Posted by: Mark Wollemann: On the move | September 25, 2011

Melody said it all (but that doesn’t mean I can’t add a word or two)

We had a great four-day weekend excursion into Macedonia and Kosovo and you can read all about it here. And, as usual, my inspired wife provided much better photographic evidence than I ever could.

Melody talked about some of the people we met and whose company we enjoyed tremendously.

I just thought I’d add a few mentions of a couple of the people we met unexpectedly along the way.

To wit:

— A cab driver in Skopje. He had returned to his home country five years earlier from South Africa, where he had lived since the early 1990s. Sweet, gentle, melancholy guy, he loves South Africa. He lived through the changes from apartheid, eventually lost his job because he is white but expressed no bitterness, only sadness that he could no longer live there. His daughter, who was born and raised in South Africa, is moving back next fall to attend college. He brightened at the prospect of visiting her there, saying the move back to Macedonia was hardest on her.

— A young English teacher in Kosovo: We met him on the bus as he and his friend delivered little cups of cappuccino to all the passengers traveling from Prizren to Prishtina. He was reared in a small village outside of Prizren and traveled to the United States when he was 13, thanks to an NGO that arranged for him to have his ailing heart checked out in Indianapolis. His condition was not as bad as first feared; he was placed on medication and his heart healed. He spent a month in Indianapolis with a family that volunteered to look after him and he spoke longingly of his love for the States and for Bill Clinton, as Melody mentioned. He walked with us into Prishtina, joined us for a cup of coffee and spoke openly and emotionally about his desire to visit America again — or to maybe teach English somewhere else. But he also seemed worried that it might never happen. We hope it does, but first his country will need to be rebuilt.

— To that point, we’ve learned so much already in our short time here about the region. I guess you could say we’ve learned enough to realize how little we know. There is palpable hate here. The racism is not shrouded in code words or political sleight of hand. There is hate for the poor Roma in Bulgaria who have next to nothing, send their children to beg, borrow and steal and lack even the basic necessities of life. There are fights among young men of different backgrounds trying to attain the same thing: an education, a livelihood, a step up from where they came. Some of the fights are fueled by alcohol, some just by hate. There is distrust of corrupt public officials, of neighbors who thought nothing of turning in their neighbors during communist times, and of those of different faith traditions.

And yet, with all that said, we have seen so much to celebrate. We’ve both written about much of it. The natural beauty of the place, the generosity of many people we’ve come across who have so much less than we do. The squeals of delight of the children here. We see gentle parenting (some criticize Bulgarian parents for being too lenient), but we see so many happy kids it’s hard to see how that can be wrong.

I guess it’ll all sort itself out over the coming generations. After all, some parts of this place have handled much worse over the past 4,000 years or so.



  1. ok, here’s my ignorance of geography: i MIGHT be in bucharest, romania, around thanksgiving. is that anywhere near you guys?

  2. Bucharest is definitely on our list of places to visit. It’s relatively close; probably a distance from, say, Minneapolis to Milwaukee. Maybe closer (though lack of highways slows things down some). But if you’re coming, keep us in mind. We’re expecting some visitors around that time, but we’d make every effort to connect if that were possible. Safe travels and stay in touch!

  3. excellent! i should know later this week…. lack of highways sounds like my kind of country.

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