Pustolovina: adventure in Serbian

Friday, September 28, 2007

On Endurance

Two days ago, an American researcher interviewed me about Women in Black. One of her questions was, ‘What are Women in Black’s greatest accomplishments?” In addition to the standard answers I give on every grant application, I found myself saying that the fact that they still exist, sixteen years after the vigils began, despite numerous challenges, difficulties, hurdles and obstacles, amazes me and is an accomplishment in itself. The researcher was pleased with my answer; it was one of the ones she had me repeat into her recorder in order to quote me correctly.

That night, I had a coffee with I— at the most Starbucks-like coffee place I have seen in Belgrade (service at a counter, not a table; 3 sizes of drinks; suspiciously similar typeface). She’s taking off for Geneva shortly, assuming she gets her visa. In the course of our conversation, we discussed some foreigners that we know who have become disillusioned with this place and left. I— praised me for living here for so long, for adjusting to a foreign place.

It’s strange to give and receive the same slightly unusual compliment over the course of four hours. Maybe standards are too low if the simple act of continuing to exist merits praise (especially in my case—millions of people live in Belgrade).

Still, I will take compliments where I find them.

Monday, September 24, 2007

…And Back

After nearly two weeks out of town (and away from the internet), I am back in Belgrade. It feels good to be home, but it’s bittersweet. Except for some just-before-I-leave two-days-in-Sarajevo craziness, this is my last time coming back to Belgrade from abroad. This morning was my last time registering at the police station. It’s hard to get sentimental about jumping through bureaucratic hoops, but somehow, strangely, I am.

…To Sarajevo…

From the coast, I headed to Sarajevo, to meet up with people from working putting on a speaking tour on religious fundamentalism. I arrived in Sarajevo hours before they did, so I spent some time wandering around the city.

I hadn’t been in Sarajevo in about a year and a half. The only times I had been there before were with two good friends who were once a couple and with my family. I wandered the slightly-familiar streets feeling a bit melancholy and alone. My thoughts were interrupted by S, a woman I had met days before at the coast. We chatted for a moment and she invited me out for ice cream. As we walked to the ice cream shop, we ran into E, another woman I had met at the coast.

It’s hard to feel melancholy when one is eating ice cream with a new acquaintance.

…To Drvenik…

A day after J left, I joined a coworker at her summer house on the Croatian coast. The name of the town I went to Drvenik, is nearly a translation of my hometown. (Drven = ‘wooden;’ I hail from Woodinville.) Fortunately, Drvenik is far from that nondescript suburb in many other ways – it is on the sea and is swarming with Czech tourists for starters.

It was a lovely vacation, the kind I never take. My vacations tend to be about doing things – visiting people or seeing sights. In Drvenik, I stayed with people I see regularly and there isn’t too much to see there. I had walked every street by the end of my first day. (Although, if I had been ambitious, I could have taken a bus or ferry to another town.)

I spent my days not doing much, reading, swimming, wandering, embroidering, drinking coffee, learning how to make hurmašica, chatting, watching TV. By the end of the week, it had gotten a bit old, but it felt really good to come back to work wanting the busyness, instead of feeling like I need a vacation to recover from my vacation.

Maybe I should take such lazy vacations more often.

From Belgrade…

It was nearly three weeks ago now that J came to visit. It was lovely to see her and show off my city – even if she seemed to have brought with her weather from her native Toronto.

Barring something unforeseen, it was my last time to show off this place to a visiting friend. It’s become a routine – Kalemegdan, Sveta Petka, The Nikola Tesla Museum, burek, rakija – but with a few additions based on her interests and my favorite new discoveries – Kalenić pijaca and the fun underwear store at blok 70.

We spent a lot of time talking about identity, something that I spend much of my work life pondering, something that she was being forced to face throughout her travels in central and southeastern Europe because she does not look like everyone’s mental image of a WASPy flannel-wearing lumberjack Canadian. Her father is from Hong Kong, which, if one is fond of dividing human beings into fractions (I find it distasteful.) would make her half-Chinese. To further complicate things, her last name is Korean; no one is really sure how that happened.

