Air-Conditioning–Modern Convenience Or Instrument Of Death?

It’s a valid question, in more ways than one.

When I read Time commentator Eric Kleinenberg’s Air-Conditioning Will Be the End of Us, I had to laugh. The point of the article was to highlight just how much Americans rely on A/C, how much energy it eats up, and how bad it is for the environment. He writes

After all, despite our other green tendencies, most Americans still believe that the wise way to use air conditioners is to crank them up, cooling down every room in the house — or even better, relax in the cold blasts of a movie theater or shopping mall, where someone else pays the bills.

Here we have the opposite problem.

Temperature
Although not technically promaja (the Deadly Draft), air-conditioning is considered a welcome–but somewhat suspect–modern convenience in Serbia. You see, technically (in reality?) air-conditioning is MOVING AIR.

Worse, it’s COLD, moving air, which in itself is inherently menacing.

A/C in Serbia is like the new, young and charming Catholic priest starting his service at the diocese.

Most of the time it’s all good, but there’s a chance of danger if parents are not super-watchful.

A/C might cool you off and even prevent heat-exhaustion, but it can cause … dum dum dum. Sickness and Death.

It’s true! It happened!

Last summer, in a news story that has since become urban legend, a couple with an infant drove from Sweden to Serbia (why not just fly with the baby, I do not know) in the middle of a heatwave. They used the air-conditioning, set on 71F/22C. Apparently when they removed the baby from the car and directly into the oven-like heat, the poor infant went into some type of cardiac arrest and sadly, died.

And so, even if you have air-conditioning, you cannot use it.

For the rest of that summer, whenever I got into a taxi with my two kids, the driver dutifully made a show of turning off the air-conditioning. I had to specifically request that we have A/C.

“Are you sure? What about the children?”

“Yes, please, they are very hot and sweaty.”

Shaking his head, he reluctantly turned the A/C back on.

Perhaps during the day, but definitely NO air-conditioning at night
Especially around sleeping children.

Generally, apartments here do not have central air. Each room, and sometimes not even then, has its own unit, and they actually work pretty quickly. They can cool down a room to sleep-able levels in five-ten minutes. In my view, this is a fast, convenient aspect of homes in Serbia.

However, locals view it otherwise. I’ve learned that it can be very dangerous to leave the air-conditioning on in a room with a sleeping child. Why? Because if a child sweats when he sleeps (and he is very likely to do so, with or without A/C), and the parent is unable to wake the child and change his clothes quickly enough (because a child can never wear sweaty clothes) … Oohhhh, that is not going to be pretty.

I know one kid who begs his parents to let his sleep in only underpants–because he knows better than to ask for the A/C to be on at night.

No. way.

IMG_7013
Sleeping with only underpants on! What if a breeze comes by! That’s a recipe for sickness!

Truly, no one in that house is getting a good night’s sleep … not the kid who’s being woken up two or three times a night to have his clothes changed, and definitely not the parents!

But hey, at least Serbia isn’t contributing to global warming nearly as much as the U.S. For that, we should all be thankful.

www.laura-dennis.com

Ya Ya Serbia And The Zen Mind

In my early days in Serbia I thought the phrase ‘Ya Ya Serbeeyaa’, oft heard, meant ‘egg egg Serbia’, or ‘Eggy Serbia’, because I’d learnt that ‘Ya Ya’ means egg in Serbian. However, as I heard this phrase more often, predominantly by older people, and usually with a shake of the head or a roll of the eyes, I realised it was actually a phrase of disparagement and resignation. Basically the person was saying, ‘well this is Serbia, what the f+ck do you expect’? And this one statement could explain everything from the price of milk to corrupt politicians.

My theory is that anyone who has lived a long time in any country usually becomes sensitive to injustices or inefficiencies in that country. And so as people grow older, in any country, they are more inclined to include in their conversation with others some lament about their particular grievance with that country.

In Britain that lament might be, depending on one’s views, any one or more of the following: the condition of road surfaces, the number of speed cameras watching the roads, the rudeness of the young (or old, or shopkeepers), the amount of bureaucracy, the levels of taxes, the European Community’s laws regarding the proper size of a banana, etc, etc, etc.

