I didn’t WANT to move, but I didn’t want to freeze or subsidize my electric bill out of my pocket either. I had adjusted quite nicely to my little apartment in an area of Kriva Palanka called Osichka Mala on the outskirts of the town. It was upstairs over an empty, unfinished room in which I was allowed to keep my bicycle. It was also on a corner with a little river on one side and a little grocery shop across the street. As with most Macedonian houses, it was connected to it’s neighbor house–but to an unheated entry hall. So my little space was essentially a stand-alone environment with no insulation. It did have a lovely little balcony off the back where the grapevine grew and shaded the garden below in summer. My kitties, Vince and Vesna loved playing balance beam on the grape vine and happily returned when they got scared of being ‘outside’. I had received “care packages” from home to accommodate my little place–the right size sheets, bathroom mat, cooking utensils. And I’d spent money on an additional cabinet so my food wasn’t in boxes on the floor for 2 years. I’d gotten to know the neighbors, the children, the shopkeepers and the best routes to wherever I needed to go. I made friends there including grandma and grandpa who lived beyond the empty room below me but had raised their family in the extended house. I was a welcomed guest where my neighbor’s 1-yr old had the same birthday as me, and my next-door neighbors had become very dear to me. I had become comfortable with the rhythm of the place.
Enter the Peace Corps policy change. And frankly it’s not one that I disagree with, but it did present another unexpected challenge.
For the past year, Peace Corps paid my electric bill. It was sent directly to them, but my landlord also got a copy, which they gave to me. At first I looked at it on a regular basis–mostly out of curiosity, and forwarded the bills to the PC office for cross-check. How would I know what was ‘normal’? I had been taught well by my “Macedonian Mom” NOT to leave the hot water heater on, to use the electricity during the ‘cheaper’ times, and various other methods of conservation. In winter I rolled up a towel to place between the bottom of my front door and the hallway to prevent the wind from coming through the 1-inch clearance, I slept in the living room/kitchen area which was the only room I heated, I wore long johns and polar-tech together, layering my clothing. Smartwool socks and cozy slip-on slippers covered my feet. I did cook on my little easy-bake oven number with 2 burners on a regular basis (remember when it ‘blew up’?), I did do a load of of laundry in the washing machine once a week (a washing machine is a luxury over here), and I did bathe 2-3 times/week (believe me–you think about whether you REALLY need to get naked when it’s 35 F degrees INSIDE your apartment) . At one point I asked about my electric bill and was assured they had a history on my apartment because previous PC Volunteers had lived there and it was ‘always high’.
But that was 8 months ago, and the policy change was introduced to us 2 months ago. Bottom line is that we are now given an amount/month for electricity starting Dec 1. If we go over we have to pay it ‘out of pocket’ if we are under, we ‘keep the change’.
The difficulty with this is that we were ‘placed’ in these apartments………we had no choice for the first 3 months when you start building relationships and are trying to adjust. And in my case I was placed somewhere with no insulation and nothing under the apartment, I don’t ‘blame’ PC–they work within a budget like everyone else, but the upshot of the meeting was that I would pay an additional 2300 Denari/month out of pocket. (My monthly allowance is about 12,000) I happened to have been looking at other apartments in the town, hoping to get a MAK16 site-mate, but alas, no luck. For what the Peace Corps pays in rent, it was slim pickings.
So after a very thorough e-mail to the Admin at PC MAK, and copying the Country Director I did get a phone call from the Director. He said they would work with me on the rent amount and that if I didn’t find something else by December 1st to not worry about the timing (we pay rent in 3 month increments, so leaving in the middle of the 3 months I thought would be problematic.)
But a co-worker found me an apartment in his building in the town center. It has other apartments all around it providing insulation, it’s closer to work, closer to shopping, closer to well…….everything! It’s also bigger–which wasn’t in my criteria, but overall it’s comfortable, convenient, and WARMER! I was grateful for the CDs’ willingness to work with me on the rent amount because this apartment is 2500 Denari more per month. I will get the lower electricity allowance (1000/month) but it just seems a shame to have worked on those relationships and be forced to move. Ahhhh, Peace Corps
I’ll take pictures when I can, but for now I’m packing to GO HOME! A taxi picks me up at midnight, drives me to Sophia and I fly to Rome then to Atlanta for Christmas with the family. I’ll head down to Tampa the 28th for a quick re-connection with friends (and house) there, back to Atlanta on the 30th and back to Macedonia on the 1st. (Whew!) It will be wonderful to be with friends and family, if only for a little while. Happiest of holidays to all…….gotta go pack!