Sunday, October 26, 2014

Together A Journey Is Made.

            "If you want to go fast go alone.  If you want to go far go together."  -African Proverb

            My experience here in the Peace Corps is about my experience and perspective.  You all have been very engaging with your feedback, comments, messages and emails.  I can't thank you enough for your support.  However, there's another group of people that support me as well.  They are my fellow volunteers.  Collectively, we're experiencing the same things of culture clash, language learning and PST training.  Individually, we're experiencing those same things through the lens of our own perspectives.  Plus, you might enjoy reading my blog but if you're from the NorthEast, out West  or another country my college football references will be lost.  Again, the support from y'all is a great boost for me but I know that you're curious about what else is going on in Macedonia.  For example there are people who are learning TWO languages right now.  Also, you ladies can read about experiences that you'll find interesting or difficult when I wouldn't even think to write about them.

We have a large, upbeat and interesting group.  It's a mixture of people who were evacuated from Ukraine, dealt with the Azerbaijan debacle and some West Africa cancellations. 

          David is one of the people learning two languages.  It's the dual-language program in the ethnic Albanian part of Macedonia.  He's a Community Development volunteer. He's a great photographer and hails from Colorado. 

         Audrey is one of our experienced expats.  She's lived in Southeast Asia for many years and is the most upbeat person I've met in a while.  She's into dance/exercise, is a TEFL volunteer like myself and hails from Iowa.

        Kait is another dual-language participant in the Albanian part of Macedonia. She's a Community Development volunteer, is a foodie and hails from Pennsylvania. 

       Rachel is a TEFL volunteer who recently graduated from college. She loves Turkish soap opera's, is a very good teacher and hails from Ohio.

         Gwen is a TEFL volunteer who was serving in Ukraine before being evacuated and transferred to Macedonia.  She's lived in Jordan and hails from Kentucky. 

          Eileen is a TEFL volunteer who is in the dual-language program.  She's lived all over the world but hails from Michigan. 

          Katie is a Community Development volunteer.  She's lived in Chile, her host father has been on a Macedonian game show and hails from New York.

     Beka is a TEFL volunteer who loves Beyonce and Lord of the Rings. She hails from Pennsylvania. 

Wait, where's Macedonia?- Stacie Marie
           Stacie is a TEFL volunteer who is in the dual-language program.  She's a stellar linguist who's lived throughout Europe and hails from Colorado. 
Regan Says- Regan Pepples 
           Regan is a Community Development volunteer who is in the dual-language program.  She's got a quick wit and hails from Nebraska. 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

A Free Day In Skopje

            This past Saturday we had an event in the capital, Skopje, called Field Day.  I know that conjures up memories of running around school playing the wheelbarrel race, kickball, etc but it was actually a meet and greet.  We met up with the volunteers who are already serving here in Macedonia and chatted with the ones near our host cities.  It was a much needed day of just hanging out, speaking English and throwing football.
            Afterwards we walked from the park to the city center and enjoyed a cold one at the Irish pub.  I had a Dunkel Beer and it reminded me of German Bar. I raised a glass to Mr. Song and the memories with friends in Gwangju.

The park we were at is huge and was a great place to get together. 

We had a potluck dinner and someone even made Thai food! 

This is the Macedonian flag with the famous cross in the background.  The cross is as big as the ones in the South that are randomly near the interstates. 
The Ottoman Fortress.
The wide river walkway had stake parks and soccer fields lining it.
I finally got to see the Alexander the Great statue.
It was wrapped with statues and mosaics. 
Alexander looking badass. 
Alex, Kate, Katie and I.  Alex doesn't have a blog but click here for Kate. (Girl in the red).  Katie's is here.
Across from Alexander's statue is Czar Samoil.  He's the only ruler who defeated the Byzantines and kept them at bay for years. 
            All of the these pictures show how much money the current Macedonian government is spending on creating monuments of their history.  No one knows where the money is coming from, it's cost over 270 million Euros to date, and it's extremely controversial. The Albanian minority doesn't appreciate that there are no monuments for their history.  Check out the government buildings that have been built.
I love this view. 
One of the new Parliament buildings. 
The statues are Macedonian poets, artists and musicians. 
Another great lion statue. 
In honor of German Bar and fine establishments back home. 
            Again, we hung out with the other volunteers and they shared their experiences with us.  Since I'm the first one to be in my village I talked about the city near me, Ohrid. Next week I go there for a site visit and am really looking forward to it. Until then, chow. 

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

My Home Will Be......

            One of the great things about the Peace Corps is how they stagger the process of integrating you to your host country.  First they get you there, train you for three months and then put you out to thrive on your own.  Living in Korea I was thrown into it all from the moment I got off the plane in Seoul.  After several survey's, interviews and more questions I now know that I'll be living in......Lakocherej, Ohrid!!  
            It's a tiny village outside of Ohrid in the Southwest of Macedonia.  During my interviews I made sure to emphasize that I wanted to be very active in the community and with my school.  After reading through the folder of information about my village, school and host family I'm once again being put in a great place to succeed.  I'll be the first Peace Corps volunteer to have ever lived in Lakocherej and my school applied for a TEFL teacher last year.  I'm pumped, full stop.  

Alright, alright, alright.
Myself, Sarah and Victoria are all near Ohrid. 
            I can't find any pictures on the web of what my village looks like since it's that small.  I'm the first volunteer, the school really wants me there and it doesn't exist on Google pics.  For me that's the trifecta of a solid Peace Corps experience.  

