Tuesday, March 13, 2012

There is truth to some stereotypes....

Stereotypes exist about every group of people out there. I am a believer that fairly often, there is some truth behind them all. Minnesotans are no different. There is the idea that we all love hotdish (You know you're from the Midwest when you don't need to Google what hotdish is. Side Note: I recently discovered that people outside of the Midwest don't know what puppy chow is. A crime? I think so.). While some people don't love hotdish, many do (it's near impossible to find a potluck without a hotdish, especially if its at a Lutheran church. There it sits between the red jello, potato salad, and buttered ham sandwiches and before the coffee and bars).

Of course there is the "Minnesota Nice" stereotype. For those of you not from Minnesota, everyone's favourite, Wikipedia, has a pretty good definition of Minnesota Nice: "the stereotypical behavior of people born and raised in Minnesota to be courteous, reserved, and mild-mannered. The cultural characteristics of Minnesota nice include a polite friendliness, an aversion to confrontation, a tendency toward understatement, a disinclination to make a fuss or stand out, emotional restraint, and self-depreciation". I laughed while investigating further into Wikipedia's page on Minnesota nice because it featured a quote from a New York Times article saying, "The generosity of state . Side note: The generosity of state citizens has gained respect; the heavily-reported influenza vaccine shortage of fall 2004 did not strike the state as hard as elsewhere since many people willingly gave up injections for others." And apparently there was a 2008 study called The United States of Mind that "found that Minnesota was the second most agreeable (makes me wonder which state was first) and fifth most extraverted state in the nation, traits associated with nice" (again from Wikipedia).

And I can't neglect to mention my favourite stereotype from Garrison Keillor (link provided for you non-Minnesotans) The News from Lake Wobegon, "Lutheran Guilt", or basically feeling guilty all the time and for everything, even when it's not your fault or you have nothing to do with the situation.

I used to laugh at these stereotypes and they were just that- stereotypes. I didn't think much more about it. However, being in Macedonia and with PCVs from all over the US of A and watching a vast amount of How I Met Your Mother I have realized I am one of those people the stereotypes are based off of. I do nothing to offset these ideas about Minnesotans.

Example A:
I was at my local pazar (think farmer's market meets flea market) this past Friday. Since the pazar is a weekly outing, I have developed several vendors that I frequent each week for certain items. I have two orange ladies, an apple couple, and an onion/potato man. My onion/potato man sought me out. One day back in January maybe I was strolling the stalls and I hear "Ој, Американка", the equivalent of "Hey female American". I turn to see a nice older man with onions, potatoes, and garlic. I figured, hey I could use more onions and potatoes so I ask him for a kilo of each. Most vendors hand you a bag and you choose your produce, however, I am still kinda new at this so I prefer the ones who pick it out for me because, like this man, they usually pick out the best for me because, well I am an American (silly reason in my mind, but whatever gets me good produce I guess). The next week he saw me from across the stalls and yelled the same greeting and I have gone back to him ever since.

This week, however, I didn't see him. I didn't hear the familiar yelling, so I wandered around and found a nice lady who sold me some potatoes. I turned around to search for onions and more fruit and there he was, my onion/potato man. Right there, not even 5 feet away, just looking at me. I don't know how I missed him, but I felt terrible. For over a month this man has so graciously picked out the best potatoes and onions from his stash for me and now I had gone and betrayed him, buying potatoes from someone else. I quickly scuttled away with my head down (if I was a dog my tail would have been between my legs in shame), not wanting to look at him. I decided in the moment that this next week I need to buy two kilos of each from him in hopes that I can make up for my error. I still needed onions, but I just couldn't face my normal guy after buying from the enemy.

When I told this story to another PCV (not from Minnesota) they laughed at me and said, "or you could just buy your normal amount. I don't think the guy really cared that much". But being the Minnesotan I am, I was suffering from a severe case of Lutheran Guilt. Did I really need to feel that guilty? No, but I did and I can guarantee when I go to the pazar this week, I will feel ashamed when I buy my onions and potatoes from him.

Exhibit B:
After not being able to buy onions from my usual guy (Exhibit A), I wandered around looking. I saw lots of only so-so onions (I think my onion/potato guy spoiled me because most of them looked sub-par to his) and finally came across one place that had some decent looking onions. I waited my turn (an interesting cultural difference: the concept of lines do NOT exist in this country what-so-ever) patiently and then asked, "Јас сакам еден кило кромид" ("I would like 1 kilo of onions"). The man grabs a pineapple and puts it in a bag for me with a huge smile on his face. I didn't really want a 150 denari pineapple, but the man looked so happy to be selling one and I think he thought it was going to make me really happy. I didn't want to hurt his feelings because he really did look happy, so now, I have this non-ripe pineapple in my fridge.

