Monday, February 27, 2012

Emerging and Developing

Jori's kitchen sink, a moment of water

I have chosen this moment in time, way past my bedtime, to write, let's call it motivation and move away from insanity and regret.

Over the past two weeks I have been fleetingly thinking of the term "third world country". Is it still a relevant word? Does Macedonia really fit into that category and if not where does it go? I decided tonight to do some preliminary research. According to the dreaded research agent, Wikipedia, Macedonia is an Emerging and Developing Country, check the IMF for more information. In another place on Wikipedia, I did a quick average of Macedonia from three different tables and it comes out as number 117 of 196 countries in the world. So there's your information for the night. I feel slightly more informed.

My motivation for such thoughts was spurred on by the recent lack of water that has been occurring in the city. It first started due to extreme cold weather and pipes freezing, but long after that could no longer be the reason, water was still not restored to some parts of town and for a day the whole city was without water. Yes, there are other countries that function without consistent or limited water, but what I think makes it difficult for an emerging country is that time in between. Certain public services are offered and the community begins to build infrastructure based on the provision of those services, but then factor in the fact that those services can be inconsistent and so the infrastructure that was developed based on those services leaves the community vulnerable in a way that they were not before. According to various sources the water outage is due to either someone not paying the right bill or political posturing or both. Who knows, but the fact is life can be difficult without water, even for a day.

Though the weather has warmed significantly, February was mostly a month of snow. I am extremely thankful that most of it has melted by now.

during this time I moved into the kitchen which is
warmer and smaller, making it easier to heat

Some things I read today:
One story of those aging in the prison system
Scheming in unlikely places

Something I watched:
Award craziness

What I listened to:
Andrew Bird, 2012

My favorite line that jumped out at me, “You would go mistaking the clouds for the mountains". To me this says, people often turn things into bigger problems than they really are and sometimes you cannot see that until it passes. You look back and say to yourself, it wasn't really as bad as I made it out to be. Bird makes a good album, he diversified his sound. Take a listen.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

меша: mix

mixing, Macedonian pancakes, which is what the French call crepes

My mom has encouraged me to write here more frequently without feeling I have to write a whole lot. I think I will attempt to intersperse longer thought-out stories and shorter drops-ins, where I just mention what I am doing at the moment - to mix things up. Right now it's late morning and there is yet another dusting of snow, making it almost two weeks of constant snow cover and temperatures in the negative Celsius here, while all you Staters that I know are running around with limited clothing.

I am not at the "office" because I am working on a fact sheet for the Federation of Russia for a project here called Model UN that I am helping to facilitate here in Kumanovo and eventually this Spring throughout the whole of Macedonia. I'll head into work later where we are beginning to work on our own little grant.

my street with snow
my host brother's five year old birthday party

Feel free to give Sharon Van Etten a listen...I just did

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Chocolate Cake

this is a fish, not chocolate cake

I know, this is a picture of a fish, but before I get to him I want to tell a short story about chocolate cake and Macedonian hospitality.

In this country, treating your guest with the utmost care is priority number one and I was reminded of this fact over the weekend. I was a guest in someones home, actually for two days, and was treated like royalty. Macedonians will continually offer you food and what ever you may desire to drink, coffee being it's own event and separate from other forms of refreshment. The first night of my stay I was hit with an extreme desire for chocolate cake at about 11:45 at night and after interrogating my host I was devastated to find out that there were no cake facilities open at tha
t hour. As the evening past the thought of cake left my mind and was no where to been seen the next morning. Continuing with Macedonian customs, I was required to stay until I ate with my hosts since they woke early to prepare a meal for their visitors. After lunching on пастрмајлија, for the first time, the hostess brought out none other but large pieces of chocolate cake, made just for me because of a craving that I had at midnight! I am pretty sure that most homes in America would not go this far, would not offer whatever whim their guest may entertain, even when the guest was not completely serious. I am still learning to watch what I say around Macedonians because ultimately I'll get what I ask for, though I am told this is what makes Macedonian females happy, to please their guests, it still makes me feel some what guilty the length that a hostess will go to for their guests.

Fish Heads

Last week was a cooking adventure for me. Not only was I cooking something new, but I also had to purchase my unusual, to me, food item in Macedonian. The trick is to make sure you get what you want and get good quality. I cooked fish, whole fish - guts, heads, scales and tails. I had already been directed to a quality place to purchase said fish, but when Thursday came around I was worried that I would not achieve my goal due to language barriers. I took a deep breath and pushed the door open. Of course the lady behind the counter asked what she could help me with and I began to stumble through telling her I need fish, that I could cook in a pan. I think she started to move to the live ones and I shook my head no and pointed to the counter, to the pile that had already passed on to the other side. I knew I needed to be friendly, so I began to engage in small talk, I was an American, volunteering here and living nearby for the next two years. That seemed to impress her and she smiled as we exchanged names. She pointed to the fish she thought would be the best and I told her to give me a kilo. As she was weighing them out she asked if I wanted her to cook them. I told her no proudly that I was going to cook them. She eyed me with slight concern but I ignored her. Then she asked if I knew how to clean them, and I faltered for a second before I said yes. I mean I wanted to do all parts on my own, even if I've never cleaned a fish before. She eyed me again, skeptical that I could perform such a task, and she asked if she could show me how to do it, just in case, so I obliged. I am so thankful that I agreed to such a thing because as I watched I realized she was a professional and I was not. After the first one I asked her if she could clean all the others for me and she smiled as she got to work.

The rest of the adventure went without a hitch. I cooked all four fish in my pan after coating them with flour and salting and peppering the inside cavity and stuff it with lemons. They cooked perfectly and quickly and tasted wonderful. Here in Macedonia if you want fish you'll be eating a whole fish with a little face that will watch you the whole time and a skeleton of bones to maneuver around. When I tell people that in America fish is served without bones they look at me like I am crazy, which they should, right? Fish has bones, who on earth would do the work to take the bones out ahead of time?

the aftermath