The title sounds like the start of a bad joke. Zemun or Munze Konza (Zemun Zakon= Zemun rules) as it’s known over here, has a bad reputation by those who live outside of Munze. :) It was known as a rough place in the 90’s and home to the Zemunski Klan. It’s a strange place to start this crazy story.
I reached out to the Palestinian Student Diaspora group in Serbia last year. I’ve always been interested in those folks who come from countries that my nation labels as “American haters”. You usually find out the total opposite is true. I made a post on their Facebook page and quickly received a message from the student president. We spoke for a bit and I told him that I’d love to meet up with him and a few of the 30+ Palestinian students who study in Serbian universities here. He told me not to get offended if some of them had some harsh words for the American government. I assured him that nothing could offend me and that we had plenty of Americans who had harsh things to say about American foreign policy. :)
We all met at Yala Habibi, a nargile bar, over by Slavija in Belgrade. Sharar and his crew of 6 or 7 other Palestinians showed up. They were all very kind and happy to meet up with an American. It was an honor to meet them and to have them share some of their heartbreaking stories about life in Palestine. :( I also learned that Palestine is strong supporter of Serbia and they refuse to recognize Kosovo. They were one of the 50 brave nations that voted “NO’ to Kosovo in UNESCO.
We parted ways, but kept in close contact. I took a few trips down to Kragujevac to visit Sharar and met a few of the other Palestinian boys and girls who study there at the medical and engineering faculty.
I stayed at their place for a few weekends and a few of them turned into some of my best friends over here. They come up and stay with me when i’m at my apartment in Zemun and here in Novi Sad. We are very different, but enjoy each other’s company. One of them even came over and taught me how to cook something called maqluba, a famous Palestinian meal.
I happened to be at my Zemun apartment over last year’s Serbian New Year’s Eve holiday. Sharar was staying at his girlfriend’s apartment in New Belgrade so we agreed to meet up for a few drinks to celebrate. We met up at a little bar in downtown Zemun with his Serbian girlfriend’s Croatian cousin. We had a blast throwing down a few beers and talking about all the differences we had between us. It was last call and the bar was about to kick us out so we paid our bill and started to walk over to Glavna for them to catch a cab. The streets were almost totally deserted with the exception of two police officers talking to the guy working at the trafika. I never like walking up on police officers in a foreign country especially when I didn’t have my id anywhere near me. Serbia requires you to carry a picture ID and police registration card on you at all times. We were talking when I notice the police looking at us. They started to walk towards us and I started sweating. I told Sharar that I hoped they wouldn’t speak to us because I didn’t have my id. What did they do? They walked right over and asked for our passports! :O My Palestinian pal speaks perfect Serbian as he studies medicine in Serbian language. The guys pull out their passports and I’m thinking to myself…. “We are doomed! A Palestinian Muslim, a Croatian Catholic and an American with no passport on him!” The cops look at the guys and seem shocked that they are both foreign. Sharar has to translate to me. I tell him to tell the police that I do have a legal right to be here, but I hate carrying my passport because a Gypsy stole my last one! The cops don’t seem to give two shits about my excuse. They ask what id I have in my wallet. I pull out a Bank of America ATM card. The guy gives me an annoyed look and he asks me “What are we supposed to do with this!” :o I then tell Sharar to explain to them that I promote Serbia in a positive light and have been on many tv shows for it. The cop pulls out his phone and tells me to prove it. I go to Youtube and pull up the Prva Exploziv episode I was in where I sing “Tamo Daleko” figuring it might pull some heart strings on some big, mean Serbian cop. They both watch it for a few minutes and then the younger one smiles really big. He says “We knew who you were. We saw you and wanted to give you a scare!” :) :) :) :) I’m saved!!!! They tell me that I must keep id on me at all times. The older cop hadn’t heard about me, but insisted all five of us go in for a coffee at the kladionica. He doesn’t speak English, but the others translate most of the conversation. He said ” It isn’t very often that they run into a Croat, a Palestinian and an American at 2am in Zemun!” We have our coffee and I wish the gentleman a very happy new year! The policemen both add me on Facebook and we head out of the kladionica with a big sigh of relief.
The moral of the story? Make sure that you carry id on you at all times when in Serbia. You might not bump into the same friendly cops that I did!