 The funny thing is the words for pineapple and onion don't sound anything alike. Onion is кромид (crow-meed) and pineapple is ананас (ahn-ahn-ahs). I know my Macedonian is pronounced with quite the accent, but not THAT much. So that leads me to believe that this man took me as a foreign sucker who he could make buy a pineapple even though they don't want one. Well, he picked the right person. I didn't want to make him sad so I kept my mouth shut and walked away with a pineapple.

In talking with the PCV from before they again, laughed and made fun of my Minnesota Niceness, especially when they found out I spent 150 denari on the stupid pineapple (don't get me wrong I enjoy pineapple but 1) I'm not sure how to ripen it in my cold house, 2) now is not pineapple season, and 3) that's a lot to spend on one piece of fruit). I was asked, "Why didn't you just say no you wanted onions?". My only response was, "because the man looked so happy and I didn't want to disappoint him".

I do nothing to fight the stereotypes of Minnesotans and while I know there are a lot of people out there who try to break free from the stereotypes set upon their group, I am ok with confirming the ones most people have about Minnesotans. I know I need to be careful with the Minnesota Nice one as that can lead to being taken advantage of, but is usually a good thing in my mind. In regards to Lutheran Guilt, I probably cause myself some unnecessary stress feeling guilty when I don't need to, but not too much. And as far as hotdishes, what I wouldn't do for some of my mom's wild rice and buffalo hotdish right now.

Sunday, March 11, 2012


Super quick update because I am sitting outside in the rain to write this, but.....

I have heat again!

After over a week with no heat, due to a clogged chimney and a too busy landlord, I have heat again. I am hopeful that in the next few days feeling will return to my hands and feet.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Casualties in Kamenica

This winter there have been quite a few casualties here in Kamenica. On a serious note, there have been a lot of people who have died, mostly from cancer, mostly from the contaminated water. I have seen quite a few funeral processions and while I have wanted to photograph the event, it just doesn’t seem right (“There’s that American girl who was snapping pictures when daddy died” yeah I don’t want that).

Ok, enough of the serious. There have been quite a few casualties around my house. Killing spiders and other insects has become a pretty daily occurrence. Sometimes, if they aren’t intrusive/near me, I grant them a pardon, at least temporarily.

When everyone was here at Christmas, quite a few bottles of wine were casualties of drinking and four trees gave their lives in honor of American Christmas.

Several glasses have died due to slippery hands and accidental spills.

Many pieces of fruit have had to be thrown after freezing to death? in my very chilly house.

I have also had many near casualties….many wounded articles of clothing. First was a SmartWool sock that only wanted to dry. I granted the sock its wish and placed it gently in a banitsa pan atop of my woodburning stove. I turned my head for just a second only to turn back and see a brownish mark along the front of the sock and the beginnings of a hole. I quickly rescued the sock, hoping to be able to revive it. I performed surgery immediately, however, stitches weren’t enough and the wound opens a little more every time I slide my feet inside.  

Next we had a slight blunder when rearranging a log in my fire melted the fingertip of one of my winter gloves. I lay awake that night, wondering if the poor glove would ever survive, but somehow, the glove pulled through though and survived the near catastrophe and still, to this day, keeps my finger warm.

Sometime in early February, during the most dreadful cold, I was partaking in an ancient Macedonian tradition, putting your feet in the oven part (away from the flames) of the woodburning stove for a short time just to get some feeling back into your feet. It felt so good. I started to be able to wiggle my toes. Ah. It was magical. When my feet became a little too warm, I moved them back to the edge of the stove and, alas, another fire-related injury occurred. 

Since then, I had been incident free for almost a month, until Thursday, while attempting to start my fire again. (This past week has been a battle trying to get a fire to light. On Sunday I tried with the damp wood, all I have left, and my attempt left me with both my smoke detectors going off and a house full of thick, black smoke. Since then I was working hard to dry my wood out and decided to try again on Thursday (once again, all I got was thick smoke, which leads me to believe there is either a problem with the wood my landlady gave me or more likely a problem with my stove).) As I rushed to remove the smoking logs from my stove and get them outside, somehow, another near casualty occurred. This time, well, let’s just say North Face fleeces are NOT fire proof. 

And lastly, the most fatal of all clothing/fire incidents:
After the SmartWool sock incident of December, I tried to keep an extra close eye on my laundry when it was drying near my woodburning stove, however, about two weeks later I lost a good, faithful pair of underwear (sorry no picture included). While much was still intact, this pair gave me a whole new visual (or more accurately for me it was an initial visual) to the phrase “crotch-less panties” and they were given a quick, but ceremonial bury in the dumpster down the road.
I am hoping as the fire-building season starts to draw to a close (or perhaps it already has for me since my landlady doesn't seem to want to do anything about my fire, or lack there of) to start a new count going for accident free days.

