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Teresa Bonner: “Now you know what it’s like to have a sniper.”

Teresa Bonner

Peace Corps Volunteer in Lithuania (1996–98) | Peace Corps Response Volunteer in Bosnia and Herzegovina (2001)

As told to Ellery Pollard

 

Photo: Mostar, years after the war. Teresa Bonner arrived there to serve as a Crisis Corps Volunteer in September 2001.

 

When I became a Peace Corps Volunteer in Lithuania, I expected to go help people. I had a background in design and marketing, and the country was transforming after the breakup of the Soviet Union. But the strongest lessons I came back with were understanding another culture — and that people are the same everywhere in the world: They want to be happy, take care of their family, have fun. 

I was assigned to Junior Achievement of Lithuania; I helped with marketing, strategy, and publication of their main textbook. I also had individual clients and advertising agencies. And I helped translate materials with the Missing Persons Family Support Center; women would answer job ads in Germany and never return, probably because they were brought into sex trafficking. 

In August 2001, I was recruited into Peace Corps Response Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Bosnian War had been over for six years, but they were still struggling. The organization I was working with helped women adjust to the trauma and loss of war. They were tough women with amazing senses of humor and approaches to life. They had made it through one of the worst civil wars in modern history; all had lost family members, yet they were strong.

 

Women on a bridge in Mostar, Bosnia, in 2001

“They were tough women with amazing senses of humor and approaches to life,” Teresa Bonner says of her coworkers in Bosnia. “They had made it through one of the worst civil wars in modern history; all had lost family members, yet they were strong.” Photo by Teresa Bonner

 

 

I arrived at my site on September 9, 2001. I remember going for a walk the morning of September 11, looking around the city that had been devastated by war. Most buildings were riddled with bullet holes. As I walked by a man fixing his door, I started crying. I truly realized how terrible war is. 

When I got back to my apartment, my landlady yelled “Teresa!” She pointed to the TV — the twin towers were coming down. 

 

“I would run in zigzag,” she said, “because you never knew if a sniper would want to shoot you.” She wasn’t crying. She wasn’t looking for sympathy. She was just telling me. So after 9/11, she said, “Now you know what it’s like to have a sniper. You never know.”

 

I had to skip work for a week. But I knew that I was surrounded by people who had gone through something even more traumatic. A woman I worked with would talk about how, when she was making her way to high school, “I would run in zigzag,” she said, “because you never knew if a sniper would want to shoot you.” She wasn’t crying. She wasn’t looking for sympathy. She was just telling me. So after 9/11, she said, “Now you know what it’s like to have a sniper. You never know.”

I was in a predominantly Muslim community. Part of me wondered, Do they hate me? But it wasn’t like that at all. There was also this, I learned from people in Bosnia: The United States is a superpower, but if this can happen to America, who’s safe? I had some powerful conversations with the women I worked with about that.

 

This is part of a series of stories from Crisis Corps and Peace Corps Response Volunteers and staff who have served in the past 25 years.


 September 11, 2021