|(Lake Ohrid, Macedonia)|
The first time I flew on a plane was in 2010 when I went to work basketball camps in Macedonia and Serbia. I really, really enjoyed that experience, but it was in Macedonia that I experienced my first taste of what it meant to be in the 1% of the world population economically.
One night 4 or 5 of us coaches went out to eat at a small little restaurant in the town. The people there were very good to me and I had not paid for any food since I had arrived. Not because of me, but because of the Macedonian hospitality. They go above and beyond what is expected to make a visitor feel welcome.
On that night, my friend asked if I could cover the meal we had just finished and it was no problem at all!!! We had all eaten individual pizzas, drank soft drinks and some of them had a beer. I asked how much would cover it and my friend said $20 American dollars should do it. He went across the street, converted the money, then brought it back to me.
I asked how much to leave, thinking no way 20 would cover what we had bought, yet he grabbed some of the money from me and said that "this" would cover it.
It was about $15.
I was shocked.
So when the waiter came to the table, I just gave the whole thing which included a $5 tip. There was some conversing between my friend and this waiter as though there was confusion on the payment, then as it got straightened out, the waiter looked at me and thanked me over and over in Macedonian "Fala, fala!".
As we walked back to the hotel that night, I asked what was the big deal with the waiter and his reaction to the payment, I had no clue what happened.
My friend said "Coach, in Macedonia, we don't tip. You do the job, you get paid, but coach that guy probably makes $5 a day and you gave that to him in one tip."
With those words, it transformed how I saw everyone working on the side of the road while I visited.
I took a few hundred dollars with me on this travel and with only a few days left, I hadn't spent much of that money.
In those last three days, I tried to spend or give away as much as I could.
It hit me how much money I had compared to these people in Eastern Europe and I wanted to try and help any way I could while I was there.
It was a big smack in the face of what I had vs. many people in the world.
It was a big smack in the face of what I thought I did NOT have vs. what others did not have in the world.
That experience was the first step in helping me understand how well off I had it and has never left me to this day, and I will not allow it to ever leave me.