Reality Stutters.

And now that I made it here, I feel obliged to post something. Friends have been writing me asking if I survived the trek, so I guess I have to write something if I don’t want you all to think I’m dead. Everything I wrote in my book I could only put down in words long after it happened, and I’m remembering why – reality has to be butchered by memory’s selective idiocy before it can be made tellable. Anyway, I’ll try, but it’s going to be more rambly personal than analysis.

I actually almost didn’t survive my first night of travel, thanks to the everlasting danger of Balkan hospitality – an all-night rakija-soaked dance party of 5 in a village-suburb of Budapest, staying with a punk friend met on Hospitality Club. I laid in bed the next day til 6pm considering a hospital visit, until I finally got some electrolytes down. The Hungarians were horrified to see me drink bright blue Gatorade (not an endorsement, as it’s fucking nasty), and lectured me through my hangover haze on the dangers of the synthetic American diet. Then Sina (my fellow travel-mate/teacher) and I made it to Belgrade, where we had an unusually quiet night with some old friends (Nesa and Andrea), and committed the unforgivable sin of staying in on the night of an all-night Kal concert – my chance to party with Belgrade’s Romani cultural intelligencia will have to wait. On our way out of Serbia, Sina (an American of Iranian descent) and I were pulled off the bus by the Serbian border guards, who were convinced he was “a Turk” – I never understood if they meant in the specific sense of a citizen of Turkey, or the more general sense of a swarthy easterner who might carry Serbia’s demise in his veins. They searched all our things thoroughly and made us eat unshelled pine nuts (a gift from our Hungarian friends which we took out of politeness) to assure they were not some pure unrefined drug. They softened when they saw our Roma-related goods (Serbs sympathize with Roma to some extent not only because their nationalist identity relies on Romani musicianship, but because Roma have suffered in Kosovo by the same hand as the Serbs.) We were warmly received by my old friends in Skopje, who have suddenly become a humble chunk of Macedonia’s literati – one of them just sold her translation of “Fight Club” for publication, and another won 2nd place in a national literature competition for his novel on underground living in Istanbul. The next day, with typical excessive consideration, they let us sleep in until 6pm, until our hosts in Kosovo probably thought we were dead (as we promised to meet them at 2pm.)

Anyway, now that I’m here, it’s impossible to know what to tell. The kids here have named me “Meci Meckari” – Meci (/Metsi/) means little bear, and Meckari (/Mechkari/) is the name of the Roma clan who made their living teaching bears to dance to music (by burning their paws with embers, truth be told, but we should forgive them in retrospect.) As I type this, one five-year old friend is chanting “Meci Meckari” at me over and over through her demonic smile with glowing eyes – the joke hasn’t gotten old yet, I guess. We celebrated International Roma day with a family barbeque, and an unusual appearance (in this quietly observant Muslim household) of the beer bottle, for us guests. After spending five days wrestling with customs, we finally got our customs-exempt box of computers. The official who kept us waiting had a giant green book in front of her emblazoned with the word PROTOKOL – straight out of Tuvalu, which I can’t get out of my head lately (particularly Chulpan Khamatova). The kids are so in love with the EEE PCs that I don’t think we can pry them out of their hands for computer lessons. And the English lessons are going swimmingly, but again, are too much of my current grain of existance to think of summurating.

(Meci Meckari, Meci Meckari, Meci Meckari…)

I guess I could talk about how even the most severe of officials grow misty-eyed with us when we say we’re americans, and how our Roma friends are still nervous walking in Albanian areas even within our protective shield of Americanity. How my previous lines on this blog about never having met a non-nationalist Kosovan Albanian or Serb sting with ignorance now, after having coffee with a dissident absurdist local Albanian playwrite/painter (or whatever order those words go in), a good friend of our Rom host, and after drinking with a young Serb ISP hacker who came by to help with our troubled wireless network, among others… That just like all the other ex-Yugoslavs, many here secretly bristle under the ideological monopoly of nationalism without having any idea how to wrest it from dominance… How rumors are rife in Serbia that the right wing may try to stir up trouble here in Kosovo to influence the early elections Kostunica has called in mid-May. Or how Ramush Haradinaj, after being found innocent of all charges from the Hague (much to Carla de Ponte’s chagrin) came back to silence those who agreed to testify against him, and the streets are lined with his billboards – Ramush, Welcome Home! Ramush, we need you! Not that you need popularity to pay for a bunch of billboards.

The one banal insight I might offer came from a walk around the village we took tonight. One visiting non-local friend (in a typically rough exchange of jokage) made reference to a ‘Gypsy’ wife. I’ve always wondered, as I’m sure have some of the readers, how serious the term is (just as countless Eastern Europeans have asked me, But if they call each other niggas, why can’t I?) The word was a minor bombshell, evoking not a few gasps, clicking tongues, and steps backward, with whispered repetitions of the word – “Gypsy?!” Sorry Gogol Bordello and friends in electro-Gypsyland, I’m not trying to get all PC, but I don’t think the locals would buy your whole “we’re down so it’s cool” schtick. Dig on what really happens with the people you’re claiming. Not that I’m one to represent.

Which brings me around to my final point. Rather than try to represent people here, I think the next posting will be a link to a website we’ll be setting up as part of our computer class. Like another one of my recent heros, British videographer Phil Collins, we’re going to try and frame up some trans-cultural encounterage while leaving the ‘content providing’ up to the represented themselves. Whether we can manage to slap fifteen janky laptops onto one wireless router in a little Romani village in central Kosovo remains a question. Stay tuned.

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One Response to “Reality Stutters.”

  1. […] on Romani musicianship, but because Roma have suffered in Kosovo by the same hand as the …Read More.. Tags: extent, kosovo, musicianship WHAT TO DO NOW? Post a comment or leave a trackback: […]

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