Belgrade: City of Wonderful People
There are rare times in life when you get the opportunity to be surprised in a way that touches your heart and warms your soul, this happened to me in Serbia.
I made off for Belgrade all by myself, no one went with me and there was no one to meet me there. I went with some misguided intention of finding myself or some other search for self definition that I can’t seem to put into words. I did not entirely know what I was expecting to find there. Sure, I had studied the history and was relatively familiar with the region, by no means an expert, but I followed some impulse that was raging within me at the time in January when I booked a ticket.
My response? shit shit shit! And then I found myself speeding towards my departure date…petrified at my own audacity.
I spent the better part of six weeks learning the language, or some semblance of it, in preparation.
Upon arriving, the young man from my hostel that had arranged to pick me up met me at the airport. We became instant friends. Indeed, his profound kindness and warmth was humbling. It so happened that he called a friend of his and the two of them spent the evening driving me around Belgrade, discussing history, democracy and love while showing me the sights and tastes of the city. I was overwhelmed by their openness and willingness to show me their country and their lives.
They dropped me off at my hostel at the end of the night and invited me to their home the next evening for a party they would be having with all of their primary school friends. I accepted the invitation and wondered at the fact that I had come to an unknown country all alone and did not feel alone at all.
I practiced my Serbian and made a few mistakes as I went. Imagine my surprise when I ordered a glass of wine at a Kafana and was met with a whole bottle of wine instead.
Luckily, two neighbors at my hostel, who were from Sarajevo, walked into the kafana right at that moment, so I could share my bottle with still more new friends.
The party that evening was incredible. My new
friends shared stories of their lives in Serbia, their experiences as exchange students in Oklahoma (which made me cringe with embarrassment but laugh hysterically as well), and quizzed my ability to read and write in cyrillic (it turns out I taught myself well). They went on to teach me a number of Serbian curses and took out the guitar and sang beautiful, traditional Serbian songs. At the end of the night we went to the store and the boys made omlets for everyone.
That evening they stayed up up all night speaking and laughing with me and then drove me to the bus station where I was to catch my bus to Skopje, Macedonia. By this point I was in tears. I did not know what to expect from Belgrade, I had no real aim or preconceived notion of the country, but I did not expect such warmth and hospitality. The young people of Belgrade opened up their hearts and their home to me, for this I am forever grateful. More than that, Belgrade will always have a special place in my heart, a heart that often finds itself disillusioned but for moments like these when my optimism is validated and my love for the world grows.