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.
Great story! It seems like similar problems with work, big corporations, etc. are worldwide. I wonder that they can find work in the US, or at least work that can support them, as it’s so difficult for people there.
The global economic meltdown at the end of 2008 hurt everywhere in the developed world. However, the lack of good jobs in the Balkan Countries (formerly Yugoslavia) pre-dates those events. Whole generations of Croatians are permanent transplants around the world. My take is that a big contributor to the problem is a political spoils system that takes bribes to award jobs. For young people it is either come up with enough money to buy a position or leave. Many of the best educated are leaving which is creating a brain drain and a demographic vacuum among young people.
Sounds like a wonderful place. blessings to ya’ll
Thank you, Nan. Holiday blessings to you as well.
What a wonderful post, Mike. I remember wondering about the young people when we were in Croatia, and you have answered the question. You’re right, it is Croatia’s loss. Is it an issue that the government is trying to address?
So glad that you’re taking the time to enjoy the small things and savor the season. Thanks for a great post. ~Terri
I am sorry to say the current government does not seem far-sighted enough to envision Croatia in another generation or two. The corruption in elected offices is apparently one of the legacies of socialist rule. In Bosnia the people sell Tito souvenirs and pray for his reincarnation. I do not think it is that bad in Croatia, but you get the idea. Thanks, Terri. Mike
This comment about the little things are sometimes the greatest things is so true! I enjoyed the fact that this man opened up on his own life, his family and discussed in English some of the hardships in Croatia. It is interesting how you find such kind and generous people everywhere you go! You know that this reflects back upon how nice and kind you and Florence are. I enjoyed this post about the sad economy, how it is good for the other countries but not so good for Croatia. Hard times are everywhere, so sad to hear this, because while viewing the sights, you have let us in on the underbelly, the poverty that is possible when the economy is not good in a foreign country. Did you go back to get the offered special ‘rakija?’
I will try to go forth this holiday season and “Sip rather than gulp” all that life has to offer!
Yes, I did return the following day and receive the gift of a bottle of rakija. Before leaving the market Rado joined me for a sample. It is a strong drink, a type of grappa or liquor made from the leavings from pressing grapes to make wine. It will be nice to have some for the holidays as this is the traditionally offered Croatian drink to greet visitors. Thank you, Robin. – Mike
Hoping that you have a wonderful time in this next week, leading up to the happiest of New Years, too! Sending you a gift of a hug and lots of future correspondence. I receive your ‘gift’ every time I read your comments, Mike! Blessings to you and Florence, along with your families, too! Robin
Maybe I need to go to Croatia to learn how to live at a comfortable pace. I actually canceled going out to coffee with a neighbor this week because I felt overwhelmed with all I had to do. I tell myself that it’s just because of the holidays and helping my sister plan her wedding that I’m so busy, but there always seems to be something taking up my time. Celeste 🙂 PS – Since there’s always a nearby coffee bar, you must really be enjoying your time in Croatia – hehe!
Celeste, you should not worry about getting everything done today that you have on your list. As for the things you do not finish today, that is what tomorrow is for.
People in Croatia take coffee time seriously. It is always more about the time than it is about the coffee, because in Croatia people are more important than things. And I do not mind a bit! – Mike
A great story Mike. So glad you have been able to meet local people. It changes one’s perspective on a country. The huge corporate interests that drive people to have to seek work in another country is a universal phenomenon. Small Mexican farmers can’t compete with the huge agribusinesses here in Mexico as well as those in the US, subsidized by US taxpayer, driving millions of poor peasants off the land. Since they can’t find jobs in nearby cities, the US is their prime destination. US agricultural policy is one of the major factors pushing migrants to enter the US. When you get to know any of these people you discover they love their own country and would love to stay here, but politicians in both countries are blind to their suffering.
I appreciate your perceptive analysis of the plight of farmworkers and the unemployed not only in Mexico and here in Croatia, but also around the world. Politics always seems to rear its ugly head when it comes to caring for the common people. And it is always like you said, the people love their own country most and would always choose to stay if only that were an option. I think one thing that differs between Mexico and Croatia is that, even though they are both Catholic countries, Croatia has quite a low birth rate. People in Croatia are able to sustain themselves off the land more than in Mexico with its rapid population growth. Thank you as always for your comments, Jim. – Mike