Below is the the story of Aurélien Gadde, a long-term Mountain spirit volunteer in the village of Kuterevo, Croatia in the period April – November 2018.
The deeper emotions
8 months ago, I arrived by bus in Otočac. One red car and a smiling man with a plaid shirt were waiting me at the bus station, Ivan! During the way to the village I was excited, thinking and saying to myself: «The adventure starts!!». Ivan was driving and showing the mountain, he told me just one thing: «Kuterevo!!!». The language was the first obstacle but I came here for this aim: learn, share and help, and without the Croatian language it is not impossible but so hard which can be frustrating.
I wanted to write something about the integration in Kuterevo (language, works, friends…) because for me during those 8 months it was the most precious and important thing.
The first few weeks were the time for that, adaptation and confidence-building. I discovered the places, the buildings, the villagers, and obviously the animals present in the refuge (bears, ponies, geese, dogs, cats…).
It is a beautiful place, full of calm, of poetry, of knowing how to live… Everyone knows how to take the time to live but also to work hard. Everyone knows each other, each one helps each other in difficult times. It feels like home. Here, when you are open-minded, motivated and a hardworker, it is very easy to be integrated. They love it. It is with this mindset that I have managed to create links quickly with the coordinator Josipa, founder of association Ivan, the neighbours as well as the other volunteers.
But my integration was mostly done over time. As an European volunteer, we are here to learn, share and with excitement and motivation, despite the language barrier, everything is possible. It all started when I arrived in my flat, nice place close to a family. They show me the place, explain to me how it works, with an unforgetable welcoming (rakija, homemade juice, homemade cake for me… and for them I brough some french wine and cheese). The first relationship was created. Few days later, I saw the father of this family mowing in the shelter around the refuge. It was a technique that interested me and I wanted to ask to him to teach me. It worked and then I worked every morning with him. During all these moments I learned a lot of Croatian vocabularies, methods and rhythm of work (break with dry ham, fresh onion, homemade bread during the morning).
But the most important was the relationship created between us. We created a very strong link, he was like a guide for me. Thanks to this person I met a lot of villagers and I spent a lot of time out of the shelter. Since then I was meeting many new people and creating connections. At the beginning of the fourth month, with the help of several learning books, I could manage to understand a minimum Croatian and exchange a little with the locals and thus work alone with them without being obliged to use my dictionary. Even if it is impossible to understand each other with words, it is everytime possible to talk with eyes, mimics, make some jokes with stranges noises…
The integration has also been made through the help given to the villagers. There is always a lot of work to be done at the shelter but during free time, I spent moments helping them (harvesting hay, collecting potatoes and plums, cutting wood, baking rakija…) and seeing them all together, in joy, sometimes crying and working without complaining show how important this help is. I usually like to help, but being with them gives even more desire to participate. There is like an aura that leads you into a positive spiral. And at the end of the job, they usually all stay together to share a meal. It was really just amazing.
I used to talk and enjoy with the local volunteers. We had some parties, went to eat pizza in different places (Medobar, Butina, Gorići, Otočac, Sinac, Senj…). I worked often with the villagers so some of them are friends to me like «Terminator»! This summer, after collecting the hay, we went in different places on the coast to have some fun on concerts, festivals, gulaš parties! The list can be very long about what I did here, the people I met… Also I will never forget the time I spent with KUD, the local folklore club! We spent time together durings their practices for their concerts, show in Otočac, parties in DVD… Just 8 months with unforgetable moments. I love them even if they almost wanted to kick me after the football worldcup!! We did a big party together.
The village is like mine in France now. I got a new family. Thanks to all of this, now I know more about the culture of this village, their way of thinking, of seeing life, simply but intensely. It’s a real life lesson. This EVS was a total success for me. I learn so much, about works, language, a lot about them, how they live, how they are (strong, kind, true, original…) and about myself in the same time. I hope they learnt and took a bit from me as well. Now I am sad to leave of course but it is never over. Kuterevo Spirit will still be alive for ever. I got it.
Part 2 is coming soon…