Catching up

Valentine’s week taught me lessons in how different life is here in Macedonia. For the most part Valentine’s Day is not observed except by merchants trying to cash in on American consumerism. The Macedonians celebrate St. Trifun–protector of wine and vineyards. Much better in my opinion. When I return to the states I am going to do away with V-Day and institute St. Trifun Day.  I mean, how many chocolates and flowers do you need? But you never have enough wine! And maybe next year I will get to the wine areas and spend the weekend there (the wineries even have a hotel!) And, of course, Albanians celebrate neither one of them!

Speaking of V-Day…..The day before V-Day, I was getting ready to head into Skopje for a meeting; I was not going to school. My phone rings and it is not a number I know. I have learned here that I need to answer those–occasionally it is a wrong number but more often than not it is someone at PC office using a phone that I don’t have in my phone yet. Well, it was neither one of those! Some guy was talking in Macedonian and asking for Ellen. Figured it was me. I got across to him that I could not understand him. He got his boss on the phone who spoke some English and he wanted to know where I was so he could deliver some flowers from Germany.  So I handed the phone off to Haxhbi to explain to him how to find me. Figured Nazifete could sign for the flowers. Well, it turns out that they are delivering to the school and Haxhbi says I have to be there to sign for them, so I am just going to have to take the 11.00 bus into Skopje instead of the 10.00. Okay–but I’m going to be late for my meeting. So I get to school and wait and wait and wait. No flowers. I convince my counterpart to sign for them and have Haxhbi take them home when they finally arrive so I can get to my meeting. I gimp out to the bus-stop and am waiting for the next bus which will be packed with students when a little blue car pulls up and asks me where the school is. I point it out and then ask, “Are those flowers for Eileen?” Yes they are. Okay. He hands them to me and I don’t have to sign for anything. Guess he figured if I knew those details, I must be the right person. Now what do I do? Well, the florist offers to drive me into Skopje to his shop and tells me the bus stops right in front of his store. Well, that is good. I can get a different bus and avoid the school crowd.  So now, here I am in downtown Skopje toting around this big flower arrangement as I go to my meeting and then to the Peace Corps office and then catch a bus home. I was subjected to a lot of strange looks. I’m sure people thought I had bought a floral arrangement for someone and was planning to deliver it myself. Nope! My husband bought flowers and sent them to me for V-Day. I still haven’t figured out how they came from Germany but I don’t ask questions. And let me assure you that balancing them all over town was not the easiest task in my day but it certainly started a lot of conversations.

Seems to be a week where tons was accomplished and nothing was accomplished.  It is teaching me how to not have expectations or at least how to modify those expectations. Things do happen here just not the way I expect them to. On Monday I went in to the PC office to receive my injection that will let me avoid surgery for a while. They mixed the lidocaine with the steroid so that I only got poked once. I had two doctors and one nurse to take care of me. It is about the same discomfort level as the measles shot. When it was done, I needed to stand up. I expected to feel a numbing sensation or something but other than the poke I felt nothing. Well, when I stood up, I could stand up! It didn’t hurt to put weight on my leg. It was amazing. I could walk at a reasonable pace! I had to hang out at the PC office for a while and then go home and rest for the balance of the day. I even took a nap. I felt so good that I was ready to put on a pair of high heels (I didn’t). So Tuesday I got up and got ready for work when I received a call from my counterpart–her son is sick so she is not coming in. That means I don’t go to work. Okay. Work on lesson plans and a couple of exams.  Wednesday is a nice normal work day–no glitches, nobody throwing up or running a fever and I am able to walk about normally. Thursday the Syndicate (Union) is having their annual meeting and it just happens to overlap the time that Jeta and I teach so she will go to the meeting and I will stay home. Maybe I’ll go shopping. We’ll see what the day brings. Friday I get to school and the non-smoking teacher’s lounge is freezing cold. So I go into the other one which is nice and warm and smoky–seems we are working on a short schedule today since we have no dru (wood). I spent an hour at school and the day was done! Haxhbi tells me they delivered wood later in the day. But this building is totally heated by wood burning stoves. There are 8 of them and only one was working. It was truly freezing in that building. No learning was going to take place in that environment.

