Tuesday, November 29, 2011

It's Amazing What A Little Heat Can Do For A Girl!

Written at 11pm on Monday:

Tonight is a special night in Macedonia. It is the night I have finally have heat! When I came home from school around 2:00, I ran into my policeman neighbour. We talked for awhile, as much as we can talk with only slightly speaking the same language. He once again told me if I have any problems, to go to him. I got his phone number (I figure its always good to have a policeman on speed dial). 

I was sitting here at home freezing cold because all I had was my Peace Corps issued heater. I was huddled wearing about 10 layers- including my fleece, my down jacket and my hat inside my down sleeping bag and I was still freezing. My heater was smelling bad and the smell was giving me a headache. I pulled out the heater my landlord had left in the house and tried that, but it smelled like burning. Here I sat, freezing and sad. My landlord’s friend (on the sheet from Peace Corps it says she is his spouse, but she keeps saying her friend and doesn’t wear a ring) was supposed to stop by tonight to check on me, but hadn’t yet. I figured I could ask her then about the radiators and try to figure out a way to stay warmer. Come 7:30 I was near tears because I was so cold (for your Minnesotans, picture sitting in a fish house without any kind of insulation for hours on end). I thought about something the Country Director had said, the reason people ET is because they don’t ask for help soon enough. Well, Stephen (if you are reading this), I listened to your advice and I asked for help. I texted my kind of landlady/kind of not and in horrible Macedonian said (or tried to say), “I don’t think the heating is working because the house is cold and so am I”. She immediately called me and said she would come over shortly.

When she arrived, she brought a posse with her, a friend (who has come with her almost every time) and my landlord’s nephew. The nephew graduated from the university in electrical engineering, so he was ripping apart the heaters like there was no tomorrow trying to fix them. The Peace Corps one needs a new part and the one the landlord provided works after a lot of tinkering. I asked about the radiators throughout the house and was told they are run through the fire. I asked if it would be possible to buy wood so I could have a fire and they told me Peace Corps said no (previously volunteers in Macedonian were not allowed to have wood burning stoves as a safety precaution, however, after several fires caused by the heaters the policy has changed recently). I tried to explain it was alright for me to have one and after some convincing, my landlady (I am going to call her that for lack of a better term) and her friend rushed outside and came back moments later with their arms full of wood. They had a fire going in no time. They told me that my landlord supplies all the wood for Kamenica, so if I want wood, I will have wood (still trying to figure out if I have to pay for it or whatnot). I was shown how to make it all work and within a matter of an hour or so, my entire house was heating up, even parts I hadn’t planned on heating because the radiators are all connected and I figure if I am building a fire to heat one room, I may as well let it heat the others while it is at it.
While my landlady was tending to the fire (she wouldn’t allow me to help get wood) and the nephew was ripping apart and putting back together heaters, I tried to show my domakinka skills. I offered them coffee or tea, which they declined, but when I pulled out the chocolate chip cookies I had made on Saturday, they were delighted to try to see if I really knew how to bake. Much to their surprise, they loved them and I promised my landlady I would bake them with her sometime so she knows how.

During all of this (they were at my place for 2 ½ hours), the nephew was attempting to do some translating, as he knows some English. Sometimes I wish I could play dumb and not understand when I do, but when it is English being spoken, that isn’t really an option. He asked me how old I was (a typical question) and I told him- he is also 24. When the ladies heard that, they started winking and doing the “We are going to set you two up because you need to marry a good Macedonian man” show and I knew what was coming. He asked me if I would go to coffee with him sometime and, in the off chance that he was just being polite, I said sure. However, to safeguard myself against any unwanted romances, I have decided I suddenly have a boyfriend in the US who I care deeply about and will marry when I return. Or at least that is the story I am going to portray. I figure this is a good solution, because it keeps potential suitors/green card seekers at bay, but if I decide in the next two years someone here sparks my interest, said boyfriend can magically disappear because the distance was too much.

Long story short, I am a much happier person now that I have warmth. I still plan on asking for more long underwear and wool socks to be sent, but I no longer worry about Peace Corps calling my parents to say they are sorry but I was frozen alive.

