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:

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

= 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.

= ‘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]’.

= ‘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%.

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