Next week is Teacher’s Day on Saturday and on Sunday is International Women’s Day. My family is shocked that we don’t celebrate it in the United States. It is a big thing here!  It is a national holiday! It is actually quite big in all of Europe.  Wonder why we haven’t embraced it in the states. Of course they don’t celebrate mother’s day here. But not everyone is a mother! I like the idea of women’s day and not mother’s day! Women should be celebrated! Ooops…get down off your soapbox, Eileen.

And in case you want to know more about Macedonia and how amazing it is, check out this site. It has tons of information and possibilities.


It’s about time

има време. That is Macedonian for “There’s time,” and it is a guiding philosophy in this country. My children and my spouse can tell you that I can be absolutely obsessive about time. If I say ten o’clock, I probably really mean 9.45. Late is something I just don’t do. I plan months in advance and I book my calendars. During PST in one of our cultural sessions we had a discussion about time.  We created an imaginary continuum and placed ourselves on it according to how we feel about the issue. I was up against the wall. Time rules my world!  I’m not a Qué será, será kind of girl. It simply does not work for me!

That being said, waiting to find out when I will receive my steroid shots has been excruciating.  A week ago Friday, it was “Next week”. Next week arrived and Dr. Mimi called me to let me know it would be either Wednesday or Friday.  Well, Wednesday came and went without a call. Guess it will be Friday.  Hmmm–morning or afternoon?  Thursday afternoon I could take it no longer, so I called Medical and was told they would call me sometime on Friday morning to give me a time.  (I think, Uhmmmmm, you do realize that my bus only runs once an hour and sometimes there is a two hour gap between buses. But okay, I’ll trust that you will give me plenty of notice.) Relax, Eileen. This will be fine. You will get the call and go get the shots and relief.

Friday morning. My phone rings in the middle of class. (Yes, we keep our phones in class with us). The call I’ve been waiting for! “Eileen, Dr. Mimi here. ” She proceeds to tell me that I won’t be able to get my shots as the doctor is in surgery! (Surely I’m more important than some surgical case!) Aaarrrggghhh! However, this time she has a specific time for me.  Monday morning at 9.30! She and I have had this discussion of what a hard time I’m having adapting to има време. So she knows how much I appreciate having a specific time. So now I know–I have to catch the 7.30 bus (it doesn’t get to Arnaqi until 7.50) to be there on time. (which for me means at least 15 minutes early!) Even if the doctor is late, I will know that I have held up my part of the bargain and I was there on time. Now I just need to know what time I will be done so I can figure out which bus I need to catch home–guess it will be the next one–whenever that is!

Cultural Lessons

Today offered a few lessons in cultural differences that we all take so for granted. I told my 6th Class students that they needed to keep their homework worksheets to study from because the next test I write for them will consist of questions from those worksheets. So Jeta (my co-teacher) went to get them paper clips to clip their papers together. My students were so cute! No one was really sure how to use a paper clip. Oops–teachable moment. This is how we use a paper clip. One of those things we just totally take for granted. Jeta and I were circling the room helping them fasten their papers together with their paper clips. When did we learn about paper clips? I think I have always known how to use one but surely there must have been a time when I didn’t. Does anyone remember when they learned to use one?

So now  I have some papers to hand out. I have counted out enough for each row and hand it to the first person in each row. They just looked at me with a blank look. What do I do with this? So I took one and handed it to the first person and indicated they should then share them with the rest of the row. So that first person got up and handed each person a worksheet. Take one and pass it back is not a concept with which they are familiar yet. They will be. I don’t want to have to walk around and hand out papers to each student.

The last teachable moment of the day dealt with the discovery of the Foja Mountains in Papua New Guinea in 2005( a reading excerpt for the IX Klase).  The people who discovered it said they had found a “virtual Garden of Eden”. Who knows what the Garden of Eden is? As I suspected, no one knew. Okay brief lesson on Biblical lore to explain what it is. Did I mention that all of my students are Muslim? So I made sure I prefaced the explanation with, “In Christian tradition……….” Oh the fun I have! Hope no one thinks I  was  trying to teach religion. That is the last thing in the world I  would want anyone to  believe! They also didn’t quite understand “virgin forests” . I wasn’t really going there–just a  forest that has never had trees harvested.

