This weekend I was a tourist for the first time since I’ve been in Macedonia. I had the freedom to decide what I wanted to do. Three other volunteers–David, Rachael, Britt–and I decided to go on a hike to the fourth oldest observatory in the world.
All I wanted to do was get out and hike. Our leisurely day turned into a 8 mile hike up and down the mountain and slowly back to where we thought we could meet back up with the local bus. This blissfully adventure made me a bit homesick. The dry hills reminded me of the Rocky Mountain foothills. For the next two years I will be living in a very similar climate and will have to be careful in connecting them.
This observatory is foothill outcrop with rock formations surrounding a flat area perfect for watching the stars. This observatory has been apparently used by Macedonians for quiet some time. The other volunteers and I found ourselves slowing curling into the rock formations and snoozing due to the warmth of the sun and the peaceful silence. Nature has always been an effective stress reliever for me and this was my element.
After this gleeful day, I felt refreshed and revived for more PST training.
Ethnic lines here is a very complicated, touchy, and offensive subject. There are many major ethnic groups in Macedonia, but for the sake of time I will discuss my limited knowledge of two: Macedonian and Albanian. Disclaimer: I have only been in this country for less than 2 months and thus these are my thoughts, which I am sure I will discover later on are far from the actual truth.
I am fortunate in that I was selected for the dual-language program, which allows me to dive into the Albanian perspective of of Macedonia. In this country people use their ethnicity as their identity. When you ask a Macedonian what are they, they respond that they are Macedonia. When you ask this question to a Roma or an Albanian they will respond as their ethnicity. Their ethnicity has the heritage, history, and mother tongue. Along with their ethnicity, Macedonia is special in that these ethnicities are allow aligned with religions. In other countries these ethnicities cannot be as simply generalized into these religions. Majority of Macedonians are Macedonian Orthodox Christians and the majority of Albanians (in Macedonia in other countries this generalization is far from the truth) are Muslim.
These two ethnicities have lived along side each other for years. My current host family’s parents went to school and played along side the other ethnicity making my PST village very unique and special.
There was a huge conflict in 2001. I won’t go into details about that. But, since then school have been separated so the students could learn in their native tongue. The percentage of Albanians in Macedonia is about 25 percent and Macedonians is about 65 percent. Since 2001 the government has promised equal representation in areas of certain ethnicity.
There is tension. There are ethnic lines. There is a word in Albanian that when it is used in the Macedonia language has the same deep and terrible meaning at the N-word in the American history and culture. I have witnessed a Macedonian using this word. Much hatred and tension is from misunderstanding and confusion.
Although I may be in a very old and historical country, I am in a country full of ethnic lines that go back in time. Albanian and Serbian tension has last centuries.
There are plentiful amount of grants for Peace Corps volunteers that want to do multi-ethnic projects. There is money where they problem lies. This issue is language. Once one ethnicity says his/her name then the other ethnicity automatically knows.
What to do? English is a way of avoiding these automatic assumptions. Once people see that they are very similar in that they may have the same favorite football team, the may have the same favorite meal, and they love that Turkish soap opera, then maybe there can be a bridge built, a bridge of understand.
I have stepped into the garden. The garden of possibilities, but now I will have to see what is needed in my area and how I can model and show my peaceful motives.