Posted: 1/14/2010


      There are some sights that stay with you forever. Skopje,Yugoslavia is one of them.

      As a student in the summer vacation in the '60's I was hitch hiking around Europe, but bought an overnight train ticket from Belgrade down south to Skopje, which had just suffered a massive earthquake. When the train-the Orient Express-stopped there it was not at the train station, which was in ruins, but just to the north. I jumped down and with my rucksack on my back walked across the tracks and into town.

      It was a scene of massive devastation. Building collapsed, some flattened, some cracked, and the population living in the streets fearful of another tremour. In the main square cars were flattened and in a corner the Yugoslav Army Officers HQ and club had parts of 2 walls still standing, BUT an elegent chandelier still hanging from part of the ceiling. I eventually found a rickety bridge open across the river and walked south, with trucks delivering dead bodies to a makeshift mass cemetery. 

     I eventually hitched a ride south to the Greek border and then to Thesolonika and later to Athens, Pireous, the Greek Islands and Turkey. Today Skopje is the thriving capital of the independent country of Macedonia, or as the Greeks insist, the FYS Macedonia. I always take note of their results in World Cup and other international matches.

     The horrific scenes of destruction in Port-au-Prince on CNN, BBC etc. reminds me of my one and only visit there in the late 1970's.  In fact we had been sharing accommodation with their World Cup team at the Grunewald Sports School in Munich during World Cup 1974, and after watching earlier matches in Frankfurt and Stuttgart, watched them play Italy in the Olympiastadion, Munchen. They took the lead against Italy in the 46th minute from Sanon, but Rivera, Benetti and Anastasi came back with goals for a 3-1 win. Haiti lost their other 2 matches, both in Munich, 7-0 to Poland and 4-1 to Argentina.

     A few years later I was reporting a World Cup match in Haiti and staying at a nice hotel on a hill in Petionville, an up market suburb, but from the pool side terrace you could see all the shanty houses stretching to the coast. I shoped at the iron market down town for beautiful and vivid paintings and took photos of the National Palace, home of Duvalier the dictator, and now collapsed. At the World Cup the team wore red and black uniforms to match the colours of the national flag.

     In fact the flag had been changed from the traditional red and blue, as black was supposed to put fear into the polpulation who were controlled by the armed Tonton Macoutes, the President's feared and not so secret police. As you watch your TV sets you will notice that the flags are now red and blue again, and the national team uniforms have also changed.

     At the Stade Silvio Cator I was sitting just below the glassed in Presidential box, which I saw from space today on CNN s now full of homeless Haitians. One visit was up in the mountains to a rum distillery where we were given samples in small tumblers, with flavours of mint, lemon, orange, coconut, banana, and various spices. The hillsides were denuded of trees, which had been cut down for fuel, and have since resulted in landslides and massive soil erosion.  I also attended a voodoo ceremony and cock fight.

     Their most famous player was New York resident Joseph Gaetjens, who although not a US citizen, had declared his intention to become one. He scored the only goal in the 1-0 defeat of England by USA in Belo Horizonte, Brazil  in World Cup 1950. He returned to Haiti and in 1964 was picked up by the Tonton Macoute and never seen again.

    'Strength Through Unity' is the nation's motto. They will need that and all the aid they can get which is being flown in from around the world to the airport in the next few days.