An afternoon in Ohrid

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Visiting is an integral part of the culture - almost every night someone comes over to visit or we go out to visit. The men go to cafes, and the women visit each other's houses. The other day I thought we were going to Skopje, but instead my family took me with them to visit Suhadet's cousin, who lives out in the country on a farm. Her house was more traditional than the one I live in here in Cherkeze, with no furniture and just cushions around the outside of the room. She had a huge garden and showed me what she's done so far to prepare for winter. Under the eaves upstairs were a large quantity of potatoes, onions and garlic that had been woven into braids, white beans, and dried peppers. Under the stairs were her jars of Ajvar along with some homemade sok - some kind of soda made with cherries. Her hospitality, like that of everyone's here,was wonderful. Mind you, she did have a refrigerator but everything else was fixed on or in her wood stove. First she brought us a glass of some kind of soft drink, which are served everywhere and all the time in Macedonia, along with some candy. This was closely followed by Turkish coffee, which I love, and cookies. After a couple of hours visiting we ate dinner. They brought out the round table she uses for rolling dough and making phyllo which is about 9 inches off the ground. In deference to my stiff Yankee ways, they also brought out a small stool for me to sit out. She had made fresh round loaves of bread, a chopped tomato and onion salad, and white bean soup with some sausage floating in it. The bread is perfect not only for soaking up the soup, but also for dipping in the juices left from the lucious ripe tomatoes. It was all delicious. Then we cleaned up the table and dishes and dessert came out - baked potatoes which we peeled and dipped in salt. It was a lovely dinner and a treat to see a real working Albanian/Macedonian farm. And speaking of that, the town that I live in is all Albanian. It is a source of a great deal of pride for Albanians to say they are from the Country of Macedonian, but they are Albanian. For me, I get to see two cultures at once!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

It's Sunday and 3 of us have travelled into Kumanova for the day and we're catching up on all things internet in the big bakery here, Zafir. Last night I was walking home from talking to Chris on Skype (congrats again, Chris) when the mother of one of the other trainees beckoned me into her yard. 3 other of the 6 trainees in Cherkeze were already there, and the atmosphere was quite festive. She was making the traditional sauce here, ajvar, which is made up of about a zillion red peppers which have been roasted on a barbecue like device, peeled, chopped and cooked with onions and oil outdoors over a fire. She offered us all a taste, which we gladly accepted. All her daughters were around helping us - the family is so sweet and adorable. It was getting dark, and someone handed me something that looked like a round pepper. I couldn't figure out what to do with it so eventually I dropped it into the ajvar. There was a collective gasp and then everyone broke out in laughter - turned out it was a salt shaker! Ah, adventures in miscommunication! But we all had a good laugh and it added to the joy in the air. It's so interesting to watch the different ways of cooking and eating. My mom makes pita, which is Albanian pie. She first make phyllo dough by rolling out dough on a round table with a rod, then throwing the dough in the air until it's paper thin. Then she does some slices around the outside, coats the dough with oil, and folds in a section, repeating it until all the sections have been folded in. She puts a mixture of peppers, carrots and onions on top, then covers it with another layer of phyllo and bakes it in the low, round oven they use for many things. It is very good and very filling.

It's harvest, and the air is filled with smoke, ajvar smells, and harvested alfalfa. They harvest the old way, using a hand rake and tossing it up on a wagon. I often think that life here is like Marlow in the 30's, small stores with a variety of goods for every 100 people or so, everyone with a garden, chickens, and a animal or two in the yard. But there are signs things are changing. Two of my sisters want to be doctors, and the third a computer expert. They're always on the computer, using Windows live to talk to friends and family all over the world. It's an interesting time, an overlap between the old ways and the new. I feel so privileged to be able to experience it. Okay, I'll publish this ad see if I can remember how to attach a picture or two.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Day 5 in Cherkeze. What a time it's been! Cherkeze is a village of about 5,000, but it's a very insulated city. It's Albanian Muslim and is only about 3 kilometers Kumanova. Everyone in Cherkeze knows everyone and word travels fast. We've been made so welcome it's amazing. I have inherited quite a big family. I walk through town and kids, my 'cousins', run up to me to say "Miredita' and hug me. Further on, my 'aunt' asks me in for kafe, and I pass my 'sisters' riding around town. I went walking with the other trainees in town out in the fields, and asked a woman in traditional dress who was collecting melons and peppers if I could take her picture. She said okay, and I showed her what I took. She then gave me the melon she was carrying. I told her and her son thank you, but I didn't want to take their food, but they insisted. We took it to the house of one of the group and dove into it - yum. It was like a white watermelon, warm still from being in the field, and the most flavorful melon I've ever eaten. I think I must have gained ten pounds already. My mother feeds me like crazy - goulash, dolma (stuffed peppers), the best yoghurt I've ever had, pickled peppers and carrots, Albanian 'pita', chicken and rice (from a chicken she had killed and plucked that morning.) At night we go visiting - last night up to a madher (sister) of my dad and another volunteered, and we laughed and drank kafe and mineral water. It's amazing how much you can communicate despite knowing only a few words. They are very patient with me and take teaching us Albanian very seriously. The training is intense - with tons of homework, so figuring out when to do it is a challenge. It's hard sometime - there's very little down time and I'm tired a lot, but am adjusting and doing better staying awake in class.... I'm going to try to attach some pictures, so here goes.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Bajram in Cherkeze

