Closure.

img_2250What a summer. I cannot believe that I am finally back in the United States, and back to the real world. The last few days in Bosnia consisted of closure. Closure with friends, closure with internship, and closure with the city. I chose to stay in Sarajevo for a few days after the university program ended to attend some of the films showing in the Sarajevo Film Festival (second largest film festival in Europe). After that, I went to Italy for a week then I spent one night in Amsterdam, and then went back to Scotland for a week to visit my family.

When I was in Amsterdam, I met two guys from Melbourne, Australia at a bar, and when we started talking, I realized that this was the first time that I really tried to explain what my trip to Bosnia was like to people that had no idea the purpose of it. It was word vomit. I don’t think that I completed a full sentence when trying to explain it. I jumped from memory to memory. Trying to explain Srebrenica or seeing bullet holes in buildings all around Sarajevo is just nearly impossible. This was when I realized that I might have to be okay with the fact that people might just not get what my trip was all about, and how much it affected me, and how much it will continue to affect me for the rest of my life.

And I was right. Trying to explain this summer to anyone who wasn’t there is impossible. I have tried with pictures and stories, but no one understands to the extent of how it was. Its so frustrating, and I wish there was a word, a phrase that could completely describe how it was. When people ask me how Bosnia was, I say, ‘it was the best of times, it was the worst of times”. Sometimes that answer will satisfy people and we move on to the next subject, which occasionally I am okay with, as it doesn’t require me to attempt to explain the summer.

I could not have asked for a more amazing opportunity to end my academic career (at least for the moment), and Bosnia will remain apart of me for the rest of my life.

When In Bosnia.

 

When we went to Mostar last weekend, I was so excited. So excited to get away from Sarajevo, a place that just recently seemed to remind me more and more of war and suffering, and to be by the water which I consider to be my safe haven. While we were sitting by the waterfalls in Kravice (a town close to Mostar), all I could think about was the sun in my face and the sand beneath my feet. I seemed to briefly forget about the pain and suffering that we were becoming far too aware of in the rest of Bosnia. This might sound selfish, but I needed to get away, I felt as though I was drowning in sadness and reminders of war.

After having a few drinks that first night in Mostar, dancing for some hours, and not returning to our hostel until 3 am, we passed by a construction building of which I saw this graffiti art.

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WAR IS NOT OVER.

A reminder, once again, that 20 years later and this war is not over. There are no bombings anymore, Sarajevo is not under siege, there are no snipers, but the memories are still there. There are families all over Bosnia that will never know where their family members died or how they were killed. The war of rebuilding this country is still very much happening.

It also reminded me of the devastation that is constantly going on all around the world; in Syria, France, the D.R.C. It is happening as we speak, yet it is so easy for us to close our eyes to it, and forget about what the reality is.

This trip has been incredible. From the friendships I have acquired,  to the copious glasses of wine that have been consumed. This trip has also been hard, so hard. The stories that I have heard, the physical and emotional distraught I have experienced is like no other… The varying emotions that were experienced, the tears that were shed, the songs that were sung. I will take these experiences with me for the rest of my life.

 

When in Bosnia. 

 

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I have tried to sit down and write this blog a million times. I honestly didn’t want to go back to that headspace. Back to Tuzla. Back to Srebrenica. Back to the bone man. Back to what I considered an emotional living hell. Every time I sit down to write this, I am immediately overwhelmed with feelings, most of which I cant describe. So then I close my computer and walk away. Then I remember the people we met, Hasan, Saliha, Ramiz and the stories of countless others. They don’t have that option to close their computer on their feelings and walk away. They live with the grief of their loved ones being murdered, they live with moments when they wake up and think that their husband and two sons are downstairs until the reality hits that they are dead. They live with not getting the closure that they so longingly deserve. They can’t just walk away.

I am so sorry.

Learning about genocide in class and from textbooks is so incredibly different than being in these places first hand. When you listen to a lecture, they talk about numbers and how these atrocities happened. But when you are there, talking to the people, hearing their stories and hearing their heartbreak, it is a whole different thing. When listening to the different stories of these individuals, I wavered between emotions. I experienced sadness, anger, hopelessness and grief. Grief for people that I had just met, grief for their family members and friends. Grief for the city and country itself. One thing that I will always remember is when one of the girls on the trip asked Saliha what she felt as though her purpose was now and she replied with..

I have no purpose, my sons and husband are gone. I am waiting to die

I want to remember these feelings I had while in Srebrenica and the following weeks back in Sarajevo. I want to remember the sadness, the disappointment, the hopelessness. I want to remember asking myself if there is a god, and if there is, why would he let something like this happen?

Why?

I know that this blog doesn’t really tell you what we did while we were in Srebrenica. But I cannot articulate these stories the way that I want to. I hope that me conveying my feelings gives somewhat of an idea of how it was there.

Wings of Hope//Fondacija Krila Nade

            It has been almost two weeks since we set off on the Peace March. There honestly has not been a day that goes by that I have not thought about that experience, and how it has changed me. I am so thankful for that opportunity, and while it was so difficult, it has been a truly life changing experience. Having the internship I do made it a lot easier to come back to Sarajevo after

Wings of Hope//Fondacija Krila Nade

            This internship has been absolutely amazing the first four weeks. I have not only learned about the non profit itself, but a lot about the history of Sarajevo and what individuals went through during the war. Wings of Hope or Fondacija Krila Nade is a non profit organization which works with both children and adults giving them a “psycho-social support using a multi-systemic approach”. The offer counseling/therapy to clients regarding a multitude of issues, they offer free legal help for marginalized individuals. They also offer English & German lessons to individuals who wish to take them.

