Thursday, September 30, 2010

Life in a day; day in the life!

I figured it'd be quite difficult to explain my daily surroundings so instead I will create a photostory. All of these pictures were taken last Friday - 24/9.

Departing from my apartment around 8am, I have the luxury of choosing between meandering through a park or walking next to the street. I usually go for the street as it's about eight minutes quicker and those extra minutes of sleep are so much more tempting when my first alarm goes off at 7:30, then the second one sounds at 7:45 and by that point I am forced to greet the new day because my host sister is up and I receive a gentle lapping from Loli (family poodle that is rarely told 'ne'). So I step out the door and see:

Then comes language class for two to five hours, depending if I take both classes based on how ambitious I'm feeling. Normally I settle for 8:30-12 and leave during the lunch break of the second class. As I depart from the university I walk through the city center to finally reach CK13.

City Center:

Near CK:

And these are other miscellaneous pretties I captured last Friday:

Hopefully this paints a better picture of my life in Novi Sad!

Vreme, peške, CK i prijateljski ljudi

Weather, walking (literally on foot), CK and friendly people:

It isn't even October and I've seen my breath four times. Last Thursday, when the first breath was seen, I toyed with the science behind my breath and its temporary materialization testing the difference between the impact of breathing out through my nose versus my mouth and trying to discover which consonants created the most water vapor puff, if you will. But this game between my mind and exhalation was short-lived as it struck me that it wasn't even October and I could see my breath. Serbia has centralized heating so – as I understand it – every year around October 15th the government turns on the heat in all the buildings that pay a monthly bill for it. The alternatives are to live like Ma and Pa from “Little House on the Prairie” with a fireplace and heaps of layers or to pay an exorbitant price for gas heating with the luxury of choosing when and to what degree you will use it. Basically this means that going into a building doesn’t actually ward off all the cold and sometimes it hardly seems to make a difference so I’m counting down the days. Roughly fifteen. Let them be gentle.

Another point of interest: transportation. I walk virtually everywhere and I'm still deciding if that's the best/most efficient method. When I have time to look around, I enjoy traveling afoot so I can spontaneously stop to more closely observe something at any given time. But if I'm in a hurry, I fancy owning a bike. There's a really neat open market called Nylon that I've only briefly walked through where I could find an inexpensive, used bike, but for some reason I'm resistant to that. Perhaps I'm worried I'd fail to illustrate the phrase "it's just like riding a bike" since I haven't ridden one in a year and never with a destination in mine, simply recreationally. Perhaps. And perhaps another hesitancy is that it's already so hladno (cooooold) and I will be forced to use the bus to avoid and conquer the evil winds within a couple of months so why should I tease myself with a device I won't use and will have to find a place to store. But if I see a pretty one at Nylon one day I may just make it my first substantial investment.

And now more concrete information about my service placement and hobbies. CK has proved to be a good fit for me, especially with their newly opened, healthy-alternative providing kitchen. We had a successful second open kitchen event where we satisfied about seventy people with a healthy salad and tortilla. Before this, I only had negative experiences of cooking with a group from 6th grade Home Economics so I hadn’t considered what fun could be had preparing food with others. And let me tell you, a lot of fun can be had. The volunteers from the kitchen don’t necessarily know how to cook but they are an enthusiastic and gregarious bunch with ages ranging from late twenties to early sixties and I’m so glad that I’ve been assigned to work with and manage them. Initially it was difficult to round everybody up and get them to work with their inherent “polako” mentality - I will attempt to tackle this in another post - but the kitchen was buzzing with good conversation, laughter, and the occasional screw-up that would just add to the first two. The next open kitchen night is just a couple weeks away and I’m quite excited.

Lastly I have found a way to (hopefully) counteract all the delicious foods I’ve been eating. Other than walking for an hour or so each day, I am planning on signing up for a zumba class! I took a jazz ballet class with my friend Asya five or six times but on Monday I sampled this class and I already love it. The teacher is so fit and encouraging and the seven members of the class are fun and welcoming. They – like all other local Novi Sadians – loved it when I spoke Serbian whether just explaining “dolazim sa Havaja,” I come from Hawaii, or acknowledging their statements with “dobro,” good. To see so many people rejoice when someone is making an effort to speak like them makes me sorry that sometimes in America the initial reaction to foreigners who speak poor English is agitation. People here are honored that we’ve chosen to learn the language, history, and culture of Serbia which automatically breaks the barrier between coming into an unfamiliar group or society. More importantly this collective affability is one more motivator for wanting to speak, understand, and learn everything I can while I’m here!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Leave it to Lucy

I was having perhaps a few minimal instances of doubt and despair about my purpose/effectiveness here and this comic by Charles Schwartz did the trick to set my focus back on track. Normally I wouldn't take my advice from Lucy but here she proves her right to acknowledge that "The doctor is in."

