Throughout the month of March I participated in a YAGM photo challenge on Facebook. I posted pictures following daily prompts but I decided to consolidate all of them here, into one blog post.
I did this challenge because it sounded like a fun and new way to keep sharing my YAGM experience with my sending community, but also because I am finding that it can be very easy to fall into a comfortable routine seven months in. Doing this challenge was a way to make sure I keep stepping out of my bounds, thinking more on topics I maybe haven’t given a second thought to, and to keep forcing me to capture the small, important moments of this year.
Day 1: Your home.
My home is a ground floor flat (apartment) in the city of Belgrade. I live a with another YAGM volunteer (the barred window above the black car is her bedroom) and this place is just the perfect amount of cozy for the two of us.
Day 2: Your primary placement.
My work placement is with a non-profit organization called Center for Youth Integration (CYI). I work in one of the two drop-in centers (DICs) they have in Belgrade that functions as a place to meet the basic needs for kids 5-15 who live on the streets and in Roma settlements. At the DIC, kids can come to shower, get clean clothing, and eat hot meals as well as get help with school work, play games, color, do various craft activities, watch some cartoons, play soccer, check out some YouTube videos, get a hair trim and styled in some fun braids, grab some snacks for home, and many other things.
I get to hang out, share meals, play games, trim fingernails, style hair, color and make crafts, help teach English vocabulary, learn Serbian vocabulary, and help with math and English homework. All in all, a fun, energy filled environment built around the core of building a caring community.
„ДОБРО ДОШЛИ у СВРАТИШТЕ” roughly translates to “Welcome to the Center!” (СВРАТИШТЕ is the Serbian word for the DICs, but google translate says it means “inn” which is not quite accurate, but it tried.)
Day 3: Your cohort.
YAGM uses the word “cohort” to encompass the other volunteers who are also serving in the same region of the world as you and have the same coordinator watching out for you.
My Central Europe cohort has 10 volunteers total, serving throughout Hungary (7) and Serbia (3).
This was the first photo taken of us all as a group. We were in Chicago and had to embark on our first group activity as a cohort— follow the clues to where you will be eating supper together!
Since this was taken we have changed from being strangers to becoming friends and confidants in one another. I’m blessed to be a part of such a fantastic group of servants.
Day 4: Your first friend in your site placement.
I met Anđela on my first day volunteering on my own and it was also her first day volunteering on her own.
After we were both done working with kids at the DIC, we walked to get a coffee and we haven’t stopped going out and catching up since.
About once a week, Angie (as I so lovingly call her in a very American rendition of her name) messages me asking if I want to go check out a free museum exhibit, go hang out at a coffee bar, or even go for a nice walk in the beautiful sunshine.
I am very grateful for her continued efforts to show me her city and pull me out of my homebody tendencies. ❤️
(This is the first photo I took of her, while we were visiting a modern art exhibit in the Belgrade City Museum.)
Day 5: Your place of worship.
I worship in two church communities with regularity— a Slovak lutheran church in Belgrade and a Slovak lutheran church in a small village called Šid.
Pictured is the outside of my church in Belgrade and it’s interior (featuring Pastor Anna, who serves both congregations). And the third picture is a painting of my church in Šid, created by Jan, one of the members of the church!
Day 6: Your favorite place in your placement city.
I wrestled with this day’s photo challenge because I couldn’t decide which place to talk about.
The coffeeshop I visit semi-regularly? The fortress in the city? My bedroom? Too many viable options that have all brought me some of my favorite memories of Belgrade.
I settled on this photo that I took last October, when autumn was in the air and the colors in this park were gorgeous. The empty bench in this photo was where is sat and felt an amazing, incredible moment of peace as I enjoyed my favorite season.
This has become a park I favor because of that one fall day, and whenever I go back for a visit, I am never disappointed.
Day 7: Your local currency.
The currency in Serbia is the Republic of Serbia Dinar (RSD). Roughly, 100 Dinar is 1 US dollar, so doing the mental math of worth is easy for me to do on the fly.
The bills are all beautifully colored and as the value of the bill decreases, the size decreases too! I think that’s kind of cool.
Day 8: Your breakfast.
My breakfasts vary, depending on what kind of mood I am in and how long ago I went grocery shopping.
Lately, my breakfast has been plain, drinkable yogurt (a Serbian staple) topped with some type of granola and honey.
Prijatno! Enjoy your meal!
