Following the two weeks in Bosnia, I spent an additional three weeks traveling. With the stories of survivors in mind and transitioning to recreational travel, I was considering the different purposes of travel. While off in new countries with freedom to choose my activities and next destinations, the purpose of those explorations was for my own enjoyment, or wonder, or sense of adventure. Travel for me. Bosnia feels different. While I am affected and changed by my experiences in Bosnia, there is more responsibilities to others. These others include the people we met, and to those I may share what I have learned and witnessed with. The act of sharing survivors’ stories is the one request each made. Further, in a time where my own country is storming with acts of dehumanization, othering, and violence, understanding the horror that was the war and genocide, and the still open wounds from those, gives us the unique perspective of seeing what we will lose if the United States continues this path.
Perhaps this sounds like sensationalism, but when it a country starts to feel currents of violence, when is the moment to say that this is really happening? No one can know how events will unfold, but we should be listening to the histories and stories of those who have lived through when the currents did not subside.
In my last days in Bosnia I went to the Children’s War Museum and a gallery of photographs depicting moments following the Srebrenica genocide. Both these exhibits strove to give their visitors insights into the experiences of Bosnians during the war but went about them in very different ways, one with items shared or created by people who lived through it and the other images created by someone who did not. When art is created around war, what are the ethics and how do these choices inform what the viewer takes away? Seeing the photographs of bodies uncovered from mass graves and grieving women hoping to identify their loved ones are jarring subject matter. In the context of just being with people who had survived, the images did not stand alone for me, but stood as visual representations of small parts of the stories I had heard. Unable to know how the strangers at this exhibit had come to be here, I wonder how these images impacted them. Was the artist’s goal achieved? Did seeing these images make them witnesses? As for the artist, is he the one to tell this story? If he is, did he tell it in a way that does not harm the owners of these experiences?
Visiting the Children’s War Museum was a different experience, as everything was contributed by those who had lived through the war. For me, this exhibit built the feeling of connection, as many of the objects were from people who are similar in age to me. One sticks out in my mind because of how it reminded me a childhood experience of my own, a barbie with cut of hair. It’s striking to think about meeting this person and discussing the similarities and differences of our childhoods, or to think of my young self, safe in my neighborhood while across the world other children were under siege in their own.
It is difficult to summarize the major takeaways of my trip to Bosnia. In this moment, I feel focused on how I can use this experience to better my own community, the stories of survivors of the Srebrenica genocide, and happy memories of good tea, conversations, and the country.