Serbia was one of the main transition countries on the Balkan route from Middle East to Northern Europe. After the closure of the borders it became home to thousands of refugees. Many people have to sleep rough as there is not enough space to accommodate everyone.
In September 2015, I went to Belgrade and Novisad to meet with friends and organize together social therapeutic workshops. On the way from Belgrade to Novisad, I took the bus.
The bus station is full, clothes hanging on poles, shoes that have been worn out, dusty toes, eyes that look worn out and still alive. What they have seen and how? A mother is stroking her baby, two men are having bread with Nutella, children are sleeping, hair that has not been washed for a long time, metallic piles of a tent come out if a bag. He opens his wallet, 150 euros, is that it?
As I walk our eyes cross. She is around my age wearing a purple cloth around her head and a dress that must have been black and now looks grey. She is sitting on the pavement, around her children, bags and clothes. She looks at me straight in the eyes. The lines of her face are clear. Her mouth becomes a line. We look at each other. And we both stop doing what we are doing. She seems tired, her eyes are bottomless. I am sorry and ashamed- responsible.
What makes us different? Where she will go next? Why I am carrying two suitcases and she has a bag and home with her? Is this little book with the photo and the visa stamp our difference? How come we were born where we were? Where are her friends now? Are they still alive? Will she find a job ever? When? Are these her children, her siblings? What she wanted to become when she was little? Will she ever see her house again?
I think of my great grandmother in her age with children she migrated from Turkey to Greece, her child got born on the ship and died a few months later. She did not choose to move, she was forced to as so many other people during the First World War. She raised a house, a language, a family but then as she was getting older she would shout during the evenings. The villagers said that she was missing her children. My grandad used to call her name during the night until he died. I grew up with its sound, sometimes I still hear it before I go to sleep. Where this trauma is ending? In Hungary, Germany, in a house, a passport centre? Generations later? And how we can make with it something new now?
We still look at each, and our eyes get wet. And then we smile. I don’t know who starts it, it just happens. It’s kind of funny.
People that have survived war, hunger, separation from their families, travelling without nothing do not just need. They can give so much if only we can create with them the chance, the environment to do it. Our lives are different and we are so much the same.