On a very hot summer day I was passing through Smederevo. Smederevo is a Serbian city with 100.000 inhabitants at the banks where Jezava meets Danube.
Its railway station is at the old fortress. During II World War, the fortress was an arsenal of German Armed forces. On 5th June 1941, the fortress was damaged by a severe explosion where thousands of people died. It happened when a fully occupied train was near the railway station. The reason behind this blast is still a mystery.
Smederevo is one of the most important industrial cities of Serbia. It has an industrial port at the Danube and a big steel factory. The former Yugoslavian steel factory, now run by the Chinese, pollutes the air. Smederevo is said to be the most dirty town in Serbia or possibly in Europe.
The greatest potentials of Smederevo lie idle:
Although good climate, fertile ground and a good tradition of fruit farming result in rich and high-quality harvests, there is no organised purchase. The cold store of the former collective combine and the wine cellar are disabled.
In the whole region there are large reserves of mineral- and thermal waters. It's a long way before these resources are exploited to their full potential. A duty-free zone which was announced years ago is being realised very slowly.
Four old women are the last Serbs in Đakovica. They were staying at the town during Kosovo War and NATO bombing in 1999 despite treatment and brutal ethnic cleansing and were protected by Italian KFOR soldiers. Monks from the nearby monastery Visoki Dečani were bringing them their food. During the March pogroms in 2004 they were rescued by KFOR soldiers and left the town. The church in Đakovica was completely destroyed and the women found refuge at Visoki Dečani.
Until 2011 the parish hall and the church were rebuilt and became a monastery. The last Serbs from Đakovica got nuns. The monastery lies in the middle of the town. In „Serbian Street“. The houses were occupied by Kosovar Albanians.
Kosovar Albanian policemen protect the monastery now. Since the women are subjected to reprisals they can’t leave the monastery without escort. In January 2017 the residents of Serbian Street attacked Serbian expellees who wanted to attend a ceremony in the church. The bus they travelled with was pelted with stones. Many Kosovar Albanians dislike the monastery, because it is a remnant of Serbian culture.
"They want to expel us"
Sister Jefimija, one of the nuns, says: "We are harassed and threatened." When the women are out, people often break in the empty monastery. Someone tried to poison the drinking water. This is because the Kosovar Albanian residents are afraid that Serbian expellees could reclaim their houses.
"I came here to serve god"
The monastery is surrounded by houses. From the upper floors you can peep in. Sister Jefimija was born in Serbia and migrated to Germany in the 60s to work as a medical assistant. In Germany she was a "Gastarbeiterin", that means something like guest worker.
Her ancestors originate from Kosovo. During a pilgrimage some years ago she found her faith. In 2011, already retired, she came to Kosovo and became an orthodox nun. She has nothing to do with her family in Germany. "This life remains behind us." (She doesn't want to be photographed, because she believes that glory on earth will be discounted in heaven.)
"Stop that! Otherwise your mother will die!"
Dana has nothing to do with life outside of the monastery. She's 90 and comes from a village nearby. She's one of the last Serbs from Đakovica. All her relatives are dead or expelled. Her daughter lives in Serbia and visit her just once a year. Dana isn't able to speak, because she had a stroke a few years ago. She speaks with her eyes and with gestures. Sister Jefimija talks about something that happened during the war: An Albanian dragged Dana to the ground, put a dull knife at her throat and shouted: "You will die!" Another one shouted: "Stop that! Otherwise your own mother will die!" People in this area believe that one's mother dies if you hurt an old woman. Superstition saved her.
Dana suffers from the monotony in the monastery. She likes to mingle with other people. So she joins Muhammad, the Albanian policeman at the gate. He has nothing against it. He likes his job because he's save. For many Kosovar Albanians he is a traitor and they let him know. He likes his job, because he's safe. Many Kosovar Albanian policemen were shot in the streets.
The past has cast a shadow over Mara
Mara chases away the cats from the patio of the parish hall. They are running to the other cats in the garden and sprawl into autumn leaves. Mara is 75 years old. Like Dana she comes from a village near Đakovica. Mara has a book on war crimes committed to Serbian people she hides from herself. The book is a documentation of the Kosovo War and full of memories. It contains countless photos of murdered Serbs. Men, women, children. Mara knows some of them and witnessed some murder. She starts crying and doesn't stop all day long. The past has cast a shadow over her.
