I debated writing my final blog from Bosnia, that night, after I packed my suitcase in preparation for the long trip back to Colorado. But sleep won out. And I am glad, since it turns out that I needed several days to even begin processing what we experienced in Bosnia.
When asked about the “highlights” of the trip, I find myself internally wincing. Throughout the trip it was emphasized over and over by everyone we spoke to that the hatred, polarization, and othering that tore Bosnia apart can happen anywhere. No country is above it or beyond it. Discussions with other students about the similarities between what happened in Bosnia and what is happening here in the United States were very sobering. And honestly, now that I’m back I can’t stop thinking about it. When discouragement about the state of our country and the future of Bosnia threatens to overwhelm me, I want to remember that there is more than hatred and inhumanity in this story. There is immense kindness and resilience too.
The kindness of Saliha, Hasan, Nino, and so many others we met will always stay with me. They demonstrate such courage and generosity of spirit despite the heartbreak and sorrow they have experienced. After telling us horrible stories of barely surviving the war and losing many loved ones, each survivor thanked US (us!) for being there and wished us well. Many said they hoped this would never happen to us and that we would live happy, healthy lives with the people we love. The survivors of Bosnia asked us for only one thing: that we would tell the story of what happened there, share what we learned, and never let this happen again. It seems like a staggering request, but one I’m already trying to fulfill here at home.
Resilience was the overarching theme I took from the War Childhood Museum. It was a fascinating display, an idea originated by a man who grew up in the war and wanted to tell what being a child during wartime was like. As the story goes, he asked the question to the internet, “what was being a child during war to you?” and got thousands of responses. He began to compile these short answers into a book, and then decided to visit a few of the people who had responded. As he visited and spoke with them, he began to notice that people, even as successful adults decades afterwards, still had relics and remnants of growing up in the war. He realized there was something really unique about a childhood during wartime, and wanted to share this with the world. He collected these relics for a museum display, right alongside the stories of their owners.
One group of children banded together with others in their apartment building to publish a full-on magazine complete with articles and hand-drawn illustrations that was printed in 50-100 copies each month and delivered around the neighborhood. Other exhibits pictured stuffed animals alongside stories of how siblings learned to be friends playing with each other when they had no electricity and were bored. Chalkboards with shrapnel holes and bikes that were used to race through the streets collecting life-saving water were also included.
I appreciated leaving the War Childhood Museum with a feeling unlike that of all the other museums I had encountered. Rather than just walking away with a heavy heart, I found myself in awe of how children are able to process and experience war so differently from adults. And to see the reassurances that the children of these stories were going to college, leading successful careers, and living happy lives was very powerful for me. The entire experience was an encouraging testimony to the ability of children to “bounce back” and make the best of miserable circumstances.
I continue to process all these often-competing concepts of good and evil in the world. And as I tell the story of my trip to friends and family, I discover new bits of the journey that astound me and remember stories that bring me to tears. Bosnia has become a part of me, and I will never forget.