American Ex-Pat Mommy in Serbia
How can I put this nicely? When I first moved from LA to New Belgrade two years ago, I was a little overwhelmed. I looked at Serbia through a high-minded (I mean, snobby) middle-class American (read: wary of anything different), overprotective (actually, uppity) mommy lens.
Suffice-it-to-say, when I realized I lived in a country in desperate need of an economic boost, a stable infrastructure, and some no-smoking laws, I thought:
What the f— have I done?
And, don’t even get me started on the winters. But, I’ve changed since then. I like living here.
You may be wondering, How did this change come about?
I’m not exactly sure, but the mechanics behind “the change” is what I’m going to write about, here, on this blog. But, I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me backtrack a bit.
Just a few prejudices I clinged to as I started life as an ex-pat mommy:
- If your neighborhood is covered in graffiti, you live in the ghetto.*
- If the “parks” outside your high-rise apartment are overrun by grass, trash and cigarette buts, you live in the ghetto.
- If the stairs and walkway leading to your child’s private preschool are jerri-rigged accidents-waiting-to-happen, you live in the ghetto.
This is an undoctored photo of Danica sitting outside her preschool. Please note over her right shoulder: Broken stairs and a concrete block wedged to keep the top stair from falling over. I kid you not. Also, there’s that graffiti on the wall above her head.
So perhaps it’s evident to some why I FREAKED OUT when I first moved into a nearby building two years ago.
But let me tell you this, I do not live in the ghetto.
It turns out, Blok 63 (Shout-out komšije, What up!) is considered a lovely area of New Belgrade. From my apartment, it’s a short walk to schools, shopping, a famous music school, a farmer’s market, an ice rink, and at least two pools. For nightlife, it’s a ten-minute walk to the river Sava for restaurants and dancing.
My neighboorhood is filled with well-educated Serbian and international families. They have high-powered jobs at domestic and foreign firms, many have lived abroad, and the parents have the same concerns as me about raising our children to be creative, smart, and nice people.
So I’ve realized, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.
This is the underpass used by pedestrians to cross the busy street, Jurija Gagarina. I walk by it nearly every day, and it reminds me to relax a bit. Up until recently, each weekend, the walls would be covered in new graffiti. Then workers would cover the graffiti with layers-upon-layers of white paint.
This cycle went on for two years. … Until …
A group of serious young men–albeit with a variety of tattoos and questionable hygiene–were permitted a day-long, organized tagging event. Now the entire underpass is covered with bright, urban paintings. What’s more, the walls aren’t tagged again each weekend. An eyesore is now a source for in-the-open graffiti art.
So, like I said: If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.
Once I began to accept the realities of living in Serbia, my perspective changed. I started to notice all of the really great things (hello, bi-lingual children!). This first blog was kind of a bitchy one, sorry. In future posts, I’ll tell the good and the bad, and how I’ve begun to assimilate.
But I still don’t smoke.
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You won’t want to miss these future blog toics:
- I thought I wasn’t racist … Until I was accosted by gypsies, oh wait, I mean Romani
- The Case of the Wild Dog Epidemic
- George Bush (the younger) in jail
* I use the term “ghetto” not in a racial way, but a socio-economic one. From wikipedia and Merriam Webster: In modern context, the term ghetto now refers to an overcrowded urban area often associated with specific ethnic or racial populations living below the poverty line. Crime rates in ghettoes are typically higher than in other parts of the city.