Wednesday, January 4, 2012

10 Things I Took for Granted in America

1. Heat
Especially heat in the bathroom. Heat is kind of a basic necessity and while I can heat my house, its a process, just like laundry. Every day making and maintaining my fire is pretty much a secondary job. I have to clean it out from the day before, empty the old ash and coals, find someone to cut me tenki drvo (kindling), go dumpster diving for cardboard boxes, build a fire, keep a close eye on the damper to monitor air flow, haul wood from my outdoor wood pile up the stairs to my house, add logs as the fire gets going, add more logs as it burns, smash the coals down, occasionally add more paper and cardboard and tenki drvo if I didn’t keep a close enough eye on it, haul more wood, and sweep the floor about 50 times. Let’s just say heating in America is no where near this extensive. However, without a fire, I would be a popsicle. There is absolutely no way I could live here without it and even with the fire, really only my kitchen and living room get warm, the other rooms get just above seeing your breath level.

2. Internet 
I was a frequent internet user in America….ok, I practically lived on it and couldn’t imagine not having access to internet. When I arrived in Macedonia, my host family had wireless, so my usage continued. However, I have now been at site for a month and a half and still no internet at home. I have access at school some days, but not always. I have been trying to get internet at home since day one, but well, that pesky ever-so-popular Macedonian phrase of ima vreme (there’s time) just keeps coming up. Surprisingly though, despite not being able to check emails when I want, update my blog as often as I want (that is my excuse for any infrequent updates….), or talk to my parents  (haven’t had a real conversation with them in a month and a half), I haven’t minded not having it as much as I thought I would. In some ways it has been good for me- it means I can’t hide away at home online.

3. Laundry
Laundry is much more of a production here. I have a lovely washing machine in my bathroom, however, I learned when I arrived at site that it is just a piece of decorative furniture. Often my landlady does my laundry for me (which does involve hauling dirty laundry up and down the hill on my 20 minute jaunt to her house which leaves me with lots of interesting stares), however I have also had to hand wash my clothes and its not a very fun process. Even if my washing machine worked, I don’t have a dryer. They don’t exist here. Everyone hangs their clothes out to dry on the line. You might be thinking, “how charming and quant”. Well, its not. Especially when it is freezing cold out so the clothes just freeze, rather than dry. Lucky for me, I discovered I can dry clothes quicker inside if I 1) bake  them in the oven part of my wood burning stove, 2) place them on my radiators connected to my wood burning stove,  or 3) place them in banitsa pans on top of my wood burning stove (only one slight casualty with a Smartwool sock, but its still wearable). All of these, of course, require me to keep my fire going nice and hot. Total hour count for getting half of my laundry clean- 9 hours of pretty constant attention. Let’s just say, I definitely took advantage of being able to have clean clothes in about 2 hours with very little effort.
Baking my underwear in the oven
And on the stove
 4. Shower Curtains
Many homes in Macedonia have them, many don’t. Mine did not... until this past weekend! Before, I had to crouch/sit in my bathtub to shower. The water pressure in my shower isn’t that great, but it is high enough that when I would shower, water would spray everywhere and my entire bathroom would be flooded with water, even with a 5 minute shower. Combine that with not having heat in the bathroom and showering was one of the most miserable experiences I had in regards to my house and daily life. I tried to avoid it and only showered every couple of days. However, now that I have a curtain, my world has been turned upside down. I can stand up and shower (I still have to hold the shower head which is a bit of a pain, but far less). My bathroom still gets wet, but now its like a gentle mist over everything instead of a monsoon. I owe a huge thanks to another volunteer, Paul, who bought the shower curtain for me in Kochani (not an item I can find in my town) and helped me put it up this past weekend. We had to do a little McGyver work and its kind of sketchy, but it stays up and keeps water in. I could care less if it looks like it belongs in a trailer.

