Wednesday, October 23, 2013

A Quick Trip Home

Home....I'm going home..... well, to Lozovo that is (was). 
The "Little Paris" of Macedonia with its Eiffel Tower shaped radio tower.
This past week I went back to visit my host family during PST. It had been (I hate to admit this) a year since I had been there. Too long for sure. I promised them I would visit twice before I left, so this was time one. It was a short trip- one day- but it was nice to be back in Lozovo. I spent lots of time hanging out with my brother watching horrible Macedonian TV. Then when my sister came home from school we watched hours of TLC in English! When my parents came home from work, we switched back to Macedonian TV, including Dr. Oz who is a new sensation here. Kinda sad that people here get their medical knowledge from Dr. Oz, but I guess it has to start somewhere. If you hadn't picked up on this, my family really likes watching TV.

By 7pm, I had had enough TV (9 hours of it!), and left to meet up with the Mak-18s in town. They had just found out where they would live for two years and wanted to celebrate. I got to meet five of them, including my biggest blog fan, Chris (here's your shout out), who referred to me as the “JK Rowling of Peace Corps Macedonia”- I will never be at that level, but I shall take that as a compliment. He has read, studied, and memorized every blog post I have ever written, and was able to tell me things about my life I had forgotten. Normally, that would be red flag creeper alert, but I will let it slide since he had three months before coming to do nothing but learn about Macedonia and the life of volunteers here and my blog is one of the only ones that has continued to be updated the entire time (if you look on the side where I list other Mak-16 blogs, you will see may that say: Last updated 6 months ago, or Last updated 1 year ago). One of the first comments someone in the group made was, "Your Minnesotan accent isn't that bad!" I guess my Minnesotan-ness had preceded me, however my accent didn't quite live up to their expectations.
Chis, myself, and Dan at the "hotel" in Lozovo- it still has yet to build the rooms, but they have improved the restaurant a lot in two years.
Hanging out with some Mak-18s in Lozovo- Emily, Ted, Dan, Dan's host father and my host uncle, me, Chris
The 18s just found out where they are going to live for two years. This group will be heading to Skopje, Bitola, Ohrid, and Prilep- all very larger cities in Macedonia. I guess Lozovo has prepared them for the village life they wont have.
Ted, Emily, and the Sara(h)s
I then trekked all the way across the country to Andres' house for one last Mak-16 Lozovo get together, however, I happened to make that journey while I was sick and spent most of the day and night miserable waiting for my fever to break, which it thankfully did. From Vratnica, we headed to Skopje for one final all PCV get together called Field Day. Not sure why it has such a name, but its basically the new group's (Mak-18) coming out party and the outgoing group's (Mak-16) goodbye party. I got to meet the Mak-18s who will be moving into my region (only a few and no one coming up into my area), however they will arrive after I have left, so we won't really see each other. Following this, it a lot of goodbye's to the Mak-16s as the first people leave next Thursday. Two years really has gone by fast.
Mak-16s at Field Day- there were more of us, but they refused to be in Julie's picture.
Michelle, Julie, Shannon, and Me
As always, Julie yelled, "hands up"
My female other half here, Lori. Definitely going to miss this girl.
Mak 15s, 16s, 17s, and 18s in Skopje posing on one of the newest bridges.
Andres decided to dance into the photo.
The countdown is in full swing:
31 days until I COS
35 days until I leave Macedonia
51 days until I arrive in America
52 days until I am back in Minnesota

Monday, October 14, 2013

Weekend of the Seven Deadly Sins

In case you aren't familiar with the seven deadly sins, they are (simplified):

Lust: an intense desire for something
Gluttony: over-indulgance and over-consumption
Greed: desire for material possessions
Sloth: laziness
Wrath: rage or extreme anger
Envy: jealousy towards something someone else has
Pride: desire to be better than others

You might be asking yourself why I am writing a blog post on the seven deadly sins, especially since I am not the most religious of folks. I promise, keep reading and it all will make sense! 

This past weekend was Pastrmalijada in Shtip. Pastrmalija, for those of you unfamiliar with it, is a canoe shaped dough filled with seasoned meat. It is quite delicious, however, it is also quite unhealthy. Phil and I have been on a healthy kick lately involving both diet and exercise and the thought of this festival and all of its artery-clogging properties was starting to stress us out. However, this festival, and food, is something uniquely Macedonian and with only a few weeks left here, we are getting rather nostalgic. To alleviate the stress and really enjoy ourselves, we decided to turn this weekend into a game- seeing just how much sinning we could do in one weekend (disclaimer: we only wanted to commit legal sins). 

