Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Art of Na Gosti-ing

I have talked about na gosti-ing a fair amount on my blog, but after the last couple days, I felt the need to elaborate for several reasons. First, I was once again blown away by the hospitality of the people here and second, I know there are some Mak-17s out there reading this and I hope this will ease your fears and excite you as you prepare for your journey of a lifetime.

на гости /nə gəʊstɪː/ [na gosti]
noun (used with the preposition на)
1. to be a guest

на гостиње /nə gəʊstɪːɪng/ [na gosti-ing]
verb (only in Americanized Macedonian)
2. to go visit

Yesterday, I decided I would go visit my neighbours- nothing out of the ordinary. My na gosti-ing started around noon.

8 hours, 3 houses, 9 sets of neighbours, 5 glasses of soda, and 4 gifts later, I arrived home.

Today, I had the priviledge of having guests at my house as some of the neighbourhood children came over to play Uno and draw.   

4 hours, 10 games of Uno, 3 children, and 8 uses of my Eng-MK dictionary later, I was home alone.

And now a......

Reader's Digest Version of The Art of Na Gosti-ing
1) You have to sometimes work for your na gostis. You might have to do what is uncommon for Americans- just appear on someone's doorstep and basically invite yourself in. This is the hardest part of na gosti-ing in my mind, getting used to just appearing and not worrying if you are being an inconvenience. After being here almost a year, this is still something I struggle with, even with my closest friends and neighbours here that I usually see a couple times a week. However, if you are willing to step out of your comfort zone and ring someone's doorbell, you are in for a treat.

2) Clear your schedule for at least 3 hours. I have had na gostis last up to eight or nine hours and then they were begging me to spend the night. Be prepared to spend quite a bit of time at someone's house when you go.  

3) Learn when are the right times for nodding, saying "da", smiling, and laughing even if you have no idea what the conversation is about. It will save you lots of time having people retell stories to you over and over using different vocabulary each time. Warning with this strategy: if you do this too much, you could end up agreeing to lots of things you don't want to and people will start to think your Macedonian is better than it is, thus leading to even more advanced conversations that go over your head even more.

4) Even if you don't want it, learn to accept and drink lots of soda and coffee and be prepared to eat. In most Macedonian homes, your soda glass will be filled almost immediately after you take one sip and you must finish your glass before you go home, so drink slowly if you want to limit the amount of soda you have to drink. Don't want coffee? Try telling them that if you drink coffee now, you won't sleep later. That is the only excuse I have found that allows me to turn down coffee without too much fuss. Who cares if you just ate a 5 course meal, if you na gosti, be ready to eat even more.

5) Ring, ring. "Hello (pause) Oh hi Stephen Kutzy (pause) You need to talk to me right now? Ok." Become familiar with the Fake Call feature on your phone. When the na gosti has reached a point of no return and you aren't sure how you will ever be able to escape, casually turn on the fake call feature and within a minute, you will have a perfectly acceptable excuse to escape back to your couch and external hard drive. "Sorry I have to talk to my boss at the Peace Corps right now. I am terribly sorry to leave. I will certainly come back though. Thanks!". Other acceptable excuses include: having a Skype meeting, Macedonian language homework, "I think I left my boiler on and don't want to get charged the electricity which is so expensive", and the always successful- "Its time to call my mom and dad (or another loved one back home)". This country survives on relationships, so it is a fool proof excuse.

6) Ajvar, slippers, homemade bread...the list goes on. Be prepared of the possibility of accepting gifts when you leave. If you are a regular visitor this may not happen after the first few times, but if you are a new guest, be ready because it might happen. Common gifts include: fruit and vegetables from their yard, flowers they grew, jars of ajvar, pindjur, and slatko, homemade treats like bread and cookies, and bracelets and other items the children have made/recently bought that you can wear and show off. I have also received: moldy pears, plastic bag "creations", scraps of fabric, and a container of liver. Yum. Yum.