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

You hungry? Good, Let's Sit and Eat. Wait, Ma Where's The Kafe??!!

            No matter where you are, what you're doing or who you're talking to one of the things that everyone relates to is food.  When I interviewed for the Peace Corps they asked me if I had any "requests".  I gave them two and one was that I go to a country that had a decent daily caloric intake.  Hot, cold, high altitude, sea level, deserts I didn't care where they put me.  I just wanted to be able to eat a decent amount to keep going.  Luckily, Macedonia, and the Balkans, are known for having a temperate climate and with that a varied diet is created.  
            One thing that I worked really, really hard on before I left the States was to let go all expectations of food and meals.  I was spoiled after working in the service industry so I didn't want to bring that pedantic attitude into the Peace Corps.  Because of that I've been enjoying the process of figuring out how meals are made, what is and isn't important to Macedonians.  
            First, Macedonians eat to live they don't live to eat.  Now they enjoy eating but we American's will meet at a restaurant if we don't have time to cook.  Or we'll just chow on some fast food.  If we do have time to cook then we'll go to a supermarket and get everything, from anywhere in the world, we need under the same roof. Macedonians don't have any of those luxuries.  Yes, there are grocery stores but they're much smaller, think of them as the old fashioned corner stores.  So meals are planned out much further in advance and you'll eat the same thing until it's gone.  Don't worry you'll never run out of bread here.  It's used for every meal. 
            Second, coffee or Kafe, is a stable of life.  It pours itself into every conversation, meeting and gathering that occurs in Macedonia.  Those conversations can be planned but they're mostly started by a "na gosti".  Those are gatherings that occur at someone's home at random.  They can last for 30 minutes or hours upon hours.  The first week I was here everyone that knew my host family came over to vista for a na gosti and "chat".  They were actually coming to see the American.  This hasn't been my experience, everyone experiences it.  In fact, you're not a real Peace Corps volunteer until a "na gosti" happens.  Again, I cannot stress how important "na gosti's" are here in Macedonia.  If a family doesn't have some instant coffee ready to be brewed Turkish style then they are a poor host indeed.  
            Lastly, both of those points underscore the importance of relationships here in Macedonia.  Family dictates everything, then the people that live around you and finally the people you encounter during your daily activities.  Those relationships are maintained and strengthened because of the "na gosti's", the bond they reenforce and the fact you should always expect someone to want to see you.

            Ok, now it's time for the pictures:
This is my breakfast every morning, eggs, toasted bread with cheese inside it, milk and coffee.

Some Macedonian vegetable names for you.
Macedonian fruits. Remember that the grapes make the vino and rakia.
Yes, this is a fig I saw walking home from class.
It was delicious.  
            Something that's special here is that people have fig, apple, pear, chestnut trees in their yards.  They also have gardens for tomatoes, beans etc.  My family and their neighbors have been growing their food for years and trust me you can taste the quality.  I know back home it's a growing trend to be green and have a garden.  But here, similar to most rural areas in the US, it's a way of life.  

I've named this guy Hades because he crows all the time.
Oh yeah that's a pomegranate. 
My host mother is a gracious cook and is constantly trying to make my belly very large.  
Now these are peppers.  They've been peeled and scooped out so they can be ground up to make Ajvar.  
Our neighbor came to help grind the skins. 
Yup it turned into a fun Saturday night "na gosti".
You then take the ground up peppers, add some oil,  salt, put it on a hot fire and then stir for a couple hours.  
            As you can see Avjar is a pepper paste that's put on everything at any time.  It's canned and kept for the winter.  It's delicious too, it truly is.  To finish, this post won't be the last one for food.  I'll have some more as time goes by.
           However, the big news for me is that tomorrow we'll find out where our site placement is.  That means I'll know where I'll be living for the rest of my Peace Corps service.  I'm excited and I'll share that with you this week. 

Friday, October 3, 2014

Oh, That New Car Smell!

           You know what I'm talking about.  That smell your new car has when you first get it.  All it does is bring out your inner 16 year old enthusiasm to start driving it.  Fortunately, when you first get to it no one catches you checking yourself out in the gleaming paint.  As you slowly stroke your fingers over the paint to the door handle, you gently pull the heavy door open and that smell wafts over your nose and brings a soft smile to your face.
            You slowly slide into your seat before your enthusiasm overtakes you because you finally have what you've been working so hard to own.  Adjusting your seat you think, "Wait a second in my old car that button didn't move the steering wheel."  You continue to fiddle with the new dials, the radio settings and side mirrors before pulling out the driveway confident you're ready for the road. However, everything is off kilter.  The car doesn't handle like your old one, it's quieter, the road feels different and it's much faster than you're used to. 
            This is how I feel about living here in Macedonia and learning the language.  Except the steering wheel is positioned where the passenger seat would be.  I've never experienced Cyrillic so this immersion has been intense.  This is why I was fooled into thinking Macedonia looks like Europe.  It might use the same structure aesthetically as Europe, like the car, but once inside everything isn't where it should be.  Also the instructions aren't clear, they're handwritten and faded.  
            I'm still sitting in my new car, enjoying the smell and figuring out how everything works.  I'm especially curious why the radio only plays 80's remixes. It's a process but I loving the challenge and I'm happy being here learning to read these strange instructions.  

Here are some of the classic cars I've seen around town:

Graham this one's for you. I have no idea what it is.

It's the Macedonian version of the Jeep Cherokee.