New photo gallery: Life in an Old Soap Factory
The first person I met when I arrived in Skopje, Macedonia was Brad. An American in his early twenties, who had joined the army after high school, a way of life that took him to the Western Balkans. He was a little loco, but of the good kind.
When we reached the subject of photography, we saw that we had an equal interest in Urban Exploring. Brad was quite happy about this, because he had been waiting for months to find someone who wanted to visit an old demolished soap factory with him.
Half an hour later we were packed with cameras at the front gate of the factory. What Brad had forgotten to mention was that there was a family of gypsies living in the old building, ready to stab, shoot or potentially dismember both of us.
Our sense for adventure won the psychological battle and we walked in, ready to get the hell out again as soon as we would notice any hostility.
The building appeared to be full of dirt, shit, animals, plastic bottles, different other kinds of crap and people. Very friendly people.
They came from a huge gypsy family in Germany, but decided that Macedonia would offer a much better climate to spend the days without heating or even windows. There was the pater familias - who called himself John Kennedy - and his wife, their three sons with their wives and a whole lot of children.
They invited us in and gave us a tour around the building, happy that for once they had visitors who came with a genuine interest in their lives and living conditions. They told us all about their families, they made us coffee and treated us like long lost friends.
Their conditions were both cheerful and tragic and left me with mixed feelings. Ashamed about the contradiction of how we were prepared to run and how we were treated.
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