23.12.08

on the subject of blogging

Married To The Sea
marriedtothesea.com

maybe not so relevant for this blog, since im in macedonia and all, but for those who knew the last one... yeah. my apologies.

17.12.08

Welcome to the Posh Corps

I’ve made the move to my post, in Skopje, the capital city of Macedonia. Swearing-in happened on December 12th without any problems. My counterpart and my host family (Mitat and Razije) came to the ceremony. If you want to see some of it, go to the US embassy page for Skopje, or click here. The remainder of the day was happily spent at the Irish Pub with многу лашко темно.

Move-in day was uneventful, beyond the scope of actually moving. My only gripes were failing to say proper goodbyes to my Romanovce friends and losing my med kit in a wild taxi. Besides that, everything was great.

My apartment is super nice. To anyone reading from MK who heard me complaining about my housing situation – strange bathtub, lack of washing machine, hotplates ‘n’ toaster oven etc, I offer my sincerest apologies. I feel like this place looked so different when someone was living in it. It is interesting to think that what I paid for 4 months in Philly for a room in a row house could more than cover the entire year’s lease for my place here. (edit: 3 weeks later, i find out that i have a view off of my balcony of snow capped mountains. i just needed a sunny day to find out.)

Cooking with two hotplates, one burner 1400W and the other 1000W, has been an adventure. You have to remember that the burner is still hot for several minutes even after turning it off. I’m still figuring out the oven. I used it for the first time today to make sarma. My sarma wasn’t nearly as good as the sarma Evan’s host mom makes, but it was good for a first try and with a makeshift kitchen. I also used soy granules for the first time. I like them so much I might try to be a vegetarian for realz- but no promises. I did my laundry by hand two nights ago too. That was as horrible as I expected it to be, but it was also my fault since I hoarded up a lot of dirty clothes so I could avoid the laundry detergent of choice in Romanovce. I am not convinced hand washing actually cleans clothes either, but when i think about it, what more is the machine doing?

My first day on the job involved 4 hours of talking about conspiracy theories and ethnicity issues with Blerim since the president was in Kosovo for a conference. Very interesting. The second day, I was proofing an English version of a project proposal. Today, third day, I had a meeting with my Peace Corps program manager Nadica who helped me sort out some misunderstandings with my org that made me freak out on the inside yesterday. By the end of today, I was really psyched about what we are working on. Yes, we are already doing work.

I finally had a creepy old man experience in Macedonia. I thought it was strange that it hadn’t happened yet, after all the prepping for unwanted attention during training. Someone I had met and should have been trustworthy turned out to be a bit pervy. He saw me walking home from work at 3 in the afternoon and offered to give me a ride, indicating that I should sit in front. I would never sit up front in a taxi alone, wild or no, but I had already met this man in a safe setting with people I already trust completely. As we are going towards my apt, he starts grabbing my left hand and just holding it, or patting me on the leg. And then, saying something about coffee and massages at his house, or so I thought. wtf? Seriously? You are Old and Married and Ew. I make up something that my friends are coming over and I have to go back home. He drives past the entrance of my building and turns to park on the side, and turns the engine off. Then I realize he meant at massages at My House. When it all sunk in, I just started to say No and Bad in Macedonian/Albanian with the finger wagging and tongue clicking. There is no way that would fly with any woman from Macedonia. He stayed in the car and I went home, but it was still totally weird. Eh, I knew it would happen at some point, and I’m positive it will happen again. I hope next time I'll have better vocabulary for verbal chastising.

I’m getting sleepy, but for my last tidbit:

Last night I went to a Christmas get-together at the British Embassy, hence the title referencing the Posh Corps. I had gluwein (I don’t even like gluwein that much, but the atmosphere made it better and necessary), mini mince pies, and christmas carol singing surrounded by people with nice accents. Most people who know me know that I am not a fan of Christmas, but this one occasion made me feel happy that it was Christmas time. Maybe it was close to what I’ve always wanted Christmas to be in my head. Or maybe it was being surrounded by people who speak English in a foreign country and feeling like we are united by this holiday’s traditions. Either way, there is small glimmer of hope that I will come to love christmas again someday.

6.12.08

Prepping for (little) Bajram

My host mom and our neighbor (whose name i've never really picked up) are in the kitchen half of the living room making some hard core bachlava right now. I'm sure my host brother regrets letting me use the computer now since i've been on for a while, but to appease, i uploaded my photos to the computer. about half of them are of ferxhan, potential profile pictures on whatever european equivalent to facebook he uses. it makes me laugh to click through the pictures on my camera. there are a few of me and razije, me and nuraj, all three of us together, all while i have my hands in gook, or dough as some would call it. we were making peta. after the legitimate pictures, there are usually about 7 pictures of ferxhan in various gangsta poses. then some more group pictures, then some gangsta and so on.

We went visiting last night in Kumanovo and we visited a couple who have been to our house before. the wife is distantly related to my mom and the husband is more closely related to mitat's father. i was ambivalent to going since this is my last weekend spent in romanovce and i like the 10 minute snippets of car rides. i especially like when my mom drives cause she goes about 30 km an hour, aka 18 mph. it draws out the car ride fun.

the husband speaks german and we have talked before, but for the life of me, when i think of german, i find myself blurting out albanian words. i guess thats good in a way. he put on german satellite tv for me, but it was kind of like watching tv at home with my dad. he wouldn't leave it on one channel, and of course the channel that did stay on the longest was never one that i really liked. i was grateful for the reprieve from albanian music videos, instead, i watched the ema music performaces 2008, featuring the original work of Pink, Duffy and the Killers. that was sarcasm, by the way. that shows how sick of the rap music videos i am.

oh and i got to watch tila tequila in german subtitles and have to feel completely embarassed about my culture for half an hour.

i'm going to relinquish the computer now.

30.11.08

Lost in Translation: "American Salad"

Yes, we had thanksgiving in Macedonia. And, it turned out to be less aggravating than anticipated. i was not looking forward to it At All and yet, i was on the committee. i think it is because i was next to rene when 'committee' was announced and her enthusiasm was contagious.

