ЈСП–Another Bus Story

I am convinced that the busses of Macedonia have something against me–or at least the drivers. The other day I hopped on the bus to go to school–it is two stops from the house. Since it was my early day I ended up catching one of the very old double long busses. It has four access doors and the bus stopped so that door #3 was right in front of me. So I got on and remained standing in front of the door. I don’t usually bother to look for a seat on this run since I’ll no sooner sit down than I have to get up and make my way to a door while the cowboy jockey we have for a driver navigates the road in a break neck (or some other bone breaking) fashion. I haven’t fallen down yet trying to get to a door but that is only because there are kind souls on the bus who catch me when I start to pitch forward. On this particular morning, the driver fails to close the door after I have boarded which I’m standing directly in front of. That, in of itself, is a bit scary given his less than stellar driving skills. Obviously I didn’t fall out of the door. So miracle of miracles we reached my stop and I stepped down to get off the bus and the driver choose that time to CLOSE the door!  Fortunately, a young man was attempting to disembark at the same time and grabbed the door and forcibly held it open until I was clear of the bus. He managed to jump off so the doors didn’t get him. As we both walked to our destination, he turned to me and said “shoferi i çmendur” (crazy driver). Uh, absolutely!

Fortunately I also have a bus angel. There is an older gentleman who lives a couple of houses away from me, who, when he sees me on the bus, indicates I am not to pay my fare. That makes me a bit nervous. So, I asked my family who is this kindly gentleman and they informed me he is a controller for ЈСП and wants to make sure that the American is taken care of. He has even instructed the driver to stop and let me off at a spot where there is no stop because he knows where I am headed and doesn’t want me to have to walk too far. The people of the village do indeed take very good care of me.  And my students are amazingly wonderful. What more could you ask for?

More Colourful Revolution

And here is some more on our colourful revolution.  It seems to be a never-ending activity. EU is putting pressure on, but nothing seems to be happening. I’m not sure elections will take place next month. It will be interesting to see.

Out here in the village it is very quiet. We did have some flag waving on Monday in commemoration of the deaths and violence in Kumanovo last year–most of whom were Albanians. But other than that, life is quiet and simple.

A little later this month, I hope to be able to go to Kosovo for a day. The school is planning a cultural trip and I am signed up to go. I just have to get Peace Corps permission to go. Yes, they have to give me permission every time I want to travel out of the country and Prishtina (capitol city of Kosovo) has had a number of restrictions on it in the last couple of months!

TMI

Life as a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) is like nothing you could ever imagine. We discuss things that are not generally considered as acceptable in “polite society.” One the most frequently discussed topics deals with bathroom issues. We have an RPCV who tells people you are not fully integrated until you have humiliated yourself by emptying your bowels somewhere other than in a toilet (i.e. your pants). You also will find all kinds of bathrooms and have to learn to navigate them. And oh, yes, don’t forget to carry TP with you every where you go as there probably isn’t any available if you even find a bathroom facility.  Life as a PCV is not for the squeamish. We even sing songs about the challenges we face. Take for instance this lovely musical selection: Poop in a hole. Yes we can and do poop in a hole at times.

But there are other issues we discuss too – like bras. I came to this country with plenty of bras to last me for 27 months. But the detergent and water and washing machines have wreaked havoc with my lingerie and that of my fellow female volunteers. The hooks are bent, the colors are changed and the white ones are now gray–and not a pretty gray–pretty darned dingy. Additionally the underwires  that I need in my bras are popping through their little enclosures and really beginning to stab me. So I have decided  to get rid of  some of these bras and replace them with ones I can buy in country. I take the old ones with me into town and get rid of them in a dumpster. If I tried to get rid of them here, they would try to salvage them and recycle them. I  have no desire to provide brassieres to the locals! I’m funny about recycling underwear.

So time to go looking for new bras. We start at the bazaar because they have everything. DSCN1687Every thing I find is either a training bra–which I definitely don’t need, or a padded bra–also something this 85 C girl doesn’t need! The bazaar has tons of these babies! And oh the colors and designs!DSCN1684DSCN1685

But call me a bit squeamish, I’m not sure I want to buy a bra that has been hanging around at the Пит Базар for heaven’s only knows how long and there is no place to check the fit. What if I get it home and it doesn’t fit? Can I exchange it? You don’t get receipts there.

