Final thoughts

Arriving home has been a strange adjustment. I have been trouble explaining everything I experienced and saw during my time in Bosnia. There are just so many descriptions and details I want to tell. I wish I could sit down with every person I’ve encountered and tell them what I experienced day by day, but that is not realistic. So, I settled on explaining my souvenirs and went from there. Some of the most frequent questions I received pertained to the Peace March. It is such a strange feeling thinking back to the end of June/July and the life changing experience I had the ability to participate in. The Peace March is something I cannot explain. Small memories are all I can speak on because there were so many internal battles and epiphanies I experiences in just three days.

The other activities were amazing in their own way! Having the opportunity to travel as a cohort was also an awesome experience. Getting to explore Bosnia and have guides or individuals who live their daily lives in Bosnia, explain things during the excursions, made the activities more personal. The activities we did as a cohort were not just touristic things that any person could do. The activities we did were unique and allowed, at least myself, to be put into another’s shoes. Listening to first hand stories of daily life during and after the war was unexpected but extremely treasured.

Life changing is something that frequently comes into my mind when I think about this past summer. Every adventure I had the privilege to participate in was so impact in its own unique way. I made friendships with not only my cohort members but also with individuals that have experienced loss and tragedy. I got to see with my own eyes the steps that individuals take to deal with their own trauma as well as not let that trauma define them. They are more than a war. They are people who love and hurt. I experienced a sense of hospitality that I never have before in my life. Even thinking back now I cannot put into words the experience I had.

Without this experience, I do not know how I would be looking at my future career. It definitely made me more confused on my future just through the activities we participated in, but I would not change it for the world. Being home I feel extremely privileged, in every way. I think that is why explaining everything I did has been so difficult. I was able to walk into a world that is so different than mine and then I got to come home. I heard stories that made me angry and devastated but they did not truly happen to me. The privilege I possess is something that I have to use as a resource. I cannot ignore the way life is and the injustices within the world but I can use every platform I possess to speak out on these injustices.

When I remember this summer, I will remember all the emotions I experienced every day. I will remember the relationships Ann has developed which allowed us to do all of these activities. I will remember the University of Denver because without being here, I would never have gone to Bosnia or anything like this trip. I will remember the love I felt there and the love I have for my family and friends at home. This summer was an experience I cannot put into words because it was extremely monumental in my life. I am incredibly thankful to Ann and every person who we met along the way who made this summer so unforgettable.

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Internship: Post-Conflict Research Center

This summer I have been privileged enough to work with the Post-Conflict Research Center here in Sarajevo. When I first applied to this internship, I did not believe I was qualified or that they would choose me to intern for them. It was sincerely a surprise when they sent the first email! Immediately after being offered the position I was hesitant, but I was not sure why. I spoke with my mom and the director of our program, Ann about what I was feeling. I knew I did not want just a stereotypical internship with an NGO doing social media and gaining no experience. I wanted to do something special with my time here in Bosnia and Herzegovina. After accepting the position, I was excited and nervous for what the summer had coming. Look back now I could not have prepared myself for the amazing experience and contacts I would gain.

When I first arrived in Sarajevo, I was immediately thrown into one of the many events PCRC cosponsors. This event is called the WARM Festival and it has the mission of bringing people together through art, reporting, and memory. This was a major event interns assist with every year. As I was the new intern, I was thrown into a group who had already been together for a month and a half. Along with assisting with WARM activities, I decided I needed to jump in head first, with the group and the event. I had the opportunity to guide participants and speakers in their days along with attend amazing films and art exhibits. I was tasked with making sure PCRC followers knew what the event was and what was upcoming for the next day. It was incredibly interesting because I had never been a part of a festival that was focused on the arts and reporting war through those outlets.

After working on the WARM festival, myself and the other interns were cued in to a social media campaign that was in partnership with the International Organization for Migration. Having the ability to work on a social media campaign, from start to finish, in partnership with IOM was sincerely a dream come true. I was able to work alongside individuals from Bosnia and Herzegovina on this campaign. It was incredibly interesting and exciting to see how this type of grant and project are completed and implemented in the NGO world. Lastly, I have been able to attend the Sarajevo Film Festival and write reports on the films from the category, Dealing with the Past. These films were documentary type films that sparked my interest immensely. Also, just having the opportunity to attend the film festival is a task and event I never imagined I would be able to attend!

