expat blogger

living in Serbia

Monday, November 29, 2010

confessions and random thoughts

In my last mainly picture blog I posted a pic of the HOLLYWOOD sign here in my little town. It was not a very clear pic so I went back and got a better one. I think this is Classic Serbia. Striving for all the glam and modernity while keeping a foot or two in the past.

I love pretending to be a tourist, I just hate it when I have to try to speak. I must constantly remind myself of my favorite line in Eat Pray Love. You must be patient with yourself when you are learning something new.

Sometimes I look at stuff on Craig's list back home just to see what I am missing.
On a funny side note. Craig's list hasn't caught on here yet, but in a neighboring country, Croatia, I saw a listing under Garage sales. An entire garage was for sale. I don't think they got the concept... lol

I thought it was funny when I saw a dog's house with the name Lord on it. And, just so you know, Lord here is like Lord of the manor. Not God. The dog's owner was so nice, when I asked for a picture of his dog, he allowed me to come into his beautiful yard. Thank you kind sir.

I haven't started cooking here yet. I just hate trying to figure out the oven. Must get over that quickly. Ya right! hehehe

I love finding new friends here who speak English. Needless to say, my Serbski is not improving. Totally my fault!

I went home and cried in my bathroom when I found out the other foreigner in my town and I have nothing in common. I am O.K. now. Sometimes a good cry washes away high expectations.

My husband gave our sagging, aged bed new life with two layers of memory foam. I don't wake up in pain now. Thank God. For a while,I wanted to move home just to get back into my own bed.

I also replaced our wool filled pillows with soft new ones I found at the piatz for 300 dinars each. That is under $4 US dollars. Hallelujah!!  I am a new woman. He says we are sleeping like Americans now. I just think that sounds funny.

Some pets are allowed to run wild in the streets here. Today I scrounged around to find something to push a freshly killed black and white dog out of a kinda busy roadway.  Poor little doggy.  :(  People kept walking by him, and driving around. I couldn't just leave him there. Later that evening I was happy to see that he had been retrieved. RIP little dog. 

I must confess I find most European television lacking in quality. Large quantities of time on reality shows are spent in silence or monotonous conversation. It moves very slowly. Even Milan thinks they are stupid. They have versions of our television shows, it is amusing to see a another version, but I really have a hard time following along.  Some of the shows they have here are Idol, Dancing with the stars, and Survivor.

They do have some good comedies, I don't understand them, but the actors are so good sometimes I still get how funny they are.

I feel some shame that these television programs are coming from my and other western lands. I just read in another friends blog how sad it is that the stars our children are watching are on television and not in the sky. What a beautifully true statement. The old is being forgotten. Remembering where you came from is so important.   Here the past is not so far away as it is for us in the west. But it is slipping away fast in the current of the new and the modern.

Relaxation is something they know how to do very well. I, on the other hand need some practice. I used to think that this kind of relaxation was just pure laziness, but I have found I am quite wrong. Sometimes the people who are relaxing are also lazy, but I know that I am often lazy, even though I do not know how to really relax. Oh, the irony.

I find relaxation is even harder when accompanied with very strong Turkish Kafe. It makes me so jittery. How can you sit and relax while drinking such strong Coffee?

I am leaving you with pictures of my beautiful new little nephew, Jovan. I confess, I love this little cutey.

Friday, November 26, 2010

A day in the life pics

Beautiful bread my mother-in-law made
Doorways, roof tiles, and traditional foods here often remind me of Asia. More to come on this...
A bicycle pic for Mary P.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

foreign concepts

Hello friends and family,
The weather is finally feeling as it should, clouds have moved in and the thermometer has dropped below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Christmas is around the corner and I have finally settled in for the winter. Please enjoy the newest thoughts typed out on my computer.

