Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Clara's Travel Tales: The Belgrade Edition 2

Later we went out and had  a lovely time sightseeing, until late in the evening when she mentioned that she still didn't know what time she was starting work the next day and needed to text her "stupid" boss. Seeing that she was getting stressed because she found out she had no more credit, and trying to protect myself by sidestepping any more crises/outbursts, I offered my phone (even though I knew it would cost me loads, Serbia being outside the EU). She immediately turned to me and said it was her life and I should please stop trying to control her. Seeing a repeat of the previous incidences on the horizon, I beat a hasty retreat and said I was sorry, but it was apparently too late! She  started going on about how again my life wasn't a real life, I tried to hard to control everyone, was judgemental, stupid and a lousy guest. The last one was particularly shocking to hear because on the way, she'd told me how she thought I was really modest and easy to host because I wanted nothing, and that she was so happy I'd come because she'd been so lonely and my visit her made her house a home. I was so upset that I made the terrible mistake of telling her I'd leave her to calm down. Crying, I walked a few steps ahead and found a bench to sit down then a few minutes later, looked up to see that she was gone!

Homeless, and later at the colourful reception of my hostel

My first thought was that she'd just gone to buy credit, because I honestly couldn't fathom her leaving me there just like that. Initially I looked everywhere for her and tried to call multiple times, then calmly found myself a bench and began to read, until with the passing hours, it slowly dawned on me that my friend had truly abandoned me in a park in the middle of Belgrade. Here I was in a huge place (the old city), lost, with no internet connection and no idea of how to get home. I tried calling again several times and sending messages, but she'd turned off her phone. As the time went on, I became more and more worried (also about her because I was sure something bad had happened. She surely couldn't have abandoned me like that!).  I thought about calling my Instagram friend but didn't want to bother them, so I called T without telling him my predicament, and hearing his voice calmed me enough to gather myself together and find a solution.

Thank God my guardian angel was awake as usual, because I heard 2 boys; a Serbian with his Somalian (Somali!) friend, speaking English. I went up to them and explained my situation and as luck would have it, one of them worked at a hostel which he called, arranged a room and directed me to even though it was his day off! Thank God I always have some cash as well as my passport on me in strange countries!!! Thankful, I set about finding the hotel even though I knew it would be a challenge with the street names being written in the Cyrillic alphabet.  Still thanks to the kindness and great English skill of the Serbians, I was able to find my way after only one or two wrong turns.

Side-note, I have a "bad" habit of carrying my passport, tickets/boarding passes and a certain amount of cash with me whenever I'm in a foreign country. I sometimes worry about things getting lost/stolen, but my theory is that one must always have the minimum required to get the hell out of any country in case of trouble. For the first time in my life, I can say that my obsessiveness paid off, as thanks to having my ID and some cash, I was able to pay for one night's accommodation.

Imagine my surprise when with WiFi I finally send my friend a message on Facebook telling her where I was and begging her to kindly bring my luggage to town with her the next day (she lives outside Belgrade but was scheduled to work the next day), only for her to reply saying that she wouldn't. She said it my responsibility as an adult to sort that out myself, and that she didn't like me as a person. Then added that I should come get my stuff from her place at 9am the next day, without giving me the address. In spite of several phone calls and further texts/facebook messages, she ignored me and then in the morning finally replied with a one line message giving me her address and the bus number with no further directions.

Thank God for the kind Serbians who decided to look after me, starting from the bus drivers who refused my payments to the one who tried to call my friend with his own phone. The elderly women who tried to help me, and being unable to speak English, found a younger woman who in turn left her baby at home with her mum and drove me round Umka asking people for my friend and eventually through lots of Facebook sleuthing (turning on her data and spending money on me!) led us to her. Even though I didn't tell anyone the events of the night before, they all found it really strange that she'd asked me, a foreigner, to come to her place but wasn't answering her phone.

