An afternoon in Ohrid

Monday, April 25, 2011

среќен велигден

Monastery in Kriva Palanka
Ping Pong at the Firestation

Earth Day Cake at American Corner, Tetovo
I've been busy this past week, both working and having fun.  I went to two seminars, one on alternative energy, and another on Rural Extension Networking in the Western Balkans.  Luli and I have been talking about taking some of the farmers down to Greece for a course on cheesemaking in a way that would meet European standards, but after the conference we huddled and are going to try to do it another way.  Oh, and I was also on TV after being interviewed about volunteerism.  That's always fun because the local folks always get so excited when they see me after I've been on TV.  I also helped a fellow volunteer and friend who had been trained in Cherkeze, Joany Yi, with the Earth day that she had planned with the American Corner in Tetovo.

American Corners are funded by the State Dept., but employ locals to teach Macedonians about America in a variety of ways.  They sponsor lots of the events we do with the kids - like Earth Day, the National Spelling Bee, Model UN, Speaking contest, etc.  They also have a library stocked with American books and magazines, sponsor conversation hours for people wanting to practice English, and sponsor a number of other talks and events throughout the year.  There are 5 of them in Macedonia, all quite busy and successful.  They did a great job with earth day and lots of local kids were involved.

I went and visited another friend in Kriva Palanka in the northeastern corner of Macedonia over the weekend.  This was a weekend of meeting people and visiting.  On the way to Kriva I had an hour lay-over in the bus station and met a New Zealander traveling around the Balkans.  She said that far and away Macedonians were the friendliest people she had ever met, and I had to agree!  Since it was Easter Weekend, it was a fun time to visit Kriva.  Linda showed me around town and we stopped in and visited the fire department.  She's written a grant to help them rehab the building, and it was great meeting the firemen and seeing the before version of the building.  One asked me if I wanted to play ping pong and I think was surprised when I said yes!

That night we dyed Easter eggs in preparation for the big day.  The dyes here are different than ours - stronger colors (and I think, probably less washable out of kids clothing),  Some of the eggs I saw were spectacular.  They don't have egg hunts, they have egg wars - smashing each other and the eggs with their eggs.  I also got to talk with the kids in my classroom at world-wide school.  I've been very lucky - I have a great class and it's been so much fun to be able to talk to them and get letters from them.  They told me all about their projects that they had done after I had asked them to do something for the 50th Anniversary of Peace Corps and the European Year of the Volunteer.  They did a fabulous job - really talented kids.  What would I do without Skype?

Traditional village dresses from area of Kriva Palanka
The next morning we headed up to the monastery above Kriva Palanka.  I don't know how many monasteries there are in Macedonia, but there must be close to 100.  As you travel through the country, you see them everywhere scattered high up on the hills.  Most no longer have monks living there, and several have been rehabbed to be tourist attractions and hotels.  The one at Kriva is one of the biggest and most famous.  It has very nice rooms and would be a great place to stay.  Cost - 10 Euros per night per room - interestingly, in Macedonia the charge per person, not per room.  After touring the monastery, we sat down to have some coffee at the cafe overlooking the monastery.  A little boy was running around with a shirt that said New York on it, so I asked him if he lived in NY or in Macedonia.  His father answered in English that they loved America.  We struck up a conversation - he told us all about the traditional dresses and antiques that were in the cafe, as well as the history of the monastery.  He was from the area, but currently lived in Skopje.  After talking we sat to enjoy our coffee, and in a few minutes the little boy showed up with two bags.  His dad had gone down to the gift shop and bought us icons of Sveti Joachim and some incense.  That is just one example of how sweet and nice the people of Macedonia are!

After the family left, another man came and sat down in the table next to us.  It turned out that he was a major in the Vt. National Guard and is currently based at the embassy.  Vermont is the sister state of Macedonia, and all the states with a sister country have a guard member stationed at that embassy.  We had a lovely chat about spring in New England and places to visit in Macedonia.  It was a lovely afternoon.

Afterward we went back to Linda's I napped in preparation for the big event that night.  At midnight between Easter Eve and Easter, Macedonians go to their church for a ceremony.  The pope (that's what they call Macedonian clergy) chants a liturgy, they toll the church bells, and the people, all holding lit candles, walk around the church 3 times.  You are entitled to a wish for each time around the church.  Men must light women's candles and vice versa.  I was surprised to see who was in the crowd - unlike church events in the States, the vast majority of the crowd were young people in their teens and 20's.  There are probably a couple of reasons for this:  one, in crowds, Macedonians tend not to form orderly lines and crowds just surge forward to get to where they want to go, and two, after the ceremony all the young folks go to the disco and party!  Linda and I circled the church with our candles, being careful not to trip or to catch anyone on fire (she was warned to watch out for her hair), but decided against the partying.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Springtime in Makedonija

Lillian and me

Matka Canyon

Inside the cave

Kayak racing
Woo, woo, new things in the blogosphere.  I can label may pictures and have them in different places!
Macedonia is gorgeous in the spring.  My storks are back nesting just outside of Gostivar, the weather is warm, mountains are changing from a nubbly brown to a soft variety of greens, and everywhere trees are blooming.  It is such a joyous time.

I've been taking advantage of the weather by getting out and seeing things.  Last weekend Lillian and I went to Matka canyon just outside of Skopje.  It made my heart sing - gorgeous!  We took a boat ride up the lake to a cave.  Our boat was piloted by a very nice young Albanian man, so I got to practice some of my Albanian with him  As you can see by the pictures, the cave was spectacular as well.  We sat lakeside at the restaurant in the canyon and had a lovely meal - though not the fish we were hoping for - and headed back down to watch the slalom kayak event that was being held.  A most satisfying day.

Thursday and Friday I was down in Ohrid to do a presentation for the Mak-15's.  It was fun to hang out a bit with them, and to my surprise my friend Ilmi from Gostivar was also at the hotel for a UN Development Program presentation.  We got together with some of the other volunteers in the evening for a relaxed drink and conversation.  Friday morning I walked up to a cave church with Kerry.  A woman was sitting by the cave and spoke to us in Macedonian, then, hearing my poor attempt at a response, asked if we spoke English.  She was a police inspector from Gostivar who was vacationing in Ohrid, and before we left she had invited us to coffee at her house after she returned.  She was very sweet, and pointed out the magic eye for making wishes in the roof of the church entrance.  Macedonians and Albanians are the most hospitable people I know.

After taking leave of Kerry and Mimi, I continued up the hill.  The weather was pristine with no wind, and the view over the lake and over to the mountains in Albania was breathtaking.  I've mentioned before that the River Drim starts at one end of Ohrid and continues, unchanged despite its path through the lake, on the other end.  As I gazed down on the lake, I swear I could see its path as it wound its way through the lake.  A butterfly came and landed on my collar, and brushed my cheek with its wing as it took flight.  I hiked to a place that overlooked a village and could see villagers working on their gardens and the ground coming to life in the warmth of spring.  Days like this sustain me though the harder days that inevitably are there as well.

I hope all is well with you.  It is very odd writing a blog - you never know who is reading it.  Sometimes I wonder if anyone is, and then someone will pop up and tell me they've been following it right along.  So, dear friends who might be reading, thank you.  You all mean a lot to me.