O Camden.

Courtesy of Rutgers Security:
The student reported that he had parked his vehicle on the 200 block of Elm Street, and began to walk South on 3rd Street towards Rutgers.
A white male, 6'2", with thin build, baggy blue jeans, tattoo of the state of N.J. on right hand and #1 Dad on the left hand was walking towards him. The unknown suspect began speaking to the student and asked if he could have $20 to buy drugs. The student stated that he had no money. The suspect then stated that he had a knife.
After several attempts to get money from ATM machines the suspect left the student. The student was not injured. The suspect was later located and with the assistance of the student was charged with robbery.

the nj state tattoo is my favorite part really.

I think Goce would have a lot o' fun writing security emails for Rutgers Camden.


2009 vacation recap

My out of country travels have ended for 2009, as i am out of vacation days. I suppose now is a good time to recap on what I did all summer since I am stuck in the Sofia airport for another 6 hours waiting for my baggage to meet up with me. i made my connecting flight from frankfurt to sofia by the skin of my teeth- but my baggage did not. there were no stairs to leave the plane for 10 minutes and we had to be bussed together to the terminal.
supposedly, the airport will not deliver luggage over the border, so my options are: 1. wait til 11pm for the next flight from frankfurt with my bags, 2. meet them at the bulgarian border (whenver that would be?), or 3. have it sent to vienna on a different airline and flown into the skopje airport at some point in the next week (...sounds like a disaster). i take option #1, patience and hoarding the only eletrical outlet in the whole airport. if only i had missed my flight too... i could be chilling in frankfurt instead.

well anyway, lets catch up!

At the end of June, Kait and Alison came over to visit me and Rene. We took them Ohrid and Struga, with David playing excellent hostess and patient tour guide in spite of our deliberate attempts at misinformation. We saw some cool cave churches. Next, we spent a night in Dihovo, a small village outside of Bitola, where we learned the basics of homebrewing beer and then headed on to Thessaloniki, in Greece.

The plan was to catch a 12:19 train out of the border town Florina, however that particular train did not run on the weekends... good to know for future reference. Once we got to Thessaloniki, checked into the hostel, we faced a tough decision, as framed by the man at the hostel desk. "Do you want culture or drink?" Hm. Our solution: Binge drink culture! We took one of the floating pirate ships around the port as we drank imitation corona. (We were much dismayed to realize we wasted 20 mins of time on a pirate ship before even saying 'i'm on a boat!') We went in search of a nice dinner place and found a nice italian place that suited our needs on many levels- seafood, cheap tasty wine, and a trio of greek eye candy providing sweet tunes in the background. Ha! Culture and drink are not mutually exclusive after all. When the greek instumentalists finished their night, we tried to follow them to no avail. We lost them in the crowded cafe street but got to see some real time property defacemant by someone whose grafitti skills need some work :-\.

The next day, we hit the beach! Thessaloniki beaches are oozing with self confidence. I certainly did not feel the slightest bit embarassed to be chubby in a bathing suit with old women walking around in bikinis. We had buckets o' beer on the sand and Rene schmoozed a nice Greek lady who helped us order beer and her family happens to own the hotel/bar we were at. While Kait and Alison checked on tickets to Athens at the train station, Rene and I hit up starbucks (again) to indulge and stock up. I can't say I was the hugest fan of Starbucks in America, but now, it is like a lighthouse, its green black and white cirlce beckoning me to comfort.

After assessing the slow-developing sun burn and dressing accordingly, we went out for dinner. We settled on a lovely restaurant with the White Tower lit up behind us and a random mariachi band crooning to us. We walked around a bit more and then rene and I bid adieu to Kait and Alison, as they headed on to Athens on an overnight train.

The next day, we missed our own morning train back to the MAK, which left us with time for shopping and pizza hut. we saved some slices to eat once we crossed the border back in macedonia, as a last hurrah.

Based on my short amounts of time spent in Thessaloniki in this trip and the one nighter for Opeth in April, I would say Thess is my 2nd favorite city, with Berlin still holding strong at number one. Maybe its because I was there off season, but there didnt seem to be an overwhelming amount of tourists, people were friendly and helpful, the people at the beach were genuinely curious about Americans, plus there is a wonderful selection of beers and an H&M. Better yet, its only 4 hours and 10 euros away!

