they have to die. I feel this weight, this responsibility not to treat my life lightly. What do I do with the privilege of living? Because at the same time, it could be gone today, too. Privilege is not immortality, and cannot be treated as such.
It was a devastatingly difficult weekend, but not just because of what happened. It was a devastating weekend because of what HAS NOT YET happened; of the PROLIFERATION of injustice; of the outright DENIAL of the genocide. I feel as though I hold part of the responsibility now to act. To write. To listen. To share. To do something. The question I’ve been asking since I arrived in Bosnia continues to reverberate and crescendo: What is my obligation, and how am I going to respond?