Paula Cooper Trajkovski Shows Macedonia How Its Done
I first met Paula when I came across her post on Weddingbee.com talking about she and Mr. B., her hubby moving to his country, Macedonia. I introduced myself and the next thing you know we were friends on Facebook. That was 2013. I have gotten to know Paula over the past year through our posts and pictures. As a black American woman married, living and working in Eastern Europe, Paula’s story is especially fascinating. She is holding it down for the sisters over there and doing a fantastic job of it I might add.
We were finally able to complete and interview which I am happy to share with you all. I appreciate Paula’s candor, no nonsense disposition and sincere honesty. She does not mince words and is true to herself. Paula is a testament to the happiness we can find by going outside our comfort zones and being willing to take risks for love and happiness. Her sense of adventure is not for the weak at all. Paula has to learn a new language and raise biracial and bilingual children in a foreign land. But she sees the richness of her unique experience. Of course it has worked out superbly out for Paula, but even if it had not, she would not have missed a beat.
Where were you born?
I was born in Charleston, South Carolina
What is your husband’s ethnicity?
Mr. B. is eastern European. He is Macedonian from Skopje, Macedonia (Former Republic of Yugoslavia)
How did you meet?
We met in Iraq. I know, one of the most romantic places ever (Paula giggles). One of my best girlfriends, Tosh talked me into going back as a contractor about two months after our recent deployment as reservists and after initially telling her no, I decided well why not? She got transferred to another base and actually told me a couple of months later that the woman that was there doing my job was going home so I requested a transfer to be closer to her (its non-stop laughter when we’re together and in the desert you need that). I think there was an instant attraction when Mr. B and I first saw each other but for me it was like whatever. I was trying to work on myself; get some things together in my life and just stay focused. I was also in school full time trying to work on my Master’s degree working 6 days a week 12 hours a day. A relationship in the desert was the furthest thing from my mind – not to mention that some people go overseas and just go crazy. I did not want to be one of those women.
Mr. B. later told me he found out who I was the first day I got on the base (he said he thought I was so friggin cute) I did mention to my friend that I thought he was really handsome when he would pass by me in the cafeteria but didn’t act on anything. Finally, he got up the nerve to make his move. He searched my first and last name on Facebook and sent me a smiley face. I asked him how did he find me out of 300+ people with the same name as mine on Facebook? He responded: “Actually, there are about 400+ people with the same name.” The rest is history.
And how long had you known him when you got married?
We met in November 2009 so we were knocking on three years when we got married.
When were you married?
We eloped in Dubrovnik, Croatia on July 20, 2012.
Was this your first interracial relationship?
Yes, I had never been in a serious relationship outside of my race.
How did you feel about interracial marriage and relationships before you were in one?
I really feel like, you know to each its own. I can’t say that I didn’t have this vision of what my husband would look like. What my family would look like. I wanted to mirror the Cosbys, a strong black family without all of the kids…. (five is a bit much for me). But I’ve never said that I wouldn’t explore all options. I mean none of the guys I have ever dated in my life look alike and I like MEN so if you were green and I thought you were the best thing since sliced bread it wouldn’t matter. Love is love. I had my reservations about any man of a different race expressing interest in me especially a white man because I always had that thought in the back of my mind like: “Does he just want me for that black woman experience”? It may sound weird but I’m just being honest. The thought was always in the back of my mind.
I feel that people who get into interracial relationships for the wrong reasons, for example, the ones that do it because “I want my baby to have curly hair”, “My kid has to be light skinned”, or “I hate my own race” or anything along those lines, I think that’s a problem. I don’t like when those in interracial relationships put down a whole race. I’ll use black woman as an example. Sometimes we are treated as if we aren’t worthy, as if we are at the bottom of the totem pole. I have a husband from a different race but it doesn’t take away my love for black men. I know there are good black men out there. I have black brothers, black nephews, black uncles, black guy friends, etc., etc. No one can convince me otherwise. Love is love, so just go with that, but if a person has some issues within themselves, maybe they should figure that out before they jump into any relationship, because they probably won’t be happy either way.
Do you feel any different about interracial marriage and relationships now?
Well, my husband actually really wanted to get to know me and we’re married so it’s legitimate now that I was bigger than a sexual fantasy (smiling). I was definitely proven wrong in that aspect but I still feel the same way in respect to everything else. Again, love is love, be happy.
