Sunday, September 28, 2014

Macedonia Is Where Again?

            This past week was all about settling in to the routine of language classes, some meetings and the normal rhythm of life here in Sveti Nikola.  It's certainly been an adjustment with the normal highs and lows of learning new words and phrases but still not able to have a complete conversation.  It's gonna be a process, honestly it's frustrating, but one that will pay huge dividends when we start teaching.  
            Now a little history on Macedonia.  It's nestled between Greece, Albania, Kosovo, Serbia and Bulgaria.  People have been living here since 9,500 BCE.  It's been both a conqueror and the conquered.  Of course it's most famous inhabitant is Alexander the Great.  In the past 100 years it's gone from being controlled by the Ottomans to Communists to the benevolent dictator Josep Tito before becoming it's own country again after the breakup of Yugoslavia.  

            Macedonia may look European but I'm quickly learning that it's culturally very Balkan.  A lot of people here will refer to the "good old days" of Yugoslavia because everyone had a "job", decent money etc.  It seems the younger generation doesn't feel that way but I've got a lot to learn on the subject.  
            I'll write more about the culture as I experience it but I'll finish by showing you my first week here with pictures and videos, enjoy. 

Abby was snacking while Larry was studying. 
The bottom sign has the different gender suffixes. 
The Macedonian alphabet is Cyrillic not Greek. 
I love the view when I go for a run/workout. 
This is my breakfast my host mother makes for me.  She cooks a couple of eggs and toast with milk. It's a heavy meal. 
My host father and I bond over National Geographic and Discovery shows. He loves Alaska Gold Diggers. 
Yes these little guys are adorable but there are a LOT of kittens and puppies here. Macedonia needs Bob Barker to start a spay/neuter your pet campaign. 
            Yesterday, I went to the farmer's market to try my hand at bartering. I was somewhat successful.  When you see a price tag, remember it's Denar not Euros. One US dollar is 48 DEN so the exchange rate is really, really good. However, my salary reflects my cost of living here not what it might be back in the States. 

A large jar of honey costs $5. 
Almost all of these clothes cost less than $10.

These are massive eggplants.

Bananas, nuts, peppers and pears.

It gets crowded.

A tiny pepper. 

That's an entire clove of garlic. I'd never seen one that large before.
Of course we did a little shopping for my host mother as well.
We stopped by a cafe to enjoy some Boza with another volunteer, Crissy, and her host mother. Honestly, it tasted similar to the Korean drink, Makkoli, but with more carbonation. It was awful.
Last night I helped my host father and his buddies process grapes to make vino and rakia. Rakia is to Macedonia as Jack Daniels is to Tennessee, Soju is to Korea and vodka is to Russia. It's actually a brandy but finishes with a bite similar to tequila. 
            Click on this link to listen to my host family after our dinner while they chat about family pictures on FaceStalk. 

             It's been a busy week but it feels much longer than that.  One thing that will always make my day is getting letters or random stuff in the mail. If you want to mail me something then just send it here and I'll get it.  However, be sure to send it USPS, DO NOT PUT A VALUE LARGER THAN $1 AND WRITE "USED GOODS" to keep customs people from opening the package.  If you're only sending a letter just use the USPS flat rate envelope and you'll be fine.  Otherwise I'll be paying huge fees via customs to get the packages.

Miroven Korpus-Logan Monday
Oslo 6 1000 
Republika Makedonija

            Tomorrow all of the volunteers in our group are meeting in Skopje for a HUB day.  It'll be a day of meetings but I'm looking forward to visiting the capital and catching up with everyone. Enjoy your weekend!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Sveti Nikola

            One of the best things that the Peace Corps does is have a three month training period of language classes and a practicum in your speciality.  That's it.  This allows you to slowly learn the language, work on your skill and live with a host family.  It's a great way for you to integrate into the community very quickly instead of taking months and months to just learn enough about a local and then, maybe, have coffee together. 
            Now the Peace Corps doesn't assign you a family without a proper questionnaire for them to complete and an interview in their home.  Next, they go over our aspiration statements, resumes and interviews both in the US and during Pre-Service Training to find the right match.  My family isn't the right match for me they're perfect.  They're very relaxed but open and genuine.  They've traveled around Eastern Europe and they went to Russia for their honeymoon.  I figure they're in their mid-40's, their son is 23 and all of them speak a little English.  Most importantly they enjoy people, conversations and learning new things.  Sound familiar?!

When my host father Blage, pronounced Vlage, pulled out the grill and sausages I knew things were gonna be just fine. 

We chatted over Kafe, coffee, watched some EPL and I wrote down all the new words I heard. 

