An afternoon in Ohrid

Friday, February 19, 2010

small things part 2

As I said last time, there are lots of challenges and rewards here. My apartment is over an empty store, and with little to no insulation, my floors, which are mostly tile, are freezing all the time. For awhile I was having trouble sleeping because my feet were so cold and wouldn't warm up, but then remembered the elegant solution that my host family had for me at their house. I now fill a water bottle every night with hot (very hot) water and put it in my bed 5 minutes before I go to bed. Voila! A warm bed and a bottle to cuddle my feet around. Surprisingly, it stays warm all night. And to answer your question - no, I've never had trouble with leaks.

People must not read much in bed here, because it's rare that you see a nightstand. Because I needed something to put my c-pap machine on as well as a reading lamp, I started looking for a night table early. There are really no second hand stores here because if someone doesn't need something, surely there is a relative that does, and with my little Peace Corps living allowance I didn't have the money to buy a new table. I was looking around my bedroom when I realized I had something that would solve two problems at once. I piled my two big suitcases on top of each other and covered them with a table cloth, had an instant night stand and didn't have to find a storage space for my suitcases!

Now for the rewards. Last weekend we had a birthday party for two of our volunteers in Negotino, which is in the heart of the wine country of Macedonia. I stayed with two friends in the monastery above - gorgeous. It did have one slight disadvantage - the bathroom was down the stairs, across the courtyard, and behind the building. The person checking me in couldn't quite believe an older woman was staying there with those accommodations, but it was fine. I did wake up in the middle of the night thinking I needed to use the facilities, but was nervous about doing so. Finally I decided it would be better just to go find the bathroom rather than to lie awake and worry about it, so I slipped on my slippers and ventured down the stairs and across the way. The air was crisp but not too cold. The only problem was a dog growling to the left of me - was it going to attack? Was it tied? Who knew, I just knew I had to find the bathroom. Hmmm, I should have checked out exactly where it was before I went to bed..... Maybe it's this door with the unreadable (in the dark) message on the paper pinned to the door. Whew! Turned out the bathroom was as interesting as the monastery - it had definitely been build some time ago to accommodate a large number of monks. There were about 15 stalls on either side of the central washroom - all squat toilets. Across from the stalls was a trough - I think it was built for men! It actually turned out to be a refreshing break in the middle of the night, quiet and magical. The next morning was less magical when the bell tolled 43 times - once for each day of the year - at 7 the next morning. Do they really ring it 365 times at the end of the year? I'll have to go back to find out.

During the day on Saturday we went to the winery for wine tasting. It is a beautiful new winery - the industry is on the upswing in Macedonia. Most of the wineries mass produce wine for export to Germany to use to blend in with their wines, but this winery has investors that see the potential for good wines here in Macedonia. Tracy had arranged the wine tasting, and we had a room to ourselves at the top of the tower -beautiful. They served plates of salami, proschiutto, cheeses and bread with the tasting - yum. They gave us the wines made from Serbian and Macedonian grapes, though they do make Merlots and Cabernets as well. The wines were excellent, and the setting was spectacular!

That night we celebrated birthdays and saw the wood carvings done by the local woodcarvers guild - gorgeous! The next morning was the Negotino wine festival. Wineries set up booths on the square and gave out glasses of wine to all comers! They had a number of different folk dancing groups performing on stage, and it was a relaxing and pleasant occasion. I want to assure you all that I do work as well, and will one day write about that!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

small things

здраво, сите. It's amazing the small things that present challenges when you live in a strange place. The challenges present both anxieties and triumphs. One is the transportation system. All of us travel mostly by bus and sometimes by train. In class we learned about buying tickets, but still every time I travel I'm nervous. How will I know when the right bus leaves? Will the ticket agent understand what I want? Are there customs to observe on the bus? As long as my prepared script works, I'm fine, but the minute something else comes up - yikes, what are they trying to tell me? Will I know when we arrive where I'm going? There are many idiocyncracies to bus travel here. For one thing, you can take the bus from the bus station, but you can also take it from a number of other places along the road. Last weekend a family flagged down the bus from beneath an underpass on the tollway. If you don't stand in the right spot, you can miss the bus. Once I was catching a bus in Tetove, and I stood in the place where people going to Skopje stand instead of where people going to Gostivar stand. I flagged down the bus which did stop, but I got an earful from the driver who said (I think) that the place to catch it was around the corner. There are many different bus companies and a lot of overlap about who goes where. On my first trip to Ohrid I tried to buy a ticket before the bus came, and the woman in the biletarija wouldn't sell me one. Finally the bus came in, I tried to buy one from the driver, but he told me to get it from the biletarija. When I returned once again to her, she finally sold me a one way, but wouldn't sell me a round trip. Quite a while later I figured out that she couldn't sell me a ticket until the bus arrived because she had to see which company was making the trip that day, and couldn't sell me a round trip because another company provided the return trip. One more bus story: I was traveling with my friend Happie from Skopje to Gostivar. She bought her ticket first, and I bought one right behind her. We got on the bus, it left, and they started collecting the tickets (they always do that after the bus leaves). The ticket collector took mine, then took Happie's and began talking to her in quite an aggravated tone. For awhile I thought they were going to put her off the bus. But it turns out she had gotten the ticket for a 12:30 bus we didn't know existed, while I had gotten the ticket for the one we took at 12:45. Two different companies, so her ticket wasn't any good, but they let her ride on it anyway! But despite the challenges and the anxiety I feel every time I go somewhere I haven't gone before, the bus system is great and we all travel throughout the country on it. In fact, after our weekends visiting friends, the Sunday morning conversation is always about when the bus leaves and how to put together trips for those of us who have to connect with other buses in order to make it home.

