Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Travels thus far

my first ever basketball game happens to have been Macedonian

Per-Service Training will be coming to an end in two weeks and after swearing in I will be an official Peace Corps volunteer, ready to live and work in Macedonia for two years. Recently I have had time to visit my workplace and get to know my fellow colleagues. One of them happens to date a Macedonian basketball player, so lo and behold I went to my first ever basketball game which happened to be quite a rowdy affair! I believe there will be more games in my future. Also, I got to tour my apartment and it is quite large for one person, which will be great for visits from other volunteers and Americans from afar.

During training we are allowed to take day and night trips during certain weekends and I have taken advantage of the freedom to travel around the country. I have been to Kratavo, Kriva Palanka, and Skopje.

My first excursion was a day trip to Kratovo which happens to be another volunteer training community. After a coffee break, there was a visit to the Rock Art Centre to see local, handmade crafts and pick up some postcards. To our surprise we were soon invited to drink coffee and eat слатко while learning a bit more about the shop. And before you knew it we were being led on a tour of Kratovo, all in Macedonian. Most of the tour was lost on me but I made sure I was encouraging by sending our wonderful tour guide positive reinforcement. He took us to an old house and a museum, offered us a shot of ракија, and also took us by a friend's house for coffee. This has been one of the many wonderful, hospitable experiences I have had while I have been in this country. Our tour guide also took us into the local church for a look around and of course the place was beautiful. The day was finished up with a bite at a local restaurant and a hike to see the town from afar.

scenes from Kratovo

I also have spent an afternoon in Скопје with the rest of the volunteers for Field Day, a volunteer sponsored event where we get to know each other and eat food. After the scheduled event we were allowed to walk and explore the city. There is a lot of ancient structures and also newer monuments. You can easily just walk around and look at stuff and not even actually go into a museum, though I do plan on doing that another day. The area I enjoyed the most was the old city, which is beautiful, with cobbled streets and buildings close together and walkways that twist and turn. Skopje is also the location of Mother Teresa's brithhome. I need to actually go into the museum when it's open. My host father made it very clear that I must get a picture in front of the new and very large state of Alexander the Great.

from Skopje - bridge, park, me with Alexander

Mother Teresa's House, bathhouse, Old City, sunset

My most recent adventure was a visit to Крива Паланка to see the city, but more specifically to view the monastery of Saint Joachim Osogovski. It was a perfect day and so the walk out of town and up the hill to the attraction hardly seemed like work. Everything about this place is beautiful - the architecture, landscape, and the frescoes. At the end of the day, it was peaceful just to sit in the cafe, overlooking the valley, and feel the sun warm my face as we ate lunch.

Kriva Palanka - Saint Osogovski

This coming weekend I hope to visit one of the many wineries, if the weather holds out. I have been excited to seize every opportunity I can to see other cities in this country. The only difficulty is that I still lack the language to fully understand everything about where I am going or to ask questions about what I see. Maybe there will be time one day to go back to these places and learn more about what makes them special.

Skopje at night

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Medley of thoughts


There are some things I will never learn, like how to properly operate a computer. I had typed about two paragraphs for this entry the day before and due to my ineptness those words are lost forever. And so I move on.

This week my peers are finding out their site assignments, which in Peace Corps lingo means that their communities and their workplaces for the next two years are being revealed to them. I have known where I will be living and working since the first week that I was in Macedonia. I am fortunate enough to be living only 10 minutes from where I am currently in training. So, at the end of November I will move to Kumanovo for two years. I am super excited to know that I will not be far from my host family and that I will have an opportunity to go back and visit them often.

Kumanovo is the third largest city in Macedonia and the largest municipality in the country. I will be about thirty minutes away from the capital in the northeastern part of the country. A fellow volunteer from my training community will also be moving into the city along with me and currently there are already two volunteers serving as English teachers there. Again, I think I lucked out by having a pretty vast (in comparison to others) support system in my community.

While I am living there I will be working for Poraka Nasa – Regional Center for People with Intellectual Disability. Poraka Nasa works toward establishing equal treatment for people with intellectual disabilities and their families. The organization achieves this through respecting basic human rights, involvement of individuals in society and everyday activities, promotion of independent living and usage of community services, economic, social and legal protection, and societal integration and inclusion. It always amazes me how this part of my life keeps making a repeat appreance and I continually wonder why I am granted the opportunity to work with individuals with learning disabilities when in fact I have no formal traning but only experiencial training. These next two years will just be another example to me. I am curious to observe the differences between America and Macedonia when it comes perceptions and support of this community of people. Leave a comment for me if there is anything in particular that you would like me to make note of.

