About Charles Cather

An American who ignored the anti-Serb media and traveled to Serbia in 2010. It changed my life!

Bumping Into Serbian Olympic Hero, Milorad Cavic!!!

I received a message from a young lady in Kragujevac, Serbia in late December of last year. She was a member of the student organization, AIESEC. They were holding their annual Youth Leadership Conference and they wanted me to speak to the kids about my time in Serbia.

I headed to Kragujevac, Serbia on a Wednesday afternoon. I had just finished filming a 5 day series in Ruma for the premier of my web series YANKEE DOODLE WENT TO SERBIA! And I was totally exhausted. You guys are going to love this series! I hope we can find some tv stations to work with us. I might need all of your help in spreading the word.

I arrive at the bus station in Kragujevac at 5PM. I never book a hotel in advance. The organization said they would find me a sponsor to host me in their home, but I wanted a private place. I hit up the first hotel that I find. They tell me that I might have trouble finding any vacancies because of some event at the big Fiat factory. The guy tells me to try Hotel Kragujevac. It is the largest building in town and they have many vacancies. I drag all of my stuff to the room and collapse on the bed for a few minutes. The room is tiny!!! I have very little room to move around, but I didn’t think it was bad for 4000 dinars. It had a mini bar, restaurant, room service and free wifi. I finally drag my lazy ass out of bed and head out to explore the former capital city of Serbia.

The hotel is right in the center of the walking district. It is a beautiful area. There are many shops, restaurants, a taxi stand, and within walking distance of many historic things. One of the first things on my agenda is food!! I walk into a place called “RAKIJA BAR”. I decide to have a shot of dunja rakija and a pivo and find out from the waiter where the best place to eat is. He recommends the place across the street. It is the lobby restaurant of the hotel. It has a great Italian menu. I order a Karadjordeva Snicla and some garlic bread. It was amazing!!! It cost 1200 dinars, but was worth every cent..

I head mall in Kragujevac. It is a very nice and modern mall. It rivals any of the ones I have been to around Europe. I really needed an electric converter for my laptop. I left my other one in Ruma. I find a computer store and they don’t have what i am looking for , but they give me this thing that might work. I take it back to my hotel and find out it doesn’t work. I am desperate now! I stop a few people in the street and ask about it. They tell me about a little shop called CAR. It is hard to locate and I see a little pizza place. I decide to pop in and see if anyone can help me.

The lady is a beautiful young woman around 20 years old. I ask her if she speaks English. She says that she does and I ask her about the electric shop. There are a few tables full of guys in there and one of them overhears me. He gets up and walks over to me. He is about 6’5 and very muscular. He says ” Are you the American that has been helping Serbian kids?” I tell him that I am. He says ” I respect that . Thank you!” I was a bit surprised at his English ability. I just told him “nema na cemu”. I start talking to the girl again and she said ” Do you know who that is?” I said ” no, I have no idea.” She said “That is Milorad Cavic, the silver medal Olympian!” OMG!! I about fell over! He heard about me? How awesome is that!? I walk back over and apologize to him. He is sitting with 4 guys that play for the Kragujevac Wild Boars, the American football team. He smiles and said he had watched a few of my videos and appreciated the contribution to Serbian kids.

He gives me his card and asks me to go to meet with him the next day. I shake his hand and am on my way. WOW!!! That really gives you a great feeling when a guy that has that much star power has heard of you. I find out where that little electrical shop is located and head over there. I get the piece I need and head back to my hotel room. I could barely fall asleep thinking about the following day. What do you say? How do you dress? etc….

I get up a little early in the morning and head to the mall. I have to return that little computer thing that didn’t work. They give me ZERO slack and were very friendly. I run back to the room to get ready for the speech at the University of Kragujevac. I get in a cab and head over there. The president of the organization meets me at the entrance and says that the Dean of Economics wants to speak with me. We head to her office and it is beautiful! It is all decked out in decorative wood and a large table. She is very kind and welcoming. She hears my entire story and starts telling me her position and all of her great ideas. I know the school is very lucky to have a woman like her! We finish our conversation and head to the room where I am going to be speaking.

There are a large number of kids in the class. They are all very attentive, fun, friendly, and passionate about their duties. I speak for a little over an hour about how great my experiences were in Serbia and how proud they should be for being born a Serb. The kids all thank me at the end of the speech. I head back to my hotel to prepare for my meeting with Mr Cavic. He emailed me that morning and asked me to meet him at his pool office.

The weather was rather crappy, but the kids left me one of their umbrellas! Gotta love Serbian students! I get to the pool and ask for Mr Cavic. They lead me up to his office and usher me inside. He is sitting there with his secretary talking about some things. He gets up with a big smile on his face and thanks for coming. What a great man! I expected him to be very formal and professional, but he was just like me. He had on his shorts and a t-shirt. He takes me out to a little table overlooking the pool. He says he will be right back and to order whatever I want to drink. I choose a coffee. He returns a few minutes later and starts telling me all about his life.