As creatively hung as it is (that is rope going between two nails and a piece of wire from the ceiling) I love it!
5. Food Variety
I didn’t think of myself as a picky eater in the US, there were just foods I avoided because I didn’t like them. However, I can’t do that here. The food selection is more limited. The diet is based around lots of vegetables, beans, meat, oil, and sugar. While I like that it isn’t super dairy based, I do miss the variety. However, because of this, I have had to adapt my diet. There are many things that I now enjoy that I didn’t in the US. Coffee- I don’t care if it is instant or Turkish (with the grounds), I drink it and enjoy it. When I was visiting another volunteer a few weeks ago, she had a French press and American Christmas blend coffee. If that was any indication to what coffee is like in America, why did I not drink it sooner! Onions- While I still can’t bring myself to just take a bite out of a whole raw onion like I have seen many Macedonians do, I do enjoy them fried and added into food. Mom, you were right all along, they do add a lot of flavour. Tomatoes- Like onions, I wasn’t a fan. I started to be ok with smaller pieces, but now, you cut a tomato in quarters and I will eat it. Beets- This one is subject to preparation. I have had some bad beets here and some amazing ones. My landlady makes the best beat salad I have ever had. Its simple, shredded beets, oil, water, vinegar, and salt, but it is delicious. Cabbage- There is lettuce here, but cabbage is much more common and a whole lot cheaper. Beans- Ok, I wouldn’t say I enjoy them, however I eat them now. There is a very common dish, manja that is like a bean soup and its kind of a staple here, especially in the winter.

6. St. Peter Food Coop
This kind of goes along with food variety, but more so it is about having access to healthy food and non-dairy alternatives. I question if either of these things exist here! There certainly is lots of healthy food, however, most of it gets prepared with lots of oil, salt, and sugar, which takes away a lot of the healthiness. I consider myself to be doing pretty good when I cook as I have only gone through 1 liter of sunflower oil so far and I did have mnogu na gosti at Christmas. Pretty sure my family in Lozovo went through about 2-3 liters a week of that stuff. As far as non-dairy alternatives, I have seen one box of soy-drink pellets, but I somehow have not been able to bring myself to try those, as appetizing as soy-drink pellets sounds. Forget the non-dairy yogurt, cheese, and ice cream that I had become accustom to.

7. Advanced Plumbing
While I am now used to throwing my toilet paper in the garbage and don’t even usually think about it now, when it comes time to take out the garbage and I have a bag full of soiled toilet paper, I really wish I could just flush it all and be done with it, but not the case. The plumbing in most of Macedonia isn’t advanced enough to be able to handle toilet paper, so into the garbage it goes.

8. Unlimited Texting
Pretty much everyone has unlimited texting in the US. Not here. We pay for every text we send. The phones the volunteers have are pay-as-you-go, so there is a constant adding of credit to them, which requires going to a prodov that sells T-Mobile credit (T-Mobile being the least popular cell service here, so some people don’t have access in their villages). It costs 2.9 denari (6 cents) to send a text and about 10 denari (21 cents) a minute to make a call so it isn’t cheap. However, when its my only form of communication with other volunteers, I have add that credit weekly. Luckily, there is a deal where if you add 150 denari of credit, you get 150 free texts for a week. That sounds like a lot, but it can disappear quickly sometimes. Life would be much easier if texting were just unlimited because I spend a good chunk of my day trying to shorten messages down to the 160 characters allowed in one text.

9. Big Boxes of Kleenex
I have yet to see a normal box of Kleenex. All I have found is the mini packs that make it easy to carry with you, but not very practical at home. I think due to the cold here (yes MN is cold too, but it’s a completely different kind of cold here), my nose is constantly running. It started in October and has been going strong since and the mini packs of Kleenex just don’t do the job like a big box would.

10. Target
There aren’t stores like Target or Walmart here. Maybe in Skopje, but not most cities. You go to the market for food, the hardware store for hardware needs, the small prodov for other things, the apteka for medicine, and the pazar for the cheapest deals on a wide array of things. In the US, I could get pretty much everything I needed under one room. Not the case here- you have to make 3 or 4 different stops to get your errands done.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for your insights, Sara. I will think of you every time I go to Target in Cambridge and not complain because it is small. Missed you at Christmas, but I do love reading about your life!