Random thought, which I brought up to my peers today when we were working on our group practicum project, I have always been courious as to why certain songs and then certain types of songs appel to people. What makes a pop song a pop song, what element about it is found appealing to a large mass of people? Is it the beat, melody, lyrics? Is if different for different songs? Whole genres? For me some times it’s the lyrics and sometimes it is the beat, or even the transition in a song. For pop songs I generally prefer the melody and not the lyrics. What do you think? When we talked about it we discussed the role of personal environment and also up bringing that can effect preferences in musical taste. I often think about this topic and was reminded of the universal nature of music when me and my host brother (4 year old and Macedonian) started moving to the same song at the same moment in the same way without looking at each other or talking about it at all. When I happened to glance over at him we smiled at eachother, as if to say, yes I love this part too.

Random quotes from email and readings:

“Only by knowing ourselves can we truly understand others – and knowing from where you come is an important part of knowing who you are.”

“You should focus on being more interested than interesting.”

The Blue Sweater ~ Jacqueline Novogratz

A Chickpea Leaps

A chickpea leaps almost over the rim of the pot
where it's being boiled.

"Why are you doing this to me?"

The cook knocks it down with the ladle.

"Don't you try to jump out.
You think I'm torturing you,
I'm giving you flavor,
so you can mix with spices and rice
and be the lovely vitality of a human being.

Remember when you drank rain in the garden.
That was for this."

Grace first. Sexual pleasure,
then a boiling new life begins,
and the Friend has something good to eat.

Jalal al-Din Rumi

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Busy bee

I am a week away from a full month of being in Macedonia and boy has it felt longer. Next week we are planning on celebrating by having a small cookout, while we still can, before the cold weather sets in for the long haul.

Oh, by the way, let me know (aka email me) if you ever want to Skype. I’ve been able to touch base with a few people this week and it is a great thing for me. It reminds me that America is still there and makes me feel that I am just away for a little while. It helps to be able to talk to someone as if really no time has passed since I last talked to that individual. Let’s keep that rolling.

This week I feel like I am finally hitting some sort of schedule for myself, which helps me to feel grounded and makes it easier for me to focus on the tasks at hand, which really is learning the language and spending time with my family. So, I have been waking in the morning and running for various lengths of time with a longer run, about an hour, happening on Saturday or Sunday. Then it's time for class and after that home for lunch.

I normally eat what I consider breakfast and lunch alone. I am pretty sure my host parents do not eat breakfast during the week and the kids eat something in the morning after I have left for class. Lunch for me is around 12:30pm. The family does not eat at that time because the main meal in Macedonian houses does not happen till 4pm and I usually cannot wait that long. So I try to eat just a little around noon and then eat again around 4pm, though today it wasn’t until 4:50pm. Then a smaller amount of food - tomatoes, cucumbers, cheese - comes out around 8pm or so for people to munch on as they please, but I try not to eat that late.

We eat a lot of tomatoes and cucumbers and peppers. I never realized that one group of people could consume as many peppers as Macedonians do. But on the flip side, most all of the food I consume is grown on the land around the house or the farm plots near my host mother’s mom’s house, around the corner. So far I have helped the family pick grapes, apples, and peppers and have helped to make ajvar, a pepper spread that can sometimes have eggplant in it too. For the most part all the food has been good; I think I have only passed on one meal.

So, after the main meal we often go over to the host mother’s mom’s house or someone from the family may come here (like her sister, husband and the cousins). This is called на гости and really it’s just the act of going and visiting people. This is something I have always felt uncomfortable doing back home, just going to someone’s house to sit around and talk, and really to talk about nothing much all. It would always make me apprehensive cause I would think about all the other things I should or could be doing at the time, instead of just sitting around and talking. I am starting to get a little more accustomed to the practice now, though it is difficult not really being able to fully engage in the conversation, but each time there are more and more words I can pick out. Oh and an important part of these visits is having coffee, the female host always makes the coffee and serves everyone. Soda and rakija, locally brewed whiskey, is also an option, though the men are really the ones who do most of the drinking of alcohol.

Something that I really need to try to do is spend regular time with one of the Albanian families (while I still can) and listen and try to speak the language with them. The house I am in now speaks Macedonian and so I really only hear Albanian in class. So that’s a goal for the next week. This weekend is more Community Development training and the chance to see other training communities. I’m excited about getting to see more parts of the country.

