An afternoon in Ohrid

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Pipes Are Calling

I've decided that I don't need a dog as an excuse to take a walk in the morning, so on the mornings that I am not commuting into Skopje to work I've been taking a walk along the Vardar river.  The heat has broken, and the morning was cool with a touch of autumn in the air.  The water in the river, now fed only by springs and not by mountain run-off, is so clear it is invisible.  The mountains that frame Gostivar stood out in sharp relief in the fresh morning air.  The higher trees are just beginning to change color.  Pigeons lingered by the banks drinking and taking their morning baths, and a water ouzel dipped in and out as it flew along. 

I'm marking the end of my last summer in Gostivar and I view these things with sweet melancholy.  This time is Gostivar at its best.  The great diaspora are heading to their homes in Europe and elsewhere, and the pace of the city has slowed.  During the evenings and into the night crowds still gather at coffee shops and benches in the park, and the chocolate donut man, roasted corn vendors and toy/miniature car merchants still fill the central square.  But the crowd is more subdued and the noise now falls gently onto my ears.  Next week school will start and summer will officially be over.

Inside Luli's coffee shop
Many of my friends are leaving or have left.  Only a handful of my Peace Corps class remain in country, and in a couple of months my friends from the next class will start leaving.  Elona will soon start a new job and her eldest, Lule, will start public school.  Next week, too, marks the first anniversary of the coffee shop, and before too long the tables will be pulled in from the outside to hunker down for winter.  Vjosa leaves tomorrow for NYU and a great adventure, and soon Gordana too will leave for a new job in Skopje.  Many of the students we worked with are starting college.  And before I know it, it will be time for me to leave as well.

Looking down on Saranda
My nephew Clark came and visited - he'd always wanted to go to Albania and it was my pleasure to take him.  I finally made it to the southern coast, which, as you can see, is spectacular.  We took a ferry over to the Greek island of Corfu, which has always sounded magical but after Albania felt only like a tourist trap.  The trip back was fun, however.  A very strong wind was blowing and we were pounding into the current.  We all stayed outside and leaned against the front railings of the ship and got soaked - it was like riding a roller coaster!  We swam in the sea, ate wonderful food, and found magical places for Tirana time.  One of the favorite things that happened, though, occurred on the way home.  Clark was at the airport, Elona was with the kids and family members in Vlora, and Luli and I were heading back together on the bus - a 5 hour or longer trip.  We had driven quite some way that day, turned in our rental car and didn't have time to eat, so when the bus came at 4 we were starving.  At our first stop, about an hour after we left, we bought some bananas from the banana man at the Durres bus station, which helped.  The second stop was in front of a pizza restaurant, and Luli, who knew the driver, asked him to wait.  He then ordered us each a pizza and brought two fresh pizzas on board for us.  Only in the Balkans would a driver delay a bus- load of passengers so that one could order pizzas, and only in the Balkans would no one mind.

Sunset at Ksamil
Soon my great adventure will end - Ah, but what memories I will have.  I hope I have made some difference here - if in no other way than through the friends I have met and spent time with.  I know my experience here will always have a profound impact on me.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Another world

Another part of Duf across the valley
I spent a wonderful weekend in the mountains in the village of Duf with my friends Kerry, Mary and Gordana, plus Gordana's little baby Goran.  It was wonderful to escape the heat and hang out with 3 friends, eat ourselves silly, take an occasional hike so we could convince ourselves we could eat so much, and just relax.  Thanks, Gordana and family!

I often times forget how different this culture can be from ours, but every now and again I get a stark reminder.  I was sitting the other day with a friend at Luli's coffeeshop when a little girl who was probably about 4 years old got hit by a car nearby.  The car screeched to a stop as the little one crawled toward the sidewalk screaming.  A man in the passenger seat jumped out of the car, scooped the little girl up, and it drove off to the hospital.  A few minutes later a group of women, most carrying babies, emerged from an apartment building.  A woman in the middle of the pack, the mother of the child, was howling, and they all scurried off to the hospital.  A couple of days later, Elona and I talked about the incident.  I asked her if indeed the people in the car, who presumably had no idea who the little girl was, had taken her to the hospital.  Elona assured me they had and why not?  She should be taken there immediately!  I replied that in the US, if someone did that, they would probably be arrested for kidnapping, leaving the scene of an accident, and possibly hit and run.  Once they got to the hospital, unless the child was in critical condition, which she clearly was not, the hospital would refuse to treat her without permission from the parents.  Instead, the police and firefighters would be called to come, and the firemen would treat the little girl at the scene until an ambulance arrived.  (This confused her until I explained in the US, firefighters were trained as emergency medical technicians.) The police would seal off the area and start investigating the accident and contact the girl's family so they could go to the hospital with her (I didn't mention that the little girl probably would never be outside by herself).  Instead, in Gostivar, everything happened in about 3 minutes and afterward you couldn't tell a thing had happened.

On Tuesday I'm off to Southern Albania and the Ionian Sea with Luli, Elona, and my nephew Clark.  We'll be near the border with Greece and plan to take the ferry over to the Greek Island of Corfu one day.  It is supposed to be an exquisitely beautiful area, and I can hardly wait!