The toilets in our condo are so small. This is the part where you say, "How Small is it?" It is so small I can was my hands, take a shower, do the laundry, and put on my makeup all at the same time. I am pretty much not kidding. The concept of large spaces inside the home seems to be more western. We have a large country with lots of room to roam. Rooms are used more space efficiently in Europe.
The view from outside our larger bathroom.. and BTW: reading the washing machine is impossible.
 and then the view from inside...taken standing in the tub.
The last one is even smaller than it looks. It is difficult to get in and shut the door without straddling the the toilet.

Some of the differences from the western world.
Time seems to stand still here. Modern is coveted, while antiquities are a not only a part of the landscape,  it is also part of most peoples daily lifestyle. Old and new live side by side. Cell phones and WWII trucks, microwaves and wood-burning all purpose stove/ovens are still used daily. Red peppers dry inside kitchens while hanging like a wreath around the windows. These same garnishes decorate porches, terraces, and barn walls. Chickens peck around grounds and geese guard homesteads like Rottweilers.

In our condo a waffle maker doubles as a toaster. I am not sure if it has ever been used for waffles, but it does make some yummy pressed, hot sandwiches. Fresh bread is served daily, and when it is a day old, it is served toasted or fed to the dog, pig, or any other random animal you may have.

This is all fascinating, and would be even more so if this was a drive-by. But I am in for the long haul. Or long enough, and sometimes these antiquities become tiresome.
Dinner for instance, I have told you about the many courses. Imagine day after day of lingering over salads, and I do mean salads, plural. One is almost never enough! Then there is the soup. (This week I got to eat Sheep head stew! Yes, I do know how lucky I am.) Next is the main course. This may be one of two or three parts. Then there is always dessert, and Turkish coffee. The last two are separate events. All of this while having dinner with my loving husband who enjoys watching me try to understand Serbian conversations with he and his parents. He especially loves to watch me struggle to speak or converse with both of the former non-English speaking wonderful people. Normally, I do not find this as amusing as my other half.

The upside of this is my mother-in-laws super, awesome, gut-busting, yummy food! IT is possible she is the best cook on earth. She is a loving, sweet, hard working woman. Just like my own mom at home. Love you Mom!!! So I know how lucky I am to have two Truely amazing moms who love me! I am blessed, and Thankful.
The Travel Mug
I went shopping for a travel mug here last week. I wanted to be able to take a cup of tea or coffee with me when I go wherever I may. I finally found one at the Kineski shop. This is the Chinese shop. That is where I go to find the things I find normal that are foreign to my Serbian hosts.

Travel mugs are a completely foreign concept here. One does not take coffee or tea with them, it is enjoyed at leisure with friends and family. There are NO cup holders in vehicles here. There are nice cafes on the side of the road so that you can sit and relax during a long drive from one town to the next. 

Last week I took a short block and a half walk from my apt to Mama and Papa's house and carried a mug of tea with me. Mama looked like she might have a heart attack. She was shocked, and maybe I even hurt her feelings because I brought my tea along. I am not sure, but I had to assure her this was normal for Americans to walk with a drink in hand.

Another foreign concept, not celebrating Thanksgiving. I think I am skipping it this year. I am not really in the mood. I am extremely grateful for my family and friends, both near and far. But going to find the food, figuring out the foreign oven, and the myriad of other issues associated with shopping for and preparing food here is more of a hassle than it is worth. I am not up to the task. And it would only be for me. I have a thankful spirit and that is more than enough. 

Happy Thanksgiving friends!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The 100 step village

SO, I was on the top of a very tall hill, and I found fossilized coral. Milan and I walked to the bottom of the hill and at the edge of the stream we were about to cross, when we found a stone with a shell fossil in it. He says this is not uncommon here. I am like a kid in a candy store. Sometimes I feel I should be on a treasure hunt all the time.