I understand exactly why the Peace Corps puts so much energy into getting thanksgiving together. It aligns with one of those 3 goals we've been hearing over and over... something about bringing better understanding of American culture. Or at least better understanding of the fairy tale version we celebrate. When we first landed in Macedonia, they told us they had already ordered the turkeys for thanksgiving from the US.

Thanksgiving here was a giant potluck dinner of about 200 people. current volunteers had to bring a dish and each host family had to bring something as well. our village was supposed to make mashed potatoes. i spent 5 days trying to explain mashed potatoes to my family to no avail. benson says, oh its 'piree'. so i go home and i say, patata piree and see a light go on in the eyes. and i think, awesome, we are on the same page finally.

no. that was the wrong light bulb.

wednesday before thanksgiving rolls around and im nervous because i see no potatoes in our house nor have we talked about piree again. i ask about it and razije says, tomorrow we will buy potatoes. or, thats what i thought she said. i go to kumanovo for ree's farewell dinner/candlelit xmas sing along (the power was out for the majority of dinner) and think all is well on the mashed potatoes front.

the next day, THE day, we have language class from 8-10 so we can prepare our food with our family. the point was to cook Together, we make a traditional american dish with our families. i'm thinking we have total understanding *how silly of me* and i am looking foward to cooking something after 2 months of only being designated stirrer or rolling pin lady. its almost 11 when i get home from class and my host mom decides to go on a mysafir, a coffee visit to the neighbors. im thinking, hey what about that buying potatoes nonsense? if we have to go to the market in kumanovo, we will barely have enough time to make stuff. i ask what time are we going to cook and she says, 12.

finally, the light when on in My Head. i realize, we are making instant mashed potatoes. ok no big deal, at least we have a dish for thanksgiving, at that point i didnt care too much. scratch that, im agitated that i won't be cooking anything myself but its not the end of my world. i get sent out to buy 3 packages of piree, 3 packages of pavla (later find out that is sour cream), a carton of milk, margarine and on a second trip, 5 eggs. olga, my local shopkeeper and personal haircutter heh, throws in a package of chicken salami for my host mom who had me drop off some pedla that morning. i come home to watch my mom make instant mashed potatoes and, of course, stir the pot.

the making of the mashed potatoes reminds me of the end of lord of the rings: return of the king. everytime i think we are finished, there is still another scene left. i think the mashed potatoes are done once the packets have been added to the milk and stirred until no longer lumpy.

ooo no. then, we stir in the 3 containers of pavla sour cream. ok, thats unhealthy but fine. finished.

haha no. then, my mom heats up a small dish of sunflower oil and salt. she busts out her nice serving platter and spoons the potatoes into a layer and then bathes it in the oil/salt. she does this on each level. err, ok. thats kinda gross. but that has to be it.

but no! those 5 eggs come back into my life. my host mom was hardboiling them undetected and then we start peeling the shells. im thinking to myself, o wtf are we going to do with these?? we grate them on the potatoes. 4 of them. it looked like cheese but was a strange surprise to the unsuspecting victim.

ok. there is nothing else to be done. we HAVE to be finished right? NO! the finishing touch was strips of pickled cucumber and peppers on top.

and no special meal preparation is complete without its pictures. my host mom and i posed with this platter, which she calls 'American Salad'. then i posed solo. then we took a picture with it on the stove. then on the nice table. i will post when possible.

even with the total misunderstanding and lack of alcohol, thanksgiving turned out ok in the end. our table got called up to the potluck buffet first and i nearly laughed myself to death to see how buffets work out in macedonia. i snuck some wine from the mak half of our table and it helped calm me down for our post dinner haiku performance. we translated the following haiku into mak and alb for our presentation.

thanks....giving turkey
hey man... i'm stuffed. with stuffing
gobbledy gobble?

the point was to pick something short that was the closest thing to doing nothing at all. it was great. my favorite part is the translation of gobbledy gobble. here, turkeys say "ga ga ga".

in other news, site visit was awesome. my counterpart is a riot and my organization looks to be a great place to work. my apartment leaves some things to be desired, ie a washing machine and a stove, but hey, its the peace corps. my friend Ree went home and im going to miss her very much. ive about had it with homestay, i am counting the days (12) until i move to skopje.

other than that, dobro e.

17.11.08

Site Visit Eve

So tomorrow is the big day when I get to go to Skopje for 3 days and 2 nights to meet my counterpart and future coworkers, both native Macedonians at my workplace and the MAK 11 & 12 volunteers. I'm most excited about not sleeping at home for two nights, although I am skeptical that my hotel will be a hotel. I'm expecting a sketchy hostel, that way no matter what, it will be great. Thats often my favored coping mechanism for life. I think its helping me keep an even keel in Macedonia now. No expectations to be let down. Marko, a MAK 11, said that their hostel was Bad when they came for site visit to Skopje. I can't find MKD online, so who knows.

We took the train to Skopje on saturday and I saw Quantum of Solace! After thinking about it, I think I liked it better than most of the more modern James Bond movies. (the old ones cannot be touched, especially not Sean Connery james bond movies.) Daniel Craig is beautiful, like a modern day Steve Mcqueen, and I love how the new movies let you see more of the emotional toil that goes on for Bond. going to a movie here was very similar to going in the US. The movie theater was in a mall (a very nice mall, by american standards) with the choices being Quantum of Solace, Mummy 3, Hellboy 2, the Love Guru and a Macedonian movie. There were two screens, we got there just in time for the 12pm showing of james bond. Tickets were 120 MKD, which is about 2-3 dollars, depending on exchange rate. Nice seats, no 20 minutes of previews, people were pretty quiet for most of the film. The strange part was the abrupt ending of the movie. Not the movie itself, the theater. The lights went on before the final few beats of music at the end of the movie and then the movie stopped completely in the middle of the credits. Besides that, its pretty much the same.

