Serbia: In the Shadows

Here we are, almost a month into our stay in Serbia and I realize I have given everyone a very romantic view of our travels thus far. You know about the food and the weather and how affordable Serbia is for North American foreigners.  I’ve shared some very lovely natural and artisan scenery. I’ve shown you how happy our girls are, strangers in a foreign land, but exploring with glee.  I’ve shown you how much Serbs love animals, and how caring for animals is, more often than not, a communal act.  We’ve been here a month and we’ve had a great time. We also look forward to the next 2 years, fully committed to exploring the rest of Europe as much as we can.

But…

No country is perfect, even my beloved Canada, but there are occurrences in Serbia that I will never fully understand nor, I think, do I want to. My incessant desire to “fix” things will not serve me well here; most likely, I would go crazy working against a system that is snail-slow to change.  These, mind you, are just my experiences here. Maybe others have an entirely different view. But here’s what I’ve got:

-Any foreigners who visit Serbia must report to the local police station within 24 hours. Even with a residence permit, if that foreigner desired to stay at a hotel with, perhaps, a pool for the weekend, that foreigner must report, again, to the police as to the change of address (ie. hotel stay), so that the police always know where you are. They have made this easier, as hotels are equipped to report your whereabouts to the police for you, saving you another trip to the station. On this note, I highly recommend the book ‘Catch 22’ by Joseph Heller. Some of the things that happen to the main character, Captain John Yossarian, just remind me of some of the rationale used in Serbia.  A good read nonetheless.

-Pollution is rampant. I could be wrong about this, but not only is garbage strewn about, I believe sewage is dumped into arterial waterways, which eventually feed into the main rivers. Our shoes have never been dirtier. The soles of our shoes are not just dirty, but black.

-Conversations with locals lead me to believe that corruption is just a part of life in Serbia. I’ve read that the postal system is unreliable and that packages of value often do not make their way to the intended recipient. Police and politicians, can be persuaded, or persuade, in no particular order. This said, I’m sure that there are admirable police and politicians here as well.

-While we have NEVER felt unsafe or unwelcome, my feeling is that a communistic blanket still hovers over the country. Years of bombardment and corruption haven’t helped pull Serbia out of the dark ages, but the feeling is that it is slowly, slowly working its way out.

-I have had no conversations with locals about the United States. Of course, I proudly say that we’re from Canada. We, however, look foreign to them, with our clothes and our accents, especially in Bor.  Today, as the girls and I were walking home from lunch, a young boy about Laura’s age (6), pointed a toy gun at me and said, with an angry face, “America!” And he shot. Bang. Bang.

-The juxtaposition of rich and poor is heart-wrenching. In Belgrade, you might have a Lamborghini parked while, a few steps away, someone is digging through trash for a meal.

Everything considered, I still think this is a good experience for our family. We’ve met some very kind people and are learning how other people live.  We are better for it.

 

Author: S.L.Luck

Writer of fiction, non-fiction, and stories in between.

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