Suitcase all packed. Four bags of marshmallows, 150 safety pins, birthday crown, Nescafe’s, name tags, yarn, crayons, pens, pencils and oh, yes–some clothes. I have a very heavy suitcase and I have to navigate getting it out of the house and to the bus stop and then on the bus tomorrow morning at 0600! Then when I get to Skopje I will get my ticket to Krushevo and then go sit in the little town until 17.30 and wait for our NGO partner to show up. They have wonderful little restaurants and a place to drink coffee or wine and just enjoy watching life go by or reading. And the reason I am leaving so early is that if I take the next bus to Krushevo it doesn’t arrive until 16.30 and is often late so there is a chance that I will miss the final leg of my trip if my bus is late and then have to take a taxi there.
Once our NGO partner arrives, we will load up bags and send them up to camp–yes, up. This camp is located on the side of a mountain so we have about a half hour hike up a road of switchbacks to even get to the camp. For fairly obvious reasons, I’m a bit nervous about this hike with my knee being what it is and the fact that I am still on meds for my ulcer which increase the urgency for finding a bathroom.
Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) will host 80 of the best and brightest from all over Macedonia and they will receive education in things like public speaking, democracy, team building, leadership, and oh yes–sex ed. We bill sex-ed ad “Women’s Health” which is what it is. Fortunately we have an excellent provider of professionals delivering this information and not a PCV. This is the first year we are also providing an out door component . Girls will get to sleep out one night and make foil dinners and s’mores (the reason for marshmallows which are non-existent in MK) They will do some star gazing, learn to pitch a tent and build a campfire. Our NGO partner seems to think we need a male to help us do this. Little does he know the wealth of experience we bring. I’m a BSA Silver Beaver and Brotherhood member of the Order of the Arrow, Gwen is a gold star holder from Girl Scouts, Stacie has worked at the YMCA of the Rockies for the last five years. And that is just the tip of the iceberg. We will show him what women can do! I think he may be surprised.
But now I have to finish my packing and get someone to take my suitcase downstairs so I don’t have to navigate that. The nice part is that my suitcase will be half empty when I come home in ten days. I like that!
From my experience, young children in this country are incredibly spoiled. When I was in training I would go to a friend’s house and when her little boy wanted her attention he would slap her until he got it. I was horrified! She did not correct him or do anything to make him stop.
There is 3 1/2 year old little girl in this house and for my first year she was mostly sweet and loving. She has turned into a demon. One day recently, she stood at the top of the steps and called my name. When I responded she said “fuck you”. I was shocked. And she said it with the malice that that particular phrase is usually uttered in the states–which had me in tears. No one said a word. I talked to Faton, her father, and he was pretty shocked. Then she started giving the finger to everyone. When she does this to me, I grab her hand when I can catch her and look her square in the eyes and tell her to never do that again. Her response? She starts shrieking. You would think I beat her or something. Or she will get mad at me because I talked to her little brother (he’s 4 months old). She will try to strike me to make me get away or she runs and slams a door for effect or she spits at me. Today at lunch she grabbed a loaf of bread that had just been purchased and took a bite out of the center of it and walked around the room with it hanging from her mouth looking at everyone, hoping for a reaction. I refused to rise to the bait and just ignored her. Finally her mother said something and took the loaf of bread away from her. She began her incessant shrieking again and grandma gave the loaf of bread back to her. Then as we were eating, she started calling me names and grandma and a cousin just laugh. After lunch, I stopped to talk to the baby as he was fussing. For some reason he gets really calm and happy when I am there. He dropped his pacifier so I picked it up and handed it to his mother. Elsa was furious so Sevime (mother) threw it and told her to pick it up. She picked it up, threw it across the room and then went into the other room and slammed the door. Additionally, when they are watching TV, she takes the remote and will adjust the volume up or down, change the channel or turn the TV off. Quite often, no one says a word and lets her control it. If someone takes the remote from her–she shrieks. How do you deal with that behaviour? I’m so frustrated. I just stay in my room or go into town to avoid having to deal with this child.
Parents don’t seem to discipline these children. And yet by the time they get to school they seem to be reasonably well behaved and are the most loving kids you have ever seen. When I arrive or leave school, I am mobbed with kids wanting to touch me and say goodbye or hello. There have been times that they almost knock me over when they run to hug me. I’m literally surrounded. Even the older ones come running up to me with a hug and a kiss–boys included. So I don’t know when this transition occurs but I can’t handle too much more of this. And perhaps the two cases I have cited are not typical of all the children. I do see lots of really small ones out playing or going to the store for Mom and they don’t display any of these aberrant behaviours. But in this house, all Elsa has to do is shriek and she is rewarded with whatever she wants and let’s not worry about any one but her. It has really worn on my nerves and really made me think seriously about cutting my service short. If the meds I am on right now don’t work and they suggest a med sep, I will take it! It has become that intolerable.