When I finally got there, she'd packed my stuff and left it at the gate, even giving me back the present I brought for her. She sat at the door in the sun, wearing her coat all buttoned up in 30°C weather. The whole set-up felt so bizarre that I actually felt some pity for her, especially because she looked so alone and terrified. I sha picked up my stuff and said goodbye, but she couldn't bring herself to even look at me or respond. After getting back to my hostel, I decided to contact her on Facebook again because everything was so weird, but she'd either deleted me or her account. Either way I had/have no more contact with her, which is sad because I'm worried about her, and also more practically because as a result of her not letting me past the gate, I left my lovely jacket there. I still honestly don't understand what happened, because all that set off the last "fight" was me offering her my phone. Was that really such a horrible controlling thing to do? I don't know... At the moment, all I feel is an overwhelming sense of confusion, tinged with sadness at the double loss of my friend. One because she's change so irrevocably, and also because this is clearly the end of what had been a long and wonderful friendship.

Oh and not to end this on a negative note, Belgrade is incredibly beautiful and the people so warm and friendly that I felt I was in Nigeria, sometimes! And for the first time ever, I got to use my German in a new context. On my way back to Belgrade after picking up my stuff, I met an elderly man at the bus stop. He was rather curious about me, but we couldn't converse because he spoke no English and my Serbian is currently sadly only limited to thank you, yes and ok. He kept trying though, until frustrated, a German word slipped out! He had in fact travelled a lot around Europe and even worked in Germany for 15 or 50years (the exact figure was lost in translation). And he was so pleased to hear I spoke German that he chatted with me all the way back, pointed out many important landmarks, and went out of his way to show me my hostel. Just amazing! The chance to "meet" new people and create human connections is really why I enjoy learning languages.

Clara's Travel Tales: The Belgrade Edition 1

I wrote this about 6weeks ago, while I was gallivanting around Eastern Europe, so the political landscape might have changed since then... I spent about 10days in Serbia and Hungary, and as usual had some pretty weird things happen to me. I thought it'd make more sense to make it into a 3-part account, so anyway here's the second one. Enjoy.
I wanted to go somewhere cool to celebrate writing my German exams, so I decided, having exchanged a few emails with one of my oldest friends from Paris who had returned to her home country of Serbia, to visit Belgrade. I really wanted to see her again as we'd been quite close in Paris, and it is easier for me to go than it is for her to come to me (I don't need a visa/other financial considerations etc.), we decided that I'd do the travelling.
A few days before my trip, I heard about the main train station in Budapest closing (yes the very same one from which I was supposed to travel to Belgrade) because of the refugee crisis, and with every new report I saw, things seemed to be deteriorating rapidly along the Hungary/Serbia border. I became a bit worried about having to deal with the situation, and wondered if it would even be possible for me to travel, but you know I like living on the edge, so I decided to continue with my plans. I checked in and printed my boarding passes only to discover that I had spelt my own name wrong while booking! The ticket cost only 55€, but I found out that it would cost £110 (almost 140€!) to sort out the problem. I was so upset that I almost cancelled the entire trip, because I felt everything happening was probably a sign that I should stay home. However, thinking of all the money I'd already spent made me decide to try one last thing and look online for how my fellow silly travellers had solved the problem. Luckily I found a blog where someone advised I contact Ryanair on twitter, as apparently contacting them on social media makes them respond faster. Anyway I did that, and it was just as I was told, with the extra benefit of them resolving the problem for free. Happy at this wonderful turn of events, I decided I was going to have a lovely time with my friend and enjoy my holiday to the maximum, as I knew I probably wouldn't be visiting any more "exotic" locations this year. Little did I know what was to come...
Ok, so let me start with the good. The weather, amazing! It was almost always around the 30°C mark and sunny, a real treat and a change from the Brussels I'd left behind. Other good things include meeting my Instagram friend and her family, the friendly helpful people and of course their beautiful 

The good; friends, fun and beautiful architecture
The bad was the constant staring. Although it wasn't hostile at all and seemed more from curiosity  than anything else, it still felt a bit uncomfortable. Sometimes, one just wants to blend in with the crowd ya know? Yeah that wasn't too possible in this case. In fact I stood out like a sore thumb, but my "exoticness" helped me later on, so I guess I shouldn't complain too much!

