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. 

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