About a month later, I headed to Romania with David for the artmania festival in Sibiu. Romania is beautiful. If you go, you really should spend a lot of time outside of Bucharest. Through the course of our trip, we pretty much circled Transylvania with the routes we took. To get there, we bussed to Sofia, Bulgaria, flew to Bucharest and took the train to Sibiu via a transfer in Medias. Total time leaving skopje - arriving in Sibiu: 29 hrs. The train ended up being uber late because a bridge was down and the train had to stop to let other traffic through or something. Bucharest train station is a place to watch out. It took us 2-3 tries to get the right train tickets to where we needed to go, since we had to transfer somewhere to get to Sibiu. And sneaky people will pretend to be train conductors/workers and 'help' you find your seat and carry your bags and then demand some euro compensation. he could have at least showed us the RIGHT seats...

the festival was cool. for those who didn't get to hear about it a million times already, it was a 2 day metal fest with tristania, my dying bride and opeth the first night and subscribe, pain and nightwish the second night. the stage was set up in the middle of the old city square. i couldnt believe a town would let that fly. during the day, there were other events. the one we went to was an art exhibit by the lead singer of my dying bride. we met a PCV and his girlfriend in romania too. i had asked him if we could couchsurf his house in brasov on the way back from sibiu so we could see one of the dracula castles. turns out, he was going to the concert too. also turns out he is a cousin of someone i knew in high school. bizarre!

the hostel we stayed at was really nice too. I don't remember the name, but the guy who ran it was german and besides the impression that he was a little anal about order and labeling, it was a good spot. we got there the night before the festival was supposed to start and I dont think the owner realized we were there for the fest until later. i remember he commented that the black brigade is coming tomorrow... i was thinking, we are part of that group...

we caught an early bus to brasov on our last day full day in romania. we caught a local bus to the Bran castle, the 'dracula' castle and waited for pouring rain to ease up before heading to the castle. the castle itself was pretty, but not quite what i was expecting. the exhibits killed my dracula loving spirits for a while, since there is no real tie in any romanian folk lore with the concept of vampires. there was something about babies born with a red hood (?) that were filled with evil spirits or something, but its unclear how the notion of vampires could evolve from that... apparently bram stoker had never even been to romania when he wrote dracula! poseur.

the exciting part of Bran for me was seeing the band Tristania chillaxing at a restaurant patio. I kept seeing the new singer in Sibiu too. we sorta walked past a couple times - totally not awkward at all! (joke) - and then the last time, we threw up some horns and got a small nod from the dudes.

we left brasov early enough to leave some time for walking around bucharest. the capital is really big. i often forget how small skopje is in comparison to other capital cities. we walked for 2 hours and still hadn't made a dent in the map. besides size and having a subway system, it wasn't that distinguishable from sofia or skopje as far as buildings and architecture, with the exception of the ginormous palace that now serves as a government building. it is quite remarkable.

I decided in February to go home to visit. I left saying, see ya in two years and not even 4 months in i had already started thinking about going home for marist alumni weekend or something where i could see a lot of friends at once. i ended up switching my dates so i could go to laurels wedding but i finally booked it in july and it is now coming to a close. as i mentioned earlier, i am typing this in sofia while waiting for my bags. my last leg of the trip is the bus ride home to skopje, now it will be at midnight, if im lucky :-X

now that i think about it, this trip has been... interesting. i left skopje at 3 in the afternoon because the flight times i had didn't line up well with bus times to sofia. i could risk cutting it really close with a 10pm or midnight bus, but i wanted to make sure i could avoid as many mishaps as possible. so i slept in the airport as best i could, with the floor cleaners going all night and loud balkan men talking behind me and kicking my bench. ahem.

i had a layover in frankfurt which i enjoyed thoroughly. unlike sofia, they had news on with SOUND and CAPTIONS! whats the point otherwise? i headed straight to the gate printed on my ticket just to be sure. when i got there, i started worrying that my flight gate may have changed because the waiting area kept filling up with women in saris with babies and lots of people who I assumed would be heading to India. (sorry, i profiled :-X) The monitors werent working, so they werent displaying the destination and there werent any screens with gate listings. i was afraid to nap in case i was at the wrong gate and i didnt have time to move. right about the cut off time i left myself to start panicking and ask airline people about it, i knew my flight was indeed going to atlanta- a man showed up carrying glenn beck's book and a lady with short highlighted hair carryng a vera bradley bag.

i had a good flight otherwise. the man sitting next to me was coming home after 6 weeks in kazakhstan, building a natural gas plant. we chatted for a while until i passed out.

