Thursday, February 18, 2010
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.
Posted by Candice Wiggum at 4:30 AM