And it's not for lack of trying. I could name off the long list of communities I've been seeking to know in my short three months here: the Islamic Faculty, the synagogue, tango dancers, I'm taking a pottery class, I go to art events and film festivals; the other week I hosted a couchsurfer from Italy. I just finished reading The Fixer by Joe Sacco and last Saturday had a conversation about a small Jewish/Muslim service project to occur on Christmas (like we do in STL for Jewish/Muslim Day of Service). The professors at the Islamic Faculty have recommended to me a lot of reading - about Islam, interfaith work, sociology... In other words. I've always kept myself busy, often too busy, and here is no different. But there is still a profound emptiness, of not being known, or feeling of any real importance to anyone here. Relationships, and community take time. I am impatient.
I'm aware of my mind's power to significantly alter my state of reality. Maybe that is the very reason I fear it so. When my thoughts unceremoniously navigate these dark and familiar neural passages the only thing that really pulls me out is a conversation with another human being. A live one. Over the last few weeks I've experienced these surreal moments. A previous post wrote about some gardeners who invited me for coffee and sent me home with a bag of veggies. Yesterday, as I was walking home from the market, feeling the cold air biting at my face, I decided to stop into Franz and Sophie's for a cup of tea. Franz and Sophie's is a favorite spot for many of the expats. It is one of the few institutions where you cannot smoke inside. The owner, Adnan, is a former doctor turned tea sommelier who fills his cafe with the music of Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, and Frank Sinatra and cleansing tea aromas. In other words, when I'm homesick, like many other expats, I go here.
The tables at Franz and Sophie are small, and there are only three of them, so when the cafe is full, tables are shared, often with foreigners, who are in general, open and eager for conversation. It is a pleasant atmosphere. Ena, who works for Adnan, serves you tea in a small white pot heated by a single tealight (finally this word makes sense to me!). You're given a saucer full of cookies (chocolate and plain) with every pot. And no one will get upset with you if you eat all the cookies. It is a soul-nourishing place. Ena, it turns out, is finishing her masters thesis in urban planning. She is friendly to me, and calls me her "colegija" (colleague).
Yesterday when I was sitting alone at a table at Franz and Sophie's, rather forlornly looking out the window, I noticed a friend of a friend walked past and I waved. His name is Admiral Mahić because people just call him Admiral. He is a famous poet, and I met him at a small poetry reading I attended late last Wednesday night. He has a deep, dark, and melodic voice. When he saw me he smiled, and I waved him to come inside. I poured him some tea and we sat for a few moments. He noticed instantly that I was down - why can some people notice them so perfectly and others are always blind - and then listened as I talked about some loneliness, my hatred for the self-centered projection of "noise" on social media, my yearning for listening, connection, and conversation. He told me, in his deep Slavic voice, that I should write a few sentences everyday about what I notice here. About people. "I think, Rebecca, you could have a book about your time here," he said before parting. Sometimes we just need a bit of encouragement. And not through a device.
by Admiral Mahić