An afternoon in Ohrid

Friday, August 19, 2011


Stork Nest at the beginning of summer
Endings always fill me with a sense of melancholy - a premature grief for what is passing.  This week marked two.

I mark each summer here by the storks.  I eagerly wait for their return in late spring and watch for them rebuilding their nests.  It is always amazing to me that they can perch their huge nests on top of telephone poles and chimneys, but they do.  There are 6 or 7 nests between Gostivar and Skopje that I have documented, and all summer I have watched their development:  return, eggs, hatching and growth.  As the babies get bigger, they perch on the side of the nest waiting for their parents and food.  Curiosity and bravery doesn't always pay off - if the babies fall from their high perches, they are doomed by their vulnerability and inability to fly.  But most make it and this year several of last year's babies returned to build new nests.

They're gone!
I walked to the edge of town yesterday to take pictures of the babies before they left to winter in North Africa, but I was too late.  Their exit marks the end of summer.  We'll still have some hot weather, and school doesn't start for another week, but change is in the air.  My second summer in Macedonia is drawing to a close.

Last week was also the Close of Service conference for my group, the Mak 14's.  We met for 3 days in Struga to talk about the technical side of ending service, and to select when individuals would actually leave for home.  Since I am extending for another year, it wasn't quite relevant for me yet, but it brought into focus that very soon most of the group I came with - my American family in Macedonia - will be gone.  Peace Corps spaces out times when people go, and the first three, two of whom were in my training group and one of whom is my site mate Jane, will be leaving the end of October.  I have many friends in the next group, and expect to make more in the new group that's arriving in just a few weeks, but there is a special bond with your own group that can't be replicated.  I shall miss them and the easy camaraderie.

The question we are all asking ourselves:  what should I do when I grow up?  I'm still wrestling with that - all suggestions welcomed!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Balkan Hospitality

I can't write enough about how wonderfully hospitable people are here.  Last weekend Lillian and I took a trip to Tirana, Albania, to see our friend Michael who is living there now.  We caught a bus early and arrived in Tirana around 3, much earlier than we thought.  We couldn't get Lillian's phone to work, and weren't sure how to get hold of Michael to tell him we'd arrived.  A family on the bus tried to help us call him, but when they, too, proved unsuccessful they invited us to come to their house so we weren't wandering the streets of Tirana.  When we said we'd be fine, they gave us their phone number just in case.
Michael at the bar at Xheckos.
That's the Adriatic see behind us
We went into a cafe that had wireless, and the waiters there helped us get signed on (have i mentioned i love my i-pad?) Ultimately we were able to contact Michael and find his apartment by the US embassy.  He took us to a spectacular new hotel in Tirana.  Tirana is a happening place - they are constructing all kinds of new factories and hotels and the night life is hopping! I remember thinking of Albania as a dark, mysterious and dangerous place when I was young, and now I love it.  It is a gorgeous country with wonderful people that is growing in leaps and bounds.  It has a long and spectacular coastline, and I hope to see more of it before I come home.
We went out for coffee the first night with one of the factory owners that Michael works with.  When he heard we wanted to go to the beach at Durres, he wouldn't hear of us going by bus.  He had to take us.  And not just any beach.  The Durres beach is too crowded, he said, so he took us instead to a private resort beach, along with his two kids and his wife.  This beach was spectacular, and we lounged on beach chairs and played in the water from about noon until 7 at night.  He and his wife took us to lunch at the beach and got us all kinds of wonderful things.
After our full day at the beach we stopped at an enormous new mall outside of Tirana and had dinner at the food court - we could have been anywhere in the States except for the Albanian Fried Chicken (AFC) and Kolonad, which looked suspiciously like a McDonald's.
The big pool with the restaurant on the hill in the back
The next day Harry and the kids took us to another water park - this one a country club like place.  It had a couple of huge pools, horses, tennis, table tennis, pool, and a great restaurant.  We laid by the pool, swam, read our books, went down the slide, and ate.  It was a luxurious and relaxing weekend - definitely not the weekend I was picturing we were going to have.  I don't know what Harry and his family had planned for the weekend, but they shifted everything at the last minute so they could give us the best time ever.  It was amazing, and I will forever remember their generosity.