Our Love Of Our Neighbor

excerpts We travel leisurely. The other passengers are discreet and nice. We cross a few borders almost without knowing it. After passing through Hungary without complications, we already believe in our lucky stars. Everyone's tongue loosens, recalling an episode of the extraordinary adventures in Antwerp. Petrica, the drummer from Lapusnic: When I saw the fireworks coming up with the music, I cried; if we are to go home by the Bulgarian coach, we agreed to invite the drivers over, have Frenti gather the entire village with his trumpet, and throw a party at the club, so that they find out about Romanian hospitality… I scowl: No, sugar, we're not setting foot in that Bulgarian coach again, I don't feel like filling forms for 36 zinc coffins… Upon entrance in Yugoslavia, the Serbs start collecting money to "give the right" to their customs officer: 250 DM. The road opens on a dry, bare valley. We stop at a "free shop" by the highway to buy the last gifts for our beloved back home, without realizing we're still very close to the border. When we go back to our seats, the frontier guard pops up from a thicket: All those who urinated by the toilets, get off now! We come round as if under a cold shower: Guys, I thought you'd learned your lesson… Ma'am, Dionisie shrieks, we wanted to line up at the toilet, but a guy came who spoke Romanian and told us, "I'll take you someplace, ain't no use wasting your time!" Now I get it: the man was there to sow tips. The Belgian-Serbian guide, to me: Don't worry, I'll take care. He parleys at length with the outraged authority, then tells us: I made a deal with the gentleman: if we give him a 40 Deutsche mark present, he'll leave us alone. Let the lady come with me, and we'll buy him whisky and cigarettes. On our way to the shop: Sir, are all of them so corrupt? Oui, madame la Chefesse, I'm afraid they are: Hungarians, Serbs, Bulgarians, all of them… (Fortunately, he doesn't know about Romanians.) But sometimes you're in for surprises: for instance, three days ago I gave one 50 marks but, to my great surprise, he refused them. I still don't know whether it was too little or he was playing the honest guy. After discussing – with gestures – the issue of duties levied on relieving oneself in various Eastern countries, the party pick up strength. In Belgrade, a gray city I do not recognize, the Serbian company that takes us over offers a warm lunch, which we gratefully accept. Then they embark us in a faultless coach. The Belgian-Serbian guide will accompany us to ensure the trip goes smoothly. When we see the lights of the hydroelectric station (on the Danube), we burst into cheers. But we cannot enjoy it yet. The Yugoslav coach doesn't have insurance, therefore cannot leave its country. The drivers want to buy one, but there's no counter at the border. They must go to the village of Kladova, 20 kilometers away, pay at the post office, and come back with the receipt. It's nine in the evening. The post office is closed. We cross the village in all directions in search of the old witch with the receipt book. We return to the frontier, thinking to plead with the border guard to let us pass. The guard does not yield. We make another futile tour of Kladova. Upon the third attempt, doubled by a convincing kickback, we leave the Serbs behind and fall into the Romanians' arms. Everybody's crying, Oh, man, look what they've done to us! Who? All of them, man, all of them! We're lucky to be alive! Good God! And now we get into the last, and most staggering, of our troubles. The Serbs, as we know too well, have problems with their papers. On top of it, some bureaucrat wants them to pay a $ 761 toll for transiting the country. The sum goes way over the line, and the Belgian-Serbian guide is not prepared to pay it. Consequently, the Romanian denies him the access, amid racket reminding of a zoo. Sir, I whisper in his ear, we've being going through hell at all border crossings… I wish it were different here, so these people won't leave with a bad impression… The official turns to the three Serbs and puts up a perfectly comprehensible face: What, Serbs are people? They are bastards and sons of bitches, to hell with them, I know better! They stop all Romanian trucks and force them to pay heavy duties to make them lose all export contracts! Now watch the tax I'll fix them, to teach the sons of bitches a lesson! I keep fighting for a while: Sir, I don't know what Serbs do in general, but these Serbs really strove to help us… What? You're taking up their cause? Then, insinuatingly: Tell me, madam, (a well-dosed crescendo here) have you paid your taxes on the earnings from abroad yet? Excerpted from:  Travel Diary from the Balkans, 2000

by Speranţa Rădulescu