To sum up this summer, I could not be more grateful to have had the privilege of internship with the Post-Conflict Research Center. Not only my fellow interns but the staff were incredibly welcoming to me from day one. I never felt uncomfortable or unsure of my place within the organization. For example, while attending an industry event during the Sarajevo Film Festival the founder of PCRC introduced me as her colleague. I was incredibly honored to be standing alongside such an accomplished woman but also to be introduced as her colleague. This organization is doing amazing things. Even when I was confused or lost, I could easily find someone to assist me. This organization enhanced my Bosnia experience immensely and I could not be more grateful!

Living in the Moment

Since arriving in Bosnia I have experienced a plethora of emotions. I have been happy, excited, sad, and angry. I feel like I have learned an incredible amount while getting to meet some amazing people! Through all of these emotions, I was beginning to feel bogged down and going through the motions of day to day life. This frustrated me because my time left is quickly dwindling down. I was not sure what to do with my time, but I knew I needed to stay present with what I had left. Thankfully, I had the chance to go to Croatia this past weekend which has helped me reset.

This was the first time I had ever been to Croatia and I cannot describe the beauty that I was surrounded by all weekend. Though it was a frustrating start getting the rental car and missing out on some beautiful waterfalls, the weekend was worth it! Once we got the car Friday, some friends and I began the 4-hour road trip to Orebić, Croatia. As we drove, I was struck with the beauty that is Bosnia and Herzegovina. Mountains sprouted up around us and before we knew it we were on the top of a mountain, look down on a beautiful lake and landscape. The photos are magnificent and did not even capture all of the beauty. As we continued to drive more water, greenery, rocks, and mountains surrounded us. It was impossible to ignore what was happening around us because it was so incredibly amazing! Finally, we arrived in Orebić and drove onto the car ferry which would take us to our final destination of Korčula. I had never been on a ferry or an island so I was extremely excited! Though it was dark, and I could not see much, being on a boat in the Adriatic Sea was beyond something I imagined I would ever do.

The next day we woke up and got breakfast. Our Air Bnb was overlooking old town so the city was a short walk away. I felt like such a tourist but that did not stop me from taking hundreds of photos. After breakfast we headed to the beach. It was incredibly hot and humid so I immediately went into the water. It was the most amazing water I have ever been in! I could see the bottom the entire time, no matter how deep I went! It was beautifully blue and calm. There were a few rocks as we entered but they were not hard to move around. I tanned, swam, floated, and had the most incredible time. I usually cannot stay at the beach for more than two to three hours, but we ended up staying for six! At one point a friend and I floated and chatted for an hour in the water! I was ecstatic. Looking out to the Adriatic Sea I could not think about anything other than the privilege I had to be able to look at such beauty. My surroundings were something I had seen on the internet not something I thought I would ever be able to view personally!

Arriving back in Sarajevo last night, I feel relaxed and excited for my last two weeks. I have experienced such incredible things this summer. Things I do not even understand how I am going to tell my family and friends back home. Thankfully, I have plenty of time to figure that out. All I do know is that I plan to live fully in the moment and enjoy as much of Sarajevo and Bosnia-Herzegovina as much as I can!

 

Photos and Expectations

This week we were told to pick a photo from the last five weeks and write about it. This was hard considering I have taken what seems like a million photos since I arrived in Sarajevo. The photo I ultimately chose to write about is the outside of Tito’s Bunker (above). When we first arrived there this was the view we saw. Just an average house, maybe a bit larger than average, but still seemed relatively normal. Once we went inside, the bunker was revealed. Tito’s Bunker is a huge underground facility. It is filled with kitchens, bathrooms, has its own water supply, and many other types of rooms. I believe the bunker can hold up to 250-300 people. It was built for Tito and his army in the case of nuclear warfare. It was shocking to me that the outside of this home was just a normal building and underneath was an intricate bunker built to withhold nuclear weapons. It was so much more than what I had ever expected.

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Tito’s Bunker has not been the only thing that was more than I expected. Everything we have done so far has been so much more than I had anticipated. Arriving in Sarajevo, I figured I would show up, complete my internship, and be able to mark another country off my list. I had no idea the mark this city and country would leave on me. I have written about this in past blogs but the compassion that has poured out of the Bosnian people has been overwhelming and amazing. Through each person I have met, a new standard has been set on what each individual should do for one another.

When speaking with survivors and individuals that lived in Bosnia during the war, all we have heard was how supportive one another to each other. Everyone was suffering but they also made sure their neighbors were alright. From rationing food to sharing it with those that didn’t have any, every person made sure that there was enough to go around.

