Monday, March 24, 2014

The clock starts ticking

January the 29th 2014 was the day it all began. And what a cliché first sentence for this blog! Anyway, after a quick but heartfelt farewell at Coimbra's train station, off I went to Lisbon to spend the night at a friend's house (thank you Gaudêncio for hosting me!). A couple beers at Bairro Alto and a traditional Portuguese Ginginha set the mood for my early morning flight to Zagreb. Not packing much, just some clothes, my guitar and lots of excitement, my adventure throughout Croatia was about to start..

Ok, maybe it is time for some context here. I am doing my EVS in Zagreb, and with this blog I will try my best to share my EVS experience with you guys. Hope you enjoy it!
Some of you might be asking yourselves what exactly is an EVS? Well the short textbook definition could be something like 'it is the European Voluntary Service, a European Union programme that facilitates your staying in a European foreign country in exchange for your volunteer work in an organization of your choice'. Very formal right? Well now that I have been in Croatia for 7 weeks, I would say that an EVS is much more than just that. But you will have to stick around to know more about it (always leave them wanting more, right?;).

After a four and a half hours flight, which included an airplane vegan "lunch", a connection flight in Bologna that I didn't even know about (thank you TAP airlines for informing me!) and a couple hours of sleep, I finally arrive at Zagreb Pleso airport. My precious guitar arrived in one piece! Ufff...

Zvone, the husband of my EVS coordinator Ivana, was expecting me at the airport. Hello big guy! A ten minutes car ride to the city center and I was amazed already. My first impressions of Zagreb: cold and white! The city was covered in snow! Yes, it's winter I know, but this is a big deal for a Portuguese guy that only saw snow a couple times in his life.. And never like this, so much, everywhere, snow! So there I was looking out Zvone's car window like a little kid looking at the candy shop. Reality check: I need to get myself some winter boots...

First stop was my Hosting Organization. It is called Volunteers' Center Zagreb (VCZ). I briefly met my future coworker's, an all-girls small team that received me with big smiles. I'll tell you more about VCZ later. Second stop was my flat. I'm living with this lovely Croatian couple that gave me a warm welcome into their home. And after unpacking, the third and last stop of my first day in Croatia was my new and comfy bed!

A couple weeks have gone by and I'm still enjoying the snowy scenario of this beautiful city, walking around with my camera and the city map, felling like a true tourist. Zagreb is a good place to live, not that big like so many other European capitals, but definitely bearing a good vibe. Everyone's friendly, people smile, and it is quite easy to go by without knowing the Croatian language. Dobar dan! That was it for me for the first couple of weeks. Not that I know much more by now, but I will have some language classes starting pretty soon! Slavic languages seem so strange for my 'Latin ears', but it is funny to try to figure out some words when people are speaking. Once in a while I can ear some recognizable words, there's even a couple of Croatian words that are exactly the same as Portuguese words. But the meaning... I won't even go there, because my mother might be reading this and it is nasty! But in Zagreb pretty much everyone speaks at least some English, even the old lady from the bakery around the corner! By the way, it is worth mentioning that Croatians love their bakeries. There's one in every corner, literally! It is the Mecca of bakeries this city. Full of good fine pastries and all kinds of fresh baked bread. Too bad for veganism.. I won't taste most of the sweet stuff, but I always have a wide variety of fresh bread to enjoy every morning.

Anyway, doing an EVS is not meant to be just about traveling and sightseeing, so let me explain what exactly is VCZ about and what is my job in this organization. This small but quite active NGO works at several levels of voluntary work, acting at the community level by organizing and coordinating all kinds of voluntary projects and work-camps, doing promotion work and raising awareness about this world and all the possibilities available for everyone. I am also still discovering VCZ and its activities, so I hope I can tell more about it in future posts.
Also, VCZ is a branch organization of Service Civil International (SCI), "a volunteer organisation dedicated to promoting a culture of peace by organizing international voluntary projects for people of all ages and backgrounds". And my main job is to be the Outgoing Placement Officer. Fancy title right? Well, it is quite simple actually. My responsibility as a PO is to help Croatian volunteers to find their way into participating in work-camps around the world. The SCI network is quite big and spread around the planet and there are so many awesome opportunities for everyone, you should definitely try it!
By the way, did I already told you that VCZ is a dog friendly office? There are 2 to 3 little dogs in the office almost every day! They are so cute and playful, if you had any doubts about visiting us, now you just have to come to meet these creatures :) You are all invited to pay us a visit, the office is in Ilica street, number 29, really close to the main square... and feel free to bring cookies.

Well that's it for now, this blog took way too long to finally come online but I promise that I will write more regularly from now on. Just a quick side note about EVS, if you want to know more (and believe me you do!) check out this website. Click it! An EVS is an amazing experience, you'll get to know a lot of different people, you can learn a new language, travel, work with the local community, get involved, share experiences, be altruistic, feel good :) Really, get your ass of the couch and do it! You can thank me later..