Over the last four days I was given the privilege to walk alongside individuals who had lost their loved ones during the Genocide of Srebrenica in 1995. Marš Mira (Peace March) has been one of the most impactful experiences of my entire life. When I first heard of the possibility of being able to participate I was fully in. I knew I wanted to be a part of this historic event, though I quickly learned I was not prepared for what I had gotten myself into. When the march began, us participants were introduced to two women. These women quickly became some of the most loving and inspiration women I have ever met, even though we did not speak the same language. Both had lost children and husbands during the genocide. It had taken some time but they finally felt prepared to participate and ultimately complete the three day march.
The Peace March brought up a lot of emotions and thoughts over the three days I was walking. Many times, I would turn to my fellow hiker, Megan, and we would discuss the pain we felt. Our feet were sore, knees hurt, and our shoulders did not remember what it was like to not carry a backpack. Many times, we looked at each other and felt that both of us were on the edge of just calling our program director to come pick us up so we could go back to the hostel and shower.
These moments were a reality check. I possessed the privilege to go home, to see people who loved me and wanted to make sure I was okay. I knew when I arrived at camp I would receive a hug and snacks to make me feel better and fill my stomach. The men and women who originally did this march did not have that luxury. Many did not know where their loved ones were. They were thirsty and hunger, fleeing for their lives because of a concept that does not provide adequate justification for war and death. When I felt my lowest on this march and I did not believe I would make it, I remembered I was walking on a safe path with members of the Red Cross there to assist me with bandaids and electrolytes. The original marchers did not know where land mines were. Fleeing into the woods with no knowledge of when death would come was safer than staying in Srebrenica.
The individuals I met on the Peace March provided me with support and compassion when they had no obligation to do so. They created an environment of hospitality that I had not experienced before in my life. With open arms, I was invited into homes, asked about my life, and told the stories of how loved ones had died. The thought of not knowing where my younger brother was or if my father was still alive is a nightmare that I hope to never encounter. To meet individuals who had experienced this pain but still had the compassion to welcome me into their lives and thank me for participating in the march was beyond what I had imagined. The Bosnian people have done more for me in the last three days than I had even imagined was possible. Bosnians are resilient and full of life. War and conflict does not define them but pushes them to Never Forget what happened. This is what I hope to do for the Bosnian people that gave me more than I could ever give them in return. I hope to create a story within my own small life to bring into conversation what happened in this amazing country and how the international community cannot let anything similar to it, happen again.
When flying into Sarajevo the mountains were surrounding the city and I could not help but realize the beauty of where I was headed. Almost immediately after recognizing the beauty I was hit with a wave of shame because the same mountains I was calling beautiful and memorable were used for destruction and death not that long ago. This constant contradiction has kept me grounded during my first week in this beautiful city. I had arrived a day before the rest of the group, so I took the time to explore while the rest of my cohort arrived. I walked up and down roads, finding beautiful stores along with buildings with bullet wounds still prevalent. The contradiction of beauty and horror just kept coming into my mind.
As I wandered about, I saw signs for areas of Sarajevo that we had read about in books and articles. This made me more comfortable in the city and helped me gain my bearings while exploring. One of the first recognizable objects I saw was a statue of a man with his hands raised to his mouth, calling out for his son. This statue was on the outskirts of a park along a busy street. A few tourists had stopped but the majority of the individuals walking along this road just continued on. This statue was familiar because our cohort watched a documentary about the genocide that occurred in Srebrenica. In this film the man can be seen, alive, calling out to his son who was hiding in the woods. I could not get myself to move and all I could think was how I had seen this man alive in a video. I knew what he was doing and the circumstances that surrounded the situation.
After seeing these remnants of the war throughout Sarajevo I cannot help but wonder how the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina feel about the constant reminder of the war and the deaths that encapsulated it. Does this perpetuate anger or frustration within families that cannot receive recognition of genocide? Does it perpetuate individuals fear of other? Or, do these memorialization’s create a feeling that this atrocity cannot happen again?
Though memorials and remnants of war are prevalent throughout the city, there is also an incredible resilience as well. Individuals living in Sarajevo, though still plagued with the tragedy that occurred, do not let that keep them down or from moving forward in their lives. This resilience is extremely beautiful. I cannot help but think about the beauty of this city, the culture it possesses, and the history along with it.
Some of the buildings I have seen are around 600 years old! I cannot even fathom that amount of time and how much those buildings have seen. One of my favorite things that I have experienced since arriving into Sarajevo is the Call to Prayer. I have never lived in an area that had mosques and much diversity of religion. Arriving in Sarajevo my first night I experienced the Call to Prayer and have been struck by its beauty ever since. Honestly, I look forward to it every night because it is such a beautiful sound. One I will never forget. Though many times I do need to remind myself that this is not just a song that is being played for my ears to hear. It symbolizes a religion and many things that I do not even understand. As can be seen, I am stuck with many questions and thoughts that I cannot wait to delve more into and learn about throughout my next seven weeks in Sarajevo and Bosnia and Herzegovina itself!