An afternoon in Ohrid

Sunday, June 13, 2010

A wilted rose

Yikes! The weather here has been steamy - 90's to 100's for the past several days. As I sit and write this, sweat is flowing from every pore...
Yesterday to escape the heat, I took a combi ride up to visit a friend in Debar. Combis are a mainstay of transportation from the hubs to the smaller villages and towns, and this combi was like many others. The driver pretty much knew everyone but me, knew their schedules, and where they were going. There were about 15 of us, and at the beginning, I wasn't certain it was an auspicious day to travel. The early bus to Ohrid came in from Skopje listing heavily to one side. I was certain it had a flat, but when it left, it was still listing. It took the bus heading to Skopje 3 tries to get it into reverse gear - it just didn't want to go. These are very used buses. But ours started up and headed out. Right as we got out of Gostivar, the driver got a call. Someone had missed the bus, so we pulled over to the side and waited until her son drove her out to us and she climbed in. People in combis don't open windows - breezes are thought to be bad and cause all sorts of illnesses, so the inside was like a sauna with fully clothed people. The driver did open his window to smoke, thank heavens, but when he was done he closed it.

The ride up to Debar is one of my favorites through the Mavrovo National Park, and I've written about it before. It follows the crystalline Radika River through a canyon past two lakes. It's a spectacular ride. What captured my attention this time, however, was less the scenery than the people and critters along the way. They embodied the agricultural economy here. First we passed a man on a horse with the homemade wooden saddles they have here. The man was riding and strapped to the side was a chain saw - it's wood gathering season. They so symbolized the mixture here between the modern and the ancient. There and back, we passed many people carrying or using scythes to harvest the hay - men and women cutting, raking, stacking and tying off hay stacks, all by hand in 90+ degree heat, the women dressed in long skirts with aprons, long sleeved blouses and head scarves. We passed by many of my favorite places - Mavrovo village, Rostyshe, Jance, all places I have been to and/or know people. At one point, 4 horses ran free across the road. One had a bell around its neck to help the farmer find them when he needs them. Farther on we had to stop for a farmer herding his cows up the road - with the river on one side and canyon walls on the other, there just wasn't room for all of us. The combi driver carefully picked his way through the herd. Later on we passed a flock of sheep being driven to high pastures up on the mountains. Everywhere people were working, reclaiming wood from the many slides that had happened during the spring, tending their gardens, getting ready now in this heat what they need for the cold winter to come. It was a hot, sweaty but magical ride, and I had a delightful visit with my friend watching her 'sister' play in the little kiddie pool - the delight of the young is hard to beat.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Ohrid, Sveti Naum, and Gostivar

Two weekends ago I was again in Ohrid, a town I love. It has all the character of an old European city on a lake - small cobblestone streets, little alley and stairways, ancient, historic sites, all on a beautiful lake. Ohrid is a spiritual place, and it is said it has 365 churches, one for every day of the year. The reason is that it was the center of the Orthodox religion before the Ottoman Empire conquered it, and its influence spread from Southern Russia through Greece. You live and breathe history there, and this time it was also teeming with flowers everywhere you looked. We spent a lot of time in the restaurant above, drinking a glass of wine and eating plashitsa, little baby trout that melted in your mouth. Life is good.

One day we meandered down and caught a boat down to Sveti Naum. The river Drim enters the lake there and travels the length intact before flowing out the other end in Struga. Sveti Naum is a monastery in a beautiful spot, cool, refreshing, and charming as well. It used to be in Albania, but was such a sacred spot to Macedonians that they bought it! The boat ride was gorgeous. I put in a picture of me so you can see how long my hair is! The big surprise when I grew my hair out was that it wasn't all white - in fact, once I was looking at it and couldn't figure out what I'd gotten in my hair, and then realized that what I was seeing was those few hairs that were still brown. It had been about 30 years since I'd seen them!

I talked a little last time about the shops I go to, and figured I tell you a bit more about shopping. Although big supermarkets are moving in, in Gostivar there still are all the small shops. I go to the meat shop to buy meat, and watch as they grind it up for me into hamburger, cut into pieces for goulash, or slice into rather tough little steaks for my petite BBQ. I go to the bread shop in the afternoons to visit my friend there and get my hot loaves of bread and sometimes a little treat as well. The loaves cost 20 MKD, or about 50 cents - food is very cheap here. I bought a kilo of tomatoes the other day for 50 cents and have been making tomato and cuke salads. The cheese store has cheeses from ricotta and mozarella to chocolate to sheep cheese. They also have the best yogurt. And I've already written about the bazaar for the fresh fruits and veggies - peaches are just starting to come in! There are also fruit and vegetable markets through out the town. There are very few canned goods, and there are may times I miss being able to go into the pantry to open up a can of something. But the food is fresh and good, and it makes me cook what I'm hungry for. I just finished a big pot of homemade baked beans - excellent beanies and wienies if I do say so myself. Good thing I live alone......

Sunday, June 6, 2010

I just returned home from a week and Struga and Ohrid, and as much fun as I had there with my friends, it was good to return home. What makes somewhere a home? I have been pondering that since I returned. Certainly part of it is familiarity - my own bed, even if it is a couch bed, seeing how my plants have grown since I left, fixing my own food - but there is something deeper. After getting home, I went out to do some chores. As I crossed by the central square in Gostivar, the 3 Turkish girls I had escorted to Skopje for the spelling bee ran out calling my name, and we chatted. I walked a little down the street, and the psychology graduate student who is helping with the girls camp called my name and we talked for a bit. I went into my cheese store and the woman there greeted me warmly, as she always does, and helped me find the cheese I was looking for. The woman from the bread shop asked me where I was from and what I was doing in Macedonia, and we tried, as best as we could, to communicate. My counterpart and his wife, friends, sent me e-mails. Home is a sense of belonging, and it goes beyond language - to me, all these people were part of being home. The man at the import store who is always asking me and my friends to have coffee with him, the clerks at the store who always greet me warmly, the comfort of it all - Macedonia is a very friendly and welcoming place, and everyone has helped make it home. To them all, I say thank you. It's hard being away from friends and family back home, but all of you make me so glad I have come here.