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You've Got Company

9:46 am

Belgrade, Serbia

I hear the raucous sounds of the family now staying in the adjoining apartment this morning. Up until two days ago I had this entire unit, nestled in the heart of Zemun all to myself. But when I returned home last night I found a Serbian family of four quietly eating their supper in the kitchen.

I politely introduced myself as the mother did the same. She told me her family had once lived in Belgrade but now called Melbourne home. She smiled as I introduced myself to her son, daughter, and a woman who I gathered was her sister. “Where are you from?” she asked in a heavy accent. “New York,” I replied. “Oh,” she said.

I began to make my way to my bedroom when she asked if her family had been too loud the night before. “My son get married,” she said. “No, not at all. No problem.” I assured her. She seemed relieved. “Congratulations. That’s great,” I added before heading to bed.

This morning the kitchen sounds like a festive place. There is laughter, Serbian music, and I can smell the smoke of cigarettes permeating through my room. It will be quiet the shock for them when they see me make my way past to meet my friend Magdalena again for a quick coffee. I just hope I don’t disturb their fun.

Last night I also had a wonderful meal at Kafana Question Mark, the oldest restaurant in Serbia, built nearly 200 years ago. I sat outside underneath a canopy as rain and an unseasonable wind tried to usher me inside. “Is it weird if I sit here?” I’d asked the hostess. “No. Sit where you like,” she told me.

Eventually the weather became too stubborn and eating alone on the sidewalk started to look a bit like a scene, or some vague act of defiance, or maybe both. The waiters insisted I sit inside where I met other patrons and a terrific Serbian band playing what I gathered were traditional songs from long ago. It was a delightful surprise.

After dinner I decided to call it a night. The stormy evening hadn’t dampened my spirits, just my socks and hair. Still, it was enough to entice me to a warm shower on the other side of town. I paid nearly $12 for my cab ride home and knew instantly that I’d been had. Still, my take on Serbian people was not the least tainted. They, like most, are good at heart.

My friend Lilli, a 21-year old adventurer from Australia who I met while volunteering in Nepal a few years ago shared this with me: “Oh I'm gonna have to think about it and let you know! But without any thought I’d probably say "don't stress the small stuff" it's simple and not very cluey but spot on I reckon.”

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