Back to school!

It has been a very long time since I sat in a classroom and repeated after the teacher.  VERY LONG!  However, today I was back in that mode and sat in a classroom for four and a half hours learning to conjugate my first verb. Why does it always seem to be the local language’s version of “to be”

Unë jam               Ne jemi

Ti je                        Ju jeni

Ai/Ajo është     Ata/Ato janë

Then there are the gender endings and the plural endings. All that has seemed so far behind me since I sat down in my first Spanish class in San Juan, Puerto Rico a million years ago.  But here I am doing it again..only this time in Shqip. (Albanian to those unfamiliar with the word). I’ll do this again tomorrow and then I will turn around and do it in Macedonian on Thursday and Friday. Repeat, week after week until I can pass a language proficiency interview prior to being sworn in as a volunteer. As crazy as it seems, I think I can do it. I have two wonderful young women in the house very anxious to help me with my language and the two older ladies keep teaching me new words everyday. Mizë is the most annoying creature on the face of the earth! There, now you know a word in Albanian–fly!

The afternoon brought the group back together for a Cross-culltural training session. I mean to tell you the Korpusi i Paqes certainly knows what they are doing as they prepare us for our service in country.

I met two sisters of the deceased father today. They are very sweet and greeted me with the traditional hug and three kisses. Made me feel very much at home. And then of course they had to feed me–yet again. While my desire for peppers may not be increasing, I have discovered a new beverage!  Turkish coffee! It is shu mirë. I don’t care for coffee but I would swear this is thick hot chocolate. My goodness it doesn’t get any better than that. Think I am developing a bad habit.

We have been told that the men in the village will stare at us and to ignore them. Having lived on Army bases for much of my life, this didn’t seem to be such a big deal.  So today when a muslim gentleman passed me on the street and said mirëdita, I almost fell over! Just shocked me.  My culture shock of the day.

Now it is time to finish my homework!

Welcome to Dobroshte

What a day it has been!  We left Wilson School yesterday for our training sites for the next 10 weeks. Our group was the first to be dropped off and we had the Director with us because the media had been invited to our reception. The people of the village wanted to show how the Macedonians and Albanians can work together. And they did a beautiful job of it. We had drinks and every kind of sweet that you can imagine.  My family representative was the first to greet us. It is tradition to offer visitors bread and salt and so Melinda was holding the bread while her cousin was holding the salt.

The next task was to get our mountains of luggage from the assembly site to the home of our hosts.  I’m not sure if my family has a car so another cousin transported me and my stuff along with Melinda to her house. Imagine my surprise when we open the gate and there is a cow.

The household consists of (in addition to the cow), two daughters–both engaged to be married next summer, one 18 year old son who is trying to decide what to do with his life, two wives, a rabbit and a chicken.

A word of explanation about the two wives. Wife number one was apparently unable to have children and so the husband (now deceased) took a second wife who bore him the three children. Wife #2 is much younger than #1. #1 is about 75 or so and #2 is around 52.  This is after all a muslim community and multiple wives are not uncommon.

The house is located directly across the street from the place where I will have my classes so there is no chance I will get lost going home.  Our home stay person is supposed to walk us to school but has no obligation to pick us up. My roommates and I were plotting our best Hansel and Gretel strategy or else pinning notes to  our clothes saying , “Return to………..” At least three of us are very close to the school and each other.

Dinner last evening was delicious but they have decided that I eat nothing!  I had a bowl of bean soup, a very large bowl of cabbage slaw, tomatoes and bread.  Believe me, it was a ton of food! For breakfast this morning, I had what look like poblano peppers sautéed in oil, bread, cheese and tea. She kept putting more peppers on my plate. I thought I would burst.  And the peppers still contained many of the seeds. They were not spicy and were quite tasty, but how many peppers can one person eat?  Especially for breakfast. They salt food here very heavily and that will keep me drinking water.  And speaking of the water… is very drinkable.

Other issues: My bathroom consists of a toilet. That’s it!  There is no hot water. (oops, yes there is.) In order to shower or brush my teeth,  l must go downstairs. I have postponed my shower until tomorrow. I will brave it then.  Electricity is very expensive and therefore, there are no clothes dryers here.  Everything gets hung on the line and all laundry and heavy electrical usage is done on the weekends as the rates are significantly lower then. imageThe internet is very slow here so I doubt that there will be many opportunities for Skype or Facetime but we shall see. The mosque is about 100 yards from the house and I am very aware of when there is a call to prayer. Right now that is a bit of a novelty but we shall see how that impacts my daily life over the next 10 or so weeks.


