Another Change of Plans

Due to the hurricane hitting NY and shutting down all the airports, Christine’s flights changed, she will have to spend the night in the Istanbul airport.  Her flight is not confirmed to accommodate a pet…so pretty Vesna kitty will be staying with me in Macedonia for the foreseeable future.


Vesna Kitty

Today is a bittersweet day…4 months in coming.  Last July my cats started fighting for some unknown cat-reason.  Vince chased Vesna to the point she was so scared she lost control of her bladder and bowel.  My intervention seemed to no avail.  At one point he chased her off the balcony and she fell 2 stories to the roof of the shops on the first floor of my building and I had to run downstairs and climb out a neighbor’s window to retrieve her.  For almost 2 months I separated my apartment closing doors to facilitate different living areas for each in order to protect her.

My friend Christine came to ‘kitty-sit’ when I went on vacation to Prague and became BFFs with them both.  The next week (after talking with her boyfriend) she suggested one solution would be for her to adopt one of my kitties and take it back to the States with her.  I was relieved at the time, but was not up to ‘Sofie’s Choice’ and refused to pick between them.  She chose Vesna and I started the process of vaccinations and passport for her.   That resolved, they started to re-socialize.  They now live comfortably together and I wonder if I made the right decision.  I know she will have a wonderful kitty-life in New York with Christine and Will who are wonderful people, but it is a difficult day for me.  Today I will put Vesna in her carrier, pack her a kitty-supply bag, and take her to the hotel in Skopje where Christine is staying for ‘Close of Service’.  I will spend the night with her and go with Christine to see them both off at the airport tomorrow morning.  Especially difficult is that she is flying to Istanbul and then to NYC…it was the fastest flight and seemed the best when we didn’t know there would be a hurricane hitting the city.  Hopefully she won’t get delayed in Istanbul and NYC will have power.  Lots of anxiety, second-guessing, worry, and I will miss my Vesna-kitty.

Smoke….but no Fire!

Sunday a week ago I left a pot of boiling chick peas on the stove with the intention of making humus.  I had a guest for the weekend and we left to go visit the Monastery.  I swear I checked the stove before I left, but in my haste, I checked the burner that I usually use instead of the one that I was currently using…big mistake.  While my visitor and I were cheerfully enjoying a cup of coffee at the monastery, I got a phone call from a neighbor saying there was a bad smell coming from my apartment.  I instantly knew what I had done and panic rose in my core.  Not only for the possible property damage, but my cats were locked in that apartment!  We ran towards the parking lot and spotted a young couple heading in the same direction.  “Do you have a car?”  I asked in a panic.  They looked at me with surprise at the crazy, agitated woman speaking in accented Macedonian and warily nodded yes.   “Do you live in Kriva Palanka?”  “No” they responded, “We live in Skopje.”  “Can you give us a ride into town?  I just got a call from my neighbor and my apartment is on fire!” I explained in a panic wondering from the depths of my brain where these Macedonian words were coming from.  They agreed, cleaned some stuff out of the back seat, and allowed my guest and I to jump in.  It seemed like it took him forever to simply turn the car around, and granted the winding mountain road to the monastery must be driven with caution, but “COME ON,” my mind was screaming while I tried to breathe and think of what I had to do when I arrived home.  Approximately 15 minutes later we were in front of my building.  You could smell the smoke on approach even though my apartment is on the 3rd floor.  I ran (at 56 and despite the bad knee!!) across the street, up the stairs to the entrance and the next 2 flights to my apartment, trailed by my guest and the Macedonian neighbor who had tracked down my phone number and called me.  Upon opening the door I was met with a black wall of smoke.  I hurriedly went to the stove to deal with the cause while my guest ran in behind me (she was smart enough to cover her mouth and nose with her scarf!) to open all the doors and windows.  As the fresh air pushed the smoke out of my apartment, the silent smoke detector located in the kitchen finally ‘woke up’ and decided to do it’s job.  The problem clearly was not the battery!

After further discussion with my neighbor, everyone in the building had been trying to identify where the smell was coming from.  Clearly if the smoke alarm had been working it would have been more identifiable that it was my apartment and perhaps they’d have called me sooner.  This situation was definitely my mistake and my responsibility, and I have had to deal with the aftermath.  Safety and Security is paramount to Peace Corps policy and I know it is is their intention for us to have WORKING smoke detectors.  I’ve asked for a new one!
On the lucky side, my cats were OK… one survived by burying under the comforter on my bed and was breathing ‘filtered’ air and the other was under the bathtub in a corner as far from the source as possible.  I’m sure they were traumatized and I used up another of their 9 lives, but there was no observable soot around their airways and they seemed to be fine once we’d cleared the air (literally!) and things settled down.
Since then I have had the carpets taken to the car wash and cleaned, washed every cabinet, drawer, dish, glass, pot and pan, had ~30 hours of Macedonian cleaning women to do the floors, windows, doors and light fixtures, had the entire apartment re-painted, and all the tile surfaces wiped down.  The apartment still smells like smoke.  When the painter finishes with my bathroom ceiling today I will start cycling my clothes and blankets through the washing machine.  I’m VERY lucky this didn’t happen at night when I was home asleep nor in the middle of winter with -20 temperatures!!!
This could, of course happen anywhere in the world, but one cultural difference that may be interesting is the costs.  All the combined services listed above to restore my apartment to date have cost me roughly $150!!!
I was very lucky in spite of my negligence.  Please check your smoke detectors!

