Thursday, March 26, 2015

Six Months Already? Looking Back To Move Forward

          It's been six months since I joined the Peace Corps and the time has both flown by and crawled on.  Here are some internal and external observations I've made and things that I miss.
        First and foremost, I was prepared to start my Peace Corps journey I just didn't expect it to happen here in Macedonia.  I'm not the only person that was planning on serving in another country only to be reassigned.  Several of us were moved from Azerbaijan, the Ukraine and Sierra Leone. We each were a bit restless, excited and relieved to start Peace Corps Macedonia. I know that it took me all of PST to settle in but it wasn't until I moved to my site that I began to relax.  Within the past couple of months I've truly started to feel at home.
          Next, I was prepared to live and teach abroad again but I was unprepared for the Peace Corps.  Strange as that sounds but I never thought about the training classes, the intensive language classes and the wildly different types of people I'd encounter.  For some reason I just assumed it'd be similar to Korea.  I'd show up, train a little, start working and learn the language at my pace.  That was my mistake because I assumed my current experience would be the same as a previous one. 
          Third, Macedonia is a fascinating place to be.  The language is challenging to speak but easier to read. There's thousands upon thousands of years of history but the current culture and ruralness of Macedonia is very similar to Appalachia. Personally, I love that I can live and work in my village but am still able to get the city life in Ohrid. I've met some great people here in Ohrid and that's really helped me settle in.  I'm also starting to gel with my coworkers and that has helped as well.  However, I do go to Skopje when I desperately need to feel the pulse and vitality of a big city.  Lastly, I can't wait until this summer to travel around the Balkans, Greece and beyond. 
        One big way that my life has changed is that my entire schedule revolves around a semi-consistent bus schedule.  It's at times incredibly frustrating but it's also cheap.  Fortunately, thanks to my counterpart, she's let me borrow an old bike that I use to commute to work or Ohrid, which is fantastic to have, but if it rains I'm back on the bus.  
          Finally, my host family and counterpart are phenomenal. Full Stop.

          Now for the things that I miss:  
Mexican Food
The Kangaroos
Peanut Butter M & M's. 

         Here are some things that I don't miss:

I don't miss walking into a bar, restaurant or coffee shop and seeing a TV in each corner and over the bar. If there is a TV then it's either on a sports game or just playing music. There's no "Sportscenter" here and its refreshing to consistently watch a real game instead of seeing bobbleheaded pundits 24/7.  

I don't miss wifi being in every single store in the country.  We PCV's don't have a nationwide data plan so when we hang out together we actually talk to one another instead of competing for their attention from a phone like you might back home. (Doesn't mean a proper pub, or house, won't have wifi, they do, but not all of them).

I don't miss people complaining nonstop about their meal. If you don't like what you ordered here we eat it anyways, it's part of the cultural experience. 

          Now, check out all the pictures from the past couple months: 

This is Ohrid without tourists during a cold sunset.

A fellow PCV, Sarah, and I were taken to this hidden "hollar", or Logan in Scottish, behind her village by her tutor Marina.  Marina is also an archaeologist who has helped excavate most of the churches and sites around Ohrid.

Here the little ones are ordering in a "restaurant".

They also made their own menus.
A couple of weeks ago a window was busted out by one of the kids. No one knows who and nothing can be done since we don't have cameras at either school I work at. 

About once a month or so there's a big play or reading for the kids to show off.

This is at the Macedonian culture and history museum in Bitola. The curator gave us a private tour since he knows another volunteer. 
Some very cool figurines.
Check out these Bronze Age swords and knives.

Yup, evidently back in the day Lions lived in the Balkans. 

Ana, Helen and I are doing our best Macedonia poses since we were sitting in original 19th Century furniture.

Some original instruments. 

Afterwards, we attended the host family recruitment session to share our experiences with Macedonian families for Macedonians that were interested in hosting future PCV's. 

Again, more school plays.
We got together for a Prilep TMNT Pizza party.

Why mow your lawn when the village sheep can do it for you.

New look for Spring.

No dryer, no problem. 

Sunday morning breakfast.

I'll be doing this during the Summer.

Mmmmm fried food.

One of the parents brought his welding helmet so the kids could look at the partial eclipse from last Friday.

Another teacher and I painted the doors for Spring.

Over the weekend I biked to a gem outside of Ohrid, Sv. Stefan. It's a 9th Century Church that's actually in a cave. Here's the view from the bell tower outside the cave that's overlooking the lake. Part of the shoreline you're seeing is in Albania.

The original frescos. 

A true skylight window.

A classic Cutlass. Graham what's the model here?

          There are a lot of things happening in the next couple of months including a school community soccer tournament, Spring and Summer festivals, more biking, hiking and playing basketball/soccer, our In-Service Training week and warmer weather.  I'll be telling you about it but for now enjoy the weekend! Cao. 

Saturday, March 7, 2015

How A Pig Feeds A Village

          One of the best things about living with a host family is experiencing all of their customs and rhythms of life.  One of the things they proudly do is raise their own livestock. Now, if you have an objection to raising and eating animals, humanely, then respect that this is for survival not profit. Furthermore, if you do not enjoy the sight of blood then don't continue reading. 
         Moving on, the relationship of growing food, raising livestock for your dinner table is direct here. In addition to the pigs and rabbits my family raises, they also have a three to four acre garden filled with peppers, corn, beans, potatoes, some apple trees and a vineyard.  They're not unusual as nearly all Macedonian's have a garden of some kind in their yard.  It's as quintessential to their life as a well manicured lawn is to ours. 
          When I first saw the pigs and rabbits I immediately noticed the size of them.  Both pigs easily weighed 200lbs, 100 kilos, and the rabbits are gigantic.  However, they've never been pumped full of hormones or steroids unlike our packaged beef, but not pork, back home. They've just been well cared for and live in warm, clean stalls. 
          The Sunday prior to Valentine's Day was the day to butcher the pig. I made sure to watch Goce kill the pig and see if it was humane. I also decided that if I was to eat it at the dinner table with them then I was going to see the entire process. Now, it wasn't a long process but I didn't help cut the meat. Not because I didn't want to but it was too important to let me cut and possibly damage the meat.  So I asked questions and moved things around when needed. 
Petar loves trucks and tractors.

This is the "air pistol" Goce made specifically for the animals. It's only effective within 4in. 
The pig was alive only 10 seconds prior to this. After Goce shot it, Daniella's dad, slit it's throat to bleed it out.  It was efficient and humane. It's something I won't forget either.
Taking it to the house.
Here, they're cutting the skin off.
This was the first time Lisa had seen this too.
Goce got the fire red hot so we could use the coals for bbq. 
As you can see nothing was wasted.
This isn't even half of what was put in the freezer.
You can't make a Macedonian smile for a camera but trust me they were happy.
Alright, alright, alright I got a smile!
          Several times, Goce and Daniella told me separately how they only used the best feed for the pigs, that they raised them properly and that the animals were completely natural.  You could feel their pride at knowing the quality of the meat and that it would help keep them, and me, alive for the next year. I could truly taste why they were so proud of it. 
          The following weekend we went to the large Valentines Day/St. Trifun's Day celebration.  I later found out that the slava was actually hosted by Goce and Daniella since St. Trifun's Day is their nameday.  So the pig they raised wasn't just for the family it was for 300 other people too.  That's how important one animal is to my family and the village.