Day 9: Your fall retreat.
The CE cohort fall retreat happened in the beginning of last November. We all gathered at a vineyard farmhouse in Szálka, Hungary.
The fall retreat was a period of relaxation and rejuvenation for me. We processed our cross-cultural experiences together, we worshiped together, we played games together and communed together. We decorated cookies and made vision boards. We cuddled cats and sat in hammocks. We wrote out affirmations for one another and ate some of the best breakfast foods I have ever had (and still dream about).
It was beautiful and everything I didn’t know I needed at the time, but it truly bolstered me when I was running out of energy for this year abroad.
I spent many moments in this hammock chair, taking in the scenic views, journaling, reading. It was glorious.
Day 10: The thing you miss most from home.
Finding a photo that covers this category was really difficult for me, because the thing I miss most from home isn’t a singular item or a food or a place. It’s all my people.
It’s my people from church and my schools and my home town. It’s my family and friends.
I miss their hugs and the familiarity that comes with being home, from being around people who have spent a lifetime becoming important and significant to me.
I don’t have a picture that encompasses that missing. I don’t have a way to show every single person I love that I miss them and think about them and want to see them again very, very soon.
So I settled on a picture of Jackie, my now passed away puppy, sitting amidst the sunshine and grass and bugs and wind at my farm, waiting for me.
This is my home, and this is what I miss. The people and beloved beings that are waiting for me to journey back home.
Day 11: What you do in your free time.
In my free time, the two things I do most are read and sleep. But I also make time for journaling and playing guitar too.
This makes for a much more interesting picture than my bed at least.
Day 12: Your favorite food(s) in country.
There have been many new and interesting foods brought into my life in the past few months, but one that is standing out most in my mind was this delicious meal of burek.
Burek is a baked filled pastry made from a thin flakey dough. Often they are a savory dish, stuffed with meat or cheese or spinach, but you can also find sweet burek filled with fruits, such as with a cherry filling.
In Serbia, this common Balkan dish is regularly paired with plain drinkable yogurt, which in this image has been poured over the top of my chicken-filled burek.
This was my first time having the yogurt poured directly over the top, which I think has been my favorite way to consume burek. When I have purchased burek and yogurt before, I would just drink the yogurt on the side, directly from the bottle.
Day 13: Something/someone who has challenged you.
Challenges abound as I attempt to live and work and grow in Belgrade, and my daily life includes trying to communicate and build community with children who do not come from the same cultural background as me, nor do we know each other’s language.
This was a task that floored me just mere months ago, a challenge that seemed hopeless from the beginning and felt like something I wasn’t sure I would ever accomplish with any success.
But these resilient, strong and smart kids met that challenge head on, and in doing so, helped me find the courage to do so as well.
They daily challenge me to learn more Serbian, to play and create new games, to learn the realities of their lives and to keep pushing for better, to find joy in the smallest moments of fun.
I have felt so challenged by all the kids I have worked with and will meet in the coming months. They are why I have discovered that you can build community despite a language barrier, despite a cultural barrier, and despite socioeconomic statuses.
Day 14: Your country’s flag/crest.
The current Serbian flag, adopted in 2010, consists of three horizontal stripes red (top), blue (middle), white (bottom) with a crest placed slightly off center. These three colors are used to represent the revolutionary ideas of sovereignty. Red signifies bloodshed during the struggle for freedom, blue denotes the clear sky, and white signifies dazzling bright light.
The Serbian coat of arms represents the Serbian state, displaying a two-headed to white eagle and fleur-de-lis beside each talon, which are considered historic dynastic symbols.
The small red shield on the eagle represents the nation of Serbia and is divided into four equal quarters by a white cross, with a Cyrillic “C” in each corner. The four C’s on the main shield mean Samo Sloga Serbina Spasava (“Only Unity will Save the Serbs”). A real crown is a part of the head of the eagle, which was inspired by the crown of the stars of Serbia.
*all this information came from www.worldatlas.com! Not from my brain.
Day 15: Something that brings you joy in your placement.
I really love to play card and board games, and outside of some awesome cousins and an aunt back home, I don’t ever really get to play games.
At the DIC, a deck of cards showed up and managed to stick around, largely intact. I now have a regular card game of Uno set up to play one on one with a young girl named Zaza because she just learned the rules to the game and loves to play too.