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Neighbors part two

Perhaps you read the post about fortuitously getting to know the kind, elderly couple that lives next store. And perhaps you didn't, in which case I'll have you know that they are very kind and relatively elderly and they feed me delicious cake.

I had intended to visit them on Sunday, but as things played out, time grew sparse as it is known to do, and my intentions were not actualized. Similarly on Monday. And on Tuesday I over-thought things, as I am known to do, and I surmised that perhaps they were older than I remembered and wouldn't remember their open invitation for coffee. Then the sun rose on Wednesday and as fate would have it I bumped into the older man on my way to our BY group meeting. Before I could postulate what might occur, he proclaimed, "Dobro jutro!" (good morning) and kissed me on both cheeks. Then he teased me about how messy my hair was (repping a tita bun right out of bed) and asked why I hadn't come by to see him. Flustered with how to respond, I told him I was sorry and my bashfulness for how I looked needed no explanation so he said, "Nema problema. Večeras, kafa večeras" (no problem, coffee tonight). Though I was planning on going to dance tonight, there was no way I would pass up this offer so I replied "Naravno! Vidimo se večeras" (of course! See you tonight).

Most of my energy today was driven by the idea of being able to talk to them again; I even found myself unable to focus during a couple conversations because I was so excited. Around 7pm I thought about how nonspecific our plans were, and I even thought perhaps I misinterpreted them as 'night' is a wide range of times and he could have even slipped in a quick 'sutra' (tomorrow) that I didn't catch. But instead of thinking I took action, grabbed a can of macadamia nuts and migrated across the hall. Before I could even knock, the petite elderly woman swung open the door, emitted some sort of jubilant expression, grabbed my face and kissed both my cheeks twice. What I lacked in confidence before the door opened was filled in that brief interaction. She then called for her husband who willed me inside, sat me down, and put his jacket on my shoulders because I looked "hladno" (cold). The woman - I really need to relearn their names! - trotted to the kuhinja (kitchen) and pulled out a plate of with two cakes from her granddaughter's third birthday celebration, one which had the majority of pooh bear's head in the icing design and one with some clippings of Serbian words in Cyrillic. I mentioned that at my seventh birthday party I had also a pooh bear themed cake which she seemed very pleased about. Up to that point we hadn't struggled too much with our language barrier, but when she asked me which one I wanted, I recited "sve hvala" thinking I had just asked for'either thank you.' It turns out sve actually means 'everything,' so she gave me more than half of what was left of each cake which was a good six regular slices! The role of a domacin (host) is taken very seriously in Serbia and to properly be one means to serve your guests with everything you have and lots of it. If the guest doesn't eat what you have given him/her then the domacin will take it to mean that you didn't like it which is shameful for them. And I never want to be rude so obviously I was obliged eat it all! (I could have gotten away with leaving some, but they were both so so delicious--the pooh bear one was cokolada lesnik, chocolate hazelnut, and the other was plasma, a cookie that puts the honey maid graham cracker to shame.) Following that, I was offered soup, beans, carrots, corn, apples, pears, meat, pasta, and - of course - bread. Meeting for coffee in America is quite different. I only took small portions of each as I had just finished a three course meal with my host family.

Through all this food we talked about their granddaughter, named Katherina (!), my family, their mountain house on Fruska Gora, my house on Makiki Heights, their hobbies, my hobbies, and miscellaneous tidbits about our lives. Though I certainly missed two thirds of what they were saying, I was very surprised with how much I thought possibly, maybe, perhaps I understood? Then the clock struck half past eight which I thought meant I should go back to my apartment, but instead I learned that from 8:30-9:30 the woman's favorite Serbian soap opera airs daily. I was slightly disappointed that the conversation was coming to a close, but I had already taken up more than an hour of their time. As I began to stand up they insisted that I stay to watch and finally offered what I had officially agreed to - kafa. Ironically, coffee is the one thing I was served this evening that I had to force consumption; I'm not a fan of caffeine to begin with and, to put it lightly, turkish coffee is not for the weak of heart. Still I sipped and allowed my stomach to churn while positioned on a sofa between two 72 year-olds.