tired and cranky, i was greeted at the atlanta airport by my mom and her camera, dad, steve and joanne. we went out to dinner and as promised, i got my sam adams oktoberfest.

i spent a day in SC before driving north, which was better than the original plan of going the next day to DC. i got some sleep and some errands done. the next day, i set off at 5-6am so i could stop and meet darren for lunch/hookah in d.c. after a nice chat, i kept going on to NY and crashed at sarita's place in queens pretty late. we shopped the next day, had some kickass sushi for dinner and then went out, armed with gatorade bottles filled with wine for the subway. we got to webster hall and about 20 mins later, sarita took matt home cause he was sick :-( but i hung out with megan cody and interrogated her about her life for a while. eventually, it sunk in that sarita was not going to be able to get back any time soon and i was fading, so i demanded that we get a slice of pizza before heading home. i then proceeded to tell everyone in line just how much i love america. many times.

i drove home home (wurtsboro) to pick up kozak and head to laurels wedding at the mystery place in glen spey that id never heard of. this was when my 'vacation' no longer felt like one and it was just reverting back to my life circa 2006. felt like slipping on old, gross looking but comfy shoes that i know i should probably throw out. having kozak in the passenger seat talking to me about current events was just like it used to be, except the topic of our past conversations wasn't economic crisis.

laurels wedding was beautiful. the ceremony was held on a wooden deck that wrapped around one side of the house, it was warm, sunny and just perfect. minus her brother wearing his sunglasses when he escorted her mom down the aisle. oops. i apparently look vastly different with long hair and no glasses because hardly no one recognized me at first until we sat at our seats for the reception. once her friends from oneonta remembered me, it was fun. i wish i had had more sleep though. i definitely tried to do too much. i had half a glass of wine ( a bee fell into it) and i got pretty sleepy. i did get a dance or two with the bride :-)

the next day, i woke up in time to meet fafa and betty for lunch at 2pm. they made me a photo album for my birthday with lots of old pictures of me and my cousin darren. loved it so much. after, i went to wander the bashakill with kozak. it is still the only part of wurtsboro i miss.

when i got to philly, i met gillian and brigid for delicious dinner at penang, which i never managed to go to when it wasn't closed for renovations. we met up with the rest of the gang at bob n barbaras, thinking it was spelling bee night, but no, it was monday night football. sigh. the bar was quiet and we had our half so i couldnt ask for a better situation. we drank enough philly specials (2$ for a shot of jim beam and a can of PBR) to earn free hot dogs at the end of the night, topped with mustard & bran (?)

I made it to my meeting with Prof/Dr. Gomez, 15 minutes late like clockwork. I sold the peace corps experience to the incoming IPSD students and answered all of their questions about it. its interesting to see what parts concern people. i met the guy from last year's group who is going to albania in february 2010 and he will do just fine. i told him that the only word he needs to know in the beginning is 'mire'. had another sushi lunch with gillian, grabbed a case of beer, and headed to Alisons for rock band. they tried to get me into the Beatles rock band, but i didn't care for it. we rocked out some janis joplin, pat benetar and *ahem* dixie chicks.

i caught up with Joyce from my PPSNJ internship on my last day in the nj/pa area, walked around my old neighborhood and chatted it up with bill, who lived in the house behind mine. got some last drop coffee and it was at this point i decided that my life post-peace corps will start in philadelphia. thats it. i will make it happen.

i picked up sarita at the trenton train station and we all met up at doc watsons for quizzo, which we joined in 2 rounds late and STILL got 4th place! MUHAHAH. we were going to hit up the karaoke place but decided sleep was more important for the long drive to SC the next day. i did have the energy for a slice of pizza ;-)

caught breakfast with brigid and sarita at sabrinas before leaving the north. dropped brigid off at work and then set course for 'home'. made it back fine, 600ish miles and all.

the next day did not end as well.

my car's check engine light had turned on in baltimore on the way up and stayed on all week. we took the car to get it figured out and the technician said it was fine, i could drive to atlanta for fright fest at six flags. we got there and it was pretty empty, so i dragged poor sarita on all the intense roller coasters i could - many many times. there was a good ozzy cover band and an awesome 'freakshow'. the gotham city part of the park had guys lurking under the walking bridge leaning out to grab you or just harass you. love it. it started to pour at exactly at 1059pm, when the park was closing.

