Novi Sad – Home Of Serbia’s Largest Communal Washroom – AKA Novi Sad Petroland Waterpark

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Cleaner Than Petroland

I’ll preface this with saying that while I do not have solid evidence, I’m pretty confident in concluding that adults at Novi Sad Petroland Aquapark have taken special liberties normally reserved for young children: peeing (or worse) in the pool. Maybe this isn’t usually the case. Maybe this is an exception. Maybe this has only ever happened once, when we happened to visit, on the hottest day of the year.

But I think not.

It was a whopping 42c in Novi Sad today, so we decided to take the girls to a large outdoor waterpark about an hour from Belgrade. We figured we’d arrive early and leave early, try our best to avoid the hottest portion of the day.  We arrived shortly after the pool opened, the water was mostly blue. (I can’t believe I have to say it like that, but it’s true.) We floated along the lazy river a few times and, within maybe 20 or 30 minutes, the influx of people trying to escape the heat seemed to  overload the facility’s housekeeping capacity. The water got dirtier, greyer, greener, slimier by the minute. Sure, there were foot washes and showers – if people used them – but there was also grass and dirt. There must have been 500 people there today, or more, but the restrooms were almost always empty. And clean . No wet toilet seats. No wet floors?  Why? Because there were no wet swimsuits in them. Maybe the heat evaporated the water right off their bodies during the walk from the pool to the restroom.  All 40 feet of that walk. (Like a marathon, really.) Or maybe the staff did such a great job of cleaning them that they deserve trophies. Or maybe….

Maybe the officials from Niagra opted for a less touristy route with which to dump their questionable sludge and ship it to Petroland in Novi Sad.  The water had a beautiful, brown-green hue. Any body part below the surface immediately vanished. The pool at the Sports Centar in Bor was infinitely cleaner than this one.

I couldn’t do it.  Hot or not, I didn’t want my girls to be swimming in that water. Was so thick you could stick a fork in it – and it might stand up straight. When the blue ran out, so did our family….straight to the car.

 

 

 

Safety And The Pee Pool

We stayed in yesterday, Bex having a raging case of what I suspect is food poisoning from the grilled chicken at one of our favorite local restaurants. It’s passing and she is starting to feel better. But, wow, was it a doozy.  Poor girl.

This, however, has made me reflect on the unsanitary conditions we find ourselves around as of late.  Take the pool, for instance. Children pee in the pool, nauseating fact, but true for pretty much all pools. Maybe not all children take that liberty, but a good enough percentage that leads me to rationalize that we have been swimming in  excrement in Serbia. Modesty aside, nude children, infants without the swim diapers mandated by pools in Canada, are free to urinate and defecate in the water here.  But it’s not just infants. Older children, as old as eight, have also been swimming around us, naked. There are no showers at the pool, just a foot wash, so…in you go, dirt and all. Did I mention the heatwave we’re going through? Heat like this has a smell, heavy and sour, and it’s washed off in the pool. That we swim in.

I’m not sure that the food safety standards here are on par with Canadian standards, either. I’ve seen more flies on uncooked meat, more blood pooled in deli counters. The food is sure tasty and most often cooked perfectly. Still, it doesn’t take much to tip the delicate balance of harmful bacteria.  We’re working through this with probiotics and very helpful natural remedies suggested by our friends back home.

For now, here are more tidbits for you and a fun little safety video:

-Children must be 7 years old to start grade one in Serbia. Laura needed, and received, special permission to register for grade two as she is only 6. She will be the youngest in her class but the girls are going to an International school and we’re told the education they’re going to receive is going to be phenomenal.

-Serbs get a legislated, floating holiday, called a Sava, or Saint’s Day. Families choose which Saint resonates with them and honor that Saint on that Saint’s particular day. One family’s Sava may be tomorrow, while another family’s Sava may be in May. (I believe I got this right, but please correct me if I’m wrong.)

-Safety costs money and so often isn’t the first priority. I’ve seen crowds milling about around bulldozers and other construction equipment, while the equipment is in operation. Too many holes in the ground to count, many of which are VERY deep. Barbed wire, rebar, broken glass, wires, dangerous dips and divots…..none of these are blocked off from the public. A rare public warning will be yellow caution tape, inadequate and never enough to fully surround the hazard. We’re careful, but my anxiety level shoots through the roof when I’m walking with the girls. There is just so much that can hurt you, pretty much everywhere we go. Mix this with all of the people that drive on sidewalks, and it often feels like a war zone — with everyone out for themselves.

