Saturday, September 1, 2007

The end of the story...the part you have been waiting for here I am sitting at the computer and it is almost midnight. Today has been a difficult day because I have been so mixed with different emotions. I finally came to realize that part of it was that I had the dreadful part of the story still to write on the blog. This is the hardest part to write because it is where the feelings of disappointment, hurting, and confusion take place. All of the other things that happened to us in the trip were a true part of traveling and culture shock. I thought that since we didn't write on our blog the whole time that I would fill you in on as many details as I could, however, I am tired of putting this specific posting off and I know many of you are ready to hear the true reason we came back. So here is goes...
All in all the whole reason we came back was because we were lied to by the administrator of Berlitz (the school we were suppose to teach). His name is Sasha and he is Austrian. He is very much a business man and a crook (in our opinion). Before going over to Belgrade, we were told that we would have a working visa and a contract for the school. The working visa would make us legal to work. To obtain this visa, we were told that we would need to leave the country every 90 days because we wouldn't be residents but by leaving and getting the visa renewed we would be legal to work and get paid. Sasha had also set us up with a real estate agent to help us find a flat to live in. Sasha also told us that we would be making more than double of what Serbians make and that we would be getting plenty of hours to work. When arriving in Belgrade, we starting hearing from other teachers a very different story. They were having a hard time paying their rent because they weren't getting enough hours. We then found out that Sasha had hired 14 new teachers for the year. How was this going to work?
We had met a girl name Adriana, who is a teacher at Berlitz. She was moving out of her flat and her landlord was looking for residents to live there. She showed us the flat and we liked it plus it was very low rent cost. The landlord met with us and asked us if we had a work visa and a contract with the school. We said that we would be getting a visa and that we did have a contract. We told the landlord we would talk with Sasha the next day at training about getting the documents to show her. The landlord said to call her the next day when we got everything straightened out.
Now I must interrupt the story to say that since we had gotten to Belgrade, Matt and I just hadn't felt quite right. We blamed it on homesickness but we had a sick feeling that we had been lied to and that things were not going to be as good as we thought they were going to be.
Back to the story...the next day we went to training. Before we had been told that there was 4 days of training and nothing was mentioned about paying for it. At training we learned that there were 4 days of training with the regional manager, demos on Friday, and then 3 more days of training the next week with the administrators of the school. You may be asking "What are demos?" Well this was when you were watched while teaching and then they decide if you are hired or not. WHAT!!!! This is what was running through our we aren't even hired yet? After this, we were asked to each pay 60 Euros for training and 30 Euros for the materials (which were photo copied books). When we told them we didn't have the money with us, they said they could just take it out of our first check. Our funny feeling was certianly not going away.
After training that day, we sat down with Sasha because we had some questions. We asked if we had a contract, he said yes. We asked about the demos on Friday and he said they would chose after the demos of who would keep teaching. be fair to the crook Sasha, he did make is sound like we would be hired and get hours because we had come so far. He never came out and said it but he did give the impression. That is all the credit I am going to give him. We asked how we needed to get a working visa (since we were under the impression that we would be getting one). He told us that we would be getting a tourist visa. We asked, "Does that make us legal to work?" He replied, "What is illegal? What is legal?" I cleared up the questions with "If the police stop us and ask us what we do in Belgrade, can we tell them we teach?" He said, "No, you tell them you are a tourist." We then went on to tell him that we had found a flat for 250 Euros and that the landlord had asked us for a working visa and a contract. We told him we didn't want ot go through the real estate agent because he couldn't find us anything cheap and that we would have to pay him money for finding us a place. Sasha said that it was crazy for the landlords to be asking us for those things. He told us that all the landlords needed to do was to take us down to the police station every 3 months (after we had left the country and came back) to register us. Then he told usto get the landlords number and he would call them. He said, "If you get into any trouble with teh police or landlords, we can talk you out of little things or bribe if needed." He made us a reservation at the Hotel Royal so that we could register to be a tourist. To clear this can either go down to the police station and get your name in the computer or you can stay at a hotel and they will put you in the computer themselves.
Both of us sat in that room with our eyes open widely and our mouths hanging wide open. Since when did it become okay to bribe and lie?? This was not what we had been expecting at all.
After the meeting with Sasha, we were meeting with the landlords. They had brought a friend who worked for the police so that she could help us answer some of the questions that we had the night before. After telling them what Sasha had said, the lady from the police called him. They put him on speaker phone so we could hear. They asked about a contract and he said, "Their contracts are worthless." They asked him about working visas and he said, "It is too much red tape. If you take them I will send you money and more people." I was sick and Matt was furious. After getting off the phone, the lady from the police called the police station to talk to someone with legal questions. During this phone conversation we found out that if we were caught we could get fined anywhere from $500 to $30,000 US dollars. Not only this but we could easily be deported or arrested. If an inspector came to the school and found out we were working, we could also be fined. Not only would we would be fined, but the landlords could as well because they were registering us as their guests. Sasha would be paying us in cash, so he would never have us on the books and he wouldn't get in trouble at all. We also found out that all Sasha had to do was pay $1000 for each of us to be able to get us a working visa. Yet if he did that he would have to put us on the books and pay taxes on us. At the end of the conversation we learned that Sasha had gone bankrupt when we lived in Austria and that he can left the country to run a business in Serbia.
Needless to say, we were very hurt and angry. We called the agency that we had went through to find this job, thinking that they would take our side and help us out. Yet, to our surprise, they simply said that is just how it is in Serbia. They totally took Sasha's side and we are still fighting with them to try to get some of the money that we paid them back. We flew back to the states 2 days after that and now we are in Houston.
So there it is...hard to believe isn't it? One thing that I didn't put in there was that the reservation that Sasha had made us was at a hotel that was ran by, we think, the Turkish mafia! There was a bouncer at the door as we entered, red carpet, red painted staircases (totally socialist), smokey lobby, people sitting in corners and wires hanging from the walls in the rooms. WOW!!
Now that we are back in the states we are still in shock of all the events. Yet, through it all, we did meet some awesome people that helped us out so much. I don't think that we could have made it without them. On our last night there, we all hung out and it was a very sad goodbye. Matt and I wished that things would have truly turned out differently.
Matt and I are so disappointed that this happened. This was our dream and our plan for probably the next 2 years. It is hard to be bitter at the whole thing, however, we do know that we have an open book sitting in front of us. At this point we are homeless and unemployed...two things I never thought we would be. We are having to be dependant on friends and family and we are truly having to put down our pride. Yet, we have had so many people offer us their homes and help. It has been overwhelming to see how helpful people can be. We are blessed to have such wonderful friends and family members. To be honest, there are times that we are bitter and angry at the situation. We are trying our hardest to keep our heads up and look at the positive points of this whole situation. Please keep us in your prayers that we would be led in the right direction and that can keep a sense of peace through this whole ordeal. This to shall pass and we will look back at it and laugh.
You might be asking, "So do they have a plan?" Well...not really. We are taking it one day at a time right now. We don't want to settle and get stuck in jobs that we didn't really want just because we were desperate. We are really searching for the direction we want to go. It is looking like we both will sub at schools in the KC area. By doing this we aren't tied down to contracts or full time jobs and it will allow us to be free to go if needed. By doing this also, it will help us to get back onto our feet and save some money.
So there it is...the story of Matt and Jodi living in Serbia for a week. Please keep us in your prayers and we will keep you posted when we learn what our next adventure will be.

