School’s out, school’s out. Teacher let the fools out!

Remember that phrase? I sure do! And school truly is out. We finished testing on Friday afternoon and I promptly came home and took a nap. Macedonia has a procedure for year end testing. They test in every single subject taught but random students are selected to take each subject test. One student doesn’t usually take more than three tests. The problem with these tests is that they are compared with the grade the teacher gives based on tests and classroom work. If they aren’t the same, the teacher gets a monetary penalty. Now teachers in Macedonia can’t really afford a penalty, as regardless of seniority (tenure is unknown in this  country) the salary is 20,000 denari a month. (That translates to about 400 USD.) Yeah, not a lot of money. (And you thought teachers in America were underpaid!?) Yes, the cost of living over here is cheaper but that is still not an adequate amount to support your family, which is why many teachers take tutoring jobs, second jobs, live at home with their parents or have a working spouse. (Or in my case, house a PCV)

Group effort
Group effort

To keep from being penalized, the teachers support the students through the testing process to make sure that those students who get a 5 (A) get a 5 on the test. At any given time most every student has a “helper” with them.

More bus woes: Well, my card worked for four rides and then ceased working again,  leaving me with at least 15 rides on the card. I  have called it quits and reverted to buying the paper card. I even tried contacting the bus company but they have not responded. I don’t have a clue where my card is, either. It must have fallen out of my pocket when I was on the bus. These busses are the worst thing on earth! Light fixtures are broken and just bare wires hang there. Everything is rusty on this bus and you are in mortal danger of falling off seats when he makes a turn of any kind. Hold on for dear life. On an accordion bus the flexible part in the middle has all kinds of holes in it so when it rains, too bad–you get wet! I have all kinds of ideas as to why we get such crappy busses out here but that won’t change anything.

Camp time is rapidly approaching.  Emi and I went down to camp to scope the place out on Monday. I think we have a plan for how to house them. Now we just have to figure out where everything else goes. It will be a challenge. Fortunately for Emi and I the owner of the camp was kind enough to bring us home in his car. He lives and works in Skopje so he told us to just hop in his car and off we went. I got home easily two hours sooner than I would have had I taken the bus. And there was a very real possibility that it would have been more like four hours. I’m excited about camp but it is going to happen way too fast!

And now it is time for pushim (vacation). I’m headed to the UK and going to go to Ireland, Scotland and England. Despite having lived here in Europe once upon a time, I never made it there. It was really never a high priority. However, the hubs is teaching a course in Wales and so a visit with him has turned into a tour of the UK. I’m looking forward to it. My traveling partner is off on her own vacation too–she is at Machu Pichu. Some day I will go there. But the UK will be nice and right now they are predicting very warm weather for Macedonia during the time I’m gone so it will be good and cool weather for the UK. Watch for UK updates.

I had to turn my watch over to a local jeweler here in Macedonia. Based on what it was doing, I needed to have the battery changed. They couldn’t do it locally. Despite what some people feared would happen by entrusting my watch to a local dealer, it came back to me in a velvet cast and as sparkling clean and operational as the day it was presented to me. They also presented me with a service booklet much like you get with your car. I am incredibly impressed with the service even if it did cost more than any other watch I have ever owned.

 

 

 

Не работи

Living in and working in an Albanian village gives me virtually no opportunity to use and/or develop my Macedonian language. On Saturday a week ago, my electronic bus card registered empty when I got on the bus so I decided to go directly to the bus station to get more money put on it. Give me 250 MKD on the card, please. That will give me ten rides. So she did and we had no problem communicating. I used broken Macedonian and she used broken English. I finished my business in town and  got on the bus and went home with no problems with my card. So imagine my shock on Monday when I go to use the card and I get a red X instead of a green check mark. Okay, when I came home, I stopped at the Saraj bus station and had 500 MKD more put on the card thinking that perhaps she had made an error and entered 25 instead of 250. I didn’t want to have to buy one time passes as they cost 35 denari and not the 25 you get charged by using the electronic card. So I should be good the next time I need to use my card which turns out to be Wednesday. I had to go into town to turn my watch over to the jeweler so they could send it off to be serviced. The battery was almost at its end and since it is a waterproof Tag Heuer it must be done by professionals. (to the tune of 5100 MKD–about 85 USD. I’ve never even paid that much for a  watch let alone to have it serviced) and I needed to get a dose of my favorite pasta and some wine and interview my last two girls for camp. So I got on the bus after school and the damned card shows no credit! Okay! Now I’m mad–or at least as mad as Eileen ever gets. So after visiting the jeweler, I walk over to the bus station. I was hopeful someone spoke English and I was pretty sure that no one spoke Shqip.