Other: Today was my first day at school. I will write more about that later because this post is long enough already, but I am super excited to start Adult English Classes tomorrow night. They are already running so when I was asked if I would help, I jumped on that offer. Since then, I have had three people ask me if I will teach them, so depending on how class goes tomorrow night, maybe I will spend many nights teaching Adult English. Lastly, I have a lead on how to get internet. Kamenica is trying to provide free wireless to all residents, however, I kinda live in the boonies of Kamenica, so the signal doesn’t reach me. Because of this, I have been struggling to find any information about how much internet will cost/what company to use/etc. But tonight, I made contact and my goal is to, by the end of the week, at least have talked to the company and have it figure out when I will get internet.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving America!

The Ladies of Lozovo: Julie was practicing her Macedonian smile!
Team Dushko: Claire, Me, Kenzie, Shannon, and Morgan
While all of you back in America are watching the Macy's parade, eating your turkey, watching football, and socializing with family and friends, Peace Corps Volunteers around the world are celebrating the day a little different. Here in Macedonian, 36 of us were sworn in as official Peace Corps Volunteers today by the U.S. Ambassador.
I,____________(name) do solemly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America against all enemies, domestic or foreign, that I take this obligation freely. And without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion. And that I will well and faithfully discharge my duties in the Peace Corps, so help me God.
The Swearing-In ceremony was great. A traditional Macedonian folk group played, sang, and dance. We had speeches from the Ambassador, the Country Director, the PST Director, a Representative of the Macedonian President's Cabinet, the Minister of Education and Science, and two of our own, Paul and Carly. They did a wonderful job with their dual Macedonian and Albanian speech.
Thanksgiving Buffet: It looks tame in the picture, but believe me, it was a unique experience!
After the ceremony, we had a feast. Peace Corps flew in turkeys from America for today and all of the host families brought food to share, so it was one giant potluck (be careful if you use this word in Macedonia as it means something very, very different in Macedonian). We had been warned that this becomes a feeding frenzy as the concept of lines doesn't really exist here. As soon as food was put out, there was a mad rush by the Macedonians fighting for food. We tried our best to jump in there and were somewhat successful. I talked with a few of the MAK 14s and 15s because they were fighting just as hard as the Macedonians and they said that by next year, I will be a pro at this sort of thing.
Julie, Shannon, Enid, and I
Then it came time for presentations. Each training community developed a movie of sorts to show at the event thanking our families. All of the movies were good, but I think Lozovo really won it with our Turkish soap opera. The video will be up soon on Morgan's YouTube page, so check it out for sure. Once presentations were done, almost every stood up and left, leaving almost no time to say goodbye. But as typical, Lozovo hung out and we ended up having a dance party with Evelina, the PST Director, Ivana, the Language Coordinator, and all of the female LCFs as well as some current volunteers.  
Claire and I
When we got back to Lozovo, we all went over to Julie's with our families so they could see all of the work we did on their garage. They loved it and were quite impressed with how well we had captured Macedonia. We celebrated with wine and more dancing before it was time to say our goodbyes amongst our group.
Cheers to Lozovo!
Shannon, Anna, and I
We came to Macedonia as 36 Trainees and we left Kumanovo today, 36 volunteers. It was, perhaps, the best way to spend Thanksgiving away from our families and friends back home. Tomorrow, while many of you are out there pushing through crowds to get the best Black Friday deals, we all will be pushing onto buses with 2 years worth of stuff, moving to site, to start our lives as Peace Corps Volunteers.

It really was a bittersweet day. There was much happiness and excitement as we are now official volunteers. We are excited to be moving to site and settling in, exiting the stage of limbo we have been in. However, we also had to say goodbye to some of the best friends we have ever had.

To my Lozovo group: You are all amazing and I couldn't have asked for a better training group. I know we will have our ups and downs over the next two years, but we have each other. Remember the pact we made on the bus coming home from Hub Day: If anyone of us starts considering ETing, you owe each and every other person a phone call. And Julie will be mad if you do, "so just don't."

