The Best Place to Start Is At the Beginning

But even then, where to begin? Over the past few days our groups has traveled through Tuzla, Potocari and Srebrenica. Thee sites are well known in Bosnia as they are part of the genocide that took place in 1995. Throughout the towns, survivors took time out of their life to share their experiences with us. I think this is the part that I will focus on, are the words and my experience hearing them from the survivors, as life has a way of intersecting between the past and the present. It was also an ask that the stories continue to be shared so I will try to put them into the words that feel appropriate:

Family is the root of the culture here in Bosnia. Many of the women talk about losing that part of their life, in the loss of their husbands and sons. Saliha hosted us for dinner at her house outside of Srebrenica. After soaking in her gorgeous home, lush garden and wonderful meal she told us her story. I would like to tell it her, as her request was to continue telling others about the genocide, but I feel that there are not enough words and they will not be hers so I will abstain. The biggest impression she left upon me was talking about how she must endure the rest of her life without her family. Her sons and husband were killed during the war. She has gotten some closure as their bones were identified in the ICMP. Though she speaks about her love of visitors and being surrounded by company, she has suffered many years without her family. This is what makes life so lonely for her, and she shared a very vulnerable part of her current struggle, in her quest to continue to find a reason to continue to wake up each morning. 

Nura, who is the Vice President of the Association of Women, turned her loss into activism. Inside the association’s now permanent residence, the walls are covered with pictures of the men that were lost in the genocide. Her story talked about how she used her identity as a mother to empower herself and those around her to seek answers and action from international forces. Her story was filled with passion, from the love of a mother to her son. Her work led to the memorial that now stands outside of Srebrenica.

At the genocide memorial museum in Srebrenica, Hassan Hasnovic, took time to share his story. His experience gave the image of a prosperous and content Srebrenica before the war. He shared so much about his story,  I feel like my words will never do justice to his story. Which is a great thing as it is his and he has a greater impact when telling it. He has found humor and laughter and love as his life continued and is very passionate about spreading the story of Srebrenica. That was the greatest takeaway, that he continues to live life after so much horror.

At the memorial, hearing from another mother Nura, and Nedzad, a survivor of mass killings, broke my heart. Nura was very emotional and seeing her tears for her husband and sons, is too much for any one human to bear. I’m crying as I writethis, remembering her words. She also called for sharing her story and her words, to bring awareness to the killings in Srebrenica. Nedzad story was also so powerful. He has only just recently, started to share his story. He was one of 2 survivor of a gravesite where over 1,200 people were murdered. He has suffered so much and his wisdom in asking that we learn to live together in peace, as humans, was so humbling. 

The final speaker was that of Ramiz. He and his family have lived in a remote section of the Bosnian hills for generations. Behind his house, was a mass execution site. He takes the time, when the conditions are right and he has completed his duties on his family farm, to go through the hills and collect bones that the ICMP will collect and work to identify. He was also a survivor who lost his family members. His want to give closure to families is through finding the bones. He said that he knows what he felt to not know where a family member lies and what it feels like to know that they were found and now rest in peace, and that is something that he said no mother should have to live with. His spirit to do what he can for families also reminded me of Dragana, a forensic anthropologist from the International Commisson on Missing Persons (ICMP). She works to identify remains of the war in Bosnia because she knows that finding a loved one can relieve the unknown. Seeing the locker for the bodies yet to be identified, that stretches on through a warehouse, and the bagsof clothing, one expects that there is a certain type of resilience to do this work. 

After experiencing a survivors perspective, small problems like a squabble with a loved one, seem so insignificant. The reason these stories are so powerful is that many of these survivors have chosen to live in Srebrenica, a part of the town under the influence of Serbian propoganda. A part of Bosnia that denies the genocide so deeply that it is completely omitted from history taught in schools. To live in a place that denies a huge part of one’s existence and identity so deeply, seems so gross to me. And to live there as a survivor, that act carries so much strength and is the greatest act, to stand up to those that chose to do wrong. The great resilience of all the survivors, the strength it took to retelling their stories, is so unbelievable and gives me courage to continue to share their experiences.

“Start Where You Are. Use What You Have. Do What You Can.” – Arthur Ashe 

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