An afternoon in Ohrid

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Shihemi me vone; ќе се видаме наскеро

This will probably be my final posting to CandyinMacedonia.  On Dec. 4th I shall join the legions of returned Peace Corps volunteers.  Since it is difficult to really explain to others what this experience has been like, RPCV's often hang out together.  They understand the challenges, rewards, joys and frustrations that accompany being a volunteer.  They understand the language, abbreviations, and jokes.  It is an experience like no other, and I thank all of you who have gone through this with me, either here in Macedonia or by reading my blog.  If you see me shortly after I return, know that I will be going through culture shock, even though I am returning to my home country.  I know that suddenly everything will feel too big, too impersonal, too overwhelming, and it will take some time to readjust to the immensity that is the United States.

Spike's passport picture
I'm busy cleaning and packing, trying to fit into one suitcase and two carry-ons all the detritus that I have accumulated over 3+ years.  I'll be returning with Spike, my Macedonian Muskrat Terrier (just found out MK doesn't have muskrats - probably because there are so many Spikey's around).  But more important than the things will be the memories of the people, country and experiences that I have been privileged to have.  A little over 3 years ago I arrived in Macedonia with the other MAK -14's, nervous, excited and in shock.  For the first week - heck, for the first year, I kept waiting for Peace Corps to say they'd made a mistake and I had to go home.  But they didn't, and they even let me stay an additional year beyond my initial commitment!

I've been thinking of all the things I will miss about Macedonia and have made a partial list.
Luli, Elona, kids and extended family
1.  My family here.  Luli and Elona have welcomed me into their family and have been so loving.  I will miss having Lule run and jump into my arms when she sees me, and Lindi growing up so quickly and becoming a little man.  I will miss their extended family - parents, siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins - all of whom have been so gracious and loving to me.  People may not have a lot here, but what they have they share.  They take care of each other and guests with such graciousness.  I've felt surround by a blanket of caring.

Gordana, her parents and Goran
Vjosa's Mom (Halide) and Dad (Billy)
2.  My friends.  I've had the privilege to be part of both Macedonian and Albanian friends and family.  They've fed me, pampered me, put up with my halting and underdeveloped Macedonian and Albanian, and taken me into their homes and their hearts and left an indelible impression in mine.  They've showered me with rakija, ajvar, fruits and vegetables from the garden, and, of course, delicious baklava and other treats.  If I have ever needed anything, all I've had to do is ask!

3.  The smell of chestnuts roasting.  I remember the smell of chestnuts roasting when I lived in New York City right after college, but by the time Kacy moved to New York they had disappeared.  Here, in the fall and winter, the chestnut vendors stand outside my door and on the main square selling cones of chestnuts for about 50 cents.  (In the summer they sell corn on the cob).  I will miss these street side vendors who add to the ambiance of Gostivar.

4.  Being spoiled.  Everyone, i mean everyone, spoils me rotten here.  I am 'the American'.  I am given the best of everything, whether it's the best seat by the fire or the best cut of meat at a meal.  I am greeted with enthusiasm on the street by lots of people, even though I may have trouble remembering them.  It is heady stuff, being special, and when I return I'll just be another LOL (little old lady).

A sheepbreeders meeting
5.  Conversations over coffee.  In the evening, I often wander over to Luli's coffee shop, the Etno Kaffe.  Sometimes I sit and talk with Luli, sometimes others in the shop.  I might meet Shkodran there, to talk about school in America or other things.  Or I might sit with my dear friend Ilmi and chat about everything - I have so appreciated our coffees together where we talked about everything under the sun.  When I was curious about something, I always knew I could ask him and get an unbiased response.  No coffees to go here - it would be an insult not to sit and talk - why else would you get coffee?  In fact, nothing would get done here without sitting done for coffee.  Some days I had to moderate my coffee intake with other beverages so I didn't end up over-caffeinated!

