An afternoon in Ohrid

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Swearing In

I'm now officially a PCV - Peace Corps volunteer. We were sworn in by the Ambassador to Macedonia on a very emotional night. My favorite parts of it were the speech that two volunteers wrote - one a friend from Cherkeze and another from the neighboring town of Romanovce, which was funny, emotional, and hit the core of our experiences with our host families - and the other our final tribute to our families and language and culture teachers. My host mother and father were there and it was lovely to get to say thank you to them. The oath we take reminded me of the Presidential oath. I swore to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States. I have to say that being away from the US and watching a country working to develop democratic principles makes me love our Constitution even more. It is an amazing document and one most of us take for granted.

The next day was our last in Cherkeze. It was Bajram i vogel, one of the big celebrations in Muslim culture. It celebrates the end of the Hadj and Allah giving a starving family a sheep to sacrifice for food. My host mother had been preparing for two weeks, cleaning the house and cooking food. Baklava is traditionally made for the two different bajram celebrations, and I helped (well, more watched) the mother of one of our volunteers make it. She and a neighbor rolled out the phylo dough using a round table and what looks like a down until it was paper thin. They rolled out 50 layers of dough for one large pan of baklava, and every few layers I would throw on sugar and something that looked like a mixture of ground corn and flour. Every now and then we would also put in a layer of nuts. It took 1.5 hours for the two of them to put it together. Then it baked for an hour an a half, set for a day or two, and then the flavored sugar water was put on it and it was baked again - I think. I didn't see the last step, so I'm just guessing. My host mom also made a custard and rice pudding for the big day, plus sarma - stuffed cabbage - dolma - stuffed peppers - and goulash.

On the big day we got up early - at 6 am. My host mom had been up until 2 making final preparations, and hadn't gotten much sleep the night before, either. My host father's cousin from Germany was visiting, and they had to prepare for their parts in the day. We went down to the relative who shares the compound with my family and visiting for an hour or so, and then went out to watch the dad and his cousin slaughter the sheep, skin it, and butcher it. He did 4 that day. The meat is divided up and given to different members of the family and to the poor. After that I went up to a volunteer's house and we started our own bajram visiting. Visiting is the big part of bajram - everyone visits everyone else and eats the treats that they all worked so hard to make. We were able to visit 5 of the 6 host families - it was a wonderful way to say goodbye. By the end of the day our stomachs literally ached with all the baklava and puddings we had eaten. Fortunately I had had brunch at about 10:30 with my family, so something other than sweets helped, but I still was in pain!

That night my host mom, the neighbor mom and I sat around and talked. I was so pleased that I knew at least enough Albanian to converse with them. I talked about my life in America. For them, it was an amazing tale. I worked outside the home and paid someone to clean it? I had my own pension? And worst of all, I lived alone? Why didn't I live with family? Wasn't my son taking care of me? Why did everyone live so far away? Their lives are so different - not better nor worse, just very, very different. It was such a fitting end to my enriching and love-filled home stay.

The next day started with a bang. I had been unable to sleep most of the night with the excitement and nervousness of moving to site and the 100 pounds of baklava I had eaten. I got up a little before 6 and went to the bathroom and promptly broke the lock to the bathroom and locked myself in. Hmmm, standing there in my pjs, in the cold, the rest of the family sound asleep, and locked in the bathroom. Not knowing what else to do, I started pounding on the door, and fortunately the oldest daughter heard me and woke up her mom, who came out to see what the heck was going on. When I explained she laughed and got the dad, who sent the youngest daughter through the small window that opens out onto the terrace. When she couldn't open it, my host dad, who is not a small man, climbed through the 2 ft. square window with his tools. Bless his heart!! Not only could he not open the door, he also couldn't take the door handle hardware off - it was rusted in place. So he climbed back out the window, went around, and kicked the door in. I did leave with a bang. I felt like a complete idiot! But my mom laughed and said: "See, even the house doesn't want you to leave!"

Afterwards they took me early down to the bus that took me to Skopje and then to Gostivar. We cried - even the youngest who got up early so he could come down to see me off. My mom told me that any time I wanted to come home all I had to do was call and she'd sent my host dad off to Gostivar to pick me up. They are a very sweet and loving family and I will miss them.

Next blog I will tell you about Gostivar and my transition here, but enough for now. It's December - hard to believe. It makes me realize how accustomed I am to seeing Thanksgiving and Christmas advertising everywhere this time of year - it just is strange not to have that as a time marker, though I have to say it's not that I miss it, it just has been such an indication of the season that it's odd not to have it. But I've bent your ears (or eyes, I guess I should say) long enough, and I should be off.


  1. Wow, I just read your letter to Susan W and she loved it, her 70 th last week. I love bakalava and try to make it once a year. Thank God, I can just buy phyllo in the grocery store. Lovely letter, I had tears in my eyes when you said " good bye" Joe loved the part where you were stuck in the bathroom. b

  2. What a great story! Can't believe you got stuck in the bathroom, that's hilarious.

    By the way, I also can't believe I'm not taking care of you. Will you come home, please, so I can look after you? You're clearly not capable of being off on your own, what with bathroom fiascoes and obscene baklava consumption. Ha ha! Have fun Mom, can't wait to hear more about Gostivar!