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.
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.