Saturday, May 30, 2015

"Matura": High School Graduation

          This past weekend I was able to be a part of not one but two "maturas".  A matura is the celebration a parent has when their child graduates from high school.  It's a big deal here and is rewarded with a big celebration.  So before I show you all of the pictures and videos allow me to set the scene.  
           Here in Macedonia, and as far as I know the Balkans, most celebrations are slavas.  A slava has a large, long dinner table with the food already placed on it.   You say hello to the hosts, give them your gift sit down and they take your drink order. It's very similar to how we do things.  However, after you sit you don't get back up for a long, long time. You toast one another many times, you talk and you eat. At a slava you don't dance but since I was at a matura we danced until the floor was smoking from the hot dance moves. It was a lot of fun.

The woman standing is Ane and her son. 

Let the toast's begin!

Oh yeah there was a band.

Ane was very excited her son finally graduated!

I love the stone work with the wooden ship.

Before we even started eating we were already singing and dancing.

The woman in red is the school's director.

Quite the spread, hu.

Oro time.

Julia can oro with the best of them.

All the staff.

Milena, Beti, Ane and Bilana, the four pillars of my Lakocerej school.


One of many posed pictures.

Who knew a white button up came in so many different shades?
          Click here to watch everyone sing and then dance in the middle of the restaurant. 

More dancing. 

Dancing on tables.

I left "early" at midnight but the party continued for hours.

          By midnight I was completely exhausted. On my bike ride home I thought about why I was so mentally and physically drained. I enjoyed chatting with my coworkers, had a double espresso to keep me wired and ate very slowly but I couldn't figure it out. As I was gliding along the road, soaking in the view of the Moon rising over the mountains. I felt calmed by it's familiarity and that's when it hit me.
          Where was the speech, the thank you's for coming, the proud parents beaming at the head of the table and showing off their kid?  The pattern I'm accumsted to, a speech given by the host, the dinner courses being swapped out never happened. It was one long unbroken sequence of events.
          It was then that I realized that the celebration, slavas too, is about the event itself, not the person the event is in honor of.  That's why instead of speeches, the hosts paid for all of the food and drinks.  That's why they were taking orders, helping serve drinks and making sure you only needed to enjoy their hospitality. 
          So the following night, Sunday, I went to another matura for a different coworker and had a very good time.  Since I finally understood the rhythm of the event I was able to enjoy it and I went home energized not exhausted.

This is Risto and he only speaks Russian to me.

That's Nomche, he's got the sharpest wit of any Macedonian I've met. 

Beti the bartender.

We were in Beti's house so there wasn't a band but that's what YouTube videos are for. 

Храна, храна, храна. (Food, food, food).

Beth's family, her daughter was the one who graduated. 

Following this picture more dancing, singing and dancing happened, it never gets old.
          Lastly, we all had Monday off work as well but it was in celebration of the two priests that invented Cyrillic. More on that in my next post. 

Monday, May 25, 2015

Sv. Spas: When A Village Throws A Party

          This past week we had a special celebration here in Macedonia, St. Spas.  St. Spas is a religious celebration that's village specific.  So for some places it's a big deal and others it isn't. Well in my village it's a very big deal.
          Daniella and I had talked about what it was like so I knew we'd go late, dance, chat, mingle and stay late.  Which is exactly what we did.  I've been thinking of what it felt like and the best I can come up with was that it had the atmosphere of a state fair but the intimacy of a local high school football game.  As you'll see in the pictures and videos, EVERYONE, from my village was there.  It was quite the festival.  

We parked a good .25 mile away and walked up to the church.

I walked in and thought, "Whoa, this is a big deal."

Right when got the there the dancing started. Of course I jumped in.

This is the first time I've seen venders in my village. We don't even have a restaurant or cafe. 
My neighbors.

Yes, that is a water cooler of white wine. Did I mention it was a party?

          The next morning I went back to the church with my coworkers for lunch.  

At noon the Bishop and Mayor lead the procession into and around the church.
There wasn't a sermon just the act of going around the church three times.
It was quite ornate.
The bishops and priests were led by the youth of Lakocerej and followed by the adults.
Now you see why it feels so similar to Appalachia for me.  
This is the most well maintained structure in the entire village. 
Svetan and his sister were shooting bb's. No I didn't tell him he'd shoot his eye out but to not miss.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Affairs of State, Corruption and Protests: The Current Political Situation.

          For the past several months I've been adjusting to my new life here in Macedonia.  I've shown you beautiful landscapes, great food and interesting cultural differences.  Despite that, Macedonians are having a very different experience. 

          Before I list the facts of the current political situation I'm going to explain the emotions here.  Keep in mind that as a Peace Corps Volunteer I'm a-political and this post doesn't reflect the position of the US Government.  For those of you in the UK or South Africa you'll easily relate to the complicated history and emotions of the Balkans but we Americans have a much harder time doing so.  

