Here we go!

Brandon Erdmann – First Impressions

My initial reaction upon landing in Sarajevo was somewhat mixed.  I was surprised to arrive at a civilian international airport and disembark without a jetway.  Not that I hadn’t done that before, but I figured a ‘major’ cosmopolitan city would have more of an airport…and I remembered the airport being larger than it seemed this time around.  The last time I flew into Rajlovac (Butmir) there were still demining operations going on and we were forced to approach the ramp for landing at designated altitudes to prevent detonating the ordnance.

The drive to Traveler’s Home felt somewhat similarly disjointed. On one hand it was obvious that the city and its people had made tremendous strides in reconstruction during the past two decades but, at the same time, I was surprised that there was still the visible volume of war damage on buildings, etc.  The city itself, replete with graffiti everywhere seemed to share this dichotomy.  On one hand vibrant and full of life and, on the other, exuding a longing and desperation for something more…perhaps a demonstration of how far the healing process has come yet how far it has to go.

The first couple of days for me were somewhat frantic being thrown full speed into the WARM (War Art Reporting and Memory) festival and the associated activities the PCRC (Post-Conflict Research Center) was involved with.  Without getting into the specific exhibits, movies, conferences, panels, etc., I’ll just say that it was a bit overwhelming on an emotional level.  I felt somewhat like a wound with an itchy scar was picked at and bled a little bit.  Certainly not SFOR specific memories, but rather the forced confrontation with other memories and events subsequent to my time here which were thrust to the forefront of my conscious for analysis.

Although my impression of the WARM activities was overall very favorable and, I think, a very necessary medium for conveying the issue, I was somewhat disappointed in the lack of veteran’s voice in the dialogue….it was generally very academic in nature; my fear and concern with this being that excluding a critical piece of the issue at hand limits the effective nature and intent of the project.  Additionally, there was a perhaps an excessive liberal bent to much of the panel discussion and addresses by various board members.  Not that this point of view is in any way bad, but it could be detrimental to the point of ostracizing and alienating to certain audiences that should be included in the conversations around conflict.

The couple of days of time off for walk-about reminded me of time spent in Kiev and Kotovosk, Ukraine; the lively hustle and bustle, the small markets which carry the essential staples and the relaxed atmosphere of simply being able to sit with a cup of coffee and watch the world go by.  There is a certain feeling of human frailty and reinforcement of our mortality and insignificance at sitting in a 16th century han and a sense of ennui in thinking about the many generations which have walked the very ground upon which we tread.  I have especially enjoyed the early (relatively speaking) morning runs along the river and through the quiet market streets.  Watching the city wake up and come to life while running by the shop keepers unlocking their doors, lighting a morning cigarette or having that first cup of coffee, sweeping their doorsteps or washing their café sidewalks almost seems like being welcomed into the most private and intimate parts of a stranger’s life; a welcome which invites us to learn and grow together in building on a relationship whose foundation was laid long ago.

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