Tuesday, February 19, 2013

It's been a long, long time....

Once again, I feel like I am falling behind on my blogging- sorry. Life has been pretty busy. Since my last post:

- School started up and this second half of the school year has proved to be much life the first

- Phil came home after 5 weeks in America, where he flew all over the country visiting friends and family and taking, and passing the Foreign Service Oral Assessment. He now moves onto the security and medical clearance stage and is hoping for a spot in a January or March 2014 A-100 class, as they are the first ones he can do after finishing up in Macedonia.
We have started a new tradition of writing a short message on each bottle of nice wine we buy. The message has to give the time in which we are to drink the bottle. We got to have our first bottle as Phil passed the FSOA! It was a lovely Vranec from Popova Kula*

- I celebrated my 26th birthday, and last birthday in Macedonia. This was the first year in 7 or 8 years that I haven't been sick on my birthday. Perhaps finding the coin in the bread at Christmas is bringing me luck.
Two of my 6th grade classes decorated the classroom for my birthday and I walked into them singing a lovely rendition of Happy Birthday
Some of my 6th graders. After they sang to me, each class even gave me a present. From one class I received a box of Milka chocolate and from the other, the popular perfume deodorant spray. They were very sweet.

- Phil and I perfected the art of veggie pizza
This was our first attempt (and this does have a little meat on it because it was left in my fridge). We since decided to spend some time slightly altering our recipe and making it even better. The pizza now contains a ton of fresh spinach, onions, garlic, green onion, roasted red pepper, and lots of spices.
The pizza is best if matched with some lovely Popova Kula black label Vranec. Delicious!*

- The National Spelling Bee has started consuming most of my life again. But it is ok with me as it is a job I love! This year's National Bee will take place on my sister's birthday, April 13th.

- I will also now get to start planning my classes for this summer's Camp GLOW. I am very excited to be heading back for a second year, this year, however, as an Instructor rather than a Counselor. I won't have my own group of girls this year, but I will get to meet them all while I am teaching classes ranging from Sex Ed to Stress Management to Women in the Media (I don't know what classes exactly I will be teaching yet, but should find out in the next couple weeks).
Camp GLOW 2012 was great, I can only guess what exciting adventures await at GLOW 2013!
- I am headed to the Embassy this week to have a chat with Diplomatic Security helping to move along Phil's security clearance. I am actually quite excited to see the Embassy because, as Peace Corps Volunteers, we don't really get the chance.

* DISCLAIMER: I promise Phil and I aren't spending our Peace Corps service just sitting around drinking wine, despite wine making its way into my blog twice this week. February 14th, happens to be the Day of Wine here in Macedonia, so one must partake a little!

Sunday, February 3, 2013


So back in mid January we celebrated Epiphany, known here as Vodici. To celebrate, hundreds (or at least a bunch) of crosses are blessed and then thrown into bodies of water, with the largest celebration being in Ohrid. Here in Kamenica, it is thrown into the shallow river that flows through town. Once the cross is thrown, participants can jump into the river with the goal of trying to be the first to grab the cross (sort of like polar plunge, although as you can see here, we don't have any snow- writing this two weeks later, we still don't have snow). 

Most of the pictures below were taken of the Municipality's Facebook page as their photographer could push in front of the crowds to get the best pictures, while the lowly American was stuck in the middle of the crowd.

View of the crowd from somewhere up high. I was squeezed between the bridge and the second tree, right up near the back of the first clump of people.
The religious folk carrying everything from the church to the river (how convenient for them that the church is located right next to the river).
The wooden cross is being blessed.
Another of the cross being blessed.
More blessing.
The cross (top left corner) is about to be thrown into the river.
And their off! It was only young males who participated here.
The lucky victor holds the cross up for all to see.
Here is the winner. He now gets to spend the day going from house to house having people give him money to go along with the good luck the cross has brought him for the coming year.
The winner, the mayor, and the religious man.
Once the cross had been blessed, there was extra holy water, so the priest dumped it into the river. After the event now, lots of people bent down and drank and washed themselves from this water since it is now holy. I did not participate in this as I couldn't get past the fact that there was still a garbage pile just upstream, along with waste from the mine, and probably quite a bit of animal fleeces. No thanks.
Vodici marks the end of two month long holiday season here as we started back to school the following Monday.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Surviving Vevchani 2013

This post will be primarily pictures, as the only way to begin to fathom Vevchani Carnival is through photos. If you want to learn more, there is certainly plenty out there, including this buzzfeed article and my blog post from last year.

