After 3 days and roughly 60 miles of trekking through exposed sun and mine fields, mass graves and rural villages, we ended our journey in Potočari. A place where just over 20 years ago, thousands of men and boys escaped into the hills in effort to save their lives. Some were successful, while most were not. As we stood to witness the 70+ green coffins pass through the crowd to their final resting places, the intense aching pain in my feet and legs had meaning. I thought about how the victims families must have felt – I thought about my younger brothers and how different the pain I experienced during the journey would feel if someone I knew had lost their life in such a cruel, unimaginable way. The image of slim green coffins being passed through the long line of men respectfully grazing the sides one by one is something I will never forget. That vision powerfully moved the aches in my feet to an ache in my heart.
I met a handful of incredible humans during this journey. One man I met had begun his journey in his small town in the middle of Bosnia – on the 2nd day of the Peace March, he had already been walking for 10 days. On day one, before the journey started, I was standing at a drink stand to buy something with sugar. As I went to hand the girl 1.50 KM, an older man signaled for me to put my money away, I tried to say ‘no thank you’, still holding out my money. He continued shooing my money away and insisted on buying my drink. I gave in and thanked him in Bosnian as he did not speak any English. Having woken up at 3:45 AM to be there and no coffee, my Bosnian was rusty that morning. He took me through the crowd and tried to find individuals who spoke English so he could translate something to me. We came across a reporter who spoke some English. He started speaking in numbers and words and the reporter communicated to me that my new friend was a survivor of the genocide and had been on the original ‘death march’ 22 years prior. He gave me advice on pacing myself and told me I chose good shoes. I thanked him again and kept my eye out for him the entire way.
While there is so much to be said about this experience, words are not easy to find.