Marko Vignejevic is a young man from Pancevo, Serbia. He spent one year studying at an American high school through the A-SMYLE student exchange program. One day he received a letter from the organization telling him that he would be spending his year in the tiny little town of Sylvan Grove, Kansas. Sylvan Grove has a population of about 300 residents! What would happen when a 6’7 Serbian student enters a tiny town in the center of the USA? I asked him a few questions to find out…. Charles- “What were your first impressions of the USA?” Marko- “Okay. My first impressions? Well, lets skip all the flying and sightseeing and jump right into Kansas. So, my first impression of Kansas was “Holy shit, this place is flat!” and I live in Vojvodina. :) Then I started mentally preparing myself for the farmer lifestyle, instead of my city lifestyle that I had in Serbia. Then I got to the house and the farm and I liked it! It was way different than my house in Serbia, but I expected that.” Charles: “What about the family you lived with? Were they nice to you?” Marko: ” They treated me very well! I never once felt like I didn’t belong! They had four kids already. One daughter and three boys. It was a lot of fun living with them as you can imagine with all those kids running around.” Charles: ” Did you teach them any Serbian?” Marko: ” I tried, but It didn’t work out very well. They kept pronouncing the J and the G the exact same way. :)” Charles: “Were they a wealthy family?” Marko: “ No, average middle class family, but they live much better than an average Serbian family.” Charles: “ Were your real mom and dad worried about you? Did your host family speak with them? “ Marko: “ No, once all my flying was over, they were fine. My dad is a very reasonable man and calmed everyone else. I introduced my host parents to my real parents over Skype and there was a lot of awkward staring until I started translating because my parents in Serbia speak ZERO English.” Charles: ” How did the residents of this place treat you?” Marko: “The town is so small. It only has 300 people in it. The high school was a consolidation of a few little towns and only had 100 students. The people of Kansas were so nice to me, possibly too nice.” Charles: ” Were the kids at school friendly to you?” Marko: ” YES! The minute I walked into the school kids started saying ” Great! We are going to state in basketball this year” because I was the tallest guy in school. It was funny because they hadn’t even seen me play yet! I felt like the star walking around this school being 6’7! I was also the only exchange student.” Charles: ” How did your basketball season go in Kansas?” Marko: “It was good. We ended up 9th in whole state of Kansas, but lost badly in our final game. We were 5th in the state at one time” Charles: ” Did you tell the kids at school about Serbia?” Marko: ” Yes. We had my Serbian flag hanging up in my American history class! :)” Charles: ” Did you like American food?” Marko: ” Yes, I loved it! Could you find a way to bring a Taco Bell over here to Serbia? :) ” Charles: “What was the worst part of your trip?” Marko: “Probably having to leave everyone. ” Charles: “Anything else you’d like to tell us?” Marko: ” Well… I won a free trip to Washington D.C and New York City for winning a writing contest and for having lots of community service hours!” Marko: ” I’d love to find a way to go back to Kansas again next year!”
My friend picked me up at Nikola Tesla Airport in Belgrade, Serbia back in 2010.
There were a few large Serbs and my scrawny ass crammed into a little red Yugo. We were on our way to my buddies house in a little village around Zrenjanin, Serbia. We stopped at a red light and were talking about pure randomness when I saw the light turn from red to yellow and then to green. I found that so strange. The stop lights in the USA go from red to green. I asked my buddies why they have the yellow before the light turns green. They thought my question was silly because they assumed all traffic lights were that way. :) The more I live here, the more I think it’s a good thing. The VAST majority of Serbian automobiles are manual transmission while the VAST majority of American cars are automatic. The hardest part of driving a manual car, for most people, is getting it into 1st gear without killing it. Maybe the yellow light gives you that additional few seconds to get your car into gear without creating delays. It would also allow you some sort of break from staring at an “endless” red light. It might also allow you to shut your car off and save gasoline.
