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  • It was a regular morning. Coffee and sandwiches were ready. In a few hours I will be at the station, waiting for the train from Prague to arrive at Keleti pályaudvar, track 6. From Budapest the train continues south to Serbia where I will be returning to a place that is at once foreign and familiar.

    The distance to my destination just north of Belgrade is about 300 km, but the slow tracks and Soviet-style trains ensure the trip is an unhurried 6 hours.

    On the train, the cabins smell of now forbidden smoke but the bright yellow and orange seats and curtains (Made in Czech Republic, big letters) remind the passengers that this is now a European train. Small villages dot the landscape as we leave Budapest and fertile plains fill out the scenery further on.

    I have returned to Novi Sad several times since leaving as a child, but coming back always brings back memories of leaving. One late September day in 1994, when lots of extended family came to see us off; my mother in inconsolable shock, my father frantic but stern, and my newly-arrived younger sister, unaware of the commotion, the emotions and the significance of it all for her life. It was a scene I will never forget.

    Now, some 18 years later, I am returning once again. This time for a short visit. As we pass the Hungarian border and enter Serbia, enormous piles of trash surround both sides of the train. Hills of well-padded garbage extend for a few long seconds, covering the grass and much of the horizon.

    “Dobrodošli u Srbiju,” says my cabin mate. Welcome to Serbia.
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