An afternoon in Ohrid

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Happy summer, everyone!  Seems like it's been hot everywhere, and the same is true of Gostivar.  Temperatures have been in the upper 90's and humid most of the summer, with occasional crazy thunder storms blowing through.

Peace Corps was kind enough to fly me to Washington DC in June to inter my dad's ashes at Arlington National Cemetery.  It was very moving to put him there, and it was wonderful to have family around me after such a long time in Macedonia.  I'll miss my dad terribly, and it was so important to me to be able to be at Arlington for the ceremony.  Thanks, Peace Corps.

I also took the time to fly out to Arizona to see my mom.  She is pretty dog-gone healthy for being 91.  I took her out to several lunches and she loved getting out and having good food and a beer.  My friend Sherry also flew into Phoenix and spent a day with me and my mom, and we had a blast talking and shopping.  Mom loved it.  She also took this picture of my mother and me.

Ramazan started on July 20th.  Since 3/4's of the population of Gostivar is Muslim, it's a very important time.  It's a time to reflect on the past year of life, to remember the poor, and to feel solidarity with the greater community.  Every year Ramazan (Ramadan in other places) moves up 10 or 11 days, and this year it's dead in the middle of summer.  Observers do not drink or eat from sun up to sun down for 30 days, and in this heat, I just can't imagine it.  It definitely changes the rhythm of life here!

In the summer, Gostivar has always been a city that comes alive at night, and during Ramazan that's even more true.  After iftar, the traditional meal ending the day's fast at sundown, everyone comes out on the streets and the city takes on a festive air.  Vendors are everywhere selling freshly made donuts with chocolate sauce, nuts and seeds, corn on the cob, toys and other trinkets.  People walk around and visit, sit in the park and people-watch, and lounge at the numerous cafes and talk about politics and life.  Families, including small children, stay up until midnight and beyond, and many revelers are still at it until 3, when the traditional breakfast is served and the fast begins again.  Then everyone goes back to bed and and those who can sleep away as much of the day as possible. 

During summer, the population of the town also surges.  Families that have emigrated to the US, Europe, or elsewhere all come home.  Single men come to find brides and get married, and there is a spate of weddings during the summer months.  Suddenly you see big SUV's, Mercedes and other image cars clogging the streets and causing traffic jams.  Of course, this is all very important to the locals, because the diaspora also brings money home, and the merchants generally make most of their profits during this time.  I must admit, though, I look forward to Gostivar quieting down to its usual easy-going times.  Now that I live downtown, I get to experience the party atmosphere and its noise first hand!

baby storks waiting for their next meal

The end is in sight, though.  At right is a nest of baby storks.  They and their parents mark the passage of summer for me, and these guys are getting big enough that soon they'll be flying and not hanging around home waiting for their next meal.  It also marks the start of the countdown for my days in Macedonia.  At Peace Corps we're busy planning for the new group of volunteers who will arrive in September.  At the end of their training, in Dec., I will leave Macedonia and return home.  I both look forward to it and dread it.