Since I've arrived I haven't watched a single movie or tv show so this was the prvi put (first time) I was sitting in front the box o' wonder and boy was it entertaining. In brief, the scenes switched between a detective agency, a farm, and a monastery, every few seconds was an extended close up of this older woman who seemed to do nothing but ask "where is he" and tear - I'm 95% certain the same clip of a tear falling from her right eye was used 3+ times, and if I haven't already convinced you to buy the box set, there was a fantastically creepy man reminiscent of the Narrator/Baker's father in Sondheim's Into the Woods who appeared in all three settings without rhyme or reason. An amalgamation of bizarre cinematography, forced acting, and spontaneous sparring, I think you know what I'll be doing every night at 8:30.

Once this concluded, my Serbian quota felt more than satisfied as did my appetite. As I stood up to leave, the man began to tell me of his plans to visit their ranch/mountain house and pick fresh fruit tomorrow morning and he asked if I was interested in coming along. Unfortunately I had to explain to him that I had class and work tomorrow so I couldn't. He understood but seemed ever-so-slightly disheartened so I quickly expressed my genuine interest in going later. Next came the doviđenja (goodbye). Goodbyes in Serbia are a process of steps: there's the explanation for leaving, the gratitude exchange between guest and domacin, the promise for a return, oftentimes the offering of food or goods - tonight this meant a peach, a sunflower from their flower arrangement since I mentioned they were my favorites, and a plate of more cake to share with Mima (host sister), and lastly there's the goodbye hug, handshake, kisses, or a variant of the three.

Once I said my last "puno hvala" (many thanks), I stood in the silent hallway for a few seconds to collect my thoughts and re-recognize my neighbors in all their glory. The last thing she said was "vratiš se uskoro" (return soon) and I wholeheartedly agreed. There is little pattern in our day-to-day life here between social and work events and activities, but I know for certain that I'll hold true to that promise of return. And soon.

For the neighbors part one, reference: "Dan bez ni telefon ni ključ"

Monday, September 20, 2010

Symphonic realizations

One of the main reasons I've continued to attend the second language class is because of the people in it. There's about nine other students and they come from France, Austria, Finland, Canada, Yemen, and Portugal, so I've already learned a great deal about their countries and experiences. I've gotten especially close to the two students from France: Flore et Simon. They speak English pretty well but since I really like speaking and hearing French, we normally talk en français. This has been a real treat and another way to continue learning while in Serbia. Tonight they invited me to a free concert of the Vojvodina Symphony and the music was phenomenal! It was held in the grand Novi Sad Synagogue and they played for roughly two hours so it gave me time to reflect, given this was enhanced reflection time as classical music evokes much more from the mind/spirit than silence. And I reached a very critical understanding about privilege, luck, and appreciation, so I thought I'd share.

During the Adagio section of their first piece , I began to think back a year ago when I was finalizing my college application list and writing those notoriously dreaded essays. Thank goodness those days are done. And then I jaunted through my memory lane of interviews and rejections and acceptances and finally I wound up at the crossroad that was my decision to choose Princeton and apply for BYP. While the Allegro became increasingly forte (sorry if I'm misusing orchestral terms, I'm not versed in musical speech), the realization of how fortunate I am to have this opportunity became completely comprehensible; the luck and privilege that led up to the point for me to wind up in the thoroughfares of Serbian became absolutely clear for the first time. And to make it all the more meaningful and dramatic, an orchestra was dominating this Herculean synagogue with illustrious instrumentation. I've also come to the much less meaningful conclusion that thinking is facilitated with classical music. But returning to the immense realization of my fortune to be where I am and experiencing what I'm experiencing, I can already tell that my college experience will be greatly enriched through Bridge Year. Perhaps this is a premature hypothesis as I've only been here for 18 days but I believe it will help me more fully appreciate the next 250 days or so. And following the concert Flore, Simon, and I had some deliciously rich topla čokolada (hot chocolate) while communicating in Franglishbian (French-English-Serbian). Such a great way to top off a Monday!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Debrief of my Serbian life