Did you face skeptics and criticism from friends and/or family about your interracial marriage?
My family and friends were very supportive. I can’t say that I wasn’t a little scared to tell my father or my uncles. They all dealt with racism in the south – even I have and boy have I heard some stories. And my father, anytime he would ask if I was dating someone he would ask if he was black. But when I told him about Mr. B, as things got serious, he was very supportive and happy for me. Sadly, he died before ever getting to meet my husband but there have been little signs all around me that I know are from him that he approves. My father only cared about me being adored and treated like I was suppose to be especially given that the last serious relationship was not good at all.
This was the main concern with all of my close friends and family. My grandmother’s, who raised me since I was three, main concern since I was moving overseas to live in his country was how did his family treat me? If they treated me like family and didn’t disrespect me, everything was all good her eyes. My grandmother felt that as long as I wasn’t being pressured into anything and was making my own decisions about where to live and who to marry she was fine with it and she gave us her blessing.
NOW, I have had other people make their assumptions about Mr. B and myself. I’ve had men who didn’t even know me assume that a black man hurt me so bad that I had to go to the “other side” which was hilarious to me because no one can ever hurt me that bad to a point where I just judge a whole group of people. One of the guys that actually said that had a white wife! Talk about being a hypocrite. I’ve been accused of not loving myself. Others thought that he was just using me to get a green card not knowing that he did not have a strong desire to live in the states. Shoot! I was trying to push living in the United States in the beginning and he wasn’t biting! These assumptions weren’t from anyone in my family or inner circle, these were co-workers or strangers being nosey or seeing who I was chatting with on Skype while overseas. These were people I wasn’t close to in the least. So their opinions didn’t matter at all to me and I politely let them know that.
Do you recall how you first informed your friends and family of your interracial relationship and subsequent marriage?
Well I know my friend Tosh, the friend that I went back to Iraq with to contract, she actually knew already and was there in the picture when we all became friends. She absolutely loved Mr. B for me and she never really cared that much for anyone I’ve dated like that. She was team Mr. B all day and pushed me to see where it went. I remember telling another close girlfriend; Vee via an email from Iraq showing her a picture and told her: “This is who I’m seeing. What do you think? She was like “He’s handsome!” She then asked if I was happy. Which I confirmed and she replied “Then I’m happy.”
My sister knew of him, stepsister, and stepmom knew about him and they were supportive, my brother when I told him responded “Okay cool.” Then he met him a few months later for my birthday in Vegas. My brother was the first out of the family to meet him and gave his report back to my grandmother after the trip. I got a stamp of approval. I told my father a few months before he passed because it was time for him to meet him. Unfortunately, his sickness came unexpectedly so again he didn’t get to meet him but it was good to know he was all for it and wanted to meet him as well.
I think once I figured that this man was really special I started to put it out there, but I didn’t allow Mr. B to officially meet my family until close to the two year mark. I met his family after 6 months! My family knows that I’m not bringing anybody home until I’m for real. And the last time I was for real was five years ago. He proposed to me during the vacation I took him to meet the family in Charleston and he proposed in the Dominican Republic. We went to Charleston for three days, he met the family, then we jetted off the Dominican Republic for a week and when we came back to Charleston we were engaged. I remember my uncle asking me before we went to DR: “Is this the one?” And I said, “I really believe he is”. He was like, “Well we love him. If you don’t want him, we’ll keep him.” Once we got engaged everyone was very happy for me, my girlfriends just loved the way he treated me. My family just loved the way he blended in like he had known them for years despite obvious differences.
I did have two apprehensions about telling people about him in the beginning. One was me not wanting to feel like I was abandoning my race because as independent as I am and as much as I march to the beat of my own drum and could care less about what people think about my life, I couldn’t help that I had this underlying thought and it was weird because it was like Sannai Latham in the movie Something New. You know the coffee shop scene where she met dude for the first time? Well maybe not that extreme. I had to be honest with myself and recognize that those feelings were there. Fortunately for me those feelings went away quickly once It was clear that I was the happiest I’ve ever been with ANYONE. The second apprehension was that this guy was foreign and lived in a foreign country. I was really scared to get involved past a certain point only to have to end it because we were going to head back to our respective countries, and here I am having told everyone that was close to me about him. I was pretty adamant to myself in the beginning that I was NOT moving to Macedonia go figure.