I suppose a similar phrase in Britain to ‘Ya Ya Serbia’ might be ‘Only in Britain’, and any of the afore-mentioned situations could invoke that statement from neighbours as they talk over the garden fence and crossed their arms, and shook their heads from side to side.

What’s interesting about the phenomenon of ‘Ya Ya Serbia’ or ‘Only in Britain’ is that it’s far less likely to be spoken by foreigners. A Serbian in England or an Englander in Serbia is far less likely to be bothered by those events and situations that really drive the natives crazy? Why is this?

I think that the majority of those issues which really bothers people who’ve lived in a country for a long time are more likely to be the ‘stone in the shoe’ affairs than the life shattering ones.

And so when I hear of, or see, any such minor irritations in Belgrade I shrug but don’t think too much of them. My wife, however, might feel a great sense of ‘Ya Ya Serbia’ because she has heard/felt/experienced a multitude of such specific events in Belgrade over her lifetime and each one planted a ‘small stone in her shoe’ and now each stone feels like a boulder. Her ‘Ya Ya Serbia’ is the cumulative effect of all these little specific events.

So how does ‘Ya Ya Serbia’ tie into Zen? Well apparently Zen monks acquire a sense of peace because they don’t allow all the small irritations and attachments to grow inside them. Unlike us regular human beings they live in the present and don’t harbour a growing list of annoyances – they let things go.

Perhaps, being a foreigner in any country puts one in more of a ‘zen-like’ state. All you see and hear is new, and you are more focussed on the present as you go about your activities. You don’t harbour a long list of location (or personnel) specific minor resentments that can boil over whenever some new (but similar) minor incident occurs because you haven’t been in the country long enough for those ‘stones in the shoe’ to feel like boulders.

Don’t believe me? Take a 3-month holiday in another country and notice how your sense of ‘Ya Ya’ disappears as you focus on your new environment and temporarily let-go of your pet hates.

Baby Wearing In The Balkans

I wore both my kids. Of course I believe all of that hoopla about closeness, bonding and safe security, but I did have an ulterior motive: baby wearing was the easiest way to keep my hands free when my then-infants insisted upon being all up in my grill.

There were phases in which maneuvering for an inch of personal space on my part would send either of them into a fit of anger.

Hence, the sling, the Bjorn, the wrap, etc.
LD1

I wore D for about a year, until she was a stable walker. She was light enough, but my son got very heavy very quickly. So, by the time I moved to Belgrade when Maksim was five months old, the Bjorn just wasn’t cutting it for either M or I. Baby wearing is definitely a thing in the U.S., but I wondered about the Balkans.

It turns out, yes, people wear their babies here in the Balkans … even dads.

LD2

But Baby Wearing with a pink, hippie-esque wrap? Not so much.

I met Alice and Vladimir about ten years ago through my husband’s rather vast network of born-and-raised-in-the-Balkans-but-live-in-Los-Angeles-now friends. Alice is not from the Balkans, she’s American of Vietnamese ethnicity, so it was rather a funny coincidence that we both became parents and moved to Southern Europe around the same time.

Alice marches to the beat of her own drum, makes her own clothes, and is a very cool girl all around. When I saw this picture of her now husband, Vladimir–baby wearing their daughter, in pink no less–I had to ask about it.

Side notes: Have I mentioned before that Serbia is a very homogenous culture?

Differences of even the smallest kind are readily noticed (replete with raised eyebrows and head shaking in unabashed surprise).

Differences are nearly always commented upon. I guess I should be happy it’s done to my face. Observations are not necessarily said in a bad way, but it does get annoying when in only one morning, five grandmas ask why my daughter isn’t wearing socks with her shoes. (It’s only okay in summer, apparently. It’s still technically spring, and even though it’s 80+ degrees F outside, it’s not okay.)

[End of side note.] Now, Alice and her family lived in Croatia (a different country than Serbia, but still the Balkans). She said

Croatia’s collective mind simultaneously imploded at the sight of Vladimir walking around like this. He got many concerned warnings that he might be considered a “homo.” *Gasp!*

We were at the mall and I swear, he must have caused some severe whiplash among the shoppers.

