The other day I was going back home in a taxi. I was feeling sentimental right there, being stuck in the chaotic after work rush hour in the crowded streets of Cair and I sighed heavily enough to catch the taxi driver’s attention.
“What is it?” He asked.
“I am going to miss this.” I said. “I wish I could stay.”
He looked at me, very doubtfully. “Where exactly are you from?”
“And you are going to miss this?”
Even after three months I am always surprised to see how the people, who have internationally such a bad reputation for being nationalist patriots, think so poorly about their country (only until you start criticizing something, obviously).
Especially in the first weeks it was difficult for me to study Macedonian, purely because almost nobody would want to understand that I actually do want to learn this language and that I happily take the effort to try.
I went on a very childish boycott of a bar for a couple of weeks, because the waiter refused to speak Macedonian with me. “I see it’s not easy for you, please do not bother.” Unfortunately it’s one of the coolest bars in Skopje so I had to break my strike.
Anyhow, back to the packed streets in Cair and to that taxi.
“What would you miss about Skopje and Macedonia though?”
Good question, difficult to say, tricky question as well. Every question in Macedonia is tricky, and this has bothered me quite a bit over the last weeks. So I start out with the obvious. I fancy political and cultural science. From a very rational point of view Macedonia is immensely thrilling for me, especially now. But that aside, I don’t want to get into a political discussion here.
Why am I going to miss Macedonia?
Well, the real reason is quite cheesy, but – admittedly – those are often the best reasons. It’s for the people. Gosh, I am going to miss you!
“Our people?” The taxi driver does not want to believe it. “What is up with our people, I mean – just look at them.” And he points out the window where people scream and swear and raise fists at each others.
“Yeah you know, I have found great friends, very inspiring minds. The only thing that bothers me a little bit is that all of them are just so negative about their fellow Macedonians, it’s like they wouldn’t even want to believe that there are nice folks out there.”
“Hah, I get you.” He says and laughs.
I was, I cannot lie, from the very beginning often a little bit upset with people in Macedonia. I was upset, because men would just unabashedly stare at me in the streets or speak me up at night when I was all alone. I was upset with people who just stopped trusting anyone and obviously, I was upset with people who proudly waved their flags, like, right into my face. It’s just me, I hate flags, anywhere. But all of this does not matter, because you’ll find jerks anywhere. What matters is the important minority of awesome people.
So there’s three groups of people in Macedonia I was in touch with and who make my heart go all crazy for this place.
So first, there are the activists. I was intern at the Friedrich-Ebert-Foundation and that gave me the opportunity to hang out with a lot of cool people (well, my definition of cool): investigative journalists, independent researchers, activists, volunteers, human right defenders, lawyers, political scientists, diplomats and so on. It might be a minority in Macedonia, but all I see is the enormous will power and potential of those people for change in the country. And being constantly surrounded by smart and inspiring people is possibly the best thing that can happen to anyone and it has never happened to me in such density as here in Macedonia.
Then there are the friendly strangers. In my first week in Macedonia I was sitting in a bar with a friend when suddenly a woman comes up to me and tells me something which I did not understand at first, because it was in Macedonian. Turned out that she just came by to tell me how gorgeous I looked that night. Overall, it wasn’t too difficult to win people’s hearts and I had many great encounters with people who would chat a little bit, wish me all the best, smile at me and tell me how great I am, which is always nice to hear. Just yesterday I was on the phone with an adorable old lady who had miss-dialed, but was just too excited to speak with a Macedonian-speaking German living in Skopje to hang up on me. A friend claims that all of this is less about the Macedonians than it is about me, but if that’s the case it is just a proof more that we go just well together.
And then, obviously, there’s this most important group of friends. I knew a bunch of people from Skopje before I moved here, because I had participated in different regional activities and moving here was just so nice, because of that. Even though I did have some moments of frustration, I was home sick or was doubting my life choices for incomprehensible reasons, I was never lonely. No matter what happened – somebody was there. I had to get used to the pace of life as it is here and especially to different understanding of punctuality and liability, but I got the hang of it. I never felt like a stranger in Macedonia. I always felt welcome, even though I know that that’s not everyone’s perception of foreigners here, especially of those being engaged in international affairs. I wasn’t scared to ask questions and I got all the answers, or at least opinions. I got a lot of yummy food to try and was invited for several great occasions. I had so much fun and laughed so much, and Macedonia might be the first country I leave where I am sure to stay in touch with more than just one or maybe two people. Macedonia has been, thanks to those people, great for my own development and my own knowledge.
I always tell people that Macedonia is not the most pleasant place to live and I still think that’s right. Skopje is not that kind of city where you arrive and your heart jumps of joy, it is not astonishing and maybe also not special, from a purely objective view, and life’s hard on the majority of Macedonians. I still found myself a home in Macedonia and I wish to return which is also reason why I continue to study Macedonian. I said it before, it’s a cheesy reason, it’s all about affection for people who made and make me feel great very far away from home. And I am extremely thankful for this opportunity and this experience.