Blindfold Dinner: Our Vevchani weekend started with Stephen cooking a group of 32 a blindfold dinner. We drank kiwi/banana/apple smoothies and ate Comoran eggplant spread on a garlic crostini, rice balls with a fig chutney, chips with refried beans and creme fresh, potato dumplings, homemade Texas tortillas with kiwi salsa, and homemade cheesecake (I might have forgotten an item or two in there!). 
One group blindfolded and ready for their meal.
Some of the servers and kitchen staff- Alex, Sara, Kaitlin, Shannon, and Carly
The servers and kitchen staff Jessica, Alex, Sara, Kaitlin, Shannon, Carly, Jamie, and Chef Stephen.
 Vevchani Carnival: This year was more tame than last year, however still just as frighteningly bazaar. Pictures tell the story so much better than words.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Happy Holidays from MK!

The holiday season here is long, especially if you are an American living here. The holiday season starts with American Christmas and ends three weeks later with Old New Years.

This year, for American Christmas, many of the PCVs here celebrated in Demir Kapija with wonderful hosts Aaron and Lori. All in all there were between 20 and 30 PCVs there for the weekend. Friday, we went up the hill to Popova Kula Winery and sampled some of their delicious wine and food. Saturday, was spent cooking and getting ready for the holiday meal. A whole pig was roasted at a local bakery and we had quite the spread of sides.
I didn't get a picture of our pig, but figured this guy looks about the same.
Later on we exchanged Secret Santa presents. I had a PCV who wanted cat toys, something hard to find in Macedonia, so I spent the weeks before sewing some out of assorted fabric I found in my house.
The best of the cat toys I made for my Secret Santa gift. Clearly sewing runs in the family.
After Secret Santa, Santa paid a visit and brought stockings for the group. The night finished with some Catch Phrase and everyone trying to find a place on a bed, couch, or the floor to squeeze in to sleep.
The stockings I started making Phil and I for Christmas- I didn't have enough time to finish, so that is a January/February project!
Merry Christmas Phillip is what it says.
Phil and I felt it necessary to celebrate Christmas on our own too, so after much secret planning and plotting, we (mostly Phil) put together quite a nice first Christmas if I do say so myself.
Our Christmas tree and presents- we both went a little crazy with gifts as our theme was small, many, and cheap.
Our Christmas feast included:
French carrot salad
Made from scratch rolls
A lemon, mint, garlic, parsley chicken
Roasted sweet potatoes
A delicious meal!
Phil took on the man's job of carving the chicken.
Next we moved onto New Year's Eve, perhaps the largest and most hyped holiday in this country. The Friday before, my students put on their annual New Year's show, which was a lot of fun to see. My favourite act by far was one of my 7th grade boys. He ended the show with a solo performance of Adele's "Rolling in the Deep". He was so nervous before and when he first started, but received a standing ovation at the end because he was so good.
The school choir
Some students singing and dancing

Some of my 5th graders reciting a poem
The 7th grade boy who rocked it!
On New Year's Eve, a group of us rented an apartment in Skopje for the night and celebrated with Chinese food, the free concert in the city square, and, unfortunately, firecrackers thrown into the crowd exploding under our feet. Firecrackers are very popular here and adults, kids, and babies start shooting them off the month before New Year's and continue a month after New Year's. It is often thought to be funny to throw them under someone's feet so they explode right under them. Not funny in my book. While at the concert, there were several guys who thought it was funny to throw them at us. The police just stood and watched, doing nothing for quite some time. One exploded and hit another Volunteer in the eye and we all had minor aches and pains from being hit by pieces of the burning explosive. However, I am pleased to report that there were no casualties or major injuries.