Full disclosure: when Vladimir wore the pink wrap with their son inside years before, it made no sense even to Americans. Alice, she had “no ulterior gender motives or political statements–orange was just out of stock.”

Still awesome, nonetheless.

My husband did wear our daughter, for what it’s worth, but that was in “progressive” Southern California, and only to give my back a break … with a decidedly black carrier. If I ever see a dad baby wearing with a pink wrap in Serbia, I’ll be sure to take a picture.

source www.laura-dennis.com/baby-wearing-in-the-balkans/

How I Acquired A Serbian Godfather

It’s not a new movie; or a revelation of a heretofore secret mafia organization in Belgrade. No. This is a post about Serbian family and married life.

The direct translation for godfather in Serbian is kum. However, kum means much, much more. The concept runs deep, enriching friendships and social life.

First, things, first. … Let’s get pronunciation out-of-the-way. “Kum” is pronounced coom, like it rhymes with room. Kum, not come.

At recnik.com, kum means godfather, and kum/kuma (female version) also means sponsor. I’ve never heard of this, but I am only an American.

Finally, with the help of my friend, Google, I got down to Slavic.net and found a proper explanation for kum: best man, godfather, godparent, and of course, sponsor. Whatever that means.

Yes, kum can refer to the person you choose as the godfather when you baptize your child in the Serbian Orthodox Church. The kum/kuma is the one to witness when an adult is baptized. But then, that also means that your kum has been baptized himself. And in an increasing secular society (left over from communism), more and more people are not even baptized.

I know, right? Scandal!

Kum is more than “just” a best man.

This is where dictionaries don’t do the language justice. Today, among my friends at least, in addition to the religious/baptismal purpose, a kum is a best man, kuma is a maid-of-honor. You choose this person to stand with you when you get married; but the responsibility and the sense of closeness go deeper than that.

When you make someone your kum/kuma, it essentially makes them a part of your family. But better, because it’s someone that you actually choose and genuinely like. Your kum/kuma is probably someone you went to college or have a long history with. It’s a person you’d wish to be related to, if you could. And in Serbia, it’s possible!

Nuances

1. A kum/kuma is probably not from the same family as your parents’ kum/kuma. What! Why?

Because when the parents got married, they also had a kum and kuma. (Duh.) The children of the kum/kuma’s families then became the kumice, or “little” best men and “little” maids-of-honor. (This is where literal translations get a slightly ridiculous.)

2. People don’t seem to choose their brother or sister (siblings are already family), although sometimes Orthodox priests require you to choose a male family member. No kuma allowed.

3. The kum/kuma thing generally goes only one way, although I have seen exceptions. So, if Ivan chooses Sasha to be his kum, Sasha will likely choose someone else to be his kum.

4. From as much as I can gather, kum status remains, even in the case of divorce. If Ivan gets divorced, Sasha is still his kum!

5. A man chooses a kum, and a woman chooses a kuma, generally. After marriage, these connections transcend gender. So, Ivan’s wife may now refer to Sasha as kum.

All of this gets very complicated, I know. But, this kum/kuma/kumice actually makes for wonderfully close friendships.

My Wedding

I chose my brother to stand at my wedding. It was all very “Californian” to have a man-of-honor, instead of a maid-of-honor.

Nikola was my husband’s kum, chosen well before Misha and I even met. Nikola is a good man. He flew from Serbia to Los Angeles, and we met for the first time a few days before the wedding. After our lovely celebration, Misha and I had a “day after” brunch for our close family friends.

Amongst all the people, chatter, food and generally busy-party-goings-on, kum Nikola pulled me aside, and spoke a gruff whisper, pulling out a jewelry box with lovely earrings inside. After the thanks you’s and the assurances that he didn’t have to do that, Nikola got serious. He took my hand and looked me squarely in the eye.

In his thick Serbian accent and deep voice he said, “Lora, I have something to tell to you. … Lora. … If you ever need anything, anything at all. You call me. You understand? You. Call. Me. … Yes?”

“Yes, yes, thank you, Nikola.”

“No, Lora. I am very serious, any problems. You call me, okay?”

And with that, I realized that I, too, had my very own kum.

