The people I met in France are entirely responsible for what happened next! "There's a guy in Serbia, on his own, why don't you do there?". I can remember the conversation that Stef and I had which resulted in our commitment to join No Name Kitchen. 3 days driving later and my piano and my little British car crosses the 8th country border of the trip, out of the European Union and into the tiny town of Šid in Serbia. I learnt so much in Serbia. I learnt to make huge pots of food, to communicate in different ways in order optimise the reach of our organisation. I learnt some Pashto, some Serbo-croatian, a wariness of the police and where to find the best accidentally vegan pastries. I learnt about the brutality of the Croatian border guard, the hoops that need jumping through to get medical treatment if you're a person on the move, and the hopes and dreams of my new friends. Always hopes, despite everything.
"Serbia is bad, but Bosnia is worse. The police, the camps, the whole situation." Stef and I had decided to have the same time frame. This meant we wanted to go somewhere else after Serbia. Bosnia presented itself when No Name Kitchen wanted to set up something new in Bihać. Sounds mad doesn't it? I'm a church organist but seem to be being trusted to start operations in a new place for an organisation we've been with for 2 months. Me, Stef, the piano and the little British car toured Serbia and Kosovo before arriving in the mountain city. Sliding doors had placed us there with a familiar colleague and rather a lot of freedom to find out the need and work towards filling it. I am still amazed at the trust NNK put in us to do this, and amazed that we were able to use the skills we'd learnt to connect with other organisations and people on the move in a way that seemed very much lacking in the city.
I didn't know it was possible to be so stressed and still be able to function. There were a couple of days in Bihać when circumstances were mindblowingly stressful. There is always more to do, always someone we had to say "I'm sorry, we can't help you today." There are always reports to write, articles to pitch, friends to chat with, plans to make, lists and lists of things to do. There was one day in particular where I had a few minutes. I lay on my bed and wept, then dried my face and went back out there. We had already extended our stay for a few more days to try to fit more in.
On our last day, we went to visit the other No Name Kitchen in Velika Kladuša. It was only going to be to drop off some keys. A lovely lunch later and we couldn't resist going on one more distribution. We were greeted with surprise by guys we'd met in Bihac but were now in VK. "Hello! How are you? Bihać!" We had some nice chats while the distribution happened around us, then said our goodbyes to people on the move and volunteer friends. Being able to drive across the Croatian border with our shiny passports is sickening. Our friends stay months and years at the gate of the European Union, living rough, being beaten, not having enough to eat or a safe place to sleep. But it is still better than the alternative of a war-torn country or persecution for what you think or believe.
I am forever changed by the people I've met. As I write this, with a week's distance in the safety of Germany, I wouldn't change a thing about my pandemic experience and I am excited for my new future, which I can see beginning to spread out in front of me. Always do more.
Donate to the work of No Name Kitchen in Bosnia and all the other bases via this link.
Run into the sunset,
Chase the future,
Always be kind."