Culture, language and dining out

Whew! A couple of very long days.  And a lot of incredibly new experiences.

We met the Deputy Chief of Mission yesterday. He really gave a very interesting talk about what he feels the future holds for Macedonia, how the  Peace Corps are received by the citizens of the country (enthusiastically!), and a bit of history on the conflict between Greece and Macedonia.   Prior to his arrival, we were entertained by both Macedonian and Albanian folk dancing groups. I managed to capture video of the groups and will hopefully have it posted with this post (testing my skills!) I won’t post all of the videos but if you are interested in seeing them, let me know and I will email them to you.

We started language classes the first day and have mastered the alphabet and basic greetings. By the end of the week I will know if I have been selected for the dual language program and will live my Peace Corps service time in a Shqip Muslim community. It will require a few life adjustments on my part but I believe I can handle those changes quite easily.

Last night we went on a visit to the town of Tetovo. The school we are  living and learning in is just outside of  the city. We ate dinner and were quite stuffed when we finished.  I had a chicken filet and split a salad with  one of my fellow trainees as well as a bottle of wine. The bottle of wine cost 500 denars which is about $8.00. It was quite good and we thoroughly enjoyed it.  Dinner cost 170 denars which is less than the cost of a Big Mac–$3.62!

I will be getting a new Sim card for my phone along with a pay as you go plan.  Card costs $6.25 and plan is about $10 every time you refill it at any local store. And T-Mobile has the market here! It is all over the place.

And I am officially a Macedonian resident now! I have received my MK residency card and can quit carrying my passport. I will only need the passport if I cross over international  borders.

Life as a PCV is certainly exciting and entertaining. Hope you enjoy the two little videos. They were taken with a tiny little point and shoot. No big fancy cameras for me. And yes, the sound is tinny–that’s the way it was projected in the amphitheater. Acoustics were marginal






Showers, Toilet Paper and other personal stuff

We have arrived and  already are learning many valuable lessons. The first one being: Don’t flush the toilet paper!  And of course there is no plunger left in the room so if you make one mistake you are going to be calling the plumber.  Our second lesson is that if you want to take a hot shower, make sure you know where the switch is to turn on the hot water. Definitely makes a difference. Also realize that we as Americans are incredibly spoiled with our shower habits.  Turn the water on, get wet and turn it off and soap up, turn the water back on  and rinse off  and get out.  Certainly a different approach!

Food has been incredibly high in carbs.  Bread and potatoes. Potatoes and carbs.  Have had  no opportunities to try out wine but hope to this evening. We have a night out on the thriving metropolis of Tetovo.

Had a wonderful lullaby to go to  bed–we could hear the local mosque’s call to prayer. Will hopefully get to work in a primarily Muslim community. Should keep me from having to attend mass with my host family. Really not my thing! However, I’m not sure I’m going to be able to handle Ramadan. We shall see.


S i n g l e D i g i t M i d g e t

A term used by military personnel when they are “short” or about to move on to the next assignment. I am officially a single digit midget.  In 9 days I will be aboard the airplane that will begin the next phase of my life.  I am both excited and nervous. I know that once I get in country, I will be fine but in the meantime, I will have run the full gamut of emotions.

Already I have begun the goodbyes. Goodbye to my weekly dinner with Ireta; goodbye to my former colleagues; goodbye to my doctors; goodbye to my fellow winos. Soon I will say goodbye to the young men I love to hate–the brothers of the Sigma Chi fraternity. (We have recently forged a good relationship and I hope that it is the beginning of a new phase of life for those of us foolish enough to live in an area inhabited by many college age students. )

The final goodbyes are the hardest–goodbye to my family. I’ve never been very good at saying goodbye and I don’t imagine this will be any easier. I will just grit my teeth and try to keep that good stiff upper lip. After all, 27 months will go by so very quickly and then I will be back.

I’ve made journeys like this before–to Germany, to Korea. However, this time there will be no children in tow that I have to manage. No harnesses to put on one, nor pulling the other off the luggage carousel. So this should be a piece of cake.  We shall see. Of course I’m not quite as strong now as I was then but I think I will be just fine.  Bon Voyage to me!

Packing 101

IMG_0030Two checked suitcases. One hundred pounds. That’s what they tell me to pack for 27 months.  Macedonia has four seasons so I’ll need a wide variety of clothing.  I also need to take gifts for my hosts. What about my shoes?  Eileen, the queen of shoes–how do I decide which ones to take and I need to take boots! Oh what  a dilemma! How many different outfits can I wear with yellow shoes. Probably two–better forget them. Same goes for the red ones, the green ones, the green plaid ones, the other red ones.  Decisions, decisions, decisions.

