From primary school to outer space, part 1

“I am one of the beneficiaries of Osvit. First of all I want to say that I have problems with crowds, but I’m taking medicine for that. We’ve been awaiting your arrival for 3 hours now, and all this time I managed to sit here among all these people! Osvit has helped me a lot, but one of the best things for me here is the time I spend socializing with all these nice people.”

For a moment, I’m confused. This is supposed to be about the victims of domestic abuse, Osvit’s target group, not about socializing. And there is something in her voice that nags at me, demanding that I turn on my brain, but I shrug it off. You can’t analyze and interpret at the same time. Then she goes on:

“One amazing thing that this organization has done for me and 5 other Roma women is when they made the city government of Niš invite us to one of their meetings. We looked wonderful, in our best clothes and with our hair done really great, and being there was just… just… well, I still carry the official invitation from the government in my bag, I can show it to you later on!”

There she was, this nervous-looking woman in her late 50s, barely containing her joy as she was talking about her visit to the local government offices as if she traveled to outer space. I could envision her whole life there in front of me, the boundaries of her world, her existence. I could, for a moment, feel a small part of how she felt about all the looks of disdain she received daily on the street from the Serbs, how she was treated in the shops, how she struggled to be among people, and, most of all, how much she longed for validation – for her existence as a human being – for proof that she was not subhuman.

All of this hit me straight in the face. Three days ago I was in the assembly of Serbia, where I met one of the three Roma MPs in the Serbian Parliament, and after the interpretation we went to the infamous assembly restaurant, where everything is absurdly cheap, and where only government officials and their guests are allowed. It was an interesting experience, but frankly, nothing special. It didn’t have almost any effect on me whatsoever.

That woman will probably save that invitation and show it to her grandchildren, as one of the highlights of her life. If she were to be invited to the Assembly of Serbia, to meet that MP and go to that restaurant afterwards, she would have probably fainted several times just on her way to the meeting.

I could feel the disparity between us -what her life was and what mine was, what she wanted from it and what I did, and what made her happy compared to what made me happy – and I couldn’t help feeling deeply humbled and ashamed.

Roma in Serbia are the most badly treated minority; we all ‘know’ that, but we don’t really know. Reading about this or that Roma settlement without any sort of infrastructure is one thing. Talking to a young woman who lives in that settlement, and who had to quit primary school to work in order to help her sick mother, is another. Those 5 days of interpreting took me across Serbia and exposed me to many such stories, and you simply can’t avoid being influenced by them, after seeing how those people live and struggle every day, how little they have and how the most basic of things we take for granted would make them incredibly happy.

Then there’s Andjelko. He’s 29 and he can send people to space.

When people see him, they often very seriously ask his friends: ‘Ok, what is he on? It’s cocaine, right? It’s got to be cocaine’. His maniacal laughter, erratic behavior and a Joker-worthy grin make a lot of people think he’s mentally unstable. But, when you look deeper, beyond the Agent of Chaos part, which he in a way undoubtedly is, there is something incredibly rational.

Andjelko has felt the size of this world and smelled the possibilities it offers. He can see not only the rollercoasters that exist, but the ones that are yet to be discovered and built. And he wants not just to ride them, but to take as much people along.

Because for him, it’s about the people. It’s about connecting them, inspiring them, making them create something with value. It’s about experiencing what this world can offer and could one day offer.

Just like with Joker, it’s not about money, it’s about sending a message.

The message he’s currently sending is ‘I can send people to space’.

And he can. Because, after making an official deal with Virgin Galactic a week ago, he has become an accredited space agent.

Less than a decade ago, he dropped out of the Faculty of Economy. He founded a company and started basically from scratch.

Less than a decade later, he’s sending people to space.

Another part of that message is ‘So, what are you doing?’

I know people who are almost thirty and whose biggest plans are to finally graduate from college, move away from their parents’ home and get a job. And while this is Serbia and the economical situation is very bad, the point is not just about graduating and moving away.

The point is, what are you doing? If yes, why? And, more importantly, if not, why not?

If you are reading this post, you have an internet connection and the free time to read the thoughts of some guy from a country you might only vaguely recall because of Slobodan Milosevic, Kosovo and Bosnia. This means that you are not in a desperate economical situation. You are not that Roma girl who is going back to primary school, because she has saved her mother’s life and can now finish her education. You have the time and the means to start doing something that matters, to you and to the people around you.

So, what are you doing?

to be continued

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3 Comments to “From primary school to outer space, part 1”

  1. Nice story – I remember when you first told me your impressions about the Roma woman. I tend to have thoughts on the sheer difference of outlook people have – for example the average spoiled western-european vs. for example, the Roma woman you spoke of, or a cigarette smuggler from Zimbabwe. Leads me back to the concept of “the satisfied bum” – we talked about this: if you give the average person a straw bed, he will be annoyed with you and won’t sleep on it. Give it to a bum, and he will be overjoyed, and will probably thank you – and he will be genuinely happy.

    This is a wierd kind of dilemma – the Roma woman was clearly overjoyed with her being a guest on “such an event”, saving the ticket like its solid gold. Is that happiness she feels false? Should it be eliminated?

    But I am going off topic – I certainly agree with your text – just be careful to not get stuck in a plethora of “Part.1″‘s 😉

  2. i finally had some time to read it and it brought some tears down my face…
    you were really graphic dude :/

  3. sorry… I think it was necessary that I try to paint as truthful a picture as possible… Just saying it was an intense experience or something like that wouldn’t have had almost any impact on the reader – we read about the ills of the world every day and yet how often do we react or change ourselves or do something because of “this many thousands of people died because of this or that disease last year”?

    but hey, it’s not like I don’t also offer some solutions, no? 🙂

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