Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Everyday life in Serbia

On my first day in Serbia, I started thinking: I'm gonna spend six months here, how can I possibly manage this. There were a lot of new surroundings to relate to and I was feeling pretty skeptical and wondering about what I was doing here. As days went on things have just gotten better. To begin with I was feeling very tired. You're going around listening to another language all day which can be fairly exhausting sometimes. But somehow one adapt to that as well and I'm feeling more fit recently.

People here are more direct then what I'm used to from Norway. They don't beat around the bush, but they go straight for the point. Here people say what they think most often. Another thing which is even more obvious is the fact that people have a very aggressive way of talking. They wave their arms and speak loudly which makes it hard to judge the mood of a person when you don't understand what they are saying. But my biggest challenge for now has to be the doors on public places (shops, banks, schools, etc). In Norway almost all public doors have this mechanical arm which closes the door behind you. Here I'm guessing only 10% of public doors has this luxury. The result is that I usually forget to close the door behind me, something that here is a grave sign of disrespect. So I'm hoping to change fast so that I don't offend too many people.

One of the things that is pretty different from Serbia and the other countries Hald is sending people to is the fact that Serbians don't look that much different from Norwegians. If I make sure to keep my mouth shut (not trying to speak Serbian or English) I can actually pass for an unusual looking Serbian guy. This gives us the unique opportunity of watching the local population more passively than I could in for instance Uganda.

In weekdays I usually try to take the train at nine or ten in the morning. If I have an appointment in Beograd at 1200 for instance I would usually take the train at 1103 and be in Beograd 1135. The problem is that for the last month the trains has been exceptionally late.

This is the place where I spend most of my mornings.
Also Danijel spends a lot of time on the train

There is something wrong with the electronics controlling the signals and track switching, so at the present time there is one person sitting next to the track at every track switch there is. The job is done mechanically by hand. Rumor has it that a guy stole 5 km of the wire connecting this system and thats the reason for all this trouble now. So that leaves me to the solution of arriving at the train station in the morning and then wait for the train which is usually at least 30 min late. Then I have to take the train, which takes around 50 minutes instead of 30. All in all this makes me spend around 3-4 hours every day on public transportation. To look on the bright side this leaves me with a lot of time to read my curriculum.
Vukov Spomenik - The Train station I usually get of at in Belgrade Center

In Beograd one of the obligations we have is language classes. We have more or less three classes every week. The event takes place in a nice coffee shop downtown together with our language teacher Desa (The sister of the general secretary's wife). We learn a lot here even though it can be a bit heavy sometimes.

We meet Samuil (general secretary) a couple of times during the week for different assignments and meetings. Ranging from bible study to meetings with some people he knows. We also try to meet students for social activities (cafe, cinema, concerts, etc.). And there is also the student meeting at every Monday. From this week or next week I will start working one day in a kinder garden as well.
We are doing all kinds of social activities, lately I've been attending a lot of blues concerts. The guy on the picture is no other than D.Z. Rooster, keeping the blues alive.
Coffee shop visits are pretty common. Also a part of our social work.

I want to tell you about one special event. Most average people here don't speak English too well, except students, business and young people. It was a Saturday around one o'clock and I was going to Belgrade for language class. I was sitting on the train station, waiting, reading some book, when an old man (probably above 80) walked up to me and asked me something in Serbian. I tried as good as I could and said something like:
-Ja priču malu srbski, which means I speak little Serbian. And then he replied with an impressive accent:
- So you speak English then! Where are you from?A little confused I answered:
- I'm from Norway
- Så du snakker norsk da (Norwegian: So you speak Norwegian), he said in almost fluent Norwegian while sitting down beside me on my bench. I didn't know quite what to say for a start. Rarely any old people here speak english at all and here I'm sitting next to an old man speaking Norwegian! It turns out the guy used to work in the danish embassy for 10 years, he had travelled a lot and almost visited every country on the planet. He had also worked in India, Sri Lanka, Germany, Canada and so on. We ended up talking for nearly one and a half hour both on the station and on the train. This is a good example of how Serbians start speaking to each other without knowing each other in advance. He had a lot of interesting views on both Serbian and world politics. And an amount of knowledge which only 80 years of experience can give you. We talked about world situation, poverty, rich countries exploiting poor countries, Kosovo, Serbia situation and on and on. It was a very interesting one and a half hour and I learned a lot. This guy should have been interviewed in Åsne Seierstads "Med ryggen mot verden". But anyway, it was a great experience!

A common sight in Knez Mihailova, the walking street in Belgrade.
Evening in Kalemegdon an old fortress in Belgrade Center. The statue is holding up a peace contract towards the enemy, in the other hand he has his sword.We saw this guy recently. He was nice and made a couple of jokes. He actually used to live in Serbia for 10 years when his father Torvald was Ambassador here. For those of you who don't recognize him, you should get to know Norway better.


Inki said...

Wow- what can I say? sounds exciting, interesting and fun to live in Serbia, and you take GREAT pictures as well! :) You're so lucky to work in a kindergarden! Wonder if any of the children speak Norwegian...?! ;)

Eline Haga Simonsen said...

Din Slaur! Vil ha me frabedt flære bh-komentarar i framtiå. trudde d va ein ekkel gris så hadde skreve t meg så eg blei nødt t å sletta heila innlegge å legga d ut på nytt ijen barra for at eg e altfor noob t å veta koss eg slette kommentarar!!!

Ellers; kos deg videre i Serb:D

Maria said...

Heisann kjære fetter! Så koselig å få hilsen fra deg på bloggen! Kjempekjekt å lesa bloggen din, du skrive så bra! Og d e sant d du seie, ein må virkelig stola fullt og heilt på Gud, at han har ein plan. For av og te ser eg sje heilt planen sjøl... Masse lykke te der nere, og Gud velsigne deg! Gla i deg! Klem Maria

whore of babylon said...

Great blog, mate! ;) Sounds like you're enjoying, and may I say there is plenty to enjoy around here :)

PrettyGirlSwag said...
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15842491 said...

I must say I like the simplicity of your blog. It is very neat, tidy and eye-catching. I definitely think the photo on the masthead caught my eye the second I clicked onto your blog. Your experiences sound so interesting and I am glad you are able to share it with us. Serbia is my home country but I love to hear how other people see it when they visit.