Let me explain what I have been up too. As part of the EVS programme, all EVS volunteers that came to Croatia during the last few months should take part of the On Arrival Training that is organized by the Croatian National Agency. It's a great opportunity to meet a lot of people from all around Europe that, just like myself, decided to do their EVS in Croatia. This training took place in a little town that goes by the name of Orahovica, in the local Red Cross facilities. Right away I want to send a couple words of appreciation to all the Red Cross staff and also the trainers that treated us so well during these days of the On Arrival Training, making us feel at home since the first minute: Thank you!
Allow me to rewind a little bit. After leaving Zagreb early in the morning, I spent four and a half hours in the world's slowest train (really, I can run faster than that train!) throughout Slavonija's beautiful plain fields to get to Orahovica. This region of Croatian is worth visiting, it is known by its landscapes, its rich culinary, its wine production, its agricultural sector that represents almost half of Croatia's agricultural land, but probably the most important thing you need to know about Slavonija can be summed up in one word: Polako... polako...
It means "Slowly... slowly". Relax, enjoy yourself, have a cup of coffee. But really, take your time! Is this Slavonija's essence? Perhaps. Or maybe it's just a stereotype, but judging by the "snail train" I'd say that there might be some truthfulness into it. One of my Croatian teachers is not going to like this.. Oprosti Katarina, molim te nemoj me ubiti! :)
Anyways, back to business. The On Arrival Training is something like an official welcome to Croatia. Its purpose is to give the tools for volunteers to make the most of their EVS. During 6 days we engaged in a lot of conversations about the EVS experience, its potential as a volunteer programme, the rights and responsibilities of volunteers and organizations, we were introduced to the Youth Pass, we spoke about how the cultural shock can affect volunteers abroad, and so many other subjects, but I'll spare you the details. You just have to do an EVS and see for yourself! Telling you and living it it's just like seeing the movie and not reading the book. It's just not the same.. the book is always much better.
The best kept memory from this training was the intercultural night. After a real feast of local traditional delights (vegan version for me!), everyone presented interesting facts and some quirks of their own countries and culture. It was very funny to learn some peculiarities that this amazing group of people brought with them. Off the top of my head, I remember the improv theater that the Bulgarian girls did, representing the way Bulgarian guys try to get lucky with the ladies, if you know what I mean, the Czech people absolute love of beer, the (dis)organization of Italian daily life (with a lot of similarities to my fellow Portuguese people by the way!), the personal distance measure (or lack of it) of the Spanish people interactions, and "La Cobra" (the zig-zag movement that girls do moving their heads backwards while guys try insistently to kiss them!), the French people reluctance to speak about money (just don't ask them about money!), the Polish love of vodka and the gazillion different ways they produce it, and the common personal traits of Greeks (over-talkative and their beautifully applied sarcasm towards everything and everyone, often including themselves). I spoke about the old Portuguese student traditions and presented this short video that shows a little bit of the craziness that goes around my city (Coimbra) when the most popular college student traditional parties take place. Lets not forget Malta, those guys are just crazy!
Slavonija was a good host.
Ok but I don't wan't to give the impression that this training was all about eating and drinking. During most of the day we actually got to be happy participants in the training sessions that were quite informative and dynamic. And let me tell you, non-formal education works! In my humble opinion, it makes much more sense than the traditional form of education... but that's a subject to another blog.
After this amazing week at Orahovica, the next stop was Osijek. Although my body was screaming for a few hours of beauty sleep, I still had another training to attend in Novi Sad, Serbia. My bus to Novi Sad was schedule to the next day so I got to stay in Osijek for the night, in a very peculiar hostel right in the middle of the Fortress city, called Tvrđa (Citadel). I call it the porno hostel. Yeah, you read that right! The decoration of this place speaks for itself. I'm so sorry for the bad quality pictures, but I think you get the idea. Lets say the artistic choice was... well... kinky!
This was not only an hostel. It is actually a night club, and it happens to have a few dorms on the top floor. When I got there the owner rushed to let me know that I had a perfect timing. Apparently that very same night there was a big drum n' bass party, and yes, you guessed it, right below my dorm! I like drum n' bass music, but really? That exact night?? I was begging for some sleep... Anyways, I was so exhausted that the rhythmic vibration that made every piece of furniture shake all night long worked out as the perfect therapeutic massage for my crippled body. And it was funny to try to go in the bathroom in my pijamas and have to go around all this people drinking and smoking right outside my room. A fun night at the porno hostel..
The next day I spent a few hours visiting Osijek. Many buildings around the city still bear the wounds left from its recent history of war and violence. I believe most local people don't pay attention anymore, but for me it was very noticeable. Every other building is still full of bullet holes. It was a mixed feeling witnessing what was for me a very exotic scenario and the sad realization of the devastation that Osijek suffered not much longer than 20 years ago. I was quite young at the time to understand this war, but I clearly remember seeing and hearing on Portuguese television the images and sounds of this dark period.
But it was a sunny day, and Osijek revealed its beauty! Visit this city if you have the chance, you will for sure enjoy its green parks, a long walk along the riverside, and you can't miss the Church of St Peter and St Paul with its 90 metre tall spire.
The same afternoon I got a bus to the next destination and seminar, in Novi Sad, Serbia. I was the first to arrive at the hostel where the entire group was staying, and again my expectations to sleep were quickly flushed down the toilet... Apparently the hostel was completely booked just for our group, and the guy that works there had some personal stuff to take care off, so I was left in charge of opening the door and receive everyone that was arriving during the night from all kinds of places in Europe. I just couldn't get a break! No harm done, Novi Sad is a very busy city at a Saturday night, it's easy to have some fun there. Serbians know what they're doing! I feel the need to send a quick message to my EVS Hosting and Sending Organizations: these two weeks were a massive cultural exchange, don't see it as bohemian life style ok? :)
And the next day: POT! No, not that kind of pot guys... It was the Placement Officer Training. Which happens to be my job at VCZ, so I got to learn how to do it right.
I'll leave you with a few pictures from Novi Sad, a beautiful city that has a very interesting charisma and that received our group so well. By the way, a warm hug for my friends from POT, you guys are awesome!
The Rakija bottle is finally over... See you soon.