If the first pearl from Macedonia was the vow to not reject whole groups of people (and I will try folks! Notice how I’m no longer referring to corrupt governments or ethnic groups that beg), what is the second take-away?
This is a poor country. And yet it has been sought for centuries, fought over, desired. Why? My persistent questioning of tour guides, clerks and chefs has only yielded this – that Macedonia, poor in resources, difficult to traverse because of mountains, is the gateway through which armies must pass in their conquering fervors.
I can accept that historical perspective but have to look deeper for my personal pearl. What am I to find in Macedonia?
It is the people. In their struggles, in their passion for beauty, in their ethnic pride, in their hospitality… it is the people.
I don’t have many pictures of them – it is less invasive to photograph statues or roses. But they have left in my heart that warm glow of “welcome!”
And be sure to watch the happy videos below!
“Welcome” from the hotel clerk who appeared to do everything – carry my luggage, lay out breakfast, put a table cloth under my coffee cup when I sat at the wrong table, clear the dishes, answer my requests – without speaking English. And from those who did speak English, the willingness to happily arrange my taxi to town ($2), apologize for wi-fi not reaching the third floor, and showing me on the map how to get to a concert.
“Welcome” from the clerk at the Ohrid Summer Festival office as she patiently described each offering, where in the labyrinthine streets it was held and sold me tickets.
“Welcome” from the ticket taker who gave me the key to the the hole-in-the-wall toilet at the out-door ballet performance and handed me toilet paper. (And tried to ask me out for a drink after the show. No go!)
"Welcome" to the children who were invited up front at the performance's end and to us in the audience who danced.
“Welcome” from Tanya, the owner of my favorite restaurant, who when I said I wasn’t sure I had enough cash to order dinner on my second visit, said – “You have enough! For you, it doesn’t matter!” (At my first meal she had drawn on the map how to get to the Festival box-office and was glad to hear I had gone.) And proceeded to patiently tell her new cook, as I peered through the window, how to grill the zucchini, mushrooms and pita. Here is the marvelous dinner she concocted, adding her home-made “curd” and other asides. It probably cost $5.
"Welcome" from the waiter who let me nurse a glass of orange juice for an hour while I just gazed and wrote.
And ”Welcome" from the local tour guide, who kindly translated her Bulgarian lecture to English for the four of us. Ohrid is gorgeous -- ancient and special.
This is her country, her beloved town of Ohrid, her history that she passionately shared. With a PhD and book to her name, she barely received living wages and wanted to decline my tip. “You deserve it! Thank you so much for sharing!” I insisted.
I don’t know if the armies were welcomed in as they traversed this land. I do know that after the dissolution of Yugoslavia there are still the problems of no jobs, old age security or trust-worthy you-know-you’s. I am so grateful, however, that on my last night in Ohrid I happened upon a stage and dance-troupes from surrounding ethnic groups. Muslim and Christian. Young and old. From Macedonia, Bulgaria, Kosovo and Turkey. Someone moved over to let me sit on a rock and to join the mighty “Welcome to all!"
Enjoy their ehtnic and all-inclusive joy my friends!
The pearl? That is doesn’t take money, just heart, to make a stranger feel welcomed!