The gifts I received in my na gosti-ing yesterday
A jar of ajvar- my first homemade ajvar in months!
The most stylish and elaborate knit slippers I have seen in this country
A bracelet made out of painted telephone cord
A friendship bracelet- the first one (the others are from Camp GLOW)
7) The final, and most important step, enjoy yourself. You will feel very uncomfortable at times, confused by the language, bored with the conversation topic, or stuffed to the gills with food and drink, however, in my mind, na gosti-ing is one of the most important and most rewarding parts of your service here. It is a chance to show the locals that you aren't so different/weird/scary after all. 

Tuesday, August 7, 2012


42 степени (107.6 degrees Fahrenheit). Today is the hottest day in the past 20 years here, at least according to my neighbours. The Bureau of Meteorology said we are in a heat wave with "extreme temperatures". So not only in the past year have I been through the coldest temperatures in the past 20 years, but also the hottest. Something seems really unfair about that. To make matters worse, because of the excessive temperatures there is a water ration going on (at least in my part of the country) so I am now without water too. I managed to sneak out enough today to fill my distiller so I have an additional gallon of drinking water, but hopefully this whole thing doesn't last too long or I will have to break into my undistilled stuff or switch to soda as the stores have been out of water here. I have only been having to deal with this for a few days, so nothing major, however in this heat, a shower would be nice (but I guess now that I finally have slightly better internet access, something else had to give- wouldn't want this to be too much like America!).

Despite the heat I got a lot accomplished today. I decided this morning, that despite the heat, I had to go down to the bank to pay my electricity bill because the last thing I wanted was to be without water and electricity. I wasn't really looking forward to paying this bill because I had a 400 denari late fee on it since my landlords hadn't given it to me in time. I walked into the bank to a big line (at least the place was air conditioned and I had no where I really had to be) and two tellers- one the lady who HATES me because I am not fluent in Macedonian and the other the man who has always been pretty friendly with me. I stood waiting and when it was almost my turn, the lady looked up, saw me and told me I had to go to the guy's line because she clearly didn't want to deal with me. Fine by me. I don't want to pay my bill with you anyway! When it came to be my turn, he was so excited to see me and we chatted for a few minutes while he entered my bill info into the computer. He then decided that because I was an American, he would make that 400 denari late fee disappear and with the click of a few buttons, it was gone. I really should remember to bake that man cookies or something.

After the bank, I ventured to the post office to mail a few post cards from Istanbul that I hadn't mailed yet. Nothing too exciting happened there, other than the employee told me I was unable to buy one of the greeting cards that was sitting there for sale because she doesn't speak English. The card was in Macedonian and I asked in Macedonian, but she said no because she couldn't speak English. Ok, was that her way of passive-aggressively asking me to teach her English?

My next move was onto the grocery store to buy, well I wasn't sure what, but I figured I needed something since I have no food at my house. I wandered around the grocery store not really seeing much I wanted to buy, but ended up with some juice, napkins, tortilla-esque chips, and a chicken. While there Peace Corps called me to discuss my upcoming housing move. I had given them my new landlady's phone number, but it didn't work, so that meant one more stop on my in town excursion. I was told though that my current landlady was notified that I will be moving September 10th. This is when my parents are here- they can't even get out of helping me move when I live in another country! But at least this time, I will have a fraction of the stuff, pretty much everything will fit into a few suitcases and one or two boxes.

I stopped by my new place to talk to my landlady there and she was so welcoming again. The place I will be moving into is what we have deemed a quasi-homestay. Basically I have a little studio apartment in a family's home but I will share the bathroom with them. The room is rather large and has a small balcony, two couches for sleeping, a sitting chair, table and chairs, a wardrobe, and a mini kitchen with fridge, oven, sink, and about 3 feet of counter space. It is really all I will need. While I like the freedom of living on my own, in this town, there really isn't a fiscally feasible option. My current place costs way too much and after 5 1/2 months of searching, no one has come across any other options. I think this place will have a fair amount of perks that certainly should outweigh the cons, including a washing machine I can use, hopefully more reliable internet access, being literally 2 minutes from school, and it should be better heated for the winter and with that I should have some help with my fire, at least certainly if I need it.