“Do you speak English”.

“Не”.

Okay. Here goes my feeble attempt at concluding this business transaction in Macedonian. “Имам проблем со картичка електроника. Не работи.” ( E-mom problem so car-tich-ka e-lec-tron-ee-ka. Nay ra-bo-tee. I have a problem with my electronic card. It doesn’t work.) I went on to explain that  I had purchased 750 denari of credit and it doesn’t work. Somewhere my conversation didn’t quite work as she tried to put more money on the card and then  wanted me to pay another 750 den. I showed her my receipts and told her repeatedly –Не работи (Nay ra-bo-tee….it doesn’t work) I then had to pantomime that when I waved the card in front of the reader I got an X not a check mark. She finally understood–went into the computer and checked the records in the archives and fixed my card. However, I wasn’t leaving until I made sure the card was working. Just not that trusting. So I got on the closest bus and waved it in front of the reader and bingo–green check mark. Okay. Фала многу. Ciao. I walked away feeling pretty good that I had solved the problem totally by myself.

So now that problem is resolved. Time to go get my wine and food and then go to the American corner and visit with Maya and interview the last two girls for camp. Time to go home. Oh piddle poop. The cops have all of the access streets to the center blocked and traffic must take alternate routes as the protestors have blocked three major intersections in town. I have no idea which route my bus will take so I finally hailed a taxi. It was the ride of a life time and for a change I had a driver who knew where Arnaqi is located. When he didn’t like how fast the traffic was moving, he would lay on his horn and drive on the sidewalk. And as a result of that I was home in about half an hour. I was totally amazed!

But the protestors are still at it and things really don’t look  any better. This article does a very good job of explaining things and is worth the time it takes to read it. The protestors have said that they are going to continue blocking intersections for an indefinite period during the lunch hour and evenings. It certainly doesn’t make it easy to get around. They protestors continue to paint monuments as well.

And Ramazan starts tonight at about 0200 when the first sliver of the moon will be sighted. I imagine we will have to eat at that point in time as the next meal time during the day to eat will be after sunset–sometime around 8:30 PM. Hopefully I can make two or three days this year.

Mi chiamo……

There is a lot of down time as a PCV–especially since I get up around 4 AM and don’t have to be to work until 10 AM. There are also plenty of times when I’m so busy I don’t have time to turn around. So reading is the perfect activity to fill the gaps when I’m not busy and which can be set aside at a moment’s notice when work calls. Peace Corps has lots of books (actually a mini library set up according to the Dewey Decimal System), we have a wonderful bookstore at the mall with lots of English language books and I’ve discovered free on line learning. Oh the courses I have found.  I found one on Religion and violence (fascinating) and a six part Religious literacy course (studying Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism and Judaism through their scriptures). I’ve also discovered a genealogy course, intercultural communication, TEFL courses, International women’s health. And the nice part? They are put on by excellent universities from all over the world. One of the courses I’m currently doing is offered by Harvard, another one by the University of the Andes and my Italian course is offered by Universitá per Stranieri di Siena. And oh, the wonderful ways they challenge my brain. I don’t do any of the written assignments but I love reading all of the assignments and watching the videos and then processing it through my cerebral cortex. My course from the University of the Andes is conducted in both English and Spanish and has a ton of reading–all  of it Gabriel García Márquez. It would be nice if they followed it up with a course on Isabel Allende but she isn’t a Nobel laureate. I would be in heaven then.