This trek up the small mountain was just beyond the 100 step village.  It was a typical old village, quiet and quaint. A Rakija still was in service, and 2 men catered to the “happy” machine. We parked the car in front of their modest, but nice, town building. A passing Baba tells us our car will safe there. This was the start our little adventure.  It is small but full of character and friendly people. We also met a nice couple of goats too. :)

 Stogazovac is the one hundred step village.  Just past that beautiful little cluster of homes, is a 14th Century church. On the way to the church you bypass paved roads and walk along with towering rocks to your right and a steep ravine to your left. At the bottom there is a creek trickling along. A ways up the creek is damned up to create a wonderful little swimming hole. There is such a difference in temperature as you descend to the the waters edge. This little bit of water has carved a deep crevice in so much stone.

The mountainous rocks tower over the road like sky scrapers. At some points there is a partial tunnel carved in the rock to create the path to the old church.

We stopped a ways down because we though we had lost our way, and decided stop for a picnic. We sat at the roads edge, which had made way to a pastoral land was now mostly flat. Initially, we sat smack dab on on the top of an ant hill. We moved quickly. When we had finished our fresh baked bread with fresh, soft farm cheese baked inside of this yummy bread, we saw behind us the church had been hidden by the  natural skyscraper. It was nestled in just behind it.
The view back from our picnic sight.
It only took us a few minutes to find the path to the plank bridge that crossed the brook. We walked up the very  steep hill to the top, and then rested to catch our breaths.

The Church had a fresh coat of paint and a new roof, but it was ancient. The walls were nearly 3 feet think. I can easily understand how people could find peace and worship inside or out. God had created a beautiful place. And man had made good use of it. It is awesome there.

I was glad it was a Sunday when we came here. I wish we could come here every Sunday. But soon the snow will cover the ground and getting up the hill will be impossible.
After we explored inside the church and out we made our way back down the hill to go back home. When we were about to pass through a place in the road, flanked by two massive rocks, a billy goat came through like gang busters, and stopped when he saw us, sizing us up.  He retreated when Milan took a step forward. Probably smart. If I were a betting woman, I would put my money on Milan. He has been know to head but bigger animals and knock them down.

This billy goat and his agile friend proceeded to climb the rock as we passed by and were greeted by two village children. They said "Dobar Dan" or good day to each of us, and then keep looking back as they  were probably shocked to because they had heard me speaking in English.

The walk back to the car was fun, I stopped to take a pic of a couple of gents making the countries favorite liquor, Rakija. (This is pronounced rak-key-a.) One of the men said to me, "Odakle ste?" (Where are you from?) I sad America, its fun to see the reaction on some people's faces.

This was a magical day, I can't tell you how much fun we had.
Today we are planning to cut and store the wood I wrote about in the last chronicle. It will be a fun day with the family, ending in some really Yummy Food! I know, I helped to make it yesterday.

I am really enjoying myself. And hoping for many more fun adventures to share with you. Thank you for reading, and commenting! I love hearing from you.
Ciao for now.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Life down on the farm, and other vaious topics.

Hello friends and family,
Here is another installment of  my life in Serbia.

Yesterday, early in the morning we went to Vina to stock up on wood for the winter. We spent the day loading a truck with previously cut wood. It was a really big truck. There were 6 of us, and it took us 3 hours. Most of the wood was not too thick, but about a meter long. It was strenuous labor. Exhausting, but good And good hard work helps to stave off homesickness. And even better, I may loose some weight.

When I was walking back to our car three large white geese where strolling up the road ahead of me. While a lone rooster pecked the dirt and fallen leaves on the side of the road. This is the kind of eye candy I love to see here in my little adopted village.

When we got back to the house, unloading the truck was much quicker, and there were only four of us working. After the all the hard work was completed, we ate the feast that Mama had prepared.  We all sat for some time, savoring the food and relaxed after the back breaking, wood dust breathing, slightly dangerous, but good clean work.Well not that clean, I think I was as dirty on the inside as out. I even had wood dust boogers.

A trip to Nis, pronounced Neesh.
Last week week Milan and I said we would help a friend. He planned to go to a bread factory for a huge load of old bread to feed his chickens. He has a small pickup, and wanted us to come with our station wagon so he could double the load.

