Mom: Come on! Salad. Please take more!
Me: Thank you, but…
Mom: Please! I made it! Very good!
This mother kept smiling at me as she was filling my plate with a lot of food… just like mine.
The night was perfect and we had the best dinner ever. We dined with a local family in Ada and we talked with them for hours, drinking and eating tasty food. A strong gentleman, who made me think of my father, prepared a spicy barbecue in their backyard. While we were playing Badminton with their girls in the garden, I felt like I was time traveling. I saw myself playing with my little sister: the small one running here and there to hit the shuttlecock, trying hard to level up to her bigger sister. Even if I couldn’t understand what they were saying until a friend translated, I felt the sincere warmth of hospitality and somehow reminded me of home.
I know it sounds like I’m using big words, but I’m sure you felt this instant click with a group, somehow, somewhere. Or I hope you will!
We did so many things… the organizers really did their best: paintball, cooking by the river Tisa, horse riding, archery, dinner with local families, training sessions, meeting local entrepreneurs with small businesses that were trying to survive on the market, games, buying breakfast with dinars. And much more… The story of Istvan, how he started organizing these Youth Exchanges, made me feel respect and admiration for them. They showed us how a group of friends is trying to make the best of what they have and help their community.
I felt my heart racing when we had to turn around and get shot for the first time, to start playing paintball. It made me think of Ceaușescu’s assassination. Behind a strategy game that tests your reflexes and team spirit, it’s a game that makes your breath short and heavy behind a mask, makes you fearful and brave, a killer and a savior. Just like war. However, we ended lying on the grass, under a huge tree, without PTSD. Its branches were convoluted like the paths between languages. Talking with my Greek friend, Magda, finding common words that we both understood in each other’s language, made me realize that connections between nations are as deep as the roots of the chestnut, time only helping them grow deeper under the ground.
We met a tall blonde Robin Hood. A young man started at 35 to do horseback archery and ended up buying a land and transforming it into a training center. Following the target no matter what, he started teaching others the magical ancient connection between man, horse, archery and hunting. Seeing 14 years old boys doing horseback archery made me realize that there is no reason to be fearful and we should all explore our wild nature of playful explorers of the world. The horses were absolutely amazing, they could follow verbal orders, they didn’t need reins that could hurt them. A perfect example of respect and friendship between man and animal.
One of the best experiences was when we went to the local market and had to buy the breakfast for our team with the equivalent in dinars of 7 Euros, without speaking Serbian. We really understood the standard of life and how it is to manage with a certain amount of money, adapting to the country you live in.
From our international nights I learned how to open a bottle of beer with another bottle of beer- Serbian style!!! It’s funny how we ate together, danced and became a colorful family, speaking in all of these languages and respecting each other’s culture. After our cultural nights it was so easy for me to understand that each country has its beauty and all the people have something special and unique. Being able to see this is a privilege that comes from being brave enough to show vulnerability to others!
When you open up, the others might open up too… Exactly when you come back from Zenta to a place full of strangers, you know it becomes a home when they show up at 1 o’clock in the morning, holding a huge pot with food in front of your bus. True story!
“Our first night almost ended and it was just awesome! I’m writing a few words and then I’ll go back downstairs. It’s great to hear laughter in Serbian, Somalian, Bosnian, Italian, Greek, Hungarian and German. Some laughter is strong, some is shy, prolonged like an echo, other a little edgy, or like a waterfall. I started laughing too, alone in the room because it’s just contagious and it makes me giggle inside because the ice-breaking is officially done! After just one day, we started enjoying our differences and see them as spices that help us celebrate humanity and youth – the glue that makes us global citizens.”
My match is burning out so I will end with the first note I made in my journal on this Youth Exchange, knowing for sure we will meet many times (as we already did) and have a great time! Thanks for great company and life talks: Amina, Chrysa, Dalila, Davide, Dora, Fati, Federica, Francesca, Josue, Kaatjie, Kornel, Lorenzo, Maria, Michele, Mirnes, Salvatore, Sopio, Vaso, Zsofi, Theofilos, Akos, Sasha, Istvan, Szucs family. This project had secret friends and life advisors, lavender bags, Cuci Muci, kind letters, ostrich eggs, a burning boat, soul connections, gifts, Pizzica, Georgian dances and a mixed family!
Thanks Kaatje, Chrysa, Dalila and Federica for the photos, Akos, for the beautiful video and the amazing NGOs/ projects that made this experience possible!