Saturday, September 24, 2011

Greetings from Lozovo (Title Courtesy of Shannon)

I have been in my PST placement for one week now and all is good. We have been quite busy, so I haven't updated yet. Lots of information to share though.

My Host Family
My host family consists of my mom, Жаклина (Jacklina), my dad, Томе, my 21-year-old brother, Здравче (Zdravche), and my 15-year-old sister, Бојана (Boy-ana). Oh and of course my dog, Beni (Macedonians typically do not have animals as pets. Dogs run wild in the streets and most people try to avoid them. However, Beni was the dog of a former PC volunteer, Jason, a MAK-12 and my family has agreed to take care of Beni until Jason comes from the US to Macedonia in November to bring Beni back to the US- an idea I don't understand). My family is great. They are very hospitable and are always trying to make me feel at home. My sister speaks English quite well and has been studying it for years. My brother also studied English in school, however, his teacher apparently was horrible and his speaks only a little English. Бојана was doing most of the translating between the family and me, however, just in the past two days, she stopped and I found out from Здравче that she doesn't want to translate anymore. Luckily in this technical age, there is Google Translate. While it isn't perfect, it usually gets the point across. Здравче is going to college in another town starting in October, however he will still be living at home, which I am very thankful for. Once Бојана stopped translating, Здравче has become my main life-line for communication, which is great. I like all of my family members a lot, but Здравче is amazing. I definitely have more in common with him (since he is 21) as opposed to my 15 year old sister. Здравче has become a favourite of the Americans and I can't wait until I can have more of a conversation with him.

Apparently it is ok to say the name of our town, so I am in Lozovo. It is a small village of about 900 people. My friend Shannon described Lozovo as very Beauty and the Beast-esk (think the opening scene when Belle is walking in town and everyone says "hello", there are small shops, and animals freely roaming the streets) and I couldn't agree more. Every morning as Benny is walking me to school, I pass by chickens, other dogs, and cats all freely wandering. There are goats in a large field across from the school and as we look out our classroom (which is actually just a closet) at school, we can usually see some cows, maybe more goats, and maybe some sheep. Lozovo has a school, a motel (which coincidentally does not have any rooms to sleep in) but is more of a restaurant/bar, a post office, a few small markets, and a coffee bar, which is the hang out place for the local youth on Saturday nights. Despite all the small, quaintness of the town, I discovered last night that the Google Earth images are much more detailed for Lozovo than they are for Pine City. There is even a photograph of our school on there. My family was entertained that Lozovo's Google Earth is better than somewhere in America's.

There are nine of us PCT's here in Lozovo and we are all good friends. Our entire MAK-16 group of 36 was split between four different towns for training. There is one group who is learning both Macedonian and Albanian. One group is composed only of CD (Community Development) volunteers. My site is only TEFL volunteers, and the last town is a mixture of TEFL and CD volunteers. The Americans here in Lozovo with me are:

Julie, who was my roommate in Philadelphia and Kumanovo. She is from Washington D.C. and full of energy. Morgan, who is from Nashville. She is our expert video maker. I will certainly post some of her videos on here so you can see life in Macedonia. Kenzie, who is from Chicago. He actually went to college with one of my friends from elementary school. Shannon, who is the first MAK-16 I met. We met in the Philadelphia airport (pretty easy to spot other PCVs since we all were struggling with our massive amounts of baggage). She is from Kansas and has spent a lot of time at my host family's house. Claire is from Oklahoma, but went to U of C, so we have had some Hyde Park talks. Amy is from near Philadelphia. She and I have both been told we are the least athletic person people have met, so when we played soccer with some of the locals one day, we were clearly outmatched. Andreas is our other boy. He is from Seattle and is fluent in Spanish, having Columbian connections. I learned yesterday he got his digital camera from a lost and found. He is very laid back and loves the hospitality aspect of Macedonia. And last, but not least, is Anna. She is from near Milwaukee and is very into sports. We are all between the ages of 22 and 25, so we share quite a few similarities.

At school, we are split into two groups for language learning. We have two awesome teachers, Душко/ Dushko and Voikan. Kenzie, Morgan, Claire, Shannon, and I are with Dushko. He is quite entertaining- full of jokes and we have lots of fun. We have language class every week day from 8-12, which is a lot. Somedays I can handle it, other days, my brain just wants to shut off. Today was one of those days. We were talking about how to make the definite singular and plural forms of fruits and vegetables. That involves first knowing the what the word is in Macedonian, then making it plural, then making it definite. An example would be: the word for watermelon is лубеница. The plural would be лѕбеници. And the definite plural would be лубениците. However, whenever I get frustrated with it, I think, wait, we have been in this country for only two weeks and I this is where I am at. Two weeks ago, I couldn't even tell you the entire cyrillic alphabet. My host dad said the other day that he thinks we have learned about 10% of the Macedonian language so far (I think he is a little optimistic). My family helps me learn lots at home as well, however, their pace for making me learn things is much faster than I can comprehend. Last night I was given about 50 new words that they wanted me to know by today. Let's just say, it is not going to happen.

