The Bosnian Man Who Opened My Eyes

Bosnia was my first deployment, and I can’t lie, I was pretty nervous about it. I was new to the Army so I didn’t have a clear picture of what I would do, nor did I know anything about the country. As it turned out though, it was one of the more rewarding times in my life.

My main role on the deployment was to tell the Army’s story. I would travel around the country documenting what the American forces and their allies were doing in support of the peace-keeping mission. So I would take pictures, shoot videos and write articles about their missions. It was hard work, but so much fun and ultimately rewarding.

One of the first missions I covered was a medical mission. Basically, a team of soldiers would set up a clinic for the day to help villagers with their medical and dental needs. Typically, they would set up shop in the largest building they could find. Sometimes it was a home. Villagers would line up to receive care or just see what was going on. On this particular mission, a man came up to me while I was outside photographing the airmen guarding the “clinic.” The man, Hasanovic, was telling me about the mines and the war (through an interpreter). He wanted to take me to “where the bodies” were.

I wasn’t really sure what to do with this information or conversation…other than tell the Air Force security patrol who was with us. I did, and they joined Hasanovic and me in conversation. This was really my first experience with someone who had lived through the war. He told us about how he lost part of his leg from a mine explosion. He explained that there was a mass grave just on the other side of the hill. And, he pointed out the devastation in the village. It broke my heart to see the pain in his eyes. Though he masked it all with a smile and some alcohol, you could see war had taken its toll – not just on him but the entire village.

It really opened my eyes to how lucky I was. I had never had to worry about mines. I never lived in fear that my family would be killed. I was not haunted by memories of mass graves. I had a roof over my head and a bed to sleep in. Many of these villagers had dealt with horrible atrocities, and yet, they found a way to survive, smile and laugh. I found this ability and resilience inspiring, and promised myself to remember it when I started to complain.

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23 thoughts on “The Bosnian Man Who Opened My Eyes

  1. Pingback: Year End Wrap Up | Chasing Life and Finding Dreams

    • Thank you! It was my first deployment and I truly have some amazing memories from there. As I go through some old files, I will certainly tell more stories and post more pictures. I will always remember that country fondly and find it beautiful.

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      • The memories of other experiences can fade but the ones from there never will. I look forward to reading more! I was there eleven years ago, and worked for a Dutch/British NGO in Srebrenica which aimed to bulld bridges between Serbs and Bosniaks through a variety of activities. I wrote an article about it in 2004 when i came back and included it as blog entry about it back in September. So many memories both positive and…not negative, just ‘real life’ is the only way to describe it. Did you get to Srebrenica? Where were you mostly stationed? If you don’t mind me asking

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        • I will have to check out your articles and page as I would love to hear more. I was in Tusla but traveled a lot. I think I visited Srebrencia, unless I am have the town names confused. I actually have some photos from there (If its the same place.)

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          • I visited Tuzla once or twice. Its where a lot of the refugees went after their expulsion from the srebrenica safe area. There will be a few more articles as i’m really missing it right now, especially at this time of year, the colours and the smells of autumn just take me back there and bring the memories. I look forward to read more of yours.

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            • I look forward to reading your articles. I think we are talking about the same place. I was there to document the first peaceful rememberance for the Women of Srebrencia. Think I was spelling it wrong in my head though.

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              • That sounds about right. The women of srebrenica are a major organisation fighting for justice for those 8000 massacred men and boys. That experience of documenting that event must have been very profound and emotional? Having worked with some of them, the experiences don’t need to be completely understood for the emotion and empathy to be felt and understood…the emotions speak for themselves in the tone of voice and body language…an example of a situation when words aren’t necessary.

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                • Yes! That was the event we were documenting and trying to secure so they could peacefully morn. It was extremely emotionally. I don’t think my brand-new camera skills did it justice back then, but I know I have pictures. I will post those pictures, hopefully soon, as I think I came across those discs recently. I remembering wanting to make eye contact with the women before photographing them, as to express some connection before taking their pictures. It just felt rude to do otherwise. What a sad peice of history.