My Serbian family: In one word, amazing. My host roditelji (parents) give me just enough independence but also allow me to experience their life through Serbian cooking every morning and evening, meeting their family and friends in nearby villages, walking through the various districts of Novi Sad, and listening to Serbian music. As I wrote previously, my host mama (mother) is truly and wholly kind, doing everything she can to allow me to feel at home. Every night she's made me a different Serbian dish and dessert - on my first night I was with them I told them I loved sweets so now she makes or buys a new one for me to try everyday and they are all so delicious! My host tata (father) pretends to have a tough shell but he's actually completely kindhearted. His nickname for me is Kaca, pronounced Katcha, and it's beginning to really grow on me. He works as a technician of sorts and also coaches football (soccer). I've learned a lot about Serbia's history and ideology from him as he frequently brings up politics and I'm very glad he does. My host parents are very young spirited so at times they feel more like friends than parents. My host sestra (sister), Mima, is 10 and she's made me really want a little sister! She always makes things for me, she forces herself to stay up until I come home every night, and whenever we're outside she wants to hold my hand which is just so darling! Plus people who don't know us actually think we're related. But I must admit that I finally understand how my older brother found me irritating in the early double digits. She is a ball of energy and her smile is contagious, but when I'm trying to study and she wants to paint my nails, the combination of the two is not the most efficient, especially when the color is "pretty, preppy, princess pink" coated with "infinite sparkle". Also I cannot forget the fourth and fifth members of their family, Loli, their toy poodle, and Lucy, their turtle. When I filed out the housing form for BY, I mentioned that I'd love to have a dog since I knew I'd be missing mine or a younger sibling since I've always wanted one. And Ceca placed me in the perfect household since I have both! Loli is so sweet and she's only a bit smaller than my dogs back home. She can be overwhelmingly energetic when I first wake up in the morning but when she reaches her calm state she will just sit on my lap while and her company is greatly appreciated. Lucy is a turtle so I barely notice she's there. Once in a while Mima will let her out without informing anyone and so once I was about to brush my teeth and I almost stepped on Lucy as she was right in the middle of the bathroom floor! I really enjoy just watching Lucy move around and walk. It will probably get old eventually but at the moment it's fascinating. I realize that I've written more about my family's pets than I did about my family, I'm just really grateful to have the company of animals who communicate with a universal language.

We live in Liman four, a district in the south-western - I think, maybe? - part of Novi Sad. I walk mostly everywhere since I have discovered that walking is the best way to really get to know a city and its people. It takes 20-30 minutes to walk to the University, from there another 15 or 20 minutes to walk to CK13 (my service placement), and from CK to the apartment it's roughly 40 minutes. If it's after 11pm, my Tata has asked that I take the bus home since it's safer and bus 7 has loyally stood by me the four times I've used it. The problem I've had with walking is that I walk at a very inconsistent rate, or at least I must as one day it took me only 17 minutes to walk to the university and once it took me 35. I take a similar route everyday but I think it really depends on what I'm listening to. The past couple of days when I've walked the fastest have been when I was listening to the Beginner's Serbian Dialogue CDs I was given over the summer. I've found that my pace also lies on the pace of those around me, the temperature, and my jeans & footwear. My BY friends think I'm crazy for listening to that while I walk but I think/hope it helps my pronunciation and listening. It's a really pretty language and I feel more efficient when I'm listening/mouthing what the three speakers say even though I can only understand bits and pieces. Next I will report on my service placement!

CK, Crna Kuca, meaning Black House: CK is an NGO that promotes youth activism through various workshops, film screenings, exhibitions, concerts, speakers, presentations, etc. It's literally a black, two-story house that's located a few blocks from the pedestrian zone. Everyday there is some sort of event and they have weekly and monthly initiatives as well, whether for entertainment or education, and usually both. Today, for instance, there is an event which shows and sells the art and crafts of women in Serbia who are unemployed or oppressed - I’m so looking forward to hearing their stories. Basically they address the politically and socially unpopular topics in Serbia and give them a place to be heard. Needless to say, I really love what they stand for and the CK team is a very inventive and eclectic bunch so they are both fun and inspiring to work with. Since this NGO is realized by a Berlin foundation with the acronym SHL (I know I'd butcher the spelling), there is another volunteer about my age who is from Germany named Jakob. He speaks English pretty well and he lived in France at one point so sometimes we try to communicate in French if we cannot in English. I really like working with him because he is super creative both with how to better the program and the unused spaces. Last week we drafted a three-page project proposal for how to use an unused room upstairs for the German organization and I really liked doing that as I got to write a great deal of it since it had to be in English.

