Comings and goings. It is a week filled with sadness and unhappy news. Two very dear people have died this week. One was anticipated and the other was not. Homes were broken into and terror became the watchword of the people involved. This happens routinely all over the country but when it happens to you or people you know and love, it dampens your optimism about the innate goodness of the human race. And people you feel you have known all your life leave to build new lives or to reclaim their health. Some expected, some unexpected.
And in other news…… The deal that was brokered by the EU this past summer seems to be falling apart. There is a Macedonian expression има време which translated means, “There is time,” but time is running out. There were deadlines for things to occur and none of them have come to fruition. That is not good. On 15 January the transitional government is supposed to be in place ahead of the elections in April. A number of election reforms are supposed to be enacted prior to this transitional government taking over. It hasn’t happened. It may just be the mentality of има време or it may be a sign of a real breakdown in the process.
It was with great pleasure that we welcomed our new volunteers to Macedonia this past weekend. They are finding out their assignments for the coming two years this week. We already know we have two new ones here in Skopje. It was an incredible pleasure to share Skopje with them and start learning about them. We also had to say goodbye to some incredible people. They will be missed so much but I feel fortunate to have known them and worked beside them during this adventure called Peace Corps. I am so lucky to be here.
Beo = white; grad = city. Beograd. Wow, what an incredible experience ! Excellent food, exceptional customer service wherever we went, and a beautiful city. We traveled by Air Serbia and were so incredibly impressed by them. First of all the flight attendant wore the cutest little cap–the kind they wore on American carriers in the 60’s and 70’s. European lines all dress their flight attendants in the sharpest looking outfits. It exudes competence and professionalism. Makes me want to dress up to get on a flight and look professional as well. We were barely airborne when they came around and gave everyone a sandwich and bottle of water. EVERYONE!
We landed in Beograd without incident, passed through passport control and customs with no issues. But now we need to get money out of the bank in the local currency–Serbian Dinars (RSD) and find a taxi to get to our hotel. We went to the taxi stand, they told us how much it would be and put us in a lovely taxi. 15 minutes later we pulled up in front of our hotel. It was rush hour, but our driver knew what he was doing. Our room was lovely–many nice amenities and mirrors everywhere! Even the closet had lights in it!. But first things first. Let’s figure out where in the city we are, and we need to find someplace to eat. We probably walked about a mile and did not see any intriguing places to eat. McDonalds was not an option. So back to the hotel. Very wise decision. I had gnocchi arrabbiata with a lovely Serbian Cabernet. Absolutely the best gnocchi I have ever tasted in my entire life. And I have eaten a lot of gnocchi
Saturday dawns and I don’t. I have been hit with a bug and spend the entire day in bed. Every time I get up, the room begins to spin. By evening, I feel a little better and we order soup and salad from room service. That seems to do the trick.
It was a rainy day but we thoroughly enjoyed our day playing like tourists. We had our rain coats and umbrellas.
What more did we need? Serbia is primarily a Christian country and as such, I saw no mosques and only one person wearing a hijab–and that was at the airport. Kosovo is technically still part of Serbia but they have declared their independence and have been recognized by quite a few different entities. That is where you find the Muslim population. As I observe these things, I begin to understand the wars that were fought in the 90’s. People don’t want to mix and mingle. They want their own communities/states and tensions still remain high but at least there is not gun fire.
Our trip to Beograd was beautiful and relaxing. To top it off, when we checked out of the hotel, they give us each a little bag of cookies for our flight home. Was a wonderful gesture. And yes, the flight gave us another sandwich and water to go with it.
The month of October gives us two holidays this year and fortunately enough, they both combine with weekends to give us three day weekends. Guess that sort of makes up for having to work on Thanksgiving and Christmas. So for this first weekend, The People’s Uprising, which coincides with the controversial American holiday of Columbus Day, we have decided to go to Beograd, Serbia. We are truly looking forward to a pleasant get away from students and lesson plans and discipline issues. So with a bit of luck I should have plenty to post when we return on Monday.
