Sunday, November 28, 2010

GSA takeaways

When we visited the GSA in Belgrade, I made sure to ask about the close-mindedness of Serbia’s youth. I introduced the idea of their parents and grandparents sheltering them and one woman jumped in and completely agreed with this saying not just the family members but the schools as well because they don’t address these issues in depth or justly even in the Civil Education course which was intended to do just that. I then mentioned that perhaps it’s also because the conditions now are livable and so they don’t feel the burning urge to change society like the youth ten years ago and there was a collective bout of heads nodding but not too much more said about that idea. During their lecture I also realized how the education system and years of sanctions and isolation are making the youth ideologically indoctrinated and thus disinterested in society which has a huge standing in explaining the indifference amongst the youth.

The largest takeaway from their lecture was learning about the Anti-discrimination law imposed last year. This is the first ever law to say that discrimination is illegal and that those who are discriminated against could ask for protection. The first law ever! Though it hasn’t exactly been adopted, simply its implementation was great cause for celebration by NGOs around Serbia. GSA said that the next step is for the government to begin a campaign to educate the public about the law and to increase public awareness of discriminatory issues. And maybe this is the way it should go, but I don’t see why they and other NGOs put all the responsibility in the state for promoting this law. They said that the state of Serbia is trying to look the most appealing to the eyes of Europe without necessarily regarding or attempting to change the citizen’s beliefs which produces an inadequate conclusion of Serbia’s readiness. And this raises another question of whether the rights of the discriminated and their acceptance are mutually exclusive. Though creating the law is a huge step forward for framing Serbia’s human rights it needs to be promoted and accepted which will take the most limited resource: time.

A few more tidbits of our conversation with GSA: When reflecting on the Pride Parade they were very pleased with it because they saw the state protect them for the first time instead of working against them and because it has gotten the public and the news to address this topic which is normally kept under wraps. They also voiced their relief that none of the hooligans were critically injured or killed by the police in an effort to stop them because as one man said “then we’d [have] read only about how Pride killed” without claiming that the person provoked the police or committed crime himself. I hadn’t considered this before but that is such a valid concern that fortunately wasn’t realized.

The government was pleased that the European commission saw the police protecting the participants and the state institutions being proactive but they also saw the violence and hatred it evoked and the GSA director said that if the mentalities don’t change neither will the status of Serbia in Europe. In the future they expect more obstacles from the government when they lobby for protection. Since the government cannot say no they will instead make it more difficult for GSA by requiring that it be in a remote or smaller arena or that there be a smaller group.

We ended the talk discussing the ever-popular ascension to the EU topic and they said that they consider ascension a chance to more efficiently see changes. Most people are interested in Serbia benefiting from the economic standards of the EU but they believe there would be more and better opportunities to work with the state and stakeholders to change the public opinion.

Saturday, November 27, 2010


For those of you who perhaps doubt that Thanksgiving can be done properly outside those fifty states, doubt no more. The five of us met at Andres' kitchen on Thursday morning and preceded to cook, bake, fry, dice, roll, and saute for nearly five hours with numerous breaks throughout. We peeled, boiled, and mashed potatoes, baked rolls, made stuffing from scratch, and to make our meal illustrate the multi-ethnicity of our group we made Indian samosas with a sort of Chinese sweet and sour sauce.

Asja making samosas for the first time

Jill doing some pre-meal munching on the delicious butter rolls

Surprisingly enough all of these turned out wonderfully, and we were especially taken aback by how stuffing can be made by hand as prior to this Stove Top was our usual formula. Ceca was also making full use of her kitchen baking an apple pie, the Serbian take on pumpkin pie, nine kilos of turkey breasts, and her special green bean casserole. Since none of the students had prepared a Thanksgiving meal before, we thought it best to let Ceca be in charge of the important dishes. Ceca also dressed up her apartment with tables and chairs borrowed from some new friends she made at the cafe across the street.

The beautiful table with Ceca's contributions

With some leftovers...

Everything tasted just right, we felt entirely stuffed, and we had plenty of leftovers as any well-executed Thanksgiving should, but the essential ingredient for Thanksgiving is time spent with family and that's exactly how it felt.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Civilian vs believer

Through our weekly youth conversation meeting at the American Corner we’ve talked to high schoolers and college students about their education system but we also learned about a class called Civil Education while visiting the Gay Straight Alliance in Belgrade.

