This was Gosia’s first day in Skopje. We did not know yet, that our planned light day of sightseeing would end up being an intense encounter with Romani culture which was shocking and wonderful in the same time.
I thought I could use those tourist activities to catch up on a bit of history and general knowledge of Macedonia, as somehow during my stays here I always was dragged into other directions. Together we visited the sights, reading all the information exhibited on boards throughout. We also explored this whole business of the colour stains on Skopje’s monuments. It was named the ‘colour protest’, led by a group of free-minded Skopians. They expressed their unhappiness with the governmental issues in this peaceful action by throwing colourful paint onto those grand white brand-new monuments. I love the idea of it, but I would have preferred to see the whole thing delivered with some more artistic finesse.
From the centre, we made our way through the old town towards the bazar, checking out traditional shops and all the Turkish-influences fashion shops which displayed highly exuberant dresses.
From the centre, we made our way through the old town towards the bazar, checking out traditional shops, weird articles and all the Turkish-influences fashion shops which displayed highly exuberant dresses.
Finally we took the bus to Šuto Orizari, the Romani settlement outside Skopje. I felt very excited going to the market again, and strolling through the roads and alleyways. I had gotten in touch with Asan, as a spontaneous meeting close to where he lives seemed the most likely way to actually manage to meet him.
It was soooo hot, we were sneaking from shadow to shadow. Unfortunately the market was already packing up, so we started strolling off the tack into residential territory, into sections where I had not been before. In this settlement, one can discover so much creativity and imagination in and around the houses, it’s wonderful. We did chat to some of the proud home owners, who are always very happy to show you around and show off.
Later we had an ice coffee in a bar, a very sweet concoction of Nescafe, sugar, ice cubes and cream, and what miracle, Asan turned up. He was very concerned about meeting and rehearsing for the upcoming TV recording for Shutel, the local Romani television station. He had brought along his friend Ali, also a trumpet player; together we went then to the house of a relative to get rehearsals and TV sessions arranged.
I have been to a lot of Romani houses by now, and it does not matter in which country, and if rich or poor, they were all immaculately clean and tidy. You might find rubbish outside the house, but cleanliness inside is a strong part of their lore, which seem to have carried through even in the most modern Romani families. This house was different, really dirty and scattered. Anyway, were still welcomed like honoured visitors, and offered coke in semi-clean glasses.
As usual, when word goes round of special guests, several friends and family members pop round to pay their respect and also to spy on the newcomers. This way, we were introduced to a number of people, of course the crème-de-la-crème of Šutka. There was Elvis Pressley, who runs hotels abroad, and we met Lenzo, the Mafioso (we were warned afterwards by Asan), who owns a taxi firm in Stuttgart/Germany, and sings on the weekends in a slightly dubious Turkish night cub. I do not think many people can say of themselves to have met Elvis and a Mafioso in their life, and specially not in one day !
At one point a young man arrived, with a slightly strange air about him. Gosia identified him as gay, and we were wondering, if this was known to the family and community. He was asked to dance for us, as his Čoček dancing was apparently extraordinary. And it certainly was, after wrapping a jingly coin scarf around his hips, we were offered snippets of a rather feminine belly dance.
They didn’t allow us to take pix, they were concerned there would be bad gossip and discrimination amongst the community, if those images would be seen. For me, the fascinating thing was, here was a young man, who was everything which Roma people usually would shun and cast out. This young man however was in a weird way integrated in his community. I do not know, and could of course not ask, if they were aware he was homosexual, or if he was to them just a weird person, a kind of female man; whichever their answer would have been, in his difference he was accepted by others, he later helped other lads to repair some items on the next-door house.
For us, however, the dance performance was not finished yet. We were invited inside the house, so the dancer could perform properly for us, without any fear of being gossiped about. He would veil himself, and we were urged to film it.
What we witnessed then equally amazed and shocked us. I shall share with you here the starting scenes, before his dancing moves, urged by the grandmother of the house (who was to everyone’s shock only one year older than me!), took on rather too many erotic elements for my taste. The whole family, including small children, were there, seemingly feeling at ease, and I think the only two people feeling rather uncomfortable and overwhelmed with the situation were Gosia and me. It appears that for them the open display of so much erotic seems an ordinary thing.
Afterwards it became even more uncomfortable, as they asked Gosia to dance for them. In a normal situation, this would have been the right thing to do, to offer something back for this stunning performance which we just had been offered. Of course Gosia could not have danced now in this space which still vibrated from the guy’s energy, but her sweet and polite ‘no’ was not accepted. I had to step fully into a ‘mature grand-mother-figure’ position of authority to firmly establish that in our culture it would not be proper for a young lady like Gosia to dance in shorts. Tomorrow she would wear her skirt, and then provide a dance performance for them. We had been told we would return tomorrow there for a rehearsal.
The final act of the day should have been the visit to Šutel TV, the Romani television station of Skopje. It was of course was closed, and nobody had any idea about our appearance anyway; as I had already strongly suspected the whole action was part of Asan’s wishful thinking, wanting impress us and in the same time showing us off like his trophies to gain more recognition in their society. We agreed on meeting the next evening for a rehearsal, as Gosia and me had planned to visit the beautiful Lake Matka outside Skopje on the next day.