Life During Wartime--The Balkans, 1994
Pages from the Journal: Serbia, Macedonia, Albania
Friday October 21, 1994
Hey! All in all that was a very nice train ride.
I am agonizing again about my plans. Itís raining here, the weekend is coming, and it isnít a cheap place to be (I need to save my money for this impending operation in Hungary.) I made a call to Silvana in Tirana and she invited me to stay with her and her family. Itís best if I visit them on the weekend, so Iíll go tomorrow.
Went to register my passport at the US embassy again. This is the first US embassy Iíve ever seen that has almost no security. You just stroll in past the unmanned guard booth, up a few flights of stairs as you look for signs, and a local is there to check me out more out of curiosity than to know what my business is. He didnít even check my backpack. Inside it looked like nothing more than a modern little office. No Marines, bulletproof glass or anything. This time I asked the secretary if I could sleep on the floor, but this was not considered even for a nanosecond. Would have been a great story.
I thought of staying the night further on in Ohrid. In the meantime I checked out a private room through the tourist office. It was a shack, so depressing I couldnít even consider itóand Iíll usually consider anything if Iím keen on saving money. Some grizzled characters loomed nearby and I thought back to what the consular guy in Belgrade told me. The room itself was so sad I knew instantly I wasnít going to take it. I forgot to look but Iím sure there was a hook in the ceiling to better facilitate hangings. The morgueís phone is probably on speed dial here. Sad. Not 30 seconds in there and I was considering drawing up a will. Not 45 seconds had passed when I wondered if I had passed a rope shop en route.
I decided to stay at the youth hostel tonight, which is about $15. That caught me off-guard. I had a rat in my room. I complained and changed rooms. I canít tolerate rats and $15 at the same time. I could be mistaken, but I think this hostel has an in-house prostitute. (Quite unlike good old Hungary, here you can differentiate between a prostituteís clothes and a regular girlís clothes.) This woman stroked my hand as I sat waiting for my room change. She made sure I saw her key number, somehow communicated that she knew mine, and toodle-dood off. Could she be a paid lackey? Are times tough for the International Youth Hostel Federation that theyíve branched out into new areas of revenue? Would I expect to see the IYHF house and tree symbol tattooed on her butt?
There are several young guys here at the hostel from other parts of Macedonia doing construction work. They are the only ďyouthsĒ here at the youth hostel. I guess I am not a youth anymore, and that prostitute certainly wasnít.
Skopje is actually a pretty cool place. The part of town south of the river is East European modern. Cross the stone bridge and venture a little northeast over the expressway, and itís raw Balkan atmosphere. All of the Old World types were out in full force, shopping and socializing. The men literally hang on to each other and are seldom seen alone. The women all dress the same, all of their ample bodies covered and with scarves over their heads. Thereís too much makeup in this country; the government has to stop subsiding it or something.
I saw a poster that stopped me in my tracks: Latoya Jackson live in concert.
The river that runs through Skopje, the Vardar, is polluted with cardboard boxes that clandestine salespeople use on the stone bridge and then toss down.
My shoes are wet. They wonít be dry by tomorrow. I have no other shoes.
No one really cares that Iím an American.
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