It’s the little things!

thumb_IMG_0724_1024I got a screen on my bedroom window! I like leaving my window open at night but have been terrified by the thought that a bat might come visit me during the night. So Faton and Flamur put a screen on my window. I’m such a lucky girl! Now I don’t have to worry about birds/bats in the room. Nor do I have to worry about skeeters, flys, bees and wasps. Yeah, yeah, yeah. They really do take very good care of me!

What a week!

First it was school, then a kidnapping. On Thursday I was strongly urged to attend a 70th birthday party for the school where my host son, Faton teaches. Haxhbi was going and I could ride with him. We went out to Rasçhe and spent almost two hours sitting in the sun. The director of the school had a rather long welcome speech which he delivered in both Albanian and Macedonian. Then the dancing and recitations began. And while very entertaining, the sun was beginning to drain me. I felt I was on the verge of getting sick when a teacher from Faton’s school rescued me and Bukurie. They took us inside and pumped us full of water and then urged us to eat goodies which included baklava! Oh, oh! You’ve twisted my  arm! Festivities are done. Now the kids are just dancing.  Back we come–Haxhbi drops me off at the house and he continues on to school. I still was not feeling up to peak so I took a nap after having a coffee.

About 2/3 of the Student Body

Friday morning found me sitting at my computer dealing with emails and updating my calendar. Nazifete came in and wanted to know why I wasn’t going to school. I don’t have class until 10.30.  No, no. School will be  over by then. Huh?  Yes, today is patron’s day. The Kombie will be here in ten minutes. You must get ready. So 8 AM I’m off to school. Once I arrived, I had nothing to do. My counterpart wasn’t there and the other teachers were frantically trying to get all of their paperwork done for the inspectors who are coming next week. So why am I here? All the kids are outside. Suddenly they start setting up the benches in rows in front of the outdoor stage. And why do those little boys have on red bow ties. And the little girls are all dressed up in lace outfits.  Ah, now it is clear. We are having a show of some kind. More dancing and recitations. Fortunately the sun was not as brutal yesterday. At 10:00 school was dismissed and I came home. I decided to make a quick run into Skopje and pick up some paper and Raid Plug-ins. Got home, re-wrote my assessment for a grant we are planning to submit to get a smart board and submitted it. Okay. Good productive day.

Ah, but it isn’t over. We went to mysafir with Nazifete’s brother and family who are in town from Switzerland. We had juice, coffee, tea, candy, cookies, nuts and fresh strawberries. That is pretty typical hospitality in this country when you come to visit. At one point my hand collapsed and I spilled my tea all over my leg. Fortunately it had a bit of a chance to cool before I pulled my Grace Kelly act. No blisters but it also wasn’t fun. But I left with a little gift, a bouquet of flowers and IMG_0723bone crushing hugs.

A cultural aspect that will never be adopted in the US is the concept of the Nuse. The nuse (noos-ee) is the bride of the eldest son who, following the wedding,  has moved in to live in his home with his family. It is fairly rare in an Albanian family for the children to move into their own home when they marry. The bride is brought into the house and literally becomes the servant of the household. She makes the coffee and serves it, she makes the tea and serves it, she does the dishes, she cleans the house. Someday she will no longer be the nuse but rather the mistress of the house but that could be a long way off. I am rarely permitted to get my own tea or take my cup to the kitchen if she is around. She does it sweetly and graciously. I can’t help but think how my daughter and daughters – in – law would react to this kind of arrangement. Knowing them the way I do, they would be very unhappy not having charge of their own households.

Now for a lovely long three day weekend.  Monday is Sveti Cyril & Sveti Metodi day. (the dudes who came up with an alphabet we call the Cyrillic alphabet) and so we finally match up a holiday to and American one. I have plenty to do but one day is going to be devoted to pursuits I enjoy–listening to music, sorting stamps and maybe watching a movie.



I was kidnapped today by Bukurie and the school in Bukoviq. And I’m exhausted!