“Where are you really from?” is the question that people keep asking.

I hoped it would be different when I took her to work—these are the people that spend so much time talking about chosen vs. imposed identities, after all. I was disappointed. A coworker became quite insistent with her “Where are you really from?”s. When J answered only with, “Canada,” my colleague assumed, “Oh, so you’re Eskimo?”

To stop the questions that were beginning to embarrass everyone, I finally took her aside and explained J’s father’s immigration.


Friday, September 07, 2007

Because I don’t spend enough time online as it is

Much to my brother’s surprise, I recently joined facebook.

It is all part of a larger campaign. I am trying to ease my way back into people’s lives at home. I am well aware that I play a relatively small role in the day-to-day lives of friends and family back home. They can’t call me up to go to the movies; all of our interactions are mediated through computer screens or telephone lines. It would be presumptuous of me to assume I can walk back in and expropriate their Friday nights and Saturday afternoons for my own purposes.

I am slowly trying to increase my presence, as best as can be done from here. I am working hard – but maybe not succeeding particularly well – at writing better and more frequent e-mails. I am sending more postcards, which visiting J appropriately calls ‘Remember me? I love you!’-o-grams.

And after receiving an invite from A, I joined facebook, which I am learning is a great devourer of time. This prong of my re-entry plan isn’t going as effectively as I would like, as so far, about 75% of my facebook friends live outside of the US. (Most are members of my volunteer program.)

But, at least I will be able to keep in better touch with them.

Next Up: Singing like I don’t Need the Money

When I walked into the party in Struga, at the second annual Women’s Peace Coalition conference, a dance version of Oh, Susannah, was playing. I chuckled and found myself a seat well away from the dance floor.

I’ve never been very confident in my dancing ability. I do okay in large crowds in dark rooms, but in smaller groups, where people are actually watching me, I get nervous and feel awkward. I start thinking too much and don’t enjoy myself. As I sat there, I thought about this and thought ‘what if I decide that I am just not going to worry about my dancing skills tonight? I would probably enjoy myself more.

And so I did. (I wish such an effort of will would work in other areas of my life.) I allowed myself to sit down when songs I didn’t know how to dance to (read: Albanian pop songs) came on, but danced to most of the rest of it, including two more plays of the Oh, Susannah dance remix.

As Latin American music played, I realized that I had at least some muscle memory of how to salsa – not enough to be impressive in Nicaragua, but I could more than hold my own among Serbians and Kosovars. And then, highlight of the night, Bomba, the song I heard at least 5 times a day in Nicaragua. I always loved it when that song came on in the clubs there because lyrics tell you how to dance – I always felt less awkward knowing where I was supposed to put my hands and whatnot. Here, it was no different.


A J different from the previously mentioned ones, a friend from college, is in town. Two nights ago, at the end of a long night of crafting, we told the stories of relatively recent relationships that ended badly. I recounted The Epic Saga of BC for the first time in maybe a year as well as the W Saga Now with a Spring of 2007 Postscript. J had winning tales of her own.

In this retelling, I had an emotional distance from my stories that I hadn’t had before. They had much more of a ‘hear about this ridiculous thing that happened’ air than a ‘here about how I was done wrong’ one. I have no doubt that traces of the scars remain, but they are no longer open wounds. It was a really satisfying realization.

It’s been quite a while since I have had someone to feel ridiculous about; I am starting to want that again. I know that right now would be the worst possible timing for meeting my one true love.

I would settle for a silly unactionable crush..

Playing house

I spent most of last week living at A’s flat. She was gone for the summer, but she has air conditioning, so J, J, and I moved in to escape the heat for a bit. (Which seems so sad now, as we seemed to have skipped early fall and the weather is now something out of November.)

It was lovely, though. I forgot how nice it can be living with someone. We had dinners together every night and our evenings passed in an effortlessly fun way that doesn’t happen as easily living alone. I missed my Portland house a bit, but it was good to see that I don’t need those specific people to have such a good living environment.


Reassuring, as after a few months, I think it will be quite a while before I am living by myself again.