Since the current political regime came to power they implemented an interesting curriculum that requires all seven year olds entering the first grade to choose between Civic Education and Religion. This choice lasts with them until they enter high school and it is obligatory upon entering elementary school. In 2001, the year Milosevic was taken down and the new government stepped in, a task force met to create a course about society which would be optional and ideally spark societal interest in a young age. Perhaps by using ideally it’s already clear to you that this action didn’t go as planned. The new government that rose through Milosevic’s fall jumped into shoes of democracy whose laces were tied together. That was a bizarre analogy, but the intended insinuation was that they didn’t sort through the binds of the past administration and instead vaulted forward into unchartered territory trying to promote themselves in the most democratic way possible according to the GSA. They would only create a Civil Education course if Religion were offered as well because the Democratic government wanted to show a difference in their attitude towards religion after fifty years of secular Ex-Yugoslavian rulings. The religious course was assembled hurriedly so the course outline merely offered an in depth look at Orthodox Christianity. Even though that is the dominant religion of Serbia, there are Protestant and Catholic Christians, Pagans, Jews, and Muslims and none of those religions are recognized in this class. Shortly before the classes were introduced in schools the government made it mandatory that the students choose between these courses in the first grade promoting an ideology that a believer couldn’t be a citizen or a citizen couldn’t learn about his or her religion. The first batch of students who took Civil Education are around my age and the intention to get students interested in society has seemed to backfire since nearly everyone my age wants nothing to with the government. And since they had to split up the money allotted for the Civic Education class to fund the Religion class neither course was given a strong financial base to grow from so most students have negative comments about this requirement.

There are other major differences between the education systems and I’ll go into those on a later date. Until then, Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Belgrade in photos

Boy did we strike luck this week in Belgrade. We’ve had sunny skies with just a handful of showers and temperatures that required bare arms! At the moment is is in the high 30s with heavy rain so I'm afraid the sun won't come out tomorrow as Annie promised, but at least we had an incredible time in Belgrade with memories of warmth to last us through the winter.

Another reason why Princeton is so awesome is because of the connections everywhere, even in Serbia. After graduating from Princeton, Katarina Petrovic moved back to Belgrade to work as the main advisor to Božidar Đelić -- Serbia’s Minister of Science and Technological Development. When she heard about Princeton’s BYP she reached out and offered for the five of us to talk to her and Minister Đelić during our Belgrade excursion. This was among many really neat discussions and lectures that Ceca planned for us. We spent two hours inside the American embassy talking to five men and women who made us all interested in foreign service. We met with the co-directors of the Gay Striaght Alliance in Belgrade and heard their take on the Pride Parade and future plans for integration. We played hopscotch with a group of Roma children at a Roma youth drop-in center. We had an extremely stimulating discussion with a professor in Serbia about defining differences between cultures which made me miss school a great deal. We met with a woman in charge of the Serbian V-day (Eve Ensler’s movement to end violence against women) and made tentative plans to bring “The Vagina Monologues” to Nis; we spent three wonderful afternoons around the exquisite Kalemegdon fortress. We were led on a private tour of B-92, a popular news and radio station that survived government control in the 90s under Milosevic. We went to classes at a Serbian high school and told those interested about applying to college in America. We heard “pricaj jos” (tell me more) in the Serbian translation of Grease. We spent one afternoon rollerblading around Lake Ada and eating crepes; we went to more than a dozen domestic kafanas (cafe/restaurants) and sampled different desserts and traditional dishes each time. And that only names about half of our week.

One week in Belgrade... take a look!

The city center/pedestrian zone of Belgrade:

Ceca, volim te!

St. Sava Cathedral


A meal which consisted of lamb intestines and cow glands

b-92 newscasters during our tour of this popular news and radio station

Team Serbia in New Belgrade across the river

Asja and I were the early risers so we went on daily breakfast runs to different bakeries and markets and here we are showing off our findings

Near lake Ada, right before an afternoon of rollerblading and slane i slatke palacinke (substantive and sweet crepes)

A park right by our hostel with a swings, monkey bars, and see-saw which were fully appreciated by our group. I'm so thankful that although were legally adults I have found four others who choose to play at every opportunity.

