I have a couple of really awesome skillz in life. One of which is I have an awesome sense of direction, but I think my less recognized skill is befriending middle-aged women. Perhaps this is a skill acquired, one embedded in me from years of working at the toy store, attempting to bond with the young mothers- "oh no, I'm not married" "No, I don't have children" But lets be friends anyway?
On my bus ride home from Prishtina i sat next to a young mom of two boys. She explained to me that she met her husband when she was fleeing from the war. She said something to the effect "And then i was getting married, at that time!" As if it was an absurdity. She is Islamic. She spoke Albanian and Serbian. She gave the bus drivers oranges and shared her snacks with me. We spoke English. She told me I was pretty and I was at the best age, “free” she said, “free to do whatever… when you can dream something and it comes true." I swear those were here words. She gave me her email and we said we’d stay in touch, even though if you added all the minutes we probably shared in conversation it totalled maybe, barely, ten.
Today, I was doing some paper work for my Visa when I met a Turkish woman also with two boys. "I speak English, but I have no friends to practice with." I don't think she meant she didn’t have anyone to practice English with, I got the sense that she didn’t have friends in Zagreb at all. She told me English was a beautiful language and she had lived in Zagreb for 7 years. Her husband is Croatian. She also asked if I had kids, if I were married. I said no, to both. Her response was "Good!" and again, “you are free, you don’t have to worry,” I smiled. We chatted a little a bit in broken shared languages, her son sitting quietly between us as we all waited for the police to process some visa papers. After I finished I went to say bye. She asked if she could give me a kiss. She was beaming. I almost wanted to give her my number. I DID want to give her my number-but what would we do together in Zagreb? How could I be her friend?! Why is she so alone? Thinking about it now I wish I would of given her my email, something. I gave her son a silly band I had with me. She gave me a bag of hazelnuts. We hugged. "Drago mi je" we said and smiled as I walked away.
It was passing, but I have been thinking about it all day, these two encounters. How similar, how strange. How easy to have these moments, how hard it is to conduct my interviews on masculinity. I can't relate.
I was reading about gender, and nationalism, and post socialism, and traditionalism. Out the window the sun was setting and chunky snowflakes were falling on the men taking down the red umbrellas from the market. The concrete plaza was strewn with forgotten and rotten and wilting vegetables. It was cozy in the center for women's studies. Warm with books in English, books I get excited about. The point is, I was reading and some much of it was fluff...was based on opinions. I wasn't sure what to make of it.