Free Choice

This week’s topic is free choice but I’ve been having a difficult time deciding what to write about. All I’ve really been thinking about for the past week is the people that I met during the Peace March but I don’t feel that it’s appropriate for me to write about them on the internet.

One experience that really stood out to me during the Peace March was that a family welcomed me into their home for an evening where I was able to take a hot shower, eat a nice meal, and sleep on a comfortable bed. It’s hard to imagine strangers back home doing such a thing. While I was eating dinner, a man at the house asked how the march was that day. Without really thinking about it, I said, “It was long. It took me 12 hours” (it was actually more like 15). He just looked at me and said, “It took me 16 days.” It was a humbling conversation as the family then talked about who they lost during the genocide. I think it’s interesting how open many people that I’ve met here are when it comes to talking about their deceased relatives. It’s been making me reevaluate how my family talks about the people that we’ve lost since we really aren’t that open about it. I think that part of the reason that people are so open about death here is so that their loved ones are never forgotten and their memory lives on.

I have a hard time comprehending how people affected by genocide have been able to move forward with their lives. I can’t even imagine the trauma that they have endured and their sense of resiliency amazes me. I recently spoke with someone who lost family during the genocide and they talked about how they forgive whoever killed their relatives even though they don’t know who they are. That was a really powerful conversation for me and it made me feel like I need to be more forgiving and let go of insignificant things that may bother me.

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Journal #3: Srebrenica

Journal #3: Srebrenica

 

Last weekend we visited Srebrenica to commemorate the lives lost in the genocide, where over 8,000 people, mostly Bosniak men and boys were killed. I’m not the best at feelings, and don’t really know what to say, so I wrote this.

 

Seeing the white headstones, all in a line

Rain falling throughout the town

Examining what was left of the town, burned out buildings and graffiti

Burning up in the sun/Blemish on the U.N

Racking my brain with how such evil exists in the world

Embarking on a walk to the cemetery and memorial center

Never again

I don’t know what else to say…

Coffins, draped in a green cloth

Anxiously waiting the return of the Peace Marchers

 

Nestled in the town, over run spas remain

Exchanging stories and enjoying dinner with the Peace Marchers and people from all walks of life

Viewing the coffins, being brought into the cemetery from the battery factory

Enforcing the barricades to the cemetery

Renouncing hate in all its forms

 

Feeling a haunting presence in the battery factory, where many lives were lost

Organizing thoughts and feelings

Reflecting on the lives lost in the genocide

Getting a ride back out of the cemetery

Enjoying the company at Annessa’s

Together we remember the lives lost

Free Write: An account of a student’s weekend excursion to Belgrade

A week ago I was in Srebrenica and this past weekend I was in Belgrade. The stark differences between the two locations were astounding. Visually, you go from wondrous rolling green hills to a gray concrete jungle. Emotionally, I was pulled. I had learned so much about the pain Bosniaks had suffered at the hand of the Serbs, I had seen the sights of the mass grave, and now here I was walking in what almost felt like enemy territory. I was fortunate enough to have spent some time at ICTY where we had had a discussion regarding the need to prosecute the atrocities on an individual level rather than pursuing collective guilt. The first day walking around Belgrade, I continuously had to check my emotions. I was disregarding most things I was seeing because I now felt this immense loyalty to Bosnia. Thankfully, I went on the trip with some amazing individuals that were open to a discussion surrounding this topic. We spent a lot of time talking about how we were in an almost funk-like stage during the first half of the day. I was trying to be present and take in Belgrade’s offerings, but not being as receptive as I think we would have been just a few months ago. It was hard to remember that it was just certain individuals, albeit in the hundreds, that perpetrated the war, not the entire population of Serbia. Many of these individuals were just trying to stay alive themselves. I also had to check in with myself about the fact that to some, this war did not impact their lives as much as others, and as such, the lasting effects might be subtle or non-existent. Our friends that are stationed in Serbia were also great to have with us because they did not have the background and history that we had learned. Their perceptions of Serbia were built solely on their experiences over the past five weeks in the city and exploring. Where we noticed gray, they pointed out the rainbow lights projected onto buildings and fountains. They showed us their favorite bakeries and restaurants, walked the streets to their internship sites. In the end, while I will always hold a place for Bosnia in my heart, Belgrade was not that different than a large, tourist-filled city. This city has its own unique things to offer that have nothing to do with the terror of war. For instance, while visiting the Museum of Flowers or Tito’s grave, I was yet again reminded of the proud history of Yugoslavia. This was a time when everyone stood together under one man.

