Emerson’s quote is particularly apt for our 7 hours of driving from Thessaloniki to Belgrade, Serbia. The green countryside went on and on. We tended to follow valleys that stretched between mountains. The valleys were sparsely populated with small towns and agriculture flourished. Beautiful fields of varied crops. Of course, the ubiquitous grape vines were everywhere.
As we neared the Macedonian border, we saw several refugee camps. Three or four person tents were one next to the other. It looked like there was maybe 6 inches of space between them. The tents were of the cheap K-Mart variety, none of the sturdy well designed North Face or Marmot tents. The first camp we came to looked like maybe 300 to 500 people were crammed into an area near the road. We saw two more camps that were smaller. It felt inappropriate to stop and a take a picture, so we did not. The girls took a break from their e-books and paid attention while we were passing the camps. Marcia and I discussed the horrors that the refugees had endured in Syria and the challenges of their migration to the Macedonian border, but it did not sink in for the girls. It was almost as though they had a built-in defense mechanism to avoid thinking about it. They returned to their e-books without mentioning the camps.
Once we passed the border, we needed a bathroom break. We exited the highway and expected to be on a road to get us a restaurant. No luck. We drove a narrow road for at least ten minutes and arrived at what looked like a gated hotel. No luck again, as the security guard told us it was not a hotel, “factory, factory.” We asked about a restaurant and he encouraged us to stay on the road for another 5 km. He was right. We arrived at a town that was clearly off the tourist map. Parking was a challenge as cars were angled up over the curb on a 45 degree angle. With some patience, we found an excellent excellent parking spot. Marcia saw a building that looked like a hotel. Turned out it was city hall. Both Marcia and I set off the metal detector. The guard was not worried about the alarm and kindly pointed us to the bathrooms four doors down the hall on the left. As I finished before the four girls, I returned and asked about a restaurant. He kindly left his booth and walked to the door and said, “Walk left and two rights.” All we had to do was follow the smell of the BBQ. It was at most a one-minute walk.
Life is the journey. Passing the refugees was difficult. There was the immediate sadness of thinking about how difficult their lives have been to flee their homes. There were also the feelings of helplessness and frustration knowing the immense scale of the diaspora occuring worldwide. One other facet of the experience is guilt about our circumstances being so favorable. We drove on to Belgrade and took warm showers, had a savory Serbian dinner, and slept in comfortable beds.