Finally, Peace Corps posted a press release on their website about all of the groups that are Swearing-In this weekend: http://www.peacecorps.gov/index.cfm?shell=resources.media.press.view&news_id=1919

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Morgan Paige: The YouTube Sensation

Morgan has made more movies and they are AMAZING! I wanted to make sure to post the link to her YouTube again so you all can check them out. The newest is the trailer for our Turkish Soap Opera style film that will be released on Thanksgiving Day in front of all 36 of our families, Peace Corps staff, current Peace Corps Volunteers, the US Ambassador, and many other important people. It should be quite entertaining, so be sure to check back after Thanksgiving to see the whole deal.

Link to Morgan's YouTube Page

Friday, November 18, 2011

Butchering the Language One Day at a Time

Today has been an interesting day for language. This is unfortunate because we had our LPIs (language tests) today and while passing/not passing isn't life or death, it is kind of a big deal. We need to reach at least an Intermediate Low level for language, which we've been told shouldn't be too hard for most of us.

During class today we each had to tell a story in past tense and the others had to ask questions about it. Morgan was telling a story about ghosts that lived in an old house. My question for her was supposed to be, "Did you meet the ghosts?" meaning did she ever encounter the ghosts. Instead, however, I asked, "Дали ти мило ми е ооооооооооооо?" or "Did you nice to meet you (ghost sound)?" I had no idea what the word for ghost was and even after Dushko told us several times, it became more fun to just say, "oooooooo". Also, I have been told the real word for meet, запознавеме, many times, however, I can never remember it, and I have turned "nice to meet you" into a verb that I use on a regular basis.

After this statement, Dushko went over the word for "to meet" once again. I wrote it down again and tried to memorize it quickly. I had it down. Well, when it came time for my LPI with Ivana, the Language Coordinator, I was asked what I was going to do after the LPI. I started explaining that a group of us are going to Veles to....(dang, I couldn't remember the word for meet). What did I say, "Ние ќе мило ми е со Џасон, Сами, и Карен". So much for speaking correctly!

Friday, November 11, 2011

You Know You Are In PST Macedonia When.....

As PST is coming to an end shortly, I decided to compile a list of things that I that remind me I am in PST.

- You have been told јади, јади, јади so many times and given in so many times that the Freshman 15 has nothing on you compared to the weight your host mother has forced you to gain.
- You no longer question what sort of animal droppings you are walking in on your way to school and you no longer try to avoid them since they are everywhere.
- You pretend you don't understand a conversation in Macedonian when you really do, just to avoid having to say the same awkward sentences over and over again.
- You no longer are weirded out by throwing your toilet paper in the garbage instead of flushing it.
- You find yourself not being able to remember words in English.
- You accept that showering every day or even every other day is over rated and are lucky if you are able to shower two times a week.
- You don't think twice about being offered ракија, пиво, or сок for breakfast.
- You play dumb with your family so you can listen in on what they are saying to the entire town about you.
- You realize the locals who study English at the University know far more about the English language than you do.
- You have a new "p" word in your vocabulary......промија and you better be scared of it...it might kill you.
- You acknowledge and accept that every person you meet is going to ask you about how much money you had, currently have, and will have.
- Despite the many errors, you have used Google Translate at least once to talk with your family.
- You have been a part of 8 hour на гости.
- When writing in English, you use a combination of Cyrillic and Latin letters and you can't spell in English to save your life.
- Your stomach never really quite gets used to all of the oil used in the food.
- You find yourself agreeing that Тоше was the best musician ever.
- Times that would have been awkward silences in America, are instead welcomed as breaks when you don't have to try and figure out what someone is saying.
- You are cautious when you get in the shower because if you turn the water on just a little too much, you will be burnt.
- Whether you are male or female, you have become quite a good домакинка.
- While on a hike you take photographs of everything in sight so you now have 50 pictures of donkeys and chickens.
- You learn to hate Greece without ever having been there.
- Despite not tasting the best, you get excited when you are given a крем croissant instead of the ham and ketchup variety as it is much less disgusting.
- Your not surprised when the water in your house is suddenly gone and doesn't return for a few days.
- You log into Facebook and discover you have 8 new Macedonian Facebook friends and you don't know any of them.
- You've figured out how to drink just the right amount of coffee so you aren't chewing the grounds.
- You've discovered that mixing Sudafed and ракија is the perfect cure for a cold.
- While on a walk, you are offered coffee by people you don't know.
- You have to walk less that two minutes to find yet another gorgeous view of this country.
- During class you sometimes break into fits of laughter out of no reason other than exhaustion.
- You agree to questions in Macedonian without knowing what they mean, later to realize you just told someone you that you hate them.
- You have had at least four marriage proposals.
- You watch your host siblings creeping on your Facebook profile and "liking" every picture of yours while you are in the room.
- You are given flowers by a Turkish girl that you just met while her mother is yelling to her to ask if you have a boyfriend.
- Even when speaking in English to other PCTs, you throw in a few Macedonian words that have become staples in your vocabulary.
- You have random dance parties and break into song whenever the moment allows.
- You have been frustrated multiple times by the direct and indirect objects in Macedonian.
- You are comfortable walking through random people's yards.
- You have seen more animal's getting it on in the broad daylight on the main street than you ever have before.
- You embarrassed yourself trying to learn the Оро, but that doesn't stop you from trying again.
- You have experienced the ајвар making process....all 10 hours of it.
- You have people standing outside your house yelling your family member's names because they can see you through the window.
- You wake up to roosters crowing, you eat lunch while roosters are crowing, and you go to sleep with roosters crowing as the roosters have no sense of time.
- You wear your jacket, hat, and scarf in the house because even with a fire going, you are still freezing.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Kamenica Love!