I am realizing that there is so much more to learn. If I’ve learned anything in my past three weeks participating in Global Practice Bosnia, it is that education is where everything starts. It is how you change minds, open hearts, and build relationships. I would by no means consider myself knowledgeable about the Balkans, Bosnia, or Serbia and am excited by the reminder that I have so much left to discover and understand. I am unsure I will ever get to a point where I feel like I fully understand the region’s complex history. However, more understanding and knowledge can promote peacebuilding, and that is what I personally strive to grow upon. Thanks to ICTY, I understand better the power of collective versus individual guilt and was able to recognize my growing biases while visiting Serbia. However, this need for education expands even into my own daily life and my own country. America has been a part of many wars, almost all of which were outside the borders, but I have no understanding, no knowledge of these fights. I have no emotional draw like I did when I entered Serbia. So what does that mean about my own ignorance?

New Ideas and Affirmations

This past week was a mix of all sorts of new experiences ranging from visiting a war crimes court to my first time crossing an international border by car; of course, the latter was decidedly more upbeat. To start with the war crimes court, we initially visited the UN ICTY Outreach Program, where the international criminal court is able to extend its breadth from Holland to Sarajevo. Here we received a presentation on the functioning of the ICTY and the outreach program, and it truly opened my eyes to the atrocities that were committed during the war. While it is hard to imagine that mass murder in the context of genocide is not as bad as it got, it was explained to us that many of the crimes were – in my opinion – worse than murder. The offenders sometimes capitalized on the physical and mental weakness of the prisoners for the purpose of shaming them in various ways, which is decidedly a more severe method of torture than death. It was truly shocking when we were given concrete examples of some of the crimes committed, and I found myself struggling to comprehend how people can commit such crimes.

The following presentation at the war crimes court was also quite interesting as it focused not on the criminals but on the victims. Specifically we were shown how psychologists at the court are responsible for ensuring that the victims who testify are cared for, as needless to say much of what they speak about is extremely emotional. Considering that one typically only hears about the defendants in a case and their punishments, it was interesting to hear the other side of the story.

On a brighter note, several of us went to Dubrovnik, Croatia to watch and celebrate the World Cup in one of the participating countries. While I am a soccer (football) fan only once every four years, I am consistently a fan of international sports as a whole, and hope to pursue a career where I can combine this interest with my learned knowledge in the security realm. I feel that sports are something that bring people together like nothing else in the world, and I was incredibly excited to get to experience this huge event in Croatia. While Croatia did not beat France, I was both surprised and impressed that the attitude of the thousands of fans in the streets of the Old City of Dubrovnik was nothing but positive. While of course people were sad, at the end of the game there was widespread clapping for France, and a much louder round of applause as the Croatian players were shown on screen. The people of Croatia were so enthused that they had made it that far, and it was truly inspiring to see this much positivity in a scenario where I imaged people would respond with negative energy. This experience built upon my philosophy that sports bring society together and do not divide it, and I’m so glad that I got to experience that for myself.

Beyond this experience I was able to explore yet another country by bike, spending two hot summer afternoons cycling up and down the coast of Croatia while more rational people were relaxing on the beach. I did make sure to get in some beach time as well, but it was not my priority. It would be incomplete to wrap up this blog post without mentioning the eleven hours we spent in the car; not only was it a great opportunity to get to know a couple of the others here, but also a great way to work on my patience while sitting in the border patrol line for 2.5 hours. We got to experience many of the winding mountain roads that Bosnia has to offer that we may not have seen otherwise, as well as several stunning lakes and Dolomite-looking grey rocky mountains protruding well beyond the tree-line. Each of the small towns we passed through each gave us something, whether that was ice cream or human interaction. In short, this week was one for the books, whether that was the beauty of Bosnia, the coast of Croatia, or the confirmation of the rationale behind my fascination of international sports.

You do Matter (Nell) #3

Have you ever someone say, “I wish I had never seen _____” or “I wish the memory of _____”? This past weekend I went with some friends and cohort members to Belgrade, Serbia to visit our friends we go to the University of Denver with. During our trip, we decided to go to the zoo and the fortress which were right next to each other. We had no idea that some emotional preparation would have helped prior to walking through the zoo entrance.