Update: I went with Enid to her house today to hear Albanian in action. Though most of what I heard was way over my head, it was good just to practice hello and good-bye and say "mire" a lot. The golden moment of the visit was when he walked us over to the bee hives and pulled out a frame from the hive and gave us fresh honey from the comb. Shume mire!

making ajvar

Enid and host dad
the comb

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Fruit of Life

going to pick grapes

Tomorrow will be my 29th birthday and for a moment in time I wanted to be 28 for another year, stalling the aging process, but really there is no point in even thinking such things.

Today after school I went with my Мика to pick grapes for вино at баба's house. Most of the work was done by the time I got there, late in the afternoon. While we were working I was trying to think about whether I preferred planting or harvesting. What I concluded is that I enjoy both aspects of farming, planting because it means new beginnings, and harvesting because you are rewarded with the fruits of your labors.

Tomorrow is a HUB day in Peace Corps lingo, which mean all thirty-six of us gather from our four language communities and have a full day of workshops. We will be in Kumanovo again, where orientation week took place. I am hoping some people can hang around afterwards and celebrate with me.


first birthday gift, socks from баба
because my feet were cold

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

In a family way

view of side yard from house

I have been in Macedonia for a total of two weeks, yet it already feels as though months have passed. My days are filled to the brim with new experiences and a vast amount of information, making my days feel as though they transcend the standard twenty-four hour period. In order to remember all that has occurred I am looking back through my journal, notes pecked out on my phone, and pictures that are now on my hard drive.

Right now I am in the community called Romanovce, it is five kilometers from Kumanovo, where I spent my first week during orientation. I am living with a family of four, Aco and Biljana are my host parents and Eleonora (8) and Leonid (4) are my host sister and brother. The town is a mixed ethnic, rural community, meaning there are Macedonians and Albanians that coexsist harmoniously in the town. Romanovce is rural in the fact that there is one main paved road through town and three or four paved roads off that which lead to dirt driveways of the houses within the community. Every household has some combination of chickens, pigs, cows, and goats. And everyone has at least one guard dog that springs into barking action if you cross onto the property.

Romanovce has a primary school, two corner shops, and a café where we get coffee during our breaks in our language lessons. I have language class Monday through Friday from eight in the morning till noon. Albanian lessons are Monday and Tuesday and Macedonian is on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.

Looking back I remember how funny and embarrassing it was trying to help my host father get my two huge suitcases in their car and how my host mom sat squished in the back next to all my stuff. Fortunately we made it safely to the house, but I vowed to myself to try to downsize my belongings, at least by the time I am ready to head back to the US.

I am so thankful for my host family. They are funny and loving, taking me in as if I was truly one of their own. Many nights are spent at the dining room table, where I am working on my Macedonian homework, Eleonora is practicing her English, and Aco is tending to the work he’s brought home. My host mom has tried to feed me either ice cream or chocolate every day since I’ve been here. She has also let me make her coffee, my-style, in the French press I brought from the States. My first weekend in Romanovce was spent with aunts, uncles, and cousins over at our house and then again at the maternal grandmother’s house on Saturday.

I am blessed to feel as comfortable as I do with my family. They have made me feel as though I am truly an older sister. I tease and play with the kids and the babas pinch my cheeks. My host mom is wonderful about making sure I feel included and taking me along to all the various activities. I hope to learn as much as I can about the culture and language from my host family.

host father attempting to put my bags in the car

going to grandmother's house

Sunday, September 11, 2011


The time has come, I am in Macedonia, me and all the stuff I have packed. It's great so far. I have been able to rest this afternoon and got in a two hour nap. Tomorrow we get started right off the bat with language lessons and safety information. I have already pulled together a group of people for a quick run in the morning, mission accomplished. Above is a picture of the brand new airport that just opened a few days ago.

When we arrived we were told that we are part of a very important time: It's the 50th anniversary for the Peace Corps, the 15th anniversary of PC in Macedonia, and the 20th anniversary of Macedonia's independence. So lots of reasons to celebrate this year.

I remember some one asking me what side of the road people drive on. Well, inquiring minds can rest easy, it's the same side as America.

Since I've been here we've basically just ate lunch and then dinner, they had a time where we could ask current two year volunteers any questions that were on our minds and now some people have waked into town, others (like me) are online, and there is a group outside in one of the cabanas playing cards.

Well, that's all the info I can squeeze out of my brain for the time being.

I love and miss you all so much!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Refections and absorption

two loves i made last month

Yesterday I began reading blogs, facebook, google searches, and my Peace Corps material (again) in order to learn more about Macedonia, my future home for twenty-seven months. Let me state for the record, along with everyone else who lays claim to the same statement, the country is gorgeous! I am excited just to see the landscape, but the people are suppose to be so giving as well.