Before I dive into talking about our game, let me say, it is pretty easy to accomplish most of the sins above. If you have never thought about how much you sin, I suggest you try- it is incredibly easy and kind of interesting. I noticed I was doing it even when I wasn't trying. That said, some were much easier than others for me. 

The easiest sin to commit this weekend was gluttony. We could have gone to the festival and eaten pastmalija just once, but that wasn't how we wanted to play the game. We ate not one, but three pastrmajlijas each over the course of the weekend. They aren't small little guys either, so that is a sizable amount of food. When I say unhealthy, I mean unhealthy- To make those three pastrmalijas, an entire bottle of oil was probably used. We also chose to over-indulge in wine as it was 50 den for a 1/4 liter, which is about $1.00. At prices like that, they are asking for gluttony! To stick the final nail in the coffin on gluttony, I also consumed a copious amount of chocolate- almost all of it dark chocolate, but still, not the healthiest of foods.
This is the size of a personal pastrmalija. Yes, one person eats the whole delicious greasy thing.
The other sin that was incredibly easy for us went hand-in-hand with gluttony and that was sloth. We spent a lot of time sitting around the festival with other PCVs who had come to enjoy the celebration. Sitting and socializing is a big part of the culture here, so we embraced that and walked from booth to booth sitting and eating and talking. We slept late and shortened our workout to only abs. 

I experienced envy the very first night of the festival when we went to eat at one of our favorite restaurant's booths. I was so excited to eat pastrmalija since I hadn't had it in months. However, when we were served, our pastrmalijas had been sitting there for a little while and were cold. Almost immediately after we were served, the restaurant made a delivery and the table next to us was given hot fresh pastrmalija. I was very jealous of the fact that we had the old cold stuff, but they got hot fresh stuff. I was also envious of Phil this weekend as he slept like a baby. The second he laid down, he was out, whereas I laid there for a long time trying to fall asleep. 

I was hoping wrath would be a hard sin for me to accomplish, but it turned out to be much easier than I thought. One night, one of the other volunteers had a bit to much to drink. As someone who often doesn't drink much, I became upset about his/her actions. The longer we sat there and the more the other volunteer had to drink, the more angry I became and the more I proved to myself that wrath really wasn't as hard to accomplish as I had hoped.

While riding the bus on Thursday, I definitely was lusting after some pastrmalija. I also would say by Saturday night, I was lusting after going to bed early and going back to sloth phase of sitting around and watching T.V. I also would say I was feeling lustful Saturday night while we were having a drink at the Irish Pub. Our table was next to the grocery store and I sat there lusting after some dark chocolate- the perfect dessert to pastrmalija.

I think in this case, greed, goes right in hand with the extreme amount of food we were eating and not sharing with anyone else. There are several homeless people in Shtip who were wandering around the festival looking for someone to share some food, but I never saw anyone willing to share, ourselves included. And let's quick jump back up to that dark chocolate I was lusting after, well, I went in and bought some to share with the table. Dark chocolate with almonds- one of my favorites. While I did share it, I greedily took one more piece than I wanted simply because it was filled with almonds and those are the best parts.

For me, pride, is by far the hardest sin to master. I am not a boastful person to begin with and I think my time here has made that even truer as I don't have the same "big accomplishments" that other PCVs have and instead have to rely on the "little things" to make it through. While I can't come up with an example of where I was full of pride, I know it occurred this weekend. I don't think it is possible for anyone to spend a weekend with a group of PCVs and not commit pride. 

I suspect some of you now expect me to write about what I learned from sinning and how bad it all is, but instead, I would rather end with saying that this weekend was a lot of fun and was a delicious weekend. I think choosing to approach the weekend as we did kept me from feeling guilty about all of the unhealthy behaviors we were exhibiting and while I could never permanently live like this, it was a delightful weekend- sometimes sinning is a whole lot of fun.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Writer's Block

I keep starting posts, however, nothing really seems worthy enough to post/ I lose internet and am unable to post then I forget/ it is hard to know what to write about now.