Belgrade nights from the Kalemegdan fortress

This type of cobblestone is called Turkish road and is one of the few Turkish influences in Belgrade and Novi Sad

I love these tigers

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Prenatal care in Novi Sad

Oh my, where to begin. It is not feasible to put all my thoughts down from the Serbian-Kosovo conference because I don’t yet feel knowledgeable enough to make claims that could easily be simplified and premature. I’ll have you know the conference featured three excellent lecturers, forty much more qualified participants than I from Kosovo, Serbia, Bosnia, and Germany, and two very successful discussions. Our accommodations were quite plush which I didn’t expect: every meal was three delicious courses of traditional Serbian starters, main dishes, and desserts. During one such meal I wound up talking to the two other participants from Novi Sad and discussing the system of prenatal care in Serbia since one of them is due in less than a month and the other is her husband. Completely random, you may be thinking. I am wholly aware but it was quite a fascinating conversation so I thought I'd share.

First off, this is the only person I’ve talked to about this matter and she had quite a strong opinion about it which maybe causes irrationality and she’s in her eight month so perhaps there were some hormonal exaggerations, but on the whole she is very rational and a women studies scholar so I highly valued what she had to say. According to her, men in the balkans have started being criticized by their female counterparts for having less of a presence in their child’s life. She continued this by saying how she was a strong proponent of this movement, but it isn’t only the men to blame for these gender spheres but that society also plays a part.

She first noticed this when her husband was told he couldn’t be in the room with her while she had her ultrasound in the hospital in Novi Sad. Then they signed up for a prenatal couple’s class where they were immediately divided: all the soon to be fathers whisked to one room and the mothers to another. The first day of the class the men were given a lecture about how to be a strong figure in their child’s life and when I inquired about what that meant, the husband said they were instructed to be present but distant so that the child respects them but doesn’t bother them with ‘petty matters’. While the men were told wise cracks about letting the women take care of the dirty work, the women were told to be there for the husband as this would be a difficult time for him! I eagerly wanted to hear about the rest of the classes but that was the first and last they attended. The wife in the couple has lived in Novi Sad her whole life and suggested that these were societal improvements from when she was younger.

Before I continue, please please note that this was one couple, one marital class, one situation. This couple is more liberal than average so they may have exaggerated or embroidered their tale with excessive personal bias. As long as that’s noted I’ll discuss the next surprise dealing with the actual birth. The wife was recently informed that she must have a Caesarean section, and though the husband’s mother is a pediatrician in Portugal (where the husband is from) and believes that it isn’t necessary for her to have a C-section, the wife was not able to get a second opinion since the hospital is strongly linked to the government in ways that weren’t clear meaning what one doctor tells you is the same as what every doctor will tell you. To have a C-section it’s an additional 400 euros and the wife (who is not in favor of current politicians) suspects that the government is taking every possible opportunity to require C-sections and additional costs to help their financial hurting. And C-sections are not case-by-case in regards to when the woman is to be released from the hospital. In Novi Sad at least a woman having a C-section must be in the hospital for five days once she is admitted as a universal requirement regardless of how she progresses after labor. During the pregnancy the wife said epidurals are not available because the hospital doesn't have funds to employ more anesthesiologists. And now the most sad part that echoes the idea of society distancing the father and child: during labor, no one is allowed to be in the delivery room and even after the baby is born the husband is not allowed to be in the recovery room with his wife and child until they are ready to leave the hospital. When you add this regulation to the required recovery period after a C-section you realize that the husband will not be with his wife or newborn babe for first five days of his or her life! The wife said that in Belgrade the policy is less strict, but Novi Sad has the primary hospital for the two million people who live in Vojvodina, the Northern autonomous region of Serbia, so at least for those families this seems to be the case.

As I mentioned above I learned a tremendous amount about the actual theme of the conference (Kosovo-Serbia relations) but this anecdotal information was such a wonderfully unexpected learning experience that I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to write about it.

Plus the problems facing Kosovo and Serbia are vast and deep and I’d like to know more and talk to a wider demographic before I confront this situation with a pen. But when that day comes I will surely post!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Shorthand Conference first impressions

--Fruska Gora is beautiful, view of mountains at sunset, much more space than necessary,