Its strange when I think that I am in the Peace Corps. I went to the movies! I have pretty frequent internet access, I can go shopping at H&M if I please. I can go out to restaurants and have a beer or two with friends. They have the same beers and cigarette brands. There are Adidas and Puma stores and people actually go shopping in them, despite this country being so poor. This isn't even the capital city. And then, at the end of the day, I go home to my host family that lives in a village with cows and chickens. I'm thinking its all a facade, these western stores and prices. Maybe a handful of people have the money to enjoy these luxuries, the rest are just incurring debt because the mindset here doesn't force people to worry about tomorrow, next month or the next few years. My theory is that the money enabling people to fashion these material lives comes directly from foreign sources via grants from international donors. Maybe not directly, but almost. People get paid to administer NGOs or municipalities, those are the people who can afford to shop at the places I see. But in 2-3 more years, when the money dries up and funders look to other continents, then what? I'm constantly scared that this won't be rock bottom for Macedonia, the worst has yet to come. I'm wondering exactly what my being here will do for macedonia in the end, but its still early to worry about that.

In other news, I also had some decent mexican food on Saturday in Skopje, complete with enough hot sauce that my mouth tingled for another hour after lunch.

12.11.08

Time to Catch Up 11.12.08

11.12.08

The village life is losing its charm and I can’t wait to move to Skopje. I love my host family and I do love Romanovce, but I’m really falling into such a lazy lifestyle that if I were here for 2 years, I doubt I would accomplish anything. My average day is:

-Alarm set for 6 or 6:30am.
-Actually get out of bed at 7am. Abuse of the snooze button is still a problem.
-Maybe shower if there is hot water or if my bangs look bad.
-Get dressed in whatever is clean, regardless of whether I wore it in the past day since most Macedonians wear the same thing everyday anyway.
-Rush downstairs by 7:30am for breakfast, which has been (with the exception of about 4 days total) scrambled eggs and ayvar, bread, margarine and chai (Russian tea). Most times my host mom is napping on the couch and I wake her up, she is cranky because she is not a morning person and she has lots of aches and pains.
-Rush down the hill to 8am class or to catch transportation to Kumanovo (at 815am to ensure I make it to Kumanovo, 4km away, by 9am). Class is a 10 minute leisurely walk. Transportation can mean the community kombi, a wild taxi driven by a husband of a lady I’ve met over coffee, or even just a free ride from friends or random strangers who are going to Kumanovo. The only way I have not gotten to Kumanovo is via cow or horseback, neither of which will be happening, sorry to burst that bubble.
- 4 hours of class learning pieces of Albanian or Macedonian, or 4 hours in Kumanovo doing mostly nothing. Either way, I feel tired and devoid of soul at the end. Practicum days bum me out more because I have nothing to show for my time spent in Kumanovo.
-Afternoons are spent ngosti-ing (ngosti is Macedonian for visit) or lounging at home. Maybe playing soccer. I don’t read, I don’t write blog entries. I don’t draw, listen to music, crochet or do anything. I zone out and I don’t feel too guilty anymore, which scares me. I don’t study language anymore either. Nichts.
-I go to bed at 10pm, +/- an hour. This is when I steal some alone time for movies, music or something, but I rarely make the most of it since I feel lazy and tired.
-Alarm set for 6 or 6:30am…. Life set on repeat.

Of course, there are days and nights that break the mold, like tonight. I had class at 12pm after practicum in Kumanovo. I spent last night at home doing nothing but chatting around the heater with my family, which while lovely, was not too exhilarating. Ree asked me to come to Kumanovo to go shopping, which turned into me having coffee with David while Ree shopped and then we met up with more volunteers at the ever American-friendly Irish Pub.

Over a few bottles of wine, mugs of Skopsko and cheese plates, we vented about our experiences so far and some people are at a low point. While we were discussing the issue of trash, a Canadian woman came over to us because she noticed we were speaking English and heard us talking about Macedonian culture. She herself is at least half Macedonian, and had married a Macedonian 4 years ago and lives in Bitola now. Her input really didn’t lighten the mood, which was already quite dour.

Her advice was to subsist. As a foreigner, you can’t change anything and the culture here works against the new.

I appreciate that she came and talked to us, but I do believe in very minute change. I also didn’t come here to single handedly change Macedonia into America #2, so I’m not at the rough spot that other people are feeling. I really came to learn languages and live abroad. The rest is a bonus. If my efforts positively impact Macedonia, excellent. If a handful of people realize that there is an alternative way to meeting basic human needs that might be better, cleaner, healthier, easier, anything- then ok, I did something. If a handful of people realize that people in America aren’t all millionaires, then that’s great too.

There more I get to know and partially understand Macedonian culture, I feel less guilty about some of my opinions of human nature and the best ways to manage societies. But I’ll leave that for another time and place, it’s a bit too much to share on a public blog meant to encourage cross cultural experience and other sunshine and rainbows.

5.11.08

Episode MMVIII: A New Hope

Obama eshte fituese!

Alright, i admit that i have been a gloomy cynic leading into this election, not helped at all by being disenfranchised by south carolina with respect to voting. i was bitter because not nearly enough people realize how awesome ron paul is. i do accept obama as a decent alternative.

its actually really exciting to be an american today. i feel like the next four years have great potential for change (positive change, i hope). the black tunnel of dispair that defined our collective future now has a faint light at the end. lets hope something does happen with this opportunity so we dont fall back on the old WASP-y ways of politics.

its also nice that i wont be seeing sarah palin on the news anymore. o happy day!

30.10.08

Working on a massive update, please make do with the following until then.

My birthday (oct 26) was cool. The peace corps trainees from the neighboring village Cherkese walked over (completely unrelated to my birthday) and we hung out at Davids house. he really has an awesome family. His host mom lays out so much stuff whenever we come over that there isnt enough room on the table until we eat some of it away. they were in the middle of making rakija too, his host dad was taking turns dressing up volunteers in his hat and taking pictures of rakija tasting.

My host mom made me a "torti" but it was completely unlike anything we would call a cake. like most albanian food, it was made in layers and it was a tad dry for my liking, but she smothered parts of it with chocolate and/or vanilla pudding as a tribute to icing and wrote "Urim e 23" on top. There was so much that ive been eating cake for 4 days. I do love it.