WARNING: This is a long post; probably the post of all posts. The last few days have been very busy and I have learned a lot!

The past few days, the MAK-16s went on our Site Visits, meaning we spent three days at the place that will become our new home. This was a great opportunity to ease some of our anxieties about leaving our training communities and moving out on our own.

Tuesday morning I set out for Makedonska Kamenica. I decided to take the 7:25 bus from Lozovo to Stip, visit with one of the volunteers currently serving there, and then continue onto Kamenica. I got to the bus stop (hut on the side of the road) in Lozovo about 7:15 and waited. There were a bunch of guys waiting as well, so I knew the bus was coming. At 7:25 a bus shows up headed to Stip and we all get on. The bus is full of males and they are all staring at me, but no one says anything. The driver looks really confused and starts to pull away slowly. Finally someone tells me that the bus is only for men in the military traveling to base. I’m glad no one wanted to say anything for a little while! Oh well, at least me making a fool of myself gave them all something to talk about for the rest of the day- the crazy American girl who had no idea what she was doing. I waited some more at the bus stop and an old man shows up and starts talking to me. I love the fact that now I can have a conversation with someone in Macedonian. I know I don’t speak perfect and I give a lot of blank stares, but I can do it and most people really are very patient and are just excited that I am trying to speak their language. We talk for a while in the cold before he gets impatient and leaves because no bus has arrived. Turns out the 7:25 bus doesn’t exist anymore and the 8:40 bus comes at 8:20, so after waiting for over an hour, I finally got on the bus. This was the first time I had been traveling on my own and it was a great lesson in Macedonian transportation- there is always something, but the times and frequency can vary every day.

When I got to Stip, I met up with Dan, a MAK-14 who has finished his service and COSing this week. During packing he had found some items he thought might be useful to pass on to a new volunteer and I got to be the lucky one. I am most excited about the Macedonian-English-German-French phrase book he gave me. He said it is out of print, but since he knew the author he was able to get one and it came in handy many times. I think it will become a new friend of mine.

