"We are so thankful for you," our acid-washed denim-clad driver, who could not have been more than 18 or 19, gushed to us. At that time, our three faces, dusty from the bus ride from Dubrovnik, represented the US State Department circa 1995. "Bill Clinton, yes! But..."
He trailed off, lost in thought and deeply concerned for his poor country. He wanted to defend it, to share the righteous indignance at what little Bosnia had seen, wanted to express the injustice of the war to this carful of women who had not ever seen or touched real injustice. It's not our fault that we don't know what war really means, who, for all our well-meaning curiosity, could not and most likely would not know what it was like for those four years in the city as it was bombed, what it was like to lose family members and friends, smell the sulfur as a thousand years of literature burned to the ground.
"But why not more?" his flat palms tapped the steering wheel with the restrained frustration of someone trying valiantly to maintain politeness in front of new friends. "Why not sooner? Where were you when the Serbs were-- how do you say it-- firebombing us? and our history?"
A raised pair of shoulders looks remarkably like a passive shrug, but we didn't know what else to say. It was the raised shoulder of solidarity, of wishing that decisions made deep within the state department were not determined by the skin color of the people at hand, or the trade options to consider, but the fact that little kids were dying on the sidewalk somewhere and we had the money to make them stop it. We didn't feel equipped to articulate our thoughts on this to our young driver, who was probably dodging mortar shells while I was searching for conch shells on a Hawaiian beach.I think one of the most interesting and important aspects of arriving somewhere is to find out where your reality intersects with others, and to keep building on those little points of light until you find some semblance of the truth. But sometimes it's also important just to be quiet.