Winter clothes take up a lot of room in a suitcase.  A coat and three or four sweaters and it seems like the suitcase is more than half full. Enter Zip Lock bags. They make these wonderful bags that you can put your stuff in, zip them shut and then attache the vacuum hose to them  and poof–about one fourth of the original size. Now this is a wonderful thing to know!

But we also have to have a carry on with enough clothes to get us through the first week of training. I had not planned on taking a carry on with clothing. I was carrying my purse and my back pack with all of my computer gear in it.  Okay Plan B: Find large tote for purse and back pack so it looks like one carry on and pack the carry on bag for the one week. Oh, and don’t forget a towel as the place we will be staying does not provide them. Dang it! All of my towels are nice thick plush ones that take up a ton of space.  Hmmm. What do back packers and hikers do? Quick Google search turns up special towels that take up not much more space than a single piece of underwear.  Now, where do I find one locally. Off to Dunham’s. Yes, we have them. Right over here, Ma’am. Ummm–this is 12 inches by 30 inches–that won’t wrap around my head let alone my body.  Fortunately, Dick’s had a much better supply and I know have a towel that will wrap around me and get me dry after a shower.

Now it is decision time. Two checked bags plus my carry-ons? We don’t have porter service when we arrive in Skopje. Can I reduce the amount of stuff I want to take and  survive for 27 months?  I rethink and rethink again all that I am packing and determine that Americans tend to always take too much. So, I reduce what I am taking  and manage to pack everything in one large suitcase and one carry on bag–with the aid of those handy-dandy Zip Lock bags!  I even have room when I’m all done for a large bottle of taco seasoning (which seems to be a commodity many currently serving volunteers are yearning for), my 14 spice rub, some lavender, and crushed celery leaves. (From previous experience, I know that celery is not an easily found commodity in Europe, and  we will want to come up with some facsimile of an American Thanksgiving which absolutely requires the flavor of celery in the stuffing.) I will have room for my tea as well.

So now I’m ready to go except for packing my toiletries.  I leave Michigan on 12 September at 6 AM. From there, I will go to Philadelphia and on Saturday, the 13th we go to JFK and from there to Vienna and then to Skopje. Once we claim our bags and load them on the truck we get on a bus, head for Tetovo and the Woodrow Wilson School. That’s when the adventure really begins.  Stay tuned.

Reflections on a Sacramento Morning

I am by nature a morning person. I love the early morning and the peace you find there. All is quiet and no demands are being made on me or my time. It is 4:30 AM here in Sacramento, the first birds begin to sing and I realize that the world is slowly waking up to the sweet sound of the songbirds in the area. I brew my cup of chai tea latte and watch the dawn break over the distant Sierra Nevada mountains. It reminds me of a line in the song Across the Great Divide…

The finest hour I have seen,

Is the one that comes between

The edge of night and the break of day.

It’s when the darkness rolls away.”

And the darkness rolls away slowly; soon the sun will be up and blazing, turning the area into a toasty day but without the humidity of so many places; the sky will be an incredible blue that just makes you smile. Time to sit down on the floor and do some restorative yoga—at my age I am no longer quite as flexible as I might have once been, so restorative is the best thing for me. A couple of sun salutations then a boat pose, down dog and up dog, pigeon pose, a cobra and then corpse pose. Just a quick routine. Now for a cup of chai tea latte. The sun is getting brighter. There is a slight breeze blowing from the Southwest—a Delta Breeze. Absolutely divine. Weather that is highly conducive to a nice walk through the neighborhoods lined with large trees and beautifully manicured lawns. Lace on the sneakers, turn on the phone and tune in some music and off for about 2 miles. And I’m not the only person out there. I routinely run into at least a half dozen people. Half an hour later, I’m back at the house and Mom is drinking her coffee and reading the paper. Time for another day to begin and I have made my peace with the world during this quiet time. Sacramento mornings are just the best…quiet, serene and gentle. Perfect way to start a day. May Macedonia be that way!

Life is calling. How far will I go?

So I have approximately two months before I depart for the adventure of my life. I’m excited, I’m nervous but I’m also confident that all will go as it should. Learning a new language that doesn’t use the Latin alphabet is a little intimidating but as Maria in “Sound of Music” says….I have confidence in me. There will be so much to learn and the time will fly by.  But knowing that Macedonia is a very safe country with some of the friendliest people around makes me think that it will seem like it goes by in the blink of an eye.

I have changed the location of my blog post for a couple of reasons. The most important one is that I want people to be able to ask me questions, make comments and if you really like them to be able  to capture images.