Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Clara's Travel Tales: The Belgrade Edition 2

Later we went out and had  a lovely time sightseeing, until late in the evening when she mentioned that she still didn't know what time she was starting work the next day and needed to text her "stupid" boss. Seeing that she was getting stressed because she found out she had no more credit, and trying to protect myself by sidestepping any more crises/outbursts, I offered my phone (even though I knew it would cost me loads, Serbia being outside the EU). She immediately turned to me and said it was her life and I should please stop trying to control her. Seeing a repeat of the previous incidences on the horizon, I beat a hasty retreat and said I was sorry, but it was apparently too late! She  started going on about how again my life wasn't a real life, I tried to hard to control everyone, was judgemental, stupid and a lousy guest. The last one was particularly shocking to hear because on the way, she'd told me how she thought I was really modest and easy to host because I wanted nothing, and that she was so happy I'd come because she'd been so lonely and my visit her made her house a home. I was so upset that I made the terrible mistake of telling her I'd leave her to calm down. Crying, I walked a few steps ahead and found a bench to sit down then a few minutes later, looked up to see that she was gone!

Homeless, and later at the colourful reception of my hostel

My first thought was that she'd just gone to buy credit, because I honestly couldn't fathom her leaving me there just like that. Initially I looked everywhere for her and tried to call multiple times, then calmly found myself a bench and began to read, until with the passing hours, it slowly dawned on me that my friend had truly abandoned me in a park in the middle of Belgrade. Here I was in a huge place (the old city), lost, with no internet connection and no idea of how to get home. I tried calling again several times and sending messages, but she'd turned off her phone. As the time went on, I became more and more worried (also about her because I was sure something bad had happened. She surely couldn't have abandoned me like that!).  I thought about calling my Instagram friend but didn't want to bother them, so I called T without telling him my predicament, and hearing his voice calmed me enough to gather myself together and find a solution.

Thank God my guardian angel was awake as usual, because I heard 2 boys; a Serbian with his Somalian (Somali!) friend, speaking English. I went up to them and explained my situation and as luck would have it, one of them worked at a hostel which he called, arranged a room and directed me to even though it was his day off! Thank God I always have some cash as well as my passport on me in strange countries!!! Thankful, I set about finding the hotel even though I knew it would be a challenge with the street names being written in the Cyrillic alphabet.  Still thanks to the kindness and great English skill of the Serbians, I was able to find my way after only one or two wrong turns.

Side-note, I have a "bad" habit of carrying my passport, tickets/boarding passes and a certain amount of cash with me whenever I'm in a foreign country. I sometimes worry about things getting lost/stolen, but my theory is that one must always have the minimum required to get the hell out of any country in case of trouble. For the first time in my life, I can say that my obsessiveness paid off, as thanks to having my ID and some cash, I was able to pay for one night's accommodation.

Imagine my surprise when with WiFi I finally send my friend a message on Facebook telling her where I was and begging her to kindly bring my luggage to town with her the next day (she lives outside Belgrade but was scheduled to work the next day), only for her to reply saying that she wouldn't. She said it my responsibility as an adult to sort that out myself, and that she didn't like me as a person. Then added that I should come get my stuff from her place at 9am the next day, without giving me the address. In spite of several phone calls and further texts/facebook messages, she ignored me and then in the morning finally replied with a one line message giving me her address and the bus number with no further directions.

Thank God for the kind Serbians who decided to look after me, starting from the bus drivers who refused my payments to the one who tried to call my friend with his own phone. The elderly women who tried to help me, and being unable to speak English, found a younger woman who in turn left her baby at home with her mum and drove me round Umka asking people for my friend and eventually through lots of Facebook sleuthing (turning on her data and spending money on me!) led us to her. Even though I didn't tell anyone the events of the night before, they all found it really strange that she'd asked me, a foreigner, to come to her place but wasn't answering her phone.

When I finally got there, she'd packed my stuff and left it at the gate, even giving me back the present I brought for her. She sat at the door in the sun, wearing her coat all buttoned up in 30°C weather. The whole set-up felt so bizarre that I actually felt some pity for her, especially because she looked so alone and terrified. I sha picked up my stuff and said goodbye, but she couldn't bring herself to even look at me or respond. After getting back to my hostel, I decided to contact her on Facebook again because everything was so weird, but she'd either deleted me or her account. Either way I had/have no more contact with her, which is sad because I'm worried about her, and also more practically because as a result of her not letting me past the gate, I left my lovely jacket there. I still honestly don't understand what happened, because all that set off the last "fight" was me offering her my phone. Was that really such a horrible controlling thing to do? I don't know... At the moment, all I feel is an overwhelming sense of confusion, tinged with sadness at the double loss of my friend. One because she's change so irrevocably, and also because this is clearly the end of what had been a long and wonderful friendship.

Oh and not to end this on a negative note, Belgrade is incredibly beautiful and the people so warm and friendly that I felt I was in Nigeria, sometimes! And for the first time ever, I got to use my German in a new context. On my way back to Belgrade after picking up my stuff, I met an elderly man at the bus stop. He was rather curious about me, but we couldn't converse because he spoke no English and my Serbian is currently sadly only limited to thank you, yes and ok. He kept trying though, until frustrated, a German word slipped out! He had in fact travelled a lot around Europe and even worked in Germany for 15 or 50years (the exact figure was lost in translation). And he was so pleased to hear I spoke German that he chatted with me all the way back, pointed out many important landmarks, and went out of his way to show me my hostel. Just amazing! The chance to "meet" new people and create human connections is really why I enjoy learning languages.


  1. Wowzers!!! I actually feel sorry for your friend. She sounds like she is going through some personal problems of her own and she is just transferring aggression. I had something similar happen to me but in my case the friend came to stay with me and things got weird and my friend sort of acted the way your friend did. It sucks to lose a friend but sometimes it is for the best. God is removing trouble from your life lol

  2. Your friend is obviously going through some life crisis and is shutting people out. This is just sad.

    She is horrible for throwing you out like that

  3. She is definitely in a dark place and doesn't realise she needs help and needs to draw people closer not push them away. If you are close to her family j would alert them to this change to keep an eye on her

  4. I had wondered about this from the time you posted it on Instagram. I am a big advocate of supporting people when they are experiencing their lows but I am also an advocate of knowing where to step off. Your friend obviously needs help but not from you. I hope she gets it. Your role , in my humble view, would be to send her kind , loving thoughts so that she gets better. Thanks for sharing this experience.

    Natural Nigerian

  5. Wow. It is unfortunate that your friend is going through such a hard time and she couldn't trust you enough to confide in you.
    It could have be worse and she could have gotten violent or something else. Keep her in your prayers as that is the only thing you can do.
    I also always go everywhere with my passport and some cash and your story has reinforced my resolve to always do that.

  6. Mental illness is real - this isnt just a phase for her, something bigger is going on. Thank God you are safe.