Едно ден во Скопје

Last Saturday we got to spend the day playing! We had an opportunity to meet the serving volunteers in country at a park in Skopje and then had some free time to wander around the center of the city.  We  walked along the Vardar River and marveled at the beauty of this city. They are attempting to be the city with the most statues and they have an excellent start on it as you can see from these pictures. You might guess that the guy on the horse is Alexander the Great. Next is his father Phillip of Macedon and then an assortment of statues on the bridge spanning the river. You can also see Poseidon with a pirate ship (a restaurant) in the background. And finally just a view down the promenade and yes, Jacks, that is a carousel! We ended the evening at a number of different eating and drinking establishments which gave us a chance to unwind for an hour or two and just relax with no agenda items to be accomplished except to find our buses and head back to our villages.

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Kisha, Xhami, Црква, Џамија

Painted Mosque 5The Painted Mosque in Tetovo.DSCN1077Saint Petka CWomenhurchInside mosque 2 IMG_0424 IMG_0423


Inside the Painted Mosque.










Artifacts from  an Macedonian Orthodox Church (not Greek Orthodox, mind you. They are very particular about that. They have their own  archbishop) These particular artifacts are currently on display at the TCC Grand Plaza Hotel in Skopje.
IMG_0420Inside mosque Clock in painted mosqueMosque CeilingCeiling in painted mosque.

The places of worship and the artifacts contained therein are pretty amazing.  Every morning I am awakened by the muezzin’s call to prayer. The mosque (not the one pictured here) is about three buildings away from my house.  It is a pretty nice way to wake up. (but as you might guess, I am awake well before the call to prayer–old habits die hard) The painted Mosque is still an active mosque and has existed since the time of Columbus. The colors used on the mosque have eggs as a base. (Hmmm, think I saw that in Nicaragua)

This country has an incredibly rich history.  I continue to be fascinated by the entire area of the Balkans and the concept of ethnicity–something that we as Americans seem to have discarded when our ancestors emigrated from their homelands. We are Americans–not Italians, Irish, Welsh, German, English, Spanish but plain old Americans.  Here the Albanians who happen to live  on the Macedonian side of the border do not identify as Macedonians. They are simply Albanians who live in Macedonia. This despite the fact they are fully enfranchised citizens of Macedonia. They are permitted by the legislature to keep their language, have separate schools and are entitled to about a 10% representation in the legislature.

My current book selection is educating me a bit more about this area and it’s 20th century history. I can certainly recommend a number of books but my current tome is The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman. Excellent book! (Thanks for the suggestion, Ed!) I just wish I had a bit more time to educate myself. I understand that once I move to my permanent site I will probably have a bit more time to read and explore. Right now we are having our brains bombarded with language, culture, technical skills and our bodies poked with needles. The end is in sight. Just a little over a month before we are sworn in–29 November. So while the rest of you will be out in the stores for Black Friday we will be meeting the President of Macedonia, the US Ambassador and being sworn in!

Landslide Time

First and foremost: Thank you Josh and Nicole. This song is my song–I love it. Thank you for capturing it. http://youtu.be/ho7rJWN52Pw

And this coming week truly is landslide time. Our lives are changing. The little fledglings are getting ready to fly the nest and test our wings.  Next week we will be doing our Practicum at local schools and language classes in the afternoon. The following week will be site visits. That is an opportunity for us to preview our new homes, meet our new families and figure out what exactly we will need for our new homes.  I know that one of the first things I will try to find is a wireless printer for my devices. The week after that we have our Language Proficiency Interview and a conference and then…….we celebrate Thanksgiving with our host families, get sworn in and  off to our new homes.  A little scary but they are preparing us well and have an amazing support system in place for us.

This is the week the weather changed. There is snow in Skopje. On Sunday we were out picking apples, walnuts and blackberries. Today we are all snuggling together attempting to stay warm. Tonight the temperature will be -2 (C). I have many blankets to keep me warm. Unfortunately, I will have to climb out of bed in the morning for a trip to Skopje bright and early.  The nice part is that I get to see the rest of my friends and catch up on what they are doing. We have four training sites in the country and each one is doing something a little bit different.

I have met the person I will be replacing in Saraj. She is a lovely person and has extended so that we will have some overlap and I can slide into place very easily. She is even going to send a car over for me to take me to my new home. Don’t know if other volunteers will be that lucky.  Some may have to struggle to get to their new homes with their multiple large bags using public transportation.

We had mid-term assessments concerning our readiness to serve and I seem to have passed. I still struggle with the languages. I understand a lot of it but trying to get the sentences put together is a bit of a struggle. I’m not too worried about language at this point. I’ll have my own personal tutor when I get to site.