I could write about the horrible cold we already are dealing with (I saw my breath in my room this morning), but that seems repetitive. I could write about being excited to return to America, but that is mixed with sadness about leaving here. I could write about the fact that I am finally getting an X-ray on my leg that has been bruised, swollen, and with some pain since February (it only took 7 months for the  doctors to decide maybe they should see if I did any serious damage back in February rather than just telling me, "You have a bruise..."). In reality, there is a lot I could write about, but none of it seems good enough. None of it seems interesting enough. But alas, I will give it a go.


Life is clicking along here at a very fast pace. It is already October and I feel like there is so much left to do in these last few weeks. However, at the same time, I am back to feeling useless. I am less involved in classes now than I was (hard to believe, I know!) as the teachers and the students have to start to transition into me not being in class. I am no longer heading up any committees so I don't have that work to focus on either. The Mak-18s have arrived and are settled into their PST host families  (no one is with my family this year, so no new sister for me), however, I wont ever really get to know them, which is odd. I was talking with another COSing volunteer about this and we agreed that they are here, but in many ways, they aren't really that important to us because they don't play a role (or much of one) in our service. We may only meet them once or twice before we leave. The Mak-17s are holding strong, having only had one ET (early termination) and life seems to be moving along with them too.

In this period of nothing happening, however, there is actually a lot happening. We all have started thinking about the transition back to America and trying to find a job and place to live and all of that fun stuff. Everyone here asks me what I am going to do when I leave and I can talk about activities only until early January. Once Phil and I head to Arizona for Christmas, there is no plan in place for life post-Christmas. I have no return ticket to Minnesota. I have no ticket elsewhere. I have no plans. It is exciting and incredibly scary at the same time. I know I could head back to Minnesota, as my father has so nicely offered up his shed, however, the idea of having to continue heating my "house" with a wood stove doesn't really excite me.
My new house? I think not!
I have started searching for jobs, but it is hard not knowing where to look or I what I want to do for a job. This has always been a problem for me. Yeah, I got my degree in Elementary Education, but I don't know if I could go back to a regular classroom. I was hoping to discover what I wanted my "career" to be while I was over here, but that is one thing I haven't accomplished. I keep waiting for it all to just click and make sense and for me to know what I want to do.

Instead, I have been trying to focus on the short amount of time left here. Now is the time for goodbyes, not just to locals, but to other PCVs. A couple weekends ago I went to Skopje to spend the night with my Lozovo PCV family. While we were all together at IST, there were lots of other PCVs there, so this was probably the last time the eight of us will be together.
Walking to Sushi Co for dinner.
Andres took a lot of photos- a lot!
With the newly married, Amy!
We all showed up matching in black. Guess we have been in this country too long- our colour has been stolen from us.
We may live about as far apart as possible in this country, but I am super excited to end this journey with the girl I started it with. From Philly to Macedonia to Spain to the middle of the ocean to New Orleans.
Trust Kenzie to decide to dance through our picture.
I think this sums up our relationship pretty well.
- 50 days until I leave Macedonia
- 51 days until I set foot on the largest boat I have ever been on
- 67 days until I arrive back in the land of no federal budget
- 68 days until I realize that Minnesota isn't as cold as I thought it was because at least there the houses are warm

Saturday, September 21, 2013

GLOW Reunion at the Skopje Zoo

This is how close we could get to the animals.
Julie was demonstrating how zebras eat as she was feeding the zebra.

Lori and I were shocked that we could touch the zebra.
Julie also somehow managed to get her hands on some baby chicks to feed the owl.
Julie was the queen of feeding the animals, however, we were happy to see that she chose grass and leaves rather than chips and cookies like some kids.
In case you didn't know, sunscreen can be used to turn yourself into an animal.
This goat was standing on a ledge and we wondered if people have ever been tempted to push it off. Note: despite wondering, we did NOT try.
Julie used her magic leaves to summon the giraffe to come play with us.
This was the closest I have ever been to such animals.
When we said cheese, the giraffe listened!
The hippos were very lazy.
We watched the bears for a good 30 minutes as they kept playing together. The whole time we had little 4-year-old narrating the whole thing for us in Macedonian.
Anna was excited the bear decided to stand just when the picture was taken.
Love these girls!