* * * * *

Curious about Laura’s other writing? Laura’s memoir, Adopted Reality is available for FREE ebook download internationally through April 26th, in exchange for an honest review.

You can purchase Laura’s book at storycartel.com/adoptedreality/

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.

Royal Palace Belgrade

I remember my early explorations of Belgrade’s ‘sights’.

Kalemegdan was one of the first, and even now one of my favourites, given that the path one takes within its depths determines whether you pass beneath ancient boughs, or alongside players of chess, or upon battlements, through flowered gardens, across open grass or more.

I was first taken to another ‘sight to see’, Republic Square, on a snowy winter morning. As snowflakes drifted down around me, I saw a great bronze statue of a man, mounted upon a horse, pointing fiercely into the distance. This it transpired, was Duke Mihailo, who during the mid 19th Century completed the expulsion of the Turks from Serbia and liberated the remaining 7 cities that lay still under the spice and silk heel of Turkish rule.

From the Duke Milhailo statue we’d strolled along the street named after him, Knez Mihailova, Old Belgrade’s vehicle-free chic main shopping destination. We ambled in and out of the clothing stores and bookshops passing beside buildings whose pleasing architectural styles ranged from romanticism to renaissance, partaking of coffee halfway to warm our shivering bodies.

It was summer when I first went to Ada. Bronzed bodies shimmered under a punishing sun, and youths splashed at the water’s edge. We hopped from café parasol to café parasol drinking coke and seeking islands of shade. Melting into comfortable divans, we watched the world flip-flop by, before hiring bikes and free-wheeling along the lanes of the park at a speed that evaporated the sweat from our faces and cooled us down.

My first gaze from the heights of Avala came during an autumn day of bright sun but chill air, when hiking along the wooded paths was marked by faint clouds of mist from our breaths. I took the elevator ride to the top of the tower thinking I’d arrive in a large room – only to walk past the elevator doors and find myself standing beside a wall of glass and a very visible drop of many hundreds of meters to the ground below. Great view – but knee trembling for those uncomfortable with heights.

Given that the title of this article is the ‘Royal Palace Belgrade’, you may wonder why I have not mentioned the place as yet?

Well, this narrative follows chronologically my explorations of the ‘sights’ of Belgrade and the Royal Palace never interested me during my early days in the city..

Visits to the Royal Palace are often included in tours to the Royal Grounds, and labelled as tours of the ‘White Palace’ (the other palace on these grounds). Photos of the White Palace aren’t inspiring, and having seen many stately homes in the UK, those photos were enough to put me off taking the tour for a long time during my time in Belgrade.

Which is a shame, because its a must-see tourist destination which I did eventually make my way to.

Situated on the hills above Belgrade, I adored the wooded grounds upon my first glimpse of them. As our minibus approached the palace, shafts of light from a spring sun penetrated the boughs of the trees and marked our way.

We saw the White Palace that day, a severe neo-Palladian structure, built in the 1930’s and used by both Tito and Slobodan Milosevic when in power. Sporting a vast ‘chequered floor’ stateroom (known as the black and white salon), a royal dining room and a golden salon furnished with rococo furniture, this whilte columned building impressed me.

It was the Royal Palace that awed me, however.

Sporting a façade made of white marble mined from the Adriatic island of Brac (which was also used for the White House in Washington DC), the Royal Palace is small but gorgeous. My jaw dropped as I wandered around. Carpets, tapestries, Serbian folk motifs and frescoes competed to ensure every space pleased the eye.

Decorated in (what I learned was) the Renaissance and Baroque style, authentic furniture and paintings greeted me at every step and reinforced the message of splendour and wealth.

The billiard room and cinema in the basement, had me daydreaming just how I would spend my time if I lived (as does still the Serbian Royal Family) within these walls.

If you visit Belgrade, there are many places you should visit – but make sure the Royal palace is not be the last!

The Cyrillic Alphabet As Political Act

So Laura, seriously. Why didn’t you start learning Cyrillic sooner?

Zing!

should have bitten the bullet and taken a Serbian language class at a university as soon as we arrived in mid-2010. I should have committed to driving 30 minutes to one-hour each way (thanks to cluster-fuck bridge-construction traffic into Belgrade), rushing home to feed my infant, while playing with my toddler.