an hour out of atlanta and an hour away from the house, lost control of the car on the wet road when trying to avoid someone merging into my rear passenger side and ended up totaling the car. the car spun 360 on the tires, getting over to the right shoulder, but there were two large ditches, the second of which put the car into a roll. we had slowed enough at that point where the car wasnt smushed, but the frame was definitely out of whack. we were both fine, just bruises and soreness. the passenger window broke in the roll and there was a stream of crap in the wake of our tracks. the policeman was nice enough to lend me his maglite so we could find things like: saritas i-phone (still working!), the gps weighted holder (the gps was tethered in the car by the charger), some of my european currency that i stashed in the console which fell apart, the ezpass, etc. while retrieving the stuff, sarita's foot got attacked by fire ants.

needless to say, there was an awkward drive home once my parents came to get us at 130am.

and another fun tidbit, the airbags did not deploy.

the rest of the week's plans changed slightly, since we were then homebound and at the mercy of my mom for rides. it was still great. we got some arts and crafts to do, tried to carve pumpkins (definitely out of practice), played skip-bo, watched discovery health tv just like the college days. my parents took us to Asheville NC to see the Biltmore estate, the one day we had great weather, played with the dogs.

the leaving was hard. not so much for leaving SC, its nice to visit but its not really my true home, but to leave close friends again for another year. it will go fast enough, i think. i hope.


ready to go

ive been on fire this week getting stuff done so i can have a care-free time in america and also not come home to a disgustingly cluttered, dirty apartment. there is nothing worse to me than getting back from an awesome trip and finding that my house is a total mess. ive even cleaned the drains with vinegar and baking soda. the cleaning frenzy extended to my digital environment as well. i reformatted my computer and organized my external HD into folders that MAKE SENSE TO PEOPLE BESIDES ME! i feel like i can conquer the world now.

the spa project is all set to be wrapped up. my parts are done. when i get back, we have the last seminar and its gotovo. i will be really happy to have that finished.

i met up with afrim for coffee to discuss getting back into tutoring in Albanian and starting up some other activities, which gives me positive things to look forward to when i come back.

the last task on my list is a gosti with nikolinka the landlady. she saw me yesterday and i told her about my trip. i think she said to come by sometime because she wants me to practice macedonian and to give me something for my parents-i believe said a liter or so of rakija. my parents are racking up presents from strangers! the president of shpresa gave me something for them too. im pretty sure my parents arent going to be huge fans of the rakija, but i think i know some other people who would be...

i find it amusing that i will celebrate my year mark in macedonia on my first day back in the us.


The stray puppy that finally got to me

I didn't name her because if I did, I would have to keep her, landlady or no.

I picked up this dog near the Shpresa office. I was walking towards the municipality of Cair to go to the atm and check that I have limited denari. I see this little brown puppy limping on the sidewalk all alone and whimpering a little as she goes along. Against my better judgement, I stoop down to pet her. Mistake number 1. She is so sweet and she looks up at me with her sad little stray puppy eyes and I can resist the urge to pick her up- so i did. Mistake number 2. I cuddle her for a while and then put her back down. She flops on her side since her foot is hurt. I gather up my resolve and turn to keep walking to the municipality.

I get 15 feet away from lovely puppy and an old man is sitting in his car, engine off. He has been watching me with the pup and tells me "zemi! zemi!". I ask if he knows if its someone's dog and he says no, its a dobro kuche and i should take it! well alright! Epic impulsive decision fail.

I carry her home and 20 minutes later I am feeding her peanut butter and milk because its the only food i have that a dog may want. She watches me all the time. If i leave her for a moment, she starts to whine. I put her in the bathroom (tile floor for easier cleaning) on a blanket with some water and try to leave to go to vero for something to feed her but i can hear her crying through 2 doors. I have to tell Nikolinka, cause she is going to hear this anyway.

I take puppy downstairs and put her outside in the back yard. I go up to appeal to my landlady, Nikolinka. I tell her I found a puppy near work, it has a bum foot and i want to keep her until her foot is healed (which i wanted to make a very indefinite amount of time). I can tell by the look on her face that it ain't going to happen. She frowns in disgust to know its a street dog but I just stare at her and pretend I don't understand her (its not so much pretending anymore really) and she says ok, but only on the balcony. :-\ I wanted to check on the ok-ness of me keeping the pup in the bathroom at least while im not home but i forgot the word for bathroom. Nice.

