Tuesday, January 17, 2012

An Overdue Update

When I don't update this blog, it's not always because I'm lazy. Sometimes it's because I have things going on. (Usually it's both).

Since my last update, I've gone through a Slava, two Christmases, two New Year's Eves, and moved in with my second homestay family.

 A Slava is a family Saint-day. Each Serb family has one, even if they aren't practicing members of the Serbian Orthodox Church. During a family's Slava, the kids are officially excused from school and the parents from work. This time is meant to be spent with family-- essentially, a personalized mini-Thanksgiving. There are plenty of elaborate Slava ceremonies, but for their Slava of Sveti Nikola (Saint Nicholas) my host family kept it pretty plain with a small gathering at grandmother's apartment.. Before the meal, Ivan and his brother broke the special Slava bread, which was made with the four "C"s emblem baked into the top. We then proceeded to eat as much food as we could, but of course by the end there was still enough food for a second feast.

I got sick with some sort of stomach bug right before Christmas, so I missed our final Serbian classes in Novi Sad. Fortunately, I was mostly recovered by Christmas Eve, so I could enjoy yet another feast, this time at the other grandparents' flat.

I should take a minute and talk about Christmases. For those of us who aren't Serbian, Christmas always means December 25th. End of story.

Not so here. The Serbian Orthodox Church follows the Julian calendar, while civil society here, like the rest of the westernized world, follows the Gregorian calendar. The calendars are nearly identical in structure, but due to minor differences in the rule regarding leap years, the Julian calendar is now 13 days later than the Gregorian calendar. This means that Serbian Christmas falls on January 7th. Orthodox and ethnic Serb families generally celebrate only this Christmas.

My host mother's family isn't totally Serb though-- her father is Catholic. So, on December 24th and 25th, "regular" Christmas Eve and Day, he brought us over to celebrate. I also got to skype with my parents and my mom's side of the family in Texas, and despite the fact that we were 5800 miles away, we were still together for Christmas. I also received the greatest gift of all: Cheerwine. Back in North Carolina, I had about one can of the world's greatest soda per day, and I was greatly deprived. Fortunately, though the Cheerwine company doesn't really know where Serbia is, my dad was able to ship me some. I shared with my homestay family, and the taste lived up to my memories.

Carolina in my mind (and my glass)

The next week was my final week working for CZOR. Since it was getting to be the season of Slavas, Christmases, and New Year's Eves, things were mostly winding down. The volunteers had an end-of-the-year evaluation/party, and the next day the CZOR employees had a goodbye gathering for me. I already miss everyone there!

That week and the week following were filled with goodbyes. I met more wonderful people in Novi Sad than I had time to give proper goodbyes, but I know I'll be back briefly in June, if not earlier! Besides, someday I want to come back for Exit Festival.

For New Year's Eve, I went to the main square and listened to Zvonko Bogdan, a Vojvodinian folk musician, followed by Bajaga, a moderately famous rocker from the ex-Yu scene. The crowd was enormous-- there wasn't room to walk anywhere in the square, or in any of the roads feeding into it. At midnight, without any countdown or warning, fireworks went off from the town hall. For five or six minutes the air was continuously lit with an unbreaking stream of explosions, some of which got a little low for comfort.

While I'm talking about fireworks, I should take a moment and talk about firecrackers. I first heard petarde, as they're called in Serbian, around December 27th. Some kids were lighting them, tossing them into the park, and running away to watch the bang. People told me scare stories about kids who'd light them and put them in your hood, and I saw in the news that some Belgrade boy had seriously damaged his hand with a firecracker, but in my experience with petarde, they're mostly just surprising and annoying. The frequency of the petarde only increased until on New Year's Eve, you couldn't go more than a few minutes without hearing a pop from somewhere. Their usage decreased during the days between New Year's Day and Serbian Christmas, but they made a reprise around January 7th.

Serbian Christmas is a time to take your explosives seriously! Don't just take it from me-- here's a political cartoon from the newspaper Blic (Blitz, or Flash) from January 6th, Serbian Christmas Eve:

Woman 1: Are you going to some war again?
Woman 2: Or maybe to overthrow the government?
Man: Of course not! We're getting ready for Christmas.

[[Expanding more about Serbian Christmas later-- give me a little more time]]

On Monday morning, January 9th, after saying goodbye to all my Novosadski friends, and after a long night packing, I piled my luggage into a van and said goodbye to Dušan, Nikola, Sandra, and Ivan. Well, that's not quite accurate. We said "vidimo se," meaning "we'll see each other." As excited as I am for Niš, I already miss the Lukić family, and can't wait to see them again in June.

All of us exhausted, BYPNovi Sad anymore-- right now, Vojvodina has neither hills nor snow.

I'll update this post later with pictures and a description of Serbian Christmas. Afterwards I'll give some impressions of Niš, my new family, and my new work.

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