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!
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.
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.
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!
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 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.