We also have technical sessions, cross-cultural sessions, and medical sessions. Our technical sessions involve us learning how to teach ESL. We had our second technical session this past Wednesday and, while I understand the purpose, I don't feel like I have learned a whole lot. I think partially it is because the Gustavus Education Department is so amazing! Our cross-cultural sessions so far have been mostly answering questions about things we have seen and why Macedonians believe/do certain things that aren't typical in the US. A few examples would be promiya, which, in short, is the idea that a cross-breeze is ok outside, but inside a house it can cause you to die, become infertile, or have a whole assortment of other problems. Another is that if a female goes outside with wet hair, they will become infertile. Some things that we have witnessed are not a cultural phenomena, but rather our families individual beliefs. We have a medical session in just a few minutes to teach us basic first aid.

I am hoping to post some pictures soon. I am still debating whether to post of Facebook, Picasa, etc. However, I have created a page on my blog so keep checking, I will hopefully get some up soon. Others have already posted some (if you check out the Fellow MAK-16 Blogs section, both Shannon and Morgan have posted pictures on theirs).

Posh Corps
Eastern Europe placements for Peace Corps are often jokingly called the Posh Corps. We have electricity, houses, supermarkets, hospitals, my family even has wireless. We have many American comforts here, but don't get me wrong, it isn't perfect. Earlier this week the power was out for quite some time one night (good thing I have the most amazing flashlight ever- it seriously lit up two rooms of the house). At school the power goes out frequently. But overall, we are leading a good life.

Communicating with people around here is still very difficult. I know a fair number of words, but I don't know how to use them. I can tell you the Macedonian words for fork, spoon, knife, winter, family members, foods, school supplies, colours, etc., but I don't know how to use those words in a sentence or communicate very well on a basic level. A few nights ago, we visited some of my host family's relatives in a village not too far from Lozovo. Very little English was spoken and Бојана was not in the mood for translating, so there I sat, awkwardly trying to figure out what people were saying, focusing on the words I know (all while trying not to look bored and tired). There was a cute five year old boy who was playing and I kept trying to interact with him, but he was very shy. Finally, I was able to play with him, and I have to say, that is probably the most I have ever felt on the same level with a Macedonian. I could understand much of what he said and use my very broken Macedonian to ask him questions. Keep in mind we probably only said like 20 words to each other the whole time! But, it was nice to be able to communicate with him without needing to use words. My family commented that I am on about the same level as him. I took that as a compliment!

I have been lucky enough to have been able to talk to quite a few current PCVs about their life and get tips and suggestions from them. There is a MAK-14, Ricky, living here in Lozovo until he COSs in November and it has been great having him here. He is definitely all of our biggest advocates. If we need anything communicated to our host families, we can talk to him about it and he will help us. Last weekend two other MAK-14s, Jason and Dan, were visiting Ricky and so we got to hear about their experiences. Now this weekend Jori and Chris (both MAK-15s who trained in Lozovo last year) are back for the weekend. I have been given lots of good advice from them, mostly about how we should interact with our host families. It has also been a lot of fun to see the difference in language abilities. With three different years of volunteers here, you can tell the difference. However, it was great to see that they can all communicate very well in Macedonian. One day I will be there.

There is a lot I could write here, because everything I have done has been an experience, but there is no way I can ever write it all, so here are a few:

Last Sunday Julie and I went to tour the local winery where Julie's host brother, Jovan, is a security guard. He explained the process and told us about the winery. It is apparently the third largest winery in Macedonia and they ship their wine all over Europe and Asia. He said the wine is cheap to buy in Macedonia, but if you buy the exact same stuff in Germany, it is much more expensive. Jovan took us up a set of stairs up above the outdoor tanks and we had an amazing view of Lozovo and the surrounding area from there. As I said before, I am going to try and post pictures soon.

I also went with Julie and Jovan on a walk to a neighbouring village, Milino. It was about an hour walk, but it was absolutely gorgeous. That is one thing I have learned about this country, there are breathtaking views everywhere. We climbed up on top of the old abandoned train station and could see so much.