What about your husband’s family —- did you or he face any criticism from them?
My husband’s family has always been extremely nice and respectful to me BUT I learned after the fact from my husband that they did pull him to the side and wanted to know if he was completely serious about me; and what about kids etc.? You have to understand, these are people who have never been outside of Yugoslavia. They don’t have passports, there aren’t black people in Macedonia. There are literally about five of us in my city. They do not speak English so it was something completely different and sort of a shock for them. It took me aback at first because I didn’t know that there were some reservations but after talking to that same girlfriend Tosh, she really told me to put myself in their situation something that is actually extremely new for them. So I did and I got it. Again, they never disrespected me and once they saw that their son was for real and was happy they were all for it. They were extremely supportive and made sure that I was comfortable in Macedonia. After marriage they were pushing for babies immediately and these were the same people in the beginning concerned about our kids. My husband’s sister and friends were supportive right off the bat. I’m very blessed to have the in-laws that I do. I just love them.
How was it handled?
Well as I mentioned in the previous question I never knew things were discussed off to the side and they never disrespected me in anyway. I think my husband just let it be known that he loved me and wanted to be with me and they respected and supported him with that. I’ve always been respectful to them because I was just raised that way.
Have you ever felt pressure or experienced a significant difference between your non-interracial and interracial relationship?
I’ve never really compared notes. I just chalk it all up to the person and not comparing non-interracial to interracial. I think culturally there are differences that my husband and I have had to work out and still do work out which I think is absolutely normal, but you just have to know with whom you are dealing. If something didn’t work out for me I believe it’s just because I was in the wrong situation. There are bad apples in every bunch.
Do you feel that there are societal criticisms and pressures concerning interracial relationships?
I think there are still societal criticisms and pressures. I don’t think it’s as extreme as it use to be but they are there most definitely. Everyone has his or her assumptions. He wants a trophy; she is Massa’s girl; he/she thinks their better than the rest of us; too good for their own race, and whatever other crazy stereotypical categories people lump us all into. I don’t think people understand that a great deal of soul searching goes into interracial relationships. Then you hear people say if you have kids, the biracial child will have an identity crisis because of their ethnicity. I try not to pay attention to all of that and just live my life the best way I know how. I’m trying to build a life with a man I fell in love with and we focus on each other and making sure each other is okay. Not what anyone else thinks. I think that this has been the main reason we are succeeding in our marriage.
Do you attribute or connect it to negative images of blacks from slavery or something else?
Well for me being from the United States and from South Carolina I will say the history of slavery and Jim Crow has something to do with it. Don’t get me wrong, I do believe that a lot of it is pure ignorance but I can’t say that I don’t believe what happened years ago still affects people thoughts today especially when it isn’t being acknowledged and we are being told to just get over it. Yes slavery happened years ago but racism still happens no matter how much people would like to forget about it. There are still injustices going on against black/African American people and some people look at someone like me with a white man and are like how could you given our history and what our ancestors had to go through and what is going on in the U.S. still today? And my answer to that is that it has nothing to do with my husband. What some people fail to realize is that he is from Macedonia. He’s European and doesn’t understand all that racism black and white mess going on the United States. I keep up with the current events even living away from home and he is appalled by some of the stories I share with him on the news which sometimes includes blatant disrespect of President Obama. I’m just a woman that fell in love with a good man and that’s what it’s all about love. I’m not ignorant to the fact of anything going on back home, but I won’t let it keep me from my happiness.
Do you have children?
We are expecting our first, a son in December of this year.
Will race figure into child rearing for you?
I feel like to some extent it will have to. It’s just the type of world that we live in. We want to raise any children that we have to just treat people in the way they would want to be treated. Teach them that we are all humans first. We want our child (or children) to be proud of both heritages because let’s face it in this crazy world mommy and daddy found each other, from two completely different backgrounds in a war zone. There is something to said about that. I mean there are specific things that I have to think about like for instance, I live in Macedonia but what if my son decides he wants to go and move to the states? He needs to know that society in America will view him as a black man and I would have to prepare him for that. I think I would be foolish to ignore that.