The Cooking Show

Adriana with one of the Grandmas

Alpha Channel in Macedonia features a very popular cooking show that is a 15 minute segment shown three times/day.   It’s called “Taste of Tradition” and the star of the show is sort of a Macedonian Martha Stewart (minus the jail-time) named Adriana Alaski (Адријана Аласки).  A couple weeks ago she decided to shoot some regional segments and came to Kriva Palanka.  My counterpart at the Municipality was in charge of organizing the visit and arranging all the logistics,

2 of Macedonia’s finest. Aunt Valentina (left) can tell you about your life by reading your coffe grounds, on the table on the right is a REAL clay crock-pot sealed with bread dough and cooked in coals.

so naturally I was able to tag along, watch the shoot, and help eat some of the delicious aftermath.  The first few segments were shot at the Monastery and the next day at a local (mostly outdoor) restaurant.  The idea was that different ladies (Grandmothers or ‘Babas’) of the region would cook their specialties while our star assisted, asked questions about the recipes, and exclaimed how delicious everything was.

The Mayor with our Star

I helped with some prep work, and washed dishes when I wasn’t being quiet for the set and running errands.  Apparently Adriana noticed my language errors (not too difficul!) and asked my counterpart about me.

Upon discovering I was American she was delighted to practice her English and told me

The cameras capture the Monastery in the background

about her visit to the States.    She then asked if I would mind commenting on the food of Macedonia for the cameras.  Uhhhh…gotta check with the boss.  (As is Peace Corps policy…they don’t want Volunteers saying anything controversial or anything that could negatively impact the program over here.)

2 more of Kriva Palanka’s finest cooks…there was a ‘Dedo’ (grandfather) featured also!

After a quick call to my Country Director, he wholeheartedly endorsed the ‘foodie’ opportunity and all was a ‘go’.  EXCEPT the afore-mentioned language difficulties!

All well and good, the cooking part of the segment was over, the original-clay-crockpot dish accomplished and plated, and the Grandma, Adriana and I were seated at the table with cameras rolling.  (Why do I never carry make-up in my purse?)  After a short discussion of the dish and a

The set at the restaurant with traditional regional costumes

recounting of the ingredients, Adriana turned to me and introduced me as the local American working in Kriva Palanka for the Peace Corps….and what did I think of the local food?…..but she’d asked me in Macedonian!

Quickly remembering it was taped and not ‘live’ I gave it my best shot and answered in Macedonian.

Potato Pancakes….yum!!!

“The food here is delicious and I have gained weight wanting to try everything.  I have become a regular “Palanchanka”…..or person from Palanka, kind of like a person from Florida is a Floridian.   EXCEPT that instead of Palanchanka I said Palanchinka….which means Pancake!

They skinned, stuffed and roasted a kid (baby goat!) That was not my favorite part of the show since I’ve been eating vegetarian since February.

Our hostess didn’t skip a beat as the professional she is and soon the segment was a ‘wrap’.  After scattered laughter and applause I was informed of my mistake, but quickly reassured that everyone KNEW what I meant and it was very ‘cute’.  I now have a new nickname here at the Municipality….Pancake!

The final shot with everyone at the table. I’m 3rd or 4th from the left.


Am I still ME?

Since I live abroad I had until June 15th to file my 2011 tax return.  Imagine my surprise when it was not accepted because apparently somebody stole my identity and filed a tax return under my SS number.  Now so far there hasn’t been anything else affected, but what I really want to know is if whoever did this PAID the taxes that I owe!!!  Alas, probably not……….

As difficult as it is when something like this happens, add the fact that it happened while I’m on another continent!  I feel very badly for my sister who has to do the follow-up, exercising her Power of Attorney on my behalf and dealing with the mess.   As someone recently reminded me, I don’t like it very much when I have to ask for help–too independent!  At the same time it makes me acutely aware of how grateful I am for family and friends that are always there for me.  In that respect I am endlessly blessed!

This situation brought me to a whole new level of introspection.  Identity theft?It’s one thing to live in a different country, learn a new culture, speak a different language (poorly), and socialize with different people.  That is all additive!  I still have my family and friends in America, I still have the God-given package of attributes I was born with and the sum total of experiences I’ve accumulated in 55 years.

Yes, I’m outraged!  It was NOT fun to spend 5 hours on Skype with financial institutions, credit bureaus, SS office, and FTC.  I’m angry that my sister has this mess to clean up and the fine folks living in my house now have to watch for IRS  notices and additional signs of fraud.  Anyone would feel angry and violated.  But I’m still me.