The Lozovo crew before we went out.
We had noise makers
The girls
The outdoor concert sponsored by T-Mobile
Happy New Year Aleksandar!
Fireworks at midnight- right before the firecrackers really made their appearance.
The next holiday is Macedonian Christmas. Last year, I went to Lozovo to celebrate with my host family there. This year, however, I wanted to see how it is celebrated by another family and what do ya know, I have a family here! While many things were similar, it was fun to see some of the differences. My family here is much more traditional and religious than my family in Lozovo was, so it was a great experience to see a more traditional Christmas Eve.

The Christmas season starts with Koleda, the day before Christmas Eve. Early in the morning on this day, children go on a hybrid of trick-or-treating combined with caroling and are given dried fruit and nuts. I thought maybe this year I would get to experience living with a family and living in town, but yet again, I missed it (kind of ok though as sometime the kids come as early as 4am). On Koleda evening, there are huge bonfires all over the country and people eat, drink, and dance the Oro. This year I went with my old neighbours up to one in another village. I had forgotten about this event, and wasn't given any advance notice, so I was not dressed appropriately for standing outside for hours on end, so I didn't stay too late, but it is definitely a cultural experience. My favourite moment was when the Babas decided they wanted to dance, so they requested a song from the musician and danced their own little Oro.
I didn't take any pictures this year, so here is one from Bonfire Night last year.
January 6th is Christmas Eve. The evening started with my host father taking some coal from the fire and placing incense on top of it to create smoke. The smoke was then brought through the house to warn off the spirits (I think). There was lots of crossing your chest and it was repeated over and over, "Christ is born". Then we sat down to eat and once we sat down, we were not allowed to leave the table. The Christmas Eve food is posno- meaning fasting- so no meat or dairy is served. The food served is pretty typical in every home you go to, although there were a few differences.
The Christmas Eve spread- this was all for just three people!
Three types of banitsa, fish, dried fruits....
Roasted pumpkin, the bread with money inside, walnuts, fruit, peppers, bean soup...and more!

Before eating anything, the food is blessed and offered up to God. I can't even count the number of times I crossed myself trying to fit in while God was being called to the table to eat and share.

Each person was given a plastic bag and part of the Christmas Eve meal was divided up between God, and each member of the family and this bag we would take and eat on Christmas Day. In the end, the bag contained roasted pumpkin, an apple, a banana, an orange, garlic, lots of dried fruit, nuts, candy, and bread. I could barely tie my bag shut at the end of the night there was so much in it!

My host mother had planted wheat grass back a month or so ago (I don't remember the exact date) and the grass then grows and holds the Christmas candles which represent Christ's birth. The leaves in the back are called Christmas leaves and every home, at least here, places them on the table along with their wheat grass on Christmas Eve. My host mother told me that she went to the church early in the morning to pick them up as that is where all the ladies of the houses go on Christmas Eve morning to get their leafy branch.
The wheat grass, candle, and Christmas leaves.
I didn't get a picture of this, but my family here also did the traditional straw under the table. The man of the house brings in a bundle of straw and recites the Christmas wish for the house. The straw then was spread under the table as a symbol of Christ in the manger. There was also a chain under our table and I didn't quite understand what that was for. Usually, my family here sits on the floor and eats the Christmas Eve meal atop the straw, however this year we didn't, as my host mother has had some problems with her legs.

Another tradition here is that each family bakes a loaf of bread with a coin inside. The man of the house breaks the bread into pieces giving first to God, then to himself, the mother, and so on down to the youngest child. I was the lucky one this year finding the money inside my piece. This means I will have good luck and money for the coming year. Last year, the bread also contained a piece of garlic for health and a chunk of wood for success in addition to the coin.
My lucky coin!
 After the meal, everything had to be left on the table just as it was when we finished eating, as to provide Jesus a place to sit and eat when he came to the house that night (it sounded like a religious version of leaving milk and cookies out for Santa). In the morning, everything would be put away.

The next, and last holiday, will be Old New Year's on the 14th of January. Vevchani is famous for their Old New Year's carnival and I just might pay it a visit again this year.