I played soccer with the village kids in the afternoon on my bday with my friend/neighbor/now host 'cousin' Ree. My host bro got me a vase from the store near our house which you would have a laugh to see if you know me. the vase is cream colored and with some parts painting in hot pink, complete with flowers on it. it was actually much needed. my pint sized friends in the village like to give me love letters with flowers taped onto the paper, so now i have a place to keep the flowers.

And! My birthday didnt end on my birthday. The next day, I delivered birthday cake to our friends around the village and the lady who owns the store near our house gave me an unsolicited hair cut... so i now have bangs again. to be honest though, i had just cut my hair into long (EVEN) bangs and was trying to fill the inevitable awkward silence caused by my lack of macedonian language and i tried to tell her that i had cut my own hair since i last saw her. she then got all excited and before i could move or stop her, she whipped out a towel, scizzors and comb and went to town. I cope by thinking, well now i will really blend in since i now have a macedonian hair cut. She totally missed some chunks and i havent had a chance to fix it since, but ive got to very very soon.

after my hair cut, i went to cake it up with my play dates, who are 4 children, ages 7-13. When ever I go to their house, I am there for HOURS. Like AT LEAST 5 hours. So, as a result, i am starting to grow fond of children. Otherwise I would lose my sanity. They gave me a present- a picture frame. So next time I go over, im going to take a picture of us together and put it in there. And when they went to get some soda for dinner, they came back with a present from Olga, the woman who owns the store/cuts my hair. Sarita would be super jealous of my present. Its a fake tinkerbell mirror, baby pink plastic with cardboard cutouts of a cartoony tinkerbell. Oh, and another package of pantyhose and a bar of chocolate which i ate in one night, last night actually, when i had the munchies and was a bit exhausted with makedonski jazik. i usually give my chocolate to my host mom since im on a mission to lose weight here. that, btw, is still going well.

in other news, I FINALLY MAILED A LETTER! it was quite a process really. trying to get to the post when its open, trying to find out where to get an air mail envelope, where to get postage. its definitely not a one stop shopping center. i only managed to accomplish this because some weird guy in the post office thought i was german and i was able to explain what i needed auf deutsch. i was quite wary of him though, i dont think he works there and he was creepy, but his help was key. it costs about $1 to mail a letter, but it takes about 2 weeks to actually get to a post office and mail it. the hours of the post office in our village are ridiculous and i usually get so excited to be in kumanovo that i forget to go to the post office there.

tomorrow is halloween, my favorite holiday for those just tuning in to my life. its a bit rough being plopped here a month before and not knowing where to get crafty things to make a costume. my training group will be going to hub day tomorrow together as a group costume, which i will reveal in a later entry. it works well because we are pretty good friends, which i hear is not the case for other PC training groups in MAK 13. i consider myself super lucky.

ah and i got a good travel tip for anyone considering a trip to visit Macedonia. For the more adventurous bargain seekers, it is much cheaper to fly in to Sofia, Bulgaria or Thessoliniki rather than Skopje. Plus, you are guaranteed some extra pasport stamps. im sure this issue is still quite a ways away, but just a small FYI.

Happy Halloween!

27.10.08

Patience, the ultimate virtue in Macedonia

Falling behind already.

So its been about 2 weeks since I’ve written and there is a lot to share. I’ve been kinda lazy with updating because at the end of the day when I say I’m tired at 9:30pm so I can steal about 30 minutes of alone time before I really pass out, its hard for me to get the energy to type a decent entry. Sorry guys.

But, in the meantime, here are the major events that have happened, I’ll try to get a blurb in about them if possible:
-Hub day
-Field day
-A wedding party
-Many a coffee visit
-Mistakenly thinking my host grandfather died (this lasted only for a brief 5 minutes but I was pretty horrified for those 5 minutes)
-Another pack of pantyhose
-5hr+ play dates with neighboring relatives
-My birthday and a very interesting cake
-More ayvar making next door
-The Disko

oh, and the lady who lives above the store cut my hair when I went to visit. Lesson from that is, be careful what topics you choose to bring up to eliminate awkward silence when you have no command of the language(s).

The minor changes that have occurred are:
-No longer as interested in coffee visits
-More trips to Kumanovo because I’m bored with village life, much to the dismay of Razija
-Waiting for the end of the day so I can escape to my room and watch movies in English
-Growing annoyance at having my spare time sucked away from me in sneaky ways
-Finding that half understanding conversations around me is worse than not knowing anything at all

So I’ll try to give a brief run through of everything.
Hub day- I got to see the rest of the MAK 13 group in Kumanovo. Our location of choice was not the lovely Hotel Satelit this time, it broke my heart. Really. I forgot that there are at least 30 other newbies in this country and actually, Field day reminded me that there are about 100 americans roaming this country via the Peace corps overall. We had some great speakers at hub day who explained about 3000 years of history in 2 hour-long sessions. I got to see Rene (aka PeeHee) and that made my day. Unfortunately, there never seemed to be enough time to talk.

Field day- Field day is an event held in Skopje the capital that gets most, if not all, of the current volunteers together for silly games and a super fast meet n greet with the incoming trainees. I met about 50-60 people in 30 minutes. MAK 11s brought some stuff to sell since they are leaving and other items were up for a silent auction. The current volunteers brought food for a potluck but there were so many people that by the time I got through with the last bunch, there was only bread and potato chips. Whatevs, it was pretty fun. Ree and I had to scoot back to Romanovce after field day so that we could go to…

A Wedding Party- This was the most confusing/terrifying night in Macedonia yet. I got back from Skopje at 5pm, had 20 minutes to change and get as nice looking as possible before hopping in the car with Mitat and Razija to go to what I originally thought was a wedding. We drive through Cherkeze and keep going on the main road. Eventually we turn off onto a small half-paved road and it starts winding up the mountain. Beautiful view. We get out of the car and the women are sorted off towards the house and the men wander off somewhere else. We are at a house of Mitat’s family. Ree’s family was right behind us on the way there, so I could take comfort in having an American friend in the midst of the craziness. We wind through a crowd of old women in head scarfs and middle aged women in a variety of outfits: some are in sequined gowns, others are in pants or skirt suits, others are in everyday clothes. There is no way you can be over or underdressed for a party in this country. 80% of the event took place outside and it was quite cold in the mountains. After being jostled through the crowd to shake every hand possible and mutter my version of whatever was said to me, we all sat down to long tables and benches that reminded me of elementary school lunchroom. We had 5 courses of food in what seemed like a race to finish. Eat the soup, eat the salad, eat another kind of soup, eat the goulash, eat the bachlava- hurry! I always come in last. Im not sure how these women eat so fast.

