Pristina Friends

I spent about ten days recently in Pristina, Kosovo, visiting one friend and making a few new ones.

My first acquaintance was a stray puppy hanging out by the dumpsters. I whistled from afar, and the dog wagged its tail and followed along. She wanted to play! Everyone else out on the street was ready to kick the dog, but I was happy to have made a friend. I met this puppy a few times over the course of my stay, either walking to the market or back up the hill to the flat. Whenever I go inside, she sits outside the door and whines or barks for a few minutes before moving on. One night I saw her wandering around outside, so from the balcony of the flat I tossed bits of dry pasta down to her.

Another Pristina acquaintance is yet another stray puppy. I was just sitting under a tree in the Italian park (the Italians designed it. Quite pleasant actually) and a puppy came trotting up the path. I whistled, and once again, the stray was happy to not have a kick directed at her, and trotted over to my tree.

There aren’t too many stray dogs roaming the streets of Pristina. This is due to the measures that Pristina actively takes to keep the numbers of strays down in the city. Apparently the police force supervises the rounding up and killing of stray dogs in the middle of the night. In the city center. I had heard that this took place a few weeks before I showed up. Apparently they are doing it in waves. It reminds me of Herod rounding up and murdering all the baby boys under the age of two. I was glad to have befriended two lucky escapees.

I made a non-canine friend as well one day. E, the 25 year old sunglasses salesman. He runs a little kiosk on Mother Theresa street, the one across from the “Illyria” building. He’s there from 9-8, Monday through Friday, selling sunglasses. I had been wandering around for a while, and saw a bench that was half shaded. A nice respite from pounding sun and 35+ degree heat. He and I got talking that day for a good 3-4 hours, and the next day I returned and chatted with him for another 2 hours or so. I departed Pristina on a Sunday, and didn’t meet E until the Thursday before, which only gave me two days of sitting on the bench with him. Too bad I hadn’t sat on that bench earlier! I could have spent a few extra days hanging out with E, shootin’ the shit, as they say. Until that point, I’d only been hanging out with dogs, for god’s sake! Well, aside from some quite pleasant members of the international workforce I spent my evenings with.

We talked a lot about the poor situation Kosovo finds itself in. Unemployment rates are about at 50%. In previous years, he’s actually been able to make some decent money, but for some reason, this year just hasn’t picked up. He makes enough money to buy his lunch, and the coffee and cigarettes he goes through while he sits in the sun all day. He says he hardly makes 10 euros per day. Hardly anything to take home in the evenings. In the two days I spent with him, he sold maybe 10 pairs of glasses. They’re great glasses, too. I did my part and bought a pair. 5 euros well spent. He switches his out day by day. I laughed at the pair he was wearing one day, “Guci” glasses. Cheap China products, he laughed.

He had some interesting customers at one point while I was sitting there. Every ten minutes someone walking down the street will stop and try on a few pairs of glasses, and E will get up from the bench to help them out. (I told him he just needs to adopt the Istanbul sales technique and talk to everyone walking past: My friend, my friend, where are you from? You have no glasses, you must protect your eyes! I have many glasses that look good on you. You cannot have too many pairs of sunglasses. One for each outfit! 10 euros, but today for you, special price! For you, my friend, for you, 7 euro.) With these customers I overhear the familiar nasally accent “… from Michigan in America…” and so I went out on the sales floor to do my part. Two kids from Grand Rapids, one of them a recent graduate of Cornerstone University, staying for a month in a town outside of Pristina, working with a church group at an English language summer camp. I couldn’t believe it. Sometimes the world is quite small. They bought three pairs of glasses, and E said I was now in business with him.

Another interesting moment in the afternoon, probably around 4. I was talking about something, mid sentence, when a sharp bang rang through the street, from about 20 meters away. Common enough noise, nothing too startling. A few minutes later I noticed everyone in the area either walking or looking down the street to the source of the bang. E inquired what had happened. Apparently someone had fired a gun! Nothing was reported, no police showed up or anything. In a city where they execute dogs in the middle of the city center at night, someone randomly firing a handgun in the center in the middle of the afternoon is nothing to take notice of.

He’s been in this line of work for the past ten years, because there’s no work in Pristina. There are no jobs. This is no job, you know? What to do but smoke cigarettes all day? These days I am smoking too many cigarettes. He used to work in a shop selling glasses and watches, but they shut down, unable to pay the rent. The sunglasses job is what he does in the summer, but from mid August on, he has to find other work. He usually works in bigger shops of some sort. Because this year’s sales are so low, he has to find other work, but he doesn’t know what he’ll do. These days, Steven, you know, I don’t sell much. This year is not good for me, they do not want to buy. What to do but smoke cigarettes?

Oh, and it is scorching hot out there. The few days I was there, it was about 32-35 degrees every day, with the sun pounding down all day. And E. is down there all day, every day. Smoking cigarettes, drinking water from the street tap, eating burek for lunch and the occasional chocolate and soda, hoping someone will stop and pick up a pair of glasses. Good old E. E who sells sunglasses.

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