USAID gives money to schools throughout the country to foster activities to promote better understanding among various ethnic groups in the country. Jeta and I found out about this about a month ago and were informed our “district”  received funds for an activity. We forgot all about it since we are only a satellite school and get nothing nor do we generally have any input. Most everything we get is donated by parents.

Unbeknownst to us, Bukurie was planning an outing with school students from Kavadarci. At the last minute she called and wanted to include me with the students. Jeta and I discussed it and decided it might be worth it. They were taking these students sight seeing. So I went out and waited for them to pick me up. Surprise, surprise! Four of my students who were absent today were included  in the activities: Shkelqim, Jetmire, Sara, and Hanina–so they had a good excuse for their absences.

Prayer squares
Gorgeous Chandelier

So first stop: Mosque in Saraj. Didn’t understand a word they said except that it is very old and very simple inside. We all took off our shoes and went inside. As visitors we didn’t need to do the ritual washing of our hands and faces (three times, in case you are interested), but we did need to remove the shoes. Interestingly enough the carpet throughout is woven in rectangles to be individual prayer spots. I haven’t seen that before.

Second Stop: Matka. Walk all the way up, tour the little church and head back down. No time to enjoy the scenery or anything. Of course, no one walks very fast here. I had a wonderful time visiting with Sara and Hanina on the walk. Both are delightful, intelligent girls.

Third Stop:  Lake Treska. We parked buses and some of us went for “coffee” and the kids took off to do something–not sure what. (What do kids do when we aren’t looking?) I still wasn’t sure what the agenda was. Turned out that we were having lunch there… 3.30 in the afternoon. Lunch was more like dinner but that is in keeping with Macedonian tradition. Chicken, beef, rice, potatoes, salad, bread, some kind of dessert and juice. They brought in tables, chairs and plated food!  The kids all got burgers and chips.

Finally, after a leisurely afternoon of visiting with colleagues from Bukoviq and Kavadarci, I was delivered to my front door step. First words out of Nazifete’s mouth? Ha buke? (Do you want to eat?) Good heavens, no! I’m stuffed. So I sat outside and let my feet cool down from all the walking and sang B I N G O with Elsa about 20 times. It’s so nice to be home!

The 6 foot tall thistle

While waiting for my ride I got a chance to get a better picture of Josh’s thistle and  my poppy.  The thistle is taller than I am!

The Fan Struggle

My fanI was very proud of myself. I found a nice oscillating, adjustable height fan for 900 denar. I assembled it myself and it is blowing a delightful breeze through my room. I have the window open for cross ventilation. And therein lies the problem.

Here in Macedonia they believe in a phenomenon called promija. It is a mysterious disease that creeps into the house if you allow cross currents. And it will kill you! Or something equally dire. I am a fresh air nut! I hate air conditioned environments and do my best to avoid them. (Not that I have to worry about that here in my house. I’m not sure anyone has an air conditioned home.) I crave the fresh air that comes into  my room because of my open window and my pretty little fan. And apparently if the fan blows on your back, you will have spine problems. So I set the fan to oscillate and Nazifete comes in and changes it to blowing in a fixed position and away from my back which also means the rest of my body gets no cool air. Then she proceeds to tell me that I will get promija! She leaves, I change it; she comes back, changes it etc. This will be an interesting summer. Wonder what she would do if she knew if it is too hot at night, I sometimes take a hot shower and then go to bed still wet and let the fan cool me through the moisture on my body! Surely that would kill me! Or will it be the buses? or the promija?

Ah, yes.  Cultural differences. They are so much fun!

Standing Fast

The day has arrived to stand fast per our Safety and Security Manager’s instructions. So that is exactly what I am doing. I am not permitted to leave the house all day. I am to not step foot outside the door. I know he is being cautious and I appreciate the concern for my safety but it feels like  house arrest. I am sure there will be people who will opt to ignore his instructions and probably will not be caught. I prefer to remain on the safe side. This is his country and he knows what is best for all  of us.

Why today? Well, there is a massive demonstration planned for downtown Skopje this afternoon. They are anticipating 70,000 people. No one is sure what will happen. But at the minimum they are sure bus service will be disrupted. There is a huge police  presence downtown but the demonstrators have pledged to having a peaceful demonstration. What will it accomplish? Probably nothing. But at least the people have the right to demonstrate and that is very powerful.