The Skopje-Kriva Palanka bus
6.  The buses.  Oh, yes, the buses.  Big and small and in-between.  Sometimes they were so packed - seats, aisles, door wells are crammed with people - that I wondered if I'd be able to get to a door when it was time to get off.  Sometimes they were so stifling hot with no one wanting to open windows or roof openings for fear of the dreaded pro maja.  For the first year I was nervous about riding them to new places, worrying that I would miss the town I was headed to.  It is difficult to find out when the bus goes to any one town, since each town has a different bus system and there is nothing centralized or even on line.  But bus drivers are wonderful.  Two friends did what we all feared most and got on wrong buses, but when they discovered they were on the wrong bus, the drivers called the right buses to make sure they would meet and transfer the person.  They helped me get to the right place at the right town.  And this last year, since I rode the bus so often to go to Skopje, the drivers got to know me and always greeted me with a smile or waved when the bus went by me in town.  And I had some wonderful conversations with people on buses - strangers that were wonderful to talk to!

7.  The call to prayer.  When I first came to Macedonia, I stayed with a family that lived right next to the Xhamija (mosque).  I cursed the call to prayer as it boomed into my bedroom at 5:15 from the loudspeaker outside my window.  But I shall miss it when I return.  The call marks time during the day and soothes the soul.  Each xhamija's call is different, but when they blend and float over the city, it is beautiful

Lunch at Hotel Tutto
8.  The food.  There are many foods I am looking forward to when I return, but I shall miss the fresh and delicious food here.  Food has not become big business here, and the small farmers take pride in their produce and meats.  Everything is fresh, tasty and juicy.  I shall miss my butcher shop, where the fresh beef is ground into hamburger as I watch and the pork chop from the pig slaughtered in the preceding 24 hours is cut from the rack.  I will miss by bakery lady, who has always been so sweet to me, and the smell and taste of the wonderful baked goods.  But mostly I will miss the fresh produce.  I had forgotten how good peaches can taste and the piquancy of a good tomato.  It will be hard to go back to the mass produced food that looks good but has no taste.

9.  The challenges.  Living in a different culture with different traditions and languages presented challenges every day.  If I wanted to buy something, hmmm, where might I be able to do that?  How could I make myself understood when I was trying to ask something?  What is the right thing to do in this situation?  Every day was a different challenge.  It kept the adrenaline flowing, and every day I learned new things.  I fear it will be boring to return where things are predictable, where it is easy to find what you want, and where everyone understands what you say but may not listen to you.

10.  The beauty.  Macedonia is a beautiful country.  There were times that it took my breath away, and times that I luxuriated in its beauty.  Every time I came back to the Polog Valley from Skopje, I was filled with a sense of wonderment the minute we crested the hill and the Mali Shar came into view.  I loved being able to see so much of it and constantly be amazed and thrilled by the view.

Harvest Festival
11.  My Peace Corps family.  The ages of volunteers while I was here ranged from 21 to 80, yet we all were in this together and formed tight bonds.  Whenever I needed help or support, I knew that my PC family would answer the call.  I have laughed, cried, played and had adventures with them  Now I have friends that I will always have a special bond with scattered throughout the country.  I can't wait to see you all again and I hope we have the chance to have more adventures together.

12.  Adventure.  Speaking of adventures, Peace Corps has given me the opportunity to have more adventures than I can even begin to recount, both in Macedonia and in places I never thought I would go.  It's taught me how to travel, not impersonally only seeing the sights, but to find out about life and make connections wherever I go.  It's not about being comfortable, it's about experiencing the place and the people, and pushing my own boundaries wherever I am.  I shall be eternally grateful that I have had the opportunity to experience all that I have in these past three plus years.  I consider myself to be the luckiest of people!

And now the sun is setting on this part of my life (is that too corny?  I just love this picture!)  I look forward to returning home and seeing my family and friends there.  I am still trying to figure out what is next for me - for now I shall continue to travel and see those folks that I have missed these last three years.  But Macedonia and Peace Corps will always be in my heart, and soon I shall return for a visit.  If you have stayed with this blog entry to the very end, bless you!  And thanks for letting me share my journey with you.

Monday, October 8, 2012

The fabulous fall!

