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.


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.


Time to Catch Up 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.


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!