(Part three from Jared’s trip to Bosnia)
As I mentioned in one of my previous blogs, I have been reading a book about the search for Radovan, in which the author spends 6 years trying to track him down before finally coming face to face with him through the glass at the Hague. This is kind of how I feel about my trip. I came face to face with something that I still don’t understand but feel I will leave better informed than when I arrived. That is all I can ask for. I came on the search for information and I found various levels of information that will keep my mind replaying different conversations I had with people and the feelings that I experienced this time around.
On Tuesday I woke up with a small hang over heading to the Europe Hotel to meet my guide for the day. As I tried to enter the hotel I noticed a very large police presence. This is not uncommon for this hotel so I didn’t think much about till I tried to enter and realized that the place was full for security and even had a metal detector.
I thought for sure my guide would not be inside waiting for me so I placed myself directly across the street expecting him to sweep me up in the car. As I was waiting I realized more and more guys coming out in the street with ear pieces, and there were many large black men also dressed in suits and wearing sunglasses. I knew they were American judging from their accents and thought ok somebody slightly important must be coming out.
To my surprise I saw Mrs. Hillary Clinton walk out of the hotel, waving at nobody because I was the only person standing outside with any interest. My hangover dissipated and shock came over me. Since was not expecting that and I was close enough to have touched her.
After she peeled out of the hotel I got enough guts to enter and found my guide drinking coffee and smoking and he said I have been waiting since 8:45 for you. I explained to him that I didn’t really think they would let me in to the hotel since Hillary just came out. He told me no problem they all know me here. I know all the security, I just walked right in.
We found our driver and headed off to the city of Srebrenica. We had a long drive but I had prepared some questions and we talked about hours about everything that came to my mind.
We arrived in the city and headed straight to the hotel I stayed at 3 or 4 years ago where the owner speaks good German and is a famous chef and people come from all around to his place. I couldn’t believe I was back at this place and told him that I just read about his restaurant in a book. He offered us a table and we quickly realized we were not the only guests he was waiting for. There was a large table already set for a luncheon. There were lots of questions exchanged but there seemed to be a lot of hush hush. According to my translator nobody was allowed to say who was coming. I think they all knew it might have been Hillary or surely part of her delegation.
We had a beer and a fabulously prepared meal of veal, chips and some kind of vegetables that were unrecognizable. Just after my after-meal ciggie and with my beer not finished my driver and guide jumped up and said lets go! The next thing is that again big American-looking dude started pulling up in cars, radios were going off and everyone was looking at me very suspiciously. But I had to go to the toilet and my guide said go ahead. I had one of those moments where I could hear more and more agents coming in and I felt like the scene in the god father when he goes to the toilet to find the hidden gun. I managed under extreme pressure to finish my business and as I came out I was escorted by my guide and driver.
I felt like I really had my own security and later in the day I found out that I did!
We had a bit of walk around the town went up into the hill and drank from a fountain that may have silver in it. The town used to be very wealthy with a health spa and the water is meant to be very good for you.
We then started with the darker part of the tour and that was stopping at the football stadium where nobody plays. Around 200-300 hundred Muslims were killed in this stadium. At this time the hair on my neck started to rise and after a pleasant car ride, decent lunch, I suddenly felt an overwhelming sadness. I had tried to prepare for this but I don’t think its possible.
After that moment the rest of day changed, conversation was kept to a minimum, my guide seemed to be quiet, not talking, and a bit angry and disturbed.
Next we went to the barracks of the UN troops from Holland. This was the spot that you can see on TV footage of 1000s of people waiting outside to try and get in. The walls still had the graffiti left on it from naked girls, calenders with the days marked out, and Harley Davidson eagles.
I was then shown a movie made by British women about the area, the accounts of wives about the last time they saw their husband or children, and scenes from the mass graves. This again put a huge weight on my chest and as I walked past photos of the men trying to escape to the hills I no longer had a voice. I was introduced to a guy who is in charge of the museum and my guide said, ask questions he has the answers, but I was still in a state of shock and tried to speak but could no longer find a voice.
I was taken to the museum which is now in the hanger or a factory where 5000 people were let in. This is the spot where women were having babies, the elderly were dying and because some people knew their fate around 12 men committed suicide. The guide gave me the history of the place let me walk around looking at the history of the town and in the end there is a well presented exhibition on different stories from people that had lived in the town and disappeared and part of them and their belongings had been found in mass graves.
In the exhibition there were belongings and again to see the wedding ring of a man or a young child’s bracelet spun my head out thinking of what those people went through. There is something about seeing their objects that brings reality a bit closer to home.
I walked outside with my guide still absolute silent and we walked across the street to the cemetery and memorial. The one that Bill Clinton inaugurated.
My guide in silence looking at the names showing me the members of his clan on the white marble with all the names. He was also looking to see if any had been crossed out since some people in the end were still alive.
He then took one of my cigarettes and when I turned around he was gone. He had vanished! I was left lonely surrounded by white grave stones that seemed to go on and on forever. I felt a bit better for some reason that at least these families found their love ones and they could lay them to rest. What about all the people still out there that have not been found yet?
I walked around for a half hour had my final look and headed back to the car. My guide said in his great accent “lez go home”. On the drive back nobody talked. For at least an hour and half no one spoke. My naive questions and my search for knowledge that I had been planning for hours the night before all seemed so stupid and I could only reflect on what I had seen and felt.
We arrived back to the hotel and attached was the Vienna cafe inside, my body ached from being in car all day. My spirit shattered and I was in desperate need of a beer.
This broke the ice with my guide and we continued to talk about a lot of different things when he started to reveal stories about what he did in the war and the rations that he sold on the side, and then he started talking about his friends before and after the war. As he described that many of them no more get along the beers kicked in and he started to shed tears. He kept saying I am sorry, I am sorry. I of course told him that there was no need to be sorry and that everyone is allowed to be sad.
He jumped up in his chair now stone cold sober and said yes you are right. He started laughing and thanked me because he had never thought about his. He said he must write this in international law. that everybody in the world has the right to be sad. He mentioned what a paradox that you can’t know what sadness is without knowing what happiness is.
This really made his day and it made mine as well since I seemed to have helped him discover something he had never thought about. On this note we said our good byes and he disappeared into the dark corners of his mind somewhere in Sarajevo.
Like the guy in the book I came on this trip on the search to find something. I am still not certain what I have found but I have found somethings that I certainly wont forget.