The tent where I slept with the pasture in the background
 Welcome to the most fabulous time of year in Macedonia - Autumn!  It's been quite a while since I last wrote, but only because I have been crazy busy!  Last night I got to drive through my favorite place in Macedonia, Mavrovo canyon.  Like many places in the fall, it is especially beautiful now, with an artist's palette of colors laid over its natural beauty.  We drove past many places that will always have a special place in my heart - Rostuche, Jance, and high in the mountains, Galichnik.  And it also brought back memories of last fall when Chris visited and we had such a fabulous time!  But enough of being nostalgic.  There are still things to do and memories to make ahead before I return home!

One of the 1100 sheep at the camp
Last month I was able to live one of the dreams I have had since I was assigned to the Sheepbreeders' Association - spend the night at a sheep camp in the high mountain pastures.  Friends of Luli's, Hassan and Akise, invited us up to the pasture where they summer their sheep.  The high pastures are leased to farmers by the government, and since many of the pastures are leased on a yearly basis and farmers have no guarantee that they will return to the same one, the camps themselves remain pretty primitive. 

Me serving coffee to the shepherds and Hassan
Hassan has a 4 wheel drive Jeep, which we needed to travel over the road up to the pasture.  His son and two other shepherds stay up there full time, and Hassan and Akise travel there and back bringing up supplies, checking on what needs to be done, and cleaning, doing chores, picking up cheese, etc.  The camp itself consists of a cobbled together shack with 2 beds, a couch and a table, a couple of wood stoves, one now inside (they moved it in while we were there because the cold weather was moving in) and one outside, and another shed for storing cheese and supplies.  Water is piped down through a hose from a natural spring higher up on the mountain and connected to a faucet over a bathtub.  Cheese is refrigerated in buckets in the bathtub - the water from the spring is cold year round.  The shepherds bring the flocks (there are two - one of 400 that they manage for another man, and Hassan's flock of 700) back to the camp in the evening, and during the day they range throughout the area taking the sheep to fresh pastures.  The three men milk the sheep twice a day - it's hard for me to imagine - and eat lots of sheep and goat cheese, yogurt and lamb.  Bathroom facilities are non-existent - if you have to go, there's lots of pasture around!

It was misty when we arrived, and the mist soon turned to a cold hard rain.  Since it had been very warm in Gostivar up until the time we went up, I definitely underdressed!  Akise brought up sarma (you may be more familiar with it called by its Greek name, dolma) and bread, which we combined with cheese, cheese and peppers, olives, and yogurt for a delicious dinner.  The hut actually has power fueled by a small solar panel, and after dinner we looked at pictures of the area on Hassan's son's computer!  Hmmm, where were we going to sleep?  The shepherd's hut only had 3 beds, and there were 7 of us....But Luli must have read my mind.  Shortly after we finished looking at the pictures, Hassan and Akise left and he told me they had gone to fix up the place we were going to sleep.  We walked up the hill to the tent which held two double beds.  Fully clothed, Luli and Hassan jumped into one bed and Akise and I into the other.  I had been smart enough to restrict my fluid intake after dinner - there was no way I wanted to have to leave the tent, surrounded by sheep, goats, and huge Shar Planina sheep dogs, to pee in the middle of the night.  The bed was actually very comfortable, and I went to sleep with a big smile on my face - now this really was Peace Corps!

We had another huge and wonderful meal in the morning that included the best hard goat cheese I have ever had, then spent the morning doing chores around the camp before the men moved the sheep out for their day's grazing.  Akise never stopped working - she would complain about how with no women around the men let the camp get so dirty!  I played with some adorable puppies from Akise's favorite dog - she looked to be part border collie and part mountain dog.  As you can see, I also served coffee to the men - a traditional job for the woman!!!  But I loved every minute of it - another treasured memory.  We might go up again next weekend to slaughter a goat and salt it down using a tradition method called pastrimaja.  I'm looking forward to it!

We also had the third annual Gostivar Fun Run/Walk.  It's become quite the event in Gostivar.  We work with the School Sports people and almost all of our runners are students from the local schools.  Not much happens here, so the kids are so excited to participate in something, and each year we have more and more kids run.  This year we had 158 finish the race, the highest number ever.