I got to experience this first hand when our cohort arrived in Lukomir. After hiking in the rain to reach the small village of Lukomir, we arrived wet and cold. One of our guides Grandparents lives in Lukomir village and when we arrived they were already making us Bosnian pies. There were so many pies to go around, I ended up eating four! I could not stop. It was so amazing to eat food that was homemade. The pies were actually made right where we were sitting and eating them. This family accepted in 10 extra people, fed us, and provided us with blankets and stories without anything in return. We hiked, showed up, ate, and left. The family continuously said thank you as we were leaving, which is still something that I do not understand. We have done nothing to deserve the thanks if anything we should be continuously thanking these families! This is just one small example of the hospitality and compassion our cohort has received since arriving.

When I told my family and friends I was going to Bosnia I got a lot of questions. People asking where Bosnia was or if the country was safe. The war was all many people knew about the country and I did not have much knowledge on it myself. My expectations were low because I did not realize how phenomenal this country was. With every person and place we have visited since arriving, I received more compassion, empathy, and vulnerability than I believed possible. Arriving in Bosnia-Herzegovina, has changed my life. I have made memories and gained a new perspective going into the future. One of the main things I’ve learned since arriving here, is to not have expectations because you never know what is going to be inside a house or gained from meeting someone who has been through so much.

 

“My Family is My Revenge”

This weekend our cohort traveled to Tuzla and back to Srebrenica to hear personal stories of the Srebrenica Genocide. I soon realized I did not understand the impact the Peace March and Srebrenica had on me. I will discuss more of my feelings later in the post but on the third day I was able to see the two women I walked with during the Peace March. These women walked the Peace March in remembrance of their loved ones who were lost during the actual Srebrenica Genocide in 1995. The minute I saw these two women I got a huge smile on my face and then immediate tears. I met these women because of death. If the genocide had not occurred I would not have ever known these two phenomenal and strong women. I felt guilty for being happy to see them because they were there to tell us their story of Srebrenica 1995.

The tears kept flowing as they smiled provided me with hugs and kisses. I felt as if I were seeing an old friend. When they told us their stories I couldn’t help but continue to feel my heart was breaking. These women had been through so much but they still found the ability to treat myself and my fellow cohort members with so much love. They told us they wished we would continue to spread the word about Srebrenica and the atrocities that were committed. They wished nothing like the genocide would happen to us in our lives and I could not help but think that I wish the genocide had not occurred in theirs. They deserve grandchildren. They deserve family holidays and random drop ins from their children. They deserve weddings and buckets of love but they will never get those moments because a man decided to harm

Reiterated time and time again, survivors said “My revenge is my family.” Though they had every reason to be filled with hate and commit actual revenge, the best revenge, to many, was having a family. During one talk, a survivor told us that not one single case of violent revenge has been committed. Not a single case. How is that possible? This statement made me think back to the justification from Mladić for committing genocide. When he stormed into Srebrenica he told a film crew, that capturing Srebrenica for Serbia was justified because in the 13th century the Ottomans (Muslims) killed the Serbs and captured what was Serbia at the time. Keep in mind there is skepticism of if this war even occurred in the 13th century. To hold onto anger towards an entire group of individuals for that long is lost on me. I cannot comprehend the slaughtering of an entire population because of something that might not have even occurred in the 13th century.

Even though the genocide did happen in 1995, there has not been a single case of revenge. No killings in the name of Srebrenica or Bosniaks in general. The only revenge that has been taken is that the individuals who experienced the wrath of a sociopath have decided to have a family, go to work, and hold more love in their bodies than anyone I have ever met. Having children, a wife, husband, living day to day, and spreading the word of the Srebrenica genocide is the only (and best) revenge being completed. I cannot fathom the pain, loss, and horrors that were seen during the war. To be displaced within your own county and to believe the international community was going to help you. To believe that you were safe under the protection of the United Nations only to be continuously let down. I cannot fathom that pain, anger, or disbelief. I was angry listening to the lack of justice and incompetence that was seen in Srebrenica in 1995 but the people who actually experienced it did not see a use in that anger.

The individuals I met this weekend put me to shame. They are compassionate and outspoken. They are loving and determined. Srebrenica will not be forgotten because of the brave individuals who survived and speak out about the atrocities they experienced first-hand. I cannot adequately describe the emotions I feel writing this or what I felt this weekend but it was a weekend that I will never be able to forget.

