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  Volume 6 | Issue 26 | July 01, 2012 |


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Travel Diaries

Opening ceremony of Belgrade International Model United Nations, Belgrade, Serbia, 2012.
Courtesy: Shariqa habib

A Serbian Encounter

Shariqa Habib

With the delegation of Bangladesh from the Human Rights Council. Courtesy: Shariqa Habib

End of March- Madrid is still cold and it is raining- I am heading for work, when I hear my name being screamed at the top of a girl's lungs! “Shariqa…” I turn and see my Egyptian friend calling me. She comes running and without much explanation she asks, “Do you want to go to Serbia?” My initial reaction was, “Why would I want to go to Siberia, when it is so cold in Spain itself?” Yasmin corrects me, it's Serbia, not Siberia! She explains that there will be a Model United Nations conference taking place in Belgrade, Serbia. A group of four students was supposed to participate from our university. However, one week before the event, a senior had declared that she was unable to attend the conference. This left Yasmin without a co-delegate. It did not take much convincing for me to agree to be her co-delegate and participate! The next three days were frenzy of paper-works- university approval, organising committee's approval, visa, tickets and, not to forget, the prep work for my delegation!

My team leaves earlier and I arrive to Belgrade on March 13, 2012. My first impression on Belgrade is- it is grey, depressing and lots of crows! I wait outside the airport for the bus to arrive, which will take me to the youth hostel where my team is staying. The first challenge I face- the bus driver speaks only Serbian and I do not have the required change for the bus ride.

But I am rescued by the Serbian hospitality- a young man came forward and paid my fare and more surprisingly, he spoke English! So, for the next hour, he gives me an insider's idea on Belgrade and a little knowledge on the country itself. Being an Eastern European country and war torn, Serbia is not a rich country, but the people are warm. With this little knowledge, I head to my hostel to find my fellow students.

After unpacking and going through some materials for the conference, the city exploration begins. Our first destination was a local restaurant, where we wanted to try some local delicacies. And I have to admit, it was love at first sight! Serbian food is simply outstanding. The teasing flavors, the appropriate portions, the décor of the dish, and to put a cherry on top- the warmth. It was just perfect. We spent the entire day exploring the city; visiting museums, sitting at cafes and public squares, with a superb warm weather to welcome us. One of our destinations I have to mention and it is the Belgrade Automobile Museum. The museum is small and stores old classics in an old warehouse. The sight of so many old classics stored under one roof was breathtaking. But one of them stole the show- the Phantom Car.

Shariqa Habib with her co-delegate Yasmin, Courtesy: Shariqa Habib

On the morning of March 15, the conference began. The opening ceremony was short and then the delegates were taken to the designated venues according to their committees. I was a delegate of Portugal in the Security Council Crisis Committee, where the age old issue of Palestine and Israel was addressed. After three days of very hard negotiation, the delegates from all the representing countries came to a very clear resolution. The three days were not all work, but we also had the opportunity to mingle with the other delegates from 37 different countries, enjoy the Delegates Ball, and tour the city. And, not to forget, the amazing friends we made in the event.

Exploring Belgrade, one will see the buildings which were bombed still standing there, untouched. When I asked one of my friends, why those buildings were not fixed or demolished after the bombing, my friend stated that, those buildings are kept as reminders of the bombing and all that the country has gone through. All that the Serbians have been through have made them realise and value life and relationships over everything. And my friend said, even though the country is poor and is reconstructing from the war and bombings, they are happy- to be alive, and to have their family. My encounter with Serbia was brief but unforgettable. I returned to my home in Madrid with heart filled with warmth, new friends and a new outlook on life.

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