I am still searching for the words to describe the Peach March from Nezuk to Potocari the site of the Srebrenica Genocide Memorial that retraced the steps of the original Death March in July 1995 that Bosniak men and boys had to take to escape the Bosnian Serb Army’s (BSA) campaign of genocide. It has been two days since the March ended, but I do not think that is nearly enough time to process what we saw and felt. By the numbers the experience included; 3 days, hiking 60+ miles, in 90+ degree heat, with 60-70% humidity, over the Bosnian mountains that resulted in 1000’s of feet in elevation change, while walking past mass execution sights that had as many as 600 victims, with around 6000 other marchers from all over the world including survivors of the original Death March. It was mental, physical, and emotionally exhausting like nothing I have ever done before.
I have a number of stories and experiences from the weekend that I could share, but I believe the strongest and most impactful moment was when Hasan Hasanović, a survivor and a friend of our program, thanked us and expressed a deep gratitude to us for completing the march. I had no words to respond to him then and I still am not sure how I would respond now. This man had survived the real Death March that lasted six days, while being hunted by the BSA with virtually no water or food, and he was thanking us for doing the March. The 11 graduate students from Denver who had shelter, water, food, proper hiking equipment, access to medical services, and could have quit at any time. I was really touched by that. It was the single most humbling experience of my life and I will remember it forever. The exhaustion and pain we experienced during our March were only a razor-thin sliver of what the survivors experienced that in absolutely no way, shape, or form compares. Yet, there was Hasan, a true survivor, greeting us at the end of the March inside the Memorial, with a smile thanking us for what we did. I can only hope that one day I am able to exhibit even a portion of the humility he displays.
On a lighter note, I am now convinced that the Bosnian way of hiking is superior to the American REI gear and trail-mix infused method. I saw hundreds of Bosnians doing the Peace March in poor shoes (including Crocs!), drinking nothing but coffee and tea, and chain smoking cigarettes breeze right past us like it was a leisurely afternoon stroll. We were even told that you have not truly done the Peace March until you have done it in bad shoes!
In the end, it was an experience that I would not trade for anything. I am not sure I would do it again, but for anyone reading this and debating participating, do it! You may curse yourself during the March for signing up, but I promise once you complete the March, you will cherish the accomplishment and what you went through for those three very long, hot, and rough days.