1. May 2004: Lost in European Reality
After dancing through the midnight with thousands of Hungarians in Sopron European reality quickly caught up with me at the Austrian border on my way home. I picked up a Serbian woman that didn't have a visa to cross Hungary. She was trying to get home to Yugoslavia.

2 o'clock in the morning. The Hungarian border police had already packed their bags. Nobody at the border crossing. Only the Austrians were still wide awake.

"Open the trunk, please. Are you driving to Vienna?"
"Could you take somebody with you to Vienna?"
"If I don't get robbed, why not."
"I'm sure, you won't."
"You never know ... But ok, it's no problem."

Jovanka was on her way home to Yugoslavia. Her working visa for Austria expires tomorrow, May 2nd. She can only get a new one in Belgrade. So she tried to travel all the way from Innsbruck, Tyrolia, where she works as a room maid in a hotel, to Belgrade. At Klingenbach, the Austrian border crossing, she had no problems. But the Hungarians sent her back. No visa to cross Hungary. So there she stood in the middle of nowhere speaking German not too well, having no idea where to go.

"So what are you supposed to do now, Jovanka?"
"Getting a visa at the Hungarian Embassy in Vienna."
"Do they open on Saturdays?"
"Yes. They [police at the border-crossing] told me."
40 km later.
"Jovanka, do you know anybody in Vienna? Where are you going to sleep??"
"Maybe at a train station."

This morning I called the Hungarian Embassy. Closed. Of course. It's Saturday. It's May 1st, the international day of work. The answering machine provides two emergency numbers: One for any affairs concerning the consulate "but no visa questions". One for official affairs. If you'ld like to listen to it yourself try 0043.1.537 80 300.

"Jovanka, there will be absolutely no way to reach anybody at the embassy. Couldn't you go to Graz by train and get home through Slovenia and Croatia? Do you need visas to cross these countries? We have to get you out of Austria by tomorrow 12 p.m. Otherwise you might not have a chance to get back to work and to your husband."
"I could fly! No further visa required!"

I dropped exhausted and confused Jovanka off at the airport at 10 a. m., said good-bye at the check-in and watched her pass the first control. From Belgrade she still has four hours by bus to get to her hometown.

I don't know where she is right now. But I know where I am since last night: One step back to humility, one step forward to not taking my life, my freedom for granted.

All this might never have happened if there hadn't been that fateful invitation to Slovenia last September. Without I probably would have never crossed this border to the East tonight. Thank you, Zv., for opening the Slavic door to me.

Thank you, Kitschtante, for calling me this morning to check whether I am still alive.

I later thought she could have taken a plane from Bratislava. It's much cheaper. But then - she probably would have needed a visa to cross the Slovakian border.

Lifetime-Project: Trying To Get To Zaječar