Contributed by Alan Makhoul. Check out more of their posts from this summer here.
As someone whose home, place of birth, high school, and life experience all coincide within a 20-mile radius, I find myself cracking a shy, lighthearted smile as I sit staring at a menu written in Serbian, hopelessly searching for English-Serbian cognates. After ordering an entirely random meal, I look up at the street from the plaza where I am having lunch to see a young man walk past wearing what I believe are jean capri cargo shorts – where the heck am I?
To most Americans, Belgrade would not come off as being wildly different from a cosmopolitan U.S. city. Once you got past that Serbian language barrier, there would be only a few remaining differences before you started feeling right at home. To me, however, every difference was palpable. These differences color my Serbian story; they push me to step out of my comfort zone and into the streets of the “White City.”
In the streets of Belgrade, the wafting smell of bread baking in Belgrade’s many bakeries flavors the air. Should you make the sage decision of entering such an establishment, your senses will convince you that it’s not even worth going back to the states. The food here in Serbia is unbelievably savory and delicious. A very hearty diet is eaten here and I have had the pleasure of enjoying quite a few regional traditions, all of which have been incredible. On top of that, exchanging U.S. Dollars into Serbian Dinars essentially puts every eating establishment on the Dollar Menu. Lunch from a street vendor costs around $2 and one can eat dinner at an upscale restaurant for around $10. In all honesty, the food has been my favorite aspect of Serbia so far.
Serbians are, however, what make this country such a gem on the world map. As an American who speaks absolutely no Serbian, I expected to be greeted with a lot of impatience and antipathy. My experience has been nothing but the opposite. My colleagues at the organization where I volunteer, Naša Kuća (“Our House”), have been immensely kind and welcoming, despite the language barrier (I will delve into my volunteer experiences in a later post). Mirana and Luka, the homestay family with which I am living, have welcomed me into their home and treated me like one of their own. Walking around in downtown Belgrade is considered to be very safe and, as a result, nightlife normally lasts late into the night, usually until the sun comes up. Even when I was hopelessly lost in the city someone was there to help me.
Until Next Time,