Confessions of a wino in a Muslim community

I chose to become a part of the dual language program knowing full well that I could end up spending my life with a Muslim family that does not consume alcohol in any way, shape or form. Life without wine was something I was not keen on embracing. During PST I got my wine fix when our training group would go to Skopje for a Hub or training day and be satisfied because I could drink there.  A couple of the more mature of us and therefore more prone to drink red wine found a couple of places to get good cheap wine. Or I could go over to the Macedonian side of the village and have a drink in one of the bars (Which I never did but the option was always there) or with one of the other trainees who lived over there.

And it is cheap!

But PST is over and now I live my life day by day in the village and there isn’t a Macedonian part of town and the closest bar that I might consider is quite a ways away.  I made the conscious decision that I would find a way to get wine in and the empty bottles out of the house without detection.  They sell small bottles at the supermarkets in town and they fit very nicely in my purse but if I have more than one, I run the risk of breakage or just a very noisy purse.

wino 2
Nestled in that mitten is a bottle of heavenly delight.

Enter mittens! Fortunately I managed to get a pair here in country. And guess what else they are good for other than keeping your hands warm?  They make a wonderful cozy nest for transporting my bottles to and from the house. The bottles fit perfectly in the mittens. And when I’m ready to recycle my bottles I just take a mitten out of my purse and give it a shake over the recycle bin and voila! Problem solved.

wino 1
All gone. Time to smuggle it out.

I have found that the white coffee cup I was using as a wine glass tends to stain. So I have a lovely purple cup that doesn’t show the stains. When it is wine time, I light a candle, lock my door and lean back and relax.  If the family needs me, I also have a decoy cup of tea on the desk and I just slip the wine glass/cup into my wardrobe and no one is any the wiser when they come in. Really rather brilliant if I must say so myself. Now if I can just figure out how to have it with my dinner!

Political Issues

Think you will find this interesting but also do not think you will find it in any of the papers in the states.  And it is a far cry from what I could be experiencing had I gone to Ukraine as originally planned. Macedonian Politics 101. The government is working frantically to withhold any of the information mentioned in the article from being published.  And if this country were perfect we would not be here.

On another note, our new ambassador has finally come on board. Paul Wohlers finally left–he was due to leave in December and didn’t do it until about a week ago.  The new guy will now have to earn the love and respect of the people of Macedonia. He spoke to a national audience and greeted them in Macedonian and Shqip. So, of course, someone had to comment that he should have used all the other languages you find in the country.  Let’s see….most everyone speaks Macedonian and about 35% speak Albanian. The rest of the languages (Roma, Turkish, Bulgarian)  are spoken by about 5% of the population. You can’t win for losing! Oh, well you can’t please all of the people all of the time.

Stay tuned for more on the Gruevski story. It does have the potential to eventually make the news in the United States.

O V E R !

The strike is over! I would have returned to school today but my counterpart called in and said she couldn’t make it and since I am not permitted to be in the classroom on my own, I did not go to school. But tomorrow I will be there. I have no idea what the terms are they settled on, but I’m sure I’ll hear about it this evening. The important part is that it is over!

But in other news…….Spring can’t be too far away. We are getting snow storms that have golf ball sized snow globules falling from the sky. It melts quickly, too. Pansies are beginning to come back to life in Skopje and I don’t need to bundle up like an Eskimo. Now if the mud would just go away!

Slowly but surely I am learning about customs in the Albanian homes. One of the nicer ones is the placing of an extra dish of food on the dinner table. That way if a guest suddenly drops in, you can honestly say you were expecting them. I always thought I was counting wrong when we would start putting dishes on the table. Turns out I wasn’t.

Strike Update

Turns out it may not really be over. From what I can understand, they have been ordered back to work and the negotiators have until 15 March to work things out. If nothing happens by then, they may go back out on strike. The strikers feel they will have lost their momentum at that point and are disappointed in this result. I’m just happy to have something to do!