Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Serbia 02. Who Do You Work For?

It pays off to wake up at 4:30 in the morning. While I had absolutely no idea which way to turn after stepping out of the hotel, I remembered what a Russian friend once told me: "Where there's a will, there's a way."

The streets were filled with policemen, some of which directed me to the bridge in Mitrovica that separates the Serbians from their southern neighbours. It was 5am by the time I reached the bridge. Dozens of buses and cars were lined up, waiting for KFOR soldiers to give them the go-ahead to cross the bridge.

Some of the vehicles had their doors opened and I popped my head inside here and there, asking if they had any seats left. I realize that I might look slightly suspicious, when, after a few refusals, I ask the passengers of a minibus for room and half of them say "yes", while the other half yells "no" at the same time, as if to shut the first half up. Ok. I must agree. A six-foot four, darkly clad guy, asking Serbians to take him to Kosovo, in English, with an American accent, must look dubious. Odds were against me.

I realize that I need to somehow neutralize this image I'm conveying so I change my phrasing. "Hello, I am from Romania and …" Finally, it works. One priest who seemed in charge of a large convoy of buses from Belgrade, along with a dressed-up gentleman give me the benefit of the doubt. After checking my passport and press pass, they make a couple of phone calls, most likely to several drivers, then place me on one of the buses.

People around me are young and most speak some English. This is when I get the question I was going to get throughout the day and I would most likely get until the end of this project: "Who do you work for?" Again, suspicion arises when I say I'm a freelancer and try to explain the concept behind the masterclass. Even journalists have a hard time understanding why someone would come to their country to document something unless there's money at the end. They look at each other, smile, then assume there must be some dark force behind this: "James Bond, right?".

Before I left Romania, I spoke to a wise friend who has spent some time in this part of the world. "How do you cast away the suspicions?", I asked. "You can't. You just go about your business and let people believe whatever they want." Comforting.

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