The Srebrenica Genocide

I was going to do a piece about all the things I saw around Sarajevo but after visiting Gallery 11/07/95, I knew I had to focus on just that. It’s a memorial museum and gallery in honour of the lives lost during the 1995 Srebrenica genocide. In total, the number of confirmed deaths are 8372 and you are strongly confronted by this fact in the exhibition. If you have the chance to visit, please go and get the audio guide because the stories you hear really add more depth to the experience.

The first part is what I found the most difficult; a room where the walls are lined with photos of over 600 people who were killed. All stared into you, in black and white, so you could imagine the pain each individual went through. Sometimes we get lost in the huge incomprehensible numbers, but this made you face each person and know that their lives were taken. Their eyes were haunting and I stayed for a very long time in that room just trying and failing to take it all in.

The following room was filled with stunning and heart breaking photography, each image with it’s own story told by the photographer himself. The photos ranged from the mass graves, to the attempt to identify bodies. But the one that broke me was of a mother stood at her doorway. Many families lost all the men in their lives; fathers, brothers, husbands and sons. The photo was described as the death of hope because it portrayed when woman would be informed that their loved ones had been identified and did not survive. Just imagining the heartbreak brought a tear to my eye.

What I found very jarring was the photograph of a woman on a bus with anger in her eyes. This was because people were being shuttled to mass funerals and the path to the ceremony was being led by police officers. The photographer brought light to the situation by explaining that the very people protecting them during that time were often the ones that previously executed the loved ones they were about to honour. It’s impossible to understand how one’s mind would have to process that fact.

Next there was different forms of art showing the pain of the country during that time. Then finally there was the wall of names, too many to process. Many with repeated last names showing whole families that were lost. It was a heart breaking experience but very important tragedy to learn about and I’m glad I went.

Kiev to Chisinau in 17 Hours

Even though a train ride isn’t as exciting as my other posts, my 17 hour journey from Kiev to Chisinau was amusing enough that I want to share. To set the scene appropriately it should be said that I was dreading this. It was long, began at 1am and meant leaving the incredible people I had spent the past few days with. Plus if the tiresome experience buying the ticket was anything to go by, there was going to be a lot lost in translation between myself and well…. everyone.

I clambered onto the claustrophobic train, set up my bed and settled in for a bumpy sleep. Everything was surprisingly comfortable and I began to drift off when I heard the strangest noises. I looked over to the stunningly beautiful old woman next to me to see if she heard it too. We had previously greeted each other and despite the language barrier, her warm smile made her seem like a more than acceptable bunk mate. Within seconds I realised that in her sleep she was humming and speaking what I can only assume was Russian. Now normally I love a sleep talker because the gibberish people come out with is hilarious. But of course this time I had been cheated, as I was being disturbed by something that was probably comedy gold and I couldn’t even understand it.

I cranked up the music in my headphones, managed to fall asleep pretty soundly and remained that way until about 7am. I’d been an early riser this trip so I accepted the 5 hour sleep and used the time to update my journal. I’ve become very consistent with my writing while I experience the world and at ten pages a day, it was my treasure chest for memories. I took in the stunning views I was seeing of the newly risen sun glistening off the water and felt pretty serene on my once dreaded journey.

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At the border crossing from Ukraine to Moldova we of course had some pretty intense passport control. I was expecting stereotypical angry Eastern European guards that hated me for my inability to communicate. But what I got instead was a kind man that worked so hard to get me through the stressful process with what little English he knew. Of course it still took forever and they checked everything of mine about ten times. But it ended on his words of “you are young and beautiful, be careful”, not in any sort of creepy way, just pure protective advice.

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On the train were 3 young girls, I’d say between 5 to 9 but I couldn’t promise, as my age predictions for anyone are often shocking. I absolutely love kids and have worked with them as an instructor at Go Ape (plus my upcoming newly received job as a nursery practitioner would further develop my experience). I saw them bored out of their minds, running up and down the aisles for something to do and it broke my heart. Now it’s important to note that since I have pink hair, this has in the past qualified me as everything from a magical fairy to a mystical angel in children’s minds and often vocalised thoughts. So it was no surprise to me that the girls were staring at me constantly and grinning away so whenever it happened I would wave and smile.

Eventually this led to them coming over and as children do, they would shyly wave, run away and return two seconds later. I decided it was my mission to entertain them however I could so that their little brains didn’t explode and their parents could get some peace. I began with the classic shock at how adorable their stuffed toys they clung to were. This of course pleased the girls greatly and granted me the privilege of petting their fluffy friends. Next I got out a notebook and my colourful pens and began to draw simple stars and then gave them the pen and set them free. What I received was many artistic stars, hearts and smiling faces.

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The final move was something that had lasting enjoyment for I kid you not – a whole hour. My dad and his fiance had matching colourful googly eyes on their suitcases and to satisfy my jealousy, generously got me the pink version. So I pointed the eyes in their directions, gave it a good shimey and they whirled around hilariously. This cracked the girls up to the point where the whole carriage was filled with joyful child laughter that you can’t help but love. As I said this continued for a while and it gave me a strong sense of pride. Despite never exchanging a single word (because we couldn’t), I had become their silent babysitter and the parents were beyond relieved. Having children for such a long mind numbing transportation can be exhausting and instead they had time to themselves but still their daughters were happy.

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Now the time dragged on, there were no toilets and I had no food or water, but it was nowhere near the hell I thought it would be. Instead it was filled with kind people, adorable children and peaceful reflection.