Then Nina gets a different idea. I can keep the puppy in the fenced in concrete driveway area out front. Sigh. I am clearly not about this. I would rather have puppy be free in green grass on the sidewalks then penned in on a concrete slab. Didn't have to worry long, puppy slipped through the fence as we stood there talking about my weight, which was a fun side note. Nina was apparently trying to tell me that I look thinner and wanted to know how I was losing weight. I thought she was telling me I was getting fatter. (Slab - thin, debel - fat. Totally mixed it up.) I ended up telling her it was beer making me fat, drinking with prijateli, which made her confused. Beer makes you fat, she told me. Ooh ok, you weren't telling me I was fat. Raz-bi-ram sega.

Puppy picked a nice soft cluster of long grass to curl up in out in front of my apartment building. I went back upstairs to my apartment and tried not to think about epic failure in securing a puppy and consoled myself by thinking of all the reasons why I can't and shouldn't have a puppy right now. An hour later, I couldn't see her from the balcony anymore.

When it got dark, I decided that I had indulged in way too much battlestar galactica and needed to go outside for a walk. I walked slow and looked around for my lost puppy love. I found her near the prodav by John Kennedy, sitting on the sidewalk crying. I pick her up, cuddle her again and walk her off to a nice spot to lay in while i planned on going to vero for food for her.

As I was walking away, the puppy got up to follow me. Then, a little boy and his mother were coming out of the apartment buildings and saw my puppy. He picked her up and they walked off down the street.

Now, I would feel good about this. I can assume the best for my lil pup. But I just remembered a minor horrifying detail about this particular area where I set her down. Back in June or July, I recall walking to work one morning and smiling at a little boy (hopefully not the same one) playing with a puppy on a makeshift leash of string. Cute right?

3-4 hours later, walking home from work in hot summer sun, I see the same little boy playing with a dead puppy on a string. Not in a malicious way, I just don't think he was old enough to understand that the puppy was not alive anymore. Its got to be a different kid. The one that took the puppy last night probably did not live where I saw him with his mom.

I keep hoping its not the same kid. I keep wishing I kept the puppy. I did not see her again today, but I am carrying around a can of poshteta in my bag just in case we meet again. cause i'm a sucker.


someone please explain the excessive watering of pavement.

ive noticed as summer passes through Skopje that my biggest pet peeve is pavement watering in its many forms. water conservation has definitely not reached Macedonia yet. people are always hosing down sidewalks and driveways and roads.

why do i hate it? for mostly silly and selfish reasons.
1. waste o' water.
2. mosquito prevelance may be directly related to the amount of standing water in the city.
3. its gross to wear sandals because the watering just leads to mud and grit.
4. i slip on wet pavement and tiles.
5. i see it as a huge waste of time.
6. it makes the city air feel humid.

this also extends to the street cleaning trucks too, which inspired my gripe today. i happened to see one turn right in front of me on the way to work which meant walking to work with my pant legs held up high and carefully trying not to step in puddles that building up in the uneven parts of the road. the truck was a tanker truck with jets in front, no scrubbing just power pushing. it manages to wet the streets without cleaning anything. i've seen some with brushes on them, i think, but even those just push crap around.

i have no clue what the motivation is behind the excessive watering, but ive made up a few of my own hypotheses that i find too amusing to actually kill by asking a HCN why they are watering the pavement.

A. Keep dust under control.
If its wet, its just mud and mud can't be blown around by the wind. However, when it dries in 20 minutes, you'll still have to wet it again. Its a futile battle if you ask me.

B. To counteract the cultural art of spitting.
Spitting is out of control. Its a real talent for some of the babas I've seen. I've seen an old woman shoot a spit bullet through a gap in her teeth that was so impressive, I wanted to try it- unfortunately, i don't have gaps big enough yet. But, I imagine spit builds up and maybe this is why the watering happens.

C. Stray dog excrement/garbage residue

D. its fun?

I've got an english speaking friend here, I guess its time to ask...


there is something obscenely wonderful about vast expanses of road that are dead empty at ungodly hours of morning.

i just returned from a 4:10am bike ride. marissa caught a cab to the airport at 330am and i figured, eh, im already up and i needed to get back over to karposh 4 side of town anyway. i left my house and within the 2 short turns it took to get on the main road, i already was taken back by how awesome it was that the city was silent. i had 2-3 lanes of pavement all to my biking self. i could disregard most street lights and i was wasnt worried about being mowed down by a city bus.