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                  • I totally understand, it would feel rude to not make that connection. Unfortunately there are ‘war tourists’ who don’t consider that to be important. When I was there I saw groups of people coming to visit and sightsee, taking photographs…it didn’t seem right at all, it wasn’t a living museum for people to objectively walk past. Being on the inside as i was, being part of the town made me defensive of the local population being treated like that. Was it easy to secure such an event? As I became aware that the war had become a war of words and subtle actions rather than an all out physical war but no less intense. There is obviously and understandably still a lot of bitterness around.

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                    • I can only imagine being on that side, and would see how a defensive reaction could be natural. I like to hope that we documented the event respectfully. My main mission was to photograph the event and how the Soldiers were supporting it so the families could mourn peacefully. I was only a specialist back then and in my first two years of the Army, so my job was specifically to act as a photographer. So, I can’t really speak on the security part, but they must have done a great job as I don’t recall hearing about or seeing any issues. Now that I have been in for a few years, I can imagine there were a number of facets to consider to protect such a large area for an emotionally charged event. We started at the school field and then followed the procession to the river. (It was 2002 then.) It was incredibly moving and opened my eyes to the world and the horror humans are capable of.

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                    • As much as the situation and reason for you being there was appalling, it must have been an interesting job to do, and so important too. You were there the year before me, and Mr Clinton arrived (not together or at the same time – he was there to open or dedicate the Potočari Memorial Cemetery) I only saw the army/SFOR twice, the first reminded me of Vietnam as it was a fleet of five helicopters (!) – I saw tour helicopter post! (Chanucks i think – the ones with two sets of blades) and they flew down the valley, it was mesmerising and obviously an experience completely out of anything i’ve ever witnessed – i was working on renovating a house at the time. The second time was on Eid/Bajram when the Bosniaks stole the Serb cross which was placed on the fort overlooking the town by Ratko Mladic when they conquered the town. It was a tense day for all concerned. Things like that can still trigger hostilities. When i left i always believed that conflict was always around the corner.

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                    • Helicopters are certainly a sight, especially if your not used to seeing them. I definitely had a great job: writing articles, traveling, and taking pictures. That deployment forever changed who I am today without question…. I can imagine the feeling of conflict being around the corner. After all of that horrible stuff happening, it’s only natural to fear it.

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                    • It was an incredible sight! Being out in real world situations like that does change you and your world perception. Me and one of the other volunteers struggled to adjust to life back in Britain despite our relatively short period of time there and not being there in a military capacity. Just being in such a situation and being totally absorbed in it meant it was hard…so I can only just begin to imagine what it was like for a longer period and seeing/observing/documenting active service and then returnin was like. Its lovely to be able to talk to someone like yourself who has had a similiar experience…it was difficult returning because no-one wanted to know or could relate to the experiences so I rarely spoke about them. Thank you!

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                    • It’s my pleasure to share thoughts about such a wonderful place. I hate the reasons that sent me there, but I am glad I went. It will forever be a part of who I am. And now that I am talking about it, more and more memories are flooding back in. So you were there for a time to help rebuild?

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                    • I was there for ten weeks which was too short a time. I did get a job offer to teach English but the donator who was going to fund the English course wanted local English speaker so that dream died as quickly as it ignited. The organisation I was working for was a Dutch one and had been there for about three or four years. The Dutch have a collective guilt about Srebrenica (my brother in law is Dutch and he told me) because of the DutchBat being the ‘peacekeepers’ there but failing to do anything because of their orders. From what I have read and what I’ve heard that order was against theor natural instincts. The organisation aimed to ease the tension between the two ethnic groups by creating collaborative opportunities and by simply being a third ethnic group. There were so many different opportunities.

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                    • Interesting. I am sure there are so many pieces to the puzzle I am unaware of. That must be so hard to be ordered to do things against your gut! I can think of insignificant examples where I had to do such things, so I am sure something of that level never leaves you. Thanks so much for the discussion. It is very interesting to learn views from outside of the bubble I had while there.

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  2. It really is THE best job ever. I love being behind the camera and showing people stories. And generally people are so thrilled to see a feature on themselves. Knowing that I made at least one Soldier proud of his deployment, made my deployment worthwhile.

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