This morning the international media is running stories of the floods that overtook Skopje during the weekend. There are images of overturned trucks, destroyed homes, and washed away roads. 22 dead.
I was there.
It rained hard from around five PM to midnight, whereupon I went out for a beer at the rock and roll bar across the street. I drank with a few long haired guys listening to Led Zeppelin as, apparently, homes were going under water.
The part of the city I was in was well drained, cars were rolling by as usual, and the rock and roll guys in the rock and roll bar seemed more interested in Black Sabbath than anything else. In fact, it seemed as if nobody had any clue what was going on. I sure didn’t.
The next morning was sunny and dry and I took a taxi out to the airport and left Macedonia, still completely unaware that the city was supposedly in a state of emergency.
I’m now sitting in Cyprus, drinking my 8 AM Efes, and someone back in the USA alerted my wife as to what happened in Skopje when we were there. They were in that particular type of anxiety when someone knows someone that’s in a place the international news is showing in turmoil. They wanted to know if we were safe . . My wife was forwarded photos of the destruction and articles about how the city was in a state of emergency and how the place was overtaken by a “water bomb.”
We traveled across the city during the catastrophe and saw or heard about none of it. Everyone was sitting in sidewalk cafes smoking cigarettes like they always are.
Distance de-contextualizes places and events, diminishing them to the lowest common denominator as us in media try to make places like Skopje relevant and engaging to the global audience. Some parts of the outskirts of a city flooding turns into city under water.