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Bosnian Death Highway

I did not know that I would experience compassion fatigue, and that I would not be able to distance myself from the traumatized Bosnians with whom I was working. My Bosnian American Serb cultural background and my understanding of the language immersed me deeply into the Bosnian situation, and I found myself traumatized each time I set foot on Bosnian soil.

Yet, I knew my strengths in treating trauma in Bosnia were my Bosnian heritage, and mother-tongue skills, along with my experience in trauma treatment. I didn't know at the beginning that I would need to remember to view those skills as an asset, rather than as a liability

Massage Therapy for Bosnians in the aftermath of War

Categorized in these topics: Bosnia Engendered Practices Feminine Matrix and Female Culture Kolo Trauma Format Torture Violence Women's Trauma Issues

Debra Robinson donated her precious free time to work massage therapy - on trauma survivors that included the Kolo Sumejja women in Novi Travnik, Bosnia. Her emails were too compelling and astute to leave in the 'never catching dust cyber space' file folders. With Debra's permission and with all rights reserved, her emails to me are published on the kolo website.

Danica Anderson

Part 1 Sunday Oct. 11, 2009

Good morning Danica and Silvana,

Ok….to debrief briefly… I’ll give a blended view of things, in part, because impressions of the work with Kolo and Healing Hands overlapped more than I anticipated, and also to fill you in on the learning in general and provide info on their work. Basically, I’ll give it as I got it…

I had come on board with HHN on the proposal of 2 hr sessions to do the PTSD massage. On arrival, one of the other MTs told me that it was 45 minutes, tops with each client. I had agreed to start conservatively if necessary and then move in to extended sessions, but as the days unfolded, I found that neither of the 2 office managers/translators had been made aware of the arrangement. That was significant.

So as not to lose the opportunity to learn and try this work in this setting, I did the best abbreviation of the work and stretched my times with people to the polite limit. I absolutely loved the people, the work, the challenge, and the spirit that accompanied the effort. It was very much hand in glove.

Lots to get used to…. The bodies were so unusual… the level of stress illnesses ….diabetes, heart disease,ankylosing spondylitis, white hair from shock, rigidity from barring emotions and thoughts (their coping styles), the strange growths frequently seen, the lack of reasonable medical attention, the despairing, frozen in grief, isolation pain.

There were many amputees, many with shrapnel, nightmares, frozen terror still stuck in the nervous system. What I love about this work, is that it goes straight to the nervous system and puts me in direct contact with the actual history and their response to the experiences. (Their intake forms reveal so little) It is a wordless, deep listening to the events, a witnessing that helps them re-embody on many levels.

I learned so much… In the same way that we learn to distinguish what is in a tight muscle…anger, caffeine, muscle relaxers, early parkinson’s, etc., what I began to learn here is what a bomb blast or a knife to the throat feels like. A beating of the testicles and rape, the moment when a person ‘knew’ they were going to lose their life, etc Where all of that hides over time ….where the smoldering rage resides….how the body releases or fails to release due to responses to trauma. It took the work to new levels….

Most important is that the work is every bit as good as I hoped it would be… more follow-up is needed of course, but in checking the people I worked on in Croatia in June, the trauma remains cleared and people are moving forward well.

In working with them, something beautiful and strong emerged and I felt quite creative, deeply relaxed, and my heart opened in all ways. They were so open, vulnerable, honest and direct.

I work in the idea of being hollow bamboo…it was amazing to feel all the types of medicine pouring through for each individual and to work with the energies of their discarnate loved ones so often.

Much of the medicine that came through and very much what this work brought out in me was that of my old Indian Grandmother. This is a spirit energy that has come to me at a few very low points in life. She has roundly and relentlessly scolded me back into life. She is stern, crabby and nobody’s fool. There is no wallowing or self-indulgence under her care. It is tough but good medicine….

So that is how things began. As the days with HHN progressed, I felt that I was involved in someone’s strange scheme. The client book had to be always full and people were in a revolving door of coming for free services. Overall, they were underserved and unevenly served by the (at times motley) array of practitioners passing through. To me, it was the equivalent ‘a lick and a promise’ house cleaning. Not very effective window dressing. What I got was that while 10-12 years ago, flying in therapists to do emergency trauma services was a good idea, that model now is for all present purposes deeply flawed.

To be continued…

Part 2 Sunday, October 18, 2009

At this point a week has passed and I am more rested in body, but not necessarily off the hook in terms of figuring things out. I have found myself to be fairly angry now that I can let down. it has helped that the Kolo friends have been such perceptive listeners. I have had the luxury of being able to be perfectly frank with them even in my unsettled state. I have been working through feelings of being, at times, mis-used. Not the sort of thing that sits well with my spirit… As those feelings came up in the 12 or so days of working and seeing just under 90 people, I hesitated to rush to judgment. Things were moving fast. New situations, culture, much that could not be understood from appearances. But now is the time to revisit the impressions and do something about the feelings/thoughts they engendered in me.