I'm settled with my family in an Albanian community call Cherkeze, or Cherke in Albanian. I moved in with them on my birthday, and that night they surprised me with a birthday party. They brought cake, presents and even a bottle of champagne. In Cherkeze, everyone visits everyone all the time, so several relatives of Enver's. my 'Dad', came over to celebrate with me. It's challenging - right now I know almost no Albanian and they know no English. We managed to communicate a little through French and sign language, and occasionally some Albanian. Oh, I should have taken that second semester of French during the summer! Many of the men over 40 speak a European language because they worked somewhere in Europe while this was part of Yugoslavia and they could travel freely throughout Europe and work. When Yugoslavia broke apart and they became Macedonia, that ability was lost, so the younger generations haven't had that opportunity because it's challenging to get a visa. But next year that changes.

Anyway, my family consists of Enver, the Bapi, Sahadet, the Mami, 4 daughters, Vanessa, Hadigja, Helelinda, Suala, and 1 son, Isa. (My spellings are probably not correct - I need to find out how to do it correctly.) Enver and Sahadet have given up their room for me, so I am quite comfortable. Everyone here is very friendly - we greet with miredita and kisses on the right cheek, left, and right again. They are working hard to teach me Albanian, but most of it goes in one ear for now and out the other. Tomorrow we start our formal training - 20 hours of language lessons a week, 8 of Macedonian and 12 of Albanian. Our training lasts until Thanksgiving, when all the PC volunteers gather in Skopje for Thanksgiving dinner and our swearing in. The next day we move to our own apartments where we'll live for the next 24 months.

I also moved in during Ramadan, and today is Bajram, celebrating the end of Ramadan and fasting. When my family fasted, they would eat at 3:30 in the morning and then again at sunset. Sahadet would prepare the meal and put it on the table, and we'd wait until the prayer call signalling sunset, and everyone would dig in! Bajram is a joyful feast - we spent the morning going around to all the relatives houses and eating and drinking sok (soda) and turkish coffee and eating. The children wander around town collecting candy much like Halloween. Several of Enver and Sahadet's family are still out of Macedonia, but everyone calls each other to talk and say something that sounds like Exhosht Bajram. There are 6 of us in Cherkeze. Everyone else is in Tefl (Teaching English as a foreign language), and I'm the only one in community development.

When I move into my own place I won't need to use an internet cafe, and will be able to send you pictures. All the houses are surrounded by walls and gates, so when you go through the village you might feel closed out, but the villagers all know each other and homes are open. I'm well, learning a lot, and am well taken care of. The food is fabulous, and I always have to say Yam i gnite - I am full. Miss everyone, but it is such an adventure. Wish you all could be here with me!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Hi, all,
My posts will probably be pretty short until after Thanksgiving - I won't have regular internet until I move into my own place. Tomorrow I move in with my family for training. I am very lucky to be moving in with an ethnic Albanian family - almost a quarter of Macedonia's population is Albanian Muslim. The families are carefully chosen and from what I've heard spoil us like crazy. We get to meet family, neighbors, and get well fed!

