From Eric - I'm not one to fully relate to the Grateful Dead, but the title seemed quite relevant to my day, to say the least for the summation of our time in Skopje. As I was waiting for a bus, a group of Roma passed me, with two boys, the tallest only waist high, began asking me for something (What can I say? I'm a foreigner, and I stick out). As the "conversation" ensued, I realized the oldest one was wanting a cigarette, as he pointed to another kid in his group lighting up, with an older woman holding the lighter! In their persistence, they began to grab me and shake me, pleading for me with definite wailing. After a few ne's, I eventually yelled Begai (leave)! They ran down the street to catch up with the group. I don't know if my response was the most appropriate, but then again, sometimes the soft word isn't what communicates the clearest.
After a short bus ride and another bus transfer downtown, I rode on a bus that took me to Shuto Orizani, or Shutka. As the bus passed through a very congested, open market area, the path began to clear . . . but the bus stopped. The bus driver began to yell and whistle in the direction of a local grocer, trying to get any one's attention from the business. Eventually, after much yelling from the driver and honking/screaming from a collective quarter mile of traffic, a teenage boy came up to the bus, and took money from the driver. A hand appeared from the storefront holding a pack of cigarettes, exchanging the money for the smokes, with the teenager finishing the deal with the driver. In any other place, this event might seem strange, but "strange," like "beauty," is in the eye of the beholder. It was a good laugh for me, nonetheless.
Eventually, I made my way through the bit pazar, or open market to the kovachi, or blacksmiths. They modified some horseshoes I had bought from them just this past week for the horseshoe game kit I was assembling. Interestingly, they didn't charge me for the modifications, as I had given them some business earlier. It was amazing to watch this age-old, yet very applicable practice. They agreed to let me come back and take pictures some time. I'm looking forward to it.
On the slow bus ride back, deep in retrospective thought over the past 8 months, it did occur to me, what a long strange trip it's been. Thanks, Mr. Garcia and friends, for the thought.