Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Serbia or Bust

After spending more time getting to the airport than I did sitting on the plane, I stood in Belgrade's airport and took a final moment to wonder what I would experience in Serbia. Only weeks before my arrival I had watched on the BBC as people took to the streets surrounding a declaration of independence by Kosovo. Belgrade embodied the pattern of so many European cities in this region - there were old neglected structures giving way to new modernized buildings.

Exploring Belgrade revealed a city teeming with energy: people speak loudly and drivers maneuver their cars in ways that North American's only wish we could get away with at speeds we fear. Just like New Yorker's retreat to Central Park, Serb's and foreigners alike make their way to Kalemegdan, sitting atop the banks of the Sava and Danube Rivers (pictured above). Though I saw very little armed presence in the city (and the American Embassy is now sporting a fresh coat of paint), I am not going to pretend that I grasp the complexity and volume of issues that fuel life in the former Yugoslavia.

We traveled to Kraljevo to meet with a local pastor who helps facilitate the leadership development conferences in Serbia. He is not someone you just meet, but rather experience. Though much shorter than I, he is bursting with life. There was work to be done, yet I feel as though my greatest learning came not via the execution of this work, but through observation and conversation. He took us to his small church (a really packed house) and showed us the window through which rioters had thrown a molotov cocktail. A visual lesson in itself.

3 buses, 1 plane and a 20 minute walk later I returned home to Amber. She greeted me with news of a bee she had trapped in the bedroom under her slipper which needed my immediate attention...yes, she loves me.

Monday, April 14, 2008

In Your Face Nancy Drew!

While bringing the laundry in off the clothes line today, I noticed the resident Lexus pulling up. Sticking my head over the balcony I saw the lady who yelled at us re the BBQ. In a moment of international-man-of-mystery proportion I ran to get a broom and dust pan...

I took off into the main stairwell and began to sweep around our front door. As I swept I kept an eye out to see where the yeller lives. Naturally I ducked back occasionally to avoid detection. Wouldn't you know it, the people in our building who dislike us the most happen to live directly beneath us! Now the question has become do we stomp around or tip toe?

Now that we know where she lives, maybe we can works towards amends.....

Sunday, April 6, 2008

BBQ... What BBQ?

So we went off to church this afternoon leaving our house guest Rod to man the fort. While we were gone another neighbor paid us a visit. There came yet another knock on our door, this one of the angry, pounding variety. Rod calmly answered the door with his biggest smile and politely tried to explain in English that he does not live in this apartment and the people who do aren't home. The man was trying to get in and kept talking about the "Balkon", "BBQ" and "Policia" - this is not a good combo. Anyway, in the two hours that Rod was at home after his experience with one of our neighbors... the police never showed. It just seems so odd to me that someone would come yelling at our door 48 hours after the "incident".

Needless to say when Matthew and I found out about yet another visit... we were both sick to our stomachs. When we arrived home the BBQ was promptly dismantled and loaded into four plastic bags. As I type, it is being walked over to our friends house... she is receiving her new BBQ. There is no evidence that a BBQ ever lived on our balcony.

I know that at some point in the future we are going to laugh at this whole experience... but right now it just seems terrible.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

When BBQ's Fail

So yesterday morning we were still quite grieved by our BBQ experience. We decided to do something to show the whole building that we were sorry for all the fuss. So with broom, dustpan, bucket, bleach, cleaner and two cloths in hand we cleaned the stairwell for the building. While cleaning we got to meet a nice family we had never seen before.

Later that day Matthew was cleaning the balcony as charcoal sludge had poured out of the BBQ following the previous nights dousing of the grill. This led to us meeting our downstairs neighbor as water was dripping onto his balcony. Once he saw we were cleaning, he was okay with the situation. So the meeting of the neighbors continues - in one fashion or another.

BBQ's = Not the way to Make Friends

With summer approaching, we have turned our sights to our balcony intending to make it our summer escape. We have visions of herbs and flowers growing on the balcony rail, 2 patio chairs and a small charcoal BBQ. Last week, inspired by the sunshine, we began to make this dream a reality when we bought a very small charcoal BBQ that would fit our good sized balcony.

We had some concerns over whether BBQ's were allowed on balconies, but none of our Slovak friends protested the idea, and in fact at one friends house (who has a yard we should add), people were burning leaves and wood in giant oil drums. So, we thought we would be okay.

Last night we invited over four friends for the inaugural lighting of the BBQ. Well, shortly after lighting the BBQ I noticed neighbors whom I've never seen before with their heads out their windows. I waved and smiled nicely. A few minutes later our friends arrived. Before they even got their coats off and moved away from the front door, there was a loud, rushed knock. My friend opened the door only to be blasted by a lady, on a cell phone, wearing a house coat and slippers. She spoke too quickly in Slovak for us to understand so our friend intervened and got the the brunt of: "are you idiots? do you think you are in the park having a picnic? I should make a false report of a real fire to the fire company and have you fined. My neighbors called me to say my building was on fire. YOU ARE IDIOTS!". With that we decided the BBQ was not to be.

Matthew went out to pour water over the grill as people were yelling at him from the street. More knocking on the door. This time Amber answered it alone as our company had already been subjected to enough. Two men stood there very angry, but once they realized Amber was foreign they became much nicer and told her we "cannot grill on our balcony" - we were painfully aware of that fact by that point.

So we ate baked chicken instead and had a good evening with our friends, though every time we heard sirens we all paused to see where they were going. Come bed time both Amber and I were feeling a bit heavy in the heart department. We were up until 2:00am unable to sleep. Because our language skills are limited, we have been very deliberate in building relationship within our neighborhood any way we can. We say hello and smile, we hold doors open, we help people carry things up the stairs (no elevator in our building) and the list goes on. It would be awful if this one small event undermines our time here in this apartment building - how awful to be categorized as the foreigners who tried to burn the place down.

We are looking for a way to make amends - door to door apologies are not really an option. Until yesterday we had never met a lot of the neighbors who came swarming and we do not want this first impression to last. Please pray that God would somehow make this whole situation a way for us to build good relationships in this apartment community, especially with the people we never before yesterday.