Border Crossings: Lessons in Serbian Zen
It’s the end of a holiday weekend in the U.S., which can only mean one thing: traffic jams. Most of my July Fourth memories include traffic on the 95 corridor, fiddling with radio stations and trying to convince Muz that his improvised “shortcut” (a dirt road off the highway that we’ve never driven before) is not a good idea.
This year was no different. We spent the weekend in Budapest and drove back relatively early on Sunday, hoping to avoid the long lines we saw entering Serbia when we drove out on Friday. No. Such. Luck.
In Belgrade (and in the U.S.) a traffic jam usually means honking and occasional shouting. But at the border, an eerie calm settled over us. People leisurely left their cars and began stretching exercises. Engines were turned off, and some people pushed their cars forward to save gas. Serbian Zen lesson 1: Befriend everyone: large people can push cars. Heck, even I can push a Yugo.
We inched forward for over two hours, but it was oddly entertaining. Young men paraded up and down the highway, checking out girls in cars. Dogs and small children were taken out for walks. Serbian Zen Lesson 2: when life gives you lemons, make promenade.
Shopoholics had nothing to fear. A few entrepreneurs took advantage of the captive audience by selling religious trinkets and cards or offering to clean windshields. Serbian Zen lesson 3: Long delays can make longer bank statements.
One man became a self-appointed traffic director. He walked up the highway, reported that cars weren’t moving (thanks, dude) and waved us forward when a foot of clear space would appear. Serbian Zen lesson 4: move mountains [of cars] with a little initiative and elastic waistband pants.
As time passed, we exchanged sympathetic glances with neighbors in loaded cars (perfect targets for a long and annoying search.) We nodded to our “traffic director” when he walked past us. We chuckled at the guy in the pink polo shirt preening by the side of the highway. In the U.S., people sitting in traffic tend to look straight ahead and pretend that they’re invisible. In the Balkans, they seemed to acknowledge the best Zen lesson of all: we’re all in this together, so let’s make the best of it.
When we eventually crossed the border, I was almost sad to leave our new acquaintances behind. Then I realized that this was going to happen all summer. I could find this frustrating, but what’s the point? I’ll just practice the art of Serbian Zen.