On a Monday I fly into Serbia.
You know, just minding my own business in a penthouse I hired via AirBnB overlooking Belgrade from the best part of the city (yay!).
…But this is not a regular Monday…
There is a disaster going on in Serbia.
My host gives me a first hand report on the chaos in the nearby city called Obranovich 70.000 people that is under 3.5 meters of water. Many people have lost everything they own and are in emergency refugee camps. Including some of his friends.
His story grabs me. And I will not sit idle…
As soon as I am in the apartment I start to make calls. Family. Friends. Business associates. Serbians.
And I am surprised with the positive feedback I get. It does not take a lot of effort to raise some funds, and I add what I can spare myself. Compared to the scale of the disaster it is not much, but it is two-and-a-half time the local monthly salary.
The next day my host (who is delighted that I want to help) and I run around Belgrade.
We identify what is needed the most. Food, hygienic products (soaps, toiletries) and baby products (diapers, baby food). We stock up on it.
There is not yet a shortage in the stores, but one product doubles in price in between the time when we take it of the shelf and pay it at the counter. They are running a business and making a loss is no alternative for making a profit. And this particular company itself also lost an entire store plus inventory in the flooded area.
But it is a bit sour (and a very good lesson in crisis economics, ha!).
We take all we buy to the central distribution centre in Belgrade, where a bunch of excited volunteers help us unload. As it turns out, it is the biggest single donation they received. They are especially happy with the baby food, so we go back and get some more of that.
After that, we inspected sand bags along the river banks of Belgrade. Fact of the matter is that the highest water is yet to come. It already being at record levels, another 1,5 + meter will be catastrophic for the capital. According to the prime minister, only God can help them then.
Add that to the already complete destruction of the city Obrenovac (+70.000) and 20 more towns and cities and one can sort of get what is going on in Serbia alone.
At night my host will be filling sandbags. Digging dirt, regardless of the blisters on his hands. Like thousands of volunteers are doing every night in the vicious battle against the unforgiving water.
No digging for me. I go to a salsa night in a Jazz Bar with the sarcastic name “Sinnerman”. Well, I guess for once I earned the right to sin…
It does not go well…
The first dance I knock of the glasses of a two meter Serbian guy who is so angry that he threatens to throw me of the balcony of the 7th story.
But we sort things out and become best friends, especially when I tell him what I have done.
One thing I noticed that besides the disaster, the Serbs view the outside world with a high amount of suspicion. During the Balkan wars the Serbs have been vilified by Western media, and the province of Kosovo has been stolen from them and given to a minority (according to them). Something that still hurts and is talked about daily. The UN is still in said province, but as soon as they leave, things might turn ugly again.
Perhaps that is why I get such warm-hearted reactions from my spontaneous effort.
I leave the place with mixed feelings, knowing that for a lot of people here in Serbia the real trouble is just about to begin…