The weather is beautiful here in Macedonia and so it is now time to start exploring this amazing little country. We checked the bus schedules and decided we needed to start with the number one tourist destination: Ohrid, which is situated on the shore of Lake Ohrid in SW Macedonia. As you look across the lake one can see mountains on the far side–that is Albania which gets to lay claim to 1/3 of the lake. Wonder what kind of border control they have out there in the middle of the lake. I can’t imagine a long distance swimmer carrying paper to get into their waters. But I digress. We found a lovely guest house that overlooks the lake. Here are a few shots of the interior of the room. The toilet is there for Jason–he knows why. And, Ireta, the floor was heated!
Breakfast was included with our meal so we called to have it delivered to our room. Oh, my goodness! There was enough to feed 4 people: yogurt, meat, cheese, hard boiled egg, rolls the size of your head, jam, honey, juice, butter (yes!) and tea. So we ate what we could and saved the rest for dinner that night–
Now it’s time to explore. Which way to go? But first, look at this mosaic in the entry of our guest house! Down the hill to the left or uphill to the right.
First we stop and check out a little building in front of us. Why does it have a cross on top of it? Oh! It’s a little chapel! (they are all over the place. Literally around almost every corner.) The street in front of our hotel is not the easiest to navigate but we head out. We meet a delightful man who engages us in conversation in English. We are determined to find the number one must see sight–Sveti Jovan Kanoe so we regretfully bid him adieu and start on our trek. Interestingly enough, we were so confident of what we were doing that we did not ask directions. We know it is to the north of us but not sure how far but we soon find signs pointing the way so we know we are on the right track. Along the way we find Sveti Sofia and many other delightful sights. As you can see, we eventually made it to Sveti Jovan. We left Sveti Jovan by motor launch and explored more of the city, had a fabulous lunch and did some shopping. We saw more churches, mosques, a muslim mausoleum, and an incredible tree. We stopped for a bowl of soup and then went back to the room to finish our breakfast and watch a movie. What a wonderful day! We slept soundly.
How do you change the perception of the world about people of the Muslim faith? I guess I just do it one person at a time. Living here within what I believe is a totally Muslim community, I am impressed with the openness, friendliness and welcoming nature of these people. They have strange customs that I do not understand but I am trying to figure them out.
First up is the “Hijab.” It is simply a head and neck covering. (In countries other than Eastern Europe, you will find people who will also cover the face.) I have seen exactly one person in burqa and two or three others who cover the face. Some people use just a square scarf to do this and many of those scarves have lace added to the edges. They only wear it outside the house. When visiting another home, many of the women remove them for the duration of the visit–but these are usually households consisting of relatives. The hair is usually pulled up into a bun and has a small scarf wrapped around her bun. In my household, only Nazifete wears it. In my PST family, Hanife and gyshe wore it all the time and Mirlinda wore it when she prayed. I never saw Mirdita with one. Here, I have seen Sevime wear it once but that was around the time that her grandmother died so I imagine that it has something to do with that. Other young women in the village wear the full long cloak and head covering. I have two students who wear it to school. Wearing of the hijab in public, if it is going to be worn, is usually done after a girl has gone through puberty and is therefore “a woman.” A couple of my students wear the hijab when they leave the community but don’t generally wear it here in the village. I believe they are headed to Koran school when they are wearing it. I know that Mirlinda has indicated she will wear hijab once she is married this coming August. But it is very interesting to see how many women wear nothing on their heads. Sevime and Lumnije don’t routinely wear it. Most of the girls in my school don’t wear it. I have seen them on the bus and they don’t have it on. So I don’t really understand it. According to what I have read, the hijab predates all of the major religious groups of the world and was actually a status symbol that indicated upper class women. Mohammed only called for it for his wives as there were so many strangers that would come to his home/mosque. He never ordained the need for it for all faithful women. So there you have it! I don’t think there is anyone who can give an absolute answer. I have seen some absolutely exquisitely done hijabs and you can find tutorials on how to do them on You Tube. One of these days I will try one out and see if I can put one on correctly. Maybe I’ll wear it in Mount Pleasant and see what kind of reaction I get.
