2017-07-24 19:39 — Maribor
In these past days I’ve had quite a lot of encounters and stories with borders. I guess that this was my initial plan and it is taking shape. I’m getting to know Slovenia and I am falling in love with it, with its green roads, clear lakes and smiley citizens.
In the mornings I babysit the refugee kids whose parents are studying Slovenian and by working with other Slovenian volunteers like Renata and Urska and spending time with many friends from Maribor I am picking up some Slovenian words, all quite useful for day to day interactions- knowing how to say slowly, wait, here, stop, what, small and cat is crucial while working with children. My afternoons are also fun, I get to sit on beautiful cafes sipping tea and writing poem drafts, I go to evening quiz organized by the Slam Poets (Bostjan, Nina and Petra), I visit the seaside and the nearby lakes, I talk with people in the borders and with first and second generation migrants …
Last week I went to Sentilj, the border town with Austria where two years ago refugees arrived trying to cross the border. Sentilj is a very small border town, and like any other border town has a couple of cheap supermarkets, a pizzeria and a strip club. Walking along the road towards the border I saw that inside someone’s garden there were four ostriches running around. It was indeed a surreal day, after talking with some of the villagers and tourists I met snacking in the border I took the train back to Maribor.
Even if both Austria and Slovenia are both part of the Schengen area a wire fence was put along the border to make the border crossing more difficult for the refugees. Those families who were trying to find a safe place to live are no longer there, but the fence is there. As a reminder – but also because it is more expensive to take it away than to leave it there … the irony…
I also visited the temporary camps that were set for them to stay in both sides of the border, no one was there, not even security guards or policemen, so I walked around taking some photos. Empty plastic tents, there was a strong smell of plastic. There were long rows of blue toilet cabins and everything was still and quiet, it was a disturbing silence. All the prayers and the cries from the babies that once were there had gone elsewhere.
Some days later I went with my friends Nathan and Pina to the seaside, to beautiful Piran. The sea and the horizon line are the ultimate border. What hides on the other side of that line is the complete unknown. The day was beautiful. Piran smelled to Italy, its colourful houses and the pine trees brought me back to my teenage years in Trieste (just ten kilometres to the West of Piran).
My guardian angel, Sandra, has a different border story. Last week she tried to go to Croatia to spend some days in the seaside. She drove with her friends until the border. It’s important to point out that Croatia, even if it is in the European Union, is not part of the Schengen area … When the police at the border saw Sandra’s passport they asked her to turn around, it had expired and her driving license was not a valid form of ID. Two countries that used to belong to a single country, and yet now divided by another stupid fence (excuse my language) … So she took her bag and turned around, no seaside break for Sandra.
This week I’ve also managed to go to a couple of lakes, one here in Slovenia and the other one on the other side of the border, in Austria, with Luka. The landscape does not vary much, it is all green and blue, it is all so peaceful, yet on one side they speak Slovenian and on the other German. Are languages bigger barriers than fences and borders? The misunderstandings created by lack of communication have created many conflicts around the world, that is why language learning and communication fascinates me. Languages and words are powerful tools, a good book soothes loneliness, a sweet sentence changes the smile, a strong tone can start a war, a mistranslated letter can break a country. How can we cross the language barriers?
I recently went to a photo exhibition about environmental migration. Through the photos the problematic of climate change and migration was explained. It is extremely interesting, and scary, how both the environment and climate change affect migration patterns and political tensions. I would like to say that the future looks bright, but does it … ? I am hoping to visit the Hungarian border sometime next week, and of course maybe a quick visit to my old high school at the other side of the Italian border. Poems are flourishing like fruits ripened in the sun.