Dunja Kaczmarek was born in Yugoslavia in 1989 and moved to Australia with her family as a baby. Dunja is one of the Founding Co-Editors-in-Chief of be:longing and enjoys interacting with others who feel similar connections to other places and cultures as she does.
Dunja dedicates this piece to her kuma and long-time friend Milica Mastilović, and her fiancé Bojan.
The first time we met, properly, was 19 years ago. I was 11 (almost 12) and you were 10 (almost 11). It was the summer of 2001 – June, to be precise – and we were in Sombor, our common birthplace. I don’t have a lot of friends who were born in the same place as me. I didn’t then, and I don’t now. We met when our families came together that summer. Your family lived there. My family was visiting for a month. We went to your family’s weekend bungalow in Korlatoš and we had a delicious barbecue and strawberries for dessert. After lunch, we and our siblings spent a few hours fishing in the canal off the Danube and running around all over the place, as kids do. I remember you would run around and then all of a sudden stop and do the splits, really easily. I kept thinking ‘Woah, that’s amazing. Will I ever be able to do that?’ It was a beautiful day.
Nine and a half months ago, I called you and asked if you’d be my kuma. I was nervous – had I gotten the time difference right? Would my nerves affect my Serbian? I speak the language pretty well, but sometimes when I get nervous, the words get lost in my month. As I waited for you to pick up the phone, I worried – would I know what to say? And was this the right way to be doing this, anyway? I didn’t know if there was some kind of tradition or custom I should be following. Should I have sent a bottle of rakija to you ahead of time by international post, so we could spill some together and celebrate over Skype?
Your answer was short and sweet – “da”. What a great call.
Almost eight months ago, you gave me your news. You and Bojan were getting married – in the spring! How beautiful. What a special time for us both. And how nice to be going through it at the same time, too! We always had a common thread running between us, you and I.
Six months and two weeks ago, my parents and I waited eagerly at Canberra International Airport, standing with flowers and chocolates in hand at international arrivals. We couldn’t wait to see you, your mum and Bojan coming through the corridor from the customs processing area. This was a special moment; a momentous day! You were the first guests that had come to visit us from Serbia since, what… 1995? When my deda Radovan came to visit us for two months? Since then, it’s been 25 years on this huge island continent, all by ourselves. It’s been a long time. Your coming here was more than just kumstvo. This was magic.
Six months and a bit ago, a week or so after your arrival, you preceded me down the aisle, a stunner in a red dress with your beautiful hair and lovely smile clearing the way. You held my bouquet as I married the man I love and I felt so grateful; so supported. We danced into the night that night, and having all three of you there with us meant the world. You were Serbia, Yugoslavia, Europe, history, heritage and roots personified. And pure, simple friendship, too. It was a wonderful three weeks. I couldn’t wait to repeat them in the spring.
Two and a half months ago, I messaged you with the news: Mateusz and I had bought our tickets. “Please accept this email as our formal RSVP – hurrah!” Mama would be coming, too; we would be a mirror image of you three coming to our wedding last year. So nice!
Then. COVID-19 started spreading. At the time, I wondered – was this another SARS or H1N1? (What happened with those viruses anyway?) Italy was going into lockdown; the numbers were rising. Public gatherings were being banned… Could this really be happening? I wondered if it would hit Australia in the same way.
A month or so later, Serbia announced that gatherings of 100 people or more were banned. They asked that weddings, christenings – even funerals – be called off. Citizens were being asked not to return for the Easter holidays, too. I wondered what this would mean for your wedding. Surely not… ? But then I figured, if it’s a limit of 100, that’s fewer guests than what you had planned for, but still quite nice. Either way, I couldn’t wait to get there already. Come what may.
Three and a half weeks ago, things started colliding. The length of our trip. The length of quarantine. The numbers at your wedding. Could it even go on? And then, a few days later, the decision was made for us. No more trip. No more wedding. Call it all off.
How is this even happening? How quickly things have changed. Maybe you’ll defer your wedding until the northern hemisphere summer, so maybe it’ll still be possible? It’ll be in another space and time, but as long as we’re all still happy and healthy then, that will be okay, won’t it?
For now… who knows. We’ve got to just bunker down and hope for the best. Amidst it all, you seem to be taking it very well. How, I don’t know. But then, you always did take things in your stride. (First the splits, and now this!)
I’m sorry I can’t be there for your big day. That your wedding can’t go ahead as imagined. It was meant to be next Saturday, and we were meant to be there already now, with you and Bojan and your parents and siblings and everyone. What should we do in this situation? What is the tradition, the custom in this crazy new world? Should I send a bottle of rakija by international post so that we can spill some together and celebrate – and commiserate – over Skype? Or should we just wait?
© Dunja Kaczmarek, 2020