But in other news…..we are still a country in political crisis. Elections have been cancelled and they are attempting to force the president to withdraw all of the pardons he issued. And now the protesters are using a tactic which blocks all the major intersections into the center of the city from noon until 1 PM. It creates major chaos! Parliament has been called back into session but the Prime Minister is still sitting on the sidelines while his appointed replacement attempts to  govern.

I finally got to go to Kosovo. Our safety and security manager approved the travel but based on this article, I was still just a bit nervous. The faculty was going for a day and so for 600 Denari (about $11 USD) I got to go see this country that isn’t really a country according to Serbia.  It was a very quick drive but crossing the border seems to take forever. And since I was the only non-Macedonian passport holder on the bus, the border crossing people always wanted me identified. Fortunately I was in the front seat. They didn’t have far to go to see me. The country itself  was absolutely gorgeous. Rugged mountains,  spectacular scenery and roads that made me more than just a bit nervous. The organizers of the trip had an agenda but I think they had failed to tell the bus company so that the driver would know where we were going. There is apparently a spectacular series of waterfalls called Mirusha. Well, we would drive, stop and ask directions and, of course, about half the men had to get off the bus to get the directions and then they would all be pointing in different directions. The driver and I were laughing at it as it was truly comical. We must have asked for directions six times and never found the waterfalls. We just went into this little town and had a nondescript lunch and shivered while waiting for the bus to pick us back up. The weather in Kosovo was drastically different from what it was like in Macedonia. We were all freezing and it was raining intermittently–the wind was blowing. We finally ended up in Prizren.

 

Old City Tower
Old City Tower

Prizren City View

River running through the center of town.
River running through the center of town.

 

The country is almost entirely ethnic Albanians so I was able to communicate. It is truly a beautiful and historic city. From there we were considering going to Prishtina, however, time wasted on looking for waterfalls consumed a large part of the day and we all had to work the next day so we headed home.

And work! The school year is basically over. A few administrative tasks and then the external exams–a whole other story for another time and place. So now it is summer time.

On the home front, the house is being cleaned from top to bottom. Curtains washed, carpets washed, walls painted, windows cleaned. Monday morning at about 2 AM, Ramazan starts. It will run until about the 5th of July. This year I will be here to celebrate the ending of Ramazan. The basic intent of fasting is to remind the faithful of the people in this world who are homeless and don’t have clean water to drink or food to eat. I am physically unable to sustain this practice but will do a day or two to show my respect for their willpower. I simply cannot go that long without water. The date of Ramazan moves up by about 10 days each year and this year it will coincide with the summer solstice–the longest day of the year and they fast from sun up to sun down. I so admire there ability to do it and they truly relish doing it. You hear no complaints from anyone about it.

I’m taking a bit of a vacation again this year–this time to the UK so that I can practice my newly acquired skill of British English. “Have you got any Fish and Chips? Have you got some malt vinegar to  go with that?” It drives me crazy as I was brought up to not say “have got” and now here I am teaching people to say it! Yikes! After the UK, I’m headed to the embassy 4th of July celebration and then camp. August will find us back in Berovo for our COS conference and it is downhill very rapidly from there. I’m sure there will be lots and lots of tears.

But for now?  Ciao!

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
DSCN1653
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.

And more news

The country is still in crisis with protests scheduled every evening. The protesters have taken to using paint balls on buildings and monuments. While the buildings and monuments are beautiful and designed to impress tourists, they have come with a huge price tag. The number of statues around Macedonia Square is absolutely incredible. There are foot bridges across the Vardar River that have statues about every 3 metres. They are incredibly beautiful but the cost of these has been in the hundred millions of Euros. Money which perhaps could have been spent on infrastructure and schools. However, you do need something to draw the tourists to the country and this has been doing it. So there is also some good in this. Here is an interesting opinion piece that gives some insight as to where the country is right now.

They were phenomenal!

