Leaving Sarajevo

Leaving Sarajevo was a bittersweet moment for me – I was filled with the excitement of continuing my travels, while at the same time feeling sad my time in Bosnia and Herzegovina was coming to an end. Now, as I sit writing this final blog, at home in Colorado, I am able to reflect on my time in Sarajevo, Mostar, Neum, Lukamir, Konjić, Tuzla, and Srebrenica.

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I admit that before taking this course and traveling to Bosnia, I knew very little about the rich history of the country. My time in Bosnia was spent observing aspects of Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian influences, discovering WWI and WWII significance of areas and events, and, of course, learning about the conflict and tensions that led to and fueled the war in the 90’s. I was struck by how layered the history is and how it is possible to perhaps make connections between the various conflicts that touched Bosnia and the underlying ethnic tensions.

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Photo retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Federation_of_Bosnia_and_Herzegovina

I think, again, of my first impressions walking through the marketplace near our hotel: that of a diverse Bosnia. This stemmed from having seen the Orthodox Church, Catholic Church, Mosque, and Synagogue all within a few streets of one-another. Understanding the history and the current tensions pierced this illusion and led me to wonder how healing might occur when the country is divided into two parts and the education systems between the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Republika Srpska differ in their content and message. How can a country heal and become one when it is so divided? I think, too, of how the people can heal on an individual level when members of part of the country deny that atrocities were committed against members of the other part of the country. Is it possible to heal and move forward when one’s children are taught that their parents’ lived experiences never happened?

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I remember we stopped, as we drove in our vans from Tuzla to Srebrenica, below a mosque atop a cliff. This Ottoman-era mosque was destroyed in the war and had been rebuilt roughly 5 years ago. You can’t access this mosque by road and instead have to make the trek up to the top of the cliff to reach it. This made me think of healing and moving forward. That perhaps simply moving forward is a means of healing.

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When I returned to Colorado, I was asked by family and friends what the biggest take-away I have from my experiences in Bosnia and Herzegovina. I had no hesitation to reply the resilience of the people – not just to survive and keep going, but to continue loving and connecting. The ability to lose so much and still have kindness and still choose not to hate. I cannot easily, nor do I think it possible at all, to put into words the profound impact that has had on my understanding of the war and of people. As a budding social worker, I know this recognition and insight will carry me forward and remind me the importance of speaking out against polarization and hatred – meeting it with love and compassion. While my time in Bosnia and Herzegovina is at an end, I will continue to tell the stories that have been told to me — following the hopes of those whose stories they are that their stories are told.

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My time in Bosnia and Herzegovina has been a rollercoaster of emotions. I feel I am changed by my experiences and know more than I did before this journey. I’ve learned the importance of seeing the thorns with the roses, finding the light in the darkness, and understanding that rain can represent both sadness and new beginnings.

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