--Electrical outlets, where are you? that's the same in the house as well, jill and I hunted her house down and realized that the bathroom was the only room with an accessible outlt
--It's expected that you bring your visa card/passport if you're not from Serbia but my roommate forgot hers and it wasn't a problem, then some people from Kosovo checked in shortly after us and though they all had their passports and necessary papers the hotel manager treated them with such unnecessary disdain, first sign of Serbia-Kosovo conflict on a person to person level
--Conference of 41 individuals: 9 women & 31 men, working at my organization which is run by three strong women I hadn't even thought about the potential difference between women and men in the working/socially-politically minded fields but this is certainly one sample where women studies majors would shake their heads,
--Equally important to note that so far there hasn't been any form of prejudice towards the women whatsoever, quite the contrary actually there is friendliness galore!
--The comparison of Kosovo-Serbia to France-Germany keeps coming up
--The job of a translator seems awfully tiresome and requires so much concentration
--One reason why this isn't a particularly factual nor easy analysis is because I've never attended a conference like this, sure I've been to day conferences with discussions, food, and lectures, but this lasts for three days with six lectures and three discussions. At this conference with people ranging from 18-35 (the bracket considered youth in Serbia), I was the youngest so I plan on participating in these sorts of conferences as much as I can expose myself to as many people and opinions as possible!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Conference this weekend!!!

Dobro veče. A few weeks ago I applied to a conference called "Confronting the past dealing with the future" which consists of a three-day bout of workshops, discussions, and lectures about the conflict between Serbia and Kosovo. There will be 50 delegates (myself included though I hardly feel worthy of that title) from Serbia and Kosovo which basically means a mixture of Serbs and Albanians and the occasional Hawaiian who are associated with an NGO one way or another. Actually the application said that you had to be from Serbia or Kosovo but in my application I explained my situation in an addendum to the 'why do you want to attend this conference' prompt, and I guess it was good enough because I received an email bearing acceptance!

I haven't actually met anyone from Kosovo or Albania yet so meeting them and hearing their side of the debate (and life story) will be fascinating. Most everyone in Serbia cannot tolerate talk of the Serbs' history with and in Kosovo but at this conference I should be exposed to the other side of the coin. And another neat thing about this conference is that it's on Fruska Gora, the pretty mountains about 25 kilometers from Novi Sad, and everything is arranged for the three days of the conference: a hotel room, all meals, the access to the pool which is especially exciting because I haven't been in water since Hawaii (and because it's indoors and heated). Although (this is a tangent) there's been nothing to complain about weather-wise this November because last week we had a beautiful spell of heat and it got to the 70s a couple of days, and even now it's in the 50s which is an anomaly according to the locals. There's actually a term for it miholjsko leto which means extended summer. Back to the conference: I can only participate in the first two thirds of the conference since we're going to Belgrade on Sunday. Speaking of which, this is our first big excursion that includes a week staying in the pedestrian zone of Belgrade and going to museums, lectures, organizations, shows (we're seeing Grease in Serbian! good time to be a musical buff), and other cultural attractions the capital of Serbia has to offer. And on our last night in Belgrade we are seeing the premiere of the seventh Harry Potter!!! Which has our whole group really excited. Embarrassingly so. And though Ceca has informed us that people don't dress up for movies as they do in America, we are determined to perform mock duels and wear our lightening bolts with pride. So many tangents in this entry I apologize! Back to the conference part two: I'm most excited to learn and discuss the current issues and their roots and possible resolutions. And I'll be sure to let you know what I learned!

Prijatan dan! <-- I just learned this yesterday, it means 'have a good day' which I often say in English as a parting sentiment so now it has found its way into my daily Serbian phrases along with dobar dan = good day/hello, kako si = how are you, polako molim = speak slower please, odlično = excellent (reaction to every meal), soon followed by ja sam se najala = I am full.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


Last Friday the Bridge Year Serbia group celebrated Diwali, the Indian festival of lights. Or rather we ate and enjoyed the night that Asja and her host mom, Nada, prepared for us. Bindi and all. Asja began the evening with an explanation of the holiday and its history with Indian music circulating throughout the apartment. As a starter we munched on some Serbian kifla with cheese and ‘tiger tails’ (a sort of crunchy biscuit with the shape and design of a striped tail). Then came the main courses that Nada prepared, two main dishes and a dessert -- Aloo Gobi (potatoes and cauliflower), mushroom in onion gravy and Kheer (rice pudding), and to make them Nada and Asja scourged markets in Serbia hunting for the proper ingredients. Though, unsurprisingly, a couple of spices were not available, all three were absolutely scrumptious and according to Asja quite traditional as well. The whole affair was about three hours with dancing, happy chatter, a lot of eating, and much laughter. Quite a swell evening.

