This hike was unlike any other… because it was not a hike; it was a march to bear witness to the atrocities committed in 1995 that took the lives of 8372 people in just 6 days. My thoughts have not fully come together to create my takeaways from this pilgrimage because I am still sorting through all the memories and emotions. My mind jumps from thought to thought as I grapple with the many things I experienced over those three days. I think this was part of the point though, because what better way to understand someone’s struggle than to walk a mile (or in this case 50) in their footsteps? Ultimately, three things sit at the forefront of my thoughts on the 2017 Peace March: how physically difficult it was, my struggle to gain perspective, and how important human solidarity truly is in this healing process.
A quick ode to the physical toll this hike took on my body… Bosnia and Herzegovina is speckled with rolling green hills that create beautiful views and grueling walking conditions. Every time I patted myself on the back after a 45-minute trudge up a mountainside, I was rewarded with another. The sun was unrelenting in its determination to burn my skin and cause a perspiration that could only be kept at bay by the Colorado flag that did its best to shade me as I carried it over my head. The long and treacherous journey the men and boys were forced to march was actually a road, exposed to snipers and lacking in tree cover. Blisters and sore muscles kept my mind occupied, but while I was in my trail shoes and hiking clothes, I am reminded that they were in the clothes that happened to be on their backs with shoes that were no match for these conditions. The reasons I am here come rushing back to me.
As someone who has spent some time in the woods trekking and exploring, it was hard to separate the walk from what it represents. While I pulled out my trail map, calculating our ETA to a checkpoint and planning when to get water and take lunch, a small sign for a mass grave almost passed me by unnoticed. We felt thirsty and a water station came into view. We felt hungry, and a sandwich or piece of fruit was handed to us. We felt tired, and someone gave us Bosnian coffee they made in their home for the marchers. The humans in the death march had only the reality of being hunted and the hope that they would live till morning. The land from Nezuk to Potočari is covered in small country homes, crops, mass graves, cemeteries, and land mines. As someone who did not experience this war or lose someone to this tragedy, it has created a whirlwind of emotions to see everything juxtaposed in one area. This was my three days in the woods. A continuous struggle to keep perspective while fighting through the physical aspects of a 50-mile march through the countryside.
What moved me the most, however, was the power of mass support. My favorite moments on the hike involved humans. Being beckoned into someone’s garage for a much-needed cup of coffee by a villager kept me going. A piece of watermelon from a stranger while we took a rest under the trees made my doubts about my own ability to finish wash away. But the most profound moment for me happened after we finished the march, received our certificates of completion (such a beautiful touch), and came upon the parade. It was not just us hiking and struggling to the memorial. Hundreds of motorcycles lined the streets in solidarity and hundreds of cyclists had biked from Sarajevo to show their support. As walkers, riders, and cyclers converged at a memorial covered in the traditional Muslim headstones with names etched in marble, I knew that this was so much more that a march, it was a testament to the beauty of human compassion and caring. Marš Mira: 2017, humanity, love, and encouragement in a time when scars continue to heal and resilience shines through once more.