I don’t like doctors. I generally don’t have a need for them and if I see a doctor more than once in a year, it is pretty remarkable. Other than a couple of little episodes with reproductive organs and malfunctioning kidneys, I’m pretty doggone healthy. That being said, I have seen an awful lot of my Doctor here in MK. Life has not been kind to me. A knee that needs replaced, a damaged shoulder, a broken ankle and now……..an ulcer! Apparently I am a victim of the H. Pylori bacteria–basically acquired through the consumption of contaminated food or water. So now I have to take two antibiotics and some kind of pump inhibitor for two weeks. If that doesn’t work, I may have to have another regimen of antibiotics.
Add to my health problems a little girl who demonstrates characteristics of being bi-polar. One minute she adores me and can’t leave me alone. The next she is flipping me off, spitting at me and slamming doors in my face. And the family’s reaction? “Elsa, no!” There is no penalty for her bad behaviour. I bought a new fan for the family today and as soon as we had it assembled, she started pushing all the buttons and when she was told to stop, she started screaming. Target of her anger? Me! I have come very close to ET’ing this week. (ET=Early termination). I’m so close but I don’t know how much more of this I can take!
Camp starts next week and I’m really looking forward to it. We will be in Krusevo which is in the mountains to the south of us. There is a campsite called Shula Mina that the boys have used for years and now the girls will get to experience it and the great outdoors. It is also much cooler there so should not be as bad as last year. We all thought we were going to collapse of heat exhaustion last year. I just know that I don’t plan to spend a night at “rough camp”. I’m staying in my cabin! The only animals in the area are dogs and goats so no fears from raccoons or bears or wolves but I prefer the comfort of a bed!
Our weather has been blistering hot! Supposed to cool down for the weekend but we shall see. Think I have everything I need for camp–including four bags of marshmallows for s’mores. Now I just have to pack and figure out which bus I will take to get down there.
Where to begin? I said to the hubs, since you are doing a course in Wales, why don’t we do the UK for vacation. He thought it was a smashing idea. The caveat was that he must plan this trip. My only obligation was to get to London on a specific day. Since I had never been to the UK, I had a laundry list of things that would be nice to see but I knew that in reality it would only be a couple of those things. Good old hubs actually tried to get most of those things in and as a result we spent a lot of time traveling from place to place. It almost felt like a Griswold vacation (European Vacation for those of you not initiated to Chevy Chase humour).
The day we arrived, we climbed on another flight and flew to Belfast and began our Irish adventure from there. It was a lovely starting point. Since much of my family is from Ireland, I decided to see exactly where they were from. I checked my Ancestry records and found a name and place: Castlecomer, County Kilkenny in the Republic of Ireland. I hit a little bit of pay dirt when I talked to the parish secretary and she showed me that the family had indeed been there but that the physical records had been moved to Kilkenny. Well, it wasn’t on the agenda but what the heck! So glad we went there. Beautiful medieval city. Unfortunately the person I needed to see was out for the day so I couldn’t talk with her but I did get her email. I absolutely loved that town. I will go back. We headed to Galway that evening and had a wonderful dinner. Galway is on a bay and quite cold and windy so it necessitated a stop at a woolen shop to get a shawl to keep me warm.I had just left behind very hot temperatures and didn’t think to pack anything warm. The shawl is so beautiful. I had many, many compliments on it. I can’t wait until the weather turns cool again so I can wear it some more. Next day was the cliffs of Moher. SPECTACULAR!! There is a song that I especially love that was all that went through my head while I was there. Take four minutes and listen to Song for Ireland. Oh, my gosh. I have never seen anything so beautiful in my life.
If you have seen pictures of it, they can’t begin to do it justice. However, it was cold there AND windy. Now I needed a hat to hold my hair in place in addition to my shawl. Fortunately there was a place close at hand that took care of that. The countryside was amazing. Now it was time to move on to Derry where supposedly much of the Foyle family came from. Sure enough, I saw Foyle on all kinds of things there. It was a lovely town and was a town encircled by a very large wall on which you could walk around the city. This was the site of many of the battles between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. From there we headed back to Belfast and got my glimpse of Loch Foyle. Hop on a plane and back to London via Heathrow.