The unbeatable team of Fezullai and Wiggum!
After the race, I had something happen that was my absolutely favorite thing ever.  The girl that had finished second had not come up to receive her certificate and medal when we announced her name, but she came shortly afterward to get it along with her father and her family.  I gave it to her, hung her medal around her neck, and her father kept saying:  "This is my daughter"  He was so proud!  Then he showed me his family:  "This is my family!"  I cannot describe how heartwarming it is to see the response of the kids and  their families.

PCV's at Vrutok!
Of course none of it could be done without help.  The city of Gostivar helps finance it, the police donate their time to clear the course and make sure it's safe, the public health clinic sends out an ambulance to follow the racers, the sports teachers get the kids excited about it and pick representatives from their school, and the municipal works folks clean, put up signs, and do whatever is needed.  That's the other thing I love - in a country where different parties and levels of government often don't work together, this is truly a multi-agency, multi-party effort in order to benefit the kids.  And we also couldn't do it without all the people that help.  The sports ed folks volunteer, local high school students monitor the course and give out water, and this year about 25 peace corps volunteers came to lend a hand.  Afterward we went up to Vrutok for a lovely fish dinner - how I will miss my Peace Corps family!

The bride and groom
Finally, the reason I traveled through Mavrovo Canyon last night was to go to the wedding of Elona's brother, Fatjon.  It was the first Albanian wedding party I have been to, and I had a ball.  Like Macedonian weddings, the night is spent eating and dancing the Oro, though in Macedonian weddings the way they do it is a little different.  The Oro is a giant line dance - think My Big Fat Greek Wedding - with simple steps that I never can quite get down, but it doesn't matter - what matters is you get up there and dance.  There are sets of about 5 or 6 songs, starting slowly and ending at a more rapid beat - the shifts between rhythms always got me off step - and you just keep dancing.  At this wedding, often at the last song the line broke and people just danced in small groups!  Occasionally they would also just play songs to dance to like we would dance, and the music would be a combination of Albanian, American, Italian and Spanish, from what I could tell!

And eat - OMG, we ate!  We started off with a table full of salads, cold cuts, cheese, and potatoes, and then the waiters brought chicken steak and what looked like a chicken fried steak.  After awhile they brought a slice of veal and put on top of that, then after another pause to digest they brought a thin steak, followed after another pause by a slice of roast beef.  I though we must be done, but at about midnight they cleared our plates and brought each of us an entire trout and french fries.  All of this was accompanied by all the beer, wine, soda, or water you could drink.

The dance group plus Luli and Lindi
At what I think was the end, Elona, Lule, her brother, and a couple of others disappeared and returned in traditional costumes to dance for all of us.  I don't know how long the party went on after we left at 1:30 am - as it was with the drive we got back to Gostivar at close to 4am.  But what a night and what a wedding!

On top of all this, the new Peace Corps trainees arrived in September - the 17th group to arrive.  I love watching thenew arrivals' nervousness, excitement and anticipation, knowing that their time will be filled with adventures and frustrations beyond their knowing and our ability to tell them.  Living on your own in a different culture is fabulous, and it is also definitely challenging to be far away from home, know no one at your site, and have to figure out how to fit in, what to do, and how best to connect both at work and in your community.  But what a ride!  I think of returning and trying to explain it to someone else, and know that words will fail me.  You just have to experience it to understand what a privilege it's been the last three years!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Pipes Are Calling

I've decided that I don't need a dog as an excuse to take a walk in the morning, so on the mornings that I am not commuting into Skopje to work I've been taking a walk along the Vardar river.  The heat has broken, and the morning was cool with a touch of autumn in the air.  The water in the river, now fed only by springs and not by mountain run-off, is so clear it is invisible.  The mountains that frame Gostivar stood out in sharp relief in the fresh morning air.  The higher trees are just beginning to change color.  Pigeons lingered by the banks drinking and taking their morning baths, and a water ouzel dipped in and out as it flew along. 

