Each day is a new adventure here. I am not sure what is going to happen daily. I try not to plan and get my heart set on anything. For example, today I was planning on going on a run and maybe making a pie for my family. The day turned into me going to a vineyard where I harvested grapes and then I spent the rest of the day “helping” make Ivar (a pepper/tomato paste) and washing TWO dogs. I had so much fun washing the dogs and picking HUGE AMOUNTS of Grapes!
I truly love it here. It is a lot to process most of the time, but if I savor the little successes it all seems worth while. I skyped my parents yesterday and eagerly told them stories. One story that I tear up every time I tell it has to do with my wonderful host family and the very popular card game UNO (this card game is so wonderful here because it has very little rules and the structure is very simplistic). Everyone in the family played the game for four hours straight together.
I have this memory engrained in my head where my host brother was on my lap helping me play (hahaha) and my host mother and host father were teasing each other. I laughed so much I almost cried. I have never seen my mother play cards. It is socially acceptable for the men to play cards with each other while the women talk and serve each other. I felt like this was a huge cultural bridge that I crossed. It was truly was wonderful to have my family be united and enjoying each other’s presence through this game. They are a very affection family, but to see the father and mother tease each other affectionately was beautiful!
I have been in Macedonia for three weeks and I have only bitten into the crust of the Macedonian and Albanian cultures. There are tensions between the two and it is fascinating to see how they interact in a multiethnic village–Romanovce. I have learned quickly that I should speak Macedonian in the stores and on the street unless they respond back in Albanian. Before I make this extreme statement, I want to say this does not say that all Macedonians and Albanians think this. This is a vast generalization, but it helps me process the controversy. Macedonian’s attitudes are that Albanians are Macedonian (nationality) and thus should learn the national language. Whereas Albanians have been living here for years speaking Albanian. The only thing that has changed are the borders to the so-called countries.
Both ethnicities are absolutely beautiful. They have rich traditions and value some of the same things. First, bread–buke in Albanian and leb in Macedonian–is considered holy. Neither cultures will EVER throw away their bread. They will pass their bread to their dogs, cats, chickens, or any other animal outside of their house. Second, tea (chia in both languages) and coffee (kafe in both languages) are the key to EVERY SOCIAL EVENT. You are expected to drink many cups of Turkish coffee and tea. I was never a coffee drinker–ever–and now I am (I have no choice…okay I do, but YOLO). Another commonality is the creation of Ivar (the pepper/tomato paste). Ivar is made every fall so peppers can be enjoyed all winter. This paste is enjoyed on top of bread. Each family has a particular taste and spicy level.
I think looking at the commonalities between the two cultures is important. I am an outsider looking in on their culture and so I can tie the two cultures to each other. Learning the language I notice how so many of the food words are the same. I see food as a huge part of a culture and if they have the same words and value for food then they are connected to each other.
October 17th is a big day. This day I discover my fate. I find out where I am going to be spending the next two years officially. I have some guesses. I think I will be placed in another Albanian family on the West side of Macedonian. I also think I will be placed in a mountainous area. These are just guesses. The area I probably will be placed in has not been served in 10 years. There was a severe conflict in the early 2000s and the Peace Corps has regulations that volunteers can’t serve those areas until conflict is no longer present and then wait 10 years. These areas have been anxious to have volunteers and so I am excited to dive right in. October 15 through 18 is Bajram. This is a Muslim holiday that is celebrated several months after Ramadan. From my knowledge this is a holiday where families gather, eat baklava (the most important part for me), and celebrate. If this was not enough for this week, this weekend, the 19th of October there is an event where ALL the Peace Corps volunteers in Macedonia get together to welcome the new volunteers and say goodbye to the volunteers COSing. We will know our site placements and will jump on figuring out what volunteers will be near us and gather as much advice as possible from the experience volunteers in the area.
I anxiously wait for this fun filled week next week, but I must savor everyday here. Every RPCV (Returned Peace Corps Volunteer) has told me to savor every moment because your time in service many seem to go slow, but it will fly on by in the end.
My host family the Merseli Family:
Nene, my host mother, Nakshia, she is absolutely amazing. She is the best host mother I could ever ask for. She always greets me with open arms and always makes sure my belly is full. Her laugh is rich and fills the room. She is very energetic; she has a fabulous green thumb; and she knows how to cook–very well.
Baba, my host father, Maxhit, is hilarious. He is always game for an adventure or a card game. He is a very open and loving father. He has seven brothers and loves to misafir (go see) as much, if not more than his wife.
Vella, my host brother, Vullnet is absolutely amazing at English. For only being 11 years old, his English is spot on. He is bit of a trouble maker, but he is very bright! His dream job is to become a computer/technology guy.
Moter, my host sister, Denisa, is bright, beautiful, and caring. Her and I have had walks together linked by our hands. She knows some English, but is ready to help me in any way. She leaves tomorrow for Skopje to live there for her dentistry school and her presence will be GREATLY missed.
Well, as I drink my 5th cup of coffee for the day (and it is almost 6pm here), I want to thank everyone that has sent me emails, letters, packages, and has been very supportive. You are my support system when I need it and I want to sincerely thank you all!