Have had a lot of contact with village people. Even helped one person make ajvar. Talked with a bunch of the students from the local primary school. That was also a lot of fun. I still need to go to the Macedonian side of the village to have coffee with one of the other trainee’s баба. She wants to have coffee with the one with white hair. Not sure when we will accomplish this visit. These little visits are never about just coffee. It takes forever. Especially when we are trying to translate information about our families and where we live in the United States. Seems like they all know where Chicago is so it makes it easy for me to point out Central Michigan. But upstate NY or Colorado or Indianapolis are a little harder for them to understand. Fortunately I have a map!

Okay—off to Tetovo! Time to spend some of that huge stipend we get–Wow 125 denar a day! ($2.50). Maybe I can buy an avocado!

Familja e mi

Familja e mi jetojnë nëpër gjithë  në Amerika, në Nujork, në Indjana, në Kolorado, dhe në Kalifornia. Unë kam katër fëmijë, nyë vajzë dhe tre djalit. Ato quhen Tena, Xhames, Xhosh, dhe Xhacun. Unë kam gjithashtu tre mbese dhe dy nipa. Nëna ime ka 86 vjet. Ajo jeton në Kalifornia. Unë kam tre motrat. Ato jetojnë në Kalifornia gjithashtu. Ato quhen Gjude, Karën dhe Babsi. Unë jam e martuar me Ctevën. Ai jeton në Meqigën. Ai ka 67 vjet. Ai punon si profesor. Ai nuk është vullnetar i Korpusit të Paqes.

Would you believe this was harder to type than typing in Macedonian.  Now I need to memorize the above passage so I have a cohesive speech when people ask me about my family. And family, if you are reading this, there is nothing negative in there about any of you. You are safe! Your secrets will die with me! 😉

Now that I have written my homework out, I need to practice the words and make more flash cards.  Certainly is like going back to kindergarten!


Language faux pas!

Okay, lesson learned today.

голем град=  Big City (pronounced Golem Grahd) For many words in Macedonian you form the plural by adding и to the end of the noun. Not so with this particular noun. The plural is градови (pronounced Grahd-oh-vee)

голем гради = Big Breast (pronounced Golem Grahd ee)

No further explanation needed.

Wow! What a week it has been!

So many things have happened over the past week and a half. The most important thing was the revealing of the our permanent sites. I’m happy to announce that I will be moving to Arniqija, Saraj (R-knee-chee-ja, Su-rye) by the first of December. It is a primarily Muslim community and the school I will be working in teaches their students in Shqip. It will still mean a moratorium on wine at the house but I am so close to Skopje that it won’t matter! I’ll be able to shop for my wine in many different places.If you are really interested in where I will be, do a google search on Saraj or Matka Canyon. It is a beautiful area. I hope to get my own place after the first of June so that I can cook to my heart’s delight!

I still have to maintain my Macedonian language skills as I will be attending conferences and traveling about the country and will need that language as well. The Peace Corps will provide me with a stipend to pay for a tutor three times a week. I will probably meet with a  Shqip tutor twice a week and a Macedonian once a week. I already have my Shqip tutor lined up. He is currently tutoring the volunteer in my village who will be leaving in January. I get this stipend for tutoring up until my last three months in the country!

Have also applied to be on the staff of Camp GLOW next summer. Camp GLOW is a camp for young women to develop their leadership skills. GLOW stands for Girls Leading Our World and I think it is an excellent fit for me and my experience. I am looking at the sustainability feature of that program and with my finance background and experience with AAUW-CA I think I bring a lot of knowledge to the table.

This weekend gives us another hub day–back to Skopje for more training.  Also gives us a chance to visit with PCT’s from other training sites and perhaps have a glass of wine or two or three or…… In addition to hub day, we also will be going back to Skopje on Saturday for Field Day. That is when all of the currently serving PCV’s get to officially meet the new PCT’s. We will get a walking tour of Skopje, the Peace Corps office and have a pot luck meal. As long as it isn’t peppers, I will be happy.

Language training is moving forward. I can now talk about my American family in both Macedonian and Shqip. Don’t worry guys, the only bad thing I can say about my family is that they are ugly and I wouldn’t use that word on anyone I know. Now about that jacket……….

