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

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