A young cat remains stubborn and runs to Mother Atanasija. She is the oldest of the women and abbess of the small monastery. The little cat loves being close to people and follows the nuns everywhere. Mother Atanasija (90) comes from a village near Đakovica and was a female verger at the Church of the Holy Virgin for forty years. Together with Dana, Mara and Jelena, who died in the meantime, she stayed during the Kosovo War. Atanasija is a gifted speaker and respected for her honesty and her empathy.
Now the cat is following Jefimija to the church. Jefimija and Atanasija are going to read and pray there, because every day is clearly structured and determined by routines and rituals. Mara and Dana care for the flowers they planted. In the garden of the monastery there are flowers, herbs, healing plants and vegetables. And an imposing walnut tree. When the nuns came out of the church after about an hour, Atanasija went to Jelenas grave to think of her. Nobody will be ever forgotten here.
Without that subliminal threat it could be a wonderful place. I left the old ladies from Đakovica and Kosovo with many presents in my hand and with mixed feelings. Filled up with warmth of the people, confused by the complexity of relations and concerned about subliminal aggression between Serbian and Albanian people.
Stock photography concerns everything. Every photo could be a stock photo. Stock means that something is available and usable. There's no limit for a photographer if he doesn't have to live on that. Heaven!
It's hard to find Stocks for healthcare and elderly care. If you find something it's very american. But these topics are very interesting ...
And full of stories depending on how you tell them.
My English left much to be desired. Only simple conversation was possible. When you are abroad and no one speaks german it‘s an imposition. Something had to be done. Then I got the perfect idea: private lessons on skype. Preferably with a teacher who doesn‘t speak German. So Dragana Markovic and me met for the first time.
Dragana lives in Novi Sad, Serbia. She‘s confined to use a wheelchair, because she suffers from spinal muscular atrophy. You can‘t recognize it on Skype. I saw that in pictures on Facebook, but I was not sure if she had an accident or if she‘s disabled. First I hesitated, because I didn‘t want to offend her. But later I asked her.
Meanwhile we became friends and I visited her in Novi Sad.. We spent a day together with her friends. I took part in one face-to-face and in two Skype lessons. It‘s funny to be a German in Novi Sad who Skypes to a woman in Dubai who says: „Germans are cold, present company excepted!“
Dragana needs help day and night. She has different assistants. One of them is Maja. They are like sisters, because they have to spend a lot of time together. Maja is half Serbian and half Hungarian. She is a vet, but it‘s hard to find a job in Serbia.
It was a diverse crowd of people I met in Novi Sad. Together with three others Tatjana has a language school. Liljana from Sombor and her russian husband are married and they were expecting a baby. I enjoyed.
I think Dragana is worth a story. I‘ll ask her if there‘s something she wants to tell to the people. We take it from there...
During my last trip to Belgrade a barbershop at Sava Mala, Belgrade's creative hub, got my attention. I went there with the daughter of a friend of mine, who started studying communication design and who was searching for interesting photos, as I did. We went into the shop and asked if we can take photos. "Gentlemen only, ladies forbidden!" We overlooked the sign at the entrance.Luisa didn't take amiss and she found other photo subjects.
The bearded, tatooed athmosphere was mitigated by a young boy. Carlo Zagorac, the owner of the shop, cared for him in a very kind way. He built a bridge at the hairdresser's chair made of the boys' skateboard. So the boy sat higher up.
Carlo is good with children. Otherwise the whole atmospere is masculin. Maybe women would be scared, so they were even not allowed to come in. ... I like the shop, especially Carlo.
At first the barber were sceptical about me, I noticed. They thought that I'm a German pseudo photographer in search of snapshots.
It changed when they noticed that I enjoyed my job. Everybody relaxed. I took my photos, for an hour or so. I talked to them for a short while and asked if I can come back to take one more photo of the crowded shop. I was allowed ...
I told this story to my hairdresser at the beloved deprived area in my hometown and sent a few pics to him.
As a result he and his partner had a trip to Belgrade to visit his colleagues. Spontaneously! Let's see what he'll report ...