Following my journey down into town, I was hot and wanted a few minutes to relax before I was going to go na gosti some of my neighbours. However, within just a few minutes of returning home, I had my own na gosti.  I have a regular group of girls (ages 7-9) who come over to play Uno for a few hours each day. You would think the game would eventually start to get boring, but I guess only if you are over a certain age (despite the box saying the game is for ages 7+). Even if I get a little tired with the game, it is a fun time. I am amazed at how easy it is to understand the kids here (due to their own more limited vocabularies) and how easy it is for them to understand me. I was talking with someone recently and they pointed out that kids are great to practice your Macedonian with because they don't care if you make grammatical errors or such because they often don't know it themselves. Today's conversation was about loosing teeth, during which I shared with them the American tradition of the Tooth Fairy and they were in awe. I wish I could have captured the look on their faces- eyes wide, almost like Christmas morning. The same was true when I shared with them pictures from home and they saw the gingerbread houses my sister and I made a few years back. It is funny what words can get said though and I sometimes grab my dictionary when talking with them and they can't think of an alternative word to use. However, often, when I look up the word, it doesn't necessarily help. Today's quizzical word came during a conversation about eating dinner with my family at home. One of the girls was trying so hard to ask me a question and despite being able to understand most of the words she was using, something clearly was lost in translation. She asked me, if you're sitting around eating with your mom, dad, sister and you with a spoon and there is only one spoon, then used the Macedonian word, "гат", which my dictionary translates as "pier, jetty, breakwater". Can you see where my confusion came in? Oh well, I don't think it was super important.

Another great thing about talking to children is that they are so complimentary. When looking through my photos from home, they were asking who everyone was and kept saying nice things about everyone. "She's so beautiful." "Wow, she has a beautiful shirt." "Oooh look at her hair. I want my hair just like hers." The she in all of these, was me, which I am not a big fan of compliments in any language, but somehow they were easier to listen to from cute little Macedonian girls. In the end they picked out one picture and said that when they grow up they want to look just like I do at.....bum bum bum... Prom. Even though they had seen lots of pictures of people, myself included, wearing normal clothing and I explained to them that our Prom is like their Matura (a one day event similar to Prom combined with graduation), they were fixated on Prom and decided that I always dress like a princess in the USA. I guess that is kind of a Goal 2 failure.

Once the girls left I did a bit more work on a project that VSN (the Volunteer Support Network) is doing as a welcome for the Mak-17s (who will arrive in September). I am not going to give away any more details as I know some of them are reading this now and I don't want to spoil the surprise!

And now I sit and wait for the weather to cool off and hopefully get some promaja (the feared cross-breeze) going to cool my house down even just a little bit. In my head I imagine what Garrison Keillor would say about this. I feel like he could have told this all much more poetically than I did- something to aspire to I guess.

Sara's Disappearance Part 3: Istanbul

Immediately following Camp GLOW, I hopped on a bus from Tetovo to Istanbul for my first out of country vacation. The bus was long (12 hours), but the time actually flew by quite quickly as I was so exhausted from two weeks of little sleep that I slept most of the way. Istanbul is a gorgeous place and 5 days wasn't nearly enough time there. I feel the best way to showcase the trip is through photos. Here are a select few- more are on Facebook.
Phil was a great bus buddy!
There was an ice cream man who liked to play tricks on his customers.
On our first day we stumbled across a big graffiti festival in Taksim Square.
Artists were hard at work creating their masterpieces.
The Topkapi Palace
Inside the Topkapi Palace
The circumcision room at the Topkapi Palace (it had nice decorations)
At the Topkapi Palace looking out over the city.
The Cisterns- the most beautiful part of Istanbul.
The pictures can't even begin to capture the beauty of this place.
Hagia Sophia
Inside the Hagia Sophia
Showing some St Peter Halloween Fun Run and Walk pride
Upper level of the Hagia Sophia
Blue Mosque
Inside the Blue Mosque
View of Istanbul from the ferry
Ferry ride over to the Asian side
We climbed up a big hill and had a gorgeous view of the city.
Like most things in this city, the photos can't quite capture how beautiful it really was.
Inside courtyard of another mosque
Inside a mosque
On our last full day we had drinks under the bridge, which gave us even more beautiful views.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Part 2 of Sara's Disappearance: Camp GLOW