Pickups in Europe and Asia are much MUCH smaller. They are also more fuel efficient, but cannot haul like an  American pickup. Most cars in Europe are smaller too. While we were in Nis, I saw a Hummer driving down the street. I was kinda shocked at the site. It was so big.  I know this American style super-sized vehicle must have a great deal of trouble getting around in some areas, because we had a tight squeeze a few times on side streets in the city in our little car.

Streets in Serbia, and all over Europe are often smaller. They were designed before cars were popular, or before they existed. Often parking is designed for much smaller cars or no cars at all. Parking on sidewalks and curbs is more the rule than the exception. Law and order is kinda lax here when it comes to parking.

Parking meters in the city.
Here in Serbia, and possibly other places, meter parking is paid with your cell phone. Once you park, you send a text to a phone number listed on a nearby sign, and type in your license plate number. This gives you an hour or two of parking. The money is taken directly from your phone credit. To add more time you just text again later.

Phone credits are paid at little kiosks along the streets in town. you give you cell phone number to the clerk inside the kiosk and they input your number in what looks like a small calculator. They give you a receipt, and a second later, your phone chimes with a text from the cell phone company that credit has been added to your account. These kiosks also sell cigarettes, candy, snacks, magazines, etc. They are comparable to a very mini 7eleven.

On our way out of Nis, we saw these signs. The top blue signs are all for different countries. I find this a bit exhilarating. The sign on the left is for this countries capital, Belgrad, or more accurately, Beograd.  The central sign is for Sofia or Sofija, Bulgaria. The last sign directs traffic toward Athens, Greece, and Skopje, Macedonia. Athens is a mere 8 hour drive south.

Since we have been back, making the rounds to see friends and family is a must! I am so happy to be reunited with such a great family, even if I cannot understand much of what they are saying. Deda Tole wants so much to talk with me. He is more frustrated than I am that my Serbian language skills are so poor. I want to talk with him just as much if not more. He is so precious. My other Deda is just the same. He uses a lot of sign language, and I follow both of them around their perspective farms like a puppy watching them feed, the pigs and chickens.

On our way out from visiting Deda Tole, he went back inside and grabbed us a honey comb, from his hives. I wanted to give you a picture of the comb undisturbed. But Milan had cut it up before I had a chance. Here is a picture of the sweet deliciousness we have been picking at for a late night snack.

My happiness is compounded by getting to reunite with my wonderful friends here. We are already making plans for excursions, and intercultural cooking lessons. This warms my heart, I am so grateful for my friends.

EXCITING NEWS!! There is someone like me here!
A few days ago, I was walking downtown, just as I was about to cross the street to go to a friends house, I saw a lady and her three sons. I could tell she was a foreigner like me, because she is Black. I must tell you, I have never seen a black person here in Serbia before. I know in Belgrade there are some Africans, but this is a small town, and we have only the the staple Serbians, and gypsies.
Back to my exciting news.... I have to say, when I saw her my heart started beating fast. Another person like me!!! I was so excited, I am amazed I even looked for traffic as I crossed the busy main street of town. As I approached her, I heard her speaking in ENGLISH to her 3 sons. The smile on my face got bigger. I know I must have looked ridiculous with joy. I walked straight up in front of her and said "hello" and she said "hello" back. We began a very fast introduction, and exchanged numbers immediately. She is from Zimbabwe, and is married to a Serb like me. She has 3 beautiful boys, and they speak English too!!! We will meet for coffee soon!!! I am so excited!

Serbia used to be a monarchy, and they had a castle in Nis. After the Monarchy ended, the army took over the castle. Since then they have moved out leaving the guard stand as well as the castle vacant. Here are a few parting pics.

This time around my writings about Serbia are going to be less about frustrations, more about life. Concentrated on the good, be positive!

Thank you for reading, I love sharing this with you. Please leave comments if you like. Ask questions. I love to respond!
More to come very soon!!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Back in Serbia, November 7

We have just arrived in Serbia for another 5 month stint. I am hoping to improve my writing skills while maybe entertaining you with stories of my life in this foreign land.

