The children weren’t phased when they exited the airplane down a ladder onto the runway. They had done that before. They were surprised though to see how small the airport was. There were only two rooms. In the first room they got their passports stamped to show they were allowed to be in the country. In the second room they picked up their suitcases.
“Are there really only two rooms in the airport, Grandpa Joe?” Rebecca asked.
“No, there are four. Two coming and two going. These two rooms are for the people arriving in Macedonia. They have two rooms for the people leaving Macedonia too.”
Rebecca and Joshua giggled quietly to each other.
“I don’t see anyone with really dark skin,” Joshua noticed.
“The Roma are poorer than most other people in the country,” Grandma Kay instructed. “They would have less money to be able to travel by airplane than others.”
Rebecca understood and nodded.
“I don’t think I see any Roma, but I think I see Americans,” Joshua blurted out when they walked out of the airport. “Is that Mr. and Mrs. Taylor waving at us?”
Grandma Kay answered, “Yes, it is. And that’s Susanna laughing at her parents waving their arms.”
Dan and Lydia Taylor wore big smiles. They were younger than Rebecca and Joshua’s parents. Susanna was ten months old and liked to laugh. The Taylors knew Grandpa Joe and Grandma Kay. That’s what they called them too. Everyone at the Answering the Call missions agency called them Grandpa Joe and Grandma Kay. Everyone loved them and they loved everybody.
Joshua and Rebecca sat behind Susanna in the van. They wanted her to get to know them so she would play with them. Grandpa Joe sat up front with Mr. Taylor.
Eventually, the van stopped at a red light. Little children ran up to the van on both sides. They held out their hands and put on sad faces.
“What are they doing, Grandma Kay?” Joshua asked.
“Those are Roma children begging for money,” Grandma Kay answered.
Mr. Taylor rolled down his window and said something to the boy on his side. The boy started washing the side window where the baby was. The girl on the other side ran to the front of the car and rubbed a rag on the headlights. The boy ran back to Mr. Taylor’s window. He gave him a few coins. The boy smiled and started talking to Mr. Taylor. Soon the light changed and the boy waved as the van drove off.
“Was that Macedonian?” Rebecca asked Mr. Taylor.
“No, that was Romani,” Mr. Taylor said. “That’s why he was excited to stay and talk to me instead of trying to get money from other cars.”
“Why were they begging?” Joshua asked Mrs. Taylor.
“Their parents probably don’t have jobs. They send their children out to get money,” she explained.
“Are all Roma poor?” Joshua questioned Mrs. Taylor again.
“No, they aren’t all poor. But, in general, no matter what country they live in, they tend to be poorer than other people. They often aren’t given jobs. Many of them haven’t been to school or only went to school until they were about thirteen years old.”
Rebecca and Joshua looked at each other. They knew they would be in school until they were adults.
“Look, Rebecca! A horse and cart!” Joshua exclaimed.
“They decorated the horse with red tassels,” Rebecca pointed out. “What’s on the back of the cart?”
“Those are empty plastic bottles,” Mrs. Taylor answered her. “They collect them from trash dumpsters and sell them to those who recycle bottles.”
Rebecca looked thoughtful.
The van passed lines of stores. The things being sold were piled out on the sidewalk in front of the stores. People dodged the traffic to cross the street between to the two rows of shops.
“Are those Roma women?” Joshua wanted to know. “The ones with their heads covered with scarves. They are Muslims, right?”
“They are Muslim women, but they are Albanian,” Mrs. Taylor informed him. “The Roma are mostly Muslim, but they don’t cover themselves like these women. We’re about to drive through a Roma area. Everyone you see there will be Roma.”
Joshua and Rebecca focused their attention out their windows. The van turned and they went up a hill. The houses suddenly looked different. They were small and cramped. They were built right up against the street with no yard. There were several bright blue ones.
They saw some little children running around wearing nothing at all. They saw a grandma squatting up against a wall. Her hair was wrapped up in a white scarf. She was wearing a purple and black velvety-looking skirt. On her feet were black slippers. They saw a woman standing in the street holding a hose. She seemed to be cleaning the street. The water rushed down the hill. There was a man sitting on a carton behind a cardboard box set up as a table. He was selling candy from his little stand. They all had black hair and dark skin like they were very, very tan.
“They don’t really look like we thought, huh?” Joshua whispered to his sister.
“They are sort of dressed normal,” Rebecca responded. “Some of the women are wearing long skirts and gold earrings though. But, no, it’s not really what I expected.”
At the end of the winding street the Roma neighborhood ended. They drove past lines of tall apartment buildings which looked like big blocks of cement.
“That Roma neighborhood wasn’t very big,” Rebecca remarked.
“That was actually a pretty good sized community,” Mrs. Taylor corrected. “The Roma are scattered everywhere. That’s what makes Shutka, our neighborhood, special. There are more Roma all together there than anywhere else in the whole world even though some other countries have millions more Roma than Macedonia. In just a minute we’ll be there. See if you can tell when we’ve arrived in Shutka. By the way, the word Shutka means trash.”
“Trash?!” Rebecca and Joshua exclaimed unbelieving.