Pustolovina: adventure in Serbian

Friday, October 26, 2007

Is she Balki or am I?

Isn’t having a surprise foreigner come to live with you the premise for a bad sitcom?... But I think I might be the foreigner in this situation.

F and I have talked about how my going back to Seattle will be like a TV shows set in high schools in which the characters all go to college together (so many people from my Portland life + my family + people from my childhood live there now/still). Little did I expect that my life would take on a plotline from primetime TV quite so soon.

A few days back, I received an e-mail telling me my landlord would be coming to town. She has lived in Phoenix for the past four years. We’ve never met. She knocked on my door seven hours later and has been staying with me ever since. She’s nice enough (well, except for her waking me up last night to recap her day), but it’s not the most fun I have ever had. There was no warning. And while my lease does say I should have 24 hours notice of any landlord plan to visit the apartment (and nothing about joining me to live here), I am trying not to be a jerkface about it. I’ve been lucky to live here. I am sure it must be weird for her to see my Pirates of the Caribbean poster and postcards up all over her wall.

Living with strangers is not something that I am fond of, not something that I was planning to do again so soon. I like being able to be loud and messy in my own space – not that I am particularly loud or messy. Having the possibility is what matters. I don’t like having people tell me to clean (which happened this morning – cleaning is my plan for tomorrow morning). I didn’t realize how dependent I have become on having my own refuge of sorts from the world, where I can sit and embroider while listening to Dan Savage’s podcasts without fear of offending delicate ears.

Still, it’s not all bad. Having her around means that she will take care of the few minor home repairs that I have been too lazy/lacking appropriate vocabulary to deal with.

Let the hilarity ensue.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

At least there were no snakes

I had a terrible travel day coming back—I was sick enough that I couldn’t get too worked up about it, though.

My flight was early in the morning. My roommate also had an early flight, so we went together. We first caught a taxi to a train station, where we were supposed to catch a train to the airport. Even with her French, we couldn’t figure out if the trains were running and none of the English rugby fans sleeping in the station were any less clueless than we were. After about a half an hour, I started to get panicky. We decided to take a taxi – we arrived at the airport with plenty of time. I checked in and got on my first plane of the day.

Somehow, I managed to lose my boarding pass for the second flight. I was expecting headaches because of this, but the customs man was kind and when I finally got to my gate, the clerk there just printed out another one for me (a bit worrying, when I think about it now.)

And then, I arrived in Belgrade, but my luggage didn’t. At this point, I was too exhausted to care very much, only slightly worried that I would never see my possessions again. My bag just decided to stay an extra day in Milan. It was delivered to my flat last night.

I am hoping that these events take care of all of my bad travel karma for a while.

on strikes and old friends

One less-than-desirable aspect of Paris was the strikes. On Thursday, the metro was completely shut down; it ran on a limited basis for the rest of the week. Not realizing what a headache the strikes would be, I made plans to meet up with a childhood friend, who now lives in Paris, studying baroque violin. After trekking quite a distance on foot, we met and joined in part of the strike march. It was enormous. I don’t know if I have ever seen a march so large. My favorite aspect of it was that many of the union groups had trucks from which they were selling snacks and drinks. Emma Goldman said that she didn’t want to be part of a revolution if she couldn’t dance. I might amend that to say that I wouldn’t want to be part of a revolution that has no mojitos.

After walking with a strike for a bit, we went for coffee. At a quiet moment in our conversation, I overheard the people at the table next to us. I understood what they were saying. My first thought was, ‘I know French!’ It took me a few seconds to realize that they were actually speaking Serbian. If only language acquisition was that easy...


I got back Sunday from five days in Paris. I have never been one of those oooohhh Paris types, but I have been converted. I see what all of the fuss is about. It is the most beautiful city I have ever seen. Someday, I will return and see more of it. (I was there for a conference and had little free time.)

The conference, organized by The World Student Christian Federation Europe Region, was entitled ‘Is Religion a Source of Peace or Violence?,’ which is something that I spend a ridiculous amount of time thinking about. I presented a workshop on ‘Religion, Identity, and War in the Former Yugoslavia,’ which sparked a really interesting discussion on if nationalism is necessary sometimes.

And the free time, such as it was, was also good, filled with interesting chats that I will be playing over and over again in my head for the coming weeks.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

a dash of nepotism

I can't imagine that many of my readers, except my parents, would also be interested in my brother's new blog, but I could be wrong.

There might be tremendous amounts of interest in a blog devoted to one Seattle Mariner with a funny name, especially in the off-season (at least for the Mariners).

Maybe he is actually giving the people what they want.

Monday, October 08, 2007

sticks and stones... and Neo-Nazis

Yesterday, on our way back from a seminar on ‘Warning Signs of Fundamentalism and Feminist Responses,’ my fellow Women in Black and I attended an anti-fascist rally and march in Novi Sad.

Weeks ago, a collection of neo-Nazi organizations had been given a permit to hold a rally in Novi Sad yesterday (which was Himmler’s birthday). It was later revoked due to a law that prohibits the promotion of ethnic and religious hatred. The groups then vowed to gather without their permit.