Upon finally exiting the zoo, I caught myself saying, “I wish I could erase the images of those animals from my mind.” Really, this statement isn’t saying that I wish I hadn’t gone in general; what it really means when we say statements like this is that we wish our ignorance was still intact, because the guilt and pain we are now subject to is stressful and taxing. How horrible for us, to have to experience such internal pain, when the animals of the Belgrade Zoo are so stressed their feathers and fur are falling out. Perhaps the worst part is knowing there is very little we can actively do. We can write to PETA, and if you look online many people have, but even then you must get signatures or go through some process to even begin the process of improving the situation. This takes time. And during this time, the monkeys are in a 10×10 cage, being taunted by tourists and locals, the hippos are swimming in their own filth in a poop not even big enough for one baby hippo, the baby bison looks dehydrated and malnourished, the elephant’s foot is visibly deteriorating, and I could go on and on. There was not one animal that didn’t look depressed out of its mind, or bored, or in pain. I wish I could hop into the cages or pens and physically take the animals with me, but I certainly don’t have a safer place for them to go and I have no training in the care of such species. The pain of not being able to do anything is horrible, but after being in Srebrenica for the Peace March and the burial day I no longer want to be that person who says statements yearning for past ignorance. Ignorance is the deadliest of poisons and knowledge is power. I can guarantee that the pain of no longer being ignorant is not worse than the pain of others, like these animals, that broke the ignorance to begin with.

Although nothing can be done immediately, a woman in our University of Denver, International Disaster Psychology program submitted photos and wrote to PETA and I followed suit. With luck, these small steps add up to a larger change some point in the future, hopefully sooner than later. The experience also makes me ponder about what can be done personally in the future. I don’t think the activist lifestyle fits very well with my goals or personality, but I have always wanted to incorporate animals into my profession. My ever-evolving dream begins with living on a medium to large plot of land, with space to grow an animal-assisted therapy program. I’m not sure of the population yet, but I know it will be with youths. Perhaps this design has room for rescuing abused exotic animals, who knows. The moral of the story is that although you personally may not be able to do something in an exact moment, your life and the actions you take still are impactful and the experiences you have can change the lives of others in the future. I may not have the resources, connections, or power to change the Belgrade Zoo, but I can positively impact the lives of other animals in the states, fight for international animal rights, and teach others the importance of shedding their ignorance and standing up for what you they think is right and just in the world. There is always something one can do and no matter how small, it does make a difference.

Culture Shock in Serbia

This time post Peace March has been quite an adjustment for me. I have been trying to heal my body, inside and out, along with my mental stability. I sincerely feel that participating in the Peace March and being able to connect with some incredible people has led me to have a newfound respect for Bosnia and its citizens. The resilience of the Bosnian people is a trait I have never witnessed, especially in the way it seems to exist in the entire population of people. As I continue to recover, I find myself with more thoughts and questions than I did before.

Traveling to Belgrade, Serbia, this weekend brought many of those questions to the forefront of my mind. When first arriving in Belgrade I was not prepared for the bustling metropolis that was before me. Driving on a straight highway rather than a curvy, mountainous road was extremely unexpected! I assumed Belgrade and Sarajevo would be similar. I was quickly proven wrong. On Saturday, we went to find breakfast and begin our exploration of the city. As I walked around I was confronted with many thoughts about Bosnian and Serbian relations. Having been so immersed in Bosnia’s experience through the Peace March, I realized I felt a defensive attitude toward Serbia. I realized I had put a wall up immediately upon arriving in Belgrade. I could feel myself almost wanting to find the negative in everything around. There were no bullet wounds in the buildings, no remnants of a war in the 1990’s that stole thousands of lives throughout the entire country.

While exploring Belgrade and comparing it’s condition to what I had seen in Bosnia, I was reminded of a conversation I had with one of my cohort members are visiting the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).  During this discussion, the speaker commented on the fact that the war criminals and those individuals charged with crimes do not represent an entire population. The men and one woman who we learned about had committed terrible, horrendous crimes, but they were individuals, not every single Serb or Bosnian Serb. Exploring Belgrade while experiencing this sense of hostility towards the entire country, the concept of “collective blame” came to life for me.  I was blaming an entire country for the atrocities I have been spending so much time learning about. Though what occurred in Bosnia during the 1990’s was horrendous and I am by no means excusing what was done, I cannot blame every single individual who identifies as Serb for genocide and crimes against humanity. Blaming every individual for those crimes is exactly what was done during the war. It would only perpetuate hate throughout the world. One reason collective blame cannot and should not be placed on a single community is because, though mainly Serbs were charged for the crimes against Bosniaks, there were other “ethnicities” charged as well. One young man named Dražen Erdemović pled guilty in front of the ICTY. At the beginning of the war, he had fought for the Bosnian Army. After changing sides, he participated in horrible activities despite his nationality or beliefs when the conflict started.

I was incredibly grateful to be able to visit the ICTY and have this conversation before traveling to Belgrade. I was able to identify the feelings I was having and process them in context. In addition to my personal soul searching, I spoke with fellow GPB students about what I was feeling.  Having the opportunity to learn these concepts while living in a place where they can be applied immediately is important.