i remember that night shift as a toll collector held similar moments of awe and general fascination. between 3-5 am, the time when you can feel the chemicals in your body switching over for a new day, making you feel nauseous and restless and wanting sleep so bad, i would sit in the 9x booth in the middle of 15+ lanes of black road and marvel at how odd it was for this place to be so quiet. bizarre to think that in just 3 hours, the plaza would be hopping with commuter traffic to nyc. i would shut off my movies, stop reading, turn off my music and just enjoy the silence. i would risk a cigarette, even though i knew it would probably just make me feel more gross that late/early in the night/morning, knowing that no one else would see me or catch me smoking in the booth. its a good time for thinking.

it would be nice to say that i will get up at 4-5 am from now on and bike around skopje, but lets be realistic- it ain't going to happen. ill just have to remember the feeling of this particular ride through a ghost capital and hope that maybe it will inspire me at least once more to do it again.

on that note, im going back to bed.



Ten months in.

Accomplishments: few

Language skills (including english): dimished

Spirits: low


makin' friends at the pazar

first, a short quiz.

Finish the sentence.

1. Heidi is __________.

a) Albanian
b) American
c) Bulgarian

The correct answer is clearly 'b', but i do hear about people around here thinking i am albanian. and today, someone was convinced i was bulgarian for about 5 minutes until my macedonian vocab failed me at the market.

let me expand on that story because it was cute/annoying.

there is a small pazar in Cair that I go to on occasion, more now that i have somewhat conquered my irrational fear of markets and it does not make me feel as people claustrophobic as the bit pazar. i have been trying to go to the same stands to build up a rapport with some of the people there and feel like a part of the community. there is one lady who gets happy to see the "amerikanka" at her stand. there is an albanian guy who sells mostly fruit and knows pretty good english, but does not understand why i bother working an NGO for the disabled when there are only, quote, "10, maybe 20" people with disabilities around here. why don't i help other people since everyone here is poor? besides his strong opinion about my work here, he's cool. today, i met a new lady.
when she saw me coming close to her stand, she bolted up from her wooden crate box doubling as a chair and started in with an endless serving of povelete's. i hadn't even figured out what i wanted yet, so i said broccoli since i hadnt seen any yet and i figured she would just say she didnt have it and sit back down and leave me be to peruse.


she tells me she doesn't have any. its not in season yet. don't i want some lovely onions? and then starts telling me i have to go to vero if i want some broccoli and i say thats fine, i know where it is, thank you. she keeps telling me directions to vero, even though i tell her i live right by it and yes, i still know where it is. then she asks me if i am bulgarian. when i say no, i am american, she throws her hands up as if i was a lost cause, EVEN THOUGH WE WERE HAVING A CONVERSATION IN MACEDONIAN ALREADY FOR 5 MINUTES. then she puts her hand on my shoulder and starts leading me away from her stand and towards the way to leave the pazar. i start worrying that she is really going to walk me to vero! then i hear her muttering that she must show me to the man who speaks english, who happens to be my fruit selling friend. when she comes over with me, we shake hands and she tries explaining to him that i do not know where vero is and that i am in deep need of broccoli. luckily fruit man has my back. we shake hands and he explains to her that im going to be here for a while and that i work here. aha. we start talking in macedonian again, suddenly i am intelligible again. so my other pazar lady friend comes over, and she happens to have two small bunches of broccoli. sigh. after all that... i buy the broccoli.

Lessons Learned:
DO NOT enter the pazar without a slight clue to what exactly you want.
DO NOT try to outfox pazar ladies.


the little things

i had the best (privaten) bus 19 ride last night. the bus itself was roomy and immaculate (not only by general Skopje bus standards) there was a working radio and sound system, and the bus driver was playing classical and opera. i really wanted to go up to the guy and just shake his hand for a job well done.

it did make up for the 'how to keep an american idiot busy for at least an hour' game that the komerzialna banka employees were playing earlier in the afternoon. i have to open a bank account to get my SPA project in motion. easier said than done. i went to the branch in the trgovski center, they said no, i have to go on the other side of the vardar to the main branch. ok. there are about 4 different entrances, i pick door #2. i explain in broken macedonian: треба да отворам нересидентна денарска сметка, or i need to open a non-resident denar account. one person said its not possible, i refused to leave so she asked someone else, who then said i cant have a denar account, but a foreign currency account and gave me a form, but said i needed to go to one of the other 3 entrances to actually get an account. i am familiar with this game after trying to send packages with ajvar to the US at various post offices in skopje. needless to say, when the employees at the other entrance gave me the same spiel and told me to go back to where i just was, i walked out, shaking my umbrella vigorously in frustration.

today i returned, armed with a native speaker who did not know english but knew my plight. after some more labyrinthine games, i now hold a non resident denar account and our SPA project can move right along.

at least my bus ride yesterday was nice right?


