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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 9/29/20

Aleksandar of Macedonia

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Vladimirovo, North Macedonia, 2020
Vladimirovo, North Macedonia, 2020
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Can I be frontally honest and even a bit shameless with you? (No, not that, but maybe later.) What I'm trying to say, and do brace yourself here, what I'm really trying to bare, fess up and gently confide here, behind a curtain and under a sheet, sotto voce, is that I simply do not like burek!

sh*t, man, but if you ever witnessed my buddy Aleksandar wolf down one of these, you'd think he hadn't eaten in a month, if ever. What's the hurry, Alex? There's plenty more, like tons. It's hard to take five steps in the Balkans without having another greasy burek slap you in the face, with bits of minced meat, cheese or spinach splattering from Subotica to Burgas, if not Istanbul.

I'm in North Macedonia, thanks to Alex. In 2016, he wrote me, "Would like to thank you about your wonderful description of your travels. It feels like am traveling myself." Answering, I vaguely expressed a wish to see his homeland. And, "When I just got to Germany, I took a wrong train, and a Macedonian woman helped me out. She was very lovely."

Seeing that I was in Belgrade two months ago, Alex insisted I come to Skopje, so last week, I finally did. My all-night bus pulled into town at 5AM. There was a casino at the station, with two bald and burly guys standing outside, one very loud and smirking, his eyes lit up. Cabbies addressed me in terse English. A travel agency advertised express buses daily to Istanbul. All roads still lead to Constantinople, you better believe it. I slid coins into the coffee machine. Revived, I also felt grateful to have a smooth border crossing, because you just don't know, man, especially during this time of the coronavirus.

I had no idea what Alex looked like. Spotting me, he shouted like a Texan. His English was rapid and fluent, which made me suspect he had lived in the States, but Alex had only spent two months in Houston.

"Did you go anywhere else while you were there?"

"No, I was working."

Heading to Vladimirovo, we were in his tiny, beat up car, with his quiet son in the back. It was still dark. Dim apartment blocks sped by. Now and then, a radiant gas station.

"How did you learn English?"

"I taught myself."

"No way, man! Seriously?"

"When I was a kid, I spent all my time at the US Information Agency, reading." Alex's English vocabulary is larger than most Americans'.

Alex has also worked with Brits and Americans, he said, mostly Texans. His current employer is Norwegian. As a project or inventory manager, Alex has been sent to Norway, Chile, Italy, Uzbekistan and Afghanistan, and for fun, he's traveled to Greece, Bulgaria, Albania, Turkey and, of course, all over the former Yugoslavia. "But I've never paid for a plane ticket! I can't afford it." Although his ├ "Ü Č600 a month salary is excellent for Macedonia, he has a wife and two kids to support. Alex's son needs special care.

Supplementing his income, Alex gives encyclopedic walking tours of Skopje, and he's even won two TV quiz shows, with another appearance next month. Nearly everything we've discussed, Alex knew way more about it than I did, not that's saying much. My ignorance is encyclopedic.

Vladimirovo is only ten miles from Bulgaria. The 2002 census counted 861 people, with everyone Macedonian except for two Serbs, with no Gypsies or Albanians, which is extremely rare in North Macedonia. Now, Vladimirovo has less than 400 people, with the rest dead or emigrated. The easiest way out is to claim Bulgarian citizenship, through ancestry or bribery, and just like that, you're in the European Union! About the only ones left are old folks, subsistence farmers and sheep shepherds.

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Linh Dinh's Postcards from the End of America has just been published by Seven Stories Press. Tracking our deteriorating socialscape, he maintains a photo blog.

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