We flew into Skopje and then moved to a hotel in Kumanov for our first 5 days of training. It surprised me flying into Skopje - I had expected it to look like New Hampshire but it looked more like Nebraska with more dramatic landscape. All the land around Skopje is farmed, and they had finished the corn and wheat harvest so the fields were brown. We went immediately up to our hotel outside of Kumanov. It's next to a residential area, so in the mornings I walk around. I love it. There are very few lawns - almost all the land around the houses are fruit trees and gardens. They're harvesting tomatoes - large, yummy ripe tomatoes - and a long sweet red pepper that they make a sauce with. You can walk down the roads and see them searing the peppers on charcoal braziers and sometimes making the sauce. Almost everyone has chickens - so I feel right at home - and as you walk you can smell the earthiness of chickens, the sweet smell of cows and goats, and the acrid odor of pigs. Everyone has a mini farm :-). The group I'm with is wonderful and great fun - danced my feet off last night with them. And everyone is so interesting. If you added up all the travel I'm sure we'd be to the moon and back.

I'll only have internet access a couple times a week until I move into my own place at my assignment, but will try to keep you updated. I'll post pictures then, too = I'll be able to do this from my computer instead of the internet cafe. Love to all.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

I'm in Vienna - when I went to sign into blogspot everything was in German! I guess thus starts my adventures in translations!

There are 38 of us ranging in age from some recent grads to a couple in their 70's. It's wonderful to see how everyone mixes and connects with each other, though. We'll be each others' family for the 27 months in Macedonia, so it's good. Orientation in DC was mostly getting to know each other a bit along with some policy review and logistics - many questions were answered: "You'll find out more when your in-country." And soon we will be there. We're all a bit bleary eyed - it's 4:27 EST but 10:27 here. I was able to wake up with a Starbucks here - I wonder if they've even made it to Skopje.

The big talk among the group was luggage - did we all fit our lives into 2 fifty pound suitcases. One of the young men argued that was too much, but especially for the women it was a stretch. After much reorganizing, mine weighed in at 49 and 50 pound. Imagine me wrestling those through the airport with a 30 pound pack on my back and my computer case filled to the brim with electronics. I was quite proud of myself. It does feel good to put things down, though.

Next stop: Skopje!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Tomorrow the adventure begins. I've been rearranging things in suitcases and carry-ons, washing, and hoping I have what I need. Like always, I probably have many things I don't need and some critical things I forgot. One of my carry-ons is just for electronics: my computer, Kindle, camera, PDA, cell phone and assorted accessories - chargers, videos, cables, etc. It's amazing. I fretted about how to use them all in Macedonia on the different current and bought 3 current transformers, only to learn that all electronics in this global age are made to take both 110 and 220 currents. Hmmm, things have changed since I lived Europe over 50 years ago! I have adapter plugs so I should be fine. Kacy and I decided I needed a new camera, so we went to H&B (is that right?) in Manhattan to buy one. That is a true NY experience. The store is huge and has every imaginable camera and accessory (as well as other electronics). It would be overwhelming but we just went to the point and shoot division where about a dozen men sat waiting for customers. You tell them what you want and what you want to spend, and they recommend which cameras will work best and show you all their features and what you need for them. They then write up the order, call it up from the warehouse, show it to you, and put it in a big bin. The bin is put on a track. You go downstairs and pay for it at one of the many pay stations, then go to the pick-up station, where someone has retrieved the bin off the track and packaged your purchase up for you. Every electronics store should be so helpful and organized.

I've also signed up for Skype and tested it. Chris and I both have built in video cameras on our computers, so we talked to each other and saw each other at the same time. Chris picked up his computer and moved it around his office so I could see it - I hadn't been there before, so now at least I've had a visual tour. My sister Deborah and I chatted through it - she's getting her mike for her computer on Friday! I'll be able to call land-lines as well as computers from Macedonia. All of this I learned about on the Macedonia 14 Facebook group - dang, it is a different world.

I fly to DC tomorrow for a 6 hour orientation and paper-filling out session. We leave for Macedonia on Saturday. It's a nine hour flight to Vienna, then an hour and 40 minutes from there to Skopje. We're boarded on a bus for Kumanov where we'll spend the next five days at the Hotel Satelit - it has a website so you can see what it looks like. After that we're divided into pods of 5-7 volunteers and sent to a variety of communities for 2 months to train and learn Macedonian. We live with families and I've heard training is very intense. I may have limited access to the internet during training, but once I'm in my placement I'll have it at my apartment. The joke in Marlow was that I'll have better internet in Macedonia than I had in Marlow. After that I should be able to communicate more regularly.

Today I'll call family, do some washes, and go out for a celebratory dinner with Kacy and Udi. Take care, everyone. Talk to you again soon.