To sum up, I have no words for my experienced since arriving in Bosnia-Herzegovina. I have listened to horrible atrocities that no human should ever have to experience to quickly being offered coffee and more food. In the middle of their stories these individuals have tried to make sure that I was doing alright.

All I can think is that I have done nothing to deserve the compassion and love I have received. I have not been able to provide a home for these people to come into or food of my own making. I have shown up, many times in their homes, and experienced a familial type of love without hesitation. The people of Bosnia make my heart feel incredibly comfortable and warm. While traveling abroad it is very easy to get caught up in what you are missing at home. The events my friends are going to and a familiar hug, but I have not experienced this here. No matter who I meet, the warmth that flows from their bodies, makes me instantly feel like I could just move in and become a part of their lives. I will forever feel that I cannot give back what these amazing, strong, and resilient people have given me. I will never be able to repay them. My heart has forever been touched in a way that is incredibly hard to describe and all I can say is, thank you from the bottom of my heart and with my entire body. Thank you to the people so full of love.

Culture Shock in Serbia

This time post Peace March has been quite an adjustment for me. I have been trying to heal my body, inside and out, along with my mental stability. I sincerely feel that participating in the Peace March and being able to connect with some incredible people has led me to have a newfound respect for Bosnia and its citizens. The resilience of the Bosnian people is a trait I have never witnessed, especially in the way it seems to exist in the entire population of people. As I continue to recover, I find myself with more thoughts and questions than I did before.

Traveling to Belgrade, Serbia, this weekend brought many of those questions to the forefront of my mind. When first arriving in Belgrade I was not prepared for the bustling metropolis that was before me. Driving on a straight highway rather than a curvy, mountainous road was extremely unexpected! I assumed Belgrade and Sarajevo would be similar. I was quickly proven wrong. On Saturday, we went to find breakfast and begin our exploration of the city. As I walked around I was confronted with many thoughts about Bosnian and Serbian relations. Having been so immersed in Bosnia’s experience through the Peace March, I realized I felt a defensive attitude toward Serbia. I realized I had put a wall up immediately upon arriving in Belgrade. I could feel myself almost wanting to find the negative in everything around. There were no bullet wounds in the buildings, no remnants of a war in the 1990’s that stole thousands of lives throughout the entire country.

While exploring Belgrade and comparing it’s condition to what I had seen in Bosnia, I was reminded of a conversation I had with one of my cohort members are visiting the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).  During this discussion, the speaker commented on the fact that the war criminals and those individuals charged with crimes do not represent an entire population. The men and one woman who we learned about had committed terrible, horrendous crimes, but they were individuals, not every single Serb or Bosnian Serb. Exploring Belgrade while experiencing this sense of hostility towards the entire country, the concept of “collective blame” came to life for me.  I was blaming an entire country for the atrocities I have been spending so much time learning about. Though what occurred in Bosnia during the 1990’s was horrendous and I am by no means excusing what was done, I cannot blame every single individual who identifies as Serb for genocide and crimes against humanity. Blaming every individual for those crimes is exactly what was done during the war. It would only perpetuate hate throughout the world. One reason collective blame cannot and should not be placed on a single community is because, though mainly Serbs were charged for the crimes against Bosniaks, there were other “ethnicities” charged as well. One young man named Dražen Erdemović pled guilty in front of the ICTY. At the beginning of the war, he had fought for the Bosnian Army. After changing sides, he participated in horrible activities despite his nationality or beliefs when the conflict started.

I was incredibly grateful to be able to visit the ICTY and have this conversation before traveling to Belgrade. I was able to identify the feelings I was having and process them in context. In addition to my personal soul searching, I spoke with fellow GPB students about what I was feeling.  Having the opportunity to learn these concepts while living in a place where they can be applied immediately is important.

In my mind, I compare collective blame with the institutional racism I see in the US.  Many people claim, “I am not a racist!” but their actions and words are founded on stereotypes of an entire community.  Maybe that entire community does hold negative attitudes toward another but putting blame on them without adequately engaging with that community does not make improve the situation. Perhaps I am wrong to equate racism and what occurred in Bosnia during the war but these are the thoughts that have been running through my mind since the end of the Peace March. I strongly recognize it is easier for me to work through these thoughts and emotions than for those who lost loved ones and family during the war. I do not wish to speak for the people of Bosnia in any way. Through this experience I have been delving into so much both intellectually and emotionally. I continue to process it all, often relating it to experiences I am familiar with back home.

Peace March

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.

Week 1: First Impressions

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!