That evening in December 1979 we stopped in the small city of Osijeck and stayed in a hotel. Barbara wanted hot water to mix with some milk for Nat’s bottle so I went down and tried to ask for hot water. I got no response as no one could speak English or German.
After I returned and told of my lack of success, Barbara went down and shortly came back with plenty of hot water.
“How did you do that?” I asked.
“I went into the kitchen and showed the bottle to a lady there. She understood!” replied Barbara. Smart wife!
We went out in the town to look for a place to eat. Although there were plenty of people on the street, no one spoke. It was eerily quiet. We guessed that under Communism it was probably unsafe to say much in public.
We found a restaurant and went in and the waiter gave us menus, but we could not read a word. And the waiter could not speak any of our languages, so no help there. In the end we picked an item and pointed to it.
Soon the waiter brought our dinner. On each plate was a stone-cold, rock-hard ball of hamburger and a pile of raw onions. That was it. We ate what we could, paid the bill and headed back to our hotel.
The next morning was another long day of the “truck passing” game. What I remember most about that trip was the all-pervasive grayness of Yugoslavia. Even the people looked
gray, with bowed backs and heads. No one smiled. Communism did not seem to make the workers happy.
That evening we stayed in another small city where all the signs were all in Cyrillic. There was a fancy new hotel, but it looked expensive, so I went to an older, threadbare looking one. When I came to the desk, the man looked at me and shook his head. He pointed towards the new hotel.
I said “No, how much is a room here?” Finally someone came who could speak some broken German.
“No foreigners here. Must go to big hotel. Price the same.”
“Ok,” I thought, “not much other choice,” and off we went. The man was right, the newer place was cheap. This was probably the only positive side of Communism: everything costs the same whether it’s old or new.
The next day we pressed on, passing into Greece, where we stayed in the city of Kavala. During the night I couldn’t sleep, so at about 2am, I went outside to check on the car. As I was looking it over, another car pulled up next to me and the male driver propositioned me. I was shocked and had no trouble in saying no!
The next morning we left early and drove two hours on curvy mountainous roads to the next big town, Komotini. There we stopped so I could go to a bank and exchange some traveler’s checks for gas money. When I got to the front of the line, the teller wanted to see my passport, but I didn’t have it with me. I talked him into cashing the check anyway and went back to the car.
I asked Barbara if she had my passport; she checked and didn’t find it; hers was also gone! Then we realized that we’d left them at the hotel. When you check into a hotel in Europe, they take your passport, both to report to the police about who is staying there and to make sure you pay; we’d forgotten to reclaim ours before departing.
So, we had to drive back over those turning, twisting roads again. Two hours later we were back Kavalla. The desk clerk said he’d run down the street after us as we left, calling to us that we forgotten our passports, but we hadn’t heard him.
We went to get gas and as I paid, I found that the teller in the bank had given me way too much money. It seems he had cashed the checks as English Pounds rather than dollars because the traveler’s checks were from a bank in England.
As we drove back over those hilly, curvy roads for the third time, we talked about the situation and decided to go to the bank and return the money.
When we arrived, it was after hours and the bank was closed. But I banged on the window and someone came to the door. When I explained what I wanted, the man took me in.
All the employees were standing around the teller who had waited on me, commiserating with him because he had to pay out of his own pocket the extra dollars he’d given me.
I was ushered into this group and when I presented the man with the extra money, he looked up at me in awe and asked, “Are you an ambassador?”
I was taken aback at his question and missed the opportunity of a lifetime to say “Yes, I am an ambassador of the Most High King, Jesus!” I had been so often warned about being careful in witnessing in our new home, that I’d become too cautious.
Instead I muttered, “No, I just want to be honest.” The man was very thankful.
Picture: windy roads like we had to drive 3 times in Greece