In my mind, I compare collective blame with the institutional racism I see in the US.  Many people claim, “I am not a racist!” but their actions and words are founded on stereotypes of an entire community.  Maybe that entire community does hold negative attitudes toward another but putting blame on them without adequately engaging with that community does not make improve the situation. Perhaps I am wrong to equate racism and what occurred in Bosnia during the war but these are the thoughts that have been running through my mind since the end of the Peace March. I strongly recognize it is easier for me to work through these thoughts and emotions than for those who lost loved ones and family during the war. I do not wish to speak for the people of Bosnia in any way. Through this experience I have been delving into so much both intellectually and emotionally. I continue to process it all, often relating it to experiences I am familiar with back home.

Remembering and Learning from Srebrenica

We attended the July 11th commemoration in Potočari for the victims of the 1995 Srebrenica genocide. This a difficult blog post to write. In so many ways this is not my story to tell. It’s not my memories or loved ones or past life. But, I am deeply impacted by the gravity of the haunting reality that thousands of defenseless people were hunted, murdered and, nearly 25 years later, still missing. To stand on that ground among survivors of the death marches and the people who lost loved ones invariably impacts my understanding of the world.

I think the place to start is a place of gratitude. First and foremost I need to thank the people who allowed us to be in their sacred space. The commemoration is also an extremely complicated and painful funeral. I don’t have a frame of reference for this, but I cannot imagine inviting strangers to a funeral of someone I loved who suffered senseless violence. I think I would resent the cameras, the crowds and the other distractions from remembering my loved one. So I am deeply moved by the invitation to be there. I am also so thankful for the people who organized the logistics of getting us there and the hospitality of everyone we met. From the guest house owner and her family who welcomed us with family-style dinners and a rare warmth to the driver who had lost family in the genocide but spent hours transporting us to the cleaning staff in Sarajevo who lost family in the genocide, to Hasan who runs the memorial and lost his twin brother and father in the genocide (for more on his story, see his book “Surviving Srebrenica”)  to Ann who set an example of how to be respectful in such a complicated setting to each person who cared for us, welcomed us or included us. This event was not about us, and yet somehow us wanting to understand and connect with Bosnians was appreciated. I really don’t have the words to express my appreciation for the small ways we were included and welcomed.

IMG_0256.jpg
The memorial in Potočari on July 11th. Thousands of people came to commemoration.

In addition to attending the commemoration, we were there on the 10th when the participants of the Peace March, the cyclers and motorcyclists who had been criss-crossing Bosnia in memory of the events of Srebrenica arrived at the cemetery. Despite large crowds, the place was largely silent as people laid flowers on graves and grieved in their own ways. Survivors led the peace march and as they arrived covered in mud, remembrance and a kinship forged in tragedy, there was a palatable collective heaviness. Some of my colleagues wrote about the peace march in detail, but the moment that struck me was watching people finish a massive 60+ mile hike that usually brings relief and pride at having completed something physically demanding replaced with a shrinking of physical discomfort and outpouring of emotion. There was pain and remembrance and guilt and loss and grief and injustice and gratitude for survival and those gut wrenching questions of why life had to come out the way it did and so many other difficult to understand emotions. I think that moment revolutionized my understanding of restorative justice in a way that no book ever could.

Beyond this there isn’t a lot I feel comfortable saying since it isn’t my story to tell. I guess I feel as if the U.S. and NATO should have intervened earlier since there was an abundance of evidence suggesting something like Srebrenica was around the corner. I think our inaction cost people their lives, but that is a heavy and complicated burden to lay on anyone’s doorstep besides those who perpetrated the violence–and I mean the individuals that ordered or participated in the violence, not any group at large as collective guilt helps no one. I think the politics of intervention seem ridiculous in comparison to the damage that occurred there. I feel those hallowed and haunted grounds are a lesson and warning for the U.S. as nationalism takes root in the hearts of people I know to be full of love.

 

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.

Journal #2: Free Write- A Place at the Table

Journal #2: Free Write

 

For this week’s topic, it was free choice, so I decided to write about the hospitality I have encountered during my short time here in Bosnia-Herzegovina. No matter where you go in Bosnia, you will be treated to coffee (Kavah/Kafa) or tea (chai), often accompanied by cookies or chocolates. My favorite tea so far is called grandmother’s soul. If i’m not mistaken I think it’s a version of Thyme tea. It’s magical and comforting, whatever it is. All of the chocolates are my favorite. 