I feel like this was a split experience in some ways. Again, going back to the deeply flawed model idea, there is something about giving services in the old ‘tried and true’ way that doesn’t sit well with me. It is the same set of problems that accompany all welfare programs. Human nature being what it is, a program turns into a scheme despite our best intentions. Temporary assistance grows into permanent institutions. The whole dynamic begins to shift from person to person help to society to person via our institutions.

We then go on to adopt roles of helper and helpee, etc. which further disrupts the natural organic order of things. Once the roles go from being temporary, elastic and appropriate to the current situations they become concretized and thus lose the subtle aspects and are no longer under Spirit’s direction, but are now subject to the human failings on both sides of the equation.

Care givers become co-dependent servaholics unnecessarily and receivers can become professional victims. The role becomes the personal prison and the limiting factor.
No victim wants to really remain in the lesser role, And care givers need to receive care as well.

People make the best of the situation presented to them and I feel that victims compensate for the missing components (personal care and attention from those helping and more importantly, their own presence in helping themselves.) by just taking more of whatever they can get for free.

This kind of passive receiving only serves to further weaken them. They must engage in their healing, however painful and frustrating that may be in their damaged condition. Self- reliance, self-responsibility and the effort of their soul will do more to put them back on their feet, than the best therapies that we can offer, because that creates for them the link to Spirit, their own and the Ultimate. For the level of devastation that they have encountered, nothing less will effect good healing.

For the therapist, serving others is the best possible distraction from fixing our own lives much of the time. We stay in our pain trance and can claim, ‘their need is greater than mine! I must go!’

That flinging ourselves to the ends of the earth is a very clever way to try to outrun our own messed up circumstances, but Truth will have its way in the end, even when we’ve glossed over and tried to bargain with God and give someone else’s life in exchange for the one we are ultimately responsible for…our own.

In our present model, the karmic exchange also deteriorates. I was resentful toward the well fed, employed clients sporting the latest fashions, chatting on expensive cell phones and talking about their 6 mth long holidays in London or their tired shoulders from carrying their luggage back from their shopping expeditions abroad. They came in, laid down on the tables and waited for us to serve them in a sort of self-satisfied smug fashion. Their claim to services was typically that a relative had spent 3-10 days in a camp. They gave scant thanks, no donation and were more interested in getting their next appt. card than in gaining benefit from the therapies. They had simply come to expect free services from foreign bleeding heart therapists. I felt it a bit of a mockery to have come so far to do serious work and to be caught in so many of these situations. Hence, the feeling of being mis-used. The other therapists had similar impressions, but usually tried to overlook things and stay positive. It impacted me differently. I felt violated and that it was injurious to my spirit. Anger, resentment and resistance followed.

I learned (was instructed directly by Spirit) a long time ago that I was not to give to the rich. These are probably the most important words on this page. A personal lesson to a giveaholic….(that would be me). It has been a delicate balancing act to grow into this work, but to grow properly and safely on the various levels. It is a lesson that I revisit periodically. So I guess I am still learning…. As Danica reminds me, these people are our teachers….indeed they are, but there is the occasional ‘left-handed’ lesson along the way. Where we learn what not to do…

As my friend Tao taught me… when we give improperly in any way, we incur a debit in our spiritual bank accounts. I felt those debts mounting. Karmically, I felt that I should not help some of these people incur more error by playing into their games.

Instead, I felt almost a fierce need for them to give…something. I wasn’t sure what.
It wasn’t for me. I was volunteering…it was a ‘giveaway’ trip, something I owe Spirit at the outset of this chapter of life. It signifies and acknowledges in a token way all the healers who have helped me along the way.

So that was not the issue. Still, I felt that something should be exchanged.

In Reiki tradition, this became an article of the work. An exchange was necessary between the receiver and the giver. It was an acknowledgment of natural law. I think as it applies here, if something was exchanged, it would show a respect for the therapist and for the service given. The receiver would feel partnered in the effort, and in the Reiki experience, the healing had a better karmic outcome and healing was likely to become more permanent. It restores balance and dignity and brings much needed awareness. It can prevent a number of problems from developing. So I think that according to one’s circumstances and ability (all good communist ideas) and karmic debt, one should contribute appropriately, be it labor, or food, money or service for the good of others. I will probably not make much more of this complaint now….but this has to be said.

As dear friend Niclaire would say at this juncture, “Bless” Thanks, Niclaire…

The images that will remain with me are of the ones who came in broken down shoes, threadbare underwear, broken in body, mind and soul. On some level, spirit is never broken truly or exhausted, but serious disruption does occur and is felt as almost unending pain and hopelessness . The loss of homes, savings,, family, peace, security and health….the efforts of a lifetime destroyed. But what is possibly worse is being unable, due to injury, unemployability, lack of opportunity and isolation to begin again to rebuild their lives.

As those of us who have been mended are properly engaged in the mending of others (and, not only that, but also in the happy living out of our own lives in the time that remains to us), we should, with all the intelligence, energy, and life experience we have been gifted with, share those energies as Spirit directs.