I just graduated from the University of Denver in June with my Masters degree in Social Work. So for the past two years I have had required unpaid internships for school. My most recent internship was at the African Community Center in Denver working as an intense case manager with refugee families. This internship was one of the most life changing things I have ever done. So when I came to Wings of Hope, my standards were really high. And I am so happy to say that my standards have been met. The employees and volunteers at WHO are absolutely amazing, they are all so incredibly talented and passionate about different topics. It has also really been interesting to learn about how non-profits work and how different organizations work together in Bosnia.

Currently we are working on a proposal for the donors of Wings of Hope to receive more funding to help with legal fees for clients. While Wings of Hope offers free legal counseling, there are still some regular court fees that come along with any court proceedings. Two other interns and I are working on this proposal by doing research, and getting information from the Wings of Hope employees. This is not something that I am very experienced at, so it is really nice to have this experience.

 

I really could not be more thankful for these experiences that I am getting in Bosnia. I have met some absolutely incredible people, both in the DU program, and the local Bosnians. I love hearing people’s stories and learning about their lives, and Bosnia is definitely a good place to do so.

 

“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.”

                        -Benjamin Franklin

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mars Mira [peace march]

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:

HOPELESSNESS

            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.

 

ENDINGS

            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

            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.

I can’t believe its been two weeks…

We have now officially been in Sarajevo for two weeks and one day. Sometimes it feels as though we have been here for months, and then other days it feels as though I have just arrived. My levels of anxiety have definitely risen in the past few days as it is setting in that I am away from my friends and family for another six weeks at least. I have absolutely loved getting to know the other individuals in our group. I think every single person brings something amazing to the table with their different life experiences and interests.

This past weekend, a group of ten of us went to Croatia to the beach. It was such an amazing experience. We took two cars, one being automatic and one being manual, and drove six hours to the coast. Some of the roads were extremely sketchy, and there were multiple times that I was so thankful I was not the one driving. We ended up arriving a bit after nine, but was greeted with a beautiful apartment less than ten minutes walk from the beach. It was an absolutely amazing mini-vacation. It was so different from Sarajevo as it was much more touristy, and we were right on the water. It was definitely nice to get away from the city life of Sarajevo for a bit.

Tomorrow morning (at 6am) we leave for Srebrenica to do the Peace March. This walk is three days through the hills in memory of all the individuals that died during the genocide. I am very nervous for it, as I am not in shape in any way or form. But it will be extremely meaningful in more ways than one. The next time I update it will be after the march! Thank you for reading 🙂

Surprises come in all forms.

13522793_10157082890095486_2850825117799000251_oThis city is full of juxtaposition. It is a vibrant city full of so much life and culture, but not only 20 years ago it was filled with hate, killing and death. I am having a hard time coming to terms with exactly what all occurred here during that time. When studying and preparing for this trip, I made sure that I was educated on what caused the war and the culture of the city. So on arrival, I was expecting it to be pretty obvious that a huge conflict had happened here, but surprisingly there is not a substantial amount of evidence of that. There is the occasional statue or memorial, which reminds passer-byers of what happened but that is it. I almost feel as though there is a feeling of not wanting to remember what happened during those years. Possibly denial? I am not sure. An interesting part is that you could be having a casual conversation with someone on the street and somehow the conversation gets turned into talking about the war. It is not necessarily a negative conversation, but more of an informative one. It could be a specific story from when the war was going on, or about how they were affected due to the war.

Another thing that surprised me, not necessarily about the city of Sarajevo itself, but just in general, is how at home I feel. Even though I have only been here for just over a week, I feel as though I could have lived here my entire life. I am so comfortable, not only in the hostel and with the amazing group that I am with, but just in the city in general. There is a calming effect that this city has on me. I am so excited to see what comes in the next few weeks.                                                                                                                                                              

First Week in Bosnia!

Why did I pick Bosnia? I have always been fascinated by the war that occurred here in the 1990s. Growing up in Scotland, I was always aware of what happened, but did not know too much about it until I got older. When I started at The University of Denver in July of 2015, our orientation to the Graduate School of Social Work had an introduction to all the international study opportunities that were available. As soon as I saw the video of Bosnia, I knew that I had to go on this trip.

IMG_6154.jpg            This first week in Sarajevo has been nothing short of exciting. Coming to a new place with a completely new culture than I am used to always provides an experience. I have been fortunate enough to travel in various parts of Europe during my 23 years of life, but never have I experienced somewhere like this. This city has so much history and so much life to it, some being good and some bad.IMG_6155.JPG

While preparing for this trip, we were required to read materials and watch documentaries about the tragic history during the war that developed in the early 1990s. After my first week here, I have had many thoughts about what it would have been like during those years and how life would have progressed. It is sometimes very difficult to picture what happened here when walking down these streets surrounded by such a vibrant and exciting atmosphere. The cafes that line the streets are full of people laughing, drinking and talking, there are bars that don’t close until 4am in the morning, with loud music being heard from all over the city. How can it be that only a mere 20 years ago, people were fighting for their lives not knowing whether they would be shot by a sniper or not that day.

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This past Friday, we went on a hike to the town of Lukomir, which is located at the highest altitude and the most remote village in the entire country. It was a 10km (6 mile hike) through a variety of different landscapes. As I am not the most in shape person in the world, I found it a little challenging, but the view at the top was definitely worth the sweat. I found myself thinking about how it would feel to know what was going on in Sarajevo and around Bosnia during the time of the war, and being in a place like Lukomir, where if the forces tried to attack, there was no where to go. It definitely makes you think.

IMG_6194.jpg            I am excited for the next 7 weeks here in Bosnia and looking forward to the new adventure. Stay tuned for more updates!