Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Goodbye to Belgrade

It’s difficult for me to comprehend the fact that my time as a resident of Belgrade is slowly coming to an end.
Sunset blocked by the 11 tram on Zemunski put
Despite having marked my departure date on my calendar several weeks ago, it hardly feels real-- the thought of moving out of my Belgrade apartment feels much the same as moving out of dorms in high school (I attended boarding school) and college, though this doesn’t add up to any rhyme or reason given that a) my name is on the lease here b) I’m in a foreign country and c) I’m not going directly home.
Perhaps it doesn’t feel final because I won’t be leaving by plane, or maybe it’s the fact that I have two weeks of travel before returning home. Either way, I’m struggling to find a feeling of finality as my last day approaches; I will likely not be returning to Belgrade in the foreseeable future, but know that it is a place I have loved, and will continue to love even when far away. 

Locals broke out in traditional dance as the man above began playing the accordion.
 Families of all sizes joined in for a song or two on their way through the park. 
As I try to find the words to begin a goodbye, I am reminded of a quote from Night Train to Lisbon by Pascal Mercier which reads, “we leave something of ourselves behind when we leave a place, we stay there, even though we go away. And there are things in us that we can find again only by going back there.”

While I will most certainly leave something of myself to this city, it has given some of itself to me as well.  
I arrived in Belgrade at the age of 19, completely terrified of the adventure I was about to embark on and with little to no concept of what the next few months of my life would look like.
Now, as I prepare to leave Belgrade at the age of 20, having rented my first apartment, completed an incredible co-op, seen four new countries and returned to two more, and been entirely responsible for myself for the first time in my life, I am not at all afraid to move forward.
While I may leave many laughs and memories in Belgrade, I’ve gained the same and more from this enigma of a city: not only have I grown immensely as an individual over the course of the last few months, but I’ve also become more confident in myself and my decisions both personally and professionally. 
In Belgrade, I am an individual valued for who I am in all contexts, regardless of my age-- I attribute this partly to cultural differences and partly to the lack of grade structure given that I have not been enrolled in classes. While this may not be unique to Belgrade, the quirks, traditions, and ridiculousness I spent the last several months immersed in certainly are.
I’m not sure I’ll be able to articulate Belgrade’s particular idiosyncrasies before I leave the city, so instead, for now, I’ll leave you with a quote that sums up this city better than I ever could. Writer and artist Momo Kapor, who called Sarajevo, Belgrade, and New York home, as I do, wrote:
“The spirit of Belgrade is that feeling that you are at home, that you cannot be ruined because you are among your kind [...]
Photographed from the air, this city will never attract a curious beauty collector, no matter how good the picture is. Because it is not photogenic! But it can do something totally different – it will give you almost physical pain from nostalgia, even to those who spent only a few days walking its streets." 

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Požega Round Two

This past weekend I once again traveled to Požega, Serbia, this time to celebrate the cities saint day and attend the consecration of a Serbian friend's newly renovated church.

We arrived alongside a Serbian friend of ours and several of his classmates and were immediately taken to our friends home for a family style dinner. In Serbia this typically consists of a
Serbian salad (tomatoes, cucumbers, and cheese), a platter of grilled meat, and home made bread. Our dinner table was located on the front porch, with an enchanting view of the surrounding mountains.

The next morning we attended the consecration of the Church of Saving, a small village outside of Požega. The celebration, attended by about 1,000 people, consisted of a three hour church service followed by a feast of Serbian cuisine- namely roasted meet and fresh vegetables. As strangers to most of these people we expected to primarily stay on the sidelines, an afterthought to the locals who we had traveled there with. However, this was not the case: we were treated as family at every turn.

This hospitality is not unique to Požega- I have found Serbia to be among the most welcoming countries I have visited. For example, if you are visiting as someone's guest, you won't pay for a single thing. It is considered rude to let guests pay for their dinner or transportation- of course with the expectation that you return the favor if given the opportunity.

On this particular trip I felt incredibly at home, especially during our last few hours in the city. With only a few hours left until our bus back to Belgrade, we assembled at our friend's grandmother's apartment for coffee. As we said our goodbyes we were each gifted a wool hat and slippers, handmade by the grandmother- a gift I will always hold dear.

Like last time, I had arrived in Požega no idea what to expect. And, also like last time, I was pleasantly surprised by what the city had to offer: Serbian artist and writer Momo Kapur described the spirit of Serbia as "that feeling that you are at home, that you cannot be ruined because you are among your kind" and this description remains the singular string of words I've found that can encapsulate the exact nuances that make this place so unique.

Now, this feeling is not the same in Požega as it is in Belgrade: in Belgrade it is the simple notion that everyone has each other's backs, that you are never without a friend even if you are a stranger in a strange city. In Požega, this feeling stems more from a deliberate warmth- while I and my roommates may have been the only Americans present, we were far from the only outsiders present and were ecstatic to see everyone welcomed so unquestioningly.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Not yet fluent, but one day!

