This time last year, I did not believe that I would be spending my summer interning in Bosnia and Herzegovina. When I decided to apply for this program, this choice was met with head tilts, questions as to ‘why would you want to do that? Is it even safe?’, and constant requests for me to pull out a map to point it out. I had never studied war or genocide in depth, and I had never done work in another country for very long. I wanted to see what I could do and handle, and my experience has not only shown me that I can do this work, but that I must do it.
We went from week to week learning about how this war has impacted Sarajevo and how the genocide in Srebrenica has impacted the country. Walking for 70 km in someone’s footsteps who may or may not have survived the original Death March during the genocide was a humbling experience never to be forgotten. Actually going to the International Commission on Missing Persons, seeing their tireless work to find the thousands of people still missing so that their families can have a proper funeral was surreal. Hearing survivor stories of loss and resilience was emotional, heartbreaking, and oddly up lifting. This was because of one common theme across the country: HOPE. These kind, nurturing, always offering you food even if you’ve already had two lunches, people hope for a brighter future for themselves and their families. They hope that what happened to them can be a warning to the international community about the dire consequences of ‘othering.’ They hope that they can continue to heal the wounds that still feel so fresh twenty-two years later.
I am in awe of a place filled with people such as this. I am also frustrated and upset that they had to go through conflict that was systematically designed to tear families, friends, and lives apart when ethnic groups were intertwined and content before the war. This all also happened when I was just a child. When I was four, I was going to the River Walk in San Antonio with my parents, and my Bosnian counterparts were fleeing the country (without even understanding that they were fleeing) or hunkering down to have their early years under siege, surrounded by shelling and death. They now live differently because of this. They think of life and love and happiness differently because they had such an uncertain future for so long. ‘Live like there is no tomorrow’ is a common theme, along with ‘this whole country needs therapy,’ as well as a ‘don’t sweat the small stuff because at least we aren’t being shot at’ attitude.
I could write about particular days, or moments, or stories, but I feel like at this point in my journey, now that I am home settling into school and life, that I just want to express my gratitude for such an experience. This has shown me more about life and the importance of community than I ever could have hoped for. I am honored to have gone, and I know that this was just my first of many journeys to Sarajevo and BiH. I want to continue to help them move forward in any way that they will have me. Even if it is just being there, forming a relationship, lending a listening ear to thoughts on life and stories about war over coffee.
Hvala, thank you, and my heart overflows with love and warmth for this wonderful place that is Bosnia and Herzegovina. Until next time, Sarajevo. Dovidjenja.