Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Berovo, Macedonia

 This past weekend the weather was absolutely gorgeous outside, so I went to visit one of the other PCVs, Anna who lives in Berovo, a tourist town in Eastern Macedonia. We both wanted to spend some time enjoying the weather and hiking seemed like the perfect option.

In the Center of Berovo
We started our adventure Saturday morning: the two of us, and two of Anna’s students, Tamara and Julija.
Leaving Berovo on the way to Berovo Lake
The road leading to Berovo Lake
The weather was warm, in the 60s and sunny, but despite that, we still encountered some snow as we walked up to Berovo Lake.
The path leading down to the lake
Berovo Lake
Short sleeves!
Looking out over the snow covered lake
We hiked for about 6 hours, going up to the lake, enjoying a coffee drink with some of Skopje’s elite models (you know, what every PCV does on the weekend), and then back down. I had decided I needed to share my mistake of a pineapple, so I brought it with and it was a wonderful post hike snack.

That night we had an amazing late dinner of mixed salad, hot wine, and pastramalija. Anna swears Berovo’s pastramalija is the best, however she is biased as Berovo’s pastramalija has cheese (a true Wisconsin girl). But even without cheese, it was delicious!

Forgot to take a picture before we devoured it, but mixed salad
Hot wine
Anna's favourite pastramalija with cheese
My delicious pastramalija- bez cheese
Sunday morning we continued our hiking and hiked around Berovo. We wandered up to the Roma community, an abandoned summer camp, and through the monastery.

View from the Roma community
The Monastery
Where the nuns live
The entrance to the Monastery
A close-up of the entrance
I am sure this place has an official word, but I don't know it. Its the standing place up high.
The front of the church
The front
Candles lit
Again, probably an official word, but this is a sitting place.
Anna enjoying the sun shining in.
The really old Bibles.
We are pretty sure this one was written in Bulgarian.
The front page of the really old Bulgarian Bible.
Jesus looks pretty much the same here.
The doors leading back to the secret area.
Mini graveyard outside the church.
Cool looking bell
Anna sporting her Packers hat of course!
The reason Berovo is called "Little Switzerland"
Overlooking Berovo
Hiking up the hill to see what is on the other side.
The other side- Abandoned summer cabins.
Of course we explored!
Even if these weren't falling apart, they don't look like much fun to stay in.
The kids have redecorated.
All in all, it was a fabulous weekend. Anna’s apartment was like a resort for me as she has heat, hot water, internet, and cable TV. I was in heaven! Despite our weekend leaving us both a little injured, it was a wonderful time.
Anna's sunburn
My blister. It doubled the size of my pinky toe.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Мојот Пазар (My Pazar)

My town's weekly pazar is a magical place, especially this time of year. There are so many amazing fruits and vegetables, all a little fresher than what I could find in the US. And it is so amazingly cheap. This was the result of my shopping trip this past Friday (and I am pleased to report that 1) I got all of the fruits and vegetables I asked for, nothing different and 2) my onion and potato man gave me a look for a minute than picked up right where we left off by choosing me the best potatoes and onions he had).

1 kilogram of spinach- 20 denari (43¢)

1 kilogram of carrots- 50 denari ($1.07)
1.5 kilograms of potatoes- 20 denari (43¢)
1.5 kilograms of onions- 30 denari (65¢)
1 kilogram of oranges- 30 denari (65¢)
1 kilogram of kiwi- 50 denari ($1.07)
Grand total: 7 kilograms (15.4 lbs) of fruits and vegetables = 200 denari ($4.27)

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Wednesday, March 14: A Photo Summary

The filters for my water distiller: Left is old, Right is new. Clearly it was time for a change.

Dogs wander randomly here- most are not pets. This one decided to wander into the river to hang out.

No snow! There is still some up on the mountains, but very little on the ground.

Trying to ripen my pineapple in a very chilly house. I was hoping placing it near the fire would help. It hasn't.

I only have wet wood left that was just cut, so in order to have a chance of a fire, I need to heat it up on my stove.

I na gosti-ed the neighbours and was sent home with a bag full of apples.

They were apples that would be thrown away in the US (wrinkly and full of bruises and worm holes) but here, they are pretty much all you can find right now.

I also came home with a pretty sweet tattoo from one of my neighbour girls.

And painted fingernails from another neighbour girl (completely her choice in colour and design).

My lunch and dinner: An American style sandwich. Chicken with lettuce and homemade honey mustard on seed and grain bread (the healthiest bread I have found here!). It was VERY good!

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