Friday, March 9, 2012

8th of March

Yesterday, March 8th, was quite the holiday here in Macedonia. The 8th of March or 8ми Март, is known as Women’s Day or Ден на Жени. Originally the day was explained to me as the Macedonian version of Mother’s Day. While it bears some similarities, it is more akin to Mother’s Day on steroids.

First a brief history, as it was explained to me by the locals. The 8th of March is a day to celebrate women and all the nice things they do. That was all the history I was given until today it was added in that perhaps on this day a long time ago women said they wanted to be treated like equals to their male counterparts. I told you it would be a brief history. No one I asked could tell me much more about the origins of this holiday.

I said it had some similarities to Mother’s Day, well from what I have observed, kids make cards for their moms and often give them a small gift, such as flowers or some other womanly trinket. This makes me think back to some of the junk I gave my mother on mother’s day- sorry. If it is anything like some of the stuff that is being sold here, you probably should have “accidentally” misplaced some of it (now all you mother’s reading this are probably thinking, no, its from my child I love everything I get. Now that I am older, I know, it’s a lie. Not everything you receive from your children is wonderful and worth hanging onto). At least I can say that in the last few years my Mother’s Day gifts have improved a little….hopefully.

Now here comes the steroids part. The children often give their female teachers a flower as well. If it were the US and you had a class of 25, you might get say 20 flowers- not too ridiculous. However today, I received over 75 flowers and small gifts from my 4th and 6th graders! There were some classes (one 4th grade in particular) that I could barely walk out of class because my arms were so full with gifts. Now my bedroom has one jar of real flowers and about 50 fake flowers (not quite sure what you do with 50 fake flowers…..). 
The real flowers
The fake flowers
I know flowers should make women happy and make rooms brighter and more festive, but in my case, I feel a little like I am in a funeral chapel, not really a great atmosphere for my bedroom. I also received a few interesting knick-knacks. I will let the pictures speak for themselves because there is no way I could adequately describe these items.
A lovely vase
And a box to store "special things" in
The Macedonian version of "Precious Moments"
A can of deodorant spray.... I know I don't get to shower as often as in the US, but....
However, my favourite part of the whole day was walking into one 4th grade classroom and all the kids had hidden in the very back of the room. When my counterpart and I walked in, they jumped up and all yelled, “Среќен 8ми Март!” and on the blackboard the children had written

Happy 8th Martch Наставници

I really wish I had gotten a picture of the board because it was the perfect mix of English, misspelled English, and Macedonian and was adorable and that’s the reason why those kids are probably my favourite class overall. 

In addition, many companies treat their female employees to special things on this day. At the preschool, I was told all the female teachers were being wined and dined at a nice restaurant in another town, compliments of the preschool. The teachers at my school were given shortened class periods (I had 5 classes today and we were done before 11am- only 30 minutes per class), then snacks and juice in the teacher’s lounge, followed by a brief appearance from the Director (principal) and a speech by a male teacher before handing out flowers and towels to all the female teachers (I found the gift of towels to be slightly amusing as if it is a day tied to women’s liberation of course the perfect gift is something to tie them to their housework!). A few of the teachers at my school left early to go to Italy for the weekend and I was told that the female teachers at another volunteer’s school were all going to a spa in Serbia to celebrate.

So I guess in the spirit of the day…

Среќен 8ми Март сите жени!
All of the gifts I received from my students on the 8th of March

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Thoughts on Life from a Sandwich?

I found sliced bread today and my life has just changed again (just as it did when I got a shower curtain for my shower).

When I found the bread, I knew exactly what I was going to do with it- 

As I was making my sandwich (actually sandwiches since the bread slices were tiny), I got to thinking about how this peanut butter and jelly sandwich is more than just lunch. It represents my life now. The peanut butter was mailed to me by my amazing parents back in Minnesota and the jam was a gift from my wonderful host family in Lozovo. I even put the potato chips inside my sandwich like my best friend in St. Peter does. My life is now a mix of America and Macedonia and this lunch reminded me of some of the many great people I have in my life and how lucky I am to have people who have known me in the first 24 years and loved me enough to let me go off on this wild, crazy adventure as well as people who have known me for only six months who want to do everything they can to make sure my adventure here is the best it can be. Its funny how something as simple as a sandwich can get you thinking.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Feb 21, 2012 in Pictures

I made a traditional dish, musaka in my wood burning stove. Musaka is made of potatoes, onions, meat, and eggs.
This was found on one of my shirts. I did not appreciate it in the least. I threw the shirt out my door, hit the spider off with a chunk of wood, then proceeded to throw chunks of wood at it hoping to crush it. I managed not to scream, but one of my neighbours did get to be fortunate enough to witness this event. Later, I went out to check and see if the body was still there and it wasn't. That means either my neighbour came and removed the body so I didn't have to see it or the spider wasn't dead and will now be coming for his revenge. If anyone knows their spiders, please let me know what kind it is. I have been searching online but no luck yet.

