The magic of discovery…

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I spent a good deal of last night writing a blog entry about magic, it’s intangible and inexplicable air of possibility, and how I have spent the past three and a half years trying to understand the particular brand I find of it here in the Balkans. Looking over my words I have yet again not been able to capture it, yet I continue to jump across magical moments here as though they were stepping stones. I’ve built bridges between places and people but also enjoyed settling for long periods of time in this town of Kotor that I have singled out so particularly. I move around within its stone walls as if it were my home and I wasn’t some strange Australian girl who had weasled her way in and disrupted their lives repeatedly.

I keep collecting intangible moments here, wondering if it’s possible to continue sampling this place indefinitely or if my luck will eventually run out, but as I look around at these smiling faces, hearing their hearty laughter, I know the memories of their magic will last within me. I know this because I have been back here only a few nights and it feels like a fortunate lifetime.

If there is one paragraph I can rescue from my scrapped blog post from last night it is this one: Can I take these people with me? As I watch them all I love them even more and no photo or video could capture them as they are in this moment, in this place, at this very point in time. Their magic is in the faces they pull at each other in jest, their booming voices, and the way they somehow let me be part of all this in a way that seems like an exception to the rule. I am a foreigner but somehow I also belong to their family. They call me an honorary Montenegrin, although I will never know how I earned this title.

The music is always better when Vlado plays it. The company is always better with my Montenegrin girl gang around. The night is always better when a song, a person, or a passing hug in an empty street reminds you of why it is you keep coming back. Travellers all ponder whether to extend their stay here without being able to put their finger on why, but I know why. This place is something to be felt, not abstractly described. These people are to be enjoyed, not analysed.

That point applies to every aspect of this entire country though. I spent an entire day on 360 Monte Travel Agency’s Great Montenegro Tour just two days ago and I have been trying and failing to capture its essence in words. Though I have wonderful photos (as you can see), the truth is they don’t demonstrate the feeling that this didn’t really feel like a tour to me rather than a day out with friends. Slavko was a wonderful host, leading us around this beautiful country and making us laugh. It was a social day as much as it was informative and interesting, and while we were all tired by the end noone seemed to be in a rush to get back to town either as we enjoyed one final stop for coffee and cake.

I know I have to start planning my exit strategy, but I am glad I can take my time doing it at a snail’s pace, and as I do so I will soak it all in. This town. These people. While I know I will be once again overwhelmed when it is time to leave I will never take the unique magic of this place for granted. It may be a long time until I feel its embrace again, because I don’t know what the universe has in store for me from here, but as always I hope this is just one more incredible window in time and not the last.

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Behind green windows.

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Photograph by Erika Kochanski.

I have a new roommate in the hostel tonight named, Yahya. He is a refugee from Syria trying to make his way to Germany to hopefully use his contacts there to find work. A highly skilled medical engineer, days ago he left his family behind to take an extremely risky journey to escape from Syria, via Turkey, onto Greece and then into Serbia through Macedonia. He speaks to me so he can practice his English, which he had to learn in secret because it is not something that is taught back home. He apologises profrusely for his “bad English” but I can understand him perfectly fine as he shows me pictures of the dinghy he crossed into Greece on where he spent six hours shoveling out water and navigating the person who aided their crossing with his phone GPS. Even still, he stopped to take a picture of the sunrise.

Yahya shows me pictures of refugee camps, and of his children Hani and Aziz back in Syria, and although he has literally trudged across multiple countries in recent days, asks me if I need any privacy in the dorm room as he is “happy to leave if I need” because he doesn’t want me to feel uncomfortable because he knows his home country has a “bad reputation”.

His hope is to settle in Germany where they will likely want his skills and even then it will take him at least a year before he can expect to bring his children and family over safely. He does not want to risk their lives as he risked his own. A year or more before he gets to see them again, only holding on to digital pictures of them on his phone to remind him what he is doing all this for. They’re absolutely beautiful children, and you can see he loves them and is proud to show me their smiling faces. He apologises again for his poor English, but as far as I’m concerned he need not apologise. As the storm rages outside I wonder how it must have felt to cross all those countless kilometres through the elements and how tonight he ended up, in all places, on the bunk bed on the other side of my room. He risks all of this for his children’s future because he wants a better life for them away from all of the terrifying things going on there. Yahya hopes change comes for the good people of his country who are caught in the middle and don’t have the education he was fortunate enough to have and the opportunity to perhaps build a better life elsewhere.

Tomorrow he hopes to continue his journey towards Austria where he hopes to get on a train, and here I was this morning wondering how I was going to get to the airport on Wednesday. I am in awe of this man, this refugee, and his sincerity. Mostly I am so pleased that he shared his story with me and allowed me to write it, and touched that he is still able to smile even with all he has faced and the uncertainty that still lies ahead for him. Makes you think, doesn’t it? It should.

Goodluck Yahya.