The second holiday, Day of the Macedonian Struggle, coincides with our Field Day weekend. My big challenge is going to be to figure out how to prepare a dish to share since the hubs is coming in for one of his flying visits and the hotel does not have a kitchen at my disposal. I think it has a mini fridge in the room so if I make a pasta salad and bring it from home I should be able to stash it in that fridge. I had thought about having Nazifete fix me a big pan of sarma but then I would have to come back here to get it before heading to the picnic. Problems, problems, problems. But as we are fond of saying – nothing is impossible to a PCV.
That time of year has arrived. The time when it is cold in the mornings and you don’t want to get out of bed to walk all the way across the room to turn on the space heater. And if you were thinking ahead the night before, you got your underwear out and when you finally turn on that space heater, you drape your undies on it so that when you put them on, they warm you up in the nicest way after just being in a toasty (hopefully) shower. Yes, that is the time of year that has arrived. And the leaves have begun to turn and the harvest is almost complete and the vegetables are being preserved. Ajvar is being made, kungull is being harvested to make sweet pumpkin, and people are putting away their lawn furniture.
I have made my preparations as well. Put away the shorts and capris and tank tops and took out the long johns, leggings, turtlenecks and sweaters. Checked the heater to make sure it still works and put the duvet back on my bed. Hats and gloves are ready to be used on a moment’s notice and the winter coat is hanging up.
Schools took advantage of one of the last nice days yesterday and had a field day at a local regional park. The kids brought picnic lunches and faculty stopped at a local grocer and got food for us. We even brought the little bunsen burner to make coffee and tea as we wanted it. There were no parent chaperones which amazed me with the number of 5 and 6 year old children with us. We didn’t lose a one! And we didn’t worry about child predators. Children in this country have so much more freedom than children in America have. I see my 6th graders (10-11 years old) catching buses into Skopje and having fun in town at the mall or the market or going to soccer matches. Very small children get sent to the store to pick up bread for Mom and sometimes they have their three or four year old sibling with them. Wish I knew why it is so much safer here so I could bring the answer home with me.
The day was perfect. Everyone taking pictures and “selfies” with the teachers. Long walks around the lake, multiple games of football and basketball and just being lazy while sitting on blankets under trees while watching the cows graze in the park with us. (Watch where you walk kids!) And then it was time to go back to the village. On the way back, a car from TV Channel 5 pulled out in front of us and I was sure we were toast. How our driver managed to stop is beyond me! But I did think that we were going to be in a major accident. And I was in the front seat! (the buses are really just large vans like hotels use to transport you from the airport or for my PR people–públicos). Our driver was incredible but he did give the driver of the other vehicle a piece of his mind. So fortunately we arrived safely back at the village. But that was not the end. As students got out of the vehicle the threw their trash around and one girl took her Pepsi bottle and pitched it. It landed right on the point of my collar bone and drew tears. Nazifete immediately got some ice on it. It still hurts and it is slightly bruised. She did not aim it at me, I just happened to be in the way.
And then there is Field Day–the chance for us 19’s to say goodbye to the 18’s and hello to the 20’s. We have been figuring out how we pay for shirts so we can order them and have them available at the event. We can’t put money in our local accounts so doing bank transfers can’t be done and credit cards are not an option generally. We are attempting to get as much cash collected as we can by the middle of next week so we can pay cash when the order is scheduled to be delivered. Next up–how do we handle food? Not sure but we are PCV’s and we can figure anything out!
GLOW should be picking up very soon. One of our coordinators ET’d (Early Terminated) so we need to figure out how and who to select to replace her. We also have moved from working with two NGO’s to just one–YMCA. Bekah and I are pretty happy about that and so we have been busy redesigning the logo via Facebook chat. She and I are in charge and figure before we get a bunch of other people involved, let’s get a few changes made that will make camp run smoother.
I had Peace Corps Staff come to visit us at the house the other day. It was a wonderful visit until the very end when Elsa began to cry. It turns out she thought they had come to take me away and she kept crying, “Eileen don’t go”. Boy this is not going to be easy when the time actually does come to go. And since that visit, she keeps checking to make sure that I am still here!