My opinion? Serbia wins this battle! :)
Back in the summer of 2013……. I had the honor of meeting the wonderful crew from “Operation Florian” who provide donated fire equipment to Serbia and other countries around the world. Haydn Brown, a representative from Operation Florian, had mentioned that there was another organization from Wales that was doing some AWESOME things in Serbia too. A few weeks later I received a message from them! They had a catchy name “Blazing to Serbia“! We agreed to meet up at the mall in Belgrade, Serbia when they arrived. We sat for a few hours discussing our lives, our connection to Serbia and the foundation of the amazing “Blazing to Serbia” organization. “Blazing to Serbia” has visited Serbia on 12 occasions taking various items of equipment from the South Wales Fire & Rescue Service. The equipment provided includes 93 Gas Tight Chemical suits, over 300 Breathing Apparatus sets and cylinders, approximately 30 sets of hydraulic rescue equipment, over 300 sets of protective fire kit and helmets and various other items used at road traffic collisions, lines and torches.The most amazing part is the 18 fire trucks that they have driven down here and donated to many different cities in Serbia! It is rare to find such kind and giving folks who have no ties to Serbia, but who have such a passion to help the country and its people!! The ONLY thing that they are asking from all of us, is to help keep this wonderful organization going by clicking “LIKE” on their Facebook page!
1. What is “Blazing to Serbia?
A. Blazing to Serbia is an initiative of the South Wales Fire & Rescue Service, whereby a small group of volunteers acquire Fire Service vehicles and equipment and then donate them to the Fire Services in Serbia.
2. Who does it consist of and why did they join?
A. The Blazing to Serbia team is made up of Operational Firefighters from across South Wales, together with former Young Firefighters and friends.
3. Out of all the countries out there, how did you choose to assist Serbia?
A. Serbia was selected by accident. Due to my involvement with the Young Firefighters scheme, which operates all across South Wales, I decided to get myself a youth working qualification. On the course with me was a Scout leader who had recently returned from Serbiawith a group of Scouts. Whilst there they had visited a Fire Station and found that the fire engines were really old. He then asked at what age the trucks were replaced in South Wales and so the seed was sown. This was September 2006 and in March 2007 we made our first visit to Serbia.
4. What did you guys know about Serbia before making your first trip here?
A. Yes I knew that Serbia was part of the former Yugoslavia and had a vague knowledge of the recent Balkan conflict. Other than that I didn’t know anything at all.
5. Tell me a bit about your first impressions of Serbia when you first arrived here. How does it differ from Wales?
A. Coming from Pontypridd at the foot of the South Wales Valleys, I was used to mountains and hills all around, but the part of Serbiathat we visited was really flat, so this surprised me. But the thing that I remember most is how friendly and welcoming the people were.
6. How do you guys get your funding, donated vehicles, etc?
A. In order to get the vehicles and equipment form the South Wales Fire & Rescue Service, I gave presentations to the Senior Officers and the politicians who make up the Fire & Rescue Authority. After much persuasion they agreed to support Serbia for a fixed period of time. This period has now expired, so the arrangement that we had is now being reconsidered.
In order to transport the vehicles and equipment to Serbia the team carry out various fund raising events, like packing people’s bags in supermarkets, sponsored events, raffles and social functions. Without the good will and commitment of the Blazing to Serbia team, these fund raising events would not be possible.
The first convoy of 6 fire trucks that we drove to Serbia in 2011 was accompanied by a television crew from our National television station ITV Wales, who documented the journey. This documentary, called ‘Blazing to Serbia, was shown on National TV in November 2011. This documentary can still be seen on our web site www.blazingtoserbia.co.uk Because of the involvement of television, we were able to gain sponsorship for each of then trucks, which made the task of fund raising much easier.
7. How do you determine which city will get a fire engine?
A. Because the Serbian Interior Ministry is best placed to see where the trucks will be most useful and where they are most needed, we donate the trucks to them and they then allocate them accordingly.
8. What is the funniest story that you could tell us about all of your times in Serbia?
A. It won’t come as too much of a surprise to know that rakija leads to lots of funny situations, but a generally good example can be found on You Tube, just search for Tom Mac Fishing joke.
9. What do you see in the future of “Blazing to Serbia?
A. Fire Services across the UK are experiencing serious budgetary shortfalls and South Wales is no exception. Because of this the future of Blazing to Serbia is in the balance as Senior Officers and Politicians decide whether to sell the trucks, or continue to donate them to Serbia.
Outside of the trucks and equipment, the team has also been working with the Serbia Red Cross at Sremska Mitrovica. The team has helped with the provision of clothing, blankets, shoes and gifts for children and hygiene packs for families. We are also working with two animal rescue centres at Nis and Sremska Mitrovica.
