Thursday, January 26, 2012

A Day to Forget...Well Parts of It

If I had internet, this would have been my blog post for yesterday (Wednesday).

It snowed. A lot. It is supposed to continue snowing. A lot.

I went to the gradinka (Preschool/Kindergarten) for the first time today. Kids were full of energy and didn’t listen very well.

Hung out at coffee bar with Macedonian males for first time. Talked a lot of economics and politics.

Got puked on by a kid. Landlady washed clothes.

Discovered my Discovery Channel is back. All is good again.

However, lucky for you I didn’t have internet because that would have been kind of a downer of a post. Instead, I will say the same thing only I will stretch my thoughts/sentences, which will make it, in the words of Andres, “podobro”.

Everything I said about no snow, forget it. I have snow, lots of snow. It started Tuesday night and is still going strong now. It is supposed to continue snowing with big, heavy, flakes until Friday morning. The total for today was about a foot and it made walking up and down my hill to my house a little tricky. This morning I wasn’t sure if it would be icy so I pulled out the lovely Yak-Traks Peace Corps gave me after they saw my walk. I was laughed at my one lady because I looked funny wearing snow boots with Yak-Traks, my coat, hat, scarf, and gloves (I should point out that if I had been in Minnesota, I would have fit right in, no one would have noticed me wearing anything out of the ordinary. The Macedonians here don’t prepare for the outdoors quite the same).

Today was my first day at the Gradinka (Preschool/Kindergarten). I will be there once a week working with the lady who teaches English to some of the children there. It was fun to see the kids because they remind me of my preschoolers back in St. Peter. Most of the kids didn’t really listen today and just sort of ran about not paying attention to anything. My counterpart was flustered by their squirreliness. I told her kids are the same everywhere and I have had many days where my little ones just wouldn’t listen, especially when you factor in today was their third day back since the holidays and it was snowing like crazy. Those two factors, plus the fact there was a visitor are a recipe for disaster. 

After our classes at the Gradinka, my counterpart asked me if I would like to go to one of the coffee bars with her, her boyfriend, and one of his friends. I said sure as I had nothing going on and here was a chance to hang out with people my own age. On the way we stopped to pick up a little girl who has private English lessons with my counterpart. She is 6 and is really shy, but she was pretty cute. We get to the coffee bar, sit down, order drinks and about two minutes after our drinks come, the little girl gets sick. She starts coughing and then puking and I quick scoot my chair out of the way so the teacher can get her to the bathroom. Nope, the teacher asks for napkins and the kid keeps puking. Sweet. After getting her somewhat cleaned up, they leave (thank goodness). I am left with the boyfriend and his friend. Luckily the boyfriend speaks pretty good English (despite saying he doesn’t) and the friend understands everything I say even if he can’t speak much back. This was the first time since Lozovo I have actually hung out with Macedonian males and I didn’t have to worry about them thinking it was anything more than just having coffee (or actually tea and juice as no coffee was ordered). We talked a lot about politics (kind of a taboo subject for PCVs to get involved in, however I did very little of the talking and made it clear I can not express my opinion on anything related to Macedonian politics- Peace Corps rules). Hopefully I will be able to hang out more with them and their friends because it was nice being around people my own age.

I noticed a little kid puke on my pants and boots and wasn’t sure if she had gotten any on my coat or anywhere else. It was only a little, but those of you who know me, know I don’t do puke in any shape, form, etc. However, since I was with new people I had to keep my freak out on the inside. *Side note, as soon as I got home I ripped off my clothes in my doorway, threw them in a bag, and brought them down to my landlady to wash in her machine. There was no way I was hand washing those puppies. Oh and because I feel like someone (i.e. my father) would make a joke here if I don’t specify, I did put on other clothing before going down to my landlady’s, no worries there.