Taco night last night. A couple of us went to Jess’s place and had tacos. On the way there we stopped at the пазар and  bought a kilo of strawberries. Cost? 100 denars or less than two dollars. (If our house arrest is lifted next weekend, I will be down there buying some nice fresh veggies to make some salads for my warm weather meals.) I had authentic extra sharp cheddar cheese to contribute to the festivities. It was a really lovely evening that even had a Roma serenade in the middle of it. However, serenade sounds like the music should be beautiful. This was cacophonous!

I have been exploring music of the Balkans and some  of it is quite beautiful. Some of it isn’t! Two of my current favorite artists are Bośko Jović and Božo Vrećo. Bośko is a classically trained guitarist and plays a song that sings to my soul called Macedonia Song. Božo sings Sevdah and my favorite one is Lejlija. This is an amazing area of the world and I am so thankful that I get to live here and discover all these incredible treasures. (And yes, I love these artists so much that I have purchased their work).   Click on the song titles for a sample from each artist. (and yeah, having my two favorite artists have the names Bośko and Božo is kind of funny.)

So now to figure out– what movies shall I watch during my enforced confinement……..maybe some Bond, James Bond.

And it turns to awful

My ordinary, beautiful day turned ugly this afternoon. This came in my email around 1500 hours.

Stand Fast stage – massive protest in Skopje 5/17/15
The opposition supported by several NGOs and civil associations is organizing massive protest against the Government in Skopje on Sunday 5/17/15.
The protest is announced to be peaceful but it is expected that the transportation in the city will be blocked and the potential for incidents is not totally excluded. This protest will be attended by citizens from different parts of the country and the transportation routes throughout the country will be affected.
Because of this reason PCVs must stay Stand Fast at their sites and not travel out off site on Sunday5/17/15 and on Monday 5/18/15 (going to work on Monday within your site is allowed except for Skopje PCVs that should plan not going to work on Monday).  Any in-country trips should be finished by Saturday (5/16/15) afternoon, when the in-country traveling PCVs should return home.
The Skopje PCVs are urged to stay at home and not travel in the center/through the center of the cityon Sunday and Monday.
All PCVs should remain open for communication with PC (have charged cell phones and read emails if available).
Stand Fast?! Holy moley. That is one step away from consolidation and that is one step from evacuation. Things have turned ugly. If they manage to force the government into resigning, then I don’t know what will happen. This sounds awfully reminiscent of Ukraine. Yikes!

Just an ordinary day

Not quite Flanders Fields, but beautiful nonetheless.

Just an ordinary day in my village. It started with the call to prayer at 4.52 AM (I was already awake!) Did some yoga, washed up,  got dressed, had my yogurt and muesli. As I looked out my window to check the weather, I saw the milk truck stopped and picking up milk from the local farmers. As I was waiting for the bus to go to work I saw a stork land on a roof top. He took off before I could capture him on the camera. Walking home from work I saw beautiful poppies along the road (don’t know if they were opium or not–they were just beautiful). Then there was the farmer in the field with his scythe cutting down the foliage that has grown there. Then I found a blooming thistle plant (just for you Josh!) It is just an extraordinarily beautiful day and I am so happy to be a part of it. Simple things in life are what make each day worthwhile. It reminds me of a line from the poem Pippa Passes by Robert Browning:

God’s in his (her) heaven, All’s  right with the world.

Farmer with his scythe
Finished stairs


Josh’s Thistle
The milk truck

Troubled times

This past weekend marked the National Spelling Bee. I was the first person to arrive and the gentleman that was waiting for us at Nova International School told me I needed to call a teacher in Kumanovo as they couldn’t get out of town  due to gunfire. Not a good sign! Shortly after this we began getting word from our colleagues in Kumanovo that the city was indeed on lock down status. Then our safety and security manager sent us all messages telling us to “be vigilant” and to let us know that our friends were all accounted for and were safe. However, they would not be joining us at the Spelling Bee or for the Wizz Air Skopje marathon the next day.  We were also cautioned to be off the streets by 6 PM. There have been daily protests here in the capital city and the concern was that this could quickly escalate because of what was happening in Kumanovo. We digested that information  and proceeded to conduct our spelling bee.