And also it’s very clear that our children will look different here in Macedonia and they will have to maybe deal with ignorance because of that. I think we’ll be okay but it’s something that I’m sure will come up. I’m a little more nervous about rearing children here when it comes to race because they will look so different and I know how it is sometimes when I go out by myself — the stares, and sometimes the ignorance. I mean it doesn’t happen often but it does happen and I don’t think it’s smart to ignore that and not help our children understand what’s happening and teaching them how to deal with it all.
When your children first experience racism, what will be your advice will be to them?
I really just hope first and foremost that I stay calm. I can see myself just being very protective of my unborn son and he isn’t even here yet. I can’t say exactly what I would do but I will try to explain it in a way that my children understand that the problem is not them and that they should continue to be proud of their heritage.
Are your families’ different religions?
No, everyone one has Christian beliefs but there are some variations in the way each family practices their respective religions. For instance, I grew up Baptist, my husband grew up Orthodox.
What about politics? Are you both on the same page politically?
I think we have the same views as far as politics – don’t trust any of them 100l.
Where do you live? We live in Skopje, Macedonia
Do you think Macedonia in general is a good place for interracial couples and families?
I think as a black person you have to have tough skin to live here sometimes. In general people are nice and friendly but sometimes it’s a bit much. And sometimes you get ignorance from people who have never been outside of Macedonia who live in a village somewhere. Sometimes I deal with it from people right here in the city. I remember going to the circus one time here and during intermission I wanted to go back inside. When my husband asked me why my response was I wanted to go back inside and sit down because I’m not the damn circus. We laughed so hard but the staring and pointing and giggling was a bit much.
I think Macedonia is a safe place and that is definitely a plus for me. It’s also a beautiful country but it is a little behind at the moment with race relations because they haven’t really experienced variety. It’s usually Macedonians, Albanians, and some Turkish trickled in. So when I step out it’s like whoa what’s going on here? I mean people automatically assume, if we are together, that husband is from the states or we are from the UK or possibly even France because he is with me. And then when he speaks in his native language there is all of this surprise. A lot of times it is an assumption that I am from Africa if I’m by myself. So they are just behind in that aspect and I will never get use to someone calling me a nigger or shouting “What’s up my nigga” to me because they think it’s cool – that’s another subject in itself.
Again, people are in general nice; they want to know who you are and what you’re doing here. They want to know your story. They want to invite you for coffee. And there are some opportunities that can come about because you look different but living here has its moments.
Having a job here is a must and it’s a problem if you don’t find something or create something for yourself. The unemployment rate is awful here so we are very blessed in that aspect. I like my life here because I’ve actually been able to develop my little circle but I can’t say that I don’t miss my friends and family back home. I miss aspects of American culture especially customer service. I even missed the basics like makeup, hair products for black women. Some days are better than others but this is home and for me it was the right decision. It’s working out for us. I just hold my head up high because I’m proud of who I am. We made a conscious decision to live here and love brought me here so no one is going to mess that up. I can’t lie and say that I do not think about how it is going to be raising my kids here but I do believe that we will all be okay.
Do you work outside the home?
I do work out side of the home. I actually have two jobs for a British company here and I also contract services out to the U.S. Embassy here. I am also working on starting a fashion boutique that I’d like to eventually use as an avenue to help survivors of domestic violence trying to get back into the workforce. I’ve had a job since I was 14 years-old so not working was not an option for me. Six months into living here things were looking rough and I had one foot back in the United States but everything worked out in the end.
What do you do for fun?
We’re a pretty free-spirited couple. We are foodies. We love to travel, movies, hike, and to go out dancing. I like reading, listening to music and sometimes just enjoying a little bit of peace and quiet. We enjoy meeting new people especially from different walks of life. We just love to laugh and have a good time so anything that involves that works for us.
Do you have any suggestions for black women just entering or considering an interracial relationship?
Make sure that you are getting an interracial relationship for the right reasons. Don’t worry about what the people on the outside think. Don’t let people or stupid stereotypes influence your relationship. Live your life in the way that makes you happy and if life brings you happiness in another package it’s okay. Embrace it and enjoy it because there is nothing like being in genuine love.
On Dec. 12, 2014, Paula and Bojan welcomed Noa Trajkovski 6.5 pounds to the world.