At least the night ended on a good note. When I came home from Vevchani/Veles, I noticed I had lost my Discovery Channel on TV. I don’t watch a lot of TV here, in fact, you might be thinking, wait you’re a PCV and you have a TV? I have two actually and my landlord pays for the TV service, and was so confused when I hadn’t used the TVs within the first month, so I tried it out one night and discovered I had Discovery Channel- Its good background noise when I am cooking or just need an English break. However, without Discovery Channel, I have had to resort to old fishing shows or shows about WWII (while WWII is interesting, you can only watch so much about Hitler and Mengele before getting kind of depressed). I also feel the need to mention that I have maybe 20 channels and within those, I have channels in Macedonian, Bulgarian, Serbian, German, Italian, and English, so if I get sick of one language, I can switch to another. Best part is Discovery Channel came back today and Wednesday nights are when my current favourite show, Border Security, is on. There are two versions, Australia and USA and it features the many different agencies that control the borders of the two countries. Yes, it is kinda trashy TV and there definitely are some rather racist moments in each episode, but its still better than the soap operas that are popular here, right? Debatable I know. However, the episode tonight featured Roseau, Minnesota (pronounced on the show as Row-so) and the people who sneak between the U.S./ Canada border during the winter when the lakes are frozen.  Ah, the accents- it makes me feel at home! Clearly that is a sign I was meant to watch this show instead of na gosti-ing the neighbours tonight.

Did You Know…. About 400 semi-trucks full of garbage come in from Canada to Michigan every day and some border control agents have the job of searching through the garbage.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Vevchani 2012

Twas the weekend of Old New Year and all through the country, PCVs headed to Vevchani to see all the fun-try. 

Some wore masks, the others noses, we took many pictures with hundreds of poses. 
Anna and Lync
Amy, Lync, Misi, Jorgi, Claire, and Andres
Thousands were there to see such a sight, the US Ambassador even came in for the night.

The parade began with quite a big bang, there would be plenty of time to see the whole gang.
Cody and Stephen
Cameras came out and snapped a few shots, we managed to capture quite a lot. 
Austin was brave enough to let Slave up onto his shoulders.
The costumes were wild and some a little crude, one might even say some were a bit lewd. 
Cody made a new friend

We saw cacti and walruses, Hitler and Honest Abe, there were men dressed as women and one special babe.

Dead animals were flung along with some poop, despite the chaos the PCVs stayed a group.

Obama appeared and let out a yell, to Phebe he called, “my wife Michelle”! 

Thomas Jefferson strolled around and apples waddled by, there were warriors and fake blood and I can’t forget the eye. 

The parade may have ended, but the night was still young, there was oro to dance and songs to be sung.

Julie was lost, but only for a bit, she had wandered off to find somewhere to sit.

We danced and we laughed, we had Chris's game to play, the night ended with cupcakes and a HAPPY BIRTHDAY! 
Claire, Andres, Shannon, and Anna
Cupcakes for Claire's Birthday
Kapa and Klep
We awoke in the morning to much snow and ice, another day  in Vevchani sure would be nice. 
While wandering the village a snowball fight was had, against the local children the PCVs beat them bad.

Our fingers and toes were growing cold, but along came a table and sat down in the road. 

A topla rakija to drink then off we go, we follow the locals to where we don’t know.

The trees beckoned to us to follow them quick, we didn’t fall down despite the ground being slick. 
Rob and Morgan
The Trees had to help push a car up the road when it got stuck.

We were invited in by the local residents, we sat down and ate with our former presidents. 

We posed for a picture with a double, of our Country Director let’s hope we don’t get in trouble. 
This man shared some similarities to our Country Director here, so we had to take a picture!
After much food and drink we headed uphill, to the center we went to see the new thrill.
Not sure what these men were dressed up as, but Amy and I got a picture with them.
My new friend
The costumes were burning but the fire was low, people were focused on dancing the Oro. 
Dancing the Oro with our friends, the trees.

Team Lozovo escaped for an afternoon walk, we went up the hill to have a family talk.
Amy, Anders, Sara, Claire
We took family photos and watched children sled, we grew hungry and tired and wanted a bed. 
Claire, Sara, Andres, Amy, Anna, Shannon
As typical, we had to take a few entertaining photos too.

Who wouldn't want to go sledding when they have bright pink hair!

With our stomachs grumbling with hunger that night, we set out to find a food delight.

Everything was closed all around town, my smile quickly turned into a frown.

A nice man emerged from a slava party, he opened his shop to cook us something hearty.

Full and happy we went to the hotel to bed, with visions of Vevchani stuck in our head.

In the morning we woke to hear some news, a tale of a victim now with Vevchani blues. 

There were devils and skulls, burning caskets and trees, but one mighty man was brought to his knees. 