Following YMLP, I went straight to the other leadership camp PCVs help put on for the youth of Macedonia- Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World). As the name says, this is a leadership camp for high school girls from around the country. Like YMLP, this camp brings together youth from the many ethnic groups within the country to learn new skills, improve their English, and realize that they aren't that different from other girls, no matter what ethnic group they are a part of.

Camp GLOW has a large staff made up of PCVs and HCNs. There were close to 40 of us there to help make the 80 girls' week at camp the best week of their lives.
Staff waiting for the girls to arrive
Just days before, I had been told that my co-counselor would not be able to make it to camp, so I had no idea what I was in store for. However, after showing up at camp, I met my new co-counselor, Shqiponja, who was notified she was selected as a counselor that day! Shqiponja was a camper two years ago, a CIT (Counselor in Training) last year, and this year was my co-counselor.
Shqiponja and I were the leaders of Group F
Shqiponja and I had 10 girls from 14-17 from all over Macedonia. They were a fabulous group of girls- I know other counselors might argue, but they were the best! As a counselor, I was with the girls almost 24/7 (although because of the wonderfulness of Wilson School, we had our own room so we had a little break at night! I will admit, I was a little nervous before the girls came and the first day with them just as they were themselves, but by the end of the week, we were a happy little family.

The first day, we, as a group, had to come up with a team name, chant, and flag. My girls chose to be the Crazy Squirrels and designed a pretty awesome flag.
Designing our flag and writing our chant the first night.
The Crazy Squirrels and their flag
They also wrote a chant based off of a popular song (Sexy and You Know It by LMFAO). It went like this....
Open up your eyes, this is what you'll see
Crazy Squirrels are here, look how crazy we can be
We got something on our minds and we aren't afraid to show it, show it, show it
We are crazy and we know it, know it, know it
Nibble, nibble, nibble, nibble, nibble, YEAH!
During the week, the girls attended 8 hours of class a day, however the classes were all structured to be fun and not like school. They learned about project design, the environment, women's health, arts and crafts including tye dye and friendship bracelet making (which lead to lots of friendship bracelets by the end of the week), recreational and health activities like yoga, zumba, and ultimate Frisbee, stress management, and career choices and resumes. There were also fun electives each night including Chinese, Minute to Win It (I did it for the third time in 2 weeks!), Project Runway, School of Rock, Acting, and Karaoke. The busy week also included a team Field Day, an afternoon with the Red Cross learning some basic first aid and CPR, and a masquerade dance party. It all came to a close Friday night with group performances and a candlelight closing ceremony where each of the girls said something about camp, whether it was a memory, a thank you, or an idea of how they will take what they learned back to their hometowns (let me say, it takes a long time for 120 girls to share something about camp and lots of tears were shed and bugs burned with the candles (my girls got a little bored)). After Friday's closing ceremonies, we had one last community time with just our groups before packing, sleeping, and an early start in the morning for breakfast and good-byes.
American Line Dancing with Jori elective
Project Runway elective
For Field Day each group had to dress up like an animal- my group was, need-less-to-say, squirrels
The three tribal chiefs of Field Day.
I was Chief Minn-E-Sota
One Field Day activity was the Balloon Train
Team Building at its finest! Just how many girls can you fit onto 1/4 of a yoga mat?
The recyclable dress Michelle and Shqiponja made for me for Project Runway made a come back on Disco dance night.
Lori, Anna, Enid, and myself enjoying Disco dance night despite being very hot and sweaty.
Candlelight closing ceremonies
Almost all the way around the circle
Crazy Squirrels group picture the last morning.
Figured we may as well take a crazy picture too!
Camp GLOW 2012