We went to Veles last weekend for a training session with an HCN (Host Country National) and it was an excellent session. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed it and came away with wonderful ideas to use in our classrooms. However, getting there was another story. Our bus was here in plenty of time to pick us up. We all got on and were ready to head to Veles. The driver originally wanted to take us to Skopje but we got him headed in the right direction. So about five miles out of Dobroshtë we stop at a gas station to put air in the front tire–a lot of  air! Okay, let’s hit the road. Next thing we know, we are in Skopje! Wait, this isn’t the way to Veles! But we got a nice tour of Skopje. Next thing we know we are pulling into the bus station and the driver says педнаесет кафе пауза. (15 minute coffee break). Well time is not a particularly important cultural value to the people of this country so we were not surprised when it stretched to half an hour. However, we realized that we were due in Veles in about 20 minutes and according to the GPS on our phones we were at least 45 minutes away. So, phone call to training coordinator and she asks to speaks to driver. He talks and she then tells us that we are getting a new bus. Guess that must have had something to do with our tire issue. So we waited and finally got our new bus. Oops, now we are an hour late for our training. Fortunately we were able to catch up and not have to stay after class. After class, we hit the thriving metropolis of Veles which just happened to be in the middle of their “pita” fest which consisted of a stall of wine, then beer, then pita, then wine, then beer, then pita…….. So a couple of us 50+ people plopped ourselves down and got a bottle of wine for the ridiculous amount of 150 denare. Oh, did I mention that it is about 50 den to one dollar? Yup a three buck bottle of wine–and it certainly beat three buck Chuck hands down! We had a lovely time just catching up on what is happening in each other’s training community, what are the challenges and how is it going being amongst the younger trainees.

This past Monday we got to participate in a Halloween Party at the Albanian school in our community. Was great fun. Did word searches with the kids and sang “traditional” Halloween Carols. Sure! We sing these at Halloween!

Oh you better not shriek

You better not moan………

You remember, we sang it ever year in school 😉 ! We all just looked at each other, shrugged our shoulders and sang the songs for them. They had Macedonian students visiting from Ohrid and we were the major celebrities. Sure is fun being a rock star!

Over the weekend we conducted a “Clean Up Dobroshtë” campaign and collected more trash than you can possibly imagine. We were all exhausted when it was done but it is so nice to walk down the street to our coffee house and not see tons of trash everywhere. Wonder how long it will last. We did this in conjunction with the Environmental Working Group which was piggy backing off the Global Clean Up Day which was actually 4 October. We couldn’t do it then since it was Bajram so we picked our own day to clean up the place.

Our language classes are now getting us ready to leave the nest. Turn left, turn right, go straight, where is the железничка станица, where is the bus station, go straight………. In three weeks we will go on a site visit and spend three days in our new community. I’m looking forward to it. Then we will have a conference somewhere with our counterparts. Should be great fun. Everyday is a new learning experience and it is really more fun than I anticipated. Haven’t seen one case of home-sickness yet. Everyone seems to be incredibly happy and having the time of their lives.

Stay tuned………



It is officially here. Bajram. Lots of cooking, lots of sweets, lots of food,  and ritual slaughtering of animals (cows and sheep–mostly cows).

All of the men went to mosque this morning at 6 AM and came home around 8 AM to a breakfast of soup, rice, chicken and more bread. Then the house is cleaned from top to bottom and then the social part begins. People go to visit each other (misafir) and eat baklava (poor me 😉 ), drink coffee–this is one of two days when we don’t do tea but coffee and juice and water and soda but no alcohol and no tea. We went to one house where the recent bride was wearing her bridal regalia. See the picture below. Pretty incredible! And then she switched into a more traditional wedding dress–also below. They wear their bridal clothing for special occasions during the first year of marriage. Much better than the one time it is worn in our country and hope that our daughters want to wear it when they get married.

Has been an incredibly busy week and only promises to get crazier. We have language four times a week for four hours–two days of each language and we are only two lessons behind those who are studying nothing but Macedonian! Then in the afternoon we have cross cultural training, medical training, and teacher training. Somedays we get all of 15 minutes for lunch. One of the facilitators brought some Ajvar (eye-var) and bread for us. Was greatly appreciated. Ajvar is a wonderful spread made out of their peppers.  After that we have homework and then interaction with the community. The local coffee house keeps giving us free coffee when we go for coffee after class. The other night, Stacie and I went to a housewarming. It was incredible and the house was amazing.

Next week we have back to back trainings for six days. Friday will find us in Skopje for “Hub Day” It is held in the TCC Grand Plaza Hotel.  Beautiful hotel  and not too badly priced: 75 Euros a night is the average price.  The following week we will find out our communities for the next two years. Two people will stay here in Dobroshte: one at the primary school and one working with the community on various initiatives.

Was pleasantly surprised to receive my absentee ballot. Of course, at the moment any mail I get has to be delivered by hand if one of the trainers is coming from the PC office. Otherwise we wait for hub day. Many of our trainers are currently serving PCV’s and thus come directly from their communities to us.

image imageMore visitors have arrived: Happy Bajram: Faleminderit, gjithashtu

Jac Cym

Јас сум од Америка, од Мичиган. Јас се викам Ајлин. Jас сум волонтерка на Мировен корпус и професорка по англиски јазик.