There is much real help still needed. The outsider’s quandary of how much is needed after all these years since the end of the war is quickly dispelled. These cultures have their coping styles. Quite often they are stoic and self-contained and things are not to be talked about. So, pain and stress are borne internally. Of course, the bodymind can only do that for so long. It will eventually crack….and they are giving way at this critical stage. Several people were obviously suiciding in a variety of ways. Some were eager to talk about it. Having a mere 45 minutes with each person was to do massage and help heal a soul was tragic. Those people haunt me still, but Healing Hands has proposed that I find another organization to work with. I do not fit their model. So I may not see them again as things stand.

I found that these people are terribly alone in this seemingly warm culture. It seems that more Bosnians should be helping Bosnians somehow. But the survivors seem to be a throwaway generation. The equivalent of our poor and homeless whom we hope not to see, though their numbers increase daily. If you have suffered, you know that suffering is real and unrelenting, and that if you can change that you have helped a fellow soul, for we are one body.

But in our increasingly soul less world we have to stay alert and present and give real help. Real help takes real time, lots of it, and It should largely be given off the clock. Real help also requires the efforts of the one who is suffering. . It also takes a fair bit of ingenuity.

But what you gain from the experiments and effort is real (and personally painful at times) mending. You cannot simply slap a bandaid on cancer. You can’t throw money and good wishes and 45 minute of haphazard therapies at this level of need. You must enter in and come alongside and unravel things, clean smelly wounds, touch souls and bodies for as long as it takes. Laugh, cry, pray, wait, learn, marvel…the works. In this way, everyone benefits deeply.

Many years ago, I managed to make a lot of money in the stock market. It was my big chance to make a difference in this needy world. I spent several years researching charities to give to. I also searched for the gaps that remained. I corresponded with, studied, evaluated, and then visited the various entities to see their projects in person. In what was to become a profound and painful lesson, I found that many of the projects did not even exist except in glossy brochures aimed at unsuspecting donors. Many other charities existed for themselves primarily and gave token services.

The wool has been pulled over many kind eyes. I ached with the learning. So little transparency… NGOs and charitable institutions have become the domain of the thieves of kindness in much the same way the churches have become a refuge for predators and pedophiles. Who would suspect a church or a charity, after all? Kind hearted people do not ask a lot of questions or require accountability like those who are more savvy to the world. They are seen by the predators as those begging to be fleeced. And fleeced they are happily….on both sides of the equation. But that is another rant…

There was another lesson barreling down on me unawares. What I found in reality, is that the world does not need more money, more charities and the like. The world is awash in money. I know there will be outcry over that, but take a look for yourselves.

It is true. We have been sold a bill of goods about the actual conditions and needs in the world. It has been incessantly drummed into us that we, the rich, must help the poor. Once on the ground in Bosnia, I found many “poor helpless’ people that are living better than we are. I will not give to them. Well, that is not entirely true. What I will give is a sense of values and fairness and love and responsibility.

I will not give them my body and soul or my energy in unsuitable ways.

I remember well that many people in India of higher caste were only too happy to have the Westerners looking after their poor …less for them to do. Less responsibility…more opportunity to remain greedy and unconcerned for their fellow men.. In the end, I give to one charity only…one run by Indians themselves who are quite aware of actual conditions and who allow no one to take advantage. They know their countrymen and they know the all the tricks. Sort of like ex-addicts being the best counselors for addicts….

What I was taught was that there is real need….but that need is generally not for money (or money, alone)….it is a need for hope. For reality and personal empowerment. To see themselves and the riches contained within and not to see only the external forms of dominance, power madness and scarcity. WE can still live around that madness. It does not have to define our existence.

The Universe is a bit unsparing here….wherever we are is where we must start to do our work. Help will be given, but not until we wake in our souls and make the effort it requires of us. In the end, that is very much the gift of our life experience…the adventure of living. The fact that we HAVE survived so much…. The fact that we have woken up again this morning is a statement in and of itself, that living is expected of us…. Not whining, not self pity, not slowly suiciding, though we may choose to fill our lives with those things. But we have breath today…and spirit… and intelligence….and a kind of freedom… and life in our bones….

In closing, I feel very called to this work and will continue to move forward. But I will find ways to do that that feel more appropriate and fair and that reflect their willingness to help themselves and each other.

In conversation with various people and in recent nature experiences the idea of sin-eater has come up repeatedly. Danica added to that yesterday and I was moved to read about it further. There were several wonderful nuggets of information in an article written by Ross Heaven in the UK. It is well worth reading for those who are interested

One of the ideas is that the teachers in this work are the spirits themselves. That has been sincerely felt. Another is that victims of shameful acts carry terrible energies for which they need and deserve help. And lastly that an offering from the receiver of help was often part of the ‘cure’. That has said it better than I could have said it myself.

So thanks to all for the synchronicities and the help in this…



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