Militant Relief Force

Plotting my upcoming journey, Im looking at a map of Thailand, seeking the cities or towns that I will want to visit in my short time there.  Among other places, the Burmese border has my interest.  The internets tell me that I could normally take a day trip from one of these border locations, into Burma for a quick look around.  As a person who is critical of the government there, and concerned for the state of its people, naturally I’m interested.

waterMeanwhile I’m listening to radio netherlands’ The State We’re In, and my friend Jonathan is talking about Burma and the aftermath of the terrible Cyclone Nargis. The theory they’re discussing, as millions of people have been affected by the aftermath of the storm, is that it is the responsibility of UN members to provide aid to victims.  Furthermore, according to his guest – Jan Egeland (former relief coordinator of the UN) the Burmese junta does not have the right to block aid or decide if people can be helped or not.

On the one hand Im thinking about how it may not be possible to get into Burma with all this going on. And more importantly, on the other hand, I’m listening to Egeland and I’m thinking about the fact that there are governments who actively block their people from getting essential help after a disaster. Like when the US rejected doctors from Cuba and food from the EU, after hurricane Katrina.  Or when China says no to foreign aid workers on their soil (but yes accepts money and other donations).  Yet on the same hand we live in an era where military forces are used to change governments and bring what is referred to as freedom and democracy by force. It is seen by many as a legitimate way to do things.

Imagine they felt the same way about aid?  Wouldn’t it be something to behold, a NATO force that feels so strongly about feeding starving victims of a hurricane or US marines pulling out buried people after an earthquake. And even if a government told them no, imagine they would still arrive, in an organized and determined fashion, in numbers and efficiency that the government could do very little to stop.  Militant relief, there’s a doctrine for a future president or prime minister.

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Belgrade I hardly Knew Ste

As the hours flew by, we sat there at Rex (cyber-culture-center-thing), catching up on internet work and enjoying the most excellent environment that good people like D and N help create.

Eventually we realize it is getting late, and we’re due across town to meet the super interesting Vlidi, international Serbian of mystery, who I very much wanted to interview on the podcast.

Marcel and his big furry winter hat, Tim and his old man hat, me and my luggage-on-wheels dragging behind, said a quick goodbye to the good REXians and ran to the taxis. Speeding across town, I noticed some press near a government building, We passed that white Orthodox church thing that D says is such a dull monstrosity. Passed the open-air-maket, and eventually we stop at this huge apartment building that makes me think of socialist-housing-planning. It also reminds me of Newark, only I never walked into the projects in my ironbound childhood.

Suddenly I think it must be his wife, a fantastically pleasant young lady, who answers the door and we find ourselves in a cozy home full of life and things to look at. Of course, there’s no time for any of this, I have 30 minutes in which to interview the man about his experiences and knowledge of Kosovo. He knows this, and we get right down to it.. a wonderfully interesting interview from my perspective.. and of course we could have gone on and on. But Tim gives me the 5 minutes hand signal and I realize the clock is ticking to catch a train to Zagreb.

Nothing beats fun travel companions.

I say goodbye to all of them with a heavy heart… my travel companions and my new friends. From here on in, Im on my own. Running down the street eyeing the horizon for a cab… a banged up unknown brand of car pulls up and the cab driver gives me the “lets roll” signal. He zooms down the broad Belgrade avenues and suddenly I see what I was wondering if I’d ever get to see:

Stretching my neck out to manage to look all the way up… I see a massive building with every window blown out. It looks grey and completely abandoned, almost like a huge windstorm of grey dust is eating away at it. A huge gaping hole in one side that normally one might joke.. looked like a bomb had destroyed it. Of course, a bomb did destroy it. A NATO bomb.. maybe more specifically.. an American bomb. Either way.. even if it had been a East Timorese bomb, I would have felt the same degree of sadness at the sight. 16 people, I thought to myself.. I think 16 people died in that building.

The speedy cab driver drove on. Probably passes the building 6 times a day and doesn’t suffer from any flashbacks that somehow.. I get on my first visit. I jump out at the station, say the one Serbo-Croatian word I know how to say “Hvala” and just like that.. I’m on the train. As far as I know.. the right train.. to Croatia.

On the trainride home I sit alone in one of those cabins. Watching the sun go down over the Serbian horizon… its big.. its fairly empty.. and its beautiful. I turn off the mp3 player.. put away the book.. open the window and lean out… listening to the train sounds.. and whatever else I can hear. Occasionally smelling those wood burning stove smells.

So it goes, only a pair of days in Belgrade and Im back in Zagreb.. preparing to get back on the plane for home. My one big thought… I’m not ready to leave yet! Therefore.. I’ll be back quite soon.. so stay tuned.

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