In case I haven’t explained this before, my group here is very diverse. India, Hawaii, Colombia--though he’s lived in Connecticut for the past two years, New Jersey, and (the republic of) Texas. With this brings many firsts and new cultural experiences in Serbia, the most unlikely of places. Asja experienced her first Halloween, and Andres his third but since we led a Halloween night for children at the American Corner we went all out with our costumes it was the most elaborate Halloween any of us had in the past few years. And Asja and Andres will be celebrating their first Thanksgiving when we prepare it in a couple of weeks to list a few examples of multi-faceted cultural immersion. And we are all experiencing Serbian celebrations for the first time. Since Diwali was such a success, Asja promised the celebration of Holi next spring in Nis!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Oko Vojvodine: Zrenjanin

I went to Zrenjanin on Saturday (30/10) for an event with CK. We listened to a raging German lecture on neo-nazism and anarchy and then walked around the town and city center stopping for cake and ice cream. Quite a fun day.

City center/pedestrian zone:

Below this post I have a whole bunch of other pictures of cities and villages around Serbia. Prijatno!

Oko Vojvodine: Sombor & Apatin

My family has been extremely generous with taking me to meet their family in other villages or simply taking me to see other areas in Vojvodina so I can have a better understanding of the region.

Last Saturday (23/10), we drove 100 km to Sombor to see the city and along the way we stopped at another castle built by the same family, the Dunđerskis, just a few years prior to Fantast. We were guided through the castle and though I didn't understand the whole tour as the vodič (tour guide) only spoke Serbian, I picked up more than I thought I could which was reassuring.

And we were the only visitors that afternoon so they led us all through the grounds: the acre of forest behind the castle, the maid's cottage chambers, and the stables where we got to ride konje (horses)! It was quite a treat.

After this excursion we continued onto Sombor and had a nearly three hour lunch concluding with a round of "Hawaii Cup" desserts, a domestic Serbian specialty with ananas (pineapples), strawberry, vanilla and chocolate ice cream and a thick layer of cream with a cherry on top. I love how food is such a process here. There's never any rush during meals because time stops and tasks are momentarily nonexistent. Then we walked through the city center and met up with their friend for coffee and tea.

My absolute favorite building I've seen so far has been this one. It was Sombor's old town hall and to cultivate my Princeton pride of course I had to take a picture with it.

And finally on our way home we took a wrong turn and decided to create an intentional mistake by pulling over and walking along the Dunav river in Apatin, with a far view of Novi Sad as the sun was setting.

The next day as I was thanking my host mom again for taking me, she said in her simple English "it was a great day" and paused from laboriously ironing Mima's bed sheets. And that it was.

Oko Vojvodine: Bečej

The Pton crew took a day trip to Bečej, a city about 50 km from Novi Sad also in the Bačka district of Vojvodina. We visited it on a Sunday and it seemed like a ghost town. On weekends there are just a handful of others walking through the city center and along the river and this is true for most smaller cities or villages that I've been to. But, as you can see, there were reasons to be outside because it was relatively warm and absolutely beautiful.

The following were taken from the top of Fantast Castle created in the late 19th century during the Austro-Hungarian monarchy.

The empty pool that is in the bottom of the frame was filled with horses milk in its day. A peculiar way to show their riches.

Oko Vojvodine: Čerević

A couple of weeks ago I met my host mom's parents who live in a very small village about 30 minutes outside of Novi Sad in the Srem district of Vojvodina. Very small in this case means a selo (village) with less than 1,500 residents, a school that only goes up to grade 9, three working physicians who don't work on weekends, two mom and pop bakeries, and one restaurant. No hospital, no supermarkets, no chains of any kind. Such a beautiful escape from globalization, or so it seemed walking through it. But when we entered the farmer's market, there were people selling disney paraphenalia (I swear Hannah Montana has taken over all product forms around the world). And when we got into the Baba's (Grandma's) living room, I noticed the tv on B-92, a national news station. So it wasn't completely cut off from civilization as it appeared to have been from the outside. However it should still be considered a traditional, quaint Serbian village and when we took a long walk through the plantations surrounding the village I felt void of industrialization as it was field upon field of local farm land and animals. Even the grandparents had an assortment of animals (chickens, 1 goat, 1 cow) and a large garden of herbs, fruits, and vegetables that they collected from for their food.

And we ended our day with a walk along the Dunav.