I’ll leave you with a fun little safety video. It’s really just a smidgen of what we see, but true nonetheless. Enjoy your day and stay safe!

 

Ovary Massage At The Train Station

(If you’re sensitive about nudity, stop reading. If you’re not, read on partner….)

Back in Bor for the week, we’re trying to find things to do when it’s really too hot to do much of anything (35-39C). Most of our time will be spent at the pool but, today, we opted for massages.  Unfamiliar with the area or where to find a therapist, Chris asked around and found the name of a lovely therapist we’ll call “L”. With the help of Google Translate, we had an easy conversation via text and made appointments for the 3 of us girls, one hour for myself, 20 minutes for Bex and 10 for Laura, as we thought that was all they could handle. We were  given the address, beside a train car restaurant, and instructed to text if we needed help. We got to the train car and texted.

We were led into an apartment building next to the train car and up 4 flights of stairs we went. The room was another apartment, converted into a massage space.  Two couches flanked a table in the middle of the room and, without air conditioning in the hot weather, the room was very warm.  The girls plopped down on the couches and played their iPads while we talked. “L” then prepared the table and gave me a towel with which to cover myself.

…….I’m going to stop there and remind everyone that my story is that of a modest Canadian in a very revealing Europe….. On that note, let’s continue….

“L” was warm and welcoming and spoke English, for which we are very grateful. She gave me a towel and, unlike in Canada where my massage therapist would leave the room and knock on a door to see if I was ready, I quickly understood that this was not going to be your typical, modest, Canadian massage. I was going to have to undress in front of a woman I just met. Girls are in the room, literally beside me, so I don’t want to make a scene. Just like at the pool when I wore my bikini, I tell myself. Just like the pool. I remove my top, bra, and pants like they are nothing. Only, I’m in my thong, with my girls right beside me, giggling that their mother just undressed in front of a stranger. No biggie.

We start face up and “L” massages my shoulders and neck, and I’m realizing that, from the weight of the small towel over me, that my nipples are peeking out and that, further down, the front of my underwear is equally exposed. By this point, the girls are oblivious, lost in their games.  We move onto an area I’ve never been massaged before – my torso.  “L” rubs my stomach and proceeds to give me what feel like the equivalent of ‘snake bites’, that old skin twist, from the top of my torso, along my fallopian tubes, ovaries and c-section scar. I laugh uncontrollably, the towel covering my boobs slips, but I don’t fart. At least I’ve got that going for me. “L” stops and gives me a moment to compose myself before we flip over onto my stomach. Here is where it gets interesting.

The towel is lifted up to lay over my back. Only my back. I wear thongs. Always have, always will. (Chris is going to love this when I’m 90.) So there I am, butt cheeks to the sky, and this is when the girls decide to look up from their iPads to squeal, embarrassed. “L”  kindly takes to my butt as my Cuisinart mixer does to bread dough. (I’ll be 40 in March, so this is the best analogy I’ve got.) She got all sides, everything was pushed and prodded and kneaded from every angle. And that was just the lower half of my rear. She ripped my underwear down to get the top. I’m not talking just the modest one inch my Canadian therapist professionally moves down, but DOWN. Yep. I am now naked (because, you know, the fabric band did SO much to cover me), and my kids nearly pee themselves, having put the iPads momentarily aside because I’m more interesting for the moment.  Eventually, I pull my underwear back up  to cover the goods and, of course, get dressed in front of the therapist. So much happened on that table, I feel like we should be married.

Bex went next. She was just having her back done so she removed her shirt and laid on her stomach. The therapist, of course, shifted her pants down a bit so she could massage her lower back, exposing the top of Bekah’s butt. Deep laughing snorts from Bekah hailed the therapist to jokingly smack Bex’s butt! “This is good!” she said. “Your body is good. In Serbia, we are proud of our bodies. Do not be afraid to be proud of it.” Those may not have been the exact words, but pretty close, to that effect. Meanwhile, Laura laughed for a good five minutes that her sister had been smacked on the butt.

After all, Bex LOVED her massage and Laura did too. While teaching us a lesson in modesty, our therapist was warm and chatty and full of helpful information on local events, culture….and where I could finally find the elusive celery.