Another challenge is food. In looking for basil, I've bought oregano, bay leaves, and once even caraway seeds - hard to tell what's in the little packets! Most ingredients are not quite the same, either. Sugar has a different consistency here, especially powdered sugar, and brown sugar can be quite different. Vanilla comes in little packets mixed with sugar, and old standbys are difficult to find. It makes you be quite creative in cooking. I've made Kugel a couple of times after having it first with my friend Lillian. Instead of egg noodles I used left over lasagna noodles, instead of cottage cheese I used riccota, and instead of sour cream I used yoghurt. And of course I used vanillin sheqer instead of vanilla. Wait - is this still kugel? Who knows? But it was good. Above is a picture of the first pizza I made - crust and all. It was good and I think pizza will be a staple here.

The word for a meal in Albanian is buke, which is the same as the word for bread. That shows the preeminence of bread in the Macedonian diet. When we were welcomed we had a traditional ceremony of being offered bread and salt. Visitors are always welcome in Macedonia, and if they have nothing else they will offer salt and bread (and believe me, they like salty food). The problem for me is that their bread, while it's baked daily, is all white, and my taste buds are used to munching on multigrain bread. So I've begun baking my own bread, using oatmeal, wheat germ, and some whole wheat flour I had to buy in Skopje to go along with the white flour. I love making bread - it doesn't take too long to actually make if you don't count the time it takes for the bread to rise. But kneading it is always such a pleasurable activity, and while I'm letting it rise I do other chores and feel so productive. And a side benefit is that my apartment always has a trace smell of fresh made bread - no need to buy fancy room deodorizers - and that smell is my welcome home smell.

Hamburger here is not our hamburger - it's ground beef and pork mixed together. When I first tried to buy hamburger, they told me there were out, despite the fact that I could see what looked like hamburger in the case. But that was mish i lopes - cow meat - and not hamburger. Happily I bought that instead of Macedonian hamburger.

Anyway, you get the idea. Every day there are new challenges, and that's part of what makes this so fun. Every time I figure something out or a conversation works, I'm so proud of myself! And believe me, I have lots of opportunities. Enough for today - hope all is well with you.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Some random thoughts on the first of February:
On the пазар/treg. I wish I could transport you all to the bazaar. Tuesday for centuries has been the day of the bazaar, and so it is yet in Gostivar. The bazaar is like a huge farmers market, with fresh fruits and vegetables. Just throw in clothes, household goods, tools, eggs, cheese, meat, honey, spices, household knick-knacks, and spread the booths over a half acre or so, and you have the bazaar. I love walking through it and soaking in all the sensory delights - the babble of different languages as people bargain, the colors of everything, the people hawking a variety of things in the aisles, the general mayhem going on everywhere. I need to take pictures but they would not do justice to everything that goes on. I go almost every week to buy my fruits and veggies and anything else that tickles me, and generally end up hauling home more than I had planned on. Sometimes I bargain, most times I'm just happy when the vendors understand me and I understand them! It is an adventure that always invigorates me.
On Peace Corps friends. I guess it is no surprise that people who join the Peace Corps are a special bunch. I have PC friends who are anywhere from 23 to 72. The majority are in their 20's, and it's such a pleasure to have them as friends. I must say I lose them when they talk about music and TV shows, but they are fun, energetic, and caring. It is also a special treat when I see my friends who are closer to my age, but none live in Gostivar, so it's a less frequent treat. In March I'll hopefully be going on a trip to Turkey with one of them, Lillian. I can hardly wait!
On water fountains in Gostivar: I want to do a photo album on nothing but water fountains in Gostivar. The ones in the United States are so boring, but each one in Gostivar is different and reflects its history. You can see Roman, Greek, Turkish, and who knows what other architectural influences on them. They seem to be ancient and I wonder if they're all attached to natural springs rather than the city water. I have to confess that I have not drunk any water out of them, but I have a feeling once summer rolls around they will be a favorite treat.
There is a holiday in Judaism that celebrates the beginning of sap rising in the trees. I suppose it's somewhat analogous to Ground Hog's Day, but somehow its marking of the beginning of the end of winter seems much sweeter and tied to the earth. In any event, it's February, and by the end of the month the smell of spring will be in the air. Everyone says Macedonia is exquisite in the spring, and I'll leave with that thought. May February find you happy and warm and feeling spring's breath. Прејатно!