Parents’ Perspective: Mom and Dad’s visit to Macedonia

In January, Tony and I visited Kelly in Macedonia for about ten days. We hoped to meet the people most important to her: fellow Peace Corp volunteers, Peace Corp staff, her host families, her community friends, and her teacher counterparts. And we did. In the process, we also ended up getting a better understanding of some of the challenges and difficulties she faced.

Macedonia is a small, mountainous country. Kelly told us a joke that Macedonians and Albanians enjoy: Macedonians bombed LA. And they got no response from the US. They tried again, this time bombing NYC. No response. Frustrated, they bombed DC. And still the US ignored them! Finally, Macedonia called the President. “What’s wrong with you? Why aren’t you responding to our bombs?” The President replied, “We would have retaliated but we couldn’t figure out where Macedonia was.”

In case you don’t know, Macedonia is north of Greece, east of Albania, and west of Bulgaria. It’s a part of what used to be called Yugoslavia. The people of the Balkans have an affinity for Chili peppers that rivals New Mexico. They make a sort of salsa from the peppers called ajvar. I love ajvar!

The two largest populations in the country are the Macedonian (Slavic)-speaking Christian majority, and the Albanian-speaking Moslem minority. There are two languages, two cultures, two alphabets, and two religions. Macedonia is seeking to join the EU, hence the presence of the Peace Corps. Kelly works in the Albanian region, teaching English teachers to be better English teachers.

When we arrived in Tetovo (the city adjacent to Kelly’s village) by bus, we had to heave our suitcases over a four-foot wall of snow. Every curb, every street corner, every sidewalk was icy-dangerous. Here are some pictures of Tetovo. Beautiful mountains, no?

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The country was cold, about 0 degrees F at night. Central heating was a rarity. Despite sleeping in a hat, long underwear and a scarf, many tears were shed. By me.

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Notice how the Peace Corp volunteers have lunch with their coats on.

We did a lot of walking, so we were never cold during the day. However, the snow did create conflict between parental units and the child. Tony and I, referred to as ‘senior citizens’ in some circles, always lagged behind Kelly, as we picked our way through the ice. Kelly was unhappy with our speed. We were wrecking her schedule because we took twice as long to get anywhere (our goal was always “right by that tree”). Finally I told her that we could have gone to Fiji instead. Kelly then cut us some slack. ☺

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We spent most of our time in the Albanian regions. I learned about five words in Albanian. One of them was “katastrof.” It means catastrophe. The fact that I know this word suggests an overarching pessimism by Albanian-speakers. Many folks feel they are mistreated by the Macedonian majority. The unemployment rate is certainly high. Men linger all day at men-only coffee shops, smoking and, presumably, talking about their miseries. Some families find employment abroad, working in Turkey or Western Europe. Many houses in Kelly’s village stand empty most of the year, because their owners are abroad. Kelly’s Albanian-speaking younger-generation friends are planning a different future. They are studying to be MDs and dentists, architects and lawyers.

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Tetovo is an exotic city: Hearing the call to prayer from mosques, shopping at the “Pazar” (open air market), window shopping for gold wedding necklaces, and listening to Albanian music in taxis and kombis. Even the pop music has a distinct Middle Eastern flavor.

Here’s a youtube link to one of Kelly’s favorite Albanian music videos. I love it too!

Kratovo was one of my favorite towns. Jake, Kelly’s boyfriend, also a PCV, lives and works in Kratovo. This ancient, cobble-stoned, Macedonian-speaking village is nestled inside the crater of an old volcano! (Hence the name Kratovo)

(Two pictures of Kratovo)

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Kratovo. Notice the smoke from wood fires for heating, juxtaposed against satellite dishes.

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Kelly, Jake and the parental units discovering a cave suitable for hibernation!

Kratovo is famous for Pastramijka, an oval-shaped pizza with bacon and ham on it. Jake took us out to sample this traditional winter dish. The owner of the restaurant also offered us homemade wine, but we declined. Near the end of dinner, the owner poured us a lovely rose drink. What a generous gesture to give us wine on the house! We clinked our glasses together, and said cheers. And we drank. And we gagged. This was no wine. This was cabbage juice!

Jake, always the good sport, actually finished his juice. What happened to the other three half-full glasses? Let’s just say somebody snuck to the back door of the restaurant, and dumped the cabbage juice into the bottom of an old volcano.

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