Every year thousands of people (including some of the original survivors) come together for the Marš Mira (translating to Peace March). The people retrace the steps from Nezuk to Potočari to honor the 8,372 men and boys who lost their lives in during the 1995 massacre in Srebrenica. This journey spans roughly 60miles to be completed in 3 days.
We began the first day in the area where the survivors emerged out of the woods 22 years ago. Before we began, the MC reminded us that we were going to be tired; our feet were going to hurt, but we were safe. We weren’t being hunted; we were safe. There were so many times on the walk that I wanted to complain about walking uphill in 95degree weather and 40% humidity, but the long standing reminder of the people who walked before me made my small complaints feel irrelevant. For the most part, the first day was not so bad, except. . . I remember stopping to admire the beauty of the country, and looking down only to notice the marker of the first mass grave: 153 lives lost.
The second day was the best and worse all at the same time. I was separated from my group early in the morning. I met a group of what I assume were boy scouts and their leaders. Although no one in the group spoke any English, they reminded me that march (much like everything else) is about the journey, and not a race to the end. Up until that point I had been walking very quickly and trying to power through each day. The leaders in this group would continually signal for me to slow down, to take more breaks, which taught me to be present in the moment and soak in what was going on. We stopped for countless breaks – sometimes in peoples’ houses and other times just where we could find shade. I remember being overwhelmed and so grateful for the kindness of the Bosnian people. Each year the people in the villages save up their money to be able to give out coffee, tea and juice to the people walking. I drank the best lemonade I’ve had in my life out of some guy’s wash bin that was sitting in the yard (sorry, Mama).
The hardest part of the march came at the end of the second day. Throughout the few days of the walk, people kept asking me where I was from or if they could take my picture. Towards the end it was just exhausting, and I really just wanted to blend in with the rest of my group. One guy in particular who I had seen a few times earlier came and found us at our camp site and put his camera in my face for a picture. Luckily people were there to help me, and we asked the army guys to talk to him . . . privilege. I was tired of feeling like an animal at the zoo; I was angry that he made me feel uneasy about leaving the area around our tent. I felt trapped all around, so naturally I lost it.
I can’t remember a time before this where I hated the color of my skin, but that was it.
I’ve spent some time these last few days thinking about that moment and talking it through with friends (Tim and Julia, you’re the real MVPs). I think in some very small way it gave me a glimpse into the injustice that the Bosnian people suffered. They were discriminated for something inside of them; something they had no control over. I’m still sitting in a place of trying to make meaning of all this, but, really it just sucks.
Last thing, and then I’m done. So usually at the end of a hike you trek to the top, and 9/10 times there’s a beautiful view waiting for you (Zoë, I’m still a little mad about that Vail hike). Not so much for the march. At the end of the last day you walk down a big hill to be greeted by the mothers of the men and boys in front of the memorial. As I stood there watching them bring in the 70 coffins for this year’s burial, I felt a little defeated. My heart breaks for the families, but I am also amazed by the resilience of survivors who come back and do the walk each year.
I recognize my privilege in all of this, but I also feel honored to have experienced this with the thousands of other people who walked. I’ve since come back to Sarajevo. I can’t quite place the feeling, but the air feels different. I have a new love for the people here, and I have a new respect for people in general.