Meeting the MAK 20’s

As I went out to catch the bus to Tetovo for my day with the new volunteers, I was surprised to see all the men of the village at the Xhami. I don’t think I’ve ever seen all of the males in my house up that early. But this is Bajram–a most sacred holiday–kind of like Easter in the Christian tradition where everyone puts on their new clothes and goes to church. When I got on the bus I was the only person on the bus until we hit Skopje. Kind of weird. I even got a chance to talk to the bus driver: “Where are you going? What will you do there?” Arriving in Tetovo, there were no taxis at the bus station–hmmm. Tetovo is a predominantly Muslim city–about 80%. As a result, there were many businesses closed and very few drivers working. (Should have been a clue to me!) We walked about two blocks to the main drag and there were a few of them there. So we grabbed one of the few that was working and off to the school to participate in the intercultural diversity panel.

Visiting with the new volunteers was quite delightful. They are all eager and ready to learn. Many had very insightful questions: How will they react to the fact that I am Buddhist? Can my same sex significant other visit me safely? How do I establish my independence from my family? Should I be alone with the host father? Do the women share their kitchens willingly? We treated the session like a conversation among friends about our experiences and had the room set up in a fishbowl configuration. It worked quite well. Had lunch with a couple of the older volunteers and then packed up to head home.

I missed the bus that comes to the village so I caught the bus to Saraj and figured I would take a taxi home. Bad idea. There is NOTHING open in Saraj and NO taxis running. And it is starting to rain. I’m tired! I just want to go home. So I call Faton and just as he picks up his phone, a neighbor sees me and recognizes me and asks if  I need a ride home. YES! Had I known about the taxi issue, I would have grabbed one in Skopje and gotten home that way but no……I’m trying to be thrifty. I guess if I had not gotten a response, I could have gone back into Skopje and got a taxi from there. I was just lucky that one of the villagers recognized me.

And I got home just in time for dinner and special Bajram bread and baklava!  Yum!

Bajram redux

Last year at this time I was just settling into life in a Muslim home and all the traditions that go with it.  One of those is Kurban Bajram which occurs 70 days after Ramazan. Kurban Bajram is the Balkans’ name for the celebration of Eid al-Kabir (which means “the big celebration”) and it is the most important holiday in Islam. This holiday takes place every year at the end of Hajj. It’s on the 10th of the month of Dhu al-Hijja, the last of the Islamic calendar, after Waqfat Arafat, or the descent of Mount Arafat.This celebration represents a submission to Allah and commemorates Ibrahim’s (Abraham) obedience to Allah, symbolized by the incident in which he prepares to sacrifice his own son Ismael, at God’s command, in order to show his love and faith. At the last moment Allah sends a ram with the archangel Gabriel to replace the child as a sacrificial offering. In memory of Ibrahim’s total submission to God, Muslim families sacrifice a ram or a sheep, and sometimes other animals such as cows or goats. They are killed lying on the left flank with their head facing Mecca, after a prayer and an Eid/Bajram sermon.

Yes, I live in a rural Muslim village but I never hear cows in the village. I know there are a few but not close to the house. This morning I heard a cow. When I asked Nazifete about it, she made a slashing symbol across her throat and I knew that this poor cow is slated for slaughter tomorrow morning. Stacie filmed the slaughter last year. I don’t think I will do that. I suspect that the hoja of the mosque will be the one saying the payers and a sermon. The meat is supposed to be given to the poor and destitute. And this is when the faithful make their yearly donation to the mosque–2.5% of their annual wages. (Sure better than the “tithe” expected by mainline churches.) It is a feast of sacrifice–giving to those who are in need.

But oh the preparations.  The house is cleaned until it sparkles from top to bottom. Windows, floors, carpets, furniture–everything. Some of the faithful are fasting today. And new clothes are purchased to be worn and everyone will be dressed up tomorrow for visits–mysafir. That will go on all day. Coffee, tea, juice and food will be served non-stop.  Bread has been baking since early today. I think they are on their fourth or fifth pan of rolls. The rolls are the size of small loaves of bread–much bigger than a hamburger bun. There is also a very big pan of baklava! Cannot wait for that! And I suspect there will be tres leches cake. And, of course, chocolate every where you look.

School is out for the holiday and as students left today, they all said “Urime bajrami”–Happy Bajram. They are very excited about it. Unfortunately for me, I still have to work. I’m scheduled to go to Tetovo to talk to the new volunteers about the joys and challenges of being an older volunteer. I hope to get home at a decent time for enjoying food and friends. I really am part of this family and I don’t want to miss this Bajram celebration. They only have two celebrations a year and I missed the one at the end of Ramazan. I surely won’t miss it next year. How many opportunities does one get to experience the culture up close and personal?