A difficulty I've had is that I have too many projects and events I want to plan and too little time. I've asked to be in charge of the kitchen they just opened which takes the uneaten food from bakeries and supermarkets and creates an inexpensive, healthy alternative. Another thing I didn’t expect: I have to prove myself. Fortunately there's been a lot going on this week so I’ve been able to partially prove myself through doing whatever they ask and to my best ability. It’s definitely been a learning experience for me as I’ve never really had to before. Of course I’ve been in unfamiliar places and I’ve had to show people that I could work hard and come up with individual initiatives, but the language and culture barriers have made that much more difficult so I’ve had and will continue to have to show them that I can and want to help out in a greater way than they seem to believe at the moment. I definitely understand why they’ve given me less to do and why they don’t expect me to do much in just four months but I have higher hopes for myself so I will keep trying.

On October 16th I'm organizing my first big event using the Food Not Bombs Organization's "World Food Day Global Action" to promote eating healthy and sustainably. The kitchen will make a healthy meal, I'm making a brochure about eating & living healthy which my supervisor will help me translate into Serbian, and we're showing "Food Inc." with Serbian subtitles. Punahou (my school from K-12) definitely planted the seeds of thinking sustainably and in Serbia all those Punahou initiatives I took for granted are not to be found; no one recycles, there isn’t an organic or vegetarian option anywhere, and even though electricity and water are more expensive than in America, people tend to not even think about the environmental consequences. But that puts the blame on the people and it’s not their fault at all, they just haven’t been informed of the alternatives. So in the next four months I will focus on enlightening them through movies, lectures, presentations, etc. If you have any suggestions on how to best present this information, please let me know! It would be greatly appreciated. One of my fellow BY-ers is trying to expand the current recycling program which exists but is indescribably limited. And once we get the ok from SHL in Germany, we can begin work on the upstairs room which we’re planning to make into a library/lounge area with a section of the library focused on sustainability. I know it’s a lot to wish for but I really hope I’m able to see through a few progressions.

If that wasn’t enough work to keep me busy, the whole BY group is leading a youth conversation club on Tuesdays beginning this week so hopefully we’ll get a crowd for that. This will be held at the American Corner which is basically our solace for all things American. Well not quite, but they have a whole library of English books that I often frequent. Also we learned they celebrate Halloween at AC so I’m very excited to show Mima and all the other youngins here what great fun can be had on the last night of October. CK keeps me pretty busy from 1pm til 6 or 7pm and if there’s an event that they need help with or one that I’m interested in, I wind up staying until 10 or 11pm. I already love the house and the people so much so I really enjoy working there.

And saving the best for last: Language class(es)! I love love love my language class and learning Serbian. Ne se šalim (I'm not kidding). We have two teachers on alternating days and they are both super! Serbian is really hard, but it’s been a welcome challenge as so many other things here seemed to come easier than I anticipated. I studied a bit Serbian before I came here just so it wouldn’t be completely foreign, so when the teacher realized I already knew some of what we were learning she asked if I wanted to try the second level that was a couple of units ahead in addition to the first class. At that point I didn’t feel prepared so I went home that evening and tried to study ahead in our textbook. The next day I stayed for the extra class that’s twice as long as ours and it was so much fun and though I felt very lost, it made me realize how much I miss organized learning. Basically every minute I’m here I’m learning with every person as a teacher, but all of my observations and experiences were overwhelming and hearing the familiar chalk marks on the black board was a great comfort. I’ve always enjoyed school, but I didn’t ever imagine that I’d miss it this much! Plus the students in my second class are from a program called Campus Europe and they are all so fun and friendly that it hardly feels like class because there's so much mutual enjoyment. And two of the students are from France so I've been able to practice my French with them. So taking both of the language classes has helped my structured academic cravings. Another reason I love the first Serbian class is because it’s just the five BY students and since we all work and live separately it allows us to be together daily Our group dynamic is so fun and strong that when we’re not together we often miss each other, so our class-time feels like family-time.

I’m sorry this is so terribly long and I haven't proofread it so there are probably grammatical errors but it contains a great deal of information so I hope it wasn’t too tedious to get through.