Hell, I should have even been able to get tons of studying done. What better moment than middle-of-the-night bottle feedings?

Alphabet_Laura-Dennis-300x225

Mommy’s homework

True, so true. Because the best time to tackle a new, very difficult language, is when one is sleep-deprived, culture shocked, and juggling two little kids.

may have believed Cyrillic was “just a phase” …

The truth is, I resisted learning Cyrillic initially because I took the “dual-lettering” (words are often written in Cyrillic and Latin) in malls and stores to mean that Serbia was on its way to “European-ize” itself, as it attempts to join the E.U. [No, I’m not an idiot. It’s just that the complexities of Balkan history and culture were fairly limitednonexistent in terms of American social studies education. And Western media, exemplified by the “All Serbs are war criminals” stereotype.

So anyway, Cyrillic as a phase? Um, not so much.

Reality check: Cyrillic is the alphabet of the Serbian language. While the West may lump ethnicities together, creating “Serbo-Croatian” dictionaries, locals will tell you that there is no such thing as a language called Serbo-Croatian. [I have nothing against Croatians, heck I was raised Catholic!]

Serbian is a language distinct from Croatian. (Let’s be real here, they’re verysimilar). Several words are different, and dialects and accents vary. But. Thealphabet of Serbian is Cyrillic, and the alphabet of Croatian is Latin.

Rebel Serbs, really?

The difference in alphabet is not to be taken lightly.

In February, thousands of Croats rallied against a new law to display Cyrillic Signs in Vukovar, which is now a part of Croatia, but has a large ethnic Serb population. According to Reuters, Vukovar is “a town destroyed in the 1991-95 war with rebel Serbs.”

vukovar_Laura-Dennis-300x206

WARNING: I may be more nationalistic now than some Serbs. I may be a foreigner and truly have no beef against anyone because of their ethnicity, but I do have opinions … If you are 100% sure that the American media reporting of the break-up of Yugoslavia in the 1990s was balanced and unbiased, skip this section, please. I wouldn’t want to risk inadvertantly un-washing-someone’s brain.

Another quote from the Reuters article that exemplifies the Western perspective on the Balkan conflict

… the easternmost town of Vukovar, which many Croats still see as a symbol of destruction and suffering brought on by the Serb rebellion against Croatia’s independence from Yugoslavia. [boldface is mine.]

To clarify … the above referenced “rebel Serbs,” and the “Serb rebellion” … these were Yugoslav citizens. If they carried a passport, it was for Yugoslavia. People of Serb ethnicity were fighting to keep Croatia from gaining independence from Yugoslavia.

Stop! Caveat Time: Yes, the Serbs “lost,” yes, there was bad behavior on both sides. (This happens in war.) History is written by the victors, saying who’s a “rebel” versus who was “justified” and a “freedom fighter.”

Imagine for a moment …

Florida_Laura-Dennis-300x262

If Florida declared independence, who would YOU call “rebel”?

Cuban-Americans [insert your mixed American ethnicity of choice] in Florida decided they were fed up (they, too have their reasons) and declare a free and independent Florida. … Would it be appropriate to call U.S. soldiers and citizens who take up arms against those seceding–rebels?

Would we call the ones who are fighting to keep Florida in the U.S., rebels?

Before anyone starts flaming me in the comments Consider this: during the Civil War, the Confederate Army was the Rebel Army, because they were the ones seceding.

Remember the American Revolutionary War? Yep. In that case, our constitutional Founders were Revolutionaries. Those who were remained loyal to the British throne (for whatever reason, surely they had at least one) … were “loyalists,” because they tried to keep the American colonies from gaining freedom.

The rebels were those who wanted to break away.

Cyrillic Alphabet as Political Act

Back to the Balkans …

What happened in Vukovar is that the Social Democratic-led Croatian government sought to implement a law (yes a law that passed by a democratic process). The law allows for Cyrillic public signs in places where there is at least a 1/3 Serb population. A significant number of Croatians (approx 20,000 rallied) have a problem with it.

The Croatian government is attempting to soothe ethnic tensions. … Protesting a law intended to recognize ethnic diversity, a law that your own democratic government carried out? That’s bad juju.

