Hajde! The heart of the Balkans is waiting for you

Sitting in a “kafana” – the traditional Serbian place where to eat and drink – I can’t help relaxing. The atmosphere envelops me in a warm embrace, while outside there is still the snow and a few meters away the lake of Zlatibor is frozen.

The waiter comes to take my order, and I take my beloved pljeskavica (meat burger), with paradajz sa sirom (tomato salad served with delicious white chees on the top) and, of course, my new best friend, kaymak – yes, it is always a cheese-. My accent and some grammatical mistakes immediately make clear to the man that I am a foreigner, but he keeps very kindly -and smiling- asking me if I can repeat the order.

The customers of the restaurant, hearing me and my colleagues Elisa and Tsvetomira speaking half in Italian and half in English, look at us curiously. I don’t know if because of the comic situation -I am barefoot and I wear the typical handmade slippers (my shoe broke on the snow) – or because they try to understand the reason we are speaking more languages at the same time.

This fact allows me to reflect on our experience as volunteers of Peace Civil Corps here in Serbia. We “pretend” to be Italians, but in our group volunteering in Užice, I am half Italian and half Slovak, Salvatore is Italian/Brazilian, Tsvetomira is Bulgarian… In short, we are fully Italians for our stereotypical attitude (let’s say we are a bit “noisy” :P).

All this to say that our group makes me think of how lucky we are to take part in an educational experience in a country that is the crossroads between East and West. It’s called Serbia, but in reality everything here smells of multiculturalism: from the sweets of Turkish origin, to words that remind me of my Albania (hajde!), to coffee that is a mixture between Balkans and my Slovakia.

Belgrade proudly revoke the Austro-Hungarian Empire, while Užice -less crowded but still alive-, surrounded by the mountains, reminds me of an innocent natural soul of the Balkans. There, the virgin and untamed nature, which you have to know how to respect, will give you the fresh mountain air, the immaculate white of the snow, the freshest water I have ever tasted.

So…hajde! – let’s go! – to Serbia! A country still little known, whose name still recalls in the minds of many people many hesitations and fears due to the mistakes of the past. And what unites more than nature, food, getting to know local traditions? We are people of one planet, but one thing nobody can take away from us: the curiosity to be part of something bigger.

For me, Serbia is this: the opportunity to get to know the Balkans more easily. When will I be halfway from Bulgaria, Croatia, Bosnia, Montenegro, Kosovo, Albania? When will I feel the air of the East and Central-Eastern Europe again?

There is a reason why I am here instead of being in another project: when fate changes the cards on the table, you try to make the best by using the ones you have in your hands, and enjoy the new adventure!!!


Chiara Silvestri