An afternoon in Ohrid

Sunday, February 12, 2012

It keeps a'coming!

What greeted me in Gostivar!
 Saturday I was in Prilep to do a project design and management workshop for some wonderful teens in Phebe's CLIPS program.  Now project management and design is not the most fascinating subject for most people, much less high schoolers, but these kids jumped right in and designed some great projects, and it was truly a delight to get to work with them.  The only worry - it was snowing all day and I had to get back to Gostivar.  After a marvelous lunch at the only Thai restaurant in Macedonia, I hopped on the 4:30 combi that cut across the middle of Macedonia to Kichevo.  Halfway there, we were slipping and sliding all over the road, and the driver shouted out for people to sit in the back.  With the weight distributed over the rear axle, we made it safely to Kichevo, a little late but all in one piece.

The ticket master told me the bus to Gostivar was coming at 6:45, so I sat on the bench outside and waited.  A man asked me where I was going, and I said Gostivar.  He was going to Skopje, so we would be on the same bus.  Thank heavens.  The bus hadn't arrived by 7, but the ticketmaster stuck her head out the window and shouted something, and the man took off running.  Turned out the bus had decided not to come into the station, and we needed to meet it out on the highway.  I was very relieved when it arrived and I climbed on.

But that didn't last long.  About 20 minutes into the trip we came to a dead stop.  Traffic was piled up and not moving.  Of course, having been traveling now for several hours, I really needed to use a bathroom.  We were in the foothills of the mountains, cars, buses and trucks in front and in back, and no place to go.  I was trying to figure out what might be next - sleeping all night on the bus (but with no bathroom in sight), giving up on vanity and relieving myself in front of the world, or waiting for the bus to either turn around or get going.  Fortunately, after a half hour we did start moving again, and about 30 minutes later we reached the crest of the pass where the driver pulled over by the restaurant and gas station there and announced:  "Pauser.  Decet minuta."

The trip over the mountains was magical and felt like a Tim Burton set.  Snow was piled high on both sides, but tree branches covered in snow hung over and alongside the bus, like white fingers extending out from a tunnel trying to grab us.  There was not much we could ever see but white, white and more white.

Note the snow is piled higher than the car

When we reached Gostivar, the driver pulled over to the side of the road and dumped us Gostivarans out.  There was no way he was going to try to navigate the snowy streets of Gostivar.  I walked up the exit into Gostivar, wondering what I would do if a car came - the passage was only just wide enough for a car.  Fortunately none came, and I reached the surreal streets of Gostivar.

Looking down the narrow walkway
Since there were no taxis, I walked from the edge of town to my apartment.  It had snowed enough that the snow covered the ice well and it was not slippery, but the paths were narrow and the snow was piled up was higher than I am tall.  Lights were on, and occasionally I'd pass a cajtorija where men were playing cards.  It was quite beautiful and dramatic, quiet as only a city covered in deep snow can be.

I was very happy to get back to my apartment and snuggle in, but for the most part, I did enjoy the ride.  Each and every day is an adventure!!!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

What a world!

Me, Kerry and Marlys jumping for joy!
As I think I mentioned in my last blog, I received an extra 30 days of leave for extending a year in the Peace Corps.  The days are added on to the end of my service, so now my completion date is the end of December instead of the end of November, but it's nice to have those days in the middle of service and Peace Corps gave me a free flight home!  I took 3 weeks of those days for my trip home, and took the rest for my trip to Egypt with 5 friends.  I won't say much here about the trip except it exceeded any and all expectations I had.  It was fabulous.  I've posted my pictures with some commentary on Facebook, so if you want to see more you can see it there.
I do want to comment on Egypt, however.  I feel like we were there at a very privileged time.  Their new parliament met for the first time and elected its president, and they celebrated the first year anniversary of the revolution.  There is much happening, and which way it will go is as yet uncertain.  For the friends and wonderful people I met while I was there, my fingers are crossed for a better life.  Here are some random observations:
1.  You've heard tourism is down - one tour guide said it was down 80%.  To put that in perspective, Kacy told me that when friends of hers went there two years ago, they had to get up at 5 in the morning to get to the pyramids early enough to avoid the crowds and get to climb up to the burial chamber in the great pyramid.  In contrast, we went in the middle of the day during high season, went right in, and had only 3 other people in the chamber when we were there.  While it was wonderful for us and we were treated so well, it has to be so difficult on a country whose GDP relies to a large extent on tourism.
2.  Speaking of that, everywhere we went, we saw huge projects that had been put on hold.  Some were government projects waiting for revenues to improve and the new government to be established, and some were by major corporations holding back on their money until they could see what way the wind was going to blow.  So economically, Egypt is experiencing at least a double whammy.  And given that we saw a number of people living on the edge, it does not auger well for their future.
3.  Despite that, people were cautiously optimistic.  They love their country and are hoping that the new democratically elected government will return Egypt to glory.  They are a bit nervous and impatient and suffer terribly when there is an abuse of power, but they maintain hope for a brighter future.
4.  Alexander the Great became the ruler of Egypt because he respected their religion while the (at that time) ruling Persians did not.  There is a lesson there that we need to learn.  Religion was very important to almost everyone we met and they were all well-educated, liberal Egyptians.
5.  Side note, if you travel, I would encourage you to be adventurous.  While it was cold at night when we slept in the desert, that was an especially magical day, and off the beaten track for most tourists!
Abul Simbel
6.  The people are exceptionally gracious.  It was wonderful to get a chance to talk for hours to our friends who were our guides and drivers, and they will forever be in my heart!

One more picture and comment:  that's me in front of Abul Simbel.  Since I was young and National Geographic magazine featured the danger of Abul Simbel being covered by the rising waters of Lake Nasser and the Aswan Dam, I have dreamed about being there.  I actually got tears in my eyes when I rounded the corner and there it was!  I still can hardly believe I was able to live my childhood dream.

Gostivar buried in snow
Now we're back in Macedonia, and just in time for a record snow and cold spell!  It's a hardship in a country which such a large percentage of people living below poverty.  We had one day where the temperature actually got above freezing for a few hours, and the ceiling in my apartment started to drip.  I called the landlord, who gave a Slavic shrug and said, "oh, well, it's an old building."  We've had a pile of snow, and I'm not looking forward to the thaw.  Besides the reappearance of the leak, it will be icy and there will be water everywhere.  On the bright side, the garbage may once again be picked up!
Downtown Gostivar shivering
Stay warm - I hear Spring is just around the corner!