I've found my peeps.

Most of my life prior to er...sophmore year of college was spent as the weird kid looking in on everything that seemed not awkward. I watched other friends and acquaintances flit through public school like it was the Best Thing Ever while I felt uncomfortable and out of place for about 90% of my waking life. I think I gave up early on trying to fit in and just made the most out of being as nonconformist as possible (and in the process, becoming an attention whore). If you asked me then, I would never never have admitted it.

College was great because I made a few close friends and with those people, I could do anything and everything that was interesting to me and it wasn't awkward (chinese checkers). it didn't make me feel like an outsider. Of course, in the Abercrombie & Fitch catalog that was Marist college, I can't say we were really in our element overall, but we were insulated enough with other people with similar interests that it didn't matter. At least, it didn't matter to me as much as it did in high school.

Grad school further pushed me into a group of people who were so similarly minded, intelligent, driven and dynamic that I don't even remember wondering what the rest of Rutgers Camden was like, in hind sight, this might be better.

My experience thus far in the Peace Corps has been like grad school x 20. There must be a certain pattern of experiences, qualities, interests etc that tend to draw people into the peace corps, making this small cache of about 70 Americans the largest pool of people that I feel totally comfortable around. It feels to me what I always imagined public school being like for all the people that seemed popular. Only in this case, there is significant meaning behind what drives us, attracts us to this work and bonds us together.

(I was trying to get to a point where I could rationalize why I played 3 games of risk over the course of 5 nights of IST rather then go out on the town in Ohrid or do other less nerdy activities.)


sometimes i would give anything for coffee to go that tastes just ok and to drink it while driving. anywhere.
to go to a movie at a theater like its no big deal.
to go to a diner, in the wee hours of the morning with a friend.
to want to go to a restaurant, so someone can/will cook food for me that i dont think i could cook better myself.
to find what i want within a half hour of looking. and knowing exactly where to go to start looking.
to have a beer worth drinking.
to go someplace by myself and not feel weird.
have a good radio station to listen to.
a long island beach.

october. me. america. its on.
and transsiberian railway 2010.


You can't avoid it, its definitely election time.

I can tell it is election time. How? Because nearly overnight, there are posters everywhere of guys in suits with uber serious "Vote for me, I know" faces. Everywhere. Huge billboards, empty walls now plastered with posters. Vans outfitted with advertisement. TV reklame/marketing time now devoted to izbori (sic?) 2009. i had asked a friend about this and he said that it was all for local elections, but that didn't make sense after seeing all the efforts going into these campaigns. I check with the Internet, and I see this is all for president. Well, that makes more sense.

here is my reaction as a passive observer.

Macedonia, unlike Germany, has a thriving pop culture of its own. they have their own tv shows, movies, music etc.
TANGENT: Germany was severely lacking here. some people I had asked about it said that the US influence was so great following WWII that Germany never had the chance to build up its own media culture. meh meh, maybe this is true. hence, when i went to ask for metal music at stores, i was directed to Rammstein or any number of US or scandinavian bands. why all the tv shows were american- exception of Verliebt in Berlin, but even that wasnt original, ive seen that story line in Ugly Betty and now here in a spanish soap opera. movies- ok germans do make movies. and very good ones. but they aren't pumping out a whole lot of em. maybe this is tied in a way to cultural pride. macedonians- very proud of being macedonian. germans- thanks to the Holocaust, not so much.
ANYWAY. where i was going with this is that the quality of tv shows and news here in Macedonia are not what i'm used to as an American. not talking about content here, i dont understand much of what is said. but film quality, camera techniques etc. but now with all these political ads for candidates, I am shocked to see some damn fine commercials. like artistic and really good. this one I saw was really beautiful, panning in and out on older Macedonians watching a candidate give a speech and the lighting was all soft and luscious and it almost brought a tear to me eye.
So now I'm thinking, wow, it is possible to up the quality of film here. But the next thought is, ah right, it probably comes down to money. Now I'm just curious how much money is going into the elections. I'm letting that question simmer.

It is also interesting that the candidates are assigned numbers. I remember watching this selection happen on the news, not really understanding what was going on. Click, got it. People don't even have to remember the name of the candidate, just the number.

