I experienced my first sunny, rainless, afternoon in Kevljani as Merima and I ventured down the street to find participants for the community survey. As we began to get to know each other, I found myself following her to pick plums from a nearby tree. Though I love plums, I do not usually have opportunities to eat them at home, let alone pick fresh ones for snacking during field research. Before I knew it, I had half a dozen in my bag and we continued to the next home. It seemed the only natural thing to do while conducting community surveys, and it really did sustain us as we were navigating this unfamiliar heat. This moment to me felt so authentic and so, well… Bosnian. Finding fruit and sharing our spoils while walking through the countryside created a space that felt both familiar and new. After Merima assisted me in perfecting my few Bosnian pleasantries, I greeted potential participants before quickly handing the reins to her to clarify and assist them in completing the survey.
As we met different people in the area, I wished for the ability to carry on a conversation, yet I took comfort in their smiles and warm gestures to sit in the shade and have something to drink. As we went door to door, eating plums and experiencing some of the culture of the community, the nuances of this program came more into focus. While this community survey has important implications for future community projects, it also serves as a meaningful way to become more acquainted with Bosnia through the people who live here.
Soon enough, as it happens in Bosnia, a coffee break was needed. Instead of stopping at a café for a quick caffeine fix to go, Azra (another project participant) invited us to her grandparents’ home down the road. After wandering up to a lovely home full of chickens, sheep, and yes, more plum trees, we were beckoned to a patio table shaded by grape vines for coffee and sweets. As trays of different delicious things came through the open window to our table, we began to chat with her grandparents and learn about their experiences. While some individuals choose to keep their experiences quietly held within their hearts, her grandfather told us his story of the war. He chose to be vulnerable with a group of young strangers, describing his experiences of fear, survival, and perseverance through a conflict that ultimately forced him and his family to flee their homeland. Within the last few years, they chose to return to Kevljani to begin the next chapter of their lives in a familiar place. It took courage to leave Bosnia, and it also took courage to return after years in a new country. It was an honor to have this story shared with me, and with it, I put another puzzle piece down in the beautiful, tragic, and special image that is Bosnia.
Ultimately, this day evolved from educational workshops to field research to a Bosnian coffee session at someone’s home, and I revelled in every moment. This peacebuilding project is so many things, but my favorite moments lie in the relationships that have been forged and the experiences that have been described to me. This created a human component to a confusing, frustrating, and terrible conflict: by having intentional conversations with the community, survivors, and my peers, I have learned more about the war. In these new relationships, I see the building blocks for peace. Through storytelling, I see the discovery of new perspectives. As my time here comes to an end, I will hold these experiences and share them in a way that helps others learn the dangers of hatred and othering. I will continue to sort through and piece together my experiences long after I have left Prijedor, but one thing I know for certain is my appreciation for those who shared their deeply personal stories, giving me a glimpse of who they are while showing me the power and strength of the human spirit.