Then, for no reason at all, every female there (the men were still off somewhere else anyway) was herded into two rooms. It seemed like 40-50 per room and the rooms were no bigger than my room in Philadelphia. Women were smushed together on the couch, then we sat on the floor pretty much on each other. They would smoke in turns too, by passing around 2 or 3 communal ashtrays. Women in dresses that looked like something you would wear to prom (and often not very flattering) would come in and out of the two rooms along a barely discernable path among the seated women. We also had to remove our shoes since we were inside, and Ree got her feet trample 3 times by the prom dress women who were wearing house slippers with heels. Ree decided to stick her feet under me for protection, so it was like sitting on ice at that point.

Soon after, my host mom decided its time for me to show off my newly acquired Albanian hora skillz. My playdates, Famije, Lila, Merale and Njazi, have taught me how to dance during our 5-7 hour play sessions. It finally paid off. I hora-ed amidst sporadic bursts of gunfire for an hour. Yes, gunfire. It is common for people to shoot off guns to celebrate weddings and such. So im dancing and I feel shells under my feet and they tell me, “No Scared” every time some other guy busts out a pistol and wastes some more ammo. At least they are Albanian, so they aren’t drunk. But still, not cool.

Ooh and the most confusing bit of all of this, is that the bride is not there. And why is that confusing? Oh, because there are 2-3 women walking around in white wedding dresses and serious pimped out makeup and hair! But there are not the expected bride, she’s not coming until the next day. What I’ve pieced together from some conversations with the English speakers around here is that women who recently got married wear their wedding dresses to these parties. But they haven’t explained why.
I’ve coffeed at about 10 new places since I last wrote. I went to the family of the guy who drives the kombi, now he waves to me all the time. I went to meet my playdates and now I end up there once a week for a ‘visit’ that never seems to end. I try to leave and then they tell me, no no stay for dinner we already told Razija. Sigh. I get very tired but they are sweet kids. They give me love notes with flowers taped on. They even gave me a birthday present today, a picture frame. I went to another house by Ferxhan’s school where I had a nice time talking with the 24 yr old daughter who spoke terrific English for never having left Macedonia. I went to Ree’s host father’s brother’s house and their 9 year old daughter taught me the days of the week and months of the year in Albanian. I went to our neighbor’s house and returned with a whole bag full of those terrible pears that I can’t escape. For a while, I thought that no one liked them and it was a secret game to try and pass them off on visitors and get rid of as many as possible. Vahide said that wasn’t the case, people actually like them (!). I went to Olga’s, the woman who lives above the closest store to my house. She reminds me of Oma, if Oma had ADD. She gave us about 10 different foods and drinks and than Razija thought it was odd that I didn’t want to eat dinner. We went to another house down the train tracks from Olga’s house which was awkward because it seemed like a funeral gathering but its not like I have the vocabulary to ask.

Mistaken Mortality- Mitat’s father is 80 and he stays in the other living room. He’s bed bound for the most part, they wheel him outside in the afternoon and they take him into the bathroom once a day, but that’s the most activity he seems to get these days. I think he’s still coherent most of the time. I often help vacuum the downstairs of the house, the two livingrooms and the room you first walk into. I finished the main livingroom/kitchen and the entrance room. I peeked my head into the other room to give the old man a “mire dite” before turning on the vacuum so I down scare him to death. I see him lying flat out on the couch, with the blanket draped over him as though he was dead. I’m thinking, ooh shiiiit. I go get Arjad and I didn’t want to say anything about dead so I point in. He shakes his head no, I don’t have to do that room now, so its cementing my idea that the old man is done. Maybe Arjad picked up on my confusion/mild panic, he went in and then kind of yelled at the old guy and I heard the grandfather respond and pull the blanket off his head. What a relief. The reasoning going through my head was purely selfish too, I was thinking, I hope I don’t have to witness a funeral yet.

14.10.08

13.10.08

Ok, ne problem.

Week one is over.

It went pretty fast and I have to say I’m not having a hard time adjusting or anything. My relationships with my host family members are getting richer all the time and I can’t wait to talk to them in Albanian. My hypothesis for why I am not freaking out is that I’m not particularly attached to any particular way of life. Shower without a curtain or showerhead holder? Ok no problem. Each strange food at every meal? No problem. Iron my underwear? Ok no problem. (Yes, they do that. There is decent reasoning too. Ironing serves as a way of sterilizing air dried clothes.) Being around people all the time? Surprisingly, no problem.

Im taking everything as it comes. Nothing has gotten me to the point of hysterics and I am skeptical that I will get there at all. Maybe once im on my own in skopje. I trust my host family implicitly, so much so that it does scare me a bit that I never once considered the fact that I am completely reliant on them.

I went to Cherkese today to meet Razija’s family. Razija was happy to drive the car. I had a great time with her family. And, I came home with the following in my bag: A Chicken Leg and a Package of Pantyhose. I didn’t eat lunch before we went to Cherkese because I had a feeling I would end up being offered about 10 different food items and about 5 glasses of regular Koka Kola. So we get there and round 1 is soda and Turkish coffee. Round 2 is soda refill, even though I declined. Round 3 is eat cookies. Round 4 is eat freshly cut melon (very yummy). Round 5 is eat chunks of strange, tart pears, compared to US pears, dipped in straight up sugar. Round 6 is someone pushing a bowl of seeds in my direction and me pretending not to see them. Round 7, more soda. Round 8- CHICKEN LEGS? That one came from left field. All of a sudden, I hear the word “Puhle” or however it is spelled and I know that means chicken. Then voila! Two Chicken legs are in front of me, on a left over foil bag from a snack mix. Well, I ate a leg. I don’t have enough Albanian skillz to politely decline and Razija tells me to eat it. No one else is eating anything so this is totally awwwwkwaard. After the one, I say thank you. Then, Albanian conversation directed at me, which amuses me since everyone knows I have no clue whats being said. The English speakers then tell me to take the other leg home! I try to say no, but that didn’t work any better than my other attempts at ‘jo’. So, I re-wrap the leftover leg of chicken in the snack mix foil and toss it in my bag.

