For ten days, I ran up a mountain. At the top of the mountain laid Pridjel, the village in which my father and mother had lived.
Pridjel is located in the heart of Bosnia and Herzegovina, a nation devastated by bloodshed and destruction. Fifteen years ago, my father and expecting mother were forced to escape the impending war and search for a place to restart their lives. They made their way to Germany, and upon arrival, my twin brother and I were born. After five years of effort and hard labor, my parents decided to move our family to the United States. As I grew up, I was constantly told that I lived a privileged life. As I matured, I struggled to grasp an understanding of this privilege. This changed one summer when I was given the opportunity to visit my fatherland and explore my heritage.
Each morning during my visit, I began my ascent up the mountain in search of discovery and an understanding of the life I had so narrowly avoided. The villagers would stare. As I ran past the neglected houses that lined the winding street, I could sense their peculiar gazes on my back. I could hear the whispers of fellow trekkers as I passed them on my way to the peak. Perhaps I was bizarre in the eyes of the citizens, but this society was also bizarre by my standards. Everywhere I turned, I was faced with the primitive and the traditional. It was as if the world had progressed and forgotten about these people. I passed wells and was examined by a long line of villagers waiting for fresh water. I witnessed the slaughter of livestock as inhabitants prepared their meals. I was engulfed in the stench of outhouses, a lingering smell that spread throughout the mountain. Nonetheless, I forced myself up the mountain constantly analyzing this foreign land in which my parents had grown up.
What shocked me most during my treks up the mountain was not the adversity I witnessed but the surprising optimism of the villagers. Each day, I would see them initiate the same rigorous routine, a constant trek up and down the mountain to perform their daily tasks. These people lacked the simplicities in life that I had taken for granted in America. They could not walk to the bathroom for fresh water. They could not walk to a nearby supermarket for food. However, they were always in motion, never surrendering to the inhospitality of the mountain. They faced the daunting task of scaling the slope throughout their life, a constant challenge that would never ease its burden.
The stories that had been repeated throughout my childhood began to make sense as I continued towards the peak. The tales of long walks through the worst of weather became a reality as I battled my way up the incline under the scorching summer sun. I began to understand what my parents had wanted me to know since my birth. My parents had spent their lives on a remarkable journey. They had battled over numerous mountains and had seen the worst of life on their eternal path.
With each laborious stride towards the heavens, I gained a greater understanding of my own world. I realized that the opportunities available to me back home posed their own challenges. Back home, I lived in a mountain range, surrounded by peaks of different heights that I could choose to scale. I learned that I had to keep my legs moving, that the pain and sacrifice would be justified by the sense of pride and accomplishment I would feel when I finally reached the summit.
My life thus far has been a hike over a series of hills, conditioning me for my future challenges. Standing on the summit of my last hill and gazing at the path I had climbed, I feel that I am finally ready to tackle my first real mountain.
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