Discovering Little Paris - Importing Zulus to Croatia, and exporting Croatian public officers to South Africa

Labour in Croatia is expensive, whereas it is cheap in South Africa. That is why some things simply don't get done in Croatia. If there was a cheap labour force, things like maintenance would get done more routinely. That is why I jokingly suggest that a team of hard-working Zulus would come in handy for some of our projects.

Paperwork in South Africa is a nightmare. When you have to get your ID or something done, you know you'll lose at least a day waiting in line at your local Home Affairs office or license department. Conversely, paperwork moves more swiftly in Croatia. Public officers are efficient and things just get done correctly if you cooperate. The lines are shorter because of it, and because there is a much smaller population in Croatia.

So we can take our two nations and create a better country by taking the Zulus from one and the public officers from the other.

Maja Dezulovic

Discovering Little Paris - Land of Bureaucracy

Croatians love paperwork.  Whatever you want to do, there are surely a number of papers you have to go through first.  This is true for when you want to live in the country, get employed, or start a business.  There are always hula hoops of red tape that you have to jump through first.  Eventually, you just get used to it.

The question of bureaucracy is, however, a controversial one.  An argument for it is that it helps regulate state affairs, making the lives of citizens organised and more secure.  An argument against it is that it hinders progress by making regular affairs more difficult.

In South Africa, for instance, to get employed you just need to provide your ID and bank account number to the employer.  In Croatia, you need to provide that, proof of your education, a tax clearance certificate and a pension fund statement.  This requires visits to several offices and officiators before you can be registered with an employer.  And that is just to get a job.  Don't get me started on the complex process of getting citizenship.  A stamp being in the wrong place can invalidate a document and lead to needless issues.  But at least after you've jumped through the hoops, you can then take a dive into the Adriatic Sea.

So does the scenery make it worth it?  Not just that, but there's family, heritage and culture too.

Maja Dezulovic

Discovering Little Paris - Bara

If you're from Johannesburg, then you know about Bara.  If you're from South Africa, you know about Bara.  And possibly those of you from Africa also know about Bara.  This is because Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital is the biggest hospital in Africa and the Southern Hemisphere.  It is also one of the largest hospitals in the world.

The name Bara tells of the hospital I was born in.  The hospital is situated in Soweto, so you think of the township it caters to.

In Janjina we also have a Bara, which is the name of the lower village.  We walk through Bara almost daily.  It is like a small preview of the world we left behind in Africa.  There are old cars in the middle of open fields and the buildings look like they were haphazardly put together and extended, with some looking in dire need of maintenance.  Okay, I'm under exaggerating, some of the buildings are ruins.  The quiet chaos looks like a “location” to us so we refer to it as “lokshin”.

We pass lokshin on our way to the beach.   It marks the first downhill on a long way down to sea level.  Going through Bara makes us smile as it is a reminder of another faraway Bara that is also our home.

Maja Dezulovic

Discovering Little Paris - I, Afrikanac

My husband is an Afrikanac.  That's what they call him at work – the African.  It's funny because he has green eyes and fair-skin.  In fact, he looks “whiter” than most people around here.  He looks like a European, but his nickname echoes what it says in his passport – he is a South African.  I too am an African, and clearly so, but my ability to speak the language here and dual citizenship has awarded me privileges that others may not have.  But, we'll get to the matter of privilege in another post...

Many times I've tried to step into my husband's shoes  - he's in a foreign country, with a strange language that only now is he beginning to understand.  Things that I take for granted are needlessly difficult for him.  Things like shopping for groceries are a challenge as most items are labelled only in Croatian.  For a country that relies so heavily on tourism, it's one of those things that they'll have to catch up on.

Being an Afrikanac also means he doesn't have access to some government services.  Instead he is treated like an outsider by the state.  I guess we could accept it if it stopped there, but the problem also extends into a our social life.  For some reason, Croats are not accommodating when in the company of foreigners.  In social situations, usually people will speak to me in the expectation that I will convey the message to my husband.  This is true even if the other person speaks English as a second language.  This puts me in the position of translator every time we go out.

But, my husband is learning.  And aside from the few grievances, we have a good life here in what I do believe is a small paradise on this Earth.

Maja Dezulovic

Discovering Little Paris - Kefir vs. Kaffir

The Americans have the ‘N-Word’.  In South Africa, we have the ‘K-Word’.  The word “kaffir” is a derogatory term used to refer to Black South Africans and it was widely used by the Boers during the time of Apartheid.

In 2011, I brought my second South African guest to Croatia.  At that time, Kefir yoghurt was unheard of in South Africa.  She opened the fridge and a big misunderstanding occurred.