Monday, September 7, 2009

I have no keys - none to a car, home, or office. I've always had a big ring of keys, but one by one they've been pulled off - first office, then phone, car, and finally a couple that I wasn't sure what they were to. It's both liberating not to walk around with a pile of keys and a bit frightening. It means for now that I'm unattached - there is nothing to unlock that is mine. Soon I'll probably get new keys, but for now I have nothing.

Kacy and I went to Governor's Island yesterday. It's off the tip of lower Manhattan and was for many years a Coast Guard base. The feds sold it to NY for $1, and now they're trying to figure out what to do with it. They've been promoting it this summer with a free ferry ride to it, art shows, free bikes, and all kinds of promotions. Yesterday they had a special swim event - the churning in the picture above is of the first heat of swimmers taking off to swim a couple of miles. The area is the confluence of the Hudson, East River, and the Atlantic Ocean right off the Island - can you imagine what that water is like? Anyway, we had a great time!

Today we went to Udi's Dad's house in Jersey. His wife is from the country of Georgia and their hospitality is amazing. Elvira cooks a feast every time we go down of the most amazing food from the caucuses. At home they speak Russian to each other, and I actually recognized a couple of words that cross over with Macedonian. 5 days to go.......

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Yesterday I went into Manhattan to walk along the new High Line Park. It was an old elevated train track that they were going to rip down until a group of NY'ers convinced them to turn it into a park instead. I thought it would be straight and narrow and look like an elevated bike path, but instead it was lovely. They've planted quite a few grasses, flowers and trees along the path which incorporates different levels and nooks and crannies. At one point there's an amphitheater that overlooks 10th Ave. You can sit and enjoy the comings and goings of the city. There are a few vendors up there, and lots of benches, tables and chairs, and lookouts along the route. You definitely get a different view of the city and get to appreciate the architecture of the old buildings as you walk along. A couple of weeks ago the NBC news featured some other sights you might see as you walk along - it goes right under a hotel and sometimes the open curtains reveal surprises - but on my walk all was proper.

One end of it is opposite the Chelsea Piers, which I've always wanted to check out, so I went down and crossed over. One of the bizarre things they have at the Piers is a golf club where people can come hit buckets of balls and practice their putting. There are four stories of driving range mats to hit off of, and you drive out onto one of the piers extending out into the Hudson that has huge nets hung from all sides. It looks so strange to walk to the end of the pier and see all these people, 4 stories high, hitting balls towards you! There's also a refitting business for huge yachts, a bowling alley, a brewery, and a skating rink there. It's one of the things I like about NY - there are some great places to just poke around in and there are always interesting things to see.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Kacy and I walked around Liberty Park yesterday, which is about 3 blocks from her apartment. Liberty Park is a national monument and has the most spectacular views of lower Manhattan across the Hudson River. Historically, it's where the immigrants came after being processed through Ellis Island to catch the trains to their new lives. The old train station is still there, and while the tracks are gone, the sidings where they were remain, overgrown now with weeds and fenced off. Several lines serviced the area, ready to take the new Americans to their waiting homes across the country. If you stand still, you can still feel the energy - excitement, resignation, worry, fear - everything that might exist when you're beginning a new and unknown live. Compared to them, my hardships will be few - I'll be able to Skype friends and family from Macedonia, call them on the cell phone, and if need be, fly back for emergencies. Most of the folks passing through Liberty Station would never speak or see their friends and family again, but still they came. Matt's grandparents, Mathias and Ingeborg Wiggum from Norway, came through, as well as my friend Bob Bruna's family from the Czech Republic. Ellis Island represented a new policy toward immigrants - still welcomed, but screened for physical and mental illness. For the most part they were treated well on the Island. We've certainly morphed since then to be less welcoming.

We also saw the back side of the Statue of Liberty, which still brings shivers to me. We returned from Europe in Dec. of 1957. It was rough seas crossing the north Atlantic, and I was seasick most of the time. I remember standing on deck passing the Statue and knowing we were home and soon would be on land again. Even at eleven, it was an emotional time.

Today I'm off to the City to walk the new High Line trail - right in the middle of the West Side. Take care, all.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Jersey City Musings

I made it to Jersey City with my suitcases only slightly overpacked. I've reduced some of the weight to try to fit requirements - we'll see. I'll be here until the 11th, then down to Washington DC. This is a trial post to see how things work.