The week leading up to this has been hectic and informative.  We had a visitor who is the spouse of a dignitary visiting Macedonia. She wanted to see PC life up close and personal. So they scheduled a visit to my school and we expanded it to coffee at my house. Unfortunately, they were way off schedule so it really was not a very long visit in either place. However, I did find out when Rexhpi was talking to my guests about the school that the school buses (more like big vans) have been provided by the municipality because over the years 16 students had been killed walking along the road. None have been killed since they got the vans. Hmmmm, maybe walking to school isn’t such a great idea.

School Daze

We are back at school and have been for a couple of weeks but nothing is set in concrete yet. The first couple of days there were no schedules and so I really didn’t know where to be or what to do. We worked on cleaning up the teacher’s lounge and killing flies. I’m getting pretty good at that! Just when we finally got a schedule, the teachers decided to take a trip to Albania and so our first weekend of school ended up being four days long. They cancelled school on Monday and Tuesday was a national holiday so after being off for almost three months, we had a four day weekend. Ah, but we had to pay for that! We had a full day of school on Saturday. And amazingly most of the students showed up! And then we received a new revised schedule. Hopefully this is the last revision!

And, oh, the controversy I caused! Since I had to be at school on Saturday by 10 AM and the buses run at 9 AM and 11 AM, I decided to walk to school. It is a little over a mile. Now, there are no sidewalks and there is no shoulder for the road, so I must walk in the road. It can be fairly dangerous but it was a lovely morning and I wanted the exercise. Nazifete told me I could not walk. I said I could. The German stubbornness that I possess reared its head and flat out told her that I was walking and that was that!  And obviously I made it without incident. I even tried to walk home from school but about 2/3 of the way home, the city bus stopped and the driver told me to get on the bus. So now she tells everyone that comes in the house I walked to school and the shock on their faces is measurable. What’s the big deal? Exercise is good for you and it  truly was a delightful morning. There is so much more that you notice as you walk. I’m sure she will have a fit the next time I walk as well but there will be nothing she can do about it. The women here in the village really are homebodies and don’t go out much except to visit their neighbors and relatives and have coffee. And when they do go places, they are driven. Very few women drive. Some do but the majority do not.

It’s hard to believe that I’ve been in country for a year now. I’ve  been working on new skills and strengthening old ones. I made a video and managed to splice pieces of it together and then I figured out how to use Google Drive to send it. I think I would like to try to make a movie of life in Macedonia. I’ve also created a couple of surveys on Survey Monkey to evaluate camp. I love being continually challenged to do new things. My language is getting stronger and I’m trying to also use some of my Macedonian. There isn’t much need for it here in the village but it helps when I’m in Skopje. I’m pretty good at reading Cyrillic and many times, once you can read the word the meaning becomes very obvious. I have to keep the brain engaged to avoid dementia. I refuse to get old gracefully.

Field Day is coming up and I’m on the organizing committee for that. That is where we get to say goodbye to those people departing and greet the new arrivals to the country. We are thinking of making it a scavenger hunt combined with a pot luck. I just hope the weather holds for it. It will be late October and the weather can be a bit temperamental at that point in time. I suspect there will be lots of tears as the 18’s begin leaving on 29 October. We (the 19’s) have come to know the 18’s quite well and have worked on a variety of projects with them. But we are also excited to meet the 20’s who are arriving on Sunday. We are all reliving our first couple of weeks in country through them. I wish them much success. I actually should be able to see the buses go past on Sunday when they take them to Tetovo for their orientation week.

Our days are getting much shorter and the nights much cooler. I’ve actually slept under the covers the last couple of days. During the summer, I usually just sleep on top of the covers.  No need to get the sheets messed up. Of course, Nazifete strips the bed anyhow out of habit I suspect. The hoja is continually adjusting the times for call to prayer. What had been at 4 AM is now at almost 6 AM and the time between the last two calls to prayer of the day are much shorter–less than an hour. The tomatoes are plentiful and delicious. It is obvious that fall is upon us.

I’m back at the American Corner again this year with cooking class. Last week we did Peanut Butter and stuff and they loved it.  The next class will be tostadas. And yes, we can get tortillas in country. Beans now are another thing. We get plenty of butter beans but no pintos. So Susie’s daughter brought some refried beans with her when she came to visit. My budget for this is quite limited so we are thinking of things that are easy to make and very cheap!  My first group was 23 people. Wiped out two jars of peanut butter, two jars of jam, four bananas and two loaves of bread. If I had had more, it would have been gone as well.

Life goes on  oobla dee oobla daa.