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

YMLP Summer Camp 2012

It is hard to capture in writing what all has gone on in the past month. Even the best writing would never be able to completely capture just how amazing and wonderful my month away from site has been. It started with a group of the most motivated high school boys in the country at the Young Men's Leadership Camp Summer Camp.
The 2012 YMLP Camp flag the boys created with one of the guys from YMCA Kent
For one week 45 boys from all over the country, 13 PCVs, and a handful of HCNs gathered in Tajmiste at a gorgeous mountain house to practice English, learn about the Environment, Social Inclusion, Project Design, Media, and Health, break down ethnic stereotypes, and enjoy some good ole' American style camping (complete with American smores). Words can't even describe how phenomenal these boys are. Sometimes at site it is easy to get discouraged by the lack of excitement in learning English or the lack of support on potential projects. However, being around these boys renewed some of that lost hope. They all came because they want to break down ethnic stereotypes in the country, improve their English skills, and learn how to be leaders in their hometowns. That they did. They broke down the stereotypes they had and made friends with boys from all ethnic groups within the country, something many adults in this country aren't able to do.
Campers and Staff
Almost all of the Staff
I was the PCV environmental facilitator at camp, so I got to know all of the boys during my environmental classes with them. We talked about trash and how long it takes for different items to decay, water quality and even tested the quality of the local water in Tajmiste, and learned how to identify different plants in the area and which animals are edible (even had one boy decide on the spot to pop a grasshopper into his mount). The boys also learned about climate change and carbon footprints, however I was not with them that day. I, instead, helped out the health class learn about sexual health so they could get the American perspective and the female perspective. I was a little nervous this day because teaching sex ed to groups of teenage boys isn't quite what I signed up for, however, it went really well. The boys were very respectful and curious as sexual health isn't something that is really discussed in this country so for some of these boys it was the first time they were talked to about these issues and the first time they were able to get information outside of the internet and YouTube (it was amazing the number of boys who said they got their information from YouTube and Wikipedia). The classes started with a competition for who could yell "penis" and "vagina" the loudest to get the boys comfortable hearing and saying these words without laughing and ended with a demonstration of how to correctly put a condom on a cucumber. One should never underestimate just how loud boys can yell and just how gross lubricated cucumbers are! The boys asked great questions and were very appreciative of having someone take the time to give them some accurate information about an important, but somewhat taboo, subject here.

In addition to teaching classes, I also was the human soap dispenser for the week, which was quite a fun job as it gave me a chance to talk to all the boys three times a day before meals.
The boys waiting in line to wash their hands before meals
Who knew being a soap dispenser could be this much fun!
The boys also got to partake in some fun electives including, Minute to Win It, fencing, egg drop, Turkish language, and many more.
I helped with the fencing class and was killed in the opening because my cap gun ran out of caps and Phil knew how to fence and I didn't.
Cupstacking was one of the Minute to Win It events
During the Olympics the boys had to melt a frozen t-shirt
 The last night of camp, the owner of the mountain house, Boshko, had a special event planned for all of us. There was a presentation by Boshko where he gave all of the staff and coordinators a special tavche gravche dish and a warm thank you for the work we did with the kids. Then there was local Macedonian music, including one of the campers pulling out his drumming skills as he is one of the best Romani drummers in the country and lots of Oro dancing. It was the perfect way to spend the last night of camp.

Camp ended on the 4th of July, so after sending the kids on their merry way home, doing some cleaning of the campsite, and some napping and showering (some had not showered in 10 days while on a "vision quest") we celebrated the 4th quite well. There weren't any fireworks, but we had a lovely bonfire and American smores and I enjoyed one last night in Tajmiste before heading off to the next adventure of the summer.