Despite the fact I spent significant amount of time in Belgrade (situated about 35 km away), I consider Obrenovac my “home” when thinking about my Serbian experience. Everything felt so strangely familiar since the beginning that I kept forgetting the fact I am living abroad. It was extremely hard to leave this place after 5 months and these are some of my immediate impressions I posted at the time:
„So how do you like Obrenovac?“ – the most frequently asked question, usually with a slightly sceptical look on the faces of locals. When I tell them how much I like it here – that expression changes to something among surprise, disbelief and suspicion for madness. But I don´t care ..and I have my reasons.
First of all, I love how quiet and peaceful it is here. I grew up in a quiet neighbourhood of a medium big town and I never really got used to all the noise and rush of the big cities, it sucks out my energy and makes me anxious. After 2 months in Belgrade, Obrenovac felt as such a relief! Don´t get me wrong – Belgrade is great …but Obrenovac is even better! Sometimes I like to just watch the quiet street behind my place from my roof window – simply to enjoy the silence (and omnipresent smell of barbecue from a restaurant nearby). My first impression was that comparing to Belgrade, here everyone has enough time (or even a bit more). Women observing the happening on the street form the windows, men sitting in the cafes, drinking coffee or beer for hours, youngsters occupying the benches of the main square, old people sitting and talking in front of their apartments and whole families on terraces of their houses, everybody relaxed and in good mood.
Secondly (but maybe even more important), I love how nice, friendly and helpful everybody is – let me demonstrate on few examples:
When I asked a man about post office, not only he explained me, but almost took my by the hand and walked all over the main square with me to make sure I´ll find it. What makes it even nicer is, that at the moment I asked him, he was standing in line at local municipality (I have no idea for what) but he didn´t hesitate to leave his place in the line to be my guide.
The other day I went shopping but somehow I didn´t take enough money, only to find out when it was time to pay, so in the end I had to return couple of items – causing some extra work for the lady at the cash counter and delaying whole line of people standing behind me. To fully understand my moment of panic – this kind of situation at the supermarket in Bratislava, capital of Slovakia, almost equals death penalty as everybody constantly seem to be in a terrible hurry (I guess this is the thing about capitals). So I started to apologize to the people around me in my poor Serbian, only to discover, to my astonishment, that nobody seemed to be even slightly upset about waiting for couple of minutes more.
One of my favourite things to do here is training kayak at local Kajak kanu klub in Zabrežje. It is one of those things I always wanted to try, but never found enough time at home. I dare to say that after 2 months of irregular practicing I am not doing that bad. Nevertheless, recently I managed to overestimate my strength by attempting to reach the bridge on Sava river close to Tesla power plant. At one point I was so exhausted that I had to make a stop by one of the river houses (splav). The surprised owner of the „splav“ offered me chair to sit with him for a while, we talked a bit and in the end he told me I am welcome to come again on sunday!
Also, people here will probably try to pay every time you go for a coffee or beer, because you are a guest and everybody wants you to have a good time, but I learned to fight for the right to use my money (not very successfully I have to say). The fact that I am a woman makes it even more difficult, since guys here still have that old-fashioned (but very sweet) sense of gentlemanhood.
This was just to illustrate a little bit how nice are people from Obrenovac. Although I am a bit worried that the locals won´t find all this in any way special (and therefore my confession won´t be fully understood), it is just that after 8 years of living in Bratislava, I learned not to take kindness for granted and I want them to know how much I appreciate it.
Still, that´s not all. I love quiet and beautiful places like Zabrežje and Zabran, I think I would never get tired of Sava river and especially sunsets behind Tesla power plant. I love how people and stray dogs live here together in perfect harmony. I love the spring smell of linden trees all throughout the town. I love the toy riding horses for rent at the main square – they make me wish I was a little girl again! I like how people simply don´t care about traffic lights (without anybody getting hurt), how they use horn to greet each other, or just for fun. I love how people park their cars in the middle of the street just to check their phone or to wait for somebody (just kidding about that one – it is f*cking irritating, especially when you ride a bike!) But everything feels so natural and comfortable here that in fact, there are moments when I am just walking in the city, lost in my thoughts, that I completely forget that I am not home (until I catch a glimpse of Serbian again).
Nevertheless, I am not saying that everything was perfect and I didn´t have any hard moments. On the contrary. To be honest, it´s not easy to be a foreigner in Obrenovac. First, there is a language barrier. People are not used to speak English (even if they do speak it quite well) and especially, they are not used to speak English among each other in the presence of foreigner, and that many times made me feel excluded from the conversation. I think sometimes they just don´t realize, in few cases I´d even say they just don´t care. Luckily I met some people that made an exception to this generalization. And the positive side of this is that these difficulties made me focus on learning (understanding) Serbian even more.
Second and maybe the hardest thing for me was to find out that most people are simply not willing to invest time and effort into really getting to know me and to built any kind of deeper relationship since I only came here for 3 months. And I can´t really blame them, there is a point, it is just not easy to be in this position, especially if you are all alone in another country – at least sometimes you need more than just smiles, politeness and small talk. On the other hand, when you do find people willing to offer more than that (and I was lucky enough to meet a few of them) in the end it just breaks your heart to leave this place.. So last, but not least – this is also to all those people who made my time in Obrenovac so special – I can´t thank you enough, I am missing you already!