I experienced my first earthquake just this morning. Jori (the PCV who lived with my family last year who is visiting for the weekend), Здравче, Бојана, Tome and I were sitting down eating breakfast and all of a sudden there was a huge rumble and shaking and Jori and I were ushered out of the house. It took us a few seconds to realize what was going on because neither one of us had been in an earthquake before. Apparently it was a magnitude 4, which isnt that strong, but it was located just 10km away from Lozovo, so we certainly felt it. It left us feeling a little unsettled for a few minutes. Apparently the last time they had an earthquake anywhere near as strong was five years ago.

When we didn't have electricity this past week, Shannon and Ricky were both over at my house. So the two of them, Здравче, Бојана, and I played two different card games. They were both Macedonian versions of American card games, and despite having Ricky translating the rules, the three of us were quite lost with them. However, we had lots of fun making fools of ourselves. After Ricky left, Shannon and I showed Здравче and Бојана some American dances (such as the chicken dance) and I also taught them how to play the Minute to Win It Game, Face the Cookie. We all thoroughly enjoyed laughing at ourselves and each other.

If you have any questions about my life, how to write your name in Macedonian, Peace Corps or anything at all, send me a message/leave a comment and I will do my best to answer it.

Life in Macedonia is good. It is very relaxing and there is a much slower pace than life in America. It is Saturday morning and I have done nothing except eat and finish this posting that I started like 3 days ago. My next goal is posting pictures.


Friday, September 16, 2011

PST Placements

A quick update as we are packing and meeting host families in half an hour. We just got our PST placements and I am very excited.

First, my training group is amazing- Kenzie, Morgan, Claire, Shannon, Julie, Amy, Andreas, Anna, and I. We are very well matched as a group. And, we have awesome LCFs (Language and Cultural Facilitators).

Second, we are going to a small village near Veles. Veles is in the center of the country. We are not supposed to publicly disclose our exact location for safety reasons, but if you really want to know, send me a Facebook message. We will meet our families soon and we have to read a sentence in Macedonian to them. Our sentence tells us something about our family. Mine sentence sentence says Ќепката на Томе се вика Бојана. Which you would pronounce Kyepkata na Tome say vika Boy-ana. It means: Томе has a daughter who is called Бојана.

Hopefully more info soon. Because I will be in a small village, we do not have an internet cafe, but we were told the school where we will be studying has free wireless. We just received Macedonian cell phones, but they are pay as you go and its not exactly cheap, so I don't really plan on using it outside of my Macedonian/Peace Corps friends.

Macedonia is playing Spain in EuroBasket today at 4:30 our time, you should check out the game (or at least the results as I can't imagine it will be a highly publicized game in the US).


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Здраво oд Македонија!

So I know I posted last night and not a whole lot to update on. However, I will have internet today, tomorrow, and then I may not. It all depends on my home stay family and their accommodations. We find out who are families are on Friday, which is very exciting.

A few highlights/things I haven't mentioned yet.
  • If you come visit, do not flush the toilet paper. Only the most soiled piece may be flushed. The pluming infrastructure here is not able to handle toilet paper, so every bathroom has a small garbage can next to the toilet where you place your used paper.
  • Pictures are to come. I am still investigating what is the best option to share photos.
  • Macedonians and Americans have some very different body language sometimes. In language class today, the whole group of Americans thought we were being taught how to say, "I am not good" when asked "How are you?" because our language instructor swung her fist and was not smiling. She intended it to be a happy gesture, however, we all misunderstood.
  • Macedonia plays Lithuania tonight in the EuroBasket Final Round tonight. It is a huge deal here and everyone is super excited to see if they move on. Needless to say, many of us will be venturing from the hotel outside of Kumanovo into town to enjoy some скопско, a Macedonian beer brewed just a few miles away in Skopje, and cheer on Macedonia. We were even taught the cheer to use- "Go Bo Go" for the most popular player, Bo McCalebb.
  • We met with the US Ambassador to Macedonia, Ambassador Paul Wohlers, the sixth U.S. Ambassador to Macedonia. He was sworn in on August 11th of this year by Hillary Clinton.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


I have arrived in Macedonia (or Македонија in Macedonian). It has been a great experience so far. We were the first group ever to arrive in the new Alexander the Great Airport (opened only days before we landed) in the capital of Skopje and there were lots of current PCVs (Peace Corps Volunteers) and Peace Corps Staff there to meet us. Our luggage was loaded into a semi-truck and the 36 weary travelers onto a school bus and driven to our first training site, approximately half an hour from the capital. We are staying at a hotel here in Kumanovo until Friday when we leave for our training communities and our host families.

We have had trainings on medical (same diseases as USA), safety and security (stay away from the dogs and don't pet them and stay vigilant), language (I can now introduce myself in Macedonian), and ethnically diverse Macedonia (home to Macedonians, Albanians, Turks, Roma as the main groups) to name just a little of what we have learned thus far.