This is Vlage's man cave/picnic spot. He's always out here chatting with his neighbors and watching TV.

We had fresh tomatoes and potatoes from their garden, again sound familiar, and sausages.
            We hung out the rest of the day together and then I got situated in my room and passed out.  I woke up late this morning and came out to the "man cave" to find one of my co-volunteers lived with a family that was best friends with mine.  Plus, they live down the street so it'll be easy to meet up.  After breakfast it was decided to visit the local monastery up in the mountains in honor of Mary Magdalene's birthday. 

Most of the town came out over the day to get together.  It was more of a festival than a service. 

The monastery is the building directly ahead. Bekah is my close neighbor and those are her new sisters. You can check out her blog here.

We lit a candle for each person we prayed for. I was only given one so I prayed for my little bro who's just getting settled into his job in Beijing right now. 

Then we danced. It was circular line dancing so I hopped right in.

            After we danced for a bit we headed back home to get dinner.  The view coming out of the mountain overlooking the valley was just picturesque so, of course, I took some pictures for you. 

Sveti Nikola Valley. Four monastery's were founded by a monk in the 10th Century so the town was named after him. 
The produce that's grown here is corn, tobacco, grapes and pears.  There's plenty of tomatoes, figs, chestnuts, apples etc also.

You can see that there's almost no pollution.

This is my host mother. Her name translates to Snow White in English.
We had to wait on the sheep train.
            The easiest way to describe how I feel going around right now is that:
                                                               It looks like Europe
                                                               It feels like home
                                                               If both were combined 
                                                              50 years ago.

            Tomorrow we start our language classes at 8am sharp.  I'm really excited to get going on it all but I think the best part is that my host family is walking me to school.  It's a requirement by the Peace Corps and I'm sure Snow White will make me take a packed lunch but it still makes me smile.

Friday, September 19, 2014


            It's been a busy week training, having our Macedonian language lessons and getting to know one another but we were able to get out of our school and head into town.  We're near the town of Tesovo which is primarily Albanian.  However, there are plenty of Macedonians so we visited both a Mosque and an Orthodox Church.

This mosque is famous for it's age, it was founded in 1495, and that it's painted. 

It's rude to carry dirt into the mosque from your feet so you wash them first. 

It's original paint and clearly is very detailed.

Peace Corps peeps.

I have no idea what this says.

The interior was beautiful.

This part of the wall is facing towards Mecca and is where you would pray.

Max busted me on the group selfie!
            We left the mosque and went around town to the Orthodox Church.  It wasn't as old as the mosque but was very important to the people in the community.
The moment we pulled up we were swarmed by these guys.

The church was right above town and next to a natural spring. It looked and smelled fantastic.

I didn't want to get busted again so I had a real pic taken.

I couldn't get a pic without the light ruining the shot so that's why my hand is there. 

This is the altar where people pray. Like the mosque no one sat in rows or chairs. 
            I really enjoyed seeing two different places of worship right after each other.  It helped me to understand that here in Macedonia both Islam and Christianity are very, very important but do not intersect with one another.  Afterwards we were starving so we met up with a volunteer who's been here for a year and had some dinner. My wifi wasn't letting me load a picture of my "doner", basically a falafel, so I'll try to later. 
            Tomorrow we head to our training villages and meet our host families that we'll stay with for the next three months. I'll post that over the weekend but in the meantime enjoy yours!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Pre Service Training Week

            Alright it’s been a couple of days and I’m starting to settle in here in Macedonia.  All week we’ve been at the Woodrow Wilson school on the outskirts of Tetovo which is an hour West from the capital Skopje.  It’s a really nice American private school that is used by Macedonian parents for their children and the US government for the Peace Corps. We’ll be here for the week as we transition into our training period.  Each day we’ve been taking language and cultural classes plus the necessary bureaucratic classes about our medical staff, living safely in-country, cultural norms for Macedonians and Albanians etc.   On Friday we'll find out where we'll be going to being our official training and who the family is that we'll be living with while we train for the next three months. 

This is my window view.

This has been my view every morning when I go for a run.

Here are a couple of our morning coffee buddies.

No words. 

I don't know why there's a Disney mural on a building but there is.
Our schedule for the week.
Here are our grammar books to help us learn Macedonian.
I've really been focusing on learning the alphabet. It's taking my head a bit to start listening for Macedonian instead of  Spanish.
Macedonian snacks. Mmmm.
My Macedonian ID. 

            Last night we traveled into Tetovo and went to both a mosque and an Orthodox church.  I'll post those pictures next and show you what the town looks like.