Sunday, December 21, 2014

Christmas In Ohrid

          This past weekend I hosted a Christmas party at my place.  Because of everyone's schedule and our Macedonian work schedules here there wasn't a way for us to get together on Christmas.  So we had it a little early but it worked out perfectly.  Personally, I love the holidays and always get filled with the "Christmas spirit" and wanted to share that with my fellow PCV's.  My host family was happy to help host a large American "slava" and without them it wouldn't have been such a success.  (Nor would have there been a fireworks show)!  I also have to thank each volunteer that came, without their contributions to cooking and chipping in, the party wouldn't have been so much fun.  

As you can see we had quite the spread.

Merry Christmas y'all!

A brief speech was made since there was delicious food to eat.
Before the dance party we made Santa decorations.

There was an impromptu dance party.
Goce, my host father, joined in on the fun!
          Lastly, I want to wish each of you a happy and merry Christmas.  As I'm writing this I'm having very strong feelings of missing friends (especially the Roo's), family and Nashville. I'm fortunate to be surrounded by great people here in Macedonia and am grateful to enjoy spending time with them.  Hug your friends and family this holiday season, you never know when you'll see them again.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

St. Naum (Свти Наум): The Pearl Of Macedonia

          If Ohrid is the Jewel of the Balkans, then Sveti Naum is the Pearl of Macedonia.  Sveti Naum was founded in 905 by St. Naym himself under the Bulgarian empire. He's buried in the original church but the church you'll see in the pics was built over the original in the 16th century. Here's a neat fact, it's home to a flock of peacocks, including an albino one but I couldn't find him.  Click here to see historical photos of the monastery that date to the 19th century.  It still looks very similar to what I saw.  
          Before our visit I knew that St. Naym was a huge tourist destination here in the Balkans but since it's December no one was here. Yet I was unprepared for the beauty of the site as a whole. The water was nearly perfectly clear, at one point I was watching ducks dive in the water, 300 ft on a cliff above them, and never lost them while they were underwater.  To put it into perspective imagine the scenery of the Tennessee River, the Potomac outside DC, or the Colorado River in the Rockies but without any, I mean ZERO, water, noise or air pollution. No boats were out, no cell phones constantly ringing, nothing was on the water except for the ducks. Just imagine sitting on a cliff and viewing the newest snowfall on the Smokies/Rockies/DC landscape while watching large fish swim in 20-30ft deep water and 80ft away from the shore. It was remarkable.  I hope the pictures do it justice. 

Overlooking Sarah's, girl in the glasses, village.  Yes, she lives on the water.

No it's not Walden pond but it could be.  Actually, it's the pond that feeds Ohrid Lake. 

It runs out under the dock and into the lake here. 

The peacocks were just walking around.

Look how clear the water is.

That's the hotel behind me.

This was just gorgeous. The hill in the foreground is in Macedonia and the mountains behind it are in Albania. We could've walked to Albania if we wanted to.

Sarah was deep in thought.

Another great mountain shot. 

Victoria cheesing. 
The peahen's hung out next to the monastery.

Sveti Naum.

The Ohrid group, Alex, Victoria, Sarah and I.

They're a handful.

A massive tortoise we found.  

Another, smaller, church up behind Sveti Naum. 

Imagine the dog from the movie "It" and you'll get this guy's personality.


Soaking it all in before heading home. 
          After walking around and taking it all in we headed back home.  However, on the way home we passed something I missed earlier in the day and that was a guard tower built and operated by Italian troops during WWII.  This place is truly layered in blankets of history.  

Monday, December 15, 2014

End of PST Part III: Swearing-In

          After enjoying that great Thanksgiving Feast we were up bright and early to catch the bus for our Swearing-In in Skopje.  Before we left my host family surprised me by giving me a dress shirt to wear.  It matched up perfectly and they were happy to see me in it.  Swearing-In was a large event that our host families, PST staff, current volunteers, national press and the Macedonian president were all present at.
          Our country director, Kathleen Corey, US Ambassador Paul Wohlers and the Macedonian president Gjorge Ivanov all gave nice speeches.  However one of the cooler things was that two of our own gave speeches in Albanian and Macedonian.  I give huge props to Bonnie Smith and Andrew Bagnato for giving them quite articulately.  