So I decided to go the traditional route. There are a number of stores at the mall carrying bras–none of which are like a Macy’s.  (There is no such thing as a department store here. They are all speciality shops–clothes, shoes, jewelry, make-up, stockings, lingerie, perfume, pharmacy items) Not many carry my size so I have to hit them all. And then when I do find my size, it is padded or a bizarrely bright color. I’m learning to wear colors under my white (used to be white) shirts and t-shirts. When I find a bra that is not padded and is in my size and fits comfortably when I try it on, then I buy it. And man do you pay for them when you go to these speciality shops. I paid $53.45 for one bra! And it wasn’t anything super special. Plain black bra, no padding and felt like I wasn’t wearing one it was so comfortable. By the time I get home I may have nothing more than one or two bras! I’m used to paying $35.00 for them but almost $55.00 for nothing special? Yikes, I don’t like that option!

The Colourful Revolution

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One of the statue lined foot bridges over the River Vardar
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Government buildings
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Another statue lined bridge.

(If you double click on pictures, you get them nice and big) It’s Easter Sunday and the city seems quite quiet. It may not be by tomorrow or even tonight. But I decided to venture out and see what kind of damage had been done throughout the town. The government buildings are primarily Neo-clasical. The statues and beautification of the city is part of a project called Skopje 2014. Here are some pictures to peruse.

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Looking down the River Vardar towards city center and the site of many of the demonstrations
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Warrior on a horse or as we lovingly refer to him–Big Al.
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The base of Big Al. Look at the lion’s eye. You might even be able to see the private parts of the lion next to him are painted bright red.
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Truly a mess!
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The base of the triumphal arch-obverse side
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The street side of the arch
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Another view of the arch
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It says VMRO Nevermore. VMRO is the current ruling party.
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Lovingly called Perseus in underpants. Now defaced along with the monument to the war dead behind him.
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One of the four lions which guard the main bridge over the River Vardar. They are all similarly defaced.
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My Easter Egg and Easter wine! (I love the wine glasses they use in restaurants here!
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The best gnocchi I have ever eaten!

But it’s Easter and that calls for a bit of a celebration. So after I took pictures, I decided to try a new restaurant in the city center. It’s a lovely Italian restaurant called La Terrazza. And oh, my goodness what a treat it was! I ordered some wine (I know it was early but I certainly wasn’t going to get any later in the day so I may as well seize opportunities when they present themselves.) I ordered gnocchi with a red sauce. The gnocchi was piping hot and so tender it almost melted in your mouth. The red sauce – oh, I thought I had died and gone to heaven or somewhere similar. Lots and lots of fresh garlic and basil in it. (I get no onions, garlic or basil at home.) I  have a new favorite restaurant. I just have to hope they don’t make the city center off limits 24/7. After I  ordered my meal, I was presented with a red Easter egg. Red eggs are an orthodox tradition and are symbolic of the blood that was shed for sinners. I’m supposed to keep it all year and it will bring me good luck. Don’t know about keeping an egg for a year. Might get smelly!

But then it was back to the village and there was a bit of excitement on the ride home. It seems five young men (about 16-25 years old) got on the bus without paying their fare (people do it all the time) and the bus inspectors happened to be on this bus. They asked to see their tickets. Oops–no ticket. Let’s go boys. We are putting you off the bus. They refused. So they called the police and they boarded the bus and forced them off the bus. One young man tried to convince them that he didn’t speak Macedonian–only Shqip. Didn’t work. Even I understood the conversation interchange.  As the bus pulled out, the police were writing tickets. All I could think of was a phrase my father used to use–taking names and kicking asses. I have no idea what  happened to these guys but I think you can imagine they won’t pull that stunt any time again soon.

So now it is back to my nice quiet existence. Planning for the end of the school year. Hard to believe it is almost over.