Now to the downright ugly.
Right from the first day, I noticed my friend seemed different. She repeatedly apologised about how everything was so "third-worldly", talked about how everyone were peasants and basically slagged off the country. I found the new M very difficult to handle because she seemed so hard and judgemental.

Anyway the problem really started on the second day when I met the friend from Instagram. M had instructed my friend to bring me back by 7pm, but we got lost and ended up arriving about 10mins later (actually 7mins, I checked) and she was so upset! She said lots of horrible things about my friend and her family, that they were stupid peasants, a family made of a controlling husband, a depressed mother and a spoilt child. I was shocked because she'd only met them for 5minutes and I though her reaction was a bit exaggerated! She later apologised though, and told me she'd been upset because she thought I'd been kidnapped and trafficked to Albania and then Italy. I again found this extremely weird, but also a bit sweet when idiot that I am, I should have seen the signs.

A little later on the bus back home, I randomly said something about hoping I could talk to T before he went to bed, without keeping him up too late. Imagine my surprise when she went off on me, telling me that what T and I have is an unhealthy relationship. She said we had a bad mutual mother-child dependence thing going on, and then basically talked rubbish about us being together! I found it so strange and upsetting that I shut up (and down) from the stress of it all. In any case, I didn't want to bring even more attention to myself on the bus, because people were already staring at me and that only worsened when M started shouting at me on the bus.

Later, still hurt by what I felt was an unjust and uncalled for assault on me and my relationship, I excused myself politely and  told her I was tired and needed to sleep. Once I got into the room, I called T because I needed to talk to someone, plus I really needed to calm down a bit. Anyway just after our conversation she came into the room, ostensibly to apologise, and asked me what had been said (T had asked me to ask her if she knew the few Serbian words he knew). I replied jokingly that he was showing off with the words he'd learnt from an old friend, however she seized on one of my phrases and said I was always talking about the same thing, completely bizarre and untrue because this was the first time anything like this conversation ever came up!

She said I was obsessed and that my life was not a life at all, I was living in a fairytale make-believe world. Then went on to add that I was judgemental and unfair and wicked. To top it all, she said T was only a boyfriend temporarily, and that things would soon change! The cherry on the cake was when she started talked badly about my family; my mum, my sisters (she was friends with them too!), and even my lovely MIL, no one was safe from her verbal attack. Again, to say I was flabbergasted would be understating the point. I had (still don't understand even after lots of reflection) no clue why she'd be so vehement and venomous about such a banal comment. It was all so strange, especially because she kept "advising" me on how to have a better non-dependant relationship! I tried to tell her in a diplomatic way that it was none of her business, by repeatedly saying "that's your opinion, and I understand, but don't necessarily agree with you". Yes I am British and that how we disagree. In the end she said she couldn't bear talking to or even looking at me any more, and went off in a sulk into the other room to sleep. Confused at the events of the last couple of days, and shocked at the new M, I was sleepless until the early hours of the morning.

Day 3, I got up and stayed in the room because I was tired and to be honest wasn't sure how to deal with this new persona. Imagine my surprise when she came to me and started apologising! She said she was sorry for being a Jekyll and Hyde, and said she was stressed because her life was in flux after all the therapy she'd had in the last 2years. Said she'd always been too sensitive (she was indeed a lovely sensitive person when I knew her!) and that she'd now unfortunately gone too far the other way and needed to find the right balance. She then thanked me for helping her see how she'd started according to her, "losing her humanity", and begged me to forgive her. Finally she told me all the mean things she'd said to me were actually directed at herself. I still felt very upset, but forgave her even though I privately thought it was a bit much that she kept saying she'd never forgive herself.

***This is getting a bit long so I think I'll break it up into 2parts :)