The contrast could not be stronger. The three of us, having a lovely writing retreat in the heart of Belgrade, and knowing at the same time that we walked near the station and hit the heart of the refugee crisis.
What would you like to hear?
Would you like to hear about the joy of looking forward to spending the weekend with two other women in a bed and breakfast? The journey to it? The packed days leading towards it? Dear, oh dear.
Would you like to hear how we arrived at a network of tiny streets and had some serious trouble finding the place, not to mention getting the car parked there? The construction of the area was definitely planned in a time when the use of cars was not a consideration. Never mind. We entered the cute little place and felt at home straight away.
We discovered very soon that we were a good team. Jen loved to cook. As she is on a four-week traveling tour and plays the guest most of the time, she was happy to take over the kitchen. Megan was great at cleaning up and keeping the little place organized, and I was awfully good at playing the lazy guest, having a two-day break of daily cores in the kitchen and our family household.
Would you like to hear how we discussed ideas, put a bowl in the middle of the table filled with prompts, and then finally missed the time to work on them? Now, back home, our fourteen-year-old rushed with them to her bedroom, threw a few straight into the bin, and started working on the others.
Would you like to hear how we took the tram and went downtown? We got some cash—dinari—and got used to the code of the Cyrillic alphabet on streets signs and everything else. We saw the slums where Roma are living. We took a lunch break on the street, enjoying some fresh kebab. We saw the young, parentless refugee teenage boys on the streets of Belgrade and pondered the confused feelings we, passersby, were left behind with.
Would you like to hear how we saw the signs on the building, SVI SMO MIGRANTI—we are all refugees—reminding its readers of the Yugoslavian war, which is still fresh in the memories of the local people. On another wall, we saw the sign “No one is illegal,” but it was being erased with white paint. It was still visible but less welcoming.
Would you like to hear how we experienced the cold of a February Saturday and were happy to go back to a warm place? About the endless inspiring chatting and writing that we did together? We found a nice balance in it—the inspiration of someone cooking quietly and someone else throwing a question in the air, trying to refine a sentence, the instant clear answer to it, and the joy of working together.
On the way home, we saw the situation changing with more refugees wandering outside of Belgrade and all the way to the border. At some point, there were even a few hundred of them living in otherwise empty flats with laundry on the line and boys playing football on a piece of asphalt. After that, it was only a few kilometers until the border, and the refugees became fewer—just one, not able to pass through. The police are keeping an eye out for free-walking refugees. Once we crossed the border, it was over. In passing the Serbian- Croatian border, we entered the European Union. And we, as the EU, seem to have ended this welcome with a stop sign.
Looking back, it was very good to be together. We took the best ideas home and are now working -at distance- on an article.
Here is another article about refugees stuck in Belgrade: We have seen it now with our own eyes. And that alone, leaves us with very mixed feelings.
Related earlier posts:
A challenge: refugees in Europe (Aug, 2015)
A challenge: refugees in Europe (2) (Dec, 2105)