Cao cao

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Belgrade in a paragraph

Belgrade is a serious city, which I expected, but I mean completely metropolitan. It seemed like a New York with European architecture. It is definitely beautiful, in a different way than Novi Sad. In Belgrade everything seems flashy and busy but Novi Sad has a much, much slower pace and it's more quaint. My host tata informed me that people from Novi Sad tend to not like Belgrade and vise versa, for the same reasons that I prefer Novi Sad: because there's fewer cars, people, shops, etc. However I really did like Belgrade just as I really do like New York, just in small doses. I'm still super excited to stay for an entire week in Belgrade in November since we are living in a hostel in the pedestrian zone so there will be many places to explore and no traffic to be bothered by. Food wise, I had some of the best foods since we'd arrived. In the pedestrian zone we had the most incredible hot chocolate from a cafe that we plan to visit everyday in November, and we ate some yummy wok from a Chinese restaurant right next to the cafe. (Side: I've been craving Thai, Japanese, and Chinese food so this definitely hit the spot, but it's strange because I never eat wok in Hawaii - the last time I had it was the summer of 2009 when I was in Montpellier, France. Perhaps it's the most popular Chinese dish in Europe.) But the best food was Ceca's husband's home cooking. He made a chocolate cake for our arrival and I had three slices because it was so delicious. And we also had two different types of pasta which were both amazing. So there's many things to look forward to our extended stay in Belgrade!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

We're going to Belgrade!

I have a really interesting story that I've been meaning to share with you all but unfortunately my spare time has been limited. However it is fortunate as well because I am doing so many things here. But I very quickly wanted to inform you that our group is going to Belgrade, the capital of Serbia, on Friday and we're staying in Ceca's house that evening so we can do some more adventuring on Saturday. We are going to see a touring performance that was canceled last night in Novi Sad and thank goodness it was or else we wouldn't have been promised tickets for the show in Belgrade! Officially BYP allows for four trips each semester to other cities and neighboring countries for a day or two each and another trip for a whole week spent in Belgrade the first semester and Macedonia the second, but this doesn't count as one of these so we kind of get a bonus trip which is such a treat! This also means that I probably won't use a computer until Sunday, but I promise a thorough recap and some pictures of this week and our upcoming trip to Belgrade. Ah I'm so excited!!!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Dan bez ni telefon ni ključ

A day with neither phone nor keys

I knew I wouldn't get access to a computer until late in the evening for the rest of this week, so I didn't plan on writing anything until this weekend, but today feels really special and I wanted to share!

First, I woke up slightly late this morning, around 7:50. It takes me 30 minutes to walk to the University and my class begins at 8:30 so in my hustle out the door I forgot my cell phone and apartment keys. And I’m very grateful did. My host mom is kind and loving and she possesses all the selfless qualities a mom should, including the worrisome ones. Without the means to let her know I didn’t have my phone, I decided I’d go back to the apartment in the afternoon so I could get my phone and keys and let her know I was alright. I decided to be extra gutsy and take the bus since it would take nearly an hour to walk from my service placement. Side: this was the first time I’d taken a bus by myself... in my entire life. I had been told to take bus 4, 7, or 11 and I figured 7 was right in the middle so I took that one. Sure enough it put me just a few minutes from the apartment.

My next challenge was to find a way inside the locked entrance door since I didn’t/don’t know my host family’s surname as Serbian surnames all seem similar ending in i or ić. After narrowing down the list of fifty to that of five, two residents came out immediately solving that problem. At that point I figured I had done it; I had made it to the finish and now it was my turn to collect my $200. Instead, I was sent back to free parking as no one came to my host family’s apartment door when I knocked, rang, and bellowed. My host sister and mom told me they’d be home all day, so I figured they had just taken Loli, their toy poodle, on a walk and would be back within a few minutes. Plus this gave me some time to study the nominative, genitive, locative, and accusative cases, and who wouldn’t want to do that? (In actuality, I really really really love my Serbian language class and Serbian in general so studying is relaxing and pleasurable.)

Well forty minutes passed and I found myself sitting on the mildewy, splintered wood floor squinting at my notes pushing a light-switch every minute to trigger the ceiling lamp, still sans phone and keys. I decided to try my gusto again and knock on the closest neighbor’s door to ask if they had the phone number of Irena (my host mom). I don’t live in the safest part of town, but everyone I’d met in Novi Sad was very friendly and they are all about hospitality. After merely a week of Serbian language classes I hadn’t a clue what to say when a tiny, elderly lady answered the door, so I mumbled “moge telefon” which means something along the lines of “can phone” – I think – and she looked utterly confused responding with quick and muttered Serbian. Then I mimed picking up and dialing a phone while reciting the same line and she smiled, took my hand, and led me inside while continuing to talk in Serbian. Love those universal gestures.

