Yes it's confusing isn't it? It actually says "Welcome to Skopje" in Macedonian. I could also have entitled this page as How time flies! Wednesday morning saw Lee and Tom up in good time for Shpendi to take them down town to the local bus station to get the bus to Pristina, the capital. Then a taxi ride would take them to the airport for the British Airways flight home. I know they got there alright as Lee sent me a text to that effect. And now they will have had a couple of nights in their own beds. Always a wonderful feeling!
I spent a time out day walking round Skopje looking at the sites as described in the Bradt guide, the only guide I know that has a book wholly devoted to Kosovo. I like to do this as it feeds me history, what has changed, how people dress, what they eat and a clue as to what goes on in their culture.
In the evening Liridoni, Shpendi's brother had his future mother in law call round with his fiancee Fitore and her sister. Below is a photo of Fitore, Shpendi, his wife Linda and Shpendi's sister Liradona.
It was so interesting to see what happened. It was just like home! Shpendi's wife Linda and his sister Liradona set too and cleaned the place from top to toe, the floor, the kitchen, we were moved off the settee so it could be straightened etc. This was obviously an important occasion. I later learned they had also come to see me, the Englishman. They told me that only ten years ago just before the Kosovo war, the men and women would have sat in separate rooms Turkish and Muslim style but the war changed all that.
Now it was my turn on Thursday to pack my case, say my farewells and go to the bus station after a very worthwhile time with Shpeni and Linda. At the bus station there is minimal information available to the traveller so it is important to keep ones wits about you. Bus stop 6, my bus stop, would either take me east 3.5 hours to Skopje, Macedonia or west 3.5 hours to Ulcinj in Montenegro. Lesson....get on the right bus!
We left on time in a comfortable modern bus, soon climbing into the mountains. Vines and orange orchards were quickly replaced with roadside stalls piled high with leeks and winter cabbages. Snow had already settled on the mountain tops. One brief "comfort break" and then onto the Macedonian border. I won't describe or show you a photo of the "comfort break". It could put you off international travel for life. Lets just say Ann would not have enjoyed it.
And then over the border having had my passport duly stamped and the bus searched by customs. Over the border into a totally different alphabet and language, which I cannot read apart from a few words, and into Slav culture which is very different from Albanian culture. Importantly Marija was there to great me at the bus station and then taxi to their home. Marija came to our Ladies REAL Conference.
Sasha and Marija have three children. Their youngest daughter Naomi aged 4, wanted to know if Uncle Ken had got his pyjamas with him. If I had then obviously I am staying the night. They were so excited to see me. They reminded me of my own grandchildren. Luka aged 4 wanted me to play football in the house with him, a soft ball of course and look at his model cars. It was great. After something to eat, and in Slav culture that means soup to start, I was then put on a bus, told how the ticket system works and packed off to the other side of the city where I was assured I would be met at the final bus stop to go to a Lifegroup meeting. And true enough there was Aleskander, the first Macedonian I had met some 3 years ago in Struga, now waiting for me. Aleksander and his wife Elena have kept in contact with Ann and me since then.
Life group was excellent. They like us went through the previous weeks sermon, theirs had been part of a series on the grace of God, and the leader Nikola wanted us to tell examples of God's grace in our lives and to give actual examples where we had known God humbling us as we had learnt humility from Christ. Here is Nikola and Maya who led the group.
The biscuits, crisps, fruit, drinks could have been served at any one of our groups. Fortunately there was a taxi driver in the Lifegroup and he took me home. Finding the way home from the bus stop in the dark would have been fun!
A nights rest and then this morning we travelled across town to see the work the church does amongst Roma children. Skopje has the largest Roma community on the world 50-70,000. Having heard and read about it I was nothing like as daunting as I thought it might be and doesn't compare size wise with say Garbage City in Cairo.
I was impressed with the facility the church has here standing on land bought for them by an American Assemblies of God church. They run a preschool and a soup kitchen. The preschool is bright, colourful with clearly dedicated staff and all the equipment one would want. All they get taught alphabet, counting, numbers etc is linked in one way or another to the Bible. Because they teach values like kindness, patience, helping each other, orderliness, in addition to helping clothe and feed them the local schools snap up these children when it is time for them to move on to infant school.
Other children who are in need of food are feed Monday to Friday at their soup kitchen that is in the same large building. This is run by Tom the pastor of the church here with volunteer help including a young woman from Virginia, USA. They are given a huge chunk of bread and a bowl of soup and a coke like drink. They sing a worship song, shout it would be a better description, but brilliant to hear, have a brief prayer then tuck in. Tom is clearly the man for the job and has everyones respect. Children who need food for the weekend are given some after the Friday session.
Photos of the childrens work were taken by one of the church members rather than me and will be sent me later. Now tomorrow, Saturday I get a personal guided tour of Skopje with Aleksander and then a meal cooked for me us by Elena. I look forward to it!