Thursday, August 30, 2012

Bogorodica in Pictures

This past week my town celebrated Богородица, also known as the Day of the Miners, the Day of Opstina Makedonska Kamenica, and the Day of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Leading up to the main event was a week of cultural performances including pop concerts, traditional music, and traditional dancing. The main event, held on August 28th, was a popular Serbian singer. People came from near and far to celebrate here including about 90% of the neighbouring town of Delchevo. This meant I got a visit from the two Americans, Jenny and Alastair, who live there as well as Jenny's boyfriend Vlatko, his cousin, and his cousin's girlfriend. It was the first time they have come over and it had been quite a while since I had seen them. We weren't into the concert so much because we had no idea who the guy was, but we had fun walking around, seeing all the people, and even got to enjoy some mini donuts!

While the actual day was fun, my favourite part was the traditional dancing the night before. There were groups from all over Macedonia as well as Bulgaria and Slovenia.

Pictures are far more fun that text, so here ya go!
The Kamenica Oro group
The women of the Kamenica Oro group
The Slovenian/Kochani Oro group
A Bulgarian ballerina
Another Bulgarian ballerina
The Istibanja Oro group
Not a very good picture, but the boys jumped over the fiery pot. I like how everything is blurry except the pot.
One of the two drummers was this little boy
The Istibanja Oro group
Outside the church in my town is this cute mini church
My town has bumper cars right now, except people don't bump. The goal is to drive as nice as possible. Jenny convinced her boyfriend Vlatko and his cousin to bring some American style bumper car driving to the ring.
We had fireworks and I discovered my new favourite camera feature might be the firework feature.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Pop Rock Concert

Yesterday marked the start of Каменичко Културно Лето, or Kamenica's Cultural Summer. This is a seven day event leading up to the grand finale on the 28th of August, also known as Богородица, the Day of the Virgin Mary, the day of the Miners, and is the Day of Opstina Makedonska Kamenica. It is quite the event, one I have been hearing about for weeks. I have been told it is the biggest celebration in my town, so I have been looking forward to the event for quite some time.

Last night, we had our first event with a pop rock concert in the town square. The artist was Vlako Lozanoski, who I have been told is the new Toshe (Mak-17s, get to know and love Toshe. He is idolized here). Phil's comment when I told him that was, "those are pretty big shoes to fill", which is so true. Toshe was the most beloved person ever to be connected with this country. Anyway, I went down into town for his concert.

8 reasons you know you're not at a concert in the USA

1. My 6th grade students were standing around enjoying some Skopsko
2. At least one stray dog ran across the stage
3. There was a distinct smell of rakija in the crowd and several bottles were being passed around
4. The rock concert took place outside the church with a fresco of the Virgin Mary as the background
5. There was no band to provide music, but rather a CD player
6. Sunflower seeds were flying around as much as the rakija was
7. Cameras out, but at least half of them were taking pictures of me rather than the performer
8. Immediately following the last song, tons of young kids (mainly girls) ran up to the stage and swarmed Vlatko wanting to take pictures with him. There was about 20 minutes of pushing and shoving (no lines and limited security of course) before they said no more pictures.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Bringing the Rain to Sara's Drain

Last Friday we had a storm like no other I have seen in this country. We had been in a drought so when the first roll of thunder sounded on Wednesday, my town was quite happy. Wednesday night the rain pelted down for about 10 minutes followed by a few minutes of drizzle, then nothing, disappointing everyone. The crops were in desperate need of some water and the lake/river where the town's water comes from was really low (hence the lack of water at my house). 

Thursday evening showed more promise when the clouds rolled in and the lightening flashed, but again, only for about 15 minutes before turning dry. I talked to one of the local babas about this and she said, not to worry, the rain would come and when it came, it was going to come with full force. She didn't know exactly when the storm would come, but she predicted soon. 

Friday, I woke up to sunny skies with not a cloud in site. By about noon though, that was changing. The sky was growing dark, the thunder was booming, and the lightening was flashing, but still no rain. Around 12:30 it started to sprinkle, just as I was about to go into town for the once a week pazar- the first time I was able to go in a month. I decided to hold off, finish hand washing my laundry, and go as soon as the sprinkling stopped. Little did I know, the sprinkles were just the start. Not even 5 minutes after I got my somewhat clean laundry all hung up outside the storm the baba had told me about came. 

First came the thunder and lightening even closer, then it started pouring. I looked outside and could barely see across the street it was raining so hard. I remember texting Phil saying I now understood what it was like to be in a monsoon (at least for a few hours!). The rain was pelting my roof, echoing throughout my entire house. About 45 minutes later, the pelting grew louder and I decided to grab my camera and go investigate. I walked out my front door to see a lovely hail and rain mix throwing itself into my patio. If we had been in Minnesota, I can guarantee the sirens would be going off and everyone would be doing the basement thing. We had been told tornadoes didn't exist here, but for a few minutes, I wasn't so sure. It was the perfect set up- a moving cold front smashing into the sitting warm front. The hail subsided 10-15 minutes later, leaving cold blowing rain that continued through the day. By 6:00, all that remained were sprinkles, much, much cooler temperatures, and a few poorly shot photographs 

*I should also note, since this storm, my drains haven't been dry once. 

It's coming.....
The start of the hail
Mid hail- it might have been small hail, but it sure sounded loud on my roof
The grape leaves at my house collected the hail quite nicely.

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.