Serbia Story Time

My time in Serbia came to an end in June, so now I’m left reflecting on my time there and all the incredible memories. I had so many special interactions with the Serbian people that changed my perspective on how to connect with others. I mentioned in one of my previous posts that Serbians are some of the most welcoming people I’ve ever met, and I now want to elaborate on that! I experienced so much kindness in Serbia that it has blown my mind. To be living solo in a foreign country, Serbia is definitely one of the best places I could have gone to. There are so many situations where I experienced incredible hospitality and warmth that I, unfortunately, can’t write about them all. So, I’ll just be sharing two stories that have really stuck with me the most!

“Jedan Pivo!” at Bovanska Jezero:

Bovanska Jezero is a lake about 40 minutes away from Nis. I decided to go there alone one day because it was a gorgeous day and I NEEDED some nature and water in my life. I had never been to the lake before, so I didn’t really know what to expect. Many of my Serbian friends hadn’t been to that lake before either, so I was really just going for it! I took the bus to the city of Bovan and then easily walked to the lake from there. When I got to the main lakeshore, I was extremely sad to see that there was trash and plastic washed up on the little sandy beach. The main reason why I went to the lake was so I could finally swim in some water, but that water did not look appealing. The rest of the lake was beautiful; however, more difficult to access.

I wasn’t going to let the trash stop me from swimming in the lake, so I decided to walk around the lake to find a clean spot to jump in from. I walked along a dirt road that had houses on the left side, and on the right side, staircases going down to each house’s dock on the lake. I knew my best bet was to get on one of those docks to jump in from, because the rest of the lake’s shore was covered by trees and shrubs, making the water difficult to access. The problem was a lot of these staircases had locked gates, guarding their access to the dock and water. I obviously didn’t want to trespass or get in trouble for doing something dumb like this, but I reallyyyyy needed to find a dock to jump into the water from.

At the end of the dirt road, I saw a concrete staircase going down to its dock that didn’t have a locked gate and was shaded by many trees, making it really private and hidden. The house above had no sign of life or action, so I decided that was the one! I walked down the stairs to a little concrete slab where I immediately dove into the beautiful lake from. It was incredible. I was completely at peace.

After about 20 minutes of hanging out there, I heard footsteps coming down the steps above. I looked up and this man and I locked eyes for about 5 seconds straight. I stopped him dead in his tracks. To break the silence, I proceeded to say, “izvini, ne govorim srbski!” (sorry I don’t speak Serbian) and to the best of my abilities tried to say that I wanted to swim in the water. He laughed, then told me, “nema veza, sedi, sedi” (nevermind, sit sit). He was very confused because why the f** would there be an American girl just chilling on his remote dock, alone? I’d be extremely confused too. But he graciously let me stay on his dock and even asked if I wanted anything to drink.

A little later I decided to leave the dock and walk back to the bus station. While leaving, I said bye and thank you to the man, when I heard yelling from the porch of the house above. An old man was yelling at me “Jedan pivo, jedan pivo” which means one beer, one beer! I turned around and saw this elderly man sitting on a porch from the house above, waving his hands, motioning me to come and sit with him on his porch. I laughed and for a second thought, maybe this is a little dangerous? But then I followed my gut and went to sit with the old man. After being in Serbia for 10 months, I knew this was the way of the friendly Serbians and not just some creepy old guy.

The elderly man was the other man’s father, so he also joined us on the porch. Turns out they got locked out of their house after returning from the store and didn’t have a replacement key, so they were stuck waiting outside with all their groceries while they waited for a replacement key. They offered me drinks, and we sat and talked on the porch for about 20 minutes. They only knew a few words in English, but we somehow managed to have a full conversation about futbol, America, Serbian food, and why they were locked out of their house. It was such a funny experience. They invited me to use their dock and visit them whenever I wanted. I unfortunately never went back because my time in Serbia was limited, but I definitely miss my porch homies!

The Old Lady and Homemade Jam

In February 2022, right after I returned to Serbia, I got into the routine of doing a workout outside my apartment building in the mornings. Often this little old Serbian woman would come up to me during my workouts, trying to tell me something as she walked past my apartment building. Even though it was winter, because I was working out I wasn’t wearing a heavy jacket. So I think she was coming up to tell me to put some clothes on or ask me what the f**k I was doing! Anyway, she didn’t speak a word of English and I could barely understand anything she said. This always led to a pretty funny and slightly uncomfortable encounter. Even though I told her many times, “Ne govorim Srbski” (I don’t speak Serbian), she continued to ask me questions and try to talk to me. I really respected her determination to talk to me and honestly tried my hardest to understand and communicate with her. When I would respond to her saying, “Ne resume, izvini!” (I don’t understand, sorry), she would then yell her questions even louder and use big arm movements/gestures, hoping this would make me understand. To paint you an even better picture, all her teeth were missing except for one front tooth that was barely holding on for dear life. So spit was flying everywhere too while she was yelling her questions at me. Even with all of this going on, I obviously still didn’t understand her questions. Our encounters usually ended with her getting frustrated and both of us walking away laughing. This was our little morning routine 🙂

One morning when I was in the middle of my workout, I saw her walk up to me carrying two large bags of groceries. I quickly mentally prepared myself for another failed attempt at communication and tried to remember every Serbian word I had ever learned. When she walked up I proudly say “Ciao, kako ste!?” (Hi, how are you?!), because that’s the only Serbian I had dialed down at that point. She responded by saying she was good and then quickly said something I couldn’t understand. I just smiled and nodded my head like usual, pretending to understand. She then reached into her bag, pulled out a jar, and handed it to me. She said “domaća djam” which means “homemade jam” and then pointed to the market across the street. I understood that she was telling me she just bought the jam from the market across the street. I didn’t know how to communicate back to her, so I just gave her a thumbs up and told her the jam looked really tasty! I then tried to hand back the jar of jam to her but she refused and told me to take it (at least I’m guessing that’s what she said). We went back and forth for a couple seconds of me trying to hand her back the jar and her motioning for me to take it. I finally accepted it and thanked her many times for the gift.

I was so touched by this jar of jam that she gave me. From our previous encounters, I really couldn’t tell if she was annoyed by me and thought I was a dumb foreigner or actually liked me! This was like her way of communicating to me that I was welcome here. And it truly did make me feel more at home.


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Adyson Willett

A professional soccer player and blogger from the United States.

One thought on “Serbia Story Time”

  1. Ady, you continue to amaze me. I loved this Blog! Thank you for sharing a little fraction of your Serbian experience.
    Love Mom


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