All in all, it cost us $20 Canadian for all of the massages, with tip, for a priceless experience.

 

 

 

 

Hair In The Prison Hole

We’ve had much-needed rain for the last 2 days so we’ve been staying in, attempting puzzles, watching movies and, grudgingly, I’ve let the girls play marathon sessions of Minecraft and Hayday on their iPads. Really, there’s not much else to do in Bor when you’re a foreigner on a rainy day. We walked downtown today, a walk we haven’t taken before. I think I must have said “careful” and “watch out” at least a hundred times. Deep holes in the concrete lay waiting to swallow us up, or at least a limb, at regular intervals. I’ve taken pictures and will post a video once it’s done. For today, here are some more tidbits for you as of late:

-About 3 weeks ago, Laura and Bekah got locked into a bathroom stall at the Crystal Hotel in Belgrade. Nice hotel, nice washrooms, but a bit of a buggered lock on one of the stalls.  Laura started screaming her head off and Bekah, the smart big sister, just turned the lock another round and – voila! – they were out.  They didn’t really get locked in, but Laura felt like they were trapped and has since freaked out over doors being closed. (We’re trying to help her with this.)  I apologize to everyone in Serbia who has since seen me half-naked, on a toilet, when Laura got scared and decided to open the door while mommy was mid-stream. Yes. This now happens. A lot.  Today, we had lunch at our favorite pizza place in Bor, Jet Pizza, and Laura had to go to the washroom. Bekah watches the table while I take little L to the potty when we have a minor disagreement about which door should be closed (the outer one). I get it closed and wait while she goes to the bathroom in the room beside me and, in her haste to get in and get out, I notice she doesn’t wipe her nether regions. Of course, I point this out. She, of course, grabs toilet paper and bends over WITH HER HEAD OVER THE TOILET, butt out to the door, and HER HAIR GOES IN THE TOILET. Yes.  You’ve seen some of the lovely images of the toilets we’ve been privileged to visit here and I can tell you that this one was just as good as any, except that it didn’t have a seat and was probably from a prison somewhere. The bowl was naturally streaked, if you get what I mean. (EEEEK!!!)  As much as I love my little munchkin, I wouldn’t let her hair get anywhere near me until we got home and I swiftly got her into the tub. The life of a parent.

-Something we almost immediately pointed out when we arrived just over a month ago were the community boards with pictures of people on them. These boards can be seen from almost anywhere and display pictures of the recently deceased.  Community obituaries beside stores, near parks, along sidewalks, parking lots. In the paper, you might find 2 or 3 of the exact same pictures, side by side, with different write ups.  Chris asked one of his coworkers about this and was told that the obituaries in the paper will have a death notice, funeral notice, and a 30-day memorial notice. (I think I have that right.)  Very interesting.

-In talking with locals, I believe that we, the new Canadians in town, say please and thank you too much.  Apparently, you are not supposed to say “thank-you” to a pharmacist because they will construe it negatively. This is something they are supposed to do, they are supposed to help, and so it is impolite to thank them.  I’m busy thanking my way through Serbia, wanting to be polite, and we might be coming across as just the opposite.  Can’t help it, though. The Canadian in me wants to say “thank you, sorry, thank you, so sorry, eh?”

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Public Obituaries

Perspective – The Monthly Breakdown

We’re enjoying quite a (much needed) rainstorm this morning and, unlike Belgrade, there’s not a lot to do in Bor when it rains.  I’m sitting in the kitchen with the girls, enjoying a cup of Tim Horton’s coffee (YES!!!!), figuring out what we should do while we’re boarded up for the day. Games, puzzles, family yoga and maybe one of the girls’ new favs, an old Ernest movie. (Ernest Goes to Jail, Ernest Saves Christmas, Ernest Scared Stupid…) With little exploring going on today, I’ll give you what I’ve got from our travels and conversations as of late.

  • My understanding was that Serbs, on average, make between $4,500 – $5,500 Canadian a year. At the pool this weekend, we chatted with a few families about Canada and Serbia and they told me that the lucky people made that amount of money and that, more often in rural settings like Bor, a person is most likely to make only $200 Euros a month, roughly $290 Canadian.) This is IF they are lucky enough to get a job. Many are not so fortunate.  If they are one of the chosen few, it breaks down like this:  $100 EU/month goes to rent in an apartment, leaving $100 EU a month (often) for an entire family to pay for electricity, transportation, food, clothing, and any other necessities like medicine or child care. Full time childcare, with 3 meals a day, might cost $50 Euros a month. This might not seem like a lot to us Canadians, but if you only have $50 left to spend on necessities after rent and childcare, this is an astronomical amount for a Serbian family. We are so incredibly lucky to have what we have in Canada. We have won the country lottery, really.

