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Run for Congo Women

Well, no international study travel this summer. Moving from Connecticut to the greater Washington, DC area was adventure enough!  Still thinking about friends far and near, though, and have decided to participate in a different kind of challenge.

Last year, two of my teaching colleagues inspired me to try the Couch to 5K program. It’s an intimidating proposal for a klutzy, non-athlete like me, but nothing compared to the struggle of women in post-conflict areas rebuilding lives for themselves, their families, and their communities. This Columbus Day Weekend in New York, I’ve committed to the Run for Congo Women with the hope of raising funds in honor of these women. Can you help out? Click on the link labeled “Run for Congo Women” in the side bar to make a donation!

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Project Falcon

John Nieukoop, a former UN Dutchbat soldier, created an NGO  to “contribute to an improved life of the inhabitants of the Srebrenica region [and] to support the return of former Dutchbat veterans who want to visit Srebrenica to pay their respects and who want to get closure of a dark period of their lives. ”  John started this effort a couple of years ago.  It became a registered, official NGO in June, 2012.  Please take a look and share your thoughts! (link on the right in the Bosnia section)

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Ramo the Baker

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One of the best aspects of attending Summer University Srebrenica was staying in the community.  Srebrenica is small.  Even a tourist staying for a week quickly runs into the same faces around town.  For us, this was made personal through our connection with Semso.

 Semso is a graduate student studying in Trieste.  His brother was killed during the genocide, and he and his parents refugeed to Italy when they were able to leave the UN camp in Tuzla.  Semso joined the Summer University Srebrenica program as a student, but it also constituted his first return to Srebrenica in sixteen years.  Spending any afternoon with him walking through town brought a barrage of warm greetings and open invitations.  A whole post devoted to Semso is in order, but let’s start with this one: 

 Early in the trip, my power converter blew.  Semso walked me through three different businesses in search of a replacement.  The first had nothing, the second included clerks who feigned ignorance as they didn’t want to help a Bosniak and an American, and the third honestly told us that the best place to look was up the road in Bratunac.  Semso promised we’d take care of it through his friends.  Once all avenues had been exhausted for the day, we sat down for coffee with Semso’s Imam, who returned to the Serb-dominated hamlet with his wife and small children to restore the mosque in 2005.  He invited us to services, as well as the dedication ceremony of the new mosque to take place in a few days.  We did attend service, but found ourselves in a workshop on the day of the dedication ceremony. 

 Later that evening, Semso introduced us to Ramo.  Known as the “Bread Man,” Ramo worked in a bakery just before the invasion in 1992.  He knew the back roads well from driving his delivery route, and managed to continue bringing bread to the Bosniak soldiers and civilians as the Serbs invaded.  He is best known for one particular event, though.  There was a point early in the war when peace appeared to have been achieved.  School children ran out on the playground to celebrate.  Serb soldiers picked them off with sniper fire from the nascent hills. Ramo begged the Canadian soldiers then in residence for a helmet, ran onto the black top, and carried injured children to the hospital. 

 Ramo joined us in the twilight for a trip just south of Srebrenica to a memorial being built to the Bosniak soldiers at the front line of the first assault.  On our way up the hill, we stopped to pay respects to the grave of the Dutch soldier lost in the conflict.  Our party included both Semso and Ramo, as well as Ynse, a former Dutch Batt UN soldier who’d been taken hostage by the Serbs.  After taking a moment at the gravesite to remember Ynse’s brother-in-arms, we stopped at the farm of one of Ramo’s friends…an impressively fertile piece of land with a tarp-greenhouse.  Nicholas welcomed Ramo with open arms, and brought us all into the green house to admire his abundance.  Outside once again, Ramo explained that they had fought against each other in the war.  They take pride in their friendship now.

 Ramo extended an invitation to stay on his farm, but we returned to the town of Srebrenica.  He told me he thought he might have an adaptor to fit my American plug, and if so, he would bring it to the hotel the next day.

 True to his word, Ramo arrived on the patio of the hotel at nine in the morning.   He didn’t find an adaptor, but would drive me to Bratunac to find one.  Semso encouraged me to jump into the van, and off we went…about ten miles to Bratunac.  We did not speak one word beyond “OK?” for Ramo and “Fala” (thank you) for me, in common.  Still, as he pointed out important sites along the way, we seemed to do fine. 

Our first stop was the cell phone store.  He needed to get a repair, and they might have the adaptor I was looking for….no luck.  We moved on to the marketplace.  It reminded me of the market in Morogoro, Tanzania, where my daughter served in the Peace Corps….but European.  Crowds parted before Ramo…glad handing, back slapping, patting the heads of small children…we stopped at a couple of vendors to enquire about my adaptor with no luck. 

