Serbia is beautiful. It’s a small Slavic country with a rich and complicated history that has taken them to where they are now — open, welcoming, and always working to be better. I’ve been looking forward to this trip for six months. Now that I am finally here, with my feet planted firmly on Serbian soil, it is so much more than I could’ve imagined.
The first thing I witnessed was the deep compassion Serbians have for one another. As my airplane-mates and I waited for our luggage, there was a terrible tumbling sound coming from the escalator. An elderly gentleman lost his footing and fell, head-over-heels, down the moving steps. Several Serbians dropped their own baggage, phones, glasses, to run and help the man up. They then escorted him to a seat, his head bleeding, and waited with him until his family could be located (they were waiting for him outside of customs), and the medics came. It is rare today to see so many people jump to another’s aid in our communities. While scary, the moment — the compassion and the community — washed over me and I knew I would learn so much on this short, five day trip.
My host, Milan Dakić, the Deputy Ombudsman in charge of Children’s Rights, picked me up and we started the hour-long journey from the airport to Novi Sad. He told me of the history of his nation, and the many languages spoken in his city. As he spoke, I had the pleasure of taking in the beauty along the motorway.
Once in Novi Sad, after dropping my things at the hotel, Hotel Veliki, an inviting and comfortable hotel near the town center, we went walking through the city in search of lunch. The streets here are narrow and there are cars, but few. The streets were lined with cafes and shops and packed with people on this warm, clear Sunday.
The thing that struck me immediately was the various people about. There were children in groups, teenagers lounging in the park and at the cafès, middle-aged folks eating, and older community members sitting together on benches. Everyone was out, enjoying the weather and taking advantage of this beautiful Sunday to be together. I didn’t see a single phone. I saw people chatting and enjoying one another’s company. I saw generations sharing the same space. I saw families, and couples with dogs. I saw joy and happiness. I saw connection.
Milan and I enjoyed a leisurely lunch then I returned to the hotel for a rest after my long journey from Spokane to Belgrade. I then had the pleasure of meeting the city Ombudsman, Zoran Paclović, and Milan’s wife, Daniela, for a drink and wonderful conversation about migrations and how to best meet the needs of our immigrant children and their families in our communities.
Today was the start of so much learning. I can already tell Serbia is an example for all of us. I can’t wait to share all of it with you.