 

  • One of our Serbian friends here sent us a link to some lyrics that, he says, perfectly sums up Serbian mentality. It was created by a Croatian group, but he believes the strong message also applies to all of Serbia. In my short time here it seems pretty accurate to me, and a good reminder of how blessed we are to be Canadian.

Here is the link if you want to listen to the song: Priroda i drustvo lyrics

Nature and Society

Remi:
(chorus)
That’s our nature and society
Let a child be born, but let it be male,
Let it be male…
Shot:
We find a countryman who somewhat succeeded in life
But we praise him only when his coffin’s in the ground
We think of ourselves as the best, our hearts can feel it
There’s almost as many of us as there is voting ballots
We hear advice from hodja, priest and a prot
So we mass produce children because rubbers are a sin
Football fans embarras us, as soon as they spot each other they get in a brawl
Fingers crossed behind back when shaking hands
At one moment we want this way, at another that way,
If we can’t make a deal, we can even do it lawfully
We want foreigners to come spend some, buy something,
Even if he doesn’t come next year, the price’ll remain the same
There’s too much pensioners, and the budget blows
But ask anyone, he’d retire immediately
If he could scam something, have the commision sign the papers,
He’d leave the firm immediately, he’s sick and tired of everything
We would sell everything, but only if it would stay ours,
If someone else were to run it, oh, that’s not fine with us
And we break glasses when happy and we break
The bottles on the heads of the people we’re drinking with
We yell, we become wild, when we score a goal
God and homeland is everything we’ve got
Robust body, oh little soul
Nature is nice, but society #ucked up.
Chorus:
That’s our nature and society
Let a child be born, but let it be male,
Let it be male…
Remi:
We visit courses, we read books
To grow into higher beings with no worries
It’s not easy to hear someone else’s misery, avoid that!
We don’t know how to help ourselves, let God help us!
It’s always someone else’s fault, it’s never our own
We only start thinking once we’re stuck
We like to complain: it’s all due to Balkan
Those who were worth something ran away from here.
We suffer and swallow, and everybody lives in fear
That’s left from Yuga* where they would weigh every word
According to our words we appreciate work
And then we connect our long weekends while we catch some shade
Imagine that, we cannot see and our eyes are healthy
We proudly hug the athletes in 5 minutes of fame
We’re as unanimous as brothers every two years
When 11 mercenaries run out on fields
We – shine from the outside, it’s all empty on the inside
I guess that must be our nature and society.
We – shine from the outside, it’s all empty on the inside
(Shot) I guess that must be our nature and society.
(Chorus)
Bridge:
We look for prophets in the clouds, yet we can’t see a finger in front of our eyes
And then we make mistakes in steps, step bare-footed on thornes
We wouldn’t recognise the best even if it were to pass us by slowly
We – shine from the outside, it’s all empty on the inside
(Chorus)

I’ll leave you with this image. It’s an info graphic from the Social Inclusion and Poverty Reduction Unit of the Government of the Republic of Serbia.  It says that ….Almost two-thirds of households in the Republic of Serbia report “making ends meet” with difficulty or great difficulty.poverty_in_the_republic_of_serbia

Zajecar Fair – Where Anything Goes

Let’s talk fairs.  The old-fashioned, creaking-metal mini coaster, deep fried everything, guess your weight for a buck, best of society kind of fair.  I never thought I would say it, but I have new respect for Conklin.  Those street-carnival, new city every three days because you gotta get in and out before the public realizes how much they’ve lost playing guessing games and balloon darts; frenzied with stomach-turning, brain-burning mini-donut withdrawals.  Those kind.  In North America, we yearn for fairs. Can’t wait for them. Spend our paychecks getting our kids on the rides, ensuring they go home with stuffed animals so large they need to be zip-tied to the roof for the slow ride home.  We also laugh about the rusty machines, the ride-attendants that are more interested in short-shorts than the safety of our children, the garbage, the over-the-top nutrient-deficient, calorie overload.