Again with the food. Yes, pork, shellfish and alcohol are verboten in the Muslim world. But here are a few little tidbits–vanilla! Vanilla extract has alcohol and therefore is not a permissible ingredient in a Muslim home. Next up? Balsamic vinegar–it has alcoholic content as well. Dang! Gelatin! Has pork products in it. Who knew? And meat needs to be slaughtered a certain way which I assume makes it more expensive. I don’t see any prohibition against garlic so I can only assume the reason my family does not use it is that they don’t like it. Darn it! Thankfully I live close to Skopje where there are lots of restaurants offering every kind of food imaginable–Mexican, Italian, Indian, Thai, American, Irish and even Sushi!
I am really quite curious about the religious beliefs and practices of these amazing people I live with. They are kind, loving, family oriented people. They really don’t believe in violence. I could not feel safer than I do here. As I learn more, I will share.
I spent the night in town Friday night. I went to a Gestalt presentation which was scheduled to last until 8 PM. Then we were going to go out to dinner after that. One drawback, the last bus to my part of the world goes at 9 PM and I was due to be back in town on Saturday morning so why not just get a room in town. So I did! At the suggestion of Maja I booked a room in a local guesthouse. Cost? 27€. Shumë shtrenjtë! (Not really, just being sarcastic). Very basic room: bed, pillows, blankets, towels and my own bathroom. No toiletries, no glasses, no radios, no phones, no room service. However, upon arrival I was given my choice of a welcome drink at their restaurant–anything I wanted! So I, of course, had a glass of wine. I dumped my bag in the room, brushed my hair, put on some lipstick and I then meandered back over to the American Corner and visited with Maja and Jim for a while before the presentation started. It lasted until 9 PM! Now we aren’t going to get back from dinner and back to our places of sleep until at least midnight. I can’t do this because I had been up since a ridiculous hour that morning ! So, much to Maja’s dismay, Susie and I backed out and we went out for soup and a sandwich at our favorite little bistro and then headed to our respective beds. We both were involved in the next day’s training activities.
Saturday morning. Ason told me that my 27€ room also included a full breakfast. Time to go check out and see just what that means. He did not lie! I chose the omelet with сирење, bacon and BUTTER! Butter is not generally used for bread here (at least not where I have been living). In a restaurant you must ask for it and they look at you like you are crazy but then deliver a big lump of it. You eat bread plain! You might have honey or jam on it, but never butter. I thought I had died and gone to heaven–bacon and butter in one meal. I think I miss butter almost as much as wine. Both of which are readily available here but just not used/consumed in my household. I can easily purchase Deutsche Markenbutter, but if I bring it in the house it just gets used in cooking something. They are big on using margarine. I’m not!
Off to my day of training–but first stop for a cappuccino with David, Gwen, Beka and Stacie. I ran into them when I stopped to buy a bottle of water for the day. One of the things I have noticed here is that they rarely make the coffee drinks super hot. They are warm–not hot which makes it easier to drink but doesn’t really warm you up. Beka and I had to gulp ours down (so the not hot was a good thing) because we needed to get there a little early as we are part of the steering committee for the day’s events. We don’t know exactly where we are going but what the heck! Can’t be too hard. And fortunately it wasn’t. I feel like I’m getting to know Skopje quite well. But I’m sure there is much that I have yet to explore. Had a great training day which included pizza for lunch. But once again I was a victim of bus issues. Our training was done at 4.30. There had been a bus at 4 PM and the next one wasn’t until 18.45. Okay, head to the mall and hang out a bit. Or better yet, how about dinner as I know I won’t get home until at least 7 PM. So I found a lovely restaurant and ordered a nice spicy spaghetti with sausage (yes, more pork!) and another glass of wine. And they use wine glasses just like mine! A fine wine glass adds so much to the pleasure of drinking it.
So now it’s back to village life for a couple of days. Susie and I are going to Ohrid next weekend to just chill out. Figured we should hit there before the tourists all do! And now that it is spring, tourist season will start in earnest soon. It will be nice to be away with no agenda for classes or training. Just relax!
Teacher’s Day is celebrated the day before International Women’s Day (8 March) here in Macedonia. The students dance and sing for the teachers and do various recitations. I was so very impressed with some of my students. All of them that participated in the presentations were amazing and I am incredibly proud of them.