At the Monastery with president of the Wood Carver’s Association

George Day

After a fantastic day in Stip with my team of 5 participating in our first Model United Nations, I had the bus drop me off in Kratovo  to visit my former host-mom, Nada.  I had no idea the next day was ‘George Day’ May 6th, which is a big “Name Day” here for people who have George as the symbolic/patron name for their house.  However, always up for new experiences, I agreed to be at Jovanka’s house at 5 AM to participate.  (Host mom had no intention of getting up that early–she’s done it before and was a little smarter than I.)  Despite the early hour, picnic items were packed and off Jovanka and I went together to another Host Family’s house.  (Some of you may remember Sam’s host family, Lile and Mone.)  I’d never really noticed the rickety bridge only 10 meters or so up the hill and across the street from their house before, but there it was stretching across a fairly steep drop to the river.   On the other side of the ‘bridge’ was  a clearing

Jovanka swings from the tree

with make-shift tables and maybe a dozen people present.  I later found out that the river used to be much higher and that location supported a watermill for milling flour.  (The grind stones were still there, hundreds of years old.) Food and rakija was set up, then Mone led everyone up a trail where people took turns swinging by their hands from a tree (no kidding)! It’s supposed to bring long life and good luck.  (I was thinking it would bring strained muscles and possible injury–but that’s just me!) Then everyone went back to the clearing and the eating and drinking commenced.  Soon fist-sized breads were passed around and everyone looked for the 10 denar (Macedonian money) piece baked into one of them. The person who found it was crowned ‘queen’ with a wreath of branches and presented

Mone crowns the “Queen”

with a hastily picked bouquet of wild lilacs. And just as I was thinking how fun this was and just how much I loved the craziness of Macedonia, the sun rose and I was told it was tradition to kill a lamb. Two men headed back across the rickety bridge and the women started clearing the tables.  My name was called loudly to bring my camera so Jovanka and I headed back across the bridge.  I hadn’t realized it, but the killing of the lamb was going to take place right there at the house of Sam’s ex-host family.  I tried not to look, but as I glimpsed the two men half lead/half carry the lamb down the steps it’s tail was actually wagging like, “Gee, this is fun, what game are we playing now?”   My sheep-breeder friend later corrected me telling me it was a sign of nervousness.  I shoved my camera in Jovanka’s hand and turned around back across the bridge.  It only took a few minutes to pack up the food and as we walked back to the house, there was blood running down the street past our feet.   I had tears in my eyes walking home as I contemplated the highs and the lows of the morning.   After a 2 hour nap and receiving visitors at Nada’s house, she got a call that we were expected at Lile & Mone’s house that evening for the continuing St. George Celebration….guess what was on the menu! I was

Lile sets a nice table for “George Day” the patron Saint of their home

challenged about a dozen times on my effort to become a vegetarian, and truth be told, I have no philosophical problem with what they did, I’m just not willing to do it myself.   And I have problems with the big agribusiness enterprises in America and the poor treatment of animals in that system…at least this one had a reasonably normal and comfortable life right up until they cut it’s throat.  Part of Sam’s host family challenging me allowed me to ask some questions. The lamb was ~3 months old, 24 Kilograms and yielded about 12 Kilograms of meat….all on the table that night.   I was shocked as the animal looked much bigger and I was thinking they’d have it in the freezer all summer, but truth be told, my family has cooked 24 pound turkeys for Thanksgiving.   Guess it really impacted me about how many animals it takes to feed the planet.

There’s always dancing…..

Lile n Mone share a hug on their special day

Mone shows us how it’s done

Model United Nations

The following is the Press Release–sorry I’m a little late posting it…………..

On Saturday, May 5th five young people from Kriva Palanka traveled to Stip to participate in the second annual Macedonian Model United Nations.  They were Sandra Stojanovska, Nela Peshovska,  Viktorija Jakimovska, Ivana Stefanovska, and Vlatko Todorovski.  After practicing for 3 months with their team sponsor Linda Reynolds (Peace Corps Volunteer working at the Municipality), they were well prepared to represent the country ofArgentina as UN delegates.  Examples of the issues debated were Maternal Mortality, Food Security, Climate Change, Child Labor, and other world security issues.

Altogether there were 151 youth from 17 cities and towns throughout Macedonia that participated.  There were 24 countries represented as each team   researched the issues from their assigned country’s point of view.  During the conference the young people debated the issues, formed alliances, wrote resolutions and voted on them.  This experience taught them how to think critically about world issues, the rules of international debate, and the art of compromise to reach a resolution.

When asked if they would do it again despite all the hard work of preparation, all five young people responded with an enthusiastic YES!  Reynolds said, “I am very pleased and very proud of these young people.  They represented the issues forArgentinavery vigorously, but more importantly they were outstanding representatives of our town of Kriva Palanka.  It is amazing to me that they could perform on such a high level for a full day in a foreign language (English).  Their town, their families, and their teachers should also be proud.”  Each participant received an official certificate.

The day was well-organized, the materials provided were excellent and even lunch was included.  The event was organized by Peace Corps Volunteers, and supported by grants from the Friends of Macedonia, and the American Embassy.  Logistical support was provided by The  Coalition of Youth Organizations СЕГА out of Prilep and the University Goce Delchev in Stip donated the use of the Economic Faculty building w

Caucusing in WHO room

Team Argentina at closing ceremonies

here the event was held.

Me with my team at Model UN