Be careful what you wish for because sometimes you get it. I came to Bosnia & Hercegovina looking for something different. I am getting so much more than I ever bargained for.
It sounded like a gunshot or blast straight outside the hostel. As everyone raced to close the windows, the tear gas wafted in and we felt an indescribable burning sensation in our noses and throats. It was nothing compared to the feelings of surprise, sadness and empathy that I would develop for the Bosnian people over the next couple of days after learning more about their tragic war history.
Sarajevo has been a unique place on my travels, with its mixture of ethnic groups (Muslim, Serbian Orthodox and Catholic) and an old town with incredible mosques, churches and synagogues - all within a 500m radius of each other. From its medina-like alleyways, the middle-eastern influence, the pumping bars and cafes to the bullet-holes and ruined buildings, it is intoxicating, laid-back and yet so very sad. It’s a city where the challenge of rebuilding and healing continues.
With over 11,000 people killed in Sarajevo when under siege by Serbian forces lasting from 1992 to 1995, it was a privilege to spend time listening to two older men who openly shared their very personal experiences during the war. They spoke with little emotion, but had a haunting emptiness in their eyes. One was a firefighter before and during the war and another described how he and his neighbours survived the shelling, grenades and sniper attacks on civilians for over three years, often watching friends being gunned down as they tried crossing roads.
A visit to the Srebrenica and Potocari Memorial Museum (2.5 hours from Sarajevo), left me emotional, empty and in shock at how inhumane mankind can be. This was the scene of a brutal ethnic cleansing/genocide, killing 8,372 Muslims (predominantly males) and leaving a generation of children without fathers or brothers and a childhood forever stolen from them.
His name is Hasan and he was just 16 when the his village was taken over by Serbian forces. He re-lived his experience of refugee camps and being on a sports field with his friends when 74 teenagers were brutally gunned down around him. He was a survivor, but listening to him speak of losing his father and twin brother is an image that will stay with me forever.
In sharing his story, he spoke of how “Education is the best revenge” and I was left thinking how careful future generations need to be to ensure that history never, ever repeats itself.