This morning, after grabbing breakfast and checking out of our hostel in Belgrade, all of us pilled into a bus that would take us from Serbia to Bosnia and Herzegovina. The drive - for the portions of it that I was awake for - was breathtaking. We passed through small river towns, mountains, villages, and farm land. The constant change in scenery revealed just how dynamic and incredible Bosnia and Herzegovina is.
Along the way we stopped at the memorial for Srebrenica: one of the largest massacres to happen since WWII where over 8,000 Muslims were killed in 1995. It’s not a typical tourist destination, and our Serbian bus driver seemed uncomfortable to be at the site (Calvin and Mihaela had a heck of a time finding a bus company that would even take us there). As we learned in Belgrade, where we saw the preparation for a protest, many Serbians claim that the genocide was against Serbs by Muslims. This genocide – and in many ways, gendercide (since the majority of the victims were men and boys) – was not something I learned about in school, and I get the impression many westerns don’t either. It happened recently enough that many people can and do remember the news stories about the events and people here who survived still feel the pain and suffering that resulted. But the tragedy seems to go widely unspoken about. It’s this kind of erasure and sanitisation of violence that allows for history to repeat itself.
It was a sombering experience, and reminded me about how little I know about the current world and how we got here. That sort of ignorance has to change or we will continue in a pattern of violence.
After almost an hour at the memorial and memorial museum across the street, we got back in the bus to continue the drive to Sarajevo. Before long, we arrived. I was immediately taken back by how beautiful this city is, nestled in the mountains with the Miljacka river through the city centre. We unloaded the bus and began check-in for our hostel.
Hostels are wonderful for so many reasons – you meet new people, typically have a kitchen to cook in (reducing travel costs), and get a place to sleep for pretty cheap. But occasionally, they can put me and other trans folks in incredibly uncomfortable situations. Today was one of those moments. The hostel staff member who was checking us in said that he would show the “ladies” the room first and then the guys. I had a moment of panic: do I go with the girls or the guys? It’s the same dilemma I have every single time any gendered space or segregation pops up in my life. I assumed they had done the numbers based on our legal sex in our passport, so hesitantly decided to go with the girls. That sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach and the waves of anxiety that pass through me whenever I have those kinds of choices to make – the choices that can erase my identity or put me at risk by outing myself – can be some of the hardest parts about travelling. Even when I’m with a group of friends who I feel confident will do their best to be allies, I still feel isolated and like a fish out of water. Thankfully the awkwardness subsided slightly when a few of the guys had to be moved into our room because the other dorm was full and I was able to move on with the evening having mostly forgotten about the experience.
When we were all ready we set off to explore the city. Sarajevo is a really beautiful convergence of European and Middle Eastern cultures as a result of the majority Muslim population, and it didn't take long for me to fall in love with this amazing place. My favourite part of the evening was when we went up to the Yellow Fortress for a beautiful view of the sun setting over the city.
After we made our way back down from the Fortress, we grabbed some Bosnian pizza as a pre-dinner snack before getting an actual meal at a Italian restaurant. We had a few more Monsooners join us today so our group of 10 quickly turned into 14, and dinner was a great time to get to know everyone. The evening ended with all of us heading to a hookah bar for more conversation, some lively rounds of Heads Up, and some fun drawings thanks to Anthony. It's these moments that I'll remember the most: bonding and laughter with friends.