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Faton with his 5th graders

So now the Regional Spelling Bees are over and we are ready to head into the Nationals. I registered a total of 29 students for the Skopje Regional Bee from three different schools. The fifth graders were from my host brother’s school and I had worked with them off and on and just two days before the bee to let them hear words pronounced by a native American English speaker. Two of the four went to the final round and one of them emerged as a National Bee finalist. She was ecstatic. Now I will try to get her ready for the National Bee which means she needs to learn the words at the high school level also. And her portion of the spelling bee tends to be the longest. Those fifth graders are incredibly smart and competitive!

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My 6th grade girls

We had sixth graders from both the main school of Emin Duraku in Bukoviq (Boo-ka-vitch) and my satellite school in Arnaqi (Are-nuh-chee) I helped prepare them by hosting practice spelling bees. The hardest things for these students is not knowing what American English pronunciation will be like since these are not words normally found in their English lessons. So it becomes imperative for them to practice the words repeatedly–preferably as spoken by a native speaker. So at the end of the 6th grade round, we had another qualifier for the National Bee from Bukoviq.

Seventh graders didn’t do as well, unfortunately. But I was fairly certain they wouldn’t as they had trouble mastering the 7th grade list and never made it to the next level. They were incredibly excited by being selected to participate but they just didn’t make the final round. I’m still incredibly proud of them for trying.

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Teacher Jeta keeping my 8th graders busy.

Eighth and ninth grade were combined and studied from the same list. I had six eighth graders and two ninth graders. One of my 8th graders pulled out at the last minute as he was also enrolled in a math competition that day and didn’t think he could make it in time for the bee. So the spelling begins and people are being eliminated. I had accounted for five of my seven students in this bee but two  still have not come out. As I peek in rooms I see that these two students are now in the final round of the competition. But now Vjollca has misspelled her word and she is out. We all sat around waiting and waiting for Sara. Finally, she came out in tears. She had misspelled “itinerary” and would not be headed to the national bee. I could not have been prouder of all my students. They conducted themselves beautifully and practiced good sportsmanship as well. I now have two students headed to the national bee and that makes me very happy. My goal was to get at least one!

To make the weekend even better, Susie and I had rented an apartment downtown–far enough away from the city center that Goce let us go that far into town since it was for Spelling Bee. On Friday night before the bee, we went out for a wonderful dinner and then went to the movies. We saw “My Big Fat Greek Wedding – 2” and laughed ourselves silly while watching it. There were only 6 of us in the theater and we were the only two laughing out loud. And then Sunday morning, we had a lazy morning, got checked out and went and did a little shopping. I finally made it back home  to my ever present dinner of……….BEANS! Now to prep for the National Bee. We have four weeks until that.

Where exactly are we?

Another weekend, another spelling bee. This one in Штип (Shtip). This is not a big city and the hotels do not look particularly nice when we started looking so Susie and I decided on an Air BnB. I did some checking and I found one that sounded quite nice and it was close to the city and close to the outdoors. Perfect!  Two days prior to arriving, the proprietor called me to find out what time we would be arriving as she would pick us up and take us to the Air BnB. Wow! This is service! No taxi worries. I didn’t have an exact address so a taxi might have been a bit difficult. We arrived in Штип on time and within five minutes Alexandra was there. So were her sister and her mother. Okay we can all fit in the car and off we go.

As we start down the road, they tell us the BnB is about 10 km out of town. Wow! That might make it difficult to walk to the spelling bee the next morning. Well we’ll just call a taxi. It’s at about this time that we also find out there is no wi-fi at the house. Well, I have my phone and it has a data plan. We keep going and going into a more and more rural setting. Susie and I are looking at each other from the corners of our eyes. Finally we turn down a gravel road and are stuck behind a horse and cart. Oh boy!

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Our treats

We pull up to a gate and drive down a long driveway. Hmmm chickens roaming around. Okay. They open the house/cottage and we go in. We are apparently the first guests they have ever had here. Looks fairly decent. So we ask, where is your house? Oh it is in town. Who else is staying out here? Just the two of you. By ourselves?! Yes. It is so peaceful. You will love it. But first let me show you around and make you a cup of coffee and show you the sweet treats I have made for you. Oh, and here is dinner–corn on the cob and a nice big bowl of salad fixings. Wow! Neither one of us knows what to say. At least there is food for us as we have not seen a grocery or convenience store anywhere near here. There are also freshly laid brown eggs for breakfast along with a big bowl of fruit, bread, coffee and tea. Okay. We are set. And they tell us that a taxi will come in the morning to fetch us to take us to the spelling bee. And by the way..will you latch the chicken coop after they all go in at evening time. Well, this is a new one.