With one wrong step on the ice it was easy to slip, down Lync went, it was more than a rip.

A ride to Skopje, a prognosis made, to America Lync went with Boris to aid.

So ends our tale of Vevchani dear, next year we shall go back with only ice to fear.

Friday, January 20, 2012


The cold has set in. Now being a Minnesota girl, I should be used to cold, but as I may have said before, this is a completely different kind of cold. You not only have the cold outside, you have it inside and sometimes the inside cold is worse than the outside cold. You are cold when you wake up, cold when you go to work, cold when you shower, cold when you cook, cold when you go to sleep, you’re just cold 24/7. I have become very familiar with the site of seeing my breath inside my house on a regular basis. Earlier this week I stayed at another volunteer’s house and everyone kept asking why I would dare stay at Jason’s because its so cold (his place is too open so he doesn’t even attempt to heat it because his heater would do nothing- I hopped around his house in my sleeping bag). While there, I was definitely cold and told him I think his place beat mine out for coldness. However, I got home, after being gone for almost a week, and changed my statement. I came home to frozen pipes in my entire house and my toilet bowl being filled with solid ice, despite my landlady having come and built a fire at least once. I called my landlady to fix the situation because I was going to have to get creative about my bathroom needs if the problem wasn’t solved. She came with a few friends and in an hour they had it unfrozen. The process involved jamming a stick around in the toilet,  boiling water and dumping it in the toilet, placing a heater on a plastic basket with the extension cord running through a pool of water on the floor and telling me to leave it on all night, and then telling me to leave the water running in my place all night, flush the toilet every half hour or so, and keep switching the pots of hot water from under my kitchen sink (those pipes were still frozen when they left and the solution was try to heat them with steam from the water below). Yet another interesting experience in this country. And don’t worry, I didn’t leave that heater running as it was all night, or running at all for that matter. As soon as they left, that situation was resolved because I didn’t feel like the solution to frozen pipes was starting a fire in my house. The pipes have frozen outside of my house a few times since then; I have water, then I suddenly don’t. I believe the question “Am I going to have to pee in my yard facing my neighbours?” has crossed my mind about 6 or 7 times since Tuesday.

The ice sitting at the bottom of my frozen toilet.

Yup, can't use this right now.
I start my fire every morning and it burns all day. Theoretically the room its in should be warm, however when I got to bed in there, I wear about 8 layers on top, two on the bottom, three pairs on socks- 2 pairs SmartWool, my hat, and I curl up in my “warm to 20-degrees” down sleeping bag with a thick blanket doubled up on top and, you guessed it, I am still cold. My landlady told me yesterday the weather will be like this until the end of April probably. You better believe that made me excited. I guess I can’t complain too much since this weekend was the first time I have had snow and ice in my town. The temperature has been hovering around -13 Fahrenheit at night the last few nights. We were supposed to start school back up from the break this Friday (tomorrow), however, due to the cold, the Ministry of Education cancelled school and we will start on Monday, which probably makes more sense because as every teacher knows, not a lot would be accomplished on Friday. Now this isn’t an “Arkansas got a ½ centimeter of snow we need to cancel school” situation- I can see their point in that the schools haven’t really been heated since the end of December and it would take a whole lot of wood to get them even slightly warm just for one day- it doesn’t really make sense.

The cold/snow/ice even took one of our PCVs this past weekend in Vevchani (another post for another time). Vevchani is a village built on a hill. We were all slipping and sliding around because of the ice, and many of us took minor tumbles (the bump on the back of my head is almost gone!). However, while trying to escape the craziness and head back to Prilep, one of the volunteers, Lync, slipped and didn’t end up quite so lucky. He ended up in a taxi headed to the hospital in Skopje where he found out his humorous bone was split completely in two and sometimes he could, “feel them [the two pieces] dancing with each other”. After a few days in the hospital, he was medivaced on a flight with one of the Peace Corps drivers bound for Washington D.C. for surgery and rehab before hopefully coming back to finish out his service. He has 45 days to get better or else he is medically separated, however, knowing Lync, he will be back in no time. If the pictures below don’t give you an idea of what kind of character Lync is, one of the things Lync commented on most was the fact that in the shuffle of the weekend, he lost his toothbrush.


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.