Additionally, a lot of the kids did not know how to shuffle cards, so I have been working to teach them how to shuffle! They have worked so hard to practice and everyday a couple of kids want to show me their growing shuffling skills.
Getting to play cards and share in this community building experience has been one of my favorite continuous moments of joy thus far.
Day 16: Something you are proud of.
For me, one of the scarier parts of moving to Serbia for a year was knowing that I would be living in a culture that does not speak English as its primary language.
I always held this internal belief that I do not have a gift for languages. That learning another language would be extremely difficult for me to do with any kind of success and so I scared myself off from ever really trying.
Don’t get me wrong, I am far far far away from ever being fluent in Serbian, but I’ve learned that language barriers are not insurmountable, that I definitely do have the ability to learn a language. It just requires time, and effort, and practice.
So, I am proud of myself for learning something new about myself, for not letting the fear of living in a non-English speaking culture stop me from living abroad, and I am proud that many, very generous Serbians have commented that I am doing excellently in learning their mother tongue.
Day 17: Something considered good/ bad luck.
I asked two friends to tell me superstitious beliefs for the area, and they shared lots of cool folklore, lucky and unlucky things, etc.
They rattled off a bunch of fun things, but there was one I enjoyed more than the others— it was thought that if you sleep with a book under your pillow you would gain knowledge (osmosis is a thing, maybe this could be plausible too?)
So I jokingly asked them, “Did you guys ever sleep with books under your pillows?”
They look at each other.
They look at me.
… “Yeah but it was in middle school! And normally before exams.”
Some other fun things they shared:
– Always sort your shoes properly in their pairs or you will be in a car accident.
– if your left foot is itchy you will be traveling somewhere, but if your right foot is itchy you will NOT be traveling!
– if you spill coffee you will be getting guests.
– have someone spill water behind you as you leave for good luck, but you can’t turn back or your luck will be broken.
Day 18: Your sending community from the states.
What an impossible task, to even try and gather pictures of all the beautiful humans in my life who support me and are with me through this experience.
I settled for three photographs, trying to symbolize my closest extended family, but it is not enough.
To everyone not pictured, to those who have sent letters, emails, social media messages and well-wishes, who have been checking out my blogs and newsletters, who have even had a passing thought to my wellbeing— you are my sending community.
You’re the support that carries me through the harder days and cheers with me on my successful days.
I cannot find a sufficient thank you to show just how much you all mean to me.
Day 19: Your favorite holiday celebration so far.
My favorite holiday celebration so far was getting to celebrate Christmas Eve.
It was a celebration of community and I felt so welcomed. I was invited into Pr. Anna’s home and was fed delicious food and learned Slovak cultural traditions.
It was a fantastic evening. And you can read more about it here if you are so interested.
Day 20: Someone/something that you are thankful for.
I am thankful for Br2 – Ceramic Studio!
I needed a space in Belgrade to spend time and relax and to get me out of my flat. I needed something to help me create and feel energized in my spare time.
I found that at Br2 along with so much more— I am so beyond thankful!
Day 21: Local flora/plant life.
This question came just in time because flowers are blooming, the grasses are greening, and the sun has been shining— spring is arriving in Belgrade!
This flower was picked from the backyard of the Šid church by the man in the background, Janko, and he handed it to me saying, Happy March 8th!, meaning, Happy Women’s Day!
This is a type of wild violet called Viola alba and they are native to this European region. I only know this thanks to Taylor Walker, who is a plant wizard.
Day 22: What Accompaniment looks like.
Accompaniment is the catch-all phrase for the work of a YAGM volunteer.
Accompaniment, at its simplest, is walking together.
As we walk together we share gifts, we share resources, we share experiences and advice and all the basics of life with one another.
It is based on mutuality and interdependence.
Through this work, through living together and walking together, that is how I am living out God’s mission. My presence and being is enough; my gifts and skill sets are enough; my showing up, even when it isn’t easy, is enough.
Accompaniment can look like many things– getting a coffee, walking to church, arranging flowers, serving a meal, sitting silently on a bus, playing a game, and even eating pretzels together.
Day 23: A goal you have before you leave.
As the winter disappears and the sunshine makes the city come to life, I have a goal to explore more of this city.
I want to visit more places; I want to discover the best cup of coffee; I want to walk down the hidden streets; I want to spend a sunny day by the river.
I go on regular walks down new streets in new directions, getting “lost” (but actually, I always make sure I know which direction leads me back to the main street) and taking pictures of the fun things I see along the way.
