Part 1 - Hvala, hvala, hvala
I stepped out into Belgrade’s Nikola Tesla airport from the long day of flying. Two faces behind a sign with my name on it were smiling back at me as I waved. Veronika and Donny were my escorts for the day’s drive to Ecofutura Nature Retreat Centre in the mountains above Sarajevo, Bosnia.
We drove for a few hours to get there, I think we wandered out of our way - the part of Serbia/Bosnia we were travelling towards didn't even register on the GPS. I loved the familiar red roofed stone houses, the errant farm animals, the general feel of
the Balkans...agricultural, green...each city and village passing with a mix of cosmopolitan- the younger people dressed very fashion-forward-, and old-world village.
We arrived at around 22:00 at Ecofutura - a 18 km uphill drive through mountain villages from the city of Sarajevo.
It was dark, so I was unable to really take in the beauty of the mountains on the way up. I was later blown away by the landscape - the green fields, the fireworks of colours in the trees, the violet wildflowers...and the quiet.
When I arrived, my host, Sevko, met us to show us our rooms and to help me to get settled. Ecofutura is a beautiful straw bale constructed facility on many acres of untouched wilderness
I was quite hungry, so we joined many of the group in the lounge area which would become the room in which we would do the trainings. I met many of the group that night, said hello. I was greeted with warmth, hugs, even gracious tears. I was unable to really take in the natural setting until the next day - but was quietly told by one of the owners that ‘all the animals had come the past few days as a greeting to the group’. He had seen wild boars for the first time on the land the day before we arrived. Outside the door, a small speckled lizard - who looked much like a gecko, appeared to say goodnight.
We began the training the next morning. For the next few days, this group became my community, my tribe. I could not have chosen a more committed group of people with whom to share my life’s work, I witnessed them to be very focused and courageous even as I had taken some quite far from their comfort zones with the principles and the techniques and practical experience of journeying within Shamanic practice.
What I came to learn from a number of these people is what they had to go through to be with us that week. Some had decided not to pay rent that month in order to afford the training (the training and the accommodations together were about $300 US.) I had also come to learn that this was quite a lot of money in this country for a training such as this. Some had driven 7 hours or more to be at this retreat. This revelation stirred deep emotions in me, how committed these people were to self-healing, education, and experiencing this work. The personal risks they would take in order to be a part of this. This moved me to my core - this example of deep trust.
It was a regular occurrence that during my time there, someone speaking with me would break down into tears. Conversations would always end in repeating “Hvala, hvala, hvala” (thank you). The graciousness towards me and my presence was nearly overwhelming… Here I was, in so much gratitude for the experience itself, for the opportunity to share the work I love so much, to connect with so many people - Serbian, Bosnian, Croatian people all together. I felt like writing ‘Hvala!’ all over myself because I could not possibly say it enough. This was the start of what I would experience for the next few days from this group. Warmth, willingness, and so much gratitude.
I am always amazed how Balkan people are so motivated to serve. Wherever I sat down, the first response was immediately in concern of what I might need in that moment - can I get you a coffee, tea, water, are you hungry….etc. I can tell you I never wanted for anything for even a moment before someone was already placing it in front of me. That is the nature of these people.
I would go from one group to the next throughout our time together - getting to know people, grateful that they would speak to me in English or grab someone to translate. My heart longed to understand the musical Serbo-Croatian language. I could almost ‘feel’ it. I simply learned to listen for my name - which had become “Vidra” before long - this is “Otter” in Serbo-Croatian. It is always honouring, being named . I have been named by several other people or groups of people in my life since my parents named me. “Aurora” in Central and South America, “Dobhrain” in Ireland, my Haitian friends call me ‘Loutre”...This feels like being lovingly claimed, or adopted. I suppose I am a child of the world, with families everywhere.
Some of this group of amazing people would try to teach me phrases in their language. The first one I learned was “Dobro Jutro” - Good Morning, “Kako si” which means “How are you doing?”. I got a bit turned around with ‘Kako si’ the first time I tried to use it without prompting - I said to Ivana, one of our hosts - “Dobro Jutro, koko she” which means “Good Morning, Chickens!” It became somewhat of a running joke with the group. I also learned how to say a few more things including how to ask for a beer, which, when one is travelling in Europe, one should learn in several languages.
After one of our training days, Sevko and Veronika organized a guided walking tour of Sarajevo. We met with Nadim, a professional Bosnian tour guide who spoke perfect English so fast that my brain had to speed up simply to keep pace with him. I learned the history of this beautiful city and I was so grateful for the guidance as I would otherwise had missed out on experiencing the history of the city...which is very old and has been under the rule of several different empires. The culture within Sarajevo, and within Bosnia, is very rich and diverse. The city is gorgeous, with bridges, stone buildings, narrow streets, cobbled markets, and open fountains. The drinking water was the most delicious water I have ever tasted anywhere...it is hard to believe this is a fairly large European city.