Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Jolly Old Saint Nikola

Last night we went to our first slava. This is one of my favorite Serbian traditions; every family has a special day to honor a saint and on that day they celebrate by eating A LOT and hanging out with each other. The first night of the slava, the actual day of the saint, is reserved for immediate family. The second day is a chance to invite over extended family and friends. It's also a chance to skip out on work - when a really popular slava comes around, whole businesses close because everyone has the day off.

Vladimir, our friend and trusty language instructor, invited us to day two of his family's slava, honoring St. Nikola. The food was fantastic and it was our first chance to really appreciate home made Serbian cooking (his mom did most of the cooking, and she stayed in the kitchen the whole time we were there). My biggest mistake was not realizing how many courses there were going to be, so I loaded up on the first round. We had:
  1. Pickled peppers, pickles, bread, ajvar, and a salad of tuna, peppers, cabbage, and carrots
  2. Special Serbian beans, stuffed cabbage (wohoo!), more pickled peppers, pickles, and bread
  3. Two enormous trays of smoked fish - scrumptious, but I could only eat one piece after I had pigged out on the salad
  4. Dessert - pastries - yum
Of course, there were wine and sljivovica flowing throughout the evening, and enough people spoke English so we had great conversation. We didn't actually do anything to honor St. Nikola (maybe that happens on the first evening?) but we did get a chance to ask some of our buring questions about Serbia in a relaxed setting.

Vladimir's role was to act as our waiter for the night - as host of the slava, he's responsible for taking care of all our needs. His friends would routinely give him a hard time if they were out of drink. In fact, it's traditional for the host to stand the entire time, which Vladimir did right up until people started leaving (around 1 AM). It was a fantastic evening, and a unique glimpse into real Serbian life.

Dan heard a story about a German guy who decided he wanted to become Serbian. He converted to the Orthodox Church, was baptised, and then had to pick a slava. When he asked the priest for advice, the priest recommended St. John, because there's a St. John's day every month. Dan told this joke at dinner last night, and everyone cracked up at the idea of picking a slava.

Because it's also holiday time for us, we fly home this Friday. I'll return to blogger-land some time after the new year. Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 14, 2005


So, I'm supposed to be working on a paper I promised for an upcoming conference of librarians. It's something I really need to finish before I fly home for the holidays (eight days and a wake up) but here I am, blogging. Who else out there blogs to procrastinate? Raise your hands!

This is what's on my mind. People ask us all the time how I reacted when I heard about moving to Serbia, and I usually say that I wasn't sure quite where it was and didn't know much about the history. Yesterday we were having coffee with a few of Dan's students, and I got the question. And for the first time in ages, I thought about my actual emotional response to the news: excited but also scared to go to a place I didn't know anything about.

I'm sure this is occurring to me because we are going home next week, and we're going to see our families and friends and eat all our favorite foods. As excited as I am about that, it's not like we're leaving the gulag and returning to civilization. I have friends and routines here and I'm really quite happy. I already know that when we leave Serbia at the end of the year, there are things that I'm going to miss. What amazes me is just how quickly we adapt to new situations; despite the cultural differences and the lack of M&Ms, life here is really normal and comfortable for me.

I know when I go home I'm going to be bombarded with the same questions I get here: Do you like Serbia? How is the food? How is the language? How is Serbia different from the USA? It will be interesting to see if my answers for Americans are very different from my answers for Serbians.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Would you like fries with that?

This is our dog, Ben. He really belongs to our landlord, but we like to play with him. His latest toy was a plastic flowerpot he had taken away from one of the flowers. We were worried that bits of plastic were not good for his digestion so we got him squeaking rubber french fries as a replacement. He seems to enjoy the flavor - look at his tail wag!

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Yesterday I gave a talk at the university.

This was big for me, because there were around 70 people there, and I wasn't sure if I would freeze up or not. The vice dean attended, even though he doesn't speak English. It turns out I was full of pep and gave (what I think was) an interesting lecture on motivating kids to read and incorporating read aloud into elementary school English classes. The phrase that got the best reaction from the crowd was "harvested for his organs." This was to explain that teen novels (such as The House of the Scorpion) are not appropriate for nine or ten year olds, no matter how well they read.

One of the professors asked if I would give the same talk to actual elementary school teachers (instead of students that are about to become teachers) after the New Year. Another invited me to her methodics class that afternoon - it turns out she had put together a special lecture as a follow up to mine. I was flattered and pleased to know that I wasn't just rambling on for my own benefit.

Dan gave me a Kinder egg as a prize. He said eggs are a pagan symbol of new beginnings and now I have "academic gravitas." Kinder eggs (also known as Kinder Surprise) are like Cadbury cream eggs, but instead of being filled with gooey sugar, they have a prize inside! I got two little plastic ghosts. They're guarding my pencil cup.

Also, last night we had no electricity for a few hours. Not the first time this has happened, but it was the first time when we actually needed lights to see. We lit the one candle we had, made dinner on our gas burner, and went to bed early. Dan lit the candle with a flaming napkin that he ignited on the burner. Then, instead of putting the napkin in the sink and turning on the faucet, he waved it around in the air to try to extinguish it. Fortunately we did not burn the house down. Have added flashlights to the shopping list.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Who would have thought CNN could be cool?

I'm only a recent convert to the Daily Show for the simple reason that I didn't have cable until right before we moved here. So for two weeks I basked in the glory of regular viewings, and then we skipped town.

Late on Saturday nights and midafternoon on Sundays, CNN World runs "The Daily Show: Global Edition." This was an amazing find. From what we can tell, it's the best bits from the previous week stuck together and introduced by Jon. Thank you, CNN.