There you have it: Cyrillic is a political act. Ethnic tensions die hard.

Now please excuse me while this quote-un-quote rebel expat (and proud American citizen) takes some time to study her Cyrillic.

*  *  *  *  *

Vukovar protest image. Florida image from freedigitalphotos.net

When Mom And Kid Learn Cyrillic, Guess Who Succeeds Faster?

As I alluded to last week in Expat Confessional – I am barely literate… I am learning Cyrillic, or at least trying to, for the sake of my daughter.

When Danica was 2 1/2, I was determined to make sure she would be “kindergarten ready,” and spent many stressful hours teaching her to write her letters. I started with her name.

Once we were through the Latin alphabet, I had the brilliant idea to show her how to write in Cyrillic.

I know, I know, I’m still operating on the American “push to succeed.” Few other parents here are as actively worried about their child’s academic development. There’s more of a “you’re only a kid once,” and “what kid doesn’t know how to read?”–type of attitude.

First Foray into Cyrillic

She was three when I started on her name in Cyrillic. The first letter, D, is: Д. When I showed it to her, my daughter immediately screamed, “That. is. a. TRIANGLE! That is not my letter,” and stormed off.

It’s a trapezoid, I wanted to say, but knew well enough not to argue.

Two years have passed, and I haven’t pushed the issue further. Now, at Danica’s preschool, they are learning their Cyrillic letters, and within the context of school or from any mommy besides her mommy, she’s fine with learning the Serbian alphabet.

In fact, she now knows how to write her name (in only all caps, hey, you can’t have everything) in both Latin and Cyrillic letters. It’s no easy feat, take a look:

D A N I C A

Д А Н И Ц А

Okay, it’s not sooo different, but notice that you have “N” in Latin and then backwards “N” is an “i” sound, and is written as И in Cyrillic. Luckily, Danica learned her right from her left fairly early so, the “slide” (diagonal line) in N faces right and the “slide” in И faces left.

If all of this is making your head spin, just skip it. I did … going on three years, and I live here.

The Perils of the Mother-Daughter Relationship

One afternoon, Danica’s preschool teacher and I were chatting about home schooling. Because I’m a masochist Just for fun, I asked my daughter, “Would you like to be home schooled? I could be your teacher.” Danica had no words.

Ignoring me, she looked at her teacher and rolled her eyes, as if to say, “Can you believe this shit?” and finally turned to me and simply shook her head, “no.” And that was the end of that.

And so, I’m slowly learning my Cyrillic letters, and I’m looking forward to the day when both Danica and I can read Cyrillic.

That’s the beauty of the completely phonetic aspect of the Serbian language. Whereas in English, a child has to learn the name of the letter, the sound it makes (“A” says aaaa, etc.), and then deal with all of the “exceptions to the rules.” In Cyrillic, once you recognize all your letter-sounds, reading is pretty much a done-deal.

Although, by that time I’m sure Danica is going to be correcting me, as she already does with spoken Serbian. Good times.

This American Walks With You

Alright, no lies from me – I’m writing this while on the brink of exhaustion so I will do my best to make sense. Promise.

Yesterday was March 24. To some people in the world, this was just the fourth day of Spring. And by Spring I mean by technicalities only as most of the world is experiencing crazy cold weather and snow. March 24 is also another day for people here in Serbia. It marks the anniversary of the 1999 NATO bombings that plagued Serbia for 78 days from March 24 – June 10, 1999.

Fourteen years have passed since the bombings started here in Serbia causing havoc, distress, and more pain and suffering than ever deserved. Ninety-nine percent of us foreigners will never understand what Serbs when through during those times. We can try to place ourselves in their places, but we’ll still not comprehend it.

On the night of the 24th, a walk of remembrance was held here in Belgrade. It started from Saint Sava Temple and ended at the demolished Ministry of Defense buildings. Now, the walk was supposed to originally be in silence or close to, with candles lit, and a true solemn atmosphere.

However, that’s not what happened. It turned into a few chants, and a popular song called “Oj Kosovo” was sung. This did upset a few I found out later, and I have to side with them, but what can you do? Oh well.