Our municipality honors all of the teachers with a full dinner at a local restaurant. So we all got dressed up and went out for dinner and dancing. I can’t begin to tell you what a different experience that was. Oh, my goodness. First of all was the food. There was so much of it that it wasn’t funny. There were three kinds of meat for the entrees and the beverages were non-stop. The minute they saw a bottle getting past the half way point another one was brought to your table: Schweppes, Coke, Fanta, Water, juice. And we had music. Now, I used to play the clarinet about 55 years ago and have not touched one in that long either. However, I would like to have touched the one that played that night. At the very least it would have had a mute stuffed in it. I have never heard anything so loud in my life and it went on for at least 30 minutes. They played three sets and three songs. Each set was one song long and I do mean long! Many people came equipped with earplugs. Apparently that is standard procedure around here. The music is always loud, it always includes a clarinet and you will feel like you are in an echo chamber when they are done. The dancing consisted of going around the dance floor in a big circle. It started with three people waving a napkin and kept getting bigger. I have no idea what the significance of the napkin was but it always lead the Albanian version of the Conga line.
Now let’s discuss dinner. Decent food. I did not go away hungry. However, the ambience was destroyed by the smokers in the place. They lit up at the table while people were eating. Even when I was a smoker, I didn’t do that. By the time I got home my eyes were running water from the amount of smoke in the place. My eyes were still red and burning the next day. Not sure how to combat that next year.
So I decided that I would cook dinner for the family for International Women’s Day. I’m going to make lemon herb chicken. By the way family, do you like broccoli? Huh? What is broccoli? Okay time to introduce a new vegetable. It was not an overwhelming success. Most ate it, some did not. Some only ate the floral part and not the stalk part. Next I think I’ll try asparagus on them. We’ll see how that goes over. But it is not a big meat culture. I had six chicken breasts to feed 10 people and I had meat left over. I cut the breasts into “steaks” and browned them and finished cooking them in the oven. Then I made my sauce and pasta. Many of them picked the green onions off. Hmmmm. Maybe it is just that they don’t like green things. But that can’t be it as they eat cabbage on an almost daily basis. But I only had one person who didn’t seem to like any of it. A couple of others had seconds.
I’m waiting to see if we will have school tomorrow. It looks like we are out of wood again. Apparently people steal it. There doesn’t seem to be any way of securing it. And, of course these shortened days or cancelled days keep us off schedule. The state has a curriculum laid out that tells you when you should be doing what in class. We are continually trying to catch up.
The political crisis continues. And we continue to watch. Fortunately I am far enough away from the center of government that I don’t have to worry. Because you see, the government has authorized the use of rubber bullets on protestors. The EU is beginning to get involved in this as well. Macedonia is an EU candidate and so they need to pay a lot of attention to what the EU asks them to do unless of course they have changed their mind and don’t want to be part of the EU, which is pretty unlikely. The biggest stumbling block is still the name of the country but I am confident that will get worked out.
The new group of PCT’s is beginning to form. Imagine my surprise when one of them indicates she is from Central Michigan. I message her and find out that she was born and raised in Mount Pleasant. How cool is that? She will be the third Mt. Pleasant resident currently serving with the Peace Corps. Maybe we will be able to start our own RPCV group! I know of at least two other RPCV’s living in the Mt. Pleasant area. I imagine there are more! We will be able to understand what the others have been through and know what it means to be an RPCV!
I could write for hours about what is happening and the things I see, hear, smell and do but you might get bored. So signing off for now.
UPDATE: We have school. We have wood but apparently it is wet. This should be interesting. Think I will dress for cold weather.
The political tension is increasing in the country and we are closely monitoring it. I do not believe this is another Ukraine crisis in the making but it certainly makes life interesting. When locals ask me about the issues I simply tell them I am not well enough informed. (Click on the word issues to link to the latest news out of the Balkans.) But this past week, there was a news conference of sorts on TV every night as the opposition dropped their “Bombs.” It certainly makes for interesting reading and TV and if you are politically interested in this part of the world, I think you will find this an entertaining issue to follow.