Susan in Bosnia part 7/8 ?????
I don’t think that the concept of round trip tickets was made for people like me. I usually know where I am going but I do not always know when I am coming back and from where.
I was supposed to be in the Serb entity of Bosnia-Hercegovina today for work, But guess what???? This wandering girl is two borders away from Bosnia. I
am in Budapest, Hungary and won’t be back in Bosnia until next year.
My convoluted linguistic life
When I tried to explain to my former Hungarian professors why I am in Budapest, I realized how convoluted my life sounds to most people, including
my close friends and family members. I am in Budapest
because on Monday I had to take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) for
my application to Journalism School in the US. I live in Sarajevo. I crossed two borders to get to Budapest, where I had lived three years ago and
studied Hungarian. I took a test in English at the same Budapest university I had attended in order to apply for a scholarship to study Arabic and journalism in
California next year. (It was hard enough to take the stupid exam in
English, I couldn’t imagine how much worse my score would have been if the exam had been in Hungarian, which I barely speak.)
I got a rude awakening upon my arrival in Budapest. I read my email and got a very casual email from my boss’s boss telling me that part of my contract
for work in Bosnia has been cancelled due to funding problems and that I didn’t need to be back at work until next year. This is just to add to my anger, because the NGO I am working for was supposed to pay me 2 months ago and still has not sent me my money.
So what does Susan do? No, she does not use the return
portion of her train and bus tickets getting her back to Bosnia. With her
financial situation approaching insolvency, no guide book for the Balkans
and two weeks of free time, she decides to head south. Basically, I looked at
the weather map and saw that the warmest places on the Balkan Peninsula
are Athens and Istanbul. Compared to the freezing (-1 to -3 Celsius)
weather in Hungary, Romania, Yugoslavia and Bulgaria, Athens at 15 C and
Istanbul at 11 C are steaming. This Californian is south bound because
she needs to thaw in the remaining Balkan sun. I think I will go to Belgrade
for the weekend and be there for the elections and then head to Istanbul
via Sofia, Bulgaria.
Do I have the words CIA spy written on my forehead???
I was kidding a few months ago at my being annoyed that
people think I am a spy. But, on Monday a short interrogation at the
Yugoslav embassy made me wonder how suspicious my profile really is. The man who
gave out the application form for the visas took an interest in my wanting
a Yugoslav multi entry visa. When he saw that I was born in Russia and carry
a US passport, he waved my passport at me and said, “Ne dobro” (Not good.) I asked him why and he said me why I had a US passport if I was Russian and I explained that I have been living in the US for over 20 years. He frowned and stated in a mix of Serbian and Russian, “Russia is the best country in the world, you should live there.” Welcome to Serbian ethnic nationalism! I smiled at him and then he asked me if I worked
for the US government. I said no and that I worked as an economist for an
Internet company in California. (A lie.) He asked the name of the company and I made
one up. Then he asked me how it was that I spoke Serbian, I
told him that I studied it at the university. Telling him that I spoke his
language because I live and work in Bosnia helping Moslem and Croat refugees
get jobs in the Serb entity of Bosnia would NOT have been wise. Especially since
those refugees left because of Serb ethnic cleansing during the war. I
guess my profile to suspecting border guards looks pretty bad. IF they
take a close look at the stamps in my passport, they
will see how long I have been in the region and might wonder. Anyway, the
consul did not care about my past and gave me a double transit visa
permitting me to stop in Belgrade on my way to Turkey and on my way back to
Bosnia. (I told him I was coming back to Budapest.)
I will try to avoid the Balkan Express trains, I took one midnight Budapest-Belgrade-Thessaloniki-Istanbul express to Belgrade three years ago and it was one of the worst traveling experiences I have ever had. As I got on the old train with graffiti all over it, some old women instructed me to not go to the compartment I had reserved because it was too dangerous. The Yugoslav mafia was occupying those compartments as they
were taking a lot of contraband goods into Yugoslavia. Those old women
locked their cabin with a chain so that the mafiosos would not break into
their compartment in the middle of the night and steal their stuff. The train
was not heated and I froze. At the border, the train stopped just for the
mafiosos to unload their goods. My back hurt so much from trying to sleep
in the cold in any uncomfortable position that when I got to Belgrade my
hosts had to buy some medicine for me. Luckily on the way back, I caught
the nice InterCity train en route to Vienna. I will take the same train
I think I will go to Belgrade tomorrow, but with me anything is possible. I would love to go to Transylvania again, but the cold is repelling me. Istanbul has been on my wish list for years and I am thrilled to be going there.
Budapest is great and I am very happy to be back in this city which I have missed so much. I went to my favorite bathhouse and walked everywhere. The
city is more commercialized and expensive than previously. I wonder how many Hungarians can afford all of these shopping centers and Western stores. The
salaries have remained low, $200-$250 a month, while the prices are slowly approaching Western European levels.
When I get back to Bosnia, I will write more about my work. I love it, apart from all of these bureaucratic and financial problems I am enduring. I am glad I am doing economic development work and not democracy work. I would feel like a huge hypocrite if I where in Bosnia teaching about democracy when I come from a country which calls
itself a great democracy but throws out votes in Florida and did not give people like me
enough time to vote from abroad. Needless to say, I hate it when people
bring up the subject of the US elections, what a tragedy.
I think I have enough money to get me to Istanbul and back to Sarajevo. My Balkan train pass, which I bought six months ago, may still be valid and I will try to use it. I couldn’t use it before because I could not get a visa for Yugoslavia.
If anyone has any contacts in Bulgaria or Greece,
please let me know.
So next time I buy a round trip ticket I should think