On the way out, Razija’s sister in law shakes my hand, we exchange “diten e mir”s, and then she tucks a small box of knee high pantyhose into my hand. Why? I have no idea. I saw her and Razija’s mom pointing at my feet earlier, I was wearing black socks. Maybe girls don’t wear socks? I don’t know. But I now have some extra knee-hi pantyhose.

To get to Cherkese from Romanovce, you have to go through Kumanovo, if you are driving. There is a walking path to Cherkese, but it takes about 45 mins to walk and you need a big stick to ward off stray dogs. We roll back into Kumanovo after visiting and its shopping time. We pull up onto the sidewalk, that’s how you park your car in the Balkans, by the big market. As we walk toward the market, Razija checks the prices of peppers and tomatoes and eggplant from street vendors. I know what this means: Ayvar. Its ayvar time! Ayvar is this delicious spread that I have been eating for breakfast this week and I will definitely bring it back to the US. Razija cooks scrambled eggs and then mixes in ayvar. Yummms. After perusing the market, we walk back to the car and Razija buys her vegetables in bulk. I’ve never seen someone buy so much vegetables at once for non-commercial consumption. The peppers are now chilling out in the courtyard area drying.

After buying vegetables, we went to the stores to look for a huge pot/pan. Its gigantic. I’ll try to take a picture of it. I noticed that the store has all of the furnishings I’ve seen in our house or the houses of people we visit: the bedspread on my bed, the chai glasses, the bread dough plastic tub, the light fixtures. Everything.

We head over to the Musli Market and Razija charades to me that I can get anything I need with my money while we are here. We also meet a relative of Benson’s host family who works there AND speaks English. She helps me find tea bags, but there were no boxes of black tea. I wanted to make iced tea. I settled for mint tea.

I just got back tonight from another house for coffee/tea. The family had satellite tv and the father put BBC on. Well, can someone clue me in on what is going on in the global economy? I’m having the time of my life here in this fun little village but it looks like the rest of the world is falling apart financially. British banks are biting the dust? Are we totally screwed?

8.10.08

Kombi to Kumanovo

I shared the community 'bus' to town with my fellow trainees today. We got out at a market at a place that i thought i recognized- apparently i did not.

I took the scavenger hunt route (thats a real concept, we had a scavenger hunt of kumanovo back during orientation week and that was the only way i could find my destination. it was a scenic route to the Dom na Kultur. this isnt too abnormal in macedonia actually. there are no street numbers and although there are street names, no one knows em. so when you need to get somewhere, people use visual cues, even when directing taxis. i was looking for the Euro College. I was to meet my practikum partner and go to DAJA, an NGO for Roma women. We will be working there 2 hours per day, 2 days a week to get a feel for the working life of a non profit in macedonia. it should be interesting. Our counterpart, Dilbera, wasnt in when we finally found the place, but we delivered our letter and we expect to get phone calls for a time to meet in the near future.

i learned how to play bridge last night with my host family. mitat, arjad and ferxhan showed me the game. i say 'know how to play' in a very light way. i still have no clue how to count points and some of the other finer aspects of play, but it was fun. the bridge game grew out of a quick idea to play tic tac toe with Arife, one of the cousins who was sitting all alone as the boys crowded around the computer and the women talked over chai tea. you dont need language to play tic tac toe. suddenly everyone was into playing tic tac toe and it went on for a good half hour.

i also had an amusing milk/dairy situation arise. during training last week, Dr. Mimi said not to consume dairy that was unpasturized. ok. well, in the past week, i had not heard cow mooing. then, bam, there are obviously cows in one of the sheds surrounding the 'driveway' type area. that night, Razija plunks down a glass of fresh milk from a jar. im not sure how to proceed. i tell Arjad that peace corps told me not to drink milk that wasnt from a carton and he said thats fine.

then, there was yogurt. Razija put a container of yogurt on the table and i figured, ok its good, it came from a labeled plastic container that says YOGURT, but in Macedonian and Albanian and Language X. I eat some and Arjad looks at me funny. The yogurt, apparently, comes from the same cow the milk comes from. As in, the one in the shed out front. So, score one for heidi, total cultural miscommunication. (ps. the yogurt and cheese is amazing! i can taste the cow it came from, no lie.)

Sunday we had a meet and greet pony show to take all of us to each other's homestays. It was an 8 hour coffee, rakije (brandy/moonshine), Koka Kola, fanta, seltzer water, wine and yummies fest. Eight hours for 6 houses. The 6th house was our teacher's house, which is amazing. he is renting from an older couple and when they saw us, they came over with their homemade wine and chocolate goodies. My host mom made Byrek, it was fantastic. she makes all the bread for the house, she makes me ayvar n eggs for breakfast. Thankfully, the village is all hills and mountains, so im (believe it or not) losing weight throughout this adventure.

im going to find a way to post some pics and a video of folk dancing, so im going to cut this entry short. Hope you are all doing well in the US.

Ciao!

6.10.08

October 6, 2008

Day three of homestay. I feel like I am getting more comfortable with my family. Certain things that happened in the first day or so gave me impressions of my family that were not entirely accurate. I am now able to get around the village by myself, not that I am ever really by myself, but if I had to, I could.

What do I mean by saying that I am never by myself? With the exception of my going to bed and locking the door to my room, there seems to always be someone around. If I can’t see them, it seems that they can see me. People watch us crazy Americans walk up and down the street: to school, to the top of the hill (or mountain, whatever you want to call it) for soccer, to the store, to our houses etc. Children follow us to speak English with us or just to stare. Most people stare, and they smile when you say hello in either Macedonian or Albanian. We are too new here to know the difference yet, I’m not sure there is more to the separation than language and loose adherence to opposing religions. You can’t tell either from a pacing glance.

