Catching Up

So much has happened in the last couple of weeks and time just flies by faster and faster every day. I’m trying to figure out how to stop the clock or at least slow it way down. No solutions yet.

Looking out at the Aegean
The White Tower
Dining on the Aegean

Thessaloniki was wonderful but not nearly enough time. We visited the YMCA facilities and they were truly amazing. Their fees are pretty low–€13 a year and then you pay an additional fee for the program you are interested in. They have studios for all kinds of activities, an Olympic sized pool, basketball courts inside, tennis courts outside–you name it, they have it.  And this sits right there on the Greek coast overlooking the Aegean–which was very placid and a gorgeous azure colour. I don’t think I’ve seen anything that beautiful in a long time (well, maybe Puerto Rico–but I do have a particular fondness for PR). We all had a typical Greek meal–I had fried zucchini with tatziki and ground lamb ovals (just means they were shaped in an oval) with a honey mustard dressing. Decided to pass on the ouzo and retsina.

Border crossings were a bit awkward. Remember that we were going from FYROM (Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) to Macedonia (the Greek one). When we left Macedonia, everyone had to show their passports. Almost every PCV has two passports–a personal one and a no fee one. Two of  our PCV’s wanted the stamps in their personal one. Hmmm. Macedonia doesn’t show that these people ever entered MK legally. OH, uh–here is our no-fee passport. So that was the first unusual thing for the border. Then we get to Greek immigration and all the Macedonian’s on the bus only hand over a piece of paper with their info on it as Greece does not recognize Macedonian passports. “There is no such place.” On the way back we stopped for a bathroom break. The first place did not permit us to use the bathroom as it was a restaurant and they felt, rightly so, we should buy before we use the bathroom. We didn’t have the luxury of that kind of time. They did, however, tell us there was a gas station just up the way that would let us use the bathroom. We pulled in and the owners immediately chased us away. Seems they don’t let “Skopjans” use their bathrooms. The writing on the side of the bus gave us away. Then we hit passport control again and same process. They did at least let us use the bathrooms but no more than five people at once. This was quite the ordeal.

Next event? Thanksgiving. Susie and I had decided to throw an American Style Thanksgiving. But where in heaven’s name do you do it. We consulted a couple of our colleagues and decided to look at renting an apartment–there are many of them available on Air BNB sites. The apartment we found was this one. It was truly amazing. We didn’t want to leave!IMG_1331 IMG_1326 IMG_1324

We invited all of our colleagues and 31 of them told us they would attend. We did ask them to bring a covered dish to serve but that we would handle the centerpiece dishes for Thanksgiving: Turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy. I was even fortunate enough to lay my hands on a
bag of fresh cranberries. Now turkeys are not quite as plentiful in Macedonia as they are in the states and we don’t get butterball turkeys. But Susie and I started on a quest Friday morning looking for turkeys. I had seen them so I knew it wasn’t an impossible search but I couldn’t remember for sure where I saw them so off we went–first to the Ram Store which didn’t have them but said another store at Capitol Mall had Turkey. So we headed to the Ram Store that had turkey–sliced! Nope, won’t do. Next was the Vero. Strike two! They didn’t have it either. Okay Kam Market and then we switch to chickens. IMG_1312Yup, that’s four (4!–count them) turkeys! Kam was our saving grace. And they each weighed 3200 gms. (That’s 7 lbs for non-metric conversant readers)

So bright and early Saturday morning I started in on stuffing. I had found celery–a rarity in this country so I started washing it and dicing it and onions, making stock and tearing up and drying bread. Margery got up and started prepping turkeys, then Susie got started on potatoes and Cindy took care of moving furniture and securing anything that might be breakable. Our first guests arrived right at 2 PM. The second set of turkeys was roasting. I’m told you could smell the turkeys from the street. Twenty eight pounds of turkey later, I am exhausted and went upstairs to take a Naproxen Sodium and let my eyes rest for a minute with a cool cloth. Oops—the party is over–two hours later! Yes I fell asleep. Guess I was exhausted.

