Srebrenica (AKA “Don’t Lose Your Watermelon”)

The following is an excerpt of my brain on genocide.

Anger. Grief. Shock. They crossed paths in my chest. Then, shots fired on screen, a dozen civilians drop dead in a ditch, wrists crudely bound with wire. In that instant, the tears I’d been stifling froze. I snapped back to numb.

The group fanned out in the grass, taking a solitary moment to absorb what we’d seen. I found a concrete block and planted myself upon it. I stared forward. Wildflowers speckled the lawn outside the battery factory, where thousands of men, women and children waited, frightened, seeking a shelter they wouldn’t be given. I could see them. I wondered if any of the men I’d just seen murdered were among the crowd.

My lenses started separating from my eyes, and I realized I hadn’t blinked in minutes. Hasan beckoned us towards the vans; we were on too tight of a schedule for reaction time. We moved forward in silence. I hate this sensation…to have such paradoxical and massive emotions stuck in your chest. You feel like you’re going to explode, but your survival instinct won’t allow it. You’re just frozen. I carried the weight towards the van.

Then, Arista bent down and picked one of the wildflowers in the grass. Suddenly finding myself capable of movements other than those instructed, I followed suit. It was bright yellow, like sunshine. Its petals were soft. We packed into the van to head towards Ramiz—the bone man—‘s house outside Bratunac. I gripped the flower’s stem with both hands, and fixed my gaze on it. As long as I’m staring at this beautiful thing, I thought—I think, because I wasn’t really thinking at all—I could block out what I’d just seen.

Then, three loud thuds woke me from my stupor: The trunk door of the van had open due to beast of a pothole in the poorly paved road, and the two enormous watermelons our driver had kindly bought for us that morning hit the pavement and began rolling wildly down the hill. We all looked up and stopped for a second, obligated to do something about it but fairly certain they were gone.

The driver, however, was quite unwilling to give up as easily as we had. He shoved the van in park and chased the melons through a dense thicket of blackberry bushes; Arista and Eric hopped out to help. 15 feet or so down the hill, our men down were recovered—miraculously, there were no casualties. The driver came back to the van with this enormous grin on his face, holding the melon up in triumph like an Olympian.

And the entire van burst into raucous, unadulterated, sincere laughter. The kind where if there was enough room, I’d be banging the floor with my fist. Like my body was encased in some kind of poisonous wax, the pessimism and sadness melted off my body as it shook. We arrived at Ramiz’s with tears in our eyes but smiles on our faces. Seeing that we needed a break before he began, our two adoring drivers gleefully chopped up the watermelon and forced it, piece after piece, into our hands. Hello entire emotional spectrum, in succession.

Bosnia Lesson #37: DON’T lose your watermelon.

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