These two pictures show what is left in a pan after I boiled water in it. The white coconut looking stuff and the brown stains is the residue from my not safe to drink water- full of led, zinc and cadmium. Delicious.

I don't have a picture for this event (and you all should be glad), but walking down to my sheet of ice for internet today I just missed stepping on something white and fuzzy. I thought it was a mouse but after further investigation, I discovered it was a dog's paw. This reminded me of the sad story of one pup in Lozovo. RIP Fifi.

As I sat down on my ice slab and pulled out my computer, two police officers walked past, stopped, and approached me. They had seen me sitting out here on several occasions and finally decided to talk to me (meaning they must have decided I was crazy but not dangerous). They asked why I was here (meaning the ice slab on the side of the road), why I was here (as in Kamenica), why I was here alone, if I had registered with the police when I moved here (they asked this one about 10 times), where I lived, and several other questions. As they bid me ado, they told me that they hope I find a nice Macedonian man while I am here (they were dumbfounded by the fact that I came here alone) and made sure I knew the number of the police in case I need anything. Only in Macedonia would the police wish you luck in finding a man!

About 2 minutes later a lady walked by and was confused why I was here. I explained to her that I don't have internet at home so I have to come here for it. She said she was on her way to buy bread but if I was still here when she came back she was taking me back to her house so I could sit there instead.

Differences at Site

We were told a million times during PST that everyone's site placement is different. A lot of information was presented to us through panels of current PCVs who shared their experiences in regards to a certain topic, however it was always stressed that these experiences were those of just that PCV, not everyone.

I was talking with a few other PCVs this past week and this was the topic of conversation- the differences between our sites. A few of the most noticeable differences are below.
  • Some TEFLs teach from day one. They walk into the classroom the first day they are at site and they do an introduction lesson and get started planning with their counterparts for the lessons they will teach. I am not one of those TEFLs. Some of us have to take things at a much slower pace and feel out our counterpart and school before we can do anything. Some TEFLs have only taught one lesson in the three months at site, with no more lessons on the horizon. Neither way is right or wrong and both have their advantages in my opinion. In my case, I know my counterpart is really busy with grad school, teaching, and helping her family at home so I have had to move slowly and suggest ideas at a slower pace. While I have only taught once, I have seen my counterpart taking a few of my ideas and incorporating them into her teaching. I know there are other people here who would be frustrated by this because they came here to teach, but its how my counterpart and I work together and I am becoming more and more patient everyday.
  • Some PCVs feel like they are really living the "posh corps" with very modern apartments with washing machines, heaters/air conditioners, high speed internet, 400 TV channels, shopping centers, etc. Again, I am not one of those. Some of us are just happy we have an indoor toilet! I don't have internet at home, my apartment is only heated with a wood burning stove, I can't drink the water from my sink because it is contaminated, I hand wash all of my clothing, etc. Again, neither is better or worse, just different. At this point, I think I would be frustrated by having all of those things. I like having a daily reminder that I am not in the US (however frustrating it might be at times) but despite that, I am still going to try and continue my pursuit for internet!
  • Some PCVs don't really use their Macedonian because everyone speaks English to them. Yet again, I am not one of those PCVs. I only speak English with my counterpart and only when it is just the two of us talking. I am completely surrounded by Macedonian elsewhere. Macedonia has many different dialects as well, so I am not just learning more literature Macedonian, but also the local dialect, Каменички, which features quite a few Bulgarian words. I am also learning a little Italian from my landlady because if I don't understand what she is saying in Macedonian, she switches to Italian thinking I will of course understand that! However, I like that I am using the Macedonian that I learned and learning more. Yes, it does get tiring sometimes when I don't understand what people are saying, but I would say at this point at least 80% of the time I can figure out what the topic is through picking up words I know and asking questions.
  • Some PCVs get a lot of attention, often unwanted, from their community. I am one of those PCVs. Others blend in and are kind of ignored. While I am still finding people who don't know that I am an American who will be living here for two years, most people know my name even if I haven't met them. I have received some unwanted attention here (from men and not only single men). At first it was very frustrating and I didn't necessarily know how to address it, but after a lot of practice, I know how to handle it tactfully and it makes me laugh now. One of the houses I na gosti often is always bringing over boys for me to meet and while sometimes I don't want to feel like I am on a set up, I just find it funny. I have told everyone here I have a boyfriend, but that doesn't seem to stop them because of course a Macedonian one is always better than an American one (in their minds at least). 
All in all, my take (6 months in country) is that the way to win at Peace Corps is to always stay positive and find the good in any situation.