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Watching for the chickens.
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Perro and some of the girls.

We had been sitting outside near the coop
and had not seen the chickens. We were assured that Perro the rooster would herd them in. No sign. Well, let’s go in the house, build a fire and then make our dinner. Let’s also figure out how to lock this place up. No one is out here, no one knows exactly where we are–including us, better safe than sorry. But let’s check on the chickens again–no sign.
Okay, dinner is done and darkness has set in. Susie decides one more check of the coop. She turns on her iPhone flashlight and starts down the driveway to where the coop is. Sure enough they are in there in one little corner. All six hens and one rooster.  So we can now go to bed and be assured that our charges are also tucked snug in their beds. Next morning, I’m up bright and early as I usually am. I hear roosters in the neighborhood crowing so decide to go down and open up the coop to let “our” chickens out. I opened that door and they were out like a flash and followed me right up the driveway. Looked rather comical to me. I didn’t have any food to feed them so I don’t know what they expected. They had plenty in the coop. However, Perro stood outside the house and just crowed and crowed until Susie finally woke up. He was quite the alarm clock.

Next morning, we receive a phone call from Snezana to let us know that a taxi will be there to pick us up at about 0900. Sure enough–2 minutes till nine and it was there. We did the faux gate lock thing and off we went to the spelling bee. We got a peek of downtown Штип when we went to get lunch but we were pretty much locked in the school listening to students spell words all day. Snezana had told us to give her a call when we were done and we would figure out the rest of the day. She called a taxi for us and he took us to her house. Enjoyed a nice cup of Turkish coffee and some Schweppes and discussed taking them out to dinner. Ah, but first they wanted to show us Isar. It is the hill on which their home is built. There is a lovely church nearby and then steps going up, up, up. Once we got to the top we saw the remains of a fortress (seem to be a lot of those here in Macedonia.) and an incredible panoramic view of the area. It truly was amazing but as one might imagine with my bruised and battered body, I was in pain when we came back down. The knee did not like that activity. Went and had a lovely dinner and discussed going back to the “ranch”. We have chickens to put to bed, remember? So they took us back, we locked up the chickens and just crashed.

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The executioner’s pedestal

9.30 AM Snezana is back and brings three bags of groceries. Huh? She is going to prepare us a Macedonian lunch and then take us to see Bargala while it cooks. IMG_1596Bargala is really amazing and not far away. We didn’t have much time there as we had to get back in town so  we wouldn’t miss our bus back to Skopje. We had to travel a bit earlier than we normally would have as a result of restrictions placed on PCV’s as a result of the presidential pardons and the resulting protests. (Because I live on the opposite side of the city from the bus station, I had to make sure I was past the city center before 16.00) Interestingly enough,  there is very little information on this site and excavation has been halted for some unknown reason. However, we saw the executioner’s pedestal, the wine making spot and the heating system of the city. It truly was fascinating. Below it was a beautiful little church and one of the rivers that runs through the area with plenty of people “taking a rest”. The hills surrounding the area were the most beautiful green you can imagine. It looked like a travel poster. Alas, we couldn’t go down there as we had to go back and have our lunch. Lunch was indeed delicious. It consisted of meat, rice, peppers and some wonderful herbs and spices. We said good bye to our chickens and the family and headed back into town to catch our bus home. It was quite the weekend.  We have been adopted by a new family.

In other news of Macedonia, we have travel restrictions in and around Skopje because of daily protests. Protests are also now in a number of cities throughout out the country including Штип where we just spent  our weekend. An opinion article to read written by one of Nikolai Gruevski’s former ministers is very telling. We get daily press updates from our safety and security manager so I am not worried that we are being kept in the dark. We are safe. Never fear.