My fellow MAK-16ers are amazing. Everyone comes from a different background and brings lots of unique skills and experiences to the table. Our group has people from Washington, Kansas, Washington D.C., Georgia, Texas, California, Maryland, Wisconsin, Illinois, Kentucky, Ohio, Oregon, New York, and many other states. We collectively speak 13 different languages (or around that number). We have top business executives who quit their jobs and people fresh from college. The age of our group ranges from 21 to people in their 60s. However, we all are here with three common goals (and they happen to be the Peace Corps goals): 1. Helping the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women, 2. Helping promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served, and 3. Helping promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.

One of the girls in our group has been creating a series of short videos about life in Macedonia so far. There is one video from the airport and one from the first few days in Kumanovo. For some of the new followers, there is an awesome YouTube video that was created by a former volunteer, but its content has excited many of us.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Vienna, Austria!

A quick update from the Vienna Airport where we have access to free wireless.

I left Pine City on Friday morning around 4am. Thanks to my lovely parents for getting up early and bringing me to the airport. I flew from Minneapolis to Philadelphia to meet everyone else who is going with to Macedonia. I had planned to meet up with another girl to travel to the hotel together, however her plane was delayed. As I was attempting to find my way to the shuttle, I ran into a girl from Kansas who had lots of luggage and we figured out we were going the same place. We met two other fellow PCT (Peace Corps Trainees) on the shuttle. We had a few hours of training in the hotel (focusing mostly on the Peace Corps Goals and Expectations) before heading out in Philly for dinner and to enjoy our last night in the U.S.

We awoke early this morning to catch a bus to JFK where we sat around for 6 hours until our flight to Vienna. Very little sleep was had on the plane (it was like a sauna in there), but we were fed lots and given free wine.

Our group of 36 is currently sitting in the Vienna airport waiting for our 10am flight to Skopje. Once one person discovered the airport provided free internet, lots more computers appeared and Facebook statuses were updated immediately (gotta love technology).

We have no idea what to expect once we arrive in Skopje, other than we will be getting on a bus and heading to our hotel for the first week.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

31 Hours

First of all, after a few days of back and forth, I finally officially obtained medical clearance again. Nothing like doing things last minute!

In only 31 hours I will be leaving to start my journey. It has been a busy few days with packing, packing, and more packing. I finally got my bags to where they should be ok without any overweight charges.

My bags weigh in at:
- Large Check: 50 lbs
- Slightly Smaller Check: 48.5 lbs
- Carry-on-18 lbs
- Personal Item- 16 lbs

I will try to add pictures soon because with the MAK-16s, packing and baggage size was the most hotly talked about topic on our Facebook Group.

For anyone who would like more information on Macedonia, here is the link to the Peace Corps Macedonia Welcome Book

The next time I post, I will probably have started my adventure!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

OMS Called....

A new lady at OMS called me today around 1:30 to tell me they had received the information my doctor sent over. Here's the gist of the conversation:

OMS: The medical officer reviewing your file had a few questions he wanted me to ask.
Me: Ok
OMS: Have you ever had a prolonged reaction to any sort of allergen or viral infection in the past.
Me: No
OMS: Oh....
Me: (thinking: crap- wrong answer clearly).
OMS: Ok, well are you going to be able to go see the doctor you saw before?
Me: Probably not. He is 3 hours away.
OMS: Hmmm... Well the Medical Officer saw the numbers from the peak flow test that was performed and he wants it done again.
Me: Ok. I have the peak flow meter with me. I can do that no problem.
OMS: Well, see, the Medical Officer isn't here today, but he really wanted a doctor's follow-up and the same doctor. I mean I can check with him later to see if he will take you doing it at home. Hmmm.... Well, how about this, you give me a call back on Monday or Tuesday and let me know the numbers you got when you did it at home and I will let you know if he is ok with that or if he needs the doctor to sign off on it.
Me: Um, ok, but I leave on Friday.
OMS: Yeah, I see that. Well, let's hope we can get this squared away by then.

So, perfect. Just when I thought I had made it through all of the hoops, this comes up. However, I am choosing to just forget about it now, there is nothing I can do until Tuesday (since Monday is Labor Day), so there is no point in worrying about it. It just may mean six hours of driving for literally a 10 second test that I can do at home.

I get that they need to be thorough and are just doing their job looking out for the health and well-being of their volunteers, but that doesn't mean it is any less frustrating. I guess at least they called today rather than on Tuesday. See...a bright side can be found anywhere if you look for it.

I am going to just forget about it all as much as I can and enjoy my last weekend in Minnesota complete with trips to the Minnesota State Fair, Mall of America, Como Zoo, and a Twins Game. What an eventful weekend it is sure to be.