I'm marking the end of my last summer in Gostivar and I view these things with sweet melancholy.  This time is Gostivar at its best.  The great diaspora are heading to their homes in Europe and elsewhere, and the pace of the city has slowed.  During the evenings and into the night crowds still gather at coffee shops and benches in the park, and the chocolate donut man, roasted corn vendors and toy/miniature car merchants still fill the central square.  But the crowd is more subdued and the noise now falls gently onto my ears.  Next week school will start and summer will officially be over.

Inside Luli's coffee shop
Many of my friends are leaving or have left.  Only a handful of my Peace Corps class remain in country, and in a couple of months my friends from the next class will start leaving.  Elona will soon start a new job and her eldest, Lule, will start public school.  Next week, too, marks the first anniversary of the coffee shop, and before too long the tables will be pulled in from the outside to hunker down for winter.  Vjosa leaves tomorrow for NYU and a great adventure, and soon Gordana too will leave for a new job in Skopje.  Many of the students we worked with are starting college.  And before I know it, it will be time for me to leave as well.

Looking down on Saranda
My nephew Clark came and visited - he'd always wanted to go to Albania and it was my pleasure to take him.  I finally made it to the southern coast, which, as you can see, is spectacular.  We took a ferry over to the Greek island of Corfu, which has always sounded magical but after Albania felt only like a tourist trap.  The trip back was fun, however.  A very strong wind was blowing and we were pounding into the current.  We all stayed outside and leaned against the front railings of the ship and got soaked - it was like riding a roller coaster!  We swam in the sea, ate wonderful food, and found magical places for Tirana time.  One of the favorite things that happened, though, occurred on the way home.  Clark was at the airport, Elona was with the kids and family members in Vlora, and Luli and I were heading back together on the bus - a 5 hour or longer trip.  We had driven quite some way that day, turned in our rental car and didn't have time to eat, so when the bus came at 4 we were starving.  At our first stop, about an hour after we left, we bought some bananas from the banana man at the Durres bus station, which helped.  The second stop was in front of a pizza restaurant, and Luli, who knew the driver, asked him to wait.  He then ordered us each a pizza and brought two fresh pizzas on board for us.  Only in the Balkans would a driver delay a bus- load of passengers so that one could order pizzas, and only in the Balkans would no one mind.

Sunset at Ksamil
Soon my great adventure will end - Ah, but what memories I will have.  I hope I have made some difference here - if in no other way than through the friends I have met and spent time with.  I know my experience here will always have a profound impact on me.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Another world

Another part of Duf across the valley
I spent a wonderful weekend in the mountains in the village of Duf with my friends Kerry, Mary and Gordana, plus Gordana's little baby Goran.  It was wonderful to escape the heat and hang out with 3 friends, eat ourselves silly, take an occasional hike so we could convince ourselves we could eat so much, and just relax.  Thanks, Gordana and family!

I often times forget how different this culture can be from ours, but every now and again I get a stark reminder.  I was sitting the other day with a friend at Luli's coffeeshop when a little girl who was probably about 4 years old got hit by a car nearby.  The car screeched to a stop as the little one crawled toward the sidewalk screaming.  A man in the passenger seat jumped out of the car, scooped the little girl up, and it drove off to the hospital.  A few minutes later a group of women, most carrying babies, emerged from an apartment building.  A woman in the middle of the pack, the mother of the child, was howling, and they all scurried off to the hospital.  A couple of days later, Elona and I talked about the incident.  I asked her if indeed the people in the car, who presumably had no idea who the little girl was, had taken her to the hospital.  Elona assured me they had and why not?  She should be taken there immediately!  I replied that in the US, if someone did that, they would probably be arrested for kidnapping, leaving the scene of an accident, and possibly hit and run.  Once they got to the hospital, unless the child was in critical condition, which she clearly was not, the hospital would refuse to treat her without permission from the parents.  Instead, the police and firefighters would be called to come, and the firemen would treat the little girl at the scene until an ambulance arrived.  (This confused her until I explained in the US, firefighters were trained as emergency medical technicians.) The police would seal off the area and start investigating the accident and contact the girl's family so they could go to the hospital with her (I didn't mention that the little girl probably would never be outside by herself).  Instead, in Gostivar, everything happened in about 3 minutes and afterward you couldn't tell a thing had happened.

