The past few days have been full of emotions. I am not really sure how to convey all my feelings so I am sorry if it does not make sense. Friday through Sunday, eight of us from the Global Practice Bosnia group participated in the Peace March. This march is done in remembrance for the men and boys lives that were lost during the Srebrenica Genocide in 1995. There were over 8,000 males murdered by the Serb Army during this time. When the families of Srebrenica realized what was happening, the males had two options, to stay and most likely get killed, or to run into the hills to seek free land, but still with the potential to be found and then be murdered. This march that we did covered a span of around 63 miles within three days. The terrain of which we hiked through was a mix of mountains, hills, gravel roads and grass. It was so hard, I wont lie about that, there were moments (especially one where I slid down basically the side of a mountain) where I wanted to give up, go home and be in the comforts that I knew.
There were a few different things I thought of while on the march and on the day that we reached the memorial so I am going to talk a little about each of them:
There were multiple times where I thought that I did not want to keep going. My feet hurt, they were covered in blisters. I was sunburnt and had forgotten my hat. I was running out of water and didn’t know when I would be able to fill up my water bottle next. But every time that one of these thoughts would come up in my head, it also occurred to me that the men and boys that were doing this for real had so much more to worry about. I felt as though their sense of hopelessness would have been quite different to mine. They did not know the next thing that was coming for them. Some of them did not know the route and were just following their neighbors and friends.
When the march was finishing, we walked into the memorial around the list of names of those who had been murdered. Surrounding that were the families of those individuals. While I was relieved to be finished, I started crying because I knew that even though I had done this march in their honor and their memory, I could not bring their loved ones back for them. Their family was taken from them out of hate and inhumane actions, and no matter what I do, I could not bring them back. I can’t describe the feelings I had when I was done the march. I could not stop crying, and wanted nothing more than to immediately leave Srebrenica and get rid of the feelings I was having. I think that I was in shock that this actually happened, that all these people died for no real reason. Even now, three days later, I still cannot quite wrap my head around it.
Grief is a funny thing. It is not something that ever goes away. It is something that you learn to live with, and learn to deal with, but I can promise it never goes away. The Monday after the march had ended there is the actual memorial, and this year they buried 127 individuals. .These families had waited 21 years to find out what happened to their loved ones and to finally be able to put them to rest. I can’t even fathom having to wait that long to know what happened. I have experienced a loss which was out of the “natural order” when I lost my brother when he was 13 years old. That grief was hard enough alone, and we knew exactly what had happened and was able to lay him to rest in the normal way. Even though these families most likely had an idea that their loved one was dead, I am sure that they held on to a tiny slice of hope that their son, brother, father or husband would walk through that door one day unharmed. Grief never disappears, whether it has been one day, or 21 years. The loss of someone is immense.
Before we left for the Peace March, we met with one of the program directors best friends, who himself survived the genocide. He told us that we should look at this opportunity to participate in this peace march as a privilege because we were choosing to do this, rather than being forced to do so for the sake of our lives. At first when he said that, I was conflicted, but after finishing the 63 miles, I completely understand where he was coming from. We chose to put ourselves in this position, while it was hard, and there were some days that I wanted to give up, I knew when I finished after the three days that I was going to get to go to a comfortable bed, have a shower, be around people that care about me. The men and boys that did this march for their lives may not have survived the whole thing. They did not know when this hell was going to end for them, and even if they did survive, they did not know what to expect when they got there.