          So imagine the entire United States is the size of New England.  That's the Balkans and Macedonia is Vermont. Within that area history goes back not 400 years but 4,000 years.  Within the past 1,000 years that same area of New England would be invaded and conquered by the Spanish, (the Byzantines) a little by the Vikings and a lot by the Aztecs, with New York City, Constantinople/Istanbul, as their capital and Mexico City, Mecca, their religious capital. (That's the culturally and religiously distinct Ottoman Empire). Additionally, within New England every state and some city-states would invade, pillage and conquer their neighbors without mercy. (Think Game of Thrones).   Now, within the past hundred years imagine that a stable state was formed following more conquest, that's Yugoslavia. Following it's collapse emotions that our own Civil War released would cause a civil war here but it would be combined with a movement that was the opposite of the Civil Rights Movement and became an ethnic cleansing. (That's the Bosnia Serb-Muslim war of the 1990's).  Lastly, while we were dealing with 9/11 Macedonia was in a ethnic civil-war with in-country Albanians.

          That is a simplified explanation of the very complicated religious, ethnic and political history here.

          Well in Macedonia those emotions have been directed at the government.  The fact is there's been a wire tapping scandal that would dwarf Watergate's and has sparked protests from the opposition party, and university students, for months. Click on the link to read an article by the NY Times. 

          The facts are:
  • The wiretaps have tapped conversations of party members and it's leaders, including the Prime Minister
  • The conversations include nepotism
  • Corruption 
  • Discussions of an attempted cover up due to the murder of a 22 year old by an off-duty police officer in 2011
  • Information on the death of an anti-government journalist
  • Voter fraud against Macedonians and Albanians  
          The government insists that the it hasn't made the alleged recordings because an "intelligence service" of an unnamed foreign government is trying to work with accomplices in the Ministry to topple the government.

          Additionally, you might have heard about a terrorist group that was cracked down on by the government in the northern city of Kumanovo.  It occurred last weekend and ended with several police and special forces members being killed, who were both Macedonian and Albanian.  Sunday and Monday were national days of mourning.

          A final release of information by the opposition will occur tomorrow, a massive but hopefully peaceful protest will occur in the capital and it has no end date.   We PCV's are all safe and I hope that there won't be any escalation, the opposition leader has said the protests will be "Ghandi style", because I want to us to stay here and continue our service.  I'll post an update when it's appropriate.  

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Spring Has Sprung

          It took long enough but Spring finally arrived earlier this month.  It's been a great month to enjoy since we had our technical training in Skopje, our first performance review, lots of outdoor activities and, of course, plenty of gorgeous scenery.  Most importantly, I've been enjoying just being in a regular routine and appreciating the rhythms and quirks of life here.

I've been playing here about once a week. It took me a bit to figure out the "house rules" but it's fun.

The view from the hotel we stayed at during training. 

It felt fantastic lifting proper weights instead of tractors.

We went out for dinner together and I got the chicken kabab. 
This is a very well known Macedonian style restaurant in Skopje.
It's got pictures of Tito everywhere. 

Also, Che, Koco Racin, Churchill, Stalin and Obama.

It was a unique place.

Almir and I enjoyed the food. 
Dorotea enjoyed her nap.
A long winter makes you appreciate Spring that much more.

This man was feeding the ducks and fish.
I finally got to check out my family's bee farm. 

They aren't small bees either.

I kept expecting the bees to go crazy over the weedeater but they never did.

I got in on the action too.

Of course we chilled and enjoyed a coffee.

Soaking it all in.

This class rocks. 

So this couple was trying to get the goose to be in their wedding pictures but he wasn't having it. So I helped coax him with bits of my apple to get back in their shot.

It worked. 

This is the YMLP/GLOW information meeting we had in Ohrid.  Both camps are summer camps that allow all Macedonian high schoolers to apply and then participate.  I'll be a counselor at the men's YMLP camp. We sleep in tents, play games, make fires and have topics on politics, history, leadership, self-growth and development.

It was a big hit and hopefully we'll have a couple of these kids at the camps.

My morning commute always gets me excited for work.

This past weekend was Macedonia's Labor Day and you can't have a proper BBQ without some dessert. So Sarah and I made some cookies/brownies.

She was ready for them.

Goce got the fire going.

Petar and I chilled.

You can't have a bbq without football. Although, I did miss throwing one instead of kicking it.

You remember my PST language teacher, Tome.

Both he and Sarah were impressed with our vicious guard dog, Bruno.

Very vicious. 

This is Lisa and she's a champ at sleeping.

Three kings.

We had a great time together.