What I do like is that the election stuff hasn't been in your face until now. The elections are on the 22nd of march i think. and its just now ramping up. Lets look at the US election campaign that started well over a year before the actual presidential elections. However, I think Macedonia could benefit from a longer campaign cycle. Now it seems more like a popularity/beauty contest after seeing all the posters.

Remember, just a passive observer.


Dear Mongolia, I am a comin'.

the planning begins.

preliminary internet surfing shows that there is a 30 hr train from beijing to mongolia with delicious scenery. thats a good start.

any peace corps volunteers in Mongolia reading who have input, please comment/share.


This is my life and I like it.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder or something like that right? Apologies for the unannounced vacation from the blog and leaving you with just a snarky cartoon for weeks.

The truth is, my life has found its way to normalcy again. Once the holiday month was over and I started going to work for more than 3 consecutive days per week, things just got comfortable. I’m reminded everyday that I am still living in a foreign country when I fail to understand simple commands in local languages, but its no longer something new. You just get used to comprehending 30% of any given conversation. When you think about it, its not that hard being abroad (exception: missing people who are not in Macedonia, that is tough) because like some volunteers said in training, its still life. You go to work, you see your friends, you go food shopping, you watch the news. The new part: I eat ayvar.

Let me take you on a written tour of my typical day here in the Skop.

Somewhere between 730 and 830, my alarm goes off and if you have ever lived with me at some point, you know there is another 30-45 minutes of absolutely ridiculous snooze button abuse.

I get out of bed and make some Turkish coffee, or lately a cup of Lipton tea with milk and sugar thanks to some awesome people in NJ who know that my love of Lipton knows no bounds. (ps. I made sun tea already and a “cauldron” of iced tea, it was glorious.) If its nice outside, I’ll go drink my caffeine out on the balcony in the sun.

I eat tropical fruit muesli (35% fruit!) for breakfast and read a book until about 930 when I realize its getting late and I need to shower. “Shower”. I miss a real shower every once in a while. Some volunteers have jury-rigged shower curtains and have gotten holders for their shower heads to simulate the American Shower Experience. I have not, I’m not sure it would work out in my bathroom. Instead, I have a bathtub with a giant step and a handheld shower head thingy. Its fun in its own way, but not when I’m late. At least being late here isn’t a big deal like it is in the US.

I get dressed and I still haven’t figured out what is and isn’t considered ‘business casual’ for Macedonia. I think I could wear anything I want really, but I harbor this notion that looking slightly professional will help my credibility and cancel out the “you’re not 23?!!” problem. Yes, I have had to resort to the passport to prove that I am not <19 years old. In the end, I’m sure that what I think of as professional looking clothing is not quite there yet; I only just got out of band t-shirts, grungy jeans, old sambas and studded belt. Its still weird to see myself in the mirror devoid of external character every day.

I try to leave my house by 1010 so I make it to the office by 1030 on time, but hey, I’m all about the polychronic perception of time that is the norm in this region. I enjoy the walk to work. When I talk to some people from Macedonia about it, they comment on how far it is. My perception of distance is very different from most people here and I attribute that to growing up in Wurtsboro and then living in Philly. In the ‘boro, you had to drive 15 minutes in any cardinal direction to get to anything of interest or to go shopping. In philly, I walked whenever I could to avoid spending money on taxis or the subway. You get used to it. But a 15 min walk here seems to be quite a hardship here….or not.

Work 1030 to 1500. Some days go faster than others; some days are more interesting than others. In this sense, it’s the same as in the US. The struggle is coming in on the scene not really knowing the language or the organization as well and trying to get a feel for what is going on project-wise or what has been done in the past. It is great to have a counterpart that speaks fluent English though, I’m not sure how it would work out otherwise. Its amusing to see how my carefully nurtured academic approach to development handles reality in a different country. Or, how it doesn’t. As I get to understand the culture here, I realize that some of the concepts I learned are just going to get shelved indefinitely.

1530-1630ish is my pauza time. When I get home from work, I sort of zone out for a while, have lunch, maybe watch some Доктор Ху (Doctor Who) on tv. Monday-Wednesday I have an hour or two of language tutorial at 5 or 6 in Albanian and Macedonia. This is a far cry from the 4 hours a day, 5 days a week of PST and my present language skills show it.

I’ve been engrossed in some big books lately so I end up spending the later part of my nights reading like a madwoman until I fall asleep with my face, and glasses, smushed in the middle of the book. I also have gotten very into playing around with dreamweaver and GIMP 2.

And there you have it, the average life of a (debatably bookish) Peace Corps volunteer in Skopje.