Fruits of migration

26. Juni 2013 § Hinterlasse einen Kommentar

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Today has been a less attractive day than all the previous ones on this trip in some respects, but one of the best in others. I’ll explain. It started yesterday afternoon, when I decided to turn back a few miles. After having mastered the 1000 m climb to Prevalle, I thought enough was enough, the sky promised rain, and going on would have meant another ascent to 800 metres with only small villages in the Kosovo-Macedonia border area and scarcely a prospect of a hotel or pension (as there are no tourists around here, no one offers private accommodation). Yet I would have been given a bed at the very point where I turned around. A little shop in the middle of nowhere, a conversation in broken English with the shopkeeper’s son, a Fanta and a chair offered to me with generous gestures, as well as a folding bed where recently a penniless Slovene had slept, and then a friend came along with a delivery of eggs, and he was among the 60% of Albanians who knew some German from migration, and now the exchange started going afresh, ranging far and wide and finally to Ismail’s latest business venture: cutting up and drying boletus mushrooms which villagers had found and selling them up north.
I later found a bleak motel on the highway towards Skopje, with a slightly shabby turquoise-painted room, synthetic bedsheets and a shower which didn’t work properly, as well as loads of trucks roaring past. This might have depressed me in other circumstances, but somehow now I was immune. I sorted through my things and had an excellent dinner (fillet of chicken wrapped around a filling of mushrooms and cream), dirt cheap and cooked with love and care.
The next morning was gloomy and cold, a drop in temperature of more than 25 degrees. I left without breakfast because it would have started too late. Before I even reached my turning point and the shop, I was ambushed by another friendly-looking chap who had worked in Switzerland, plastering an entire ABB office block in Oerlikon among other things. Like many of his generation he had rushed back home after autonomy had been sort of reached, but also found that life here was tougher than in chocolate land. He now painted the villas of those who had made the grade, often on selling out former state property or drug trafficking. He is in his second marriage, wife pregnant, 15-year old son in Switzerland with his ex-wife. I know these stories by the dozen from Marianne’s everyday work issues in her social work, but it felt very different seen from Sopot, a busy and dusty road junction. My new friend didn’t let me pay for our coffees and would have given me his Kosovar Gipfeli had I been hungry.
On I went, not struggling too much with the lonely pass road, but I was glad for my warm clothes and the windbreaker on my way down. I was a a bit surprised that the villages on the other side of the Mali i Sharr mountains looked even poorer and more provisional than their Kosovo counterparts, and the habitus of women and old men was more traditional than up-and-coming Kosovo, what with head-scarves and Hadj caps. I learnt from two young guys at a cafe that it cost 38’000 euros to build the splendid 4-storey house just opposite. The one of them who spoke good English, Florim, told me with sparkling green eyes how much his father had benefited from his umpteen years in Switzerland, and how they now ran a business for heating installations together. It seemed to be going well enough that he could take an extended break together with his workmate. He’d been all over Europe on a big trip, and had a cautiously optimistic outlook for the country.
The road through the unbroken chain of village after village in the foothills was the worst I’d experienced so far, full of potholes (rather: pot abysses) and leaking pipes, sleeping policemen which were so high that my bags got unhinged with the bumps, and a general hecticism of moving cars, tractors, horses, dogs, other animals (some of them dead and flattened into unrecognisability) and children on mountain bikes coming against me on my side of the road while looking at their mobile phone display) that I needed to concentrate. I found some peace and quiet with a white-haired gentleman at a kebab place who’d worked as a factotum at the Olympic stadium for Hertha Berlin for thirty years and still remembered enough of his German six years into his retirement to keep me posted about all the ethnic groups, the religions and politics of the region and point out the man across the square to me who’d change some euros into denars. He himself had had only four years of schooling.
Finally, I arrived at Gostivar, where I asked a few teenagers with Grisons license plates how far it was to Mavrovo Novi – well, at least 100 km, they said in the charming Swiss mountain dialect. This turned out to be wrong, still I was too tired to pedal on, and started looking for a hotel in the urban jungle of this Albanian-Turkish-Macedonian melting pot. I would not have found it without the generous help of another returnee, this time from Vienna (but he has a brother living in Zurich Altstätten, less than 7 km from my home). He’d worked there as a doorman at clubs and now has a job as an Aufpasser or body guard for the national minister of justice, an Albanian, although he thinks that isn’t really necessary. He was in the war, though, and shot at people in defense of the ethnic and political rights of the Albanian minority. He now wants to get out of this although he makes good money (1000€ a month), and he’s bought some land in his village to build a restaurant with a view. He might be going to Switzerland this summer to work (illegally, obviously) so he can buy some of the building materials. He also has a daughter who is studying in Washington DC at the cost of 23000 $ a year. He was entirely honest and open-minded about things, but it beats me how people like him can make it. „It“ being life, survival, mental well-being, love of home and family, the aftermath of a long exile, and all the rest. I gave him my card and hope I can pay back a little bit when he gets to my country although I don’t have good business connections to the sort of fields he could work in.
P.S. It hardly needs mentioning that I didn’t stand a chance of talking to a woman on the road or in a cafe. They’re not there, and if they are, they seem to feel bound to avert their eyes.

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