I’m not even sure where to start when it comes to describing my experience doing the Peace March. There really aren’t any words that can do it justice. As much as I’ve read about genocide, it still seems like this abstract foreign concept but my time in Srebrenica and in the Peace March really humanized it for me. Meeting people whose lives were so affected by genocide was really humbling and such an eye-opening experience.
One thing that really stood out to me during the march was how people were helping one another, including myself. I injured my knee at the end of the first day so the next two days were a real struggle. At the beginning of the second day, we had to cross a mountain and I wasn’t able to keep up with my group so I told them to go ahead. As I was hobbling up and down the mountain on my own, so many people stopped to check on me and see if I was ok or if I needed any help. At the bottom of the mountain, I stopped at a house where people were handing out food and drinks. The family that lived there gave me pants to wear as I was a little chilly just wearing shorts. They invited me to join their group, which consisted of small children, young adults, and grandparents. I couldn’t keep up so they suggested I quit and get a ride with the Red Cross to the campsite. I refused to give up that easily so I declined and continued on my own. It got to the point where I was in so much pain that I could barely walk and I started to question if I would really be able to finish. As I passed by a house with a lot of people drinking coffee, a group saw me struggling so they came to check on me. They refused to leave me and they walked with me even though I was really slowing them down. They convinced me to seek help at the next Red Cross ambulance, which really helped alleviate my pain. One of the members of the group had survived the death march so I was amazed and humbled, if those are even the right words, that he chose to walk with me every step of the way for the rest of the Peace March. After seeking help with the Red Cross, we came upon a mountain of mud, which was pretty difficult to hike up but so many people were helping each other. Every single time that I started slipping or felt stuck or I didn’t know how I was going to continue, I would look up and there would be a hand or a person with a stick reaching towards me to help me. I never would have been able to make it up the mountain on my own.
I feel like the Peach March helped me begin to comprehend some of the physical aspects that people were subjected to on the Death March but I don’t think I’ll ever be able to understand the mental aspects. I knew that I was safe the entire time. Food, drinks, and medical assistance were available along the way. I was able to prepare for the march ahead of time and bring the appropriate footwear and anything that I thought I might need. The people on the Death March didn’t have any of those luxuries. I can’t even imagine the psychological toll that it must have taken on people to be hunted as they ran for their lives. While the Death March exemplifies the worst of humanity, I finished the Peace March with a renewed faith in the human spirit by witnessing such resiliency and kindness.
I’ve had such a good experience at my internship at the Center for Healthy Aging so far. On the first day, the center celebrated its seventh year of operation with a party and an art exhibit by its oldest member, a 92 year-old man. His paintings were displayed around the center and they’re going to be exhibited in a museum in Sarajevo pretty soon. Members of the center sang and one of the highlights for me was when a man played the accordion. The director of the center handed out awards to members and staff and Ann was recognized for the work that she has done. After the party, we had cake and as I left, I noticed that some of the members formed a circle were dancing to the accordion music. I really wanted to join in so I’m hoping there will be an accordion at the next party.
My second day at the center was really nice and relaxing as we spent time getting to know the staff and some members. We helped transport artwork from the exhibit to the painter’s home and I was so excited to be welcomed into his apartment. The walls were covered with really amazing paintings and he gave us copies of a large piece that took him four months to paint. I had such a lovely time at his apartment where we chatted with his wife and looked at family photos.
Another highlight of the day was watching one of the center’s staff members make sirnica, which is one of my favorite foods so far. It’s referred to as cheese pie but it’s more like cheese rolled in phyllo dough. I’ve been really curious as to how it’s made so I was fascinated to watch the process. The dough was made from scratch without measuring the ingredients because the lady just knew exactly what to do since she started learning the process when she was eight years old. She stretched the dough out on a tablecloth until it was paper-thin. Then she spread a cheese and egg mixture along the edge and then picked up the tablecloth and shook it so that the dough rolled down. Next, she cut the roll into smaller pieces and formed them into spirals. She also made a meat and potato version. The food was made to celebrate the July birthdays of the staff members. Staff from the other centers came for the party and it was lovely to see the sense of community.
There are four Centers for Healthy Aging in Sarajevo and we spent the first two days at the original one. We’re going to be interning at a different center each day of the week, which I feel like will give me a good opportunity to explore different parts of the city. Today, we went to the second center and we partook in a group exercise activity right off the bat. We did stretches with rubber exercise bands and we definitely worked up a sweat during the 20-minute workout. Afterwards, we hung out with the staff and some of the members of the center and played cards. I had a really nice time just chatting about random things and everyday life. They gave me some tips on good places to get sirnica and other types of local food that is vegetarian friendly. They also mentioned some really cool places around Bosnia that I want to check out while I’m here. Overall, I’m really excited about interning at the Center for Healthy Aging and just getting to know people and hear their stories. I feel like this is going to be a really great cultural experience that I definitely would not have been privileged to have if I had just traveled here on my own.