Srebrenica: An account of the emotional journey along the Peace March

It doesn’t feel like enough. This week I had the amazing privilege and heartache of participating in the 3 days, 60-ish mile Marš Mira, or Peace March. Before I left, I had several concerns, including my ability to physically complete the march and my ability to emotionally process the events. I spoke with my professor regarding how to care for myself and speak to my family about what I was about to witness. Then I actually participated. The entire march is a test in being pulled in every emotional direction possible.

The first day was difficult but not as taxing as I had expected. Physically, it was a long day, but not exponentially hard retrospectively. The most troubling part was coming across the first mass gravesite and the first minefield. Simple signs denoted the mass gravesites, similar to those seen relators’ use during open houses. It was jarring to see such a small notation of such a significant event. It did not feel like enough. Similarly, minefield danger was indicated by yellow tape (like police tape) and a red metal sign not much bigger than a sheet of paper. We had the luxury of knowing where the mines could be, completely comfortable in this fact, and able to stay on the path. Those on the original death march did not. Yet again, my steps did not feel like enough.

During the march, I walked with two wonderful women who had a personal connection to the death march. They are both inspiring women, who were determined to complete this march for those they had lost. I also walked with a few people from my program, who were all open and willing to discuss everything, including regularly trying to get even a glimpse of the perspectives of those fleeing for their lives. However, it was difficult to maintain this perspective. This continued to become more and more challenging as the march continued. I finished day one feeling so proud that I actually made it through, then realizing that I was sitting close to a mass gravesite and again I was overwhelmed that what I had done was not enough.

Day two was by far the most physically difficult day. We had to climb a mountain that was thick with mud. It was distractingly hard, but it also included some of the most heartwarming moments. About halfway up the mountain, we were taken by the hand and helped (the most extreme version of the word helped) up the remainder of the hill. Most didn’t speak English and we communicated through hand gestures that were oblique at best. They were struggling themselves, but still took the time to work together to get others, including myself, up the muddy mess together. Time was no longer an issue. As we were walking into camp, I was at the point of pain where I was ready to cry. Then a fellow marcher, walking for his deceased loved ones, came up and started a distracting conversation. It was the large and simpler gestures that made the day what it was. Even has a write this only a few days later, and the pain started to blur, I will still remember these wonderful and alleviating persons that are the only reason I made it through the day.

The final day of the Peace March was the longest distance we had to complete. It got to the point where all I could do is attempt to keep up with the two women I was walking with and try to start processing what I had seen. Looking back again, it was a blur of steps, beautiful views, and devastating realities.

Many times throughout the three days when we came across a breath-taking vista that showcased the mesmerizing rolling hills of Bosnia there was a realization death was just around the corner. Every time we climbed a hill, we realized that the men had to climb down it too. Every time we tried to check the map to see how much farther camp was, we realized the victims of the Genocide did not even know when an end was in sight. Every time my feet or back hurt, I realized that the men did not have the luxuries of food, water, and good shoes. Every time my friends and I joked, there was this draw to know what the individuals on the death march talked about.

When I walked into the cemetery on the final day, the two women we walked with kept saying they couldn’t believe they made it. I felt the same way but I am sure for entirely different reasons. I was exhausted, hurting, and emotionally drained. But I couldn’t believe we made it, because this now meant I had a bed, a shower, and a hot meal to go back to. I was beyond excited to sit down, with the understanding that I actually had time to rest. Then I looked up and I saw the women, children, and men, connected and separate, welcoming us with somber spirits. They were proud, grateful, and hurting. It snapped me back to the gravity of the original march. The men may have reached Nezuk (our starting place), but they didn’t reach safety and they didn’t have the relief that I felt. They didn’t have beds, hot showers, or meals. They couldn’t call their loved ones like I was able to call mine. The ending was just another page for these brave men, not a finish. Even as I write this I worry about doing the March justice and paying respect to the men, women, and children who lost their lives. I also wanted to demonstrate the sincere honor it was to have been welcomed on this momentous march. I know I have changed as a person, but I have yet to understand the extent. I will never forget and that still does not seem like enough.

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First Impressions: An account of a first timer’s first week in Sarajevo

I am not going to lie, it was difficult to get to Sarajevo – lots of flights over the course of several hours. However, as soon as we landed I felt instantly comfortable. Having had just under a week to get acclimated and know the city a bit more, I can confidently say I am overwhelmingly ecstatic to be here. A theory that comes to mind is that of cognitive dissonance, the theory that a person can hold two opposing or inconsistent beliefs, thoughts, or attitudes at one time. I don’t think there is a better way to describe my first reactions to Sarajevo. It is overwhelmingly beautiful! Even with a day full of fog and rain, we were able to take in the landscapes and views of the mountains. Immediately following this, we went to the Sarajevo History Museum, where the poetically curated exhibit on the siege devastated me. I was particularly struck that the series showed individuals, including children, trying to flee sniper fire and the heartbreaking result when they couldn’t. I am both a tourist and a student here. I am an outside observer who can only begin the fathom the oppression that people experienced during and after the war. I have only touched the surface of what I am about to learn and experience.

My first impressions of this city are so much more than I thought I would get. I came in holding high expectations of how this trip would set the trajectory for my future career and dramatically increase my knowledge surrounding the region that my family comes from. I knew I would also be affected, but that was marked under uncontrollable uncertainty. Admittedly I have lofty goals set forth, filled with random activities and sites I plan to visit. However, even after a week spent only briefly walking around my home for the next seven weeks, I feel that I have just barely started to chip away on these goals and yet I am so far from experiencing everything I could be.

On another note, the opportunities that we have already been offered at my internship, Wings of Hope, are incredible. It is amazing to see how willing people are to take me in and trust my opinions and abilities without knowing much more about me than my resume. It’s wonderful to see such an effort towards cooperation and collaboration; I wish it were more widespread. I look forward to diving into the many projects I have been assigned and am determined to meet their high expectations.

Additionally, there are the first impressions of all the wonderful people I am traveling with and the experience of being put in a house with people that I have only met for about 18 hours over the course of 10 weeks. I had little expectation of how the relations and living arrangements would go down. However, I have been surprised by the flexibility and ease that we have worked together. It is true what they say about congregating in the kitchen. After living alone since starting graduate school, I typically eat dinner standing or on the couch, but here, even having separate meals, we still eat together. It has been a game changer to have instant support with seven other individuals who are also experiencing Bosnia for the first time. As we all come from different focuses, it is interesting to see our similar and differing reactions to this city and how we are interpreting our surroundings. It is these individuals that are helping me see things I would never have seen before.

Needless to say, Sarajevo has already provided me with wonderful opportunities and resources. I am finding myself feeling pulled to explore more and more each day. Although I made sure to drink from the infamous fountain in old town to make sure that I will be back, I plan to extend my explorations week by week and absorb as much of the city, culture, and people as I can in the short time I have been allotted.