Each week Florence and I stroll to the local market to stock up on fresh fruits and vegetables. A vendor named Radoslav has noticed us shopping every week, so one day he asks us, “Do you live here?” We tell him, “Yes, we live here in Šibenik.” Florence gives him our business card with our photos and the caption, The 6 Monthers, which we explain means we move to a different country every six months.
That wins us a big smile. However, he is curious. He seems surprised like so many people when we tell them Šibenik is currently our home. Šibenik is not as well known as Split and Dubrovnik, the big cities on the Dalmatian Coast, and people are always curious why we chose to live here. The people are so proud of their city that it warms their hearts to learn someone from the United States would choose Šibenik in which to live.
Last week, Rado as we call him, invited us to join him for coffee so we could sit and visit the next time we come to the market. His wife tended to their vegetable booth while Florence and I accompanied Rado to a nearby coffee bar. There is always a nearby coffee bar. Rado had not practiced his English for a long time. Because his English is so much better than my Croatian, we managed to understand one another.
He told us about his family farm 10 miles up the coast. He told us he gets up every morning except Sundays at 4:00 a.m. to drive his farm fresh vegetables to our market. He beams with pride when he tells us he has two sons and five grandchildren. We learned his farm has 1,200 vines for growing grapes and enough olive trees to produce about 70 liters of olive oil for his family and the families of his four siblings. His grapes are for selling at the market except for enough to make a personal store of white wine to serve with dinner. When I asked if he also made rakija (ROCK ee ya), the popular Croatian brandy he said, “Of course! You come back tomorrow and I will give you some.” These Croatians – they are always so generous!
Rado used to work at a produce distribution center in the capital city of Zagreb. He lost that job last summer when the big retailers came in with their own distribution system. It is challenging enough to find good paying work in Croatia. Big corporations have pushed out the little guys which makes it harder. I asked why we do not see more young people at the market. He said, “Young people go to the supermarkets to shop so they can charge everything on their debit or credit cards. They do not have enough cash.”
That tells us something about Croatia. There is not enough work for the young people. About 4.5 million citizens remain in Croatia while over a million have left their country to find work in Western Europe, particularly in Germany, and another million Croatians have moved wherever there are jobs like Canada, United States, Chile, New Zealand and Australia. Having found better lives elsewhere, these Croatians are not coming back. That is Croatia’s loss and the other countries’ gain because Croatians are not only wonderful people, but also hardworking.
One thing I have learned from our time in Croatia is how to enjoy living at a comfortable pace. We made time to enjoy coffee with a friend. We sipped instead of gulped. We relaxed without looking at the clock. We made a memory out of a routine shopping trip, a timely reminder this holiday season that the little things are often the greatest gifts.