The Slava's start Tomorrow
Tomorrow night begins the seasonal onslaught of saint dinners. The season starts off with a boom of two ont he same evening, we  have one at my Deda Tole's  and one at Milan's friend Mladin's house. I will have to be careful not to eat to much at the first house so I can eat at the second and not offend anyone. There are so many courses that this is hard to do. I will take some pics of the food to share with you.

Yesterday was All Saint's day. In America, this is a mostly forgotten holiday, though still on the calendar. On our calendar it is November 1, the day after All Hallows Eve, or Halloween. We have taken to celebrating with costumes and candy. It is a fun holiday for kids and adults.
Here it is a family holiday too, although altogether different.  Here it is celebrated on the first Saturday in November, so that most people will be off work to return to their families burial grounds. People drive long distances to return to family graves. I saw license plates from Belgrade in our tiny village, a 3 hour drive from BG.  I love this holiday. I think the idea of it is great.I also love the long walk up the dirt road to the grave yard.. though not everyone walks. Some take their cars, and most often you see groups of people in wagons pulled by tractors. It is a big day for all the little villages.

During my time at the graveyard, I finally met a friend I have here on FB that is from Milan's village. Kinda funny.

Family members prepare food, wine, candies to take to the graveyard. They also take flowers to the final resting ground of their loved ones. Candles are lit and food is shared with the dead. Brush is cleared from the graves. People mozy around and mingle with others who have made the pilgrimage.

Just behind my families grave there were two old men chatting. One asked me in Serbian why I was taking pictures. I told him it was for my family in America. Then he started speaking English. Thank GOD!! Getting back into speaking Serbian is so difficult. He wanted me to go back further in the graveyard to see a stone that was older than the USA. It sounded really cool, but then someone else said the stone was gone, it had fallen and was no longer visible. Unfortunate, but true.

On the way back we took an old barely used dirt road. I got lots of burs in my clothes, but it was worth it.This walk was all down hill and it went through some of our family land that was split between my Father-in-law and Uncle Milosh. It was a beautiful day for a walk. Almost 70 degrees in November. I am sure this won't last long. I am eating it up while I can.

Right now I am refusing to answer our house phone. This is not in anger, I just don't feel like getting stressed over what to say to someone I may or may not know. Or play a kinda phone charade game... guessing what they are trying to say without any visual clues. Not a fun game! Honestly, I wish I had done this last time. I am really trying not to do things that will cause too much confusion. People tend to think I understand more than I do. (And then sometimes I just pretend not to understand when it is convenient.)

House Hunters International
We are in the market to possibly buy a house here. Yesterday we looked at a house in Vina. The property included two homes with and one Without a toilet. LOL This is not unusual here. The house without the toilet was bigger and nicer with a lovely landscape painting adorning the upstairs entrance. The one with the toilet was smaller and really smelled of mold and mildew. Terribly unfortunate. The houses had a lovely yard for a garden and across the little street there are out buildings that serve as barn, pigsty, garage, and storage. below those building was more land for gardening and a stream. It was a lovely group of buildings, and the houses were a lovely Easter egg, Pink and Yellow. But too much mold and only one bathroom just isn't what we are looking for... On goes the search.

The Family Reunion
After the trek up to the graveyard and looking at the house we retired to the dining room where Slavica, Milosh, Baba, and Deda had laid out a feast. Slavica did most of the work I think. There was a lovely platter of pickled fruits and veggies, Gibanica, Fresh bread for the first course. Second there was chicken noodle soup. The third course was rimflesh (boiled chicken, carrots, and potatoes, followed by Roasted chicken and potatoes. I was ready to stop after the the soup. but this time, I was prepared. I knew not to get stuffed to quickly!The last course was a lovely home made wafer dessert and Turkish coffee... The coffee served much later. Coffee and dessert are served separately here.

More to come soon. All comments and questions welcome.