What a whirlwind the past two weeks have been. I will never forget my visit! Bosnia is beautiful. I have never seen so many stunning gardens or rivers run so clear. In fact, on that note, an unexpected highlight of my visit was the amount of clear, clean water that seems to be everywhere for people to drink from fountains that are constantly flowing. Coming from California, where the state frequently experiences drought conditions, water is in short supply and tinged with chlorine, and Colorado which is extremely arid, the lush green scenery of Bosnia and its balmy climate and ever-flowing water fountains were unexpected and extremely pleasant!
Although I can’t deny I loved it, experiencing Bosnia’s beauty wasn’t the purpose for my having traveled there. I went to study war and genocide and learn I did. I will never forget the stories that the survivors shared with us. Each person we met was generous with us in retelling their personal history with war and genocide and its impact upon their lives. It couldn’t have been easy to share such traumatic experiences with complete strangers. That, we, the strangers, came from a country currently led by a President who has instituted policies that bans Muslims, separates children from their parents and cages them, and seeks to wall off certain races from entering must have required a leap of faith and made sharing those stories even more difficult. I am so grateful for Nura Begović, Saliha Osmanović, Hasan Hasanović, Nura Mustafic and Nedžad Avdić’s willingness to meet with us, particularly given this knowledge!
As I have mentioned before, these are resilient people! Every single person I met and learned from has stunning resiliency. They are telling their stories, writing books, meeting with foreign leaders, planning large, monthly remembrance marches and continue to search for bones and identify the remains of loved ones despite challenging funding situations for both DNA tests and searches. (In fact, “the bone man,” as Ramiz Nukić is referred to in a film about him, searches for human remains without being paid to do so, after putting in a full day’s work on his farm! Dragana Vučetić, the forensic anthropologist that identifies people through the DNA of those very bones has worked tirelessly for decades now despite a variety of budgetary considerations and constraints. She somehow makes it work.)
Since returning, I have been peppered with questions about my experiences from friends and family. What was it like? What did you do? Would you go back? What was your favorite part of the trip? Who did you meet? Did you hear about….in the news over there? These are just a few of the questions I’ve been asked. I’ve found it’s quite challenging to explain it all in a way that both answers the questions and conveys the depth of what I experienced. Some of the questions, like my favorite part or place visited during the trip, simply can’t be answered because I have too many favorites to pick just one. Other questions are easy. Would I go back? Definitely.
Answering what I did and learned, and who I met and what I saw are more challenging to describe. This is particularly true when explaining the stories from survivors in Srebrenica. It’s also true of my attempts to convey what it’s like to visit a city like Sarajevo which is so beautiful, vibrant and alive but also remains physically scarred from the siege of 1992-1995 in many places. In fact, the existence of these scars, like the Sarajevo Roses in the streets, are quite purposeful and important as they physically demarcate what happened there, giving pause. It seems to me the people of Sarajevo don’t want to simply forget and want visitors to remember as well.
Conveying that can be challenging. When I tell the stories I heard in Bosnia I must also confront what we are doing in the U.S. today. I simply can’t speak of Bosnia and ignore our own practices. How to reach people to get them to understand what I have learned (when I’m still, by no means, an ‘expert’) and to help people to understand how genocide can happen anywhere is a struggle. “We were normal” is a phrase I heard repeatedly from people throughout Bosnia by way of explaining what life was like before the unimaginable occurred. I would counter that, similarly, in America, right now, we too are “normal.” I really hope I can convey the messages and stories of survival, hope, remembrance, resilience, and warning in a way that can be both heard and does the owners of these histories justice.