Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Notes from Skopje - part 1

 We still haven’t found the right house. Time is running out.  It's starting to look like we’re going to have to take one of the wrong ones.

 We’ve gotten to know a lot of nice people while staying here at the Hotel 7 across the street from the government hospital -- Mehmet, the Turkish guy who runs the doner shop below us, for example. There are Turks here in Macedonia whose ancestors were left high and dry when this part of Europe broke free from the Turkish Empire 100 years ago, but Mehmet isn’t one of them. He’s a businessman who came over from Turkey, and he works 7 days a week, 16 hours at a stretch, shaving pieces off of a huge hunk meat that slowly spins and diminishes as the day passes. (Doner is the Turkish equivalent of Greek gyros, but if you’ve only had gyros at the food court in some American mall, you’ve been sold a cheap imitation; this is good meat, not processed pieces-parts.) The temperature outdoors gets almost up to 100 F sometimes, and Mehmet stands there all day in front of the grill slowly cooking with the meat. But he always has a big smile and a friendly "Merhaba!" for me.

Once when there weren’t many customers Mehmet invited me to sit at an outdoor table with him and drink a cappuccino. He is more comfortable in Macedonian, and I’m far more comfortable in Albanian, so we had to keep switching back and forth between languages in order to communicate. Sometimes we turned to his workers, all of whom are Albanian and are therefore fluent in both languages, for help with translation. He told me with sadness in his eyes that he hadn't been home to Turkey a single time in four years. His wife and daughters live with him here in Macedonia, but given his work schedule he doesn't see much of them.

 Mary, the kids and and I often sit at one of Mehmet’s café tables with our laptops to do internet. When we booked the apartment online, Hotel 7’s website promised wireless internet. Unfortunately the two-room apartment we reserved is actually on the 5th floor (that’s by European reckoning; I would call it the 6th.) of an adjacent building, so the wireless signal doesn’t reach us. But the doner shop is right outside the hotel office, and I kind of enjoy sitting at a table on the sidewalk and sipping a Coke or cappuccino while surfing the net. We make quite a spectacle since open laptops in public places are not a common sight here.

 We had stayed here at the Hotel 7 a couple of times on earlier visits to Skopje and had a good experience, so we decided that this would be an ideal place to be based while we shopped for a house. It’s clean, comfortable and there was the promise of wireless internet. The price was a bit steep, but they gave us a deal when we reserved it for a month. It was just before we left the States that the hotel management sent us an email informing us that they had made a mistake. The apartment was already booked for three of the days that they had promised it to us. They offered to move us to smaller rooms for those three days and not to charge us, and we accepted.  Moving our bags back and forth was a lot of work, but the real problem turned out to be that the air conditioner was broken in one of the rooms, and Skopje was in the throes of a terrible heat wave those days. The kids got the room with the working a/c of course, and Mary and I toughed it out.  

One morning I woke up soaked in sweat. The sun was pounding into our room, but my body clock was telling me it was only 2 a.m.  The sounds and smells of the doner shop downstairs drifted up through our open window.  I really enjoy eating doner under normal circumstances, but this time the odor of roasting meat was very heavy, almost nauseating.  As I got up and started moving about the room Mary called out, “Mark, you need to put that food in the refrigerator!” After a moment of bewilderment I figured out that she was talking in her sleep. Later on when I mentioned it again she didn’t even remember having said it. 

1 comment:

Rachel said...

Great post. I could really picture everything there. Hope you find the right house soon, or at least make peace with the wrong one. :) We are also house-hunting right now.