I feel as if I could read endless amounts of information on all things Macedonia, the Balkans, and Peace Corps. Here are some of the sites I have been visiting: Candy's Blog, a current volunteer, Lew, who will be part of my team, the Facebook Page that Lew set up for our group, the Peace Corps Journal Facebook Page, and the Peace Corps Wiki. I am going to do my best to bounce around all these sites and glean as much info as possible. There is a ton though, and I must say it wears me out. I am also referencing the Welcome Book and have begun making a master packing list, making sure to mark if the item still needs to be procured. Feel free to read any of these and send me your notes! This will save me time and sanity ;-) I have also reserved three books off the Peace Corps reading list for Macedonia. I hope these are a better read than the first book I tired and then failed to read.


The thing I love about summer, well my last two summers (I'm including this one), is the freedom to do what I want when I want, like bake bread. I find that even though I have no "schedule" I some how manage to fill my time, especially with the things I enjoy. I have been in the kitchen more which has resulted in bread, hummus, pizza, and quinoa and chickpea dishes. My mom recently reminded me of the fact that I just part of the tradition of sharing meals with the people I lived with and was curious if I was doing anything like that now. The answer was no, but as of Sunday that will change. Though the eight or so girls that I will be eating with once a week do not all live with me, they live near-by and I see them all at least once a week. Each week a different person will cook and play host and I am glad to be incorporating shared meals back in my weekly rotation.

I also broke down and re-joined the YMCA, I needed an exercise option that provided more than just running, mainly I signed up to have access to yoga classes, but I also need a place I can go to whenever there is down time, where I can get in some extra work (out of the heat too). I am so glad to be doing yoga on a regular basis, I've already gone three times this week. It's good for my soul and keeps me energized when tackling my to-do list. Oh and I almost forgot! They have a pool and so I'm back to swimming laps, get this, in a real lap pool! I have missed this so much and prefer a pool to the endless pool machine at Rutgers. So, joining the Y equals a happy Mary.


Other than that my life has been fine, though I feel like all my friends are in the midst of hard situations, some circumstances are just the result of the way of life and some are self-inflicted. I have been struggling with what one does when situations are out of your control (aren't they all?) and all I can do is offer them up to God. Especially the ones that are self-inflicted, no amount of acting as a bystander or yelling will actually get someone to change their negative position. All I can do is continue to be there and occasionally try to offer a voice of reason. I must say, I've been in that same spot so many times myself and in the midst you do not want to listen to any one, even when you know they are right. One day, though, when all energy is gone, that still small, constant voice will breakthrough and shine the light of redemption and maybe, just maybe a part of that voice will have been yours.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Wash me clean, inside and out

Girl Talk

A light afternoon shower is falling over Nashville today, thwarting my plans to wash the dust of Bonnaroo from my car. So, instead I am taking the time to update the blog, over pizza and a latte.

I got back in Nashville yesterday afternoon after spending six days in Manchester, TN at Bonnaroo, an outdoor music and arts festival attended by 85,000 people. This event is typically viewed as primarily a hippie event with lots of drugs involved. Though the line-up continues to become more diversified every year (and this year was the 10th anniversary).

This was my fourth Roo ('05, '06, '07 and '11) and just as fabulous as all the former ones I attended. I got to see Kopecky Family Band, Best Coast, The Drums, Sleigh Bells, Matt & Kim, Ray Lamontagne, Florence + The Machine, My Morning Jacket, Arcade Fire, The Low Anthem, The Black Keys, Girl Talk, The Head and The Heart, Amos Lee, Cold War Kids, Robyn, and Beirut.

My highlights were seeing My Morning Jacket and the Black Keys from the first row, dancing till 4am at Girl Talk and finishing out the weekend hearing Beirut for the first time. I was surprised to hear that Eminem put on a good show and was many people's favorite. Of course I was sad to miss Mumford and Sons, but since I work at the festival, which enables me to get paid to be at Bonnaroo, some sacrifices have to be made.

As always, Bonnaroo is as much as going to see good music as it is building community with other festival-goers. A memory I will always carry with me from this year's event is from Sunday morning, when all ten paid staff and volunteers for my Pod were just sitting and laying around in the grass talking and laughing together. No one was running off to see a show and even though only two of us were "on the clock" at the time we all were taking turns helping patrons with any questions that needed answers. I love how Bonnaroo brings strangers together and builds a sense of family between individuals. I think I value that magic more than the music.

I think I've almost washed all the glitter from my hair and body, my car is unpacked, and the majority of my laundry is done. I'm glad to be back to sleeping in a bed and having access to running water, but I will also be looking forward to the next time I can make it to the Roo.

For a few more pictures take a look at my flickr.