Walking through Tuzla, I am struck by how colorful and beautiful this place is. It’s situated in a valley and surrounded by green hills. The buildings are pink, yellow, and blue and decorate the main square like flowers. However, the past is inescapable here. Some, not all, buildings are riddled with bullet holes and I can see two large cemeteries from my bedroom window. I briefly visited a park up in the woods that is home to over five different memorials from World War II to the most recent pain that the Balkans felt in the 1990s. It all looms in the background, as a reminder that there was a time when this small, beautiful town saw horrors that no one ever thought would ever surface.
Yesterday consisted of a visit to the International Commission on Missing Persons and a tour by their forensic anthropologist and my newfound friend, Laura Yazedjian. Seeing the 3,500 plastic and paper bags holding the bones of those massacred in this beautiful country 16 years before brought a new perspective. Maybe it was just in my mind, but I could smell a faint presence of death in the refrigerated room as I tried to put myself in the place of the victims and those affected.
As I left the facility with my colleague, there was a strange silence between the two of us. We tried to make small talk, but in light of what we had actually witnessed, it was difficult. While Laura spoke, the leg, hip, and skull bones of a 19-year-old boy lay stretched before us on the examination table. During the war, the mass graves were dug up and reburied in other places to conceal the remains and to make it much more difficult to find and to identify in the future. This pivotal visit turned what was a myopic and detached perception of the war into a much more personal and informed understanding of the traumas I will be facing with the strong women of BOSFAM.
I have gained neither the trust nor the language capacity to be comfortable to approach the women about the unspoken past. However, in light of the upcoming preparations for the annual visit to Srebrenica, I know that it will only be a matter of time until I am called to upon to simply be a warm and open force available to listen and learn from these incredible people.
Posted By Quinn Van Valer-Campbell
Posted Jun 9th, 2011