“Chris and Lana, really, if you need anything at all, please let us help you. Anything at all.”
It is so easy to utter these words in passing, but an entirely different thing to put them into action, and everyone I meet in Serbia wants to help. Seems that I receive a similar offer every day, from every new acquaintance, always offered with a sincere smile.
To be completely honest, initially when we met our new friends, I almost disregarded their offers to help. I am so used to the American way of 10+ hour work days, hurried lunches, long commutes, slapping on makeup in the car, cramming in a workout, inadequate hours of sleep, grabbing a coffee on the run, take out dinners, never enough time in the day. While I was used to getting similar offers in America, I never seemed to take anyone up on them . . . why bother, they would just be too busy. I know the same could have been said about myself; I was so good at over scheduling myself that I hardly had time to breathe let alone help a friend out. I think there is so much that I can learn from the Serbian way of life.
The first week we arrived, I could not find clothing hangers anywhere, so Lela walked with me to the Chinese store and helped me check out with the appropriate amount of money. I kept thanking her over and over again, and her only response was “ohh, it was nothing, so please stop saying thank you!” To her it was “nothing,” but to me, it was everything.
After about three months and 20 trips to the police station, Chris received his Serbian visa. The police station here is a circus, but that can be saved for another post. The important thing to know is that Chris had received his visa and that meant that I could finally begin the long process of obtaining one for myself. I found myself stuck between a rock and a hard place. The police were telling me that I must have a Serbian bank account before they would give me a visa, and the banks were telling me that I could not open a bank account until I had a visa and had lived in Serbia for a year. Does that make any sense to you? Yeah, me either.
Last Wednesday, Chris came home early and we set off in search of a large local bank,hoping that they would bend the rules just a bit to appease the police. We found the bank, and then found that they closed at 3:00. It was 3:10. It would just have to be put off for one more day. We walked past Plato Books on our way home, and found Marko sitting down and enjoying a cup of coffee. He had just finished a 7-hour day at the café, changed his clothes, and was about to walk home. Marko asked where we had been, and Chris explained our visa/bank situation.
Without hesitation, Marko stood up and said that he would show us where there was another branch of the same bank in the city center. We all walked to the bank together and discovered that the central branch was open until 8:00pm! Marko opened the door and announced that he would stay with us and help us try to open an account. I did not want to inconvenience him, so I said we would try to open an account on our own. Nope, he was not going to let us go it alone. He quickly found the appropriate person and explained our visa/bank situation.There were a lot of phone calls, questioning looks, and hurried questions in Serbian. I tried to grab a few words here and there, and realized that even if I had gotten up on the table and danced a gig, or waved my hands all over the place, I would never have been able to communicate with the bank.No one at the bank spoke even broken English, but Marko was there, and he did what we could not do on our own.
After about an hour, I walked out of the bank with an account and all of the documents that the police had requested. We needed Marko. Without him, our trip to the bank would have resulted in a lot of frustration, tears and no bank account.
I kept thanking Marko over and over again. I thanked him so much that he stopped me and said, “Lana, PLEASE don’t thank me anymore. Please. It’s nothing really. Anyone would do that for you. I told you that we would help you with anything that you needed.”
And he meant it when he said it.
I know you hate to hear it, Marko, but thanks again! Thank you for reminding me of the importance of DOING what you say.