Back in the USSR (Day 9)

Friday, July 4, 2008.

Some of us have been talking and we all feel so much older, and not a little weary, since we got here. We’ve only been together a little over a week but already most of us feel like we’ve known each other for years. Sam and I could be best friends. York and I have practically decided to live together if I get a job in New York. We’ve only been in Sanski Most for a week, but it feels so much like home that it will be incredibly sad to leave. After Saturday, none of us may ever see Omer or Mirsa or Aiden again. And neither will we see Mathilde or Aida or Anne or Brigette. I never expected this trip to be a vehicle for making such great friends or for meeting such amazing people.

We still have almost two weeks left, but it seems like we’ve been here for years. Last night, we went to Palazzo for a Johnnie Walker Black Party. We all wore black and danced to bad house music and did a round of tequila. It was like being out at home, except that we ordered drinks in Bosnian and left the bar reeking of smoke.

I get a little nervous thinking about what my life is going to be like when I get home. I can tell that, over the last few days, something in me has changed. And that’s actually okay, especially because everyone else has felt a change too.

Today is the 4th of July and it almost seems appropriate to celebrate it here, with our friends who don’t yet realize what it feels like to not live in fear of their government. This has never been one of my favorite holidays, but I think I have a new sense of appreciation for the uniqueness of American politics.

Ann and I went to the new office for Vahidin’s Center for Peacebuilding this morning. The bulk of the interns’ work responsibility is to find grants to keep funding steady. Vahidin runs several programs aimed at reconciliation, understanding, compassion, and dialogue. He’s doing amazing work for the people he reaches. And he is so optimistic about the future, it really is encouraging. He smiles all the time, and sometimes I wonder how he is still capable of laughing.

The people here are so strong. There is so much resolve in Bosnians, it practically emanates from them. They have endured so much in the past 20 years and yet many of them, if not most, see no reason to wallow in their sorrows. People talk about the past, yes, and often they weep over it. But there is no sense from the people we’ve talked to that they desire any kind of revenge. Perhaps they’ve seen too much already and want to avoid violence at all costs.

This wasn’t even my conflict. I have no personal ties to it, other than academic curiosity and personal fascination. But I’ll be damned if I ever set foot in Serbia. Not after this.

And I know there are two sides to every story and that there were some wonderfully kind Serbs and some equally evil Bosniaks. But I do not stand with violence or genocide in the name of some bull shit ideology or nationalistic mythology. I have no legitimate or personal reason to be angry, but anger is all I feel and I am so overwhelmed by the Bosnians’ ability to rise above their own anger and avoid seeking revenge. This is like the ultimate study in the human capacity both for unthinkable evil and unbelievable courage and compassion.

I am fixated on the question of How? How could this happen?

To celebrate the Fourth, most of us hung out, drinking wine, talking to the Europeans. Around midnight several of us took our drinks down to the river. It’s hilarious to us that it’s okay to drink from an open bottle in the middle of the street. Luckily, Saturday morning is free, so we don’t have to wake up early. Which is good because by the time we pull ourselves up from the bank, it’s near 2:30 AM.

In other news, I have just booked a flight to Scotland. I fly Sarajevo to Vienna to London to Glasgow on July 17, where I will spend a blissfully long and relaxing weekend with Lis and Jay before returning to the real world on July 22. I will fly Glasgow to Dublin, where I have an 11-hour layover, then Dublin to JFK in New York. From New York, I’ll be taking the Vamoose bus to Bethesda and then Metro back to Chesapeake. I will probably die of exhaustion, but the point is, I’m going to meet the sister I don’t have and I’ll have just spent three weeks in Bosnia. If I die of exhaustion, at least I will be happy.


One Response to “Back in the USSR (Day 9)”

  1. Plus you’re going to get SO looked after here, that flight back will be a breeze!

    (Although we could go to this on Saturday night, yes?)

    I’m really looking forward to hearing all about these life-changing experiences in person.

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