And believe it or not I can read that to you aloud and I can tell you what it says. I’m even being able to read signs in Macedonian now. It is a struggle; however, I will be successful. It’s also good to know that the Peace Corps has never sent anyone home because they couldn’t speak the language. They’ve already spent too much money on us to send us home. They are keeping us!

I’ve spent a very large part of the day going over my language exercises, my cultural exercises, my TEFL exercises and I am exhausted. I still have a lot to do. On Monday we will all go into Skopje for “hub day”. We leave here around 7 AM. We probably will not return until at least 7 PM. The next day it will be back to language classes.–two days of Shqip and two days of Macedonian. We have begun conjugating verbs and that is reassuring. Very much like Spanish in that are three types of verbs: those ending in a, e, i. Also learning the names of foods, how to count to 9999 and how to not mispronounce words so that I’m saying cheese and instead of saying sh**ing! Not a mistake I want to make when ordering a hamburger!

Definitely no alcohol around here. Will have to wait until we go into Tetovo with others who may want a drink stronger than water. Speaking of drinks…..they served me one the other night that was a liquid yougurt with garlic in it. Oh, yuck. One sip was all I needed to know that I was not enamored of that drink.

We should receive our site assignments on 14 October and then I will know where I will be spending the next two years. I just hope the house I will be staying in is warmer than this one. This is a very large home–Albanian homes are generally larger. There are a lot of gaps around windows and doors. Makes for a rather drafty existence. But I knew it was not going to be the Taj Mahal when I signed up for this. I’m trying to hold off unpacking my winter coat and sweaters until at least 1 October but I don’t know. Today I am wearing a camisole, turtleneck and cardigan to keep warm. Brrrr. The wind has been blowing quite steadily all day (that’s Jacks’ weather report for the day) and the windows rattle and cause the Internet connection to go in and out. Wreaks havoc on my music.

But settling in nicely and learning tons of stuff. Next weekend is a Muslim holiday. We shall see what that brings!



Poop in a hole!

Do you realize that this area of the world was part of the Ottoman Empire for over 500 years?  Of course there has to  be some kind of lasting influence on the culture here.  Turkish coffee is one of them and a most delicious one that I have come to  appreciate a great deal. However, I can’t say the same for one  other residual item that is quite prevalent: The Turkish Toilet! I must say it does have potential for some benefits.  If you have to spend much time in there, you will develop strong leg muscles and improve your sense of balance as you hold onto your clothes and squat over the “bowl”.  You also are not going to be able to use it as a reading room.  Time spent taking care of your business will of necessity be limited  and you will want to get out of there quickly.  They do provide you with a plunger and brush to clean up the evidence of your deposits. Generally find that there is no paper made available so make sure you have a small package of Kleenex with you when you go in. Should make the lines waiting outside of the restroom go much faster! And just to make it interesting there is a song on You Tube, called “Poop in a hole (the unofficial Peace Corps Anthem)” Check it out, it is cute. image


My brain feels like it is spinning in my skull. Today we went from Shqip to  Македонски . I can handle it for about an hour and a half. However, after that my brain begins to get things confused should I be saying une jam  or should I be saying jac cym?  I know that eventually it will sort itself out. However the distance from school to my house is about 100 m. It’s very difficult to switch gears from Macedonian to Albanian (Shqip) in that distance. I did discover that even the mother speaks some Macedonian in this house when I thanked her in Macedonian .

The people living here in my village do not consider themselves Macedonian. They are from Macedonia, but not Macedonians; they are Albanians. I guess it’s much like people who say they are not Michiganders but say they are Alaskans even though they don’t live in Alaska. I just consider myself somewhat of a gypsy.

Today marks a trip into the big town of Tetovo. There is a market there that supposedly carries avocados. Perhaps they also will carry tortillas and I will be able to get the makings of a Mexican dinner for my family.

Monday will be an early morning trip into Skopje. Once a week we have what is called hub day. All of the trainees from all over the country gather at the peace corps headquarters for additional training. It will also be an opportunity for me to replace the charger for my MacBook. It died. There is an Apple Store in town about two blocks from Peace Corps headquarters. The cost of the charger is $120. If I have the charger purchased in the United States, it will cost $80. However I then have to figure in tax, shipping, and time. Therefore, I’m going to spend the $120.

My days never seem to be long enough. I do long to go out and just take pictures. However, we continually have homework and constant reviewing of our language lessons. Yesterday, we had a session on the culture of the Macedonian classroom. Picture of1960 classroom. That’s what it sounds like. I suspect that some of the younger side mates will have trouble with that concept. But, having learned in a classroom like that I think I will know what is expected. Teachers here are penalized if students do not perform as expected on the final state mandated exams. The teachers pay can be reduced for poor performance by their students. I think the teachers can use all of the support we can give them.