„Let’s be honest. You are just a girl from a Balkan country. Your CV is incredible for a young person but unfortunately you’re not from Spain or Ireland. You are from the Balkans, therefore you can forget about the job”.
I am from the Balkans? Where is that? I thought I was Croatian. Do I worth less?
Questions were running through my head as I was walking from this, obviously, unsuccessful job interview for a position within international company. Tears were filling my eyes though I didn’t know exactly why. It was the first time someone addressed me as a “Balkan girl”.
I didn’t know what that means though it made me feel bad by the way it was said. What hurts the most, these words came out from a Croatian guy.
Balkan? Where’s that?
When I came home I typed “balkan countries” in Google. The answer I found:
“To understand who the peoples of the Balkans are, one must first know which countries make up the Balkans. The countries that make up the Balkans today include Greece, Albania, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Romania, rump Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro), and Bosnia Herzegovina). Geographically, “European Turkey,” a small region around Istanbul, is located in the Balkans. Some scholars also consider Croatia to be part of the Balkans.” (http://www.cotf.edu/earthinfo/balkans/bkpeo.html).
So, Croatia geographically is not even a part of it?!
But what are Balkan people alike, I wanted to know. And then I saw the words.
“Some people use the word Balkan in a derogatory way to imply that people who live in the Balkans are economically backward, spiteful, ill-disciplined, and untrustworthy. It is more appropriate and productive to use the term Balkan simply as a geographical, linguistic, or historical designation”. (http://www.cotf.edu/earthinfo/balkans/bkpeo.html).
Suddenly my heart hurt. I continued to read more. “Miserable”, “Unintelligent”, “Weird”…These adjectives were given to people who come from Balkan. It seemed as we are worth less and deserve less. As we don’t even have a right to ask for more. As we don’t know for different! And then it came to me.
Once, a guy from New Zealand asked me if I ever heard of MTV. During my college days an American professor in a classroom full of students asked if we heard of YouTube channel. No, you douchebag. We live in caves, eat soap and go to college just to fool the Western society.
It came as a shock to me.
We are dangerous
I didn’t know I was worth less in eyes of some people just because I’m from undeveloped country. I didn’t know it was a barrier to get a job. My mom told me I can be whatever I want to if I work hard enough. Well, “hard enough” just went on a whole different level.
Do some people from West really think we are stupid? While in some Balkan countries political and economical situation is bad as my dog’s bad breath due to high unemployment rate, corruption, greedy politicians and inexperience in democracy, characterizing people shouldn’t be done so easily.
Life is tough in Croatia. While people are barely surviving, our Chamber of Commerce chief was hiding a polar bear in his basement. Not kidding, Google it.
Maybe we are stupid because of choosing same politicians again and again, but let me tell you something about the people from the Balkan countries.
We are dangerous. You know why?
Because we know how to survive.
Way to often we get pressed hard on every side. We don’t know what tomorrow will bring. Am I going to stay without a job? How will I feed my kids?
These are the questions that more and more Croatians ask themselves due to the reasons listed above. But we don’t get crushed. We are artists on how to live a fulfilling life with very little.
We laugh hard. We love our friends and cherish family moments. Our tables are always filled with delicious food and rakija or homemade wine. A stranger will never leave our home without a few pounds overweight. Or without getting hugged all the time. Trust me, when I brought home my Brazilian friend Adriano, my dad was preparing him specialities while my mom was crying when he was leaving. “Are you hungry? I will pack you something! Take care! Come again!” She was being all dramatic. Though he didn’t understand the word she was saying, later he told me he felt so welcomed.
We are loud. We talk about politics all the time. We argue and curse. A lot. We like to drink coffee. A lot. We are never in a hurry. We take long pauses while working. And our boss knows it. And we are full of funny stories to tell. Be prepared.
We love our homeland. Our rivers, roads and cities. We are proud of it. We can talk about our crystal blue sea, Istrian cities, Plitvice Lakes and Davor Šuker. We are amazed by the beauty of our land as you’ll be.
Why do you leave your country then, some may ask.
Well, the truth is… More and more we are scattered in the world. Desire for survival has become a struggle for a one way ticket. For a better life. While some have forgotten how to dream, some have not.
“We are made of steel”
When the world gets darker and quieter, a well known scenario is played over and over again – Croatian packing bags, trying to avoid tears in mother’s eyes, for she knows her daughter or son is leaving in the unknown. In the foreign land. The land that is not a home, for home is where her daughter or son should be. But they can’t if they want to survive. And we do want to survive. So we say goodbye to our friends and family. And leave.
It’s hard. But we are fighters. Warriors.
As my dad would repeat to me when I was exhausted working all the time – Ivana, what we’re made of? Of steal? That’s right.
We don’t give up. We are brave and proud. We are known as good workers but when life calls, we stop and enjoy the moment. We really do know how to enjoy the little things. As Snježana, one of my best friends says – laugh! Even when it is tough – laugh!
Once, her someone’s someone lost his job. He was in debt. He had no one to ask for help. What did he do? He prepared a lamb roasted on the spit and invited the whole village for a celebration. What did he celebrate if he lost his job? Life itself. Because he’s alive. He’s healthy and tomorrow is another day filled with unexpected opportunities.
This is how we roll it.
So, am I a girl from the Balkans?
I am not afraid of hard work. I already found a place inside of me where nothing is impossible and I believe in wilderness of my intuition. I have the opportunity to create my own scenario. Some people never get that chance. Therefore, be kind to people. You never know what battles they are fighting, regardless of which country they come from.
Nothing comes easily when you’re from the Balkans. But when it finally comes, it’s a madness. It is a blessing we know how to appreciate.
We are wild. And wild hearts can’t be broken.