National Geographic : 2017 Feb
90 national geographic • february 2017 quality,” another widow said. “Could you please move over?” another widow said, and the widow she was elbowing said, Why should she—there was already enough space, and another widow said the breath of the widow beside her smelled foul, that she smoked too many bidis, the strong Indian cigarettes tied together with string. It took longer than expected to get everybody attended to, and I watched one quartet of widows walk out without new saris, harrumphing to each other. “As if our time had no value,” one said. The Diwali procession and riverside fireworks would prove very grand, full of singing and sparklers and saris both white and colored— astonishing colors, to an outsider’s eye: sapphire, scarlet, lime, magenta, saffron. Many Indian news photographers came. Smoke swirled, fireworks lit the river pink, floating oil lamps made glowing circles in the moving water, and in spite of this my sharpest Vrindavan memory is of those four digni- fied widows disdaining their gift saris and march- ing out the door. They stayed close to each other, wrapped in widow white, chuckling, and when they stepped off the sidewalk together to cross the busy street, the traffic stopped to let them pass. 2. BURYING THE PAST Tuzla, Bosnia and Herzegovina When the first call came from the foren- sic identification center, Mirsada Uzunović was home with her 13-year-old son and so willed herself to stay calm. The voice on the other end was gentle. Remains of Uzunović’s husband, Ekrem, had been identified by laboratory testing, the voice said. The remains were...small. A partial skull. Nothing else. If Uzunović wished a burial, in the new memorial cemetery, that could be arranged. No. For three months she told no one. “In the nighttime, that was the difficult part. I was alone with my thoughts. From the big man I knew, only a piece of skull. I couldn’t imagine. OK, they killed him. But why didn’t they bury him? He was scattered around. I didn’t know where. Where were those bones? Where was he?” That initial call came in 2005, a decade after Bosnian Serb forces killed more than 7,000 Bosnian Muslim men—the number remains in dispute, but this is the figure on record at the International Court of Justice—during a single week of the three-year Bosnian war. From July 11 to July 19, 1995, the men were killed in and near the town of Srebrenica, on the eastern edge of the Balkan nation of Bosnia and Herze- govina. Some were forcibly separated from their families and bused to execution sites; most were shot as they tried to escape to safer Bosnian Army–held territory. Ekrem Uzunović, whom Mirsada had loved since they met at a village dance when she was 15, was wearing black trou- sers and a T-shirt the last time she saw him, and in his backpack carried a loaf of bread she had baked that morning. He bent down to kiss their son, turned away, and ran. He thought he might escape by hiding in the woods. Their son was two. Ekrem was 27. In Tuz- la, the city in which Uzunović and many other Srebrenica war widows were resettled, there is today a two-room office whose inside walls are covered to the ceiling with photos of dark-haired Bosnian men like Ekrem, all dead or presumed dead. Stacked albums hold thousands more, and in the photos the men are smiling or smok- ing or looking celebratory with drinks held out mid-toast. The photos also show boys barely in their teens and men old enough to have been Ekrem’s grandfather. Uzunović: “In every yard there was the same scene—the men running out To the terrible residue left for widows of war a new burden was added: To rebury and mourn the Srebrenica remains in individual gravesites, they would have to be identified piece by piece.