We had been invited to stay with the children of a church friend which made getting around and parking easy. However, we didn’t go to their house until we ticked off a few spots: Stratford upon Avon and Stonehenge.We would use Doug and Terry’s home as our base for exploring London. There house was five minutes from the train station which was quite convenient. But first Stonehenge. Oh, my gosh, it comes upon you so suddenly. There it is just sitting in the middle of Salisbury Plain. We purposely planned to miss it on the solstice. I am not fond of huge crowds. Sometimes I think I’m agoraphobic. I can’t handle people breathing down my neck and pushing me along. When we got to Stonehenge we had lots of wide open space and I enjoyed it immensely.
That was also the day of the Brexit vote.
So the plan for the next day was to go into London. My first real site is the London Eye and then Big Ben and Parliament. As you can imagine since the results of the poll had been announced, people were talking about nothing but Brexit: It was bad; it was good. I’ve read a lot about it since then and I actually think they will revote and decide to stay. Saw a statement today that said England had finally surrendered Europe to the Germans. Thought that was kind of funny. But on this particular day, there were lots of people–tourists and protestors. Places and streets were packed. It took us almost two hours to get to London Bridge and the Tower of London from Parliament. It was ridiculous. I had a very hard time with the crowds. As a result, I didn’t enjoy London as much as I might have if I had gone in the middle of winter and without the benefit of a political crisis. Westminster Abbey was absolutely the worst. I had to escape and had guides yelling at me that I was going the wrong way. Nope–not listening (always the rebel)! I have to get out of here NOW! St. Paul’s church by Christopher Wren, the site of Charlie and Di’s wedding is beautiful and didn’t have nearly the number of people that Westminster had. Changing of the guard was a nothing event. You can’t really get close enough to watch it. Saw lots of red coats on horses, playing instruments and marching around but no actual changing of the guard. But there was also a Pride Celebration festival going on while we were there and that made getting at the many of the places and museums very hard. We got to Trafalgar Square but it was packed with people attired in unusual outfits waving the rainbow flag. And they wore those outfits proudly as you can see and were more than happy to let people take pictures. Covent Garden was wonderful. We sat there for a while, drank wine and watched some very entertaining musicians while a cloudburst passed overhead.
Now Scotland. I’ve heard people say that they have felt like they found their spirit home when they went to a place they have never been before. I felt that in Scotland. First we were in Edinburgh and you can see the castle up on the hill and it is magnificent. If you have read very much about Mary, Queen of Scots, you will recognize it from its placement on the escarpment above the city. And of course, the mother church of the Presbyterians, St. Giles, is in Edinburgh also. Perhaps the most beautiful church I have ever seen. Steven thought the inside would be boring, but it was as beautiful on the inside as it was outside. Absolutely amazing. And bagpipe players everywhere. IMG_1747 (Click for a 15 second clip of a piper)
And now for the crown jewel in my vacation: Stirling Castle! Those of you who know me well, know that I love the movie Braveheart. I workout to it, –usually every other month. You also might remember that my son Josh channeled Robert the Bruce for his sophomore (?) year English Class in a Meeting of the Minds production. So for me this was the ultimate historic site to visit. They have spent millions of pounds restoring it. It had been turned over to the military for many years but in 1964 they moved out and and the crown ordered a restoration of this magnificent edifice perched atop an extinct volcano. It is mostly done. You can see Bannockburn and Falkirk and Stirling Bridge from the castle. I could almost hear the echoes of the battles fought there. It was pretty amazing to me–I even bought the guide book which I almost never do. I could have stayed longer but we were on our way to Inverness. But before we headed out, I wanted to know, what that thing was on the hill off in the distance. Oh, that! It is the National Wallace Monument. Wow!
So northward we go in search of Nessie. Didn’t find him/her but oh, the drive through the highlands was like coming home again for the first time. I don’t know when I have felt so at peace. It was beautiful, serene, wild. It must be experienced to be believed. You see my maternal great grandfather was a Ross but he was Scotch Irish which means the family emigrated from the Highlands probably in the 1500’s or 1600’s and headed to Ireland and then America sometime before the American Revolution. But my soul was truly at peace there.
The next day was the day from Hades. Drive from Inverness to London in the driving rain with construction and someone who is not a super expert at driving on the other side of the road. “Steven, you are over the line. Over the line. Over the line.” In fairness, the lanes were extra narrow but I was just a bit nervous. A couple of times I could have reached out my window and touched the vehicles in the next lane. My anxiety was relieved when we hit London. My flight was early the next morning–I wanted to be back in time for the annual 4th celebration hosted by the ambassador for all Americans and the end of Ramazan celebrations. While it was a wonderful trip, there was way too much on the agenda. If I go there again, I will skip London and environs and focus on the more rural parts of the UK. I would love to spend a couple of weeks researching my family in Ireland and then just veg out in the Highlands.