Back to my homestay family. I live with Mitat, Razija, Arjad and Ferxhan. They are really awesome. Arjad is 17 and Ferxhan is 13 or 14? When I first got here, I thought Arjad had said he was 17 and Ferxhan was 16, but Razija showed me a picture of them as young boys and Arjad was 7 and Ferxhan was 3? All of our communication goes through Arjad, as he is the only one speaking English. When relatives pop in, some speak German, but not enough to go into details.

Mitat is great, he is very funny and friendly, he makes me feel less nervous. He lived and worked in Switzerland (I think) for 12 years so he understands what it is like to be in a strange country and not know the language. I must say, I’ve done pretty well in Macedonian for only being here a week, and I’ve picked up a bit of Albanian in the past 2 days as well. I can count and introduce myself. Voila!

My first night here I offered to help cook with Razija and to my surprise, she actually let me help. She took my hand and guided me through pouring oil and seasoning on potatoes and stirring them. The next day I was vacuuming the house. The night before, we had visited Ree’s host family (neighbors and relatives of my host family) and Ree’s host mother, said that Razija is happy to have a girl in her house since she has only two sons. So then I got a bit nervous that I would become surrogate daughter.

My paranoia was not helped by my first meeting of Mitat and Razija at the ever classy Hotel Satelit (SATEL-EET! Not ‘satellite’). I had Mitat pinned as a farmer and Razija was wearing a head scarf. I thought, oh no, they are very conservative. Nah. They are just like any other family I’ve ever met. Their sons spend most of their time on the computer/internet, chatting and playing Counterstrike, the version we played back in high school. It was so exciting to see them playing counter strike! Then I remembered that I never installed it on my laptop.  Razija only wears the scarf outside the house and she doesn’t seem to mind my wearing short sleeve shirts except that she keeps asking if im cold.
I really enjoy my homestay situation more and more, I think that Valentina did a great job matching personalities and interests between families and volunteers.

4.10.08

First Night: October 4, 2008

Recapping the most eventful day of the past week: meeting the homestay family.

Saturday started off with us finding out our training site groups and location. I knew that I would most likely be placed in one of two training groups in mixed communities in the greater Kumanovo area, so it wasn’t too much of a shocker to find out which village I was in.

After finally finding out where and with whom I will be spending my next months, they sat us down for the best Macedonian lesson yet: the Alphabet and How to Write It. Macedonian is a completely phonetic, what you hear is what you write. Mak-e-don-i-a = Мак-е-дон-и-ја. Д is ‘d’, н is ‘n’, и is ‘e’ and ј is ‘ia’ or a ‘yah’ sound. It was so painstakingly slow to learn 31 letters in groups of 5 that I will never ever forget what the letters are. There are some letters that represent sounds that are new to me and my lazy American tongue can’t handle yet, above and beyond my inability to roll an ‘r’. An overview of the trouble letters for me:

Љ
= Л + Ј, mashing an ‘L’ sound and a ‘y’ sound together into one letter that sounds like something French.

Њ
= Н + Ј, which is ‘n’ + ‘y’, a letter that one would recognize in the word ‘[ny]et’, which is not the word for ‘No’ in Macedonia. Tricky to get the right amount of ‘y’ in there without sounding nasty.

Ѕ
= ‘d’ + ‘z’. Tough. D and z are two letters that were destined never to meet. Our packet likens the sound to the end of the word ‘be[ds]’.

Ц
= ‘t’ + ‘z’ like the sound in pi[zz]a or ca[ts].

But anyway, I’ll write out some names and words in Macedonian for hahas.

Џаш is Josh, Сарита is Sarita, Ден is Dan, Џилиан is Gillian, Хаиди is Heidi, бриџид is Brigid. Благодарам ‘thank you’, ве молам ‘please’, шише вода ‘bottle of water’, добар ден ‘good day’.

The alphabet lesson was in preparation for us to participate in a game to reveal who our host families are later on. We each got a simple sentence on a slip of paper in Macedonian. Later at the ceremony, we would read the paper until we found a family that recognized the description. Mine was ‘Митат е висок чорек’ which means Mitat is a tall man. To say it, think like this: Mee-taat ee vee-sock choh-wreck.

We had our final Hotel Satelit lunch, some tasty mashed potatoes, meat and gravy dish with cabbage salad (I love cabbage day). The peace corps trainees were herded upstairs afterwards to wait for the families to come in. After receiving our water distillers and Macedonian cell phones, we spent the waiting time copying email addresses and phone numbers off of large lists. I entered in 35 cell numbers in record time. And, I can text US phones. Nifty.

Let the festivities begin. We come down to the hall with our sentences and we are led to groups of families organized by community training site. I pick out the tallest man and state, Mitat is a tall man. He laughs and points to Mitat next to him. Turns out, the man I performed my Macedonian for is my host father’s cousin. Ree is with them next door. We see Albanian and Macedonian folk groups, and then we all get together to dance a hora (?). My family didn’t dance, but I did. I don’t know if they aren’t into it because they don’t dance or because it was a Macedonian hora and they are Albanian. Sadly, my language skills are not at the level where I can ask.

They drive me and my luggage to through Kumanovo to get to my village. I recognize the places I have been this week and then, we keep going further. Then we leave the city. Then, we turn onto dirt roads that wind between cement walls. Then we are pulling into a driveway with chickens roaming around and a garden. I meet the family in waves, something that doesn’t stop until now, when I am alone in my room. I met Mitat and Razmija at the ceremony. I meet Filjan (spelling?) and 2 other 20-something men. One of whom, thankfully! spoke English. (really wanted to hug him at that point, awwwkwwward.) Then I met Aromet(?), then the 80 year old bed bound grandfather whose name escapes me right now. After that, a pleasant lull in introductions. Then later after dinner, Razmir makes hand gestures like, going upstairs to bed which turn out to be ‘walking to the neighbors to see Ree and meet more people.’ I meet the family of Mitat’s cousin. When we leave the house, we come back to my host familys house with Ree and a couple others around my age. Most of the younger people speak English. Another woman, Mitat’s sister in law, comes in and I chat with her in german and show her my photos.