I was very nervous when I got on the bus to Kamenica since I was really on my own (going to Stip wasn’t a big deal because it was close and I knew who was meeting me there). However, much to my delight, there were three other MAK-16s on the bus going to their towns near mine. We all had the same anxieties and were happy to have one another to help ease our minds. Paul got off first in Obleshevo. It is a small village outside of Kochani, but it seemed much bigger than other villages. After Paul left, it was Morgan’s turn to depart in Kochani. Kochani is a big city (around 28,000 people), but her counterpart has a current volunteer, so Morgan knew more than most going into it since she had talked to the current PCV a lot. After we left Morgan, Alastair and I looked at each other, growing a little more nervous since it was down to just the two of us. Alastair is living in Kratavo for training, so I haven’t really spent much time with him, but we had the exact same feelings about what lay ahead and were very happy to have each other (a couple times we even said exactly what the other person was thinking). It was especially nice having him when we got higher up in the mountains and the roads became more narrow, very windy, very high, and with limited guardrail (Dad, Mom, and Anna- think similar to Trasillico, but on a bus and having a little more guardrail and roads a little wider). I was the next one off, leaving Alastair by himself for the last 15 minutes of his journey.

The view Alastair and I had on our ride towards Kamenica/Delchevo
My counterpart, Maja, met me at the bus station. I had talked to her briefly on the phone the night before, but didn’t know a whole lot. During this time, I have discovered we are very similar. She is 26, so very young, single, and into a lot of the same things I am. She is very excited to be working with me. She has made me feel very at ease about coming here and I feel like I really will be able to work with her. She wants suggestions and my input into her lessons and I feel like we will learn a lot from each other.

After my arrival, Maja took me to where I would be staying for these few days. On my sheet from Peace Corps it said, “rooms for let arranged by the school” which had me a little scared. I figured I would be staying in a room in someone’s house- someone who wanted to make a few extra denari. We met up with the art teacher from the school and walked into this slightly run down looking building and up quite a few flights of stairs. It was dirty, broken windows everywhere, and looked abandoned, but when we got to one of the top floors, we went through a door and were suddenly in a nice little boutique hotel. There I met my future landlady who owns this hotel here (hint, hint). There are five rooms, each with their own bathroom. I was in heaven. I suddenly have a real bed, legitimate heat, hot water, American TV, and alone time!

My hotel room in Kamenica
And my bathroom- unlimited hot water was AMAZING!
Living with my family is good, but I haven’t been by myself for almost two months except when I am sleeping or in the bathroom. After I got settled, I walked with Maja and the art teacher, Marija, around Kamenica and they showed me where the most important things are and I really have everything I need- there are two Супермаркети (small grocery stores), Стопанска банка (the bank Peace Corps uses), амбуланта (mini hospital/dentist), пошта (post office), ресторани (restaurants), and several other small stores.

I got a good feeling on what Kamenica is like from this. It is a larger town, 5000 people (the 8000 I said earlier is in the municipality which includes several small villages), but it really does have a small town feel. It was obvious I was a foreigner and the fish bowl affect happened immediately, but everyone I met was very nice. The pace of life here is very similar to life in a village, except apparently in August when it is like a big city since hundreds of people that work in other countries come home. I also have been able to learn a little more of the dialect of Macedonian that I will be learning. The dialect of the area has a lot of Bulgarian influence, so Maja told me I will probably know both Macedonian and Bulgarian by the end of my time here.

I learned a lot about the town. Kamenica is only about 40 years old. The town was built because of the mine. The mining company built lots of flats (they speak in British English here) and hotels for people to stay in. However, when the economy started to change, the wage for minors went down and the town has lots a lot of people. When Maja was in school here, there were over 1400 students, now there are just 650. Most of the hotels are vacant currently. The schools (there is a primary and a high school here) were built 30 years ago when each person in Kamenica gave two months of salary towards the building of the schools.

Part of the School
Despite the decreasing population, a lot of work has been done to make Kamenica a much nicer place to live and while I haven’t had much experience in other towns in Macedonia, I feel like Kamenica is pretty progressive. Within the last three years, they have built a beautiful new church, town square, and the arts teacher is actually organizing the building of a brand new playground in town with funds provided by the Swiss government. It is scheduled to open in December and the Swiss Ambassador will be here, so it is a big deal. I also learned that the mayor is putting in wireless for the entire town. It is currently functioning, but the signal doesn’t reach everywhere yet so in the next month or so they are hoping to amplify it so every house in town has access to free wireless. There are very few towns in America that even have this!