But I joined this walk with a friend of mine. Another foreigner that’s visiting. She frequents Serbia and is thoroughly educated about everything happening here so it was enjoyable to have her with me on this walk. Many people approached as they heard us speaking English. And contrary to stereotypes, we were welcomed with open arms. Many were kind of intrigued that we were there. They asked our origins. This brought about photos, hugs, thanks, and appreciate from everyone we encountered.

While the event did not go as it was originally organized, it was still nice to see people come out in the absolute frigid weather and remember those who have been lost, and to understand fully “never surrender and never forget.”

If you want to see photos, and get more of a back story about the 1999 NATO bombings, and everything else I’ve got about the 1999 NATO bombings, check out my blog Trek for Truth (http://trekfortruth.com).

Expat Confessional – I’m Barely Literate

Yoo-hoo! Over here! That’s me!  The barely literate American …

Last week in Expat Confessional–3 Ways I Suck at Driving in Serbia, I wrote about nearly hitting various pedestrians what a great driver I actually am. But there’s a fourth thing that impedes my ability to find my way around Belgrade, and that is … The Cyrillic Issue.

What, pray tell, is The Cyrillic Issue?

And why do you insist upon making up phrases for everything?

fish-restaurant_Laura-Dennis-300x300

Sometimes it’s quaint that I can’t read Cyrillic, like when I first arrived in Serbia and wondered if

PECTOPAH

as in PEC-to-pah (which is how I pronounced it in my head) … meant, “fish.” Because the sign said, PECTOPAH with a picture of, you guessed it, a fish. Right.

Months later when my husband asked where I wanted to go for dinner, I said, “Pectopah, you know, that fish restaurant by the river.”

“What the hell is a Pectopah, Laura?” [In point of fact, there a hundred or more “fish restaurants by the river.” It’s hard being my spouse. Understatement of the year.]

And this is what I mean by The Cyrillic Issue. … Because P-E-C-T-O-P-A-H isRestoran, written in Cyrillic. Restoran means RESTAURANT.

Not a proud moment.

Finding my way (poorly) when half the signs are in Cyrillic

When I wrote of the perils of applying my American driving skills to Belgrade traffic, I didn’t even go into the Belgrade Street Sign clusterf**k.

“Old” street names are often in Cyrillic, and generally new (post-1990s messiness) signs use the Latin alphabet.

Additionally, streets have been renamed and renamed, again. After WWII, Tito called a bunch of stuff “Tito-grad,” and Tito-this and Tito-that. Then, after the break-up of Yugoslavia, streets were changed again, presumably to make Serbia appear less “communist dictatorship,” and more “socialist democracy.” Yes, there is a difference.

How you describe the location of something–including the street names used, depends upon how long you’ve lived here, and when and if you ever left.

Oh … you ask, What about google maps? It’s true, the Serbian counterpart, Plan.rs is a lifesaver, IF you can figure out which address to input. You might find “an address” that roughly resembles where you want to go in Plan.rs … written in Latin. When you get to driving there, you may find only Cyrillic street signs.

At these times, I feel as if I’m endeavoring to complete a crossword puzzle while blind-folded with two screaming kids demanding I put on a new movie.  I’m not even good a crossword puzzles.

Instead, people tend to rely on descriptions of where to go and how to get there, like when I needed to figure out how to take my daughter and her friend to gymnastics class:

Do you know such-and-such high school [insert unrecognizable name here]? Yes? Okay, well, the bank down the street from that high school is where you want to turn left.

Then go around behind it, yes, by the dumpsters. [Dumpsters are everywhere, they are not what one might call “distinct” landmarks.] That’s where you’ll find parking. Look for the sign that says “Gimnastika” and you should be fine from there.

Completely fine. Which is why, I made the other mom drive with me the first time. Because you only learn by actually paying attention to the road  doing.

And so, I’ve resigned to remedy my illiteracy. That’s not to say I’ll be able to read Cyrillic street signs fast enough while driving anytime soon. I will have to continue to rely on the Landmark Method, watching for the dark grey run-down building (among all the generally grey concrete buildings) and making a right.

At least I know now how to find a damn restaurant in this country.

*  *  *  *  *

image from freedigitalphotos.net