 

At my internship, we start the day with tea and coffee, and take breaks to socialize and share a meal with each other. Everyone brings something, and somehow it ends up being enough for everyone at the office. I have really come to appreciate this time of socializing and sharing with my coworkers. It reminds me of the magic wardrobe in the hostel- there is always something for someone in need.

 

Another instance of sharing and hospitality I encountered this week is when the group (who did not participate in this years Peace March), drove down to Srebrenica (more on that next week) to meet up with the Peace marchers and commemorate the lives lost in the genocide in July 1995. At Annessa’s Guest House (where we stayed), we were greeted by the most gracious family. They had essentially turned their house into a hostel, and hosted people from all over the world. Their house was especially busy during the Srebrenica memorial time (the weekend we were there). Anyways, what I wanted to talk about in this blog is the dinner table. After a day of traveling from Sarajevo we put our belongings down in our room and moseyed along to the dinner table in Annessa’s living room/kitchen. It was a spread… pasta, chicken, fresh tomatoes, a delicious veggie soup, fresh bread and pita. You name it and it was there. So we stuff our faces with the wonderful meal, the Peace Marchers stuff their faces… some of Anne’s friends show up (notably Hasan Hasanović, friend and supporter of the DU program), show up… and there is still enough food for everyone. It was mind blowing. Did I mention how delicious the food was? It was really nice to gather around the table and simply have a conversation with people (without people checking their phones every 5 seconds…wow, I sound like i’m 90 years old) and hearing about their connections to Bosnia and what the Peace March and this time means to them. I enjoyed listening to the different languages and accents flowing around the table. I felt like I was at my grandparents house in TN, but instead I was world’s away at a guesthouse in Bosnia. It’s a weird feeling to explain because I was only there for 2 days, but I definitely learned from my time at Annessa’s. Maybe because it reminded me of my grandparents house. How they always make sure that everyone has something to eat. The Southern hospitality. How the mother worked and prepped all day to create a meal for us. She also made breakfast for us the next day, before we left to observe the burial at the cemetery. I wish people in the States would share more. Share their time, energy, and meals with other people. I’m not talking communism (we know how that ended) but just recognizing the humanity we all share.

Thanks for reading through the rambles.

 

Dovidenja.

 

The Peace March

I’m not even sure where to start when it comes to describing my experience doing the Peace March. There really aren’t any words that can do it justice. As much as I’ve read about genocide, it still seems like this abstract foreign concept but my time in Srebrenica and in the Peace March really humanized it for me. Meeting people whose lives were so affected by genocide was really humbling and such an eye-opening experience.

One thing that really stood out to me during the march was how people were helping one another, including myself. I injured my knee at the end of the first day so the next two days were a real struggle. At the beginning of the second day, we had to cross a mountain and I wasn’t able to keep up with my group so I told them to go ahead. As I was hobbling up and down the mountain on my own, so many people stopped to check on me and see if I was ok or if I needed any help. At the bottom of the mountain, I stopped at a house where people were handing out food and drinks. The family that lived there gave me pants to wear as I was a little chilly just wearing shorts. They invited me to join their group, which consisted of small children, young adults, and grandparents. I couldn’t keep up so they suggested I quit and get a ride with the Red Cross to the campsite. I refused to give up that easily so I declined and continued on my own. It got to the point where I was in so much pain that I could barely walk and I started to question if I would really be able to finish. As I passed by a house with a lot of people drinking coffee, a group saw me struggling so they came to check on me. They refused to leave me and they walked with me even though I was really slowing them down. They convinced me to seek help at the next Red Cross ambulance, which really helped alleviate my pain. One of the members of the group had survived the death march so I was amazed and humbled, if those are even the right words, that he chose to walk with me every step of the way for the rest of the Peace March. After seeking help with the Red Cross, we came upon a mountain of mud, which was pretty difficult to hike up but so many people were helping each other. Every single time that I started slipping or felt stuck or I didn’t know how I was going to continue, I would look up and there would be a hand or a person with a stick reaching towards me to help me. I never would have been able to make it up the mountain on my own.

I feel like the Peach March helped me begin to comprehend some of the physical aspects that people were subjected to on the Death March but I don’t think I’ll ever be able to understand the mental aspects. I knew that I was safe the entire time. Food, drinks, and medical assistance were available along the way. I was able to prepare for the march ahead of time and bring the appropriate footwear and anything that I thought I might need. The people on the Death March didn’t have any of those luxuries. I can’t even imagine the psychological toll that it must have taken on people to be hunted as they ran for their lives. While the Death March exemplifies the worst of humanity, I finished the Peace March with a renewed faith in the human spirit by witnessing such resiliency and kindness.