It's been a good two weeks since I've updated and I am not exactly sure where to start. First of all, all the English teaching fulbrighters were in Zagreb for the week including my dear friend Sarajane and my new dear friends Katie and Dylan who are living in Belgrade. Its funny how being stuck in similar situations can really build a feeling of comradery or family. Maybe it's because were all sort-of fresh out of school, living in new places, I don’t know but it was nice, very nice, to just have a group of people who were really in similar situations and mind sets. And to see an old friend: D ... it made my heart lighter. It takes time for places to feel like home but its nice to know I am really a product of many communities and even when we aren’t interacting in those communities on a daily basis they don't just disappear into dust.
It's Sunday afternoon, my favorite these days. It's my only day of the week when I have zero obligations, except to make time to think a bit about the week and hopefully write a little and read a little. I'm sitting in books and there is some nice classic blues playing and everyone here is reading and studying and the sun is coming in the big front windows. I walked here; enjoying the 60-degree weather wishing it was logical to sit outside on my computer. Last Sunday I went Mirgori, the cemetery there are photos of below.
I went Halloween night with a couple of friends from Zagreb. The cemetery was mostly deserted and the sun had already set. There were waves of lit candles as far as you could see. In many ways it was peaceful and calming. Outside of the cemetery you could buy roasted chestnuts and popcorn, as if one was going to the fair. As we were walking up the hill towards the bus, one of my friends said: "Its not a cemetery tonight, its something different." It wasn't simply about visiting the dead but also seeing how people value lineage here, or honor their dead. Maybe it was because I was in the oldest and most famous cemetery but there was hardly a grave without a candle, even if the grave was over 100 years old. It made me realize I've never even been back to Gramps' grave and what does that mean? For me, the cemetery Halloween wasn't sad because it wasn't about loss but about remembering, and remembering that everyone loses someone. Sometimes when you go to a cemetery to visit a grave, a particular grave, you feel as if you are the only there, the only person mourning and here it was community, someone has moved on but you clearly aren’t the only person who has lost someone and I suppose hopefully when you’ve passed you'll also get a candle on your grave. Maybe this is all a bit morbid to write about my blog but in many ways it was comforting and sweet. As sad as I was about not being home on Halloween I was glad to be strolling through the grave yard, smelling like decomposing leaves and thinking of fall camping trips, and the people in my own life who have passed away but are always present somehow in the stories we tell about them and the parts of ourselves that have been shaped by them.
Monday I went to the cemetery again, this time with the other girls on the Fulbright. Since Monday was the actual holiday the cemetery was packed. People were mulling about and little kids were carrying candles to graves, eating popcorn, eyes wandering about looking into the darkness of the night. Behind the main church there was an immense glowing cross-made of candles and emerging erect right in the center was a crucified Jesus. Between the cross and the church was the grave of Franjo Tudjman-the Croatian nationalist dictator responsible both for ethnic cleansing and also, in some ways, Croatia's independence. People were kneeling at his grave and praying, and the massive cross constructed by prayer candles emitted so much heat as you approached it you felt warm, taking off your jacket, wondering if it was rude or exploitive to take photos. In general the atmosphere felt more circus-like than the night before. The memorials, the graves, the people, the cross, it all seemed extreme, the kind of thing that happens in big-budget Hollywood movies. In addition to all the hubbub there were professional cameras on huge cranes filming the whole thing, the mass, the priests, the people. My favorite however was the old man who circled the cross of candles dressed in a navy suit and shinny dress shoes carrying an old shovel full of dirt. When I first spotted this bald-headed stout fellow I thought, surely they aren't burying someone tonight! I soon realized he was putting out small fires that happened when the candles began to melt plastic or fall over onto a pile of dry leaves. His attention was focused only on the little flames that would sporadically ignite in the center of the cross...a little shuffling of feet and a few minutes later the stout suit sporting man would dump a bit a dirt and keep moving on.
It was also Masa's birthday. We went home and ate some cake (that amela and I made at 8 in the morning! Chocolate ganache! Yum!) and drank some wine and played paper telephone. It was casual and nice and warm.
Tuesday I got a terrible call. Ive waiting to move into an apartment with a friend, Ana, of mine. She called to tell me the deal feel through. I automatically felt panic, then stress, then stupid for thinking I should wait for her to find out the details for sure anyway. But, we all make mistake, right? And as my dad would say, these are anthills in our lives. I've found a new place, not right in the center but in an awesome neighborhood I really like and with someone really nice. It's a brand new apartment and I'll have my own room + Internet and a nice kitchen, all for super cheap! So now you can all come and visit and send me letters :)
On Thursday I went to vukovar with the Youth Initiative on Human Rights. I went to vukovar last time I was here and it was super impact and really was the first time when I was here when the things I had been learning about felt like they had actually happened, that they weren't just stories that existed in books or experiences thought about in academia but rather many people's reality.
This time around it was interesting because I went with people from Serbia and Croatia, people who had more personal feelings about what happened there, or had experiences they could relate to what happened in Vukovar.
TO BE CONTINUED....