Јас сум од Америка, од Мичиган. Јас се викам Ајлин. Jас сум волонтерка на Мировен корпус и професорка по англиски јазик.
And believe it or not I can read that to you aloud and I can tell you what it says. I’m even being able to read signs in Macedonian now. It is a struggle; however, I will be successful. It’s also good to know that the Peace Corps has never sent anyone home because they couldn’t speak the language. They’ve already spent too much money on us to send us home. They are keeping us!
I’ve spent a very large part of the day going over my language exercises, my cultural exercises, my TEFL exercises and I am exhausted. I still have a lot to do. On Monday we will all go into Skopje for “hub day”. We leave here around 7 AM. We probably will not return until at least 7 PM. The next day it will be back to language classes.–two days of Shqip and two days of Macedonian. We have begun conjugating verbs and that is reassuring. Very much like Spanish in that are three types of verbs: those ending in a, e, i. Also learning the names of foods, how to count to 9999 and how to not mispronounce words so that I’m saying cheese and instead of saying sh**ing! Not a mistake I want to make when ordering a hamburger!
Definitely no alcohol around here. Will have to wait until we go into Tetovo with others who may want a drink stronger than water. Speaking of drinks…..they served me one the other night that was a liquid yougurt with garlic in it. Oh, yuck. One sip was all I needed to know that I was not enamored of that drink.
We should receive our site assignments on 14 October and then I will know where I will be spending the next two years. I just hope the house I will be staying in is warmer than this one. This is a very large home–Albanian homes are generally larger. There are a lot of gaps around windows and doors. Makes for a rather drafty existence. But I knew it was not going to be the Taj Mahal when I signed up for this. I’m trying to hold off unpacking my winter coat and sweaters until at least 1 October but I don’t know. Today I am wearing a camisole, turtleneck and cardigan to keep warm. Brrrr. The wind has been blowing quite steadily all day (that’s Jacks’ weather report for the day) and the windows rattle and cause the Internet connection to go in and out. Wreaks havoc on my music.
But settling in nicely and learning tons of stuff. Next weekend is a Muslim holiday. We shall see what that brings!
Do you realize that this area of the world was part of the Ottoman Empire for over 500 years? Of course there has to be some kind of lasting influence on the culture here. Turkish coffee is one of them and a most delicious one that I have come to appreciate a great deal. However, I can’t say the same for one other residual item that is quite prevalent: The Turkish Toilet! I must say it does have potential for some benefits. If you have to spend much time in there, you will develop strong leg muscles and improve your sense of balance as you hold onto your clothes and squat over the “bowl”. You also are not going to be able to use it as a reading room. Time spent taking care of your business will of necessity be limited and you will want to get out of there quickly. They do provide you with a plunger and brush to clean up the evidence of your deposits. Generally find that there is no paper made available so make sure you have a small package of Kleenex with you when you go in. Should make the lines waiting outside of the restroom go much faster! And just to make it interesting there is a song on You Tube, called “Poop in a hole (the unofficial Peace Corps Anthem)” Check it out, it is cute.
My brain feels like it is spinning in my skull. Today we went from Shqip to Македонски . I can handle it for about an hour and a half. However, after that my brain begins to get things confused should I be saying une jam or should I be saying jac cym? I know that eventually it will sort itself out. However the distance from school to my house is about 100 m. It’s very difficult to switch gears from Macedonian to Albanian (Shqip) in that distance. I did discover that even the mother speaks some Macedonian in this house when I thanked her in Macedonian .
The people living here in my village do not consider themselves Macedonian. They are from Macedonia, but not Macedonians; they are Albanians. I guess it’s much like people who say they are not Michiganders but say they are Alaskans even though they don’t live in Alaska. I just consider myself somewhat of a gypsy.
Today marks a trip into the big town of Tetovo. There is a market there that supposedly carries avocados. Perhaps they also will carry tortillas and I will be able to get the makings of a Mexican dinner for my family.
Monday will be an early morning trip into Skopje. Once a week we have what is called hub day. All of the trainees from all over the country gather at the peace corps headquarters for additional training. It will also be an opportunity for me to replace the charger for my MacBook. It died. There is an Apple Store in town about two blocks from Peace Corps headquarters. The cost of the charger is $120. If I have the charger purchased in the United States, it will cost $80. However I then have to figure in tax, shipping, and time. Therefore, I’m going to spend the $120.
