Last night we had dinner at a riverfront restaurant in Struga, North Macedonia. We had a long conversation with our waiter because, at 7 pm, we were his first and only customers. People eat late here.
We had driven to Struga from Tirana, Albania, through the steep mountains to the border. Once you cross into North Macedonia, there is a long descent to Struga.
Struga is a picturesque town at the north end of Lake Ohrid, one of the oldest lakes in the world and the deepest lake in the Balkans. It's a UNESCO World Heritage site, shared by North Macedonia and Albania. Numerous ancient sites ring the lake.
|Struga, North Macedonia (looking south toward the lake)|
|Struga, North Macedonia (looking north)|
Our waiter had spent a year in London, so he spoke English well. His father made him come home after a year because of the bad influence of the gangs in south London.
He told us about growing up in Struga. Lots of gang activity, drugs smuggled in from Albania, etc. We asked why everyone here smokes. He said it's part of the culture. His grandfather would make fun of him if he quit smoking.
Drinking alcohol is also important, he said, to keep the peace. He said everyone hates everyone else, and locals especially hate Albanians. But when they drink together, they become brothers.
This is an example of how people figure out ways to live together, despite stark cultural, religious, and political differences.
Maybe sitting and eating together works because we recognize our common humanity just by the act of eating.
And we don't even need the alcohol and tobacco to make it work.