Everyone milled around catching up.

It was a well attended event. 

Bonnie giving the Albanian speech.

Andrew giving the Macedonian speech.

Everyone together, dignitaries included.

The Sveti Nikola training group.

My LCF, Tome. 

The other Sveti Nikola LCF, Volkan, rocking the bow tie.

Our country director, Corey, between Susan and I.

My host family, Igor, Blage and Chezana.

Our PST training manager, aka "Mother Hen", Evelina.  
          Now, as I was sitting there I was thinking about the speeches's content but also appreciating the moment itself.  I'd spent so many nights after a long and wearisome shift wondering if my Peace Corps goal was going to become a reality.  I'd think, "Am I wasting my time, my potential? Azerbaijan had bottomed out at the last moment would Macedonia do the same?"  Sitting there in that ceremony I realized that I hadn't wasted my time, I'd just learned how to be patient.  With that I'd learned how to stay focused on a goal and not trip along the route to it.  Nothing is earned without preparation, dedication and consistency.  

Sunday, December 7, 2014

End of PST Part II: Thanksgiving

          Even though we were finishing up our last classes and saying goodbye we still had a feast to prepare.  None of us had any idea how to find a turkey but our country director and PST training director got them for us.  So we had three turkeys to prepare, brine and cook for around 50 people.  Now, I love Thanksgiving but I didn't know how we were going to cook 18lb turkey's in oven's made for smaller poultry.  Fortunately, the PCV who lived in Sveti Nikola suggested we try a bakery.  So Tome and I went to talk to the owner and see if she would cook them.  She had no problem with it and so I went  home to prep my bird.
My recipe:  Brined with salt, pepper, herbal seasonings,  stuffed with onions, cucumbers, carrots, apples, oranges, lemons and half a stick of butter.  The other half was spread on the outside and seasoned with creole seasoning.   
I then carried Fred to the bakery. 
          I met up with Iris and Victoria at the bakery so we could have our birds cooked together.  We explained to the baker that we didn't want water put in the pan to help "cook" the bird.  We left to go make our side dishes at Victoria's.  We hung out all afternoon jamming out, Skyping with family and cooking.  It's amazing that we used the exact same ingredients as our families but had such a different result.  After a couple of hours we went to check on the birds to make sure they hadn't been "altered".  Remember, the baker thought it would be ok to sit the birds in water to cook them.  It's a good thing we did go to check because she was about to flip them so they would cook faster!  We explained that we didn't want that and to please just allow us to cook them American style.  Fortunately, she was laid back enough to do that even if she thought we were wrong.  This was the end result:

          After thanking her profusely for doing a great job we headed off to the restaurant that was hosting the dinner.  I have to give credit to Gwen for working with her host mother to find a place and then set it up.  They did a great job.

Food for days except it only lasted hours. 
          After setting up, everyone settled in and away we went.  There were a couple of nice speeches and then we danced.  Actually we "oro'ed".  It's the traditional dance that has a multitude of different steps and beats but we just kept it simple.  It was a lot of fun and certainly made our Thanksgiving that much more memorable.  

*Crissy stepping a jig.
*Susan, Larry and Gwen got in the thick of it too. 
Of course Blage and I were rocking it out too.
Everyone got involved.  It was a lot of fun. 
This is what happens when you let friends use your phone to take pics. 
My Sveti family. They were happy don't be fooled. 
The Sveti crew.
          It was a great night being together and is one Thanksgiving I won't soon forget.  I hope that yours was spend enjoying family, friends and great food as well.  

*Pics courtesy of Rebekah Brown.