Contributed by Cole Johnson. Check out more of their posts from this summer here.
After being in Belgrade for approximately a month, I have started to look beyond the conventional offerings of the city and culture. From the daily stops at the local bakery to the pickup soccer games at the local high school, I am beginning to behave more like a foreign resident than a tourist. Obviously the language barrier disarms me to some extent, but I now know what to do in most situations. Barring the one time I sat down in a paid bus service without knowing you have to have a pre-purchased ticket, tough, my routine has been rarely interrupted. Being able to successfully plug in headphones and zone out when you are making your morning journey to work is actually a personal source of pride for me. I no longer hesitate in social situations and am not actively seeking friends.
At work I have now established myself within the non-profit building (not quite an office) as the funny American with the weird haircut. I go grab coffee with the others during lunch break and I even meet up for dinner sometimes to check out new venues and restaurants around town. Last weekend I went to a female Serbian rap concert headlined by the boisterous Mimi Mercedes. Not my cup of tea, but a great experience nonetheless. To be fair, however, my conversations over the past couple of weeks have not lost their argumentative undertones. At this point it may be that I lead conversations towards issues like nationality, cultural preferences and the like, but I honestly believe that Serbians and some of the migrants I have interacted with don’t feel uncomfortable talking about more confrontational issues.
At work, a 25-year-old refugee I met who plans on going to Luxembourg explained to me how Pakistan feels about Afghanistan, the U.S., and Russia. He was the head of a student political group in Pakistan, and he felt the need to describe his interpretations of certain political relationships. As I continued asking questions about Pakistan to show my interest, he brought up the death of Osama bin Laden. He believed our actions to be a major overstep and a breach of trust, and I replied by backing down from an escalated argument. For many of the migrants and Serbians living in Belgrade, U.S. foreign policy is an evil subject. Fortunately, many people here are intelligent enough to dissociate me from the U.S. military’s actions (not that I disagree with them). Occasionally some people tell me that the U.S. loves to destabilize and hurt their country. Despite my desire to defend my nationality, I realize that responding with counter arguments is really ineffective when your opponent has no intentions of compromising. I love the work I am doing at Miksaliste, and in spite the occasional confrontations, it is very rewarding and entertaining.