Surprisingly enough I was able to pick apart some words and so I tried my best to respond with simple phrases about my hometown, school, age, family, purpose in Novi Sad, and most importantly my dilemma. After giving her the lowdown, her husband walked in and I said it all again with more confidence. While I retold my life story, the woman looked through her address book - what a beautiful way to find a phone number - and jotted Irena’s number. In person my host mom speaks English sufficiently but over the phone she was having a bit of trouble understanding the events of that day so instead of detailing my circumstances I asked where she was to which she responded that she forgot to tell me she was meeting a friend in the park before picking up Mima (lil’ host sis) from school--Serbian school alternates weekly between morning and afternoon school days. I didn’t even get to explain how I got a hold of her but I let her know I was fine and told her not to worry which I’m sure she still did. She wouldn’t be home before I had to head off to an event with my service placement that evening which gave me a few more minutes with the warmhearted neighbors who took me in. In my remaining half hour, I had some of the most meaningful and mystifying conversation since I’d arrived. We talked more about our likes and dislikes (the lesson of the day in school which proved very handy), the woman served me two pieces of some delicious cherry cake and sweet tea, and I listened to their stories nodding constantly though I could hardly understand. I kept on trying to ignore the passage of time as I was enjoying every minute to the maximum and I didn’t want it to end, but it did. Alas. So I packed my things and explained, or tried to explain, that I had to leave. As I began to stand up, the man, who hadn’t spoken too much in our brief tête-à-tête, stopped me and told me “kafa uskoro, moramo” - coffee soon, we must - to which I enthusiastically agreed. Perhaps I can visit them on Sunday with macadamia nuts in tow.

As I got settled on the bus I realized how much had happened that day because I forgot my phone and keys and how I would not have wanted it any other way. Though I hit a rough patch around the B&O Railroad, my experiences were worth far more than the $200 completion prize; they were priceless.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Unintended nonobservance

Internet is sparse and expensive, it is late, and umorna sam (I am tired) so I'm going to merely describe a thought of today:

While eating a delicious chocolate croissant that tastes like a melting chocolate chip cookie - according to Jill - I realized it was September 13th, 13/9 as Europe writes. It was only then, only this morning, that I noticed perhaps the most tragic day America witnessed during my lifetime had passed and it had gone completely unobserved. No American flag pins; no news specials; no words of hope, prayer, or mourning; no commemorative comfort. It was just another day in Serbia and I treated it as such which framed today with guilt and excessive thoughts of hope and mourning as I was disappointed in myself to have ever forgotten such a day. This primarily made me realize that even though the world is shrinking through technology, it is all the more vast than I could ever comprehend. And what a heavy thought to cap off my already guiltridden day! (This thought wasn't merely derived from the nonobservance of 11/9, it also came from my multiple difficulties in navigating the relatively small city of Novi Sad.) But in a happier tone my day was very busy with three hours of language, seven hours of service, and two hours of playing with my little (host) sister so I was often distracted from these discerning deductions.

More on my service placement, the Serbian jezik (I think this means language, though it is 11pm and so perhaps I'm mistaken), and my wonderful host family later this week!

Laku noc

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The ever beautiful pedestrian zone of Novi Sad:

Don't let the blue skies fool you, it was cold.

Danube park, one of many in Novi Sad:

Jill and I at Salaš 137, a nearby farm:

Dobar dan (good day)!

When reviewing my “nearly a week” list (below), it seems as though the familiar no longer exists. And though it’s been a week of adjusting, it’s also felt a lot like home with Ceca—our absolutely incredible program director—and Jill, Asawari (Asya), Zach, and Andres—the amazing people I have the privilege of spending the next nine months with! It’s crazy to think that I met all of them just eleven days ago and we already are such a family unit. This week we’ve spent every minute together living in a hostel, eating out every meal, learning about Serbian history and culture though films, guest lecturers, and observation, and discovering Novi Sad by taxi, boat, and foot. On the 10th we move into our host families’ homes so when I’m living amongst Serbs I’ve been advised to expect a myriad of changes.