On Tuesday I'm off to Southern Albania and the Ionian Sea with Luli, Elona, and my nephew Clark.  We'll be near the border with Greece and plan to take the ferry over to the Greek Island of Corfu one day.  It is supposed to be an exquisitely beautiful area, and I can hardly wait!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Happy summer, everyone!  Seems like it's been hot everywhere, and the same is true of Gostivar.  Temperatures have been in the upper 90's and humid most of the summer, with occasional crazy thunder storms blowing through.

Peace Corps was kind enough to fly me to Washington DC in June to inter my dad's ashes at Arlington National Cemetery.  It was very moving to put him there, and it was wonderful to have family around me after such a long time in Macedonia.  I'll miss my dad terribly, and it was so important to me to be able to be at Arlington for the ceremony.  Thanks, Peace Corps.

I also took the time to fly out to Arizona to see my mom.  She is pretty dog-gone healthy for being 91.  I took her out to several lunches and she loved getting out and having good food and a beer.  My friend Sherry also flew into Phoenix and spent a day with me and my mom, and we had a blast talking and shopping.  Mom loved it.  She also took this picture of my mother and me.

Ramazan started on July 20th.  Since 3/4's of the population of Gostivar is Muslim, it's a very important time.  It's a time to reflect on the past year of life, to remember the poor, and to feel solidarity with the greater community.  Every year Ramazan (Ramadan in other places) moves up 10 or 11 days, and this year it's dead in the middle of summer.  Observers do not drink or eat from sun up to sun down for 30 days, and in this heat, I just can't imagine it.  It definitely changes the rhythm of life here!

In the summer, Gostivar has always been a city that comes alive at night, and during Ramazan that's even more true.  After iftar, the traditional meal ending the day's fast at sundown, everyone comes out on the streets and the city takes on a festive air.  Vendors are everywhere selling freshly made donuts with chocolate sauce, nuts and seeds, corn on the cob, toys and other trinkets.  People walk around and visit, sit in the park and people-watch, and lounge at the numerous cafes and talk about politics and life.  Families, including small children, stay up until midnight and beyond, and many revelers are still at it until 3, when the traditional breakfast is served and the fast begins again.  Then everyone goes back to bed and and those who can sleep away as much of the day as possible. 

During summer, the population of the town also surges.  Families that have emigrated to the US, Europe, or elsewhere all come home.  Single men come to find brides and get married, and there is a spate of weddings during the summer months.  Suddenly you see big SUV's, Mercedes and other image cars clogging the streets and causing traffic jams.  Of course, this is all very important to the locals, because the diaspora also brings money home, and the merchants generally make most of their profits during this time.  I must admit, though, I look forward to Gostivar quieting down to its usual easy-going times.  Now that I live downtown, I get to experience the party atmosphere and its noise first hand!

baby storks waiting for their next meal

The end is in sight, though.  At right is a nest of baby storks.  They and their parents mark the passage of summer for me, and these guys are getting big enough that soon they'll be flying and not hanging around home waiting for their next meal.  It also marks the start of the countdown for my days in Macedonia.  At Peace Corps we're busy planning for the new group of volunteers who will arrive in September.  At the end of their training, in Dec., I will leave Macedonia and return home.  I both look forward to it and dread it.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Happy Sunday!  Sunday mornings I always fix myself a special brunch breakfast - today it was Macedonian Scramble - fried new potatoes, scrambled eggs, and ajvar!  Yum.  The strawberries are in and apricots are coming in - fresh wonderful luscious fruit.