I was pooped by 10pm. No wonder though, my Albanian vocabulary has grown from 0 words to about 10 in half a day and the number of people I know in Macedonia has increased by about 8000%.

3.10.08

Hello Skopje!

I found out today that I am in the dual language program. I am really excited about my post and my location. I will be in Skopje for the majority of my peace corps service, following my homestay, which I will find out about tomorrow. I think I was supposed to keep that under wraps, but I guess Macedonian culture is getting to me already, I couldn't help telling other trainees who asked why I wouldn't stop smiling.

So, once I learn enough Albanian, I'll finally know what the songs on my Rratje e Pristine CD are all about, the cd i bought in Kosovo 2.5 years earlier.

We have a big celebration tomorrow when we meet our host families. There will be folk dancing involved- totally can't wait. I really honestly am excited to meet them. I want to know if everything I've heard about Macedonian familial ties and hospitality is true. Goce (sounds like Goat-say (reddit crowd- dont dwell on that one too long))the security staff leader was saying that there are no alarms or ID swipe type situations in Macedonia because your family and friends (which can be the entire community) act as your safeguard. You need to integrate into your community as a safety measure; your family and your connections protect you. I'm not sure how i feel about that, since I will have no private life for the next 2.5 years, but if its sincere I think it will be wonderful.

I'm going to stop for now, its another impromptu entry. I wanted to visit the cafe one more time before homestay, since I dont know when ill be online again.

2.10.08

You don't have to eat the cow intestine/stomach

I will try hard to keep up to date with this, but you must understand, this week is blowing by. We arrived in vienna on Monday morning, had some free internetz in the airport, bummed for hours, flew into Skopje and since then, its been a nonstop type dealie.

We are in Kumanovo. I feel comfortable saying that much. We are at a hotel and I think we serve as 24/7 entertainment for the hotel staff at the moment. We learn pidgin macedonian and then we go off practicing on any native speaker we can find. We also drink coffee about 3-4 times daily. LLLLOVEEE IT! Morning breakfast is like germany breakfast- bread, cheeses (both spreadable and pieces), the best tasting cucumbers and tomatos in this world, and Coffee. Break at 10 includes expresso. Lunch doesnt include coffee, because after all the food they feed us, there really is no room for anything else, even a liquid. Afternoon break- more expresso. Dinner- SKOPSKO. Thats macedonian beer, btw. Its quite wonderful. Nightttime- coffee in town with PCTs (Peace COrps trainees). The peace corps loves these acronyms, so now you will too.

We have been slowly learning semi-useless macedonian words. I say semi useless because they really are until we get some other words and phrases to pair them with. I've been secretly listening to my mp3 files of both albanian and macedonian to try and pick up some useful phrases like: "What is ______ in Macedonian?" "What is that" "Where is____?" "How much?" etc. My roommates might think I am a bit weird mouthing things to myself at night, possibly even wierder if they heard slight breathy and terrible versions of the things i am trying to say.

I signed up for a site placement that will include learning both Albanian and Macedonian. We will find out tomorrow who gets them. 11 spots for 11-12 interested people. Looks good. Unfortunately, there are more breakdowns depending on sector- NGO development or teaching etc. Me and Rene are in the pool. My last count put the number of NGO rivals at 3, so including myself, we each would have a placement in the dual language sites. As for learning 2 languages at once, i say BRING IT ON. thats what im here for. thats what i do. and you know what, throw on some Turkish too.

I got the hep A and typhoid vaccines today so both of my arms feel like lead. We got the security and safety briefing today, well actually, the first of MANY, and Kosovo is a no go. meh. Albania is a go. AND! Important! We are actually restricted from traveling during the first 3 months after swearing in, which instantly struck me with fear since Jenny will be in Turkey in march, but if we swear in on the 12th of december, we will be clear on march 12. so that is still hopeful.

By the way, Macedonians do not function on time. They do not plan for specific dates. Things happen when they happen. Ima vreme-there is time.

I'm excited to get into the homestay. I think i am not nervous because Ive already had the homestay experience in germany and well, some of the AWKWAAAARD moments that happened there cannot be topped. for example, coming down to use the bathroom in the night and finding not only my host mother darting down the hallway naked, but her man friend naked in the bathroom as well. At least germans are not easily embarassed, thats all i can say. Chances are good that if i get this dual placement with an Albanian (muslim) family, nudity will not be a concern.

I'm going to leave it there for now, i dont want to spend more than 30 mins at the cafe, ill start writing entries ahead of time on my laptop and bring them with me.

Prijatno! (goodbye!)

28.9.08

Night Before, Well no, Morning Of.

i had every intention of jazzing up this blog before departure but lo and behold, it is 6 hours until check out and its still looking pretty blah.

staging is complete, me and Macedonia are separated by a bus ride to JFK, a 9 hour plane ride, some (im)patient waiting and a final 2 hour plane ride.

im proud of myself for already stepping beyond my comfort zone named Rene and making friends with over volunteers of all ages. I had lunch with Michael and Phil today, along with some of the other younguns. Dinner morphed from "ughh head cold, i want pizza and early bed time" into "Hey Ladies lets go to City Tavern". I'm glad i went before leaving dear ol' Philadelphia. I wish my parents would have gone, they would have liked it. I had some fantastic Fleishkaese (City Tavern is celebrating Oktoberfest!) with some of the older ladies that I ended up with at the end of the day (Cheryl, Jennifer and ________. Names are not my forte)

Frantic laundering ensued on return to the hotel.

Had pleasant chat with Sarita and am excited about future mail!

Strange, confusing argument made me a wreck right up until now, 1:58am.

At this point, my roommate Anna and I are up packing, she's making the most of her Coloradian time diferrence and remaining hours of having a working cell phone. The TV is stuck on informercials for Flower Power, a CD collection of 175 songs from the 60s and 70s. I would almost want it, for the Jefferson Airplane.

25.8.08

You are Here.

Welcome to 27 months of life in Macedonia.

No, its not Madagascar.
No, its not Macadamia.

And no, its not Mesopetamia. That has been gone for many a year.

its macedonia. and it rocks.