My days never seem to be long enough. I do long to go out and just take pictures. However, we continually have homework and constant reviewing of our language lessons. Yesterday, we had a session on the culture of the Macedonian classroom. Picture of1960 classroom. That’s what it sounds like. I suspect that some of the younger side mates will have trouble with that concept. But, having learned in a classroom like that I think I will know what is expected. Teachers here are penalized if students do not perform as expected on the final state mandated exams. The teachers pay can be reduced for poor performance by their students. I think the teachers can use all of the support we can give them.
It has been a very long time since I sat in a classroom and repeated after the teacher. VERY LONG! However, today I was back in that mode and sat in a classroom for four and a half hours learning to conjugate my first verb. Why does it always seem to be the local language’s version of “to be”
Unë jam Ne jemi
Ti je Ju jeni
Ai/Ajo është Ata/Ato janë
Then there are the gender endings and the plural endings. All that has seemed so far behind me since I sat down in my first Spanish class in San Juan, Puerto Rico a million years ago. But here I am doing it again..only this time in Shqip. (Albanian to those unfamiliar with the word). I’ll do this again tomorrow and then I will turn around and do it in Macedonian on Thursday and Friday. Repeat, week after week until I can pass a language proficiency interview prior to being sworn in as a volunteer. As crazy as it seems, I think I can do it. I have two wonderful young women in the house very anxious to help me with my language and the two older ladies keep teaching me new words everyday. Mizë is the most annoying creature on the face of the earth! There, now you know a word in Albanian–fly!
The afternoon brought the group back together for a Cross-culltural training session. I mean to tell you the Korpusi i Paqes certainly knows what they are doing as they prepare us for our service in country.
I met two sisters of the deceased father today. They are very sweet and greeted me with the traditional hug and three kisses. Made me feel very much at home. And then of course they had to feed me–yet again. While my desire for peppers may not be increasing, I have discovered a new beverage! Turkish coffee! It is shu mirë. I don’t care for coffee but I would swear this is thick hot chocolate. My goodness it doesn’t get any better than that. Think I am developing a bad habit.
We have been told that the men in the village will stare at us and to ignore them. Having lived on Army bases for much of my life, this didn’t seem to be such a big deal. So today when a muslim gentleman passed me on the street and said mirëdita, I almost fell over! Just shocked me. My culture shock of the day.
Now it is time to finish my homework!
And check this out! Don’t have a clue what they are saying but this is our welcome to Dobroshte. It was on national TV!
What a day it has been! We left Wilson School yesterday for our training sites for the next 10 weeks. Our group was the first to be dropped off and we had the Director with us because the media had been invited to our reception. The people of the village wanted to show how the Macedonians and Albanians can work together. And they did a beautiful job of it. We had drinks and every kind of sweet that you can imagine. My family representative was the first to greet us. It is tradition to offer visitors bread and salt and so Melinda was holding the bread while her cousin was holding the salt.
The next task was to get our mountains of luggage from the assembly site to the home of our hosts. I’m not sure if my family has a car so another cousin transported me and my stuff along with Melinda to her house. Imagine my surprise when we open the gate and there is a cow.
The household consists of (in addition to the cow), two daughters–both engaged to be married next summer, one 18 year old son who is trying to decide what to do with his life, two wives, a rabbit and a chicken.
A word of explanation about the two wives. Wife number one was apparently unable to have children and so the husband (now deceased) took a second wife who bore him the three children. Wife #2 is much younger than #1. #1 is about 75 or so and #2 is around 52. This is after all a muslim community and multiple wives are not uncommon.
The house is located directly across the street from the place where I will have my classes so there is no chance I will get lost going home. Our home stay person is supposed to walk us to school but has no obligation to pick us up. My roommates and I were plotting our best Hansel and Gretel strategy or else pinning notes to our clothes saying , “Return to………..” At least three of us are very close to the school and each other.
Dinner last evening was delicious but they have decided that I eat nothing! I had a bowl of bean soup, a very large bowl of cabbage slaw, tomatoes and bread. Believe me, it was a ton of food! For breakfast this morning, I had what look like poblano peppers sautéed in oil, bread, cheese and tea. She kept putting more peppers on my plate. I thought I would burst. And the peppers still contained many of the seeds. They were not spicy and were quite tasty, but how many peppers can one person eat? Especially for breakfast. They salt food here very heavily and that will keep me drinking water. And speaking of the water…..it is very drinkable.