It's been an interesting week, filled with the stuff that life is made of.  First the sad, Luli's father died suddenly.  He had a massive heart attack and stroke last Saturday and died Monday morning.  Luli's week has been filled with the rituals that surround death.  In Islam the body must be buried within 24 hours, so the first day is filled with preparing the body and burying it, all done by men.  Then comes visitations by family and friends.  There was a chair with a white cloth on it in front of Luli's house, which is both a way of announcing the death and an invitation to come visit.  On Wednesday, I was invited to a big luncheon with family.  The women gathered upstairs and the men outside in the family compound.  First the younger women served the men, and then we older women came down and were served.  Later, we returned upstairs for more visiting.  I had trouble understanding the women who spoke Gostivarian Albanian, but one woman was nice enough to speak 'clean' Albanian - literature Albanian, and we chatted for quite some time.  They were all so sweet, encouraging me to eat the special Albanian dessert and making sure I had everything I wanted.  I shall so miss the sense of community that is here when I leave

Wednesday was also the day my friend Ilmi defended his master's thesis, so I went up to the university to watch it.  Family and friends are invited, and Ilmi gave a presentation about his research.  It's very interesting stuff - about cross municipal cooperation.  As these countries develop their ways of governing, they struggle with what we struggle with - what should be handled locally and what in larger units?  How do you balance the wisdom of small government that knows what's needed in the area with the efficiency of large government?  I think of New Hampshire, which has tons of local control but is so bloody inefficient, and the battles between states rights and the federal government, and know all governments struggle with this.  Right now the EU has a massive crisis and is desperately trying to figure it out what to do and how to do it.  So anyway, it was a very interesting subject, and he is a leader in the field!  After the presentation, his committee asked him questions and took a break so he could consider the answers, and then people in the audience asked questions.  Of course he passed with flying colors, and afterward there was a celebration with goodies and drinks!

I've also been part of a team that interviews sites that would like to get a new volunteer.  That too has been interesting.  Organizations want volunteers for all kinds of reasons, and it's nice to be part of the process.  I go to sites around Western Macedonia, and it's great, because I have met many of the people we interview.  I can see how in 2.5 years I have become part of the Polog Valley region!

Finally, I helped organize a trip for 11 volunteers to go to my favorite hotel in Jance.  On the way, they're going up into the mountains to ride horseback into a remote location and will have a game dinner - boar, rabbit, or venison.  9 of them crashed at my house the night before, and I'm anxious to hear their stories when they return today.  I'm babysitting Spikers, so I couldn't go.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Memorial Day

Lt. KC Diehl, United States Army Air Corps
Monday's memorial day will have a special meaning to me.  My Dad, Kenneth Clark Diehl, died on January 16th of this year, shortly after his 93rd birthday.  He was a veteran of 3 wars, World War II, the Korean War, and Viet Nam.  He was from the old school:  dashing, handsome, loyal and patriotic.  He was a man of his times and could also be chauvinistic, mule-headed and domineering.  Poor guy, he was blessed with 3 daughters that could be equally as mule-headed as he was!

He loved flying, his family and the outdoors.  His father had been one of the first national park rangers, and he grew up in the Tetons, Yosemite and Sequoia.  He and his brother would hike into the back country of whichever park his dad was at and camp and fish for days.  He hiked through his 70's, and tried scaling Mt. Rainier in his 60's.  It was a love my mother did not share with him - she went camping with him once and said if she couldn't stay in a place with a bed and sheets, she wasn't going!  But he passed his love onto 2 of us, and my older sister particularly continues to camp, hike and fly-fish.

His career in the Air Force was an accident.  After WWII, he got out of the service and worked for Standard Oil, but was recalled for the Korean war.  He was a part of research and development and got to fly all kinds of experimental air planes, one of which he crashed!  He was going to return to Standard Oil, but one thing led to another, and the Air Force became his career.  He flew fighter planes, KC 97's and 135's (refuelers), and ended his career flying U-2's.  When I was in college he was in Viet Nam, with a $10,000 price on his head.  It was such a relief when his tour was done.  After Viet Nam, he retired and left flying, but he always missed it.

If he had a Jungian archetype, it was the hero.  He was always ready to sacrifice himself for someone else, whether they wanted it or not!  Ironically, one of the things that made him so resolutely human was that he always wanted to be larger than life - always the best - and when he couldn't be the best, he quit.  But he always will be larger than life for me.  He'll always be my hero.