5:30 am my starts to go off, we are preparing for travel to Tuzla and then Srebrenica. I know this is going to be a difficult trip but I am eager to meet Hasan and the infamous Saliha.
Beginning in Tuzla, we meet the bad-ass Dragana, a forensic anthropologist who is bringing peace to thousands of families who lost loved ones to the war. She uses a DNA test to identify bones and help those families bury them. The room where the bones lay in purgatory, smells of dried blood and sweat. Dragana explains the lack of funding necessary to properly ventilate the room. It was unsettling.
Later that evening, we arive at Saliha’s. She greets us with warmth beaming from her face which was wrapped in a yellow headscarf. I can see the years of hurt in the wrinkles of her face. Yet she loves so clearly still. I begin to understand just how meaningful it is to her that we are there, taking up space, praising her beautiful garden, eating, and listening to her story. Saliha’s home is located on the boarder of Serbia, and when the war began, the Serbian forces set to destroy her town. When the attacks started, her family retreated to the forest behind her home. She explains that she could not fathom the war. She could not conceive the horrors that lay ahead for her family. She reflects on times before the war, telling us that she had such a lovely life. Simple, filled with love for her husband and sons. This is incredibly painful for me. I think about my own father and brother. I cant imagine being separated from them, I cant imagine my strong father succumbing to those horrors, or my brother being among the thousands of men taken to execution sites and shot as if their lives were meaningless. Tears begin to swell and my heart breaks for Saliha. She is lonely. She is so incredibly lonely. Waiting for her family that will never come back to her. Living because she has to. She aches to be reunited with them, in heaven. When we leave, she begins to cry. She waves to us and it takes everything in me to keep it together. Knowing she’s going to bed in an empty house once again.
A mother should never have to bury her child. But they do, all the time.