He is one of the most passionate and focused people I have ever encountered. He told me lots of his secrets at staying focused and motivated. He said he still hangs little post it notes all over his house. He said above his bedroom door he has a note that says SMILE! He said that it seems cheesy , but it works. He also told me that he is the only professional swimmer that has had lower back surgery and came back to be so successful. He said it is because he still goes to the pool everyday with a smile and knowing that he loves what he does. He said you should always love what you do!!!! Great advice. He then gets to business. He tells me that he loves how I found this equipment for American football. He said they are constantly looking for this kind of thing in Serbia and that no one has money for this stuff.

I tell him about my meeting in the Serbian Palace with the Minister of Youth and Sport, Nenad Borocovin. Mr Borocovin wanted me to open a non profit for sports equipment for Serbian kids. He said he could get the Serbian government to partner with me! He thought it was a great idea. He knew that I was having issues with some schools because of liability stuff. It is illegal for a team to resale used equipment because of liability. He said that he had already told his lawyer to draw up a form for me. WOW!!!! This man is on his game!!!! We sit and chit chat for almost 1.5 hours. He finally says that he has to go. He tells me to keep his number and email in case I need anything in the future. I head out of the pool with a smile from ear to ear. I just had a long conversation with a silver medal winning swimmer that is known throughout the planet.

I can’t stress how much fun and how honored I am at how the Serbian people have treated me! It was all caused by making a short 1 minute video on Youtube.

Drinking 1/2 Liter Of Rakija

I have said this over and over… one of the things I enjoyed the most about Serbia was their homemade liquor, rakija. They have many different flavors.

My preference is peach or apricot. Sliva or plum is probably the most common. Serbia has large amounts of plum trees. I lived by the hospital in Zrenjanin, Serbia. Everyday I would walk the 15 minutes to town. I would take a little shortcut and walk past this old bread factory. Every house on this little path had their own “little orchard” growing in their yard.

The people would always be outside trimming, nurturing, picking, or tending to their fruit trees. Many of them had their own little still for making rakija.

Serbs have many uses for rakija. They would use it as a cure for many ailments, religious ceremonies, welcoming people into their homes, etc. I was warned by many of them to be very careful in consuming it.

Ivan called me one evening. He invited me to his house to play a game. We had to go pick up two ladies and another friend that lived a few blocks away. They insisted on paying for the alcohol. My Serbian friends are very generous.

We arrived at their home. They were sisters and their father was a crazy guy!! He loved to sit and talk to me about everything imaginable! The only problem…. he speaks ZERO English!

My friends were so annoyed because they had to constantly translate everything. We leave their house and start heading back to Ivan’s home. I ask them about the alcohol because the store was the other way. They said we are going to buy homemade rakija from a neighbor.

That was another cool thing about Serbia. You could walk down a street and see a sign hanging in someones window that they sold rakija. You don’t find that in the USA. The D.E.A would be at your doorstep in a few hours! They knock on the window and someone comes out. We buy a liter of dunja rakija from them for a few hundred Dinars.

I had to translate dunja.

It says in the USA it is called quince. I have never seen or heard of that fruit in my life.

I was a little concerned with buying homemade alcohol from strangers. My friends had told me a story about a guy in Zrenjanin that was in jail because he made some rakija that poisoned and killed a few people and left a few others blind!!!

They said that they knew this family well and that it was some of the best rakija you could get.

We get back to Ivan’s home. He lives very close to the center of the Zrenjanin. His house is similar to many other Serbian homes. They have a small little “cottage” behind their home. They use it in the fall months to make rakija or ajvar. It has all the amenities of a normal house… bathroom, kitchen, bedroom, etc…

We sit down at the table and some of the girls start filling up a few bottles of water. I never liked the tap water in Zrenjanin. It is very yellow and foul smelling, but they said it was a must to have water handy when playing a drinking game with rakija.

They pull the board game out and everything is written in Serbian Cyrillic. UGHH!!! I had a feeling that the American was going to get screwed on a drinking game that he couldn’t understand the writing!!!

I WAS CORRECT!!!!

The game is called CUGOPOL. You have a couple dice and some cards that come with it. It SHOULD be played with beer or something a little friendlier to your body! We start out and it seems that every single roll of the dice lead to the American having to drink.

We get three quarters of the way around the board and I am bombed!!!!

The girls and the other guys are holding their own! I think they cheated and filled their shot glasses with water instead of rakija! We get to the end of the game and the bottle is gone. I remember nothing else. The next memory I have is walking up on his couch at 10AM. His parents are calling us for breakfast. I am still drunk from the previous night but scarf down all of the breakfast I can hold and thank them for their hospitality. I shuffled back to my apartment and crash again. Thank God I didn’t have class that day.

WHEW!!!! If you ever get the chance to play Cugopol with Serbs… Make sure you get an English translated version and play with BEER!!!!! I know my organs are forever damaged from this night in Zrenjanin, Serbia. I love my Serbian friends and trust them with my life… But I still think they screwed me over on this game…