Thursday, July 9, 2015

The Family Comes To Macedonia Part I

          So following Language IST the next big event for me was having my family visit. We had this planned six months ago so we were all ready to get together.  Since my brother works in Beijing, he flew in early to Vienna and met my folks there.  They flew together and I met them in Skopje.  Now traveling abroad isn't anything new to them but this was the first time we were on a trip together.  Fortunately, we know how each of us work and do a good job of balancing our different rhythms together.
          Mom wisely rented a car for us to drive in-country and before the long drive to Ohrid we stopped for some Macedonian skara, or barbecue.  It turned out that the drive is only long in a bus, normally it takes three hours, because in the car it took half that time.  That didn't stop Gary and I from catching up while Mom and Landon slept.  Gary loved driving in the mountains but Mom and Landon didn't appreciate being woken up to the Formula 1 driving our Fiat rental struggled to maintain. 
          One of the key points to traveling with your family, or in a group, is to not be rushed. You have to give everyone time to enjoy the journey and be excited for the next destination.  So we went right away to their hotel in the Old Town, which they booked in January, so they could unwind and sleep. Instead, they had their first Macedonian experience because the hotel had lost their reservation since it was booked so far in advance!  Fortunately, the owner quickly apologized and put them in an adjacent hotel that had a better view than the one originally booked.
          I do have to admit that despite my excitement in seeing my family again I wasn't ready for the continuous salvo of Southern American English.  I quickly realized that I was used to speaking Macedonian, or European English, or Macedonian English or American English with people not from the South. Or I was used to not speaking for hours and hours.  So hearing my family speak again was comforting but it took me a day or so to get back to our conversational rhythm and inside jokes. 

The happy couple.
          Next, Landon and I went to have a beer and catch up on missed time. It had been over a year since he'd graduated from UT, traveled around England and Greece and moved to China.  As we shared our stories sitting on the patio, I saw several coworkers and neighbors and after introducing Landon they took one look at him and asked: "Близнаци or twins?"  It wouldn't be the last time someone asked that.

          The following morning we all met up and headed out to the Monastery of Sv. Naum. Having been there last winter I knew they would love it's serenity and location but we all were in awe of it's summer beauty.  To see some historical photos of the monastery click here.
Gary loved Goga Peak. 

Mom and Landon added some color to the scenery.
Landon was helping Gary figuring out the different picture settings.
Sv. Naum. I've learned that when Landon has his camera pointed in your direction to smile. Otherwise you'll look like I do in the following picture when he visited me in Korea.*
Clearly, be on your guard with him around.*
Paying our respects. 
I like how some of the candles melted over the side.
Mom's first words to me were, "I woke up today and realized that I was going to see both of my son's!"
          Sv. Naum is famous not only for it's history and religious importance but also for its peacocks.  There are around a dozen that live in and around the monastery and they were in the mood to show off their colors.

One Macedonian lady was sitting on a bench and another Peacock came right up to her and showed his feathers!
This spring is one of three that supply the waters for Ohrid Lake. It's an iconic setting and is used as a backdrop for music videos, weddings and oar powered boat rides. 
Oh and family photos.
Speaking of wedding pictures a couple had their pictures taken there.
          Since the monastery is less than a mile from the Albanian border everyone wanted to cross over and visit Albania.  I wasn't able to because of Peace Corps rules stemming from the elections Albania was having but everyone going. 

Ohrid Lake from Albania.*

          Afterwards we went back home to clean up and meet my counterpart, Julia, and her daughter, Dorotea, for dinner.  Although my family had just come to Macedonia, Dorotea was getting ready to leave Macedonia to volunteer in Brazil for two months.  As we were sitting in the beautiful setting at Kaneo Beach she told my family of her upcoming trip.  As she explained the process of being accepted, filling out the paperwork, getting the necessary shots and paying the fees she humbly neglected to mention the extraordinary difficulty she had in obtaining everything.  
          For example, when she asked the Brazilian Embassy in Macedonia to file her request for a visa she was denied.  So she had to travel to Sarajevo, Bosnia by bus which is a 16 hour one way trip to have her paperwork completed.  It then took several months for that to be processed. However, the worst part was she had to go to Belgrade, Serbia, another 9 hour one way bus trip, to get her immunization shots because someone within the Ministry of Health had sold all of the shots for their own profit.
          Stories like hers are nothing new here in Macedonia. My former LCF, and current tutor, also has extreme difficulty in obtaining visas to travel for work around the Balkans, Europe and US.  I know that Macedonia is a beautiful place but I wanted her to share her story to my family to emphasize the difficulty she had in earning her volunteer experience abroad.  In comparison, my process to join the Peace Corps was a cake walk. 

          Next, I'll post about how I was the family's tour guide around Old Town and show you a complete panoramic of Ohrid from the top of Samuil's Fortress.

*Photos courtesy of Landon Monday

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