How not to do Serbia in 1 week...Part 2

FIRST SIGHT OF BELGRADE: back to the story. We arrived in Belgrade around 2:30 on Saturday. Our school administrator picked us up from the airport and got us into a cab. The cab then took us to Andrea's apartment. Andrea is another teacher at the Berlitz school and she had offered to let us stay at her house until we could find an apartment so we didn't have to pay money for a hotel. I won't lie...the first sights of Belgrade were not quite as impressive as we would have hoped but we were excited to try to make it our home. Andrea's apartment is in New Belgrade or as the Serbians say Novi Beograd. Let me just tell you right now...New Belgrade doesn't exactly look new. It looks pretty rough but it is the part of town that families and older people live. We unloaded the cab with all of our bags (4 checked pieces of luggage, 2 backpacks, and 2 carry ons) and hauled them up to Andrea's apartment. Luckily she only lived on the 2nd floor. As we walked into Andrea's apartment we saw that it was very small. We are talking like 12X15 living space/bedroom, very small kitchen and bathroom/washing machine room. She had cleared out 2 shelves for us, we unloaded some stuff and went into the city. Now, going back to the apartment, we later found out that she had a very good size bathroom. Most flats (apartments) have the washing machine in the kitchen and you can't hardly close the door to the bathroom when you are sitting on the toilet because it is so small. Anyway...back to the story. We went into the city where we rode the bus, walked around and met some people. We met Andrea's friend Marko, who is from Belgrade Serbia and knows excellent English, Evan, who was also from Belgrade Serbia, Andria, who is Aussi/Serbian and is a teacher at Berlitz, and Tamara, who is also Aussi/Serbian and had just moved to Belgrade to teach at Berlitz but they had informed her when she got there that she didn't have a job. We had drinks with them at a neat little cafe. We walked along the Pedestrian Zone seeing the old buildings and shops. While we were standing around, a man (who was selling things) asked Andrea if Matt was German. She said, "No, he is American." Immediately, the man wanted Matt to give him money because since he was American he would have money. We went to the Fortress where there was a photography exhibit. We looked around and sat over looking the river while talking about places we wanted to go visit while we were in Eastern Europe. We parted ways and went back New Belgrade for the night. Thus concluding day 1 in Serbia.