Zdravo Bosnia i Herzegovina
When I crossed the border I was nervous. I won’t feign bravery or confidence. I haven’t heard much about Bosnia since the war when I was at an age that I can recall few images and little connection with the events. It was easy for me. I just changed the channel. We all did at one time or another. We still do I’m sure.
I felt compelled to come and see. I felt pulled in a way I didn’t understand. This was the first war of my life. It was the first one that I can connect my memories to the timeline of the war. I can remember what I might have been doing in this or that month or year. I came from a privileged upbringing. I’m grateful and unashamed. I didn’t do anything except be born on that side of the world.
But meanwhile, a kid my age died because a mortar somewhere landed next to him while he was walking, or playing, or sitting, or sleeping. A kid my brother’s age got shot in the leg by a sniper. People my parents age were killed everyday, just crossing the street, or the bridge, or the living room.
I can’t know war like you have known it. I likely will never know it the way you have. I’ll never have to push the tears deep inside while I bury my best friend and move on with my day and my life. I won’t have to spend four months digging a tunnel so I can smuggle pushcarts full of necessities through 800 meters of mud and water with 100 pounds of supplies on my back. I won’t have to walk down a street that we all named “sniper alley” for good reason. I’ll never have to leave my home and hope and wonder if I’ll ever be back. I’ll never have to cross a bridge in the car with my family and watch my mother’s chest explode as the sniper’s bullet takes her away from me. I’ll never have to be held captive like an animal with thousands upon thousands of my countrymen while we starve and suffer and survive.
I’m sorry you had to endure that. I’m sorry this person or that person didn’t do what was right when they should have or when they could have. I’m sorry you have to live with this for the rest of your life. I”m sorry it’s so heavy on your shoulders. I’m sorry you’ve had to carry this all by yourself.
What can I do?
I can’t fix anything. I can’t honor anything that hasn’t been honored. I can’t tell a story that a hundred people haven’t told already. I can’t explain anything better than anyone else and I can’t find a way to make it all worth it. I can’t find a happy ending to this one.
At the Srebrenica exhibit in Sarajevo, the tag line is “You are my witness.” Do you know the sign I’m talking about? You’ve seen it outside the exhibit, I’m sure.
So here I am. I’ll be your witness. It’s all I can do. It’s all I have.
For as many times as I’ve felt like a stranger in a strange land, I’m grateful to know that children playing sounds the same all over the world. Dogs barking in the distance echo through a valley just the same. Green trees are green trees and flowing water sets the calm in the ways I’ve known in my life back home. Sneezes are universal. A kind smile and a wave of the hand break down walls faster than words ever can. Language isn’t necessary to communicate. People want to help. Stories want to be heard. We all want to laugh with each other.
So I’ll be your witness.
I’ll see the guys in Srebrenica try to give a childhood to the kids that will grow up there. I’ll see them build a music scene and record the first album from that town. I’ll see hundreds of cars pass honking and waving and throwing candy on their way to celebrate a wedding. I’ll see the farmers laboring in their fields, reaping what they sow. Sure, I’ll buy some vegetables from you and you might as well push some of that med (mead) over here too. I’ll learn how to make coffee your way. I’ll see the way you fix your buildings; erase the bullet holes and move forward. I’ll see a shopping mall that looks just like the ones I know back home. I’ll hear tv shows that echo a familiar setting like I’ve known. I’ll burst with excitement when I taste your first microbrew. I’ll get to know your rakija, very well. I’ll hear your stories and remember.
I didn’t know what to expect when I came here. People I know and people I don’t know alike would ask why I was going to Bosnia. They would exclaim about safety and war and do I really know what I’m getting into!?!?! I’ll admit that I didn’t know. I was scared. And now I cross the river Drina, leaving your fair country in my past and in my memory. I hope that I’ve shared a smile enough, that I’ve cared enough, that I sang loud enough, that I thanked you enough and that I honored you enough. It was entirely my pleasure and privilege to behold your beauty. I’m not scared anymore.