We were so lucky to have so many wonderful people show up and make it a memorable Thanksgiving. These are just a few of them.12304051_1690214227858063_8894319036313245008_o



Next up–I have swearing in of new volunteers, Warden Training, Country Director farewell, Elsa’s birthday and finally winter break (note–Christmas is not celebrated here) when I am going to Rome for a much deserved holiday and then spend a couple of days in Istanbul. No one can say life is dull as a Peace Corps Volunteer. They keep us busy but I guess that is better than the alternative.


We are making progress on Camp GLOW. We are having a meeting with the Peace Corps staff and hope to get clarification of roles and expectations in working with our new NGO–YMCA of Bitola.  Yes, YMCA is worldwide!  We have many questions and want to start off on the right foot.

And our NGO seems to want to start out working cooperatively. We are going on a site visit with them this Saturday to Thessaloniki, Greece. Now I don’t think there is any way on this green or parched earth that the parents of our girls would let their daughters leave the country by themselves for a week. So I don’t see camp happening there. But I do see getting some good Greek food and a little peek at Greece.  So I’m not complaining. We are meeting with the YMCA in Thessaloniki and taking a look at their facilities and activities and then we have some time on our own before we go back to Bitola. I’m headed to Bitola on Friday as we leave for Thessaloniki at 6 AM on Saturday. No way I could get there from here with such an early departure time on Saturday. So as a bonus, I get some time in Bitola as well!

Watch for some photos.

Hospital Administration 101: Don’t piss off the family!

And in other news in the world today…….

It seems that a member of the family of my hairdresser was diagnosed with cancer and needed to have surgery to attempt to remove the cancer. Well, she didn’t make it. She died. When the family inquired why this happened  the doctor merely said, “She just died.” Apparently her sons and a friend of the sons felt that answer was inadequate and asked again. It seems they had paid in advance and felt they didn’t get what they paid for and wanted more of an explanation and perhaps some money back. Same answer. So they pulled out guns and shot the doctor (in the leg) and then proceeded to shoot up the hospital. Yes they got all three of them and have them in jail. And where, you ask, do these guys live? Why just around the corner! As for the doctor, perhaps he ought to work on bedside manners or change professions. This one seems a bit hazardous.

Like I said, life is an adventure here!

Always learning

Recently, when the hubs was in Istanbul, he decided to buy me a gift of a necklace. The vendor told him that the amulet on the necklace was a prayer from the Quran to be repeated upon departing from the house. It is a beautiful pewter plaque with a lot of Arabic on it and my students can read it. So I know it is authentic. But there is a problem! Apparently it is haraam to wear the Quran on your body in any shape or form. It is sacred to true believers. Because of this my family asked me to remove it when I enter their house. I could wear it outside the house but might have other people express displeasure at a non-Muslim making light of their holy scriptures.

So I did a little bit of research and find that the Quran has many admonitions and has one of the same admonitions I was taught as a child in how one handles a bible. Don’t put another book on top of it. Additionally, the Quran is not to be taken into the bathroom in any way, shape or form–that would include on your clothing or jewelry. You must be clean when you read from the Quran. There is so much that I don’t know and I am thankful for a family that teaches me and does not judge.

Life is so very different here. Every day seems to be a new adventure and learning experience. And this was one of them.

History Lessons

The more I learn about the Balkans, the more I want to know. These people are passionate and beautiful. It is also an area which has been torn apart by multiple wars and is now living in peace but what a terrible history they have had. I ran across a video (thanks WCH) which attempts to explain what has happened and why. It is truly informative. Set aside about an hour to watch it.

The tensions are always present, however. The Skopje bus company has installed electronic signs at the stops to let you know when the busses should arrive. Unfortunately they only are using Macedonian and not Shqip and we are hearing about it almost daily on the news.

Many of the street signs are in Macedonian, English and Shqip.  In the Macedonian areas of Skopje, the Shqip translation has been spray painted over with black paint. So in the Albanian areas of the city, the Macedonian has been painted over with blue paint.  I don’t know the significance of the two colors –maybe it was all they could find!

However, I have not seen any physical hostility in my area of the country. Everything is quiet and peaceful here. The worst thing that might happen to you is then when you step outside the gate you might step into either sheep or cow dung. Yes, it is very rural and pastoral and that suits me just fine!