The site of the new playground
The new church that was just opened in 2009
The fountain in the new town square
On Wednesday I spent the day at the school with my counterpart. I went with her to classes. She teaches 4th and 6th grade English. The kids were so excited to see me and I think the school will be a great place. I might also be working with another English teacher in Kamenica as well as one who travels to the satellite schools, but I won’t know about that until December when I move here. I met with the Director of the school and he was excited to have a volunteer. He kept talking about a project another PCV had helped with in a neighbouring town, building a music classroom, and wants to meet later on to see what I want to help with. I feel like I really will have a lot of opportunities to do a lot here if I want to. The town seems very focused on change for the better right now. I met lots of other teachers and staff at the school and they were all so friendly and got excited when I spoke in my limited Macedonian. The school has a lot of young staff, which surprised me. There were certainly plenty of older staff members as well, but many more young staff members than I saw when I was in Veles.
After school I had the opportunity to see my house where I will be living when I move here. It is so much more than I could have asked for. It is very nice, especially in comparison to other PCV houses I have seen. First, my house is kind of in the country of Kamenica. I have a 15-20 minute walk into the downtown area of Kamenica, which will seem long in the winter when I have groceries, but otherwise, not bad. My area is all houses and it has the village feel. At least one of my neighbours has chickens and my closest neighbour is a police officer, so I was told it is super safe in my area.

My house
I have the entire floor of a house and as of right now, no one lives below me. I have a large second-story balcony, which will be wonderful in the summer. When you enter my house there is a large entryway. My bathroom is on the right and in my bathroom I have a washing machine!

My bathroom- nothing amazing, but it has indoor plumbing, so I am happy!
The next door goes into my large kitchen/dining/living room. I have a large (for this country) fridge, a big wood burning stove, and lots of cabinet space as well as a nice table and chairs set. Connected to my kitchen is my living room that has two couches and a TV. My landlady clearly likes deep red.

My very nice kitchen
Large wood burning stove
My living room
My bedroom is great too. I have LOTS of closet space- more than I have ever had in my entire life! There is a big bed- a real bed, which is exciting after seeing how many of the beds in this country are fold out, hard, wooden things. I have a TV/DVD player in my bedroom as well.

I have what looks like a real bed! In this country, that can be hard to find.
Loving the closets already!
I have one other room in my house that I didn’t look at. I probably won’t need the space since it is already a large place, but I am sure I will explore it when I move in. My landlady had a headache and didn’t want to stay long.

I am pretty sure the free wireless will not reach my house, but I won’t need to spend much of my settling in allowance since my place has basically everything I would need. My landlady rents the house out for a business, which I think will be a real advantage. Many PCVs have talked about the frustrations they have with landlords, so I am hoping I have escaped that.

View from my house
After seeing my house, Maja and I met up with one of her friends, Elizabet, who teaches English at the kindergarten here in Kamenica. She was excited that I will be coming and had already told the kindergarteners that I would come visit. She said she would love to have me come help her out in the kindergarten sometimes, so I might see if I can work that into my weekly schedule. They work on colours, animals, family, and some basic phrases and learn it through games, stories, and songs.

After tea with Maja and Elizabet, I met up with two currently serving PCVs who live in Delchevo (where Alastair is moving to). One of them is a MAK-13, Rochelle, has extended her service and will be leaving in January. The other, Jenny, is a MAK-15, so she will be here for another year. They were both super nice and I am really excited to have them nearby. As typical of PCVs, they gave me lots of great advice.

Coming up I have Ricky’s (the MAK-14 who lives in Lozovo) going away party as he has completed his service and is headed back to Are-Kansas (that is how it is pronounced here). Shannon and I have spent a fair amount of time with Ricky and are really going to miss him. He has been a great resource for us on what life will be like for us. Our time in Lozovo is coming to an end quickly, however, I am excited about moving out on my own to site after having the opportunity to visit Kamenica.