Local NGOs thought it was important to stage a counter protest to show that fascism is not welcome in Novi Sad, the main city in Vojvodina, the most ethnically, linguistically, and religiously diverse region of Serbia. I agree with such sentiments and, although I was a bit nervous, thought it was important to participate.

The group I was traveling with arrived a bit late, but quickly found the rest of the Women in Black and picked up banners (Mine read ‘Women in Black against Fascism.’) and Pace rainbow flags. We listened to speeches by representatives of NGOs (including Women in Black’s Marija Perković), professors, and a representative of the local Jewish community before the few thousand of us started to march through the town accompanied by police in full riot gear.

We reached a point where there was a park below street level on the left side of the street, with only a low fence and a row of police officers between the park and the street. A vocal group of fascists was in the park. Since the park was so low and I was on the far side of the street, I didn’t see how many of them there were; I only saw them when they climbed up the fence. Others in the group went to the fence to confront the Nazis. I stayed where I was. Rocks started to fly toward us. A golf ball-sized rock hit me in the shoulder.

I would like to say that this attack didn’t faze me, that I continued to hold my banner and kept marching, but that would be a lie. I dropped my side of the banner and moved further away from the park. My eyes started to well, more from shock, sadness, and lack of sleep than any physical pain. (The rock didn’t even cause a bruise.) My heart was hurting much more than my shoulder; it hurts to think that there are people who think it is permissible to throw stones at (or shoot or bomb, for that matter) people with whom they disagree. This pain grew when rocks, sticks, and bottles starting being thrown into the park as well as from it. I wanted us not to stoop to their level.

I quickly found some familiar faces and tried, in my now especially shaky Serbian, to explain what happened; the tears in my eyes and my hand rubbing my shoulder were much more eloquent than my words. I wanted to sit on the curb, hide behind a car, and weep, but I didn’t. I had Women in Black around me offering hugs, kisses, cookies, and, today, flowers. I stood with a small group far from the fence someone’s arm around me, dodging further projectiles.

After a few more minutes of rocks, accompanied by yelling and possibly the first genuine Hitler salutes I have seen in real life, the police, who had been standing between the two groups the whole time, began to intervene.

L and I walked hand in hand, continuing with the parade route. Later, after we met up with S, the two of them told me, jokingly, ‘Welcome to Serbia,’ and ‘This is normal.’ Even in jest, these words were the most soul-crushing of all. I don’t want to live in a world where such things are normal, where teargas and stones are ordinary responses to peaceful protests, where ideas like fascism and Nazism have an ounce of credibility. I want to live in a world where my heart and soul are not covered in scars and calluses because of the way things are.

Later, N told me, ‘It is time for you to go home.’ At that moment, I wanted nothing more than that, to be home, with family and friends, far from there. It was a selfish impulse; not everyone could escape like that. And it wouldn’t solve anything, except give me some emotional distance, allow me to assume a mentality where I can read about the war in Iraq and the democracy protests in Burma, but not ache for them in the same way I do for rocks thrown at a peaceful protest that I am part of. I know that the situations in Iraq and Burma are much more serious, that many people are dying there. I am doing what I can in my own small ways (Women in Black held a vigil for Burma today.), but still, I feel slightly immoral—or at least without moral consistency—knowing that what happens in those places doesn’t make me want to sit on the curb and cry the same way that a rock thrown by a Nazi does when it hits me in the shoulder.

On a lighter, more musical note

Before the protests, I attended my last Women in Black seminar. It was lovely; in a beautiful conference center of sorts attached to a Catholic Church in a small village in Nearly Hungary, Vojvodina. (I wish I knew Hungarian.)

As is customary, there was a dance party on Saturday night. At one point, we were dancing to a group of dance hits of the ‘70s: ABBA, that ‘it’s raining men’ song. ‘YMCA’ came on, a song I hadn’t heard in ages. I was having fun dancing to it – when the chorus came, no one else made the letters with their arms; they all looked at me a bit funny.

So, just so you know, cultural imperialism has spread to that point that people listen to The Village People all over the world, but do not dance to it in the same way.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

priestly pedophilia and religious symbols in courtrooms: the great unifiers

I spent my yesterday morning translating articles to go on the website of an affinity group for an upcoming conference. The articles were about secularism and fundamentalism.

The first was about the case of an Orthodox bishop accused of molesting boys. He was acquitted, but only after dragging out the trial long enough so the statutes of limitations for half of the charges expired (an ingenious defense strategy, I must say). The boys’ lawyer is now bringing a case to the Supreme Court, alleging that the boys were discriminated against and maltreated during the trial. It reminded me of the various priest sex scandals that have been sprouting like mushrooms after rain in the US for the past few years.

The second article described recent events in Croatia. Apparently, a judge has refused to hear cases in a courtroom in which a cross is displayed. The head judge refuses to take it down. Substitute a ginormous stone slab with the Ten Commandments etched on it and you will have Ray Moore in Alabama.

It really is a small world after all.