It was an incredibly exciting spelling bee. The 5th grade contestants made it all the way to the 3rd/4th year (high school) spelling list and caused us to  be an hour off schedule right off the bat. The 6th graders were almost the same and the 7th graders made it to “the secret list” – a list with words that most of us had trouble pronouncing or even knowing what they meant and that had not been given to the students to study. Words like cacophony, effulgent, inchoate, pellucid and solipsistic. Really hard words! There were many tears and many jubilant spellers. It was great fun.

Susie and I headed back to the apartment where we were staying and wrote our lesson plans for summer camp. Got those done quickly and headed out for dinner and to check out the start/finish line for the marathon. We had about half a dozen people running so we were trying to scope out the best spots to cheer on our compatriots. Start/finish line was at the arch  so this would be easy to see where our friends would finish. Okay, nice dinner- We shared gnocchi with quarto formaggio and a shopska salad. Probably the best gnocchi I’ve had in a long time. Obviously hand made and not out of a bag or box.  (Looking forward to being able to play in my kitchen.) Back to the apartment, chat for a bit and then to bed as it will be an early morning and long day.

0500! Let me see if we have any more news from Goce on the Kumanovo crisis. What is this!? The marathon has been cancelled. Apparently Sunday and Monday have been declared national days of mourning for the eight police officers killed and 14 injured ones involved in the action in Kumanovo. We have also received a message letting us know that our friends have been evacuated to Skopje and once again to “be vigilant” (Vigilant is Goce’s favorite word next to ointment)

There are a number of theories as to what has happened in Kumanovo and since I am not a political expert I will not attempt to analyze the incident.  Instead, I would suggest you read one of these reports from the BBC or Al Jazeera. There is also a website called that has a couple of very insightful articles. Make your own decisions based on this.  We are to take no sides in political issues and interestingly enough, both sides of the current political strife are urging calm. I try to stay informed and impartial and keep my blog the same. There is no doubt that there is unrest in Macedonia and I do have opinions but this is not the place for me to express them.

With all of this said, I am safe. Yes, I live in an Albanian village that is not more than 40 miles from the action, and they are just as puzzled and concerned as I am, but no one is ready to run out and do something stupid. We will get on with our daily lives and monitor the news of the protests that will be ongoing this week and through next weekend. The Kumanovo crisis seems to be over  at the moment. They have arrested what they believe are all of the perpetrators. We are constantly updated–that is why we have to keep our cell phones close at hand. Goce will keep me safe.

The buses are to blame.

If by some bizarre chance I happen to die in Macedonia, check with the bus company–they are probably at fault or I was on one or waiting for one when it happened. They are such a huge part of my life! I figured out that in an average week I spend at  least 7 hours waiting for buses and about 10 hours riding them–and that is if I’m timing them correctly. I think the drivers look at the schedules and see that they are close to the designated time so not to worry. No such thing as waiting at a stop because they are early.  More often than not, they are very late and so drive like crazy men  trying to make sure they get back to the station on time.  The seats don’t have seat belts–they are old wooden chairs which you slide off when he makes a sharp corner. You have to hold on  for dear life. I’ve been thrown out of my seat once. And then there is the issue of getting off the bus. You damn well better get off quickly or he will take off with you still hanging on or stuck in one of the doors. I know! I have been caught twice now. Fortunately there are people watching out for me and they make him stop so I can be free and clear. But it is a  terrifying feeling knowing that I can’t run fast enough to keep up  with the bus. Wonder if they have ever thrown anyone under the wheels.

On the lighter side, Steven  came to visit and saw a tiny bit of Macedonia. I think he was a bit shocked by where I live but I can assure you, I  have an exceptional space  compared to some of the other volunteers. I have asked him to write a blog post about his visit so I won’t say much more. You all just have to hold your breath until he gets around to it.