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.


  1. Just caught up with Candy in Macedonia - fascinating as always! So much history, drama, and beauty packed into such a small country. Did the snap elections ever happen? Also, you commented that after a presentation on how to make Macedonian cheeses conform to Euro standards, there was agreement to look at alternatives - what alternatives?