It seems somewhat ridiculous to me that after only a few months away from the US, American accents startle me in public.

Bucharest, Romania
While I have picked up some important Serbian phrases I am by no means fluent which is why I was incredibly surprised when "hvala", Serbian for "thank you" slipped out of my mouth so easily while I was in Romania (where the correct word would have been "multumesc" anyway). I was visiting the country with an American friend who had joined me in Europe for her spring break and it seemed everywhere we went, my brain decided to try my Serbian phrases before my native language.

At the time, I attributed this to having simply gotten into the routine of asking questions and giving greetings in Serbian- I had been in Serbia for about three whole months. In retrospect, I think the feeling of being abroad also played a role, given that while in Romania I was intensely aware that I was a foreigner.

London, United Kingdom
Shortly after that trip, which was full of many a Serbian-slip, much to my dismay and my friend's enjoyment, I headed to London to visit a friend who was on co-op there.

Now, London is quite similar to New York in many ways, so I didn't feel quite so out of place here. However, I had been in Serbia longer by this point so despite the fact that I speak ONLY english and was in an english-speaking country, my Serbian-slips continued. "Thank you" became "hvala", many of my questions began with "kako" instead of how, and while on the tube my brain reached for "izvinite" before "excuse me." I felt ridiculous. And then I realized that this simply meant I had become comfortable navigating a foreign language so much so that it became my natural reaction- I dream of the day I become fluent in another language, and while I'm nowhere near close, it's nice  to know that I can get there.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Favorite Belgrade Photos

Over my time in Belgrade I've worked to cultivate a collection of photos that describe the city without words. These are some of my favorites.

The National Assembly of Serbia may be my favorite building in the city- no matter what time of day it always looks pristine. Fun fact: I attended a lecture inside the building while here on a Dialogue of Civilizations last year 

This is the view from Start Savski Most, the bridge I cross on my way to and from work each day. On the weekends I like to sit by the water and watch the light change at sunset over the city. 

Kalemegdan Park, located within the Belgrade Fortress, is full of surprises. This view can be found by walking through three sets of walls within the structure and looks directly over the roof a church that is decorated entirely with mosaic tiles on the inside. 

I took this shot on a walk to my bus stop. It shows only a fraction of Trg Slavia, or Slavia Square, known amongst the co-op students as the "roundabout of death" because of its size. 

Believe it or not, this photo was taken on February 5th, just weeks after I arrived to a frozen tundra of a city. 

This is one of the first photos I took when I returned to Belgrade, showing the communist architecture that is prominent in Novi Beograd. 

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Sunrise over Sarajevo

Last July I traveled around the Balkans on a Dialogue of Civilizations program entitled "The Balkan Wars, State Collapse, and Strengthening the European Union" which focused on the breakup of Yugoslavia and the impact of regional issues on the EU and continental Europe. This program has without a doubt shaped my plan for the rest of my time at Northeastern as it introduced me to a history I had not yet studied and allowed me to become acquainted with a part of the world I would likely never visit otherwise.

Sebilij Brunnen in Baščaršija, Sarajevo's  "old town"
When offered a co-op position in Belgrade, I jumped at the change to return to the region, knowing how much I could still learn from it. And, after living here for several months I can say with certainty that I have achieved significant personal growth while on this co-op.

The place that truly stole my heart last summer, though, was Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina. Sarajevo is a masterpiece of a city that has such a rich, heartbreaking history that even the most cynical of people couldn't help but be inspired by it. Bosnians have an untouchable spirit, full of resilience and warmth, welcoming any and all strangers into their culture.

I took advantage of the May Day holiday this past weekend to spend a few days wandering Sarajevo, with no obligations and endless time to soak it all in.

Streets in Baščaršija are lined with shops filled
with handmade goods, mainly the Bosnian coffee sets
It was strange to experience it for the second time, especially having lived in Belgrade: everything seemed so much less foreign. Plus, the difference between Bosnian and Serbian is akin to the difference between American English and British English so though my Serbian isn't great, I was able to get by with my usual phrases.

After two days filled with many Bosnian coffees, good conversation, and an ever growing love for Sarajevo, I realized that this time, when I leave, I had absolutely no idea when I may have the chance to return. 

So, on Monday morning I rose before dawn and made the hike to the Žuta Tabija (Yellow Fortress) to watch the light change over the city at sunrise- a tradition I picked up in high school where graduating seniors watch the sunrise together on the morning of their graduation. I've kept this ritual close to my heart, dragging myself out of bed to say goodbye to places I've called home for some time or another, and while I haven't lived in Sarajevo the city certainly claims a place in my heart.