Land of Oil and Coffee

Last weekend I went back to my host-family in Kratovo to hang out with Nada.  Her son Nikola was home and it was nice to see him, but her daughter Victoria was still in Skopje.  Most of all, it was great to see Nada, my 1-year-older-than-me “mom”.  My language is a little better now so I was able to tease her and we were able to share more history and friendship.  I hassled her a bit that my first month in Macedonia was mostly the memory of “седе, седе, чекај, чекај” meaning: sit, sit, wait, wait!  Well, I suppose the language has to be imparted somehow!

But while I was thrilled to be back with her, I now looked through  eyes that had lived on their own for a few months and ‘reverted’ to some American ways.  No longer thoroughly overwhelmed with everything new, I was curiously struck by some things that were previously strange to me, but filtered and delegated to the back seat by the overwhelming impact of everything I was experiencing.  Two of those things are oil and coffee.

Nada, as most Macedonian women do, cooks with an amazing amount of oil.  She doesn’t have any Teflon on her pans, but a half inch of oil to cook an egg is more than most Americans are accustomed to seeing.  I had the privilege of helping her make “pita” on Sunday morning and slathered between the thinly rolled out layers of home-made dough was at least 2 cups of oil, rendered fat, and margarine. (And a little cheese and spinach!)  The resulting bread-veggie-cheese-baked crispy meal is delicious.  But remember,  I LOST 10 pounds during the 10 weeks I lived with her, and have struggled to keep it off since I left to cook for myself and have reverted to some of my American ways–even without a microwave.  It makes me wonder about everything we’re taught to believe about food and body fat.

And Coffee……breakfast, mid-morning, after mid-morning, mid-afternoon, late afternoon, early evening, evening, late evening…well, you get the drift.  There’s LOTS of coffee!  It’s ‘Turkish’ coffee meaning a spoonful of finely ground powdered coffee is added to about a half cup of water in a long-handled, spouted  metal cup that is heated on top of the stove.  When it ‘froths’ and almost boils it is ready to pour into a small cup–coffee dregs and all.  It tastes great–but be careful when you get to the bottom because you don’t want to drink the actual coffee powder which is equivalent to coffee grounds.  The point is that it’s very common for Macedonian people to drink coffee all day long.  invite people to coffee as a typical social event, and top off the evening with coffee.

Now having passed the 50 year old age mark a few years ago, and having inherited my father’s propensity to high blood pressure, I gave up coffee for the most part during the year preceding my departure for service in the Peace Corps.  BUT, trying to assimilate the culture and not wanting to offend my Macedonian hosts, I do drink it most mornings and only try to ‘beg-off’ in the afternoons explaining that I won’t sleep if I drink it.  Imagine my delight when I finally learned the word for blood pressure last week and can finally give a valid reason for not accepting the proffered hospitality.  Still, they won’t understand and I’ve actually been told that coffee is good for reducing high blood pressure, but I’m sticking to my guns…no coffee after 4:00!

Tomorrow my program director from the Peace Corps will be visiting.   I look forward to it and am also enjoying the longer days and warmer weather.  Hugs to all!

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