I was riding the trolly on the way to work this morning thinking about what to say in this blog. I pass the same buildings on my way to work- riddled with bomb blasts and bullet holes, watching older people struggle to get onto the trolly, stomping out cigarettes moments before stepping on and the waft of tobacco following them aboard. Graffiti is strewn about any and all surface areas. Shiny or fabric. Dirty seats. Heavy air. Good morning Sarajevo.
If a reflection is how you meticulously scrutinize yourself in a mirror or glance at a passing window, how you perceive yourself, then in a nutshell my new reflection has darker bags under my eyes and maybe isn’t walking with so much hop in my step. The stories of the last weekend have weighted on me, and despite being back in the city and being distracted by all the sights, people, drinks and eats here, I carry heavy stones of emotions; banging into each other and organs ever so often so as to remind me of what I heard and saw.
I keep wavering back and forth between sadness and anger. Between love and hate. Between “what’s the point?!” and “I have an obligation to do something about this!”. As if I can change what happened, but don’t I have the power to? I am so wildly unprepared and unequipped for this. I am studying economics. There is no genocide in economics, no mourning. No mother’s empty house and daily reminders of a life long past. It’s an absolutely stifling head space and I can’t help but feel and question everything.
As a lifelong learner, I am in love with information. I always want to know more, and cherish the opportunity to think critically about my thoughts and my encounters. I have studied genocide. I read Anne Frank. I know statistics and names of perpetrators and the iconic pictures of war and violence. They were words on pages and ink in books.
I will never again think of genocide that way.
We met with survivors of genocide. A doctor who didn’t sleep for 4 years as she poured her soul into a hospital in Srebenica, only to be bombed out, wounded by snipers, and escaped to the mountains. A healer who was hated.
We met with mothers of the victims. Mothers who lost their entire families. Their 12 year old sons, their lovers, their uncles, brothers and fathers. In moments of panic and despair they were torn away from their families in horror, and never got to say goodbye. They were abandoned by the United Nations. Their governments. Their sense of trust and peace, and for all purposes- humanity. They were coerced and then forgotten. To this day they struggle with finding peace, and in a moment of pure honesty say things like “now I can only wait for death.”
The Bone Man. Where to even start with this person. A warm sense of place enveloped us as we unloaded off the bus.
I have never been one for many words. Or rather, I prefer to ponder them in conversation instead of saying what first comes to mind. This silence can sometimes be construed impatience. I have often been asked if I am angry, bored or indifferent. It couldn’t be farther from the reality- I just am not much of a talker. I listen. I think. I process that way. This weekend amplified that, but on a whole different level.
I needed to be left alone, but couldn’t stand the isolation. I was so incredibly anxious. I so didn’t want to be there. I wanted a hug SO badly, and the first human touch I was susceptible to resulted in an outpour of tears. I saw things I can’t unsee, and heard things I can’t now un-imagine. I was surrounded by people who were also aching for solace, yet had nothing left to give them. It was a helpless feeling, and it was so hard.
I decided to take some photos of this experience. After the Peace March, I was pretty determined to not use photography as a tool for these stories, because it felt invasive. I felt as though the photos were exhibitionist. I didn’t like the idea of abusing someone’s grief for the sake of a picture. However as I look back on these images I took over the weekend, I realize that they are critical. Storytelling is so much more than words, and so much more than a picture. But it is part of the narrative that needs to be heard. They are ugly reminders. They are heartbreaking. They are real, and they shall not be forgotten.
Photos from the weekend.
Names of the victims at Potočari, outside Srebencia.
Recovered remains in the ICMP in Tuzla.
The bone man is perhaps one of the most remarkable, untold stories of war. He is a brother and son to victims of the genocide. After the war he moved back to his families’ home in an attempt to search for any remains of his family. He searches everyday on the hills surrounding his home and along the way has managed to discover remains for over 300 bodies. His work is tireless, his aim simple, and his story as remote as is the home in which he lives.
Inside the memorial museum at Potočari. The warehouse where they keep the coffins prior to burial, as well as the place where the Dutch UN base during the falling of Srebenica in July 1995. This old battery factory housed 6,000 women and children following the fall of the city.
Storytelling in Potočari.
A home cooked meal of Saliha, an international icon of the Mothers of Srebencia and her incredible garden.
The last morning I walked up a small trail in the town of Srebenica. Here’s a glimpse of what it looks like now. It is neither welcoming nor forgiving.