Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Return To the Balkans

View from the castle in Kotor

Just a short update. On the of august I returned to the Balkans. I flew to Dubrovnik where I was picked up at the airport and i went straight to Martinas place in Kotor, Crna Gora (Montenegro). Martina just recently became Danijels fiancé, and it was really great to see them both again. I stayed with them untill Sunday.
Danijel and me, finally back together, always fun

Martinas neighborhood

Martinas kitten

Sunday morning we went to a camp which we had been planning for over a year now. It lasted for 7 days, and was situated at a decent hotel along the Fjord of Montenegro in a place call Risan. The focus of the camp was Leadership training. It was some great 7 days.
Gjermund, my travelling buddy and our view from the hotel room
Marija and some guy... Who might this be... What is the connection.. Maybe?? Maybe??

At a coffee shop in Kotor

Buddva - Montenegro, camp excursion

From one of the seminars at the camp

The following Sunday we went to Macedonia by night bus through Albania. More accuratly to lake Orchid, a beautiful old city and a huge wonderfull lake. The place is really recomendable. Cheap prices for food and accomodation.

Lake Ochid from Sveti Naum

Tuesday morning we went on to Skopje, the capitol of Macedonia. We spent some hours there, before we went on to Pristina Kosovo. We are staying here until Wednesday night when we take the bus to Belgrade, where we are staying a couple of days. We will also spend a night in Novi Sad and Budapest.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Back in Norway

After about half a year in Serbia I have now returned to Norway. I had a great time in Serbia, but it's still great to come back here and meet friends again and return to my favorite school, Hald. The food in Norway is better than ever and the air fresher then ever before.

It's also hard to leave Serbia. In this beautiful country I still have some of my best friends and memories from all of my life. God has really thought me a lot this year.

Even though I've returned to Norway I plan two more blog posts. One about working in the kindergarten Noah's Ark in Belgrade, and the other is the one I promised from Kosovo.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

What I've been up to lately

After I returned from my trip to Kosovo and Monte Negro I've been having quite a busy time. I've written one paper and one article. The article was about the situation in Kosovo and was recently published in Credo, a Christian Norwegian student magazine. The paper was for Hald and the title was: "The Serbian Orthodox Church and its view on salvation and other churches". The paper is written in English. If anybody would like to read it, let me know and I will send you a copy. Both the article and the paper had been highly educational experiences for me and even though it took a lot of work it was well worth it. Related to this work I've gotten to interview Orthodox priests, Kosovo Albanians, Serbs etc. Great experiences!

Let me try to give a short review of what’s been going on since my last blog article. I hope I would never have to do this, but I apologize for the lack of blog posts the last month or so. We arrived in Belgrade a little bit after schedule (why, you can see in the last blog post) on the 18th of February, the morning after Kosovo declared its independence. You could feel the tension already from the train. Loud demonstrations proclaiming "Nedaimo Kosovo"(We're not giving away Kosovo) and "Kosovo je Srbija"(Kosovo is Serbia), was audible as we approached Belgrade main train station. The number of people and cars in the center was highly reduced from normal. And the people who were there were walking more quickly and tense than normally. At the EUS meeting the same evening only ¼ of the normal attendees showed up, and me and Stine had to come by a different route since a McDonalds was under attack.

A huge demonstration with about 300 000 people took place in the center of Belgrade

Later the same week there was a huge demonstration in Belgrade with approximately 300 000 people. During this demonstration there was also some embassies and stores being attacked. While walking from the demonstration to our Bible study that night, we accidently happened to walk by the Turkish Embassy at the exact same time as it was attacked. But luckily we managed to pass by without drawing attention.

Just two days it’s almost like everything is back to normal, and there is not a lot of talking about Kosovo anymore. Things are going on like before, and Belgrade still feels a lot more safe then both Bergen and Oslo. If you take a look on Dagbladets article about the safety of the participants of EuroSong contest (Melodi Grand Prix), I would assess this as highly exaggerated. Walking around in the streets of Belgrade is safe. I’m pretty sure there is less crime here than in the big cities of Norway (not considering corruption of course).

Our language teacher, Desa, was getting married on 9.of March and was kind of busy around that date, so we were having a lot of language classes to don’t fall behind. Something we also will do the last two weeks before we return to Norway. Before the wedding I and Danijel also attended a Chris Rea concert in Belgrade. It was great fun!

Chris Rea - Live in Belgrade

Nick from Canada and my team partner Stine in Desa's wedding

The Bride and Groom just before the wedding.

The wedding itself was also a highly interesting experience. While Norwegian weddings are filled up with songs, games, entertainment and program. Serbian weddings consist of three main events which are all happening simultaneously. These are food, loud music and dancing. Food is being served from beginning to end, loud music is being played the entire time and people are dancing all the time. It’s safe to say that I and Stine were a little bit tired of ethno music at the end.

Desa's wedding. Listen to the Serbian music.

In the wedding I finally got an opportunity to try out the new suit I bought in Thailand.

Mom and Dad in Budapest

The magnificent Chain Bridge in Budapest, with the castle in the background.