 Finally, we came to a kiosk at the back of the market.  The men swarmed around my computer cable, murmuring and shaking their heads.  A woman at the cash register stopped, took one look, and pointed at a bin at floor level.  There they were.  A whole tray full.  Ramo gestured to buy two…I agreed, paid, and we left with much thanks to the woman at the register. 

Ah, but we were not done…

 Back to the cell phone shop…his phone was not yet repaired.  So we drove around a couple of blocks to a, um, restaurant.  Ramo introduced me to a friend of his seated at a table on the outdoor patio.  They both offered me a beer.  By this time, it still was not yet ten in the morning….the lamb was roasting on the spit, plenty of men were enjoying the fine weather, and I decided that the bottle of water I had with me would suffice for the moment.  Ramo loaded the van with small tables, presumably for some other bistro back in Srebrenica…and joined us, holding two beers in his hand.  Again, I opted for the spring water.  After a bit, Ramo gesture that the man I was sitting with had been an adversary during the war.  They both laughed, smiled, and indicated that they were now friends. 

Next, we stopped for gas…not just in the tank, but in a five gallon jerry-can tucked into the space between the café tables in the back.  I will own that the question of safety crossed my mind as we left the station…Last, we picked up Ramo’s repaired cell phone and headed back to Srebrenica.  All in all, a productive morning, free of incendiary incidnent.

More on Semso’s story to follow….

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Mothers of Srebrenica

Our next presenter, Dr. David Pettigrew of Southern Connecticut State University, brought a film on the genocide at Srebrenica, produced by his son.  For most of the graduate students in the room, it was information they’d already studied, however as an introductory piece it is effective.  Dr. Pettigrew is unclear as to when the film will be released.  He has spent considerable time on scholarly research in Bosnia, and a link to his homepage is posted right.

Hatidza Mehnejovic

Hatidza Mehnejovic is president of the organization “Mothers of Srebrenica”.  Guiding a group into the exhibit space, she paused and spent a few moments talking with the few of us on break near the entry way.  Investigator Farmer and his translator, who already know Hatidza, began conversing with her.  She had information to share regarding an ongoing investigation.  She then proceeded to share an event that happened the week before:  Two American friends, one of them Jewish, had come to visit.  The women arrived weeping, shocked at a display of disrespect they had witnessed.  Several cars filled with Serbs arrived at the gates of the memorial at Potocari, honking horns and waving signs and flags.  Hatidza heard the commotion, but brushed it off as a typical post-wedding celebration.  No, her friends told her in tears, they were protesting the arrest of Radko Mladic.  They had seen the signs the protesters waved and heard the shouting first hand.  This was the first of many instances illustrating the continuing struggle.  The embers of conflict still glow in Potocari. 

Hatidza is very much like Emmanuel at Murambi in Rwanda.  She lost her entire family in two days.  She stays in Potocari to remain near them and bear witness to the devastation.  When she learned I am an educator, she commented, “In the US, you study genocide and try to understand.  Here, no.  People don’t want to know.”  Investigator Farmer’s translator, a survivor himself, said that until he started to work in the prosecutor’s office, even he didn’t understand the extent of the massacres across the former Yugoslavia.  The depth and complexity of these mass atrocities and their context create a barrier to understanding even for those who lived through it.  Is it any wonder, then, that teachers in the US have difficulty transposing this content for their students?

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Presidential Directive

President Obama announced a new directive yesterday pertaining to genocide prevention.  Please take a look at the link below, if you haven’t seen it already, to view the response from Michael Abromowitz, Director of the Museum’s Committee on Conscious: 

http://act.ushmm.org/presidential-directive

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Mostar

I was all ready to write a metaphor piece about the relationship between the perception of the temporal nature of human life  vs. permanance in our collective culture: art, literature, and, in the case of Mostar especially, architecture.  In looking for a video to provide context, I found one that makes the point better than I could write it.  Give it some time.  It’s ten minutes long, but justified. 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QS-nGvv63wE

…and so it is all the more poignant to walk the bridge as it is now. 

There are plenty of clips illustrating the re-opening of the bridge (and all the divers who earn their living courting tourists seeking a thrill-by-proxy).  The re-construction team dredged the river for remains, salvaged and incorporated what they could, and based their construction plans on the original plans, still archived, apparently, in Turkey, including the iron and lead  “staples” at the seams between blocks.  The promise of “bridging the divide” has yet to be fulfilled, but the area is vibrant.  Tourists funnel over the span and shop in the stalls on either side.  Walking across “Stari Most”, one naively hopes, weaves one more support into its fiber. 

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Super Heroes response

This from my friend in response to the original e-mail about the “Green Lantern” preview….

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