Serbia is no different, really. Our experience at the Zajecar Fair on Saturday leads me to believe they love a good fair like the rest of us. After touring Felix Romuliana, Roman ruins circa 300 A.D, and enjoying a mammoth meat platter at a local restaurant, we took the girls to the Zajecar Fair.  My first thought was that we had stumbled upon a Roma encampment. Though rides were mostly clustered together, there was no organization. Grocery bags, by the hundreds, blew like tumbleweeds across the field which was cluttered with makeshift tents, garbage, open hatchbacks, shirtless old men, and the most curious assortment of wares I’d ever seen at a fair. There were beautiful handmade baskets, knives, carvings and furniture crafted by talented women and men. Beside these, and often in the same stalls by the same vendors, you might find underwear, a table top full of branded pop bottles (ie. Pepsi, Coke, Fanta) filled with motor oil instead of pop, used toys laid atop blankets (think headless, naked Barbies), knock-off purses (Coach, Chanel, Gucci), Chinese throwing stars, VERY realistic toy guns, and, of course, beer for a buck. Beside this, pigs on spits.

We rode the bumper cars first.  They weren’t the typical speed-limiting cars we drive in NA. Nope. Slam your foot down and drive an amusement-part Autobahn, half of you wearing seatbelts, the other half thrown around like rocks in a dryer. We survived.

Next, Bekah went into a giant inflatable ball that she rolled along a pool of water like a hamster on a wheel while Laura went on a giant inflatable slide. While the girls had fun, Chris and I mused at how no ride had the safety setups that we were used to in Canada. There were no fences around anything, no barricades or barriers. You had to watch where you walked and where you stood, careful not to be run over by a small roller coaster or smacked in the head by the swings. Safety costs money and so most often isn’t a priority in Serbia. This is evident everywhere.

Once you’re on a ride? Well, you’re not necessarily safe there either. The girls went on an inflatable obstacle course and I noted two people flanking the entrance at the corners, holding tight to the netting and pillars as though to hold the inflatable pillars up. The girls went in and Chris and I watched when, maybe 5 minutes later, the girl holding one of the corners up walked away and the pillar lost its strength and fell over. Then the maze swallowed the girls. I quickly called to them to come out and that was the end of that bit of fun.

Nothing, however, shocked me more than the sheer amount of garbage just lying around.  There were no garbage cans. Not one.  People would get their roast pig and fried donuts and cotton candy or beer and simply toss the garbage on the ground.  I made the girls give me their garbage so we could bring it home with us.

Overall, the girls had a great time, and we left with my North American senses thoroughly shocked.  I’ll leave you with some pictures that will give you a clearer idea of what we experienced on Saturday.

Gas Station Etiquette In Serbia

One thing I recently learned is that, in Serbia, there is only one direction in which to get your gas at a gas station. Sure, you can go into any entrance or exit, but when you officially line up to get your gas, all vehicles must be facing the same direction at all times even if there are openings easily reachable by pulling your car around.  This strikes me as very odd because not only do I often see flagrant disregard for traffic rules  – driving the wrong way down a one way street, parking on a main street outside a mall,  essentially stopping traffic in that lane, creating your own lane, driving at insanely high speeds (more often) or at a snail’s pace (less often) –  but because of sheer efficiency.  Take this picture, for example…

Gas station
Major sin in Serbia

Note several vehicles facing in opposite directions. This would NEVER happen in Serbia. Even if there were empty spaces just ready to be taken, if you are not in the same direction as the other vehicles, you must not navigate into that space.  Of course, this is not written anywhere. You must discover this for yourself when locals excitedly insist this in your face, in Serbian, with hand gestures.  In the queue but your gas tank is on the opposite side of the car, away from the pump? Too bad. You gotta figure that out. Bring the line around your car or drive out and get in another queue. Slow person in front of you taking too long and there’s a empty stall in front of that car in your queue? Too bad. You can’t leap frog that car.  You need to wait until they finish up before proceeding to that stall or their stall. If they use the restroom, order a cappuccino, or maybe the owner of the car in front of you (and behind the empty stall) knows the cashier and they get into a conversation about the weather or politics. Gear up for a long wait. Better yet, get some cips and voda (chips and water) because you’re going to be there for a while.

Serbia, where unwritten rules apply at gas stations and written traffic laws are merely suggestions.