This train may have been meant for children, but we decided it was our job to drive it too.
Some of the group outside the zoo.
After the zoo, we headed to the center to grab a drink and catch up.
All in all, it was a great day and a great way to catch up with all our friends from camp. The campers and HCN (host country national) staff at GLOW really are AMAZING!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Dreaming of America

I have been meeting with a few high school students in town to chat in English and give them a better idea of what life in America is like. They all want to go to America if possible either in high school as exchange students or to an American university.

There is a fantastic program here organized by American Council, the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study Program, that gives talented youth, from countries with significant Muslim populations, the opportunity to win scholarships to study at an American high school for a year. The process to win the scholarships is lengthy (September-May) and very selective. Yesterday, I went with three students from Kamenica to Shtip to start the process.

The kids have quite the process before they are accepted and the first two steps were yesterday with a full day of English language testing. In the first stage, the kids are given a 16 question multiple choice English usage test. While the kids were testing, I hung out with the other volunteer who brought kids, Anna.

Our kids came out saying the test was really easy and lucky for us, most of our kids passed the first test! While the administrators were correcting the tests, we went down to a restaurant with one of my students and a girl who had participated in Camp GLOW this year. It was great to catch up with her and to talk with two fantastic English speakers!

I had 2 of my 3 students pass. Anna had 10 of her 14 pass. We were so proud of them! There were around 200 total kids at the test and just over 50 passed. Those who passed, had a second test in the afternoon where they were asked to write three short essays. The kids now have a month of anxiety ahead of them waiting to hear if they passed the second round and move onto the final stage- interviews. I know Anna and I are going to cross our fingers hoping for the best from our kids and this fantastic opportunity they have.
Oliver (my student and YMLP alum) and Anna
Hristina (GLOW alumna) and me
Anna and Hristina
My two students who passed Round 1- Karolina and Oliver
Anna and I both walked out of there feeling like proud mothers because our kids did such a great job! 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

In the Blink of an Eye

Now that I am finally caught up on travel posts, I can mention what I did during my 4 day break between the Great Balkan Adventure and Athens. While Mike and Phil got to relax, I jumped on a bus and headed to the far eastern part of Macedonia for the Mak-16 COS (Close of Service) Conference. It was held at the lovely Aurora Resort and Spa in Berovo (where my friend Anna lives).
Aurora Resort and Spa in Berovo
Yup- pretty sweet digs for our final Peace Corps conference. We had 2 1/2 days to learn about the piles of paperwork we have to fill out and papers we need to write before we are allowed to leave the country, watching videos about the medical coverage available to us after we are done, the career center Peace Corps operates, and discussing what it will be like to return to America and the reverse culture shock. We also got to participate in a lottery to choose the day we officially are RPCVs. We had heard stories from previous groups of selling days or trading them for rakija and ajvar, but our group was quite calm and everyone got a day they were happy with. The first Mak-16s leave October 30th, which is so soon!
Everyone chose their days, with most people leaving the end of October or first week in November. I am at the end with Anna, leaving November 22nd.
It wasn't all work though. We did get some time to enjoy the lovely infinity pool, play games, and enjoy our last time as a whole group.
Lori, Julie, and I enjoying the pool.
Dinner with some PC Staff.
Hana, Faron, me, Julie, Michelle, Lori, and Amy
We were told to take a funny photo, however Hana and Faron weren't listening.
Taking one last photo with our Country Director before he heads to Kosovo to run their new Peace Corps program. 
But he still was able to find time to take a "Julie" photo with us.
Lori is the Ohioan version of me. 
Time for a Lozovo family photo. Not sure we know how to take a normal photo.
I guess this one is a bit more normal.
The Ladies of Lozovo: Amy, Julie, Shannon, Claire, me, Anna
And of course a "Julie" photo was necessary.
To end the conference we had a traditional Peace Corps cake (there must be a room in Peace Corps Headquarters filled with these cakes!). We also got homemade chocolates with our Country Director's face on them in celebration of his new job.
Even Peace Corps is unable to succumb to the need of certificates for everything.
Our Mak-16 collage that will be hung in the Peace Corps office. Clearly the best one yet!
One final group photo. 36 came, 31 made it to COS.
This was actually the final photo.... one big crazy family.
As the title says, my Peace Corps service has passed in the blink of an eye. I never thought that time could pass so slow (the days where I have sat in my room with absolutely nothing to do and no one to talk to), but yet so fast (only 72 days left in Macedonia). It seems fitting I post this today, because my group left America for this wonderful country two years ago today.

Happy Anniversary Mak-16s!