I should perhaps write a bit about initial impressions of Novi Sad as I will be stationed here until 2011. Its beauty is inherent as you can see from the pictures I’ve posted. There is a pedestrian zone so we can waltz the streets at our leisure without the interruption of cars and pollution (except that from cigarette smoke, and lots of it). People here are overly friendly, partially because we are foreigners but primarily because everyone is just really nice, except when they are driving as I've previously mentioned. Cafés, pekara (bakeries), restaurants, book stores, toy shops, and boutiques line the streets, and I’ve made friends with many of the shopkeepers.

Perhaps the largest change so far has nothing to do with the culture, but instead it lies in temperature, which you may have noted from the numerous mentions of layering. It’s been quite a wintry week for me; at night it’s gotten to the 40s (so basically below 0º in my thin, Hawaiian skin) and during the day it never seems to reach above 60ºF. But once I began to observe the customs of Jack Frost’s season wear, I enjoyed the nipping at my nose, sipping hot tea, and wearing vibrant scarves. Today, September 8th, has proven to be the first day I’ve felt warm with just one layer, so perhaps this will be an upward weather movement. This weather is completely unusual for a standard Serbian September, and some local Serbs have said they think it’s purely a temporary cold spell. However, it does get to the 20s in December and January so this icy bout has been a good test for me to measure my readiness for true chill. And as much as I cannot wait for snow, I’ve come to the conclusion that I'm not ready yet. But I now have three months to prepare myself by the end of which I will be more acclimated. So is my hypothesis. Now I’m just rambling about the weather. In my next entry I will have more to report with my homestay, language development, and new adventures. Until then, cao!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Nearly a week

In nearly a week:
I’ve traveled across twelve time zones.
I’ve forged a path to my hostel, favorite bookstore, university, program director’s apartment, and service placement.
I’ve been lost in the streets of Novi Sad.
I’ve answered the questions “What are you doing here” and “Why Serbia” seven times, each time with a different response.
I’ve expanded my palette with food combinations so distinct and fresh and alive.
I’ve ambled the main pedestrian road, Ulica Zmaj Jovina, a dozen times each day.
I’ve admired the beautiful and sometimes beautifully decrepit European architecture.
I’ve succumbed to contacts (everything is so much clearer now!).
I’ve learned to dance Kolo, a traditional Serbian jig.
I’ve asked at least ten people to teach me to sing “Osam Tamburasa” (part of a scavenger hunt).
I’ve sampled eight bakeries and more than a dozen restaurants.
I’ve eaten bread with every meal.
I’ve learned what a sweater is and that a cardigan and t-shirt just won’t do in anything less than 50ºF.
I’ve not yet met a single person who has lived in Hawaii (Havajah).
I’ve met Tanja Banjanin, a Serbian pop singer, and the lead singer of Atheist Rap, a Novi Sad band from the 90s.
I’ve learned that taxi drivers have really interesting stories to tell.
I’ve been freaked out by the Serbian voice which interrupted my call informing me I’d run out of credit on my “mobile” whilst on a solo exploration. Twice. I then bought phone credit from a disgruntled, young woman who had no interest in facilitating my struggle as I recited, “will you help me” in perfectly broken Serbian. (Note: This is not a proper representation of the typical Serb as I learned the next day buying phone credit again from a doe-eyed, middle-aged man who eagerly assisted my needs and gave me a handful of Smoki, a crunchy peanut-flavored snack, just for attempting to speak his language.)
I’ve learned that Serbs are extremely kind so long as they aren’t driving.
I’ve been required to specify non-carbonated every time I order water.
I’ve found two new desserts that I cannot possibly live without.
I’ve not watched a single American movie or tv show.
I’ve used the internet merely four times.
I’ve turned on a computer merely four times.
I’ve learned to appreciate socks that go above my ankle.
I’ve learned to layer clothing.
I’ve learned to appreciate layered clothing.
I’ve yet to see a Serbian baby that isn’t absolutely adorable.
I’ve heard from three people in separate conversations that my host family is amazing and that they have a miniature poodle and 10-year-old daughter. I'msoexcitedtomeetthem.
I’ve learned that Serbs’ evil Hyde appears while operating a vehicle.
I’ve used only a string or button to flush the toilet.
I’ve been frustrated by the acceptance of time negligence as tardiness is more common than punctuality.
I’ve not yet become accustomed to the excessive smoking.
I’ve introduced myself with my name, age, and hometown in Serbian.
I’ve mouthed every street sign to practice the Cyrillic alphabet.
And foremost I’ve realized how much there is to learn and do and see and discover and taste and experience and love in the next four months!