Finding people to interview or to participate in a survey is generally hard. Finding them to speak about a devastating topic such as their personal war-experience turns out to be harder and less hard at the same time. For my master’s thesis, I am currently conducting a global research project on the long-term effects of war experience on individuals, independent from their nationality, age, gender, race or culture. I believe that, when we emphasize the unifying characteristics of people who went through the most devastating experiences, we will come one step closer to silencing those people, who underline alleged differences between us. Racists, I call them.
It is hard to find interviewees, because the amount of people who have experienced war is generally (fortunately) not that high in comparison to the rest of (western) society. At the same time, it is less hard, because the multipliers and interviewees I have talked to so far have been incredibly supportive, positive and helpful. So far, I was able to talk to people from the US, Mexico, Syria, the Iraq, Germany, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Russia, Estonia, Eritrea, Croatia – veterans, refugees, family members of victims.
Psychologically exhausting as it can sometimes be, it is also very rewarding. I initially conducted every single question in the interview/survey to be formulated in a way that will not trigger any memories or negative emotions in the person to prevent retraumatization. But: people start telling me themselves. I never ask them, but they always start talking about what happened to them and their families, who else was affected. These are stories of personal loss, of rape, violence and murder, of political and religious persecution, abuse, pain and suffering. Some days, I feel like working on this project is too much for me.
But most days, the conversations I have are the most rewarding part. I completely admire the amazing strength these people have developed. They are courageous, they are brave, they are kind, they are beautiful and strong. They fight for their sons and daughters, their siblings, their parents, their loved ones. They move to another country because “all the bombing in the streets made it impossible to get to work in the mornings”. They raise their children and instead of preaching hate and revenge, they teach love, tolerance, forgiveness and acceptance. They make hundreds, thousands of kilometers on their feet and then further, to find hope in another country, another culture. They face racism, violence, rape and murder, corruption and damage. But out of this, they create a new life filled with love and hope, better education, family safety, voluntary support of local communities. They create the most tolerant and kind surroundings society can hope for.
I bow my head to all of them.