She suggested that we try some of the ‘K-word’ in the fridge.  I couldn’t believe what I’d just heard, but it turned out that there wasn’t a mutilated corpse in the freezer.  Kefir, or as my friend refers to it ‘milk champagne’ is full of nutrients that help balance the bacteria in the body.  “Kaffir”, on the other hand, is a word full of anger and is often included in hate speech.  Rather than probiotics for your gut, you’ll get a kick in the guts if you use the word in the wrong context in South Africa.

Maja Dezulovic

Discovering Little Paris - Muti and Mutti

Mutti is the name of an Italian-branded tomato sauce which is stocked in shops in Croatia.  The name struck me because it would mean something completely different in South Africa.  If you are familiar with American Voodoo, then you will know that it has its origins in Africa.  In South Africa, we refer to it as Muti.

Muti is a term used for traditional medicine in South Africa.  The original word is the equivalent of ‘medicine’ in Zulu, but it has connotations of dark black market herbs.  Some of the worst reported cases have discovered the use of animal and human body parts in the production of these ‘medicines’ prescribed by witch doctors for various ailments from the flu to AIDS and tuberculosis.

So, although the Italian brand name may appear benign to Europeans, to South Africans it is funny to see a red liquid in a jar at the supermarket branded Mutti.  It would feel odd if I purchased it and it would conjure up all sorts of dark stories in my mind.

Maja Dezulovic

Discovering Little Paris - How Do You Like Them Oranges?

South Africa used to have a lot of oranges.  One of our provinces was even called the Orange Free State.  Later, the ‘Orange’ part was dropped out of the name when the new provincial borders were formed.  A lot of our oranges grew in the Free State area.   Driving South of Johannesburg in winter, you could see all the orange trees in full bloom.  It was a sign of the agricultural prosperity of the nation.  Shortly after 1994, farmers started to abandon their crops and the oranges started coming from somewhere else.

I remember going to our local Fruit and Vegetable store and my father pointing out that the country was no longer as prosperous as it had been.  His proof?  He held up an orange.  On the fruit was a sticker which stated the product’s country of origin, which was Israel.  Over the years I got used to the fact that many of the fruits in South Africa were imported.  It was a part of life.  Besides, I enjoyed the taste of the Israeli oranges and I was ignorant to the implications of this change in the balance of local produce and imported products.

One of the things that I used to love about summers on Peljesac was the fruit.  I remember the local stores were stocked with local fruits – peaches, plums, figs, kiwi, mandarins, grapes and watermelons.  I could imagine a Croatian summer just by remembering the smells and tastes of fruit.  My trips to Janjina were not complete without an overindulgence in fruit.

2015 was different.  Shopping at the local stores proved disappointing when we realized that most of the fruits were imported.  What happened to the local producers?  Peljesac is still a primarily agricultural area.

In both scenarios, the free market economy had taken its toll, making it cheaper for supermarkets to stock imported goods rather than support local suppliers.  As a result, the local agriculture in both countries was suffering.  Or, that is what I thought.

One day my husband and I were shopping at our local store and we noticed that there were some fresh oranges in the fruit racks.  They looked good.   The country of origin of these oranges came as a shock, however.  The oranges had travelled as far as we had to get to Little Janjina.  Country of origin: South Africa.  So, in South Africa, we ate oranges from Israel.  In Janjina, we were eating oranges from South Africa.  It’s a small world with ridiculous market rules after all.

Maja Dezulovic

Discovering Little Paris - Where's the Juice?

In South Africa shops have an abundance of natural and one hundred percent juices to purchase. In Croatia the options are limited to apple, pineapple, orange and grapefruit. Other juices, as my guests have described, are more like sugar with fruit flavouring. The lack of natural juices at the stores is a sort of metaphor for the lack of ‘juice’ in Croatia. By ‘juice’, I mean petrol or fire power. In Yiddish, it is similar to chutzpah.

The South African economy is driven by go-getters – people who drive a hard bargain and get things done. In Croatia people hang out in cafes to talk about getting things done, which will likely never lead to anything getting done. People can sit for hours to brainstorm brilliant ideas that nobody will bother to put into action. This isn’t necessarily always a product of laziness, but a tendency to pessimism which is an epidemic in Croatia. I am no stranger to pessimism, South Africans are the champions of complaints, but after the complaining people still work hard because they believe that they can make a difference or at least get recognized enough to be afforded the opportunity to emigrate.

One of the things South Africans love about Croatia is the low crime rate. Our country is known for its high rate of crime. My friend offered the following explanation for it once: Croatians won’t steal anything of value because if they steal something (like for instance a computer), they’d have to use it. So, the act of stealing would result in work and work is something people just aren’t interested in doing.

Croatia is overflowing with opportunity. However, those opportunities are not pursued by locals but are instead snatched up by foreigners.

Maja Dezulovic