An afternoon in Ohrid

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The beauty of Macedonia

That's my little white head out in the water
The cross on top of Vodno      

A hazy Skopje from the top

The funicular heading back down
Even though I've been here for 21 months, I still haven't begun to experience all the beauty of Macedonia.  Last week I went to Kavadarci to visit some friends and debrief the national spelling bee.  We spent a day by a lake outside the town and it was gorgeous (Thanks for the pictures, Marlys).  It's been hot, and it was good to cool off in the water.  Plus, the wonderful man who owned the house we visited owns a fish farm and couldn't have been more gracious.  He went around the neighborhood and picked us fresh peaches, apricots, and small pears and cooked us up a big plate of fresh carp.  Unlike the states, carp here is considered the national fish and is loved, and it was quite good. 

The weekend before I rode the new funicular (isn't that quite the word!) up to the top of Mt. Vodno and got to enjoy the view.  Lillian and I had a lovely picnic, walked around enjoying the sights, and took the elevator up the cross for an even better view.  When you all come to Macedonia it's a must see!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Friends, part II

I had to leave my last post because a friend had called to ask me out to coffee.  Ilmi works for an international organization in Macedonia and lives in Gostivar.  I met him through another Peace Corps volunteer.  He is delightful, and periodically we meet for coffee to talk about Macedonia and the world.  Today he had his youngest son with him while his wife was at a wedding celebration, and we had ice cream, drank coffee and talked.  He is typical of the people I've met here and cannot do enough to help out a volunteer.  One day this summer he will take me along with his family to a beautiful spot near Kichevo for a picnic, and I am very much looking forward to it.  I so enjoy our conversations, and he has taught me a lot about Macedonia and its sometimes uneven march towards democracy.  He always ends our visits saying if there is anything he can help me with, he will, and I know that is not an empty promise.

Papa with my friend Jane
Those who know me know it is difficult for me not to have a pet.  I have recently developed two more 'friends' here.  Papagal is the Macedonian and Albanian word for parakeet.  I found a pet store earlier this summer and bought Papa.  He has been a mixed blessing.  He has systematically destroyed some of my plants, and his favorite entertainment is to land on my computer while I am working, jump down on my hands, and bite me.  I need to find him a cuttle bone so he can work his beak on something besides my hands!  But he is entertaining.  My second friend has been Spike.  Gostivar has many dogs, most of which do not have homes but wander the streets keeping the town free from rodents and cleaning up garbage.  Their life spans tend to be short.  Spike showed up starving and mangy outside my apartment building a week or so ago.  I am feeding him and today gave him a bath and mange treatment.  He is pretty ugly but very sweet.  He knows the rules - he is not to come into the apartment building, but comes when I whistle for him and sits at the end of the street whining when I go somewhere.  After I feed and play with him he sits outside the door watching me go upstairs with a forlorn look on his face.  Feeding Spike has had an unintended consequence.  All the neighborhood children come and talk to me when I'm outside with Spike.  One of the boys upstairs named him, and two young girls helped me give him his bath this morning.  It's brought me closer to the kids here and they watch what I do with him.  One young boy today said we needed to call Cesar Milan to help us train him - yes - Dog Whisperer is on TV here!  Spike's future is uncertain, but at least for now he is doing well and getting some attention.

I often think of the first few weeks and months here - not infrequently I felt alone and every new thing I did was a challenge.  That's not totally gone away, but for the most part Gostivar and Macedonia have the familiar feel of home.  My friends have had a lot to do with that.  Luli and his family have made me part of their family, and my friends have sustained my spirit.  I thank them all.


Arriving at Sv. Jovan Bigorski
One of the wonderful things about the Peace Corps is the new friends you make.  I was used to be the single woman among a lovely group of married folks wherever I was in the US.  In the Peace Corps, most of us are single.  We also have similar likes - most are liberal, adventurous and love to travel.  Living in a country where, at least at the beginning, everything is new and strange forges strong bonds. Besides my Peace Corps friends, I've also have the good fortune to develop a number of friendships with Macedonians and Albanians.  Without this opportunity, I certainly would have maintained a lot of good friendships back home, but I would never have had the chance to develop so many new and good friends.

Last weekend a group of us went to the small mountain village of Jance to stay stay in the hotel owned by my friend Tefik Tefikovski and see some of the marvels of far western Macedonia.  I've written a bit about Jance before, which is located in one of the main national parks, Mavrovo.  The scenery there takes my breathe away every time, but this visit was special.  Tefik had planned to go to Belgrade to the wedding of a cousin, but instead he stayed home in order to make our visit special.  We stopped on the way in to tour the most famous monastery in Macedonia, Sv. Jovan Bigorsky, roughly translated as St. John of the lava rock!  It is gorgeous and contains the most famous woodcarvings in all of Macedonia.  Two brothers and their apprentices carved over 500 figures in a variety of Bible stories that span the front of the church.  They took whole tree trunks and carved the middle out while leaving the figures on the outside.  The Church also has some of the most famous relics in Macedonia, including a piece of the rib of John the Baptist.  It was founded in the 9th century and many people credit it with healing their illnesses.

Toasting with rakija

My friends Linda and Tefik

Some of the wonderful food
Then on to the hotel!  Tefik was waiting for us and we sat on an outside terrace overlooking the Radika valley and mountains.  His staff brought us all rakija, local grape whiskey, and we sat and celebrated out good fortune.   Tefik founded the Slow Food Convivium in Macedonia, and the food his kitchen prepared for us was extraordinary.  Much of the herbs he uses as well as the mushrooms and teas he harvests from the mountains surrounding the hotel.  We enjoyed a feast and no one held back!  After eating the main courses, we walked along a path in the village and harvested some mint, thyme, dill, chamomile, and other goodies.  We returned to the hotel for dessert, nuts, wine, relaxation and good talk.

Ducking through the entrance of the min

Kerry in her hard hat
Meredith talked with Blake in front of a Crystal wall
In the morning Tefik took us to the outskirts of Debar to see the Crystal mountain.  He had arranged for an engineer who works for the German Company Knauf to give us a tour.  Our tour guide was fabulous - even though he spoke Macedonian, he was able to make his talk simple enough to understand.  The mountain was a gypsum mine.  Gypsum is used for all kinds of things, including plaster of paris and sheet rock.  The crystal was one form of the gypsum.  We donned our hard hats and ducked out way through the entrance tunnel.  The sights once we arrived in the main chambers of the mine were amazing.  Beneath our feet everywhere were shards of crystal.  The walls glowed with crystal.  The mine itself wasn't a narrow passage way, but huge chambers with walls of crystal.  It was quite spectacular.  After the tour, the engineer gave us all pieces of crystal set in plaster of paris.  Have I mentioned before that people her are the sweetest and most generous I have ever met? 

The grounds of the monastery

The view
We traveled down the road to one of the female monasteries in Macedonia, Sv. Georgi.  It sat on the side of Lake Debar looking over the lake to the mountains on the other side.  The gardens in the monastery were the prettiest I have seen - roses and other flowers everywhere cascading down from the monastery on top of the hill.  We were again given a tour and invited in for tea.  The nuns pick wild mint, make a mint liquor and sell it in beautify tall triangular bottles.  I just couldn't pass it up.

Finally we went to a natural hot spring spa and we were invited in by some locals who were already enjoying the healing warm waters.  A couple of the group took them up on the invitation while the rest of us had lunch.  After lunch, back to Gostivar so everyone could catch a bus to their particular home.  It was a wonderful weekend with good friends, good food, gorgeous scenery, and interesting times.