Some part of the fortress of Budapest

On the 13th of March my parents came to visit. Because of convenience they flew to Budapest which gave me the unique opportunity of visiting both Hungary and Budapest. It was great to see mum and dad again, and Budapest was also a very interesting city. Wrapped with old buildings, bridges, monuments and so on, it’s a sight well worth seeing. The first evening we had dinner on a boat on the river Danube, a really great meal. The next day we did some sightseeing and in the evening we went on Sir Lancelot restaurant. This is a theme restaurant recommended to me by a friend. The topic is medieval times and this applies for everything from the waitresses’ dresses and to the food and the decorations. There was among other things sword fighting and belly dancing, the food was great and the wine was brilliant. In other words we had a good time in Budapest.

A little bit of the huge parliament building in Budapest

One of the streets in Budapest center

The view from the fortress

Inside Stephen's church. A Catholic church in the very center of the city.

Dinner with my parents and some of my Serbian friends at Dača Restaurant.

Then I brought my parents to Serbia where we first went for a dinner with some of my Serbian friends. We had rented a car and the next day we went for a trip along Danube to see some of Serbia. The highlight of this trip was probably the Eco Ethno village where we spend the night. With a great view of Danube, from a hill along the river, homemade food and honey snaps this was nothing less of a fantastic experience! Driving was also great fun! We also got to spend some time in Belgrade and Pancevo before they returned to Norway.

The Chevrolet we rented to drive around in Serbia for two days

My dad in front of some Serbian trees

The clean river of Danube

The fortress of Golubac, Serbia

The Ethno Village with its magnificent view

Our house in the Ethno Village

The sky was really great that day.

Our host even prepared a fire for us

Danube next to the fortress in Smederevo.

All the four above are from the fortress of Smederevo.

The ancient Roman city of Viminacium

Some dead Roman guy

In Kalemegdan, the fortress of Belgrade, with Stine and my parents.

International student conference in Linz, Austria, with 2000 attendees.

Danijel and Vegard during Linz worship

Eastern morning service

The morning after they left, I went to an IFES conference in Linz, Austria together with 55 other students from Serbia. The conference was just fantastic! Having some experience from arranging conferences earlier (although not of the same scale), I was amazed by how well everything worked, from food to accommodation. Even though the conference was brilliant the highlight was probably to meet some of my friends again, both Norwegian and some of the internationals from Hald. I’m starting to realize how strong and unique my connection to these fellow international students is. Worshiping, praying and serving together with 2000 other European students were just fantastic.

Downtown Linz

The art museum in Linz, with Danube in the background

A church on the mountain outside Linz

Some of my Norwegian friends who attended Linz

(Ale)Sany, Brasilien girl who is a fellow student of mine at Hald

Sammy is a Kenyan Hald student. He's currently working in Stavanger. The more you get to know this guy, the better of a guy he is.

Me, at the conference

Hald student Pamela from Uganda

Danube in Linz. By the way, Linz is the European cultural capitol in 2009, just after Stavanger.

Ugandan Faith in front of the huge Catholic church in the center of Linz.

Tor Harald (whom I went to Finland with this summer), Sany and Sammy.

Thiago (Hald student from Brasil) and Natalie from Finland, the land of infinite forests.

Faith together with Detelina from Bulgaria.

The main topic of the conference was “Because of Love”. For me there were two experiences that illustrated this in particular. During the prayer time there was a possibility to be prayed for in different languages. There was a sign for each language, where the name of the language was surrounded by a heart. In the case of Serbia, there was a list of three languages. The sign said “Serbian/Croatian/Bosnian”, surrounded by a heart. I don’t think there is anywhere else in the world you could find these three countries together, surrounded by a heart. It was just amazing! For me it was a very vivid picture of the fact that Gods love is above this world. The other thing happened the last evening. There was a Serbian-Albanian friendship meeting, where we were singing worship songs in Albanian, Serbian and English among each other. Just the fact that Albanians and Serbians are talking together during this time is incredible.

Serbs and Albanians worshiping together

On the way back from Linz we had a rather interesting experience. The weather was changing rapidly and the visibility was pretty bad. Snow rain and ice were falling among each other and we were driving towards Vienna. I was trying to sleep, sitting on my seat up front when the buss suddenly started breaking abruptly. I opened my eyes, and in only a couple of seconds, I saw our bus crash in to the car in front, which again hit another car in front of it. Somehow a fourth car also managed to get involved in this. Luckily no one got hurt badly, even though the two people in the Golf in front of us where in a state of shock and their car was probably totaled. We ended up having to wait there for about 2 hours before we could move on. Even though the bus definitively had seen better days, I was in good enough condition to drive so we got to continue and managed to arrive safely in Belgrade. Only about 40 km from where we crashed there was an even bigger accident with close to 100 cars involved. Luckily we managed to stay out of this mess.

The view from the Bus. The passengers are still inside the Golf. The car in front of the ambulance was also involved in the accident.

Our bus after the accident. In this condition we drove to Belgrade.

People have started to consider me bad luck, As Danijel puts it: “You go to Kosovo; it becomes independent! You go to Pristina; you start a fire in your hotel room. You take the train from Monte Negro; it jumps of the track. You take the bus from Linz, it crashes!” But I still believe I have a God watching my back! I still have my health and I’ve had a great time here, even though I’ve learned a couple of lessons.

There is now only two weeks left in Serbia, a strange feeling. Soon I will go back to Norway and things will start to go back to normal. It’s almost impossible to realize that my time here in Serbia is gone already and I have to head back home. But it’s been a great time and I hope to make the most of what’s still left.