So to answer your question, the future of Blazing to Serbia is uncertain in its current format, but if trucks & equipment is not available, then we will concentrate on other things. However, it would be a shame if we were not able to donate any more trucks, as the trucks also allow us to bring lots of donations to Serbia, at no additional cost.
In July, my future son-in-law James Randell, did an open air concert in the square in Ruma. A couple of weeks ago he did one in Sremska Mitrovica and a second one in Ruma. The concerts in Ruma have been to raise money for the Ruma Rotary Club and for a Bowel Cancer Charity. This is certainly something that we will be doing more of.
There is a saying that goes, “Charity, like its sister mercy is twice blessed, it blesses him that gives and him that takes.” The experience of driving across Europe in a fire truck and being able to make a positive difference in people’s lives has certainly made an impact on me and influences my thoughts and the way that I lead my life. This would be the same for the other team members too. Young people in theUK very often get a very bad press, so the fact that Blazing to Serbia has lots of young people who are thinking of others, often before themselves, can only be a good thing and benefit communities in Serbia and in Wales.
10. I really loved to hear about your little shoe boxes for the kids. Didn’t you run into some issues with customs last time? How did the kids react to them?
A. In December 2013, we sent a lorry load of equipment, ladders and clothes to Serbia. Whilst we were collecting these goods, I thought that it would be nice if we could send some gifts out for the children. I messaged the Red Cross at Sremska Mitrovica and they agreed that this would be a great idea. The team then set about collecting and filling 268 shoe boxes, with gifts for needy children. The contents of the shoe boxes varied, but contained items such as coloured pens & pencils, felt pens, crayons, chalk, calculators, note pads,colouring books, soap, shampoo, toothbrushes and toothpaste and toys, puzzles and sweets of every different type.
The Serbia Customs Service is always a challenge, but thankfully we are always able to resolve things eventually.
The intention was for us to visit a couple of weeks later and then help the Red Cross to distribute the shoe boxes. However, the shoe boxes did not clear customs until we had left the country, but the photographs that we saw ensured that the effort that we made was worthwhile.
Seventeen of the team visited Serbia 4th – 8th November and brought just over 400Kg of gifts and hygiene products with us. These were made into gift bags and we spend two days with the Red Cross, distributing them to needy children. This is an experience that will not only live with us for the rest of our lives, but will also influence the way that we lead our lives. Everyone was so happy to see us and were extremely grateful for our support and concern.
11. How can all of us that read this article help ensure that your awesome organization … continues? Is there something that we can do?
We really need people to visit the Blazing to Serbia Facebook page and give it a LIKE. We then need people to SHARE it with their friends and ask them to like & share it too.
Follow us on Twitter @BlazingToSerbia
On our web site we have a section for ‘Our Followers’. If there are any Serbian Celebrities, Politicians etc out there who would like to give us a photograph and some words of support to put in this section, it would be great.
We need to raise the profile of Blazing to Serbia in Wales & in Serbia, so any sort of media coverage would be great.
On March 27th, 1999….. The Serbian air defenses were able to blast an F-117 Stealth Nighthawk out of the sky. The only one ever to be shot down.
The F-117 82-0806 (whose remains are exhibited at Belgrade Air Museum) was shot down by the 3rd Battalion of the 250th Air Defence Missile Brigade of the Army of Yugoslavia, with one of several missiles fired by an S-125 “Neva” missile system (NATO reporting name, SA-3 “Goa”) at a distance of about 8 miles.
According to Sergeant Dragan Matić, the soldier later identified as the operator who fired the missiles, the stealth plane was detected at a range of about 50 to 60 kilometres and the surface-to-air missile radar was switched on for no more than 17 seconds to prevent the site to be detected by the NATO’s SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defense) aircraft.
Fast forward to 2014……I was on a bus from Belgrade to Novi Sad. The bus had one stop in between, in the little city of Indjia, Serbia. The window seat is usually my first choice. I’ve never liked to sit in the aisle and have folks bumping into me the whole time. I was gazing out the window while the bus was pulling around the back of the bus station in Indjia,
when I noticed the words “F-117″ on the side of a little bar. I didn’t get a good look at the place, but noticed a few pictures in the window too. I had to get back over to see this place.
