I've been living in Gostivar for two weeks, with unfortunately limited access to internet. I'm hoping to get it installed in my apartment this week, but you never know, or at least I never know, when things are going to happen. I think my landlady assured me that it was going to be in soon, but my Macedonian is still limited. In the meantime I wanted to let you know I was still alive and well. I've had a great time since coming here and have seen so many things I'll need to catch you up on. But for now, here are some pictures of my adorable apartment. I have it decorated for Christmas now. Christmas in Macedonia is on January 7th, so we get to celebrate it twice! I'm very comfortable and so enjoy cooking again - I had forgotten how much I like to create meals for myself. And creations they are. Most of the time I can tell what I'm buying in the grocery store, but it's still an adventure in new ingredients and different options. But on Tuesdays I go to the bazaar and load up on fruits and veggies - happily I've been munching on Clementines, which I look forward to every year around T=giving. I buy a half kilo of spinach for about a dollar or less, and a half kilo is a huge amount of spinach. I've put it in soup, salads, pasta dishes, and omelets, I gave a bunch of it away, and I still have a ton left. So far there has been an abundance of fresh fruits and veggies and food is very inexpensive. The weather, after being warm and generally sunny, turned cold on Friday and there is snow on the mountains. We got a dusting but it didn't stay. I'm hoping the farmers can continue to supply us with everything for awhile yet. My other joy here is that chickens are not locked up in cages, so the eggs have the deep orange yolks that I love and not the pale imitations we see in the markets in the States.
Shopping is much different here, too. There are many, many small shops, and finding which ones carry the things you are looking for is a challenge. But it's also a great excuse to browse and to see what everyone has. Now that it's getting close to Christmas, merchants have put up booths in the town square selling Christmas things. It always makes me smile because it brings a vivid display of colors - they have so many kinds of Christmas frou-fra to put up. I settled for a small artificial tree and bulbs, some tinsel streamers, and some blinking lights, and they make me smile at home with their cheeriness.
I've been acclimating for work - going to meetings that are about developing project proposals for rural development. They are in small villages in the area, so I am very lucky to be seeing parts of the country that most volunteers don't get to. We've been up to a mountain village in Mavrovo park twice - they want to develop tourism there and it's a gorgeous place with lots of potential. The first time we stopped by one of the most famous monasteries in Macedonia - the Monastery of St. John the Baptist. In the 8th or 9th century an icon of St. John was found in a stream, and that's why they built the Monastery there - the icon was apparently much older. It's now encased in gold and people come to pray for miracles, several of which have been attributed to St. John's intervention. It has very famous wood carving in it - carving that was done by brother's who used techniques that no one has been able to replicate. They would make 3 dimensional scenes representing stories from the Bible and from St. John's live in 3 dimensions, much like the ivory carving you see from China. I was lucky because one of the monks offered to give us a tour and explain them and he spoke perfect English. They also have relics from several saints there, including a piece of the thigh bone from St. John. The Monastery sits up on the side of the mountain and the views are extraordinary. I hadn't brought my camera with me and regret it immensely - I would have loved to give you a feel for the landscape there. The road through Mavrovo is a little like driving through the grand canyon, but with trees. The canyon has spectacular rock formations and cliffs that are dotted with caves. The park itself has an abundance of wildlife, including wolves, bobcats, bear, deer, weasels - amazing that the species have been able to survive centuries of hunting but also a testament to how inaccessibility of the landscape.
Two weekends ago I took a day trip to Ohrid, and last weekend was at a Hanukkah party in Skopje, but more about all that latter. Happy Hanukkah and a happy holiday season to all.