I hung this pretty and fun “I Spy” map of Belgrade on my wall as a means of encouragement and as a reminder that my exploration is never over.
Day 24: How you greet people.
The common greeting between you and a friend/someone you are close with is done with a kiss to the right cheek as you come in for a hug. While doing moving in for the kiss/hug, you say, “Ćao!”.
Featured with me in this image is the lovely Ivana, a friend from Zemun church who is an amazing musician. She plays the keyboard for all of our services, and she was willing to record our regular greeting for each other.
I love greeting people here. It’s when I speak my best Serbian, I get to hug people and I learned the technique and grace needed when moving in for a kiss on the cheek.
I’m fully prepared to kiss everyone’s cheek in greeting back home, so be ready! 😚
Day 25: Where you see God.
I see God in many places and ideas and people. But I think the place that humbled me the most is in the people I have met along this journey.
I have been so welcomed, so loved, and so whole heartedly accepted, I almost can’t understand it. People have opened their homes for me, given me small tokens of appreciation, fed me, hugged me.
I feel so blessed by the communities here that have received me.
This photograph is the mother of Pr. Anna. One really long day of multiple worship services and meeting new people ended at her home. We came with Pr. Anna and were told right away to sit down, relax, eat, drink, and just be. At this point I knew very little Serbian and she knows no English, but she sat with us, she spoke slowly and simply, she fed us snacks and fruit and it was a beautiful moment of being so humbled by this woman who doesn’t know me and probably will never see me again.
I see God in that moment.
Day 26: Your primary mode of transportation.
My primary mode of transportation is tied between the public transit system and my very own feet.
Daily I use the buses and city trams to travel to work, but other than that I walk. Once in a while I am lucky to catch a quick car ride from people in my community!
The transit system was definitely a huge insecurity I felt when entering into Belgrade, which was not helped by the fact that the transit system is one giant mystery with very little public resources to help you figure it out, so I relied heavily on my community to give me guidance and advice until I was able to figure bits and pieces out on my own.
Plus, an app called Moovit totally saved my life, as it routes what transit I need to take to get from point A to point B. Thank goodness for modern technology!
Day 27: Selfie with the first person you interact with today.
The first interaction I had today was with a small 5 year old girl who has the biggest smile and gives the best hugs.
As I opened the door to the Drop-in Center, she spotted me and immediately yelled, “DUNA!” (her nickname for me). Before my second step across the threshold, she rushed to give me a huge hug and, I’m not going to lie, that is the absolute best way to start a day of work.
Day 28: Your favorite drink in country.
My favorite drink, outside of my two favorite coffee drinks that I could totally get in the U.S., is definitely medovača.
Medovača is honey rakija— Rakija is a fruit brandy, often made from plums, and it is beloved by all in this region. Two things I enjoy about this drink is that it is sipped, and medovača specifically is a very sweet drink.
I’ve only had it a couple times, but it’s always a nice little drink to share with friends in the evening. The last time I had medovača was with a good friend on my birthday, and we toasted to me turning 23.
Day 29: A daily ritual.
While the physical writing doesn’t happen daily, I at least open and touch and carry my journal every day.
I found journaling my junior year of college and have stuck with this practice in some form or another ever since.
It’s a place to process, to document, and to preserve me, my experiences, and my thoughts.
Sometimes it looks like a daily journal.
Sometimes it looks like a scrapbook.
Sometimes it looks like a planner.
It changes as I change.
And I love it to pieces.
Day 30: Something you will miss most from your placement.
My friends. My community that I have spent months building and growing with. The people I have met and gotten to know this year are the reason my time in Belgrade has been so exceptional.
Trying to name everyone that should be on this list would be exhaustive. But they’re all there, nestled in my heart, and it will be so hard to say goodbye in three months.
Day 31: What makes up your community.
My community is made up by buildings and streets and trees and the people who live in those buildings and travel those streets and sit in the shade of the trees.
It is made up of two rivers that find their meeting ground, and made up of the city that grew and changed around the flowing water. My community is made up of the convergence of culture and history and people who carry differences and similarities and make this place Belgrade.
My community is made up of kindness and hospitality, good food and generous spirits. It is made up of forgiveness and language barriers and lots of honking car horns.
Most importantly, my community is made up of people that welcomed me wholeheartedly and helped me to find a home here.