This afternoon,David Dautovic, contacted me for assistance. He is a young man from Pancevo who has been a Facebook friend for a long while. His sister is trying to gather a lot of pictures of people from around the world holding a sign that shows her love for her boyfriend. He asked me if I could help him out with one. I noticed that the bottom of his message said ” Indjia, Serbia” I quickly asked him if he was anywhere close to the bus station. He was close by so I asked him to seek out this little bar and shoot me some pictures. He was kind enough to snap the following pictures:
I’ll head over there in the next few weeks to do some videos from this location. I might wear my Canadian flag shirt ! It might be a little safer! :)
Everyone likes Canadians.
What is one thing that can be very annoying about having so many Serbian Facebook friends? Having your inbox flooded with the same info and links on anything that is going on in Serbia. That is how I first heard of Kevin Shannon, the adventurer , who was planning to march all the way across Serbia. There were over 20-30 folks who were sending me something from the local newspapers and tv stations about him and his mission. We had connected over Facebook and he asked me to join in on part of journey. I wish I had taken the opportunity to do so not only for my health, but to experience a little bit of his adventure.
We bumped into each other again the “Exit Festival Global Adventures” tourism conference. I was there to giving a presentation on my social network and blog while he was there to present “Walk Serbia”. I decided to quiz him with some more detailed questions about his time in Serbia.
1. Where are you from and what do you do?
So: my name is Kevin Shannon and I’m from the UK. Currently I run my own small creative design studio called Chips & Gravy studios
I originally visited Serbia the first time in the autumn of 2010 whilst on 10,000 km cycling expedition from the UK to the far end of Turkey and then back again. On that visit to Serbia I completely fell in love with the country and made some great friends. During the 3 to 4 months that I spent in Serbia I spend most my time in Belgrade, Novi Sad, Sabac and Nis. When I returned home I realised that I’d only seen a fraction of Serbia and although I had learnt about the country a little there was still Hell of a lot more to see. So I decided that one day I would return to Serbian and walk the length of the country.
Before I visited Serbia first time I didn’t really know that much about the country. I had simply drawn a line across Europe and Serbia happened to be on that path. I knew the region was obviously famous for conflicts and I had a they recollection of seeing the NATO bombings on television when I was younger, but that was really it. But as I was cycling through countries before I got to Serbia I was warned that Serbian people what do horrific things to me once I crossed the border. Of course I don’t believe this but when your cycling on your own across Europe these warnings do not fill you with confidence.
6. Biggest complication.
I never really felt threatened or in danger, even in small Kafanas in the middle of god knows where surrounded by big, burly Serbian guys. The biggest issue with regards to safety to me was the packs of wild dogs. They were always a concern when I was walking in the mountains or sleeping out at night.
11. What 4 words would you use to describe Serbia after walking from top to bottom and back?
12. Will you return to Serbia? What would you say to someone that is considering a visit to this part of the world?
13. You have decided to publish a book about this exciting adventure, right? Tell me a little about the project.
The new Grand Theft Auto game, GTA V, has a scene showing a homeless man with a sign that reads “Serbian bad guys stole all of my money. PLEASE HELP” ( Picture above)
This is a video company that released its first version of this hit video game back in 1997. Each game in this series allows players to take on the role of a criminal or a wannabe in the big city, typically an individual who plans to rise through the ranks of organised crime through the course of the game. The player is given various missions by kingpins and major idols in the city underworld which must be completed to progress through the storyline. Assassinations and other violent crimes are featured regularly. Occasionally taxi driving, firefighting, street racing, bus driving, or learning to fly helicopters and aircraft are also involved.
The lead character is named Niko Bellic. There has been some debate as to his nationality, but there is a lot of speculation that he is Serbian. You can read that for yourself on WIKI. One of the executive producers just made this statement when asked about Niko’s nationality “from that grey part of broken-down Eastern Europe”. That pretty much sums it up. They have Niko speaking Serbian in a few different segments.
You Serbs sure get a lot of flack in the media, Hollywood and in video games. Just smile and enjoy the attention they are giving you. Jebiga! :)
UPDATE: A Serbian buddy from Milwaukee, Wisconsin recorded this video of some “Serbian revenge” on this character. :)