Other issues: My bathroom consists of a toilet. That’s it! There is no hot water. (oops, yes there is.) In order to shower or brush my teeth, l must go downstairs. I have postponed my shower until tomorrow. I will brave it then. Electricity is very expensive and therefore, there are no clothes dryers here. Everything gets hung on the line and all laundry and heavy electrical usage is done on the weekends as the rates are significantly lower then. The internet is very slow here so I doubt that there will be many opportunities for Skype or Facetime but we shall see. The mosque is about 100 yards from the house and I am very aware of when there is a call to prayer. Right now that is a bit of a novelty but we shall see how that impacts my daily life over the next 10 or so weeks.
Whew! A couple of very long days. And a lot of incredibly new experiences.
We met the Deputy Chief of Mission yesterday. He really gave a very interesting talk about what he feels the future holds for Macedonia, how the Peace Corps are received by the citizens of the country (enthusiastically!), and a bit of history on the conflict between Greece and Macedonia. Prior to his arrival, we were entertained by both Macedonian and Albanian folk dancing groups. I managed to capture video of the groups and will hopefully have it posted with this post (testing my skills!) I won’t post all of the videos but if you are interested in seeing them, let me know and I will email them to you.
We started language classes the first day and have mastered the alphabet and basic greetings. By the end of the week I will know if I have been selected for the dual language program and will live my Peace Corps service time in a Shqip Muslim community. It will require a few life adjustments on my part but I believe I can handle those changes quite easily.
Last night we went on a visit to the town of Tetovo. The school we are living and learning in is just outside of the city. We ate dinner and were quite stuffed when we finished. I had a chicken filet and split a salad with one of my fellow trainees as well as a bottle of wine. The bottle of wine cost 500 denars which is about $8.00. It was quite good and we thoroughly enjoyed it. Dinner cost 170 denars which is less than the cost of a Big Mac–$3.62!
I will be getting a new Sim card for my phone along with a pay as you go plan. Card costs $6.25 and plan is about $10 every time you refill it at any local store. And T-Mobile has the market here! It is all over the place.
And I am officially a Macedonian resident now! I have received my MK residency card and can quit carrying my passport. I will only need the passport if I cross over international borders.
Life as a PCV is certainly exciting and entertaining. Hope you enjoy the two little videos. They were taken with a tiny little point and shoot. No big fancy cameras for me. And yes, the sound is tinny–that’s the way it was projected in the amphitheater. Acoustics were marginal
DISCLAIMER: VIDEOS DID NOT LOAD!
We have arrived and already are learning many valuable lessons. The first one being: Don’t flush the toilet paper! And of course there is no plunger left in the room so if you make one mistake you are going to be calling the plumber. Our second lesson is that if you want to take a hot shower, make sure you know where the switch is to turn on the hot water. Definitely makes a difference. Also realize that we as Americans are incredibly spoiled with our shower habits. Turn the water on, get wet and turn it off and soap up, turn the water back on and rinse off and get out. Certainly a different approach!
Food has been incredibly high in carbs. Bread and potatoes. Potatoes and carbs. Have had no opportunities to try out wine but hope to this evening. We have a night out on the thriving metropolis of Tetovo.
Had a wonderful lullaby to go to bed–we could hear the local mosque’s call to prayer. Will hopefully get to work in a primarily Muslim community. Should keep me from having to attend mass with my host family. Really not my thing! However, I’m not sure I’m going to be able to handle Ramadan. We shall see.
A term used by military personnel when they are “short” or about to move on to the next assignment. I am officially a single digit midget. In 9 days I will be aboard the airplane that will begin the next phase of my life. I am both excited and nervous. I know that once I get in country, I will be fine but in the meantime, I will have run the full gamut of emotions.
Already I have begun the goodbyes. Goodbye to my weekly dinner with Ireta; goodbye to my former colleagues; goodbye to my doctors; goodbye to my fellow winos. Soon I will say goodbye to the young men I love to hate–the brothers of the Sigma Chi fraternity. (We have recently forged a good relationship and I hope that it is the beginning of a new phase of life for those of us foolish enough to live in an area inhabited by many college age students. )
The final goodbyes are the hardest–goodbye to my family. I’ve never been very good at saying goodbye and I don’t imagine this will be any easier. I will just grit my teeth and try to keep that good stiff upper lip. After all, 27 months will go by so very quickly and then I will be back.
I’ve made journeys like this before–to Germany, to Korea. However, this time there will be no children in tow that I have to manage. No harnesses to put on one, nor pulling the other off the luggage carousel. So this should be a piece of cake. We shall see. Of course I’m not quite as strong now as I was then but I think I will be just fine. Bon Voyage to me!