28 August, Serbia – ‘All Over The Place – Europe, Part 2’
Today has been a day of extremes to say the least. In the morning I ate the most expensive cheese in the world. In the evening I saw the most desperately sad and destitute people I’ve ever encountered. Oh, and I milked a donkey.
If you haven’t guessed it, the cheese was donkey cheese. This morning we paid a visit to a guy called Vuk out in the nature reserve just over an hour’s drive from Belgrade. On their farm they’ve hit on a secret way to make cheese from donkey milk – previously thought impossible as the milk doesn’t normally have enough fat to harden into cheese. As a result, they’re able to charge £730 a kilo for the stuff, and once Johny and I had stood in a barn full of donkey dung and had a go at milking them by hand (actually easier than I was expecting) we were allowed to try some of the hallowed food. Tastes a bit like cottage cheese.
After enjoying heaps of Serbian hospitality for lunch, with trays of traditional delicacies, Johny and I dressed up as Egyptians and performed a sketch in another poo filled barn before saying goodbye to the extremely well kept riverside farm and making our way to the Avala Tower to finish off our song about Brutalism from yesterday. It’s a communications tower that we bombed in the 1990s and was then rebuilt, so as a UK citizen I felt slightly awkward turning up dressed as Annie Lennox to sing a song about the place, but everyone seemed very friendly and pleased to see us. From the top of the tower it felt like we could see the whole of Serbia (it’s pretty flat). After a quick stop off at more Brutalist flats, called ‘The Eastern Gate’, we had a quick freshen up and then headed over the bridge from our hotel to the other side of the river.
What a sight greets you. Outside the bus station are a few hundred Syrian refugee families fleeing the civil war. Dotted about in tents, you can see by their attire and possessions that they were until recently living a fairly middle class life, but there they are, utterly destitute, some of them with babies not more than a few months old. Toddlers and children are milling about, along with bored looking teenagers and their parents, with port-a-loos lined up along the roadside and a water truck providing a pathetic ration of water to the tops of the heads of people queuing up so they can have something resembling a shower.
Having your dinner by the river in a restaurant that could be in Shoreditch can’t help but make you muse over what a world of contrasts we live in, and I’d urge you to donate some money to the UNHCR (the UN’s refugee fund), who are working with the government out here to give aid to these people. They can’t go home. They need our help.