An afternoon in Ohrid

Thursday, December 1, 2011

I'm still here!!!!

Welcoming the Mak 16's at the new airport!
Hi, everyone,  After a long and busy absence, I'm back!  I was chosen as a trainer for cross-cultural lessons for the new group of volunteers, affectionately known as the Mak-16's.  That involved a week of training before they came, developing lesson plans, visiting them at their training sites where they lived with homestay families, and going and delivering sessions for them at Hub days, times when they all gathered at one location for general trainings.  It was great fun, but made for a hectic time because at the same time I was planning and executing the second Harvest Festival and, the biggest news (at least for me), traveling around Macedonia and Albania when Chris came for a visit!!!!  The new volunteers were sworn in on Thanksgiving, and now have been at site for a week.  They have 2 years of exciting adventures ahead!

Kerry and a group of Roma boys who ran
As I said, Luli and I planned and sponsored our second Harvest Festival.  Planning here has its challenges.  We work with people appointed by the central government as well as officials from the Municipality, two groups that don't always cooperate.  They were great and so helpful.  We also coordinate the race with the local sports education teachers, and since the race is on the first weekend of October, often they're just getting together for the first time not long before.  This year we ended up changing the date at the last minute and rearranging a few things, but it all came off well.  It's become a popular event and we had over two hundred people sign up.  Despite a slight drizzle, over 150 finished the race.  We moved the festival inside, and after the race went up to a local college and had a ball.  We had two wonderful cultural groups perform, and, even though I lack any sense of rhythm, they pulled me into to leading a round of the oro!  We also celebrated the Peace Corps 50th anniversary with a photo exhibit.

My friend Jamin helped us move things in his farm truck
Chris and Elona at Kruja by Skenderbeg's fortress
Chris came on Oct. 30th after a business trip to Italy, and the first thing he got to do was help me move into a new apartment.  I love my new apartment - I have drawers and a counter in the kitchen - woo woo!  Plus it's much more centrally located so it's easy for me to run over to Luli's new cafe (another big fall event) or to any gathering I need to attend.  After moving, Chris and I went to Albania with Luli's wife, my good friend, Elona.  It was wonderful.  We stayed at my friend Michael's in Tirana, a truly nice city.  We ate the best fish I've ever had which we picked out of a bucket that they passed around.  The next day we went to Skenderbeg's fortress in a town half way up a mountain called Kruja.  The weather was spectacular and the views were stunning.  Typical of Albanians, a taxi driver gave us a ride back to Tirana for the price of a bus fare after we missed the bus.  Albanians love Americans and are so generous.  If any of you get a chance to visit Albania, do it.  Finally, on our last day, we went to Durres, which is on the Adriatic Sea.  Elona has an aunt, uncle and cousins there, and I can't even begin to tell you how hospitable they were.  Needless to say we were stuffed with wonderful food and sampled the local rakija and wine until we could hardly move.  I think we all snoozed on the 5 hour bus ride back to Gostivar.

Chris looking at Sv. Jovan in Ohrid
Finally we took a road trip around Macedonia.  We sampled wine with Peace Corps friends and stayed at a winery, did a quick tour of Ohrid, again were hosted magnificently by my friend Tefik in Mavrovo national park and enjoyed each other's company and the company of friends.  Considering it was the first week of November, the weather was spectacular and warm the entire time, and Chris was amazed by how beautiful Macedonia is. He'd seen my pictures, but pictures never can capture its true magnificence.  I was so glad he could come and share a part of my life here.

Local football fans
I want to show you another picture because I love it!  As part of my job, we took pictures and supported a grant for a road to be paved to a new soccer field that the residents built in a village called Rechan.  Luli, his family and I went to one of the first games - so much fun.  It was a level three game between two local villages, so it was very personal.  Rechan won, and afterward the band, the team, and others danced the oro on the field.  I asked these guys what they used for face paint - lipstick and mascara.  You use what you got.  The flag, btw, is an Albanian flag - Rechani is an ethnic Albanian village in Macedonia.

The stockings were hung on the antlers with care
Now it's the holiday season, and needless to say, I have so much to be grateful for.  I've had such a good time here I've decided to extend for another year.  In a couple of weeks I'm flying home to visit my parents, kids, younger sister, and friend and the kids, their partners, and I, along with Matt, will spend the week between Christmas and New Year's up at Tahoe.  Then later in January, I'm off to Egypt on another dream trip - keep your fingers crossed that things will stay calm.  What a crazy life I'm leading at 65!  I couldn't resist decorating the new apartment for Christmas, so I'll leave you with my Christmas card picture and best wishes for a happy and loving holiday season!

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