Adventures in mail

Because my mail has been almost not-existent at my residence or home,  I received permission from our country director to have my mail sent to the Peace Corps office. However, for some reason unknown to me, they have decided that instead of going to pick up any packages for us as they have been doing, they will just give us the package slip and we then have to pick up the package.

So when the stamp album I ordered arrived in country, I received a notice that I could get my package slip. This was my first clue that something was different. I’ve never received a package slip before. So I went to the PC office and retrieved “the slip” and inquired about what I was supposed to do with this and where should I go to retrieve my much anticipated package. Boris informed me that I had to go to the main post office. “Do you know where that is?” Ummm–no! So after detailed instructions about where it is, I hopped on a bus and hoped I was headed to the bus terminal–the post office is apparently next to that. Sure enough, about 15 minutes later, I was at my destination. Now to find the right person/place to get my package. So I walked through what appeared to be the main doors and waved my slip at someone behind the counter. They proceeded to tell me that this was not the right place (of course! I couldn’t get that lucky on the first try) and I should exit the front door, turn right and then turn right again. In the meantime, I did learn that this was the place to return to at a later date to inquire about philatelic supplies  and stamps. So not a totally wasted first step.

Out the door I went and about 100 metres down the way, there is another door so I went in there.  I heard noise, I saw PO boxes but I didn’t see any people. After I yelled “Hallo!” a couple of times, a person came to a window. Nope, this wasn’t the right place either. Go out the door, turn right, go to the end of the building, turn right and go in the first door. Okay–I can follow those directions.

Out the door again. End of building, turn right and in the first door. Once again, I waved my little slip and they tell me, no–go down to the next door. Grrr. At this point I was tired AND hungry. I had bypassed lunch to get my package.

Finally! This looks like a package center. So I proceeded to the first window and they informed me, no–two windows down to the guy at the desk. I complied with the instructions and sure enough he took my slip and started examining it and then asked for my passport or identity card.  I handed over the passport and another guy looked at it and then went back to where the packages were and retrieved my package. The first guy handed me a piece of paper and instructed me to go down to the cash window and pay 216 denar.  I do as instructed, and receive a slip with paid marked on it. I took it back to the previous window and waited in line and signed the register. Finally! My package is released to me.

Lest this sound incredibly simple to you, please remember that my primary language is Shqip with minimal Macedonian  and every person I spoke with in the Post Office did not speak English. So I’m pretty damned proud of myself and what I managed to accomplish. What I did not accomplish was getting lunch. I just went straight to my wine date from there.  We take so much for granted in America. The simplest thing there turns into a major production here.

Can I really do this?

November 1st. One year to go, give or take a couple of days. That is, unless I extend my service. As I went down to dinner I realized I have got probably 185 dinners of beans left. This every other night of beans is about to kill me. I take vitamins, so nutritionally I am okay. But tonight I almost gagged on the beans. I just don’t know if I can eat that many more meals of beans. Additionally, we have a communal salad bowl which is cabbage based and what ever other fresh vegetables are available–this time of year, that isn’t many. It is dressed with oil, vinegar and salt and more salt. This meal which I also had on Friday night and will probably have on Tuesday night was the first time I thought about quitting. But I can’t do that. I made a commitment and I intend to keep it. So now it is Plan B.

First part of Plan B includes a nice thick, juicy, rare steak for my birthday. That is next Sunday so I have that to look forward to and the thought of that should hold me through the week. Next I want to find some oatmeal and brown sugar for my breakfast. I can add dried cranberries and walnuts to make it interesting or even some muesli.  Yogurt is getting old. Then I am going to find foods that I can cook when I come home from school which is between meals for the family. They don’t have frozen dinners the way we do in the states so if I want something like a little pot pie, I will have to make it myself. I may have to invest in a few cooking tools like a small pie plate and small cupcake pans so I can make myself a little meat loaf. And I want to find a small pot that I can make myself some potato soup or a beef stew or spaghetti that isn’t pure mush–I want/need al dente pasta. I just can’t stomach this any longer. So next weekend, I celebrate my birthday by getting my cooking cupboard going. I will probably have to shop about every third day but that is okay.

This will be my ULTIMATE solution. Salt and beans are killing me!