Voices from the Diaspora: Part 3 – Becoming the Teacher

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March 28, 2018 – The third and final part of the view from Croatia from Australia through the eyes of three generations of one diaspora family. Read Part 1 here.

Part 3 – Becoming the Teacher

“What do I tell my daughters?”

Fast forward a few more years and I became a Tata of two gorgeous girls. I wasn’t going to have some self-appointed judge of all things Croatian dictate to them what it means to be Croatian! I wanted them to experience Croatia for themselves so that they could make up their own minds about their culture. I told them that we were going to Croatia to see where Baba and Dido came from and my eldest replied, “Does it snow there?” She seemed disappointed that we were going in summer but excited to be going on an aeroplane.

A 24-hour flight feels much longer with kids. Within the first 3 hours or landing in Zagreb I drove down the wrong side of the road causing an accident. Somehow we escaped without a scratch. People on the street were gawking at us and my youngest decided she needed to go to the toilet so now we had to avoid a second accident. Meanwhile, I was being yelled at by a police officer. I was hoping he would just shoot me when he abruptly asked me where I was from, I told him I was Australian but he was actually referring to my ikavski. He smiled at me and said, “It’s good that you have bought your family here.” Croatians (including me) are truly nuts but I thought it was kind of nice of him.

I am glad that I didn’t turn around and go home because Zagreb was so much cooler than I remembered. The streets were full of trendy places and hipsters. We stayed in a charming cottage apartment on Tklaciceva; a perfect base to walk around the pretty old town. The next day we tailor-made a castle tour in the Zagorje which was the next best thing to snow. During the evenings, we would meet up with our lovely cousins. The years between our visits vanished as we picked up from where we left off. The girls were excited by their culture and they were forming connections with their overseas family.

It was nice to be in my other homeland. Croatians spoiled my kids and it warmed my heart. On the first night, one of my girls fell asleep and the waiter wrapped a blanket around her. The next day, a waitress gave a whole plate of Oreos for them and it continued with free pastries wherever we would go. It made up for the surly customer service I often received in the supermarkets.

We left Northern Croatia as it was time to introduce my children to where their story began – the village. Descending into Dalmatia is always dramatic and it is a journey into my very soul – my spiritual country. The sea was blue, the vineyards and fields were plentiful. The houses were almost entirely repaired which included the neighbouring Serb village whose inhabitants have painted over the hate scribbled on their houses. I was hoping to introduce my girls to the village children at our beach but there were no kids, no rich or poor – none of my relatives.

We stopped off at my cousin’s beautiful stone house. We drunk some damn good wine and filled our bellies with the fruits of the land. The girls picked some fruits and happily ran through the vines. It was such a rustic setting but something was wrong.

The scenery was stunning but “Where was everyone?” Apparently, they have gone to Ireland. Only the very rich and the very poor remained. I passed the shops and I recognised one the drunks at the shop as being one of the happy kids on the beach from my previous visit.

There was High unemployment but a desperate call out for staff for the tourist peak – what the hell was happening?! I couldn’t understand why the Croatian youths weren’t working on their summer break like we would in Australia. There seemed to be an air of despair and Croatia seems to have given into its pessimism. I felt saddened by Croatia’s demographic problems

We adopted my cousin’s daughter for 2 weeks, went swimming every day and explored the towns in the surrounding area. The warm days by the sea made me forget which day of the week it was. The girls now had another sister. On the last day in the village, we returned to my late baba’s house to say goodbye to my uncle who lives there. My little girl pointed up on the hill and asked, “Tata what is that?” it was the gun tower that terrorised my family during the war. 28 years since the war ended and no one was ready to take it down. I could still feel its power over the few that remain. “It’s a gun tower sweat-heart.” She replied “Were people fighting?” “Yes.” “Fighting is silly, people should be friends.” I agreed.

The next part of the trip was Losinj, I wanted to show the family where my Tata worked before coming to Australia. This place was truly the heaven he spoke of! As it turns out I still have relatives on the island. The girls continued to be spoiled and went swimming in the crystal blue sea. “Why didn’t dido stay?” Good question kids.

It was hot and had to buy everyone drinks so they wouldn’t pass out. Unexpectedly, a friendly shop assistant was about to answer the above question. He told me he was about to migrate down under. He informed me all about the Uhljebistan. Something always seems wrong in Croatia. While he was talking, I was imagining my father at his age and I could see history repeating. Australia is great for me; Tata almost broke his back so that I could be a first-class citizen but it won’t be so pleasant for this guy. I know that when he arrives he will be sent to work hard. He will finally realise that his high wages aren’t enough to buy the crappiest home in the worst suburb of Sydney. He will become a second-class citizen and he will cry for his homeland realising what he has given up just like my Tata. We fantasise about each other’s realities but the truth is that both Croatia and Australia have their light and dark sides. We get paid well but Croatians own their homes.

Leaving Croatia, my family is filled with sorrow because it will be a few years before we can return. Croatia’s strong personality strikes powerful emotions and it is a contradiction between beauty and horror, frustration and pleasure. It is charmingly and irritatingly provincial. Australia, on the other hand is consistent, not perfect, but optimistic forward thinking and hard working. I love both my homelands. The trip allowed us as a family to feel our heritage directly from the source which includes my non-Croatian wife. We are trying to find excuses to go back. Best of all my two girls look at the holiday picture book every day with beautiful images which includes them. They talk about their cousins, the pet dog, the beach and the castles. This is what Croatia means to them which bears no resemblance to what I was exposed to in the 90s.


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