Great News

We’ve met our financial goal for Camp GLOW.  Thanks to all of my friends and family that donated.

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Linda E Reynolds

In April I was informed I was chosen to be an instructor for Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) this summer. About 80 high school girls from all over Macedonia will compete and interview to attend. Camp is multi-ethnic and some girls will actually live with and interact with girls of different ethnic backgrounds for the first time as schools (and even communities) are frequently segregated here. The girls will attend a variety of classes focusing on empowerment of women, leadership, women’s health, volunteerism, society/politics, plus fun workshops like art and self-defense. There is a very nominal fee (about $10 plus bus fare from their town) to the girls and beyond that, it is fully funded by donations. If anyone would like to donate (even a small amount goes a very long way over here) you can do so at the following web site:

I’ve removed the link because we…

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Girls Leading Our World….Camp

In April I was informed I was chosen to be an instructor for Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) this summer. About 80 high school girls from all over Macedonia will compete and interview to attend. Camp is multi-ethnic and some girls will actually live with and interact with girls of different ethnic backgrounds for the first time as schools (and even communities) are frequently segregated here. The girls will attend a variety of classes focusing on empowerment of women, leadership, women’s health, volunteerism, society/politics, plus fun workshops like art and self-defense. There is a very nominal fee (about $10 plus bus fare from their town) to the girls and beyond that, it is fully funded by donations. If anyone would like to donate (even a small amount goes a very long way over here) you can do so at the following web site:

I’ve removed the link because we met our goal and are no longer accepting donations….thank you!

The web site will tell you more about the camp, but it’s impossible to communicate the hope and desire these teenagers bring to camp.  They are chosen because we believe they will go back to their communities more educated and empowered to affect their peers and influence others.  Changing the world one life at a time is a lofty goal….but then we are Peace Corps Volunteers and would not be here in the first place if we didn’t believe in this.  We also wouldn’t be here without the American Tax Payer support, so you are already contributing and I thank you.  If in addition you choose to donate to Camp GLOW, you are participating in MY service over here, and I thank you again.

Cheers!

Vacation

April 14th-24th was spent sailing the Danube river from Bucharest to Budapest with 2 Peace Corps friends. (There were supposed to be 4 of us, but unfortunately our friend Sam was sent back to the States for medical tests.) Blake, Candy & I traveled by taxi to Bucharest on the 14th as we are not allowed to drive in any Peace Corps country, but it only cost about $180 split between the three of us. Bucharest is quite a city of contrasts ranging from opulence to shades of oppression. Their parliament building is the 2nd largest building in the world (after the pentagon) built during the Ceausescu era, yet only about 8% of it is utilized. (Unfortunately the first half of the trip pics are ‘stuck’ in the camera and I’ll need help uploading them, so no pics until second half)  After a night in the hotel and touring the city, we were taken by bus to Silestra on the Danube to

Blake, me and Candy on the bow

board the Avalon Imagery. Candy and I were right across the hall from Blake, but truth be told we didn’t spend a lot of time in the rooms.
We sailed down to the Black Sea and visited the city of Varna. The black Sea has so much fresh water with 5 major rivers flowing into it that sea life cannot live below 200 meters. Then we headed north and I won’t detail all the little towns and cities, but we enjoyed each excursion and the character of each place we visited. The food was wonderful with plenty of selection and featured wines included. After dinner we frequently went to the lounge and enjoyed dancing and music with other passengers. I liked the Riverboat cruise ‘feel’ with ~120 passengers who become your new best friends, rather than the 3,000 passenger floating cities that are Ocean Liners. Meals were ‘open seating’ so you got to know people and looked forward to seeing them at different times.
The Iron Gates were the next highlight of the trip. I’ve never been through a set of locks before and found the process fascinating. That was the only really rainy day, but we enjoyed it nonetheless.

The fortress in Belgrade

Belgrade, the capitol city of Serbia was next. After the organized tour, Candy hit the Princess museum while Blake and I spent several hours in the history museum. For me, reading the actual signs in German of the Nazi occupation was very impactful.  “For every dead German soldier we will kill 100 people.  For every wounded German

View from the fortress where th Danube and Sava Rivers join

soldier we will kill 50 people.”  And then followed the Tito regime, a different kind of oppression, but most Former Yugoslav Republic people of my generation say the economy was better, and upon my learning of the billions of US tax dollars that poured into the region during that time, I understand why.  Did you know that Stalin was

Old Army HQ that was bombed during NATO bombing in 1999

responsible for at least 5 assassination attempts on Tito?

From Belgrad we sailed north stopping in Nova Sad and Pecz, both beautiful towns, and becoming more “European”.  And finally Budapest…simply the crown jewel of the trip.  It was Sunday, and we set off to tour the famous Opera House which did

Kids singing in front of a church in Pecs. There were more kids happily drawing with large chunks of chalk on the pedestrian walkway….charming

not disappoint.   At the end we stayed for a mini-performance and I was pulled out of the crowd by the performer to dance to the famous beer-hall song from La Traviata.   Fortunately I know how to waltz and was even able to pull it off when he twirled me at the end.   That night Blake and Candy went to the sold-out Opera with the hopes of getting single tickets, and were

Inside the Budapest Opera House. You may recognize it from the movie Evita

successful.  I opted to treat myself to room-service and a massage.  The next day was a ‘free day’ and we decided to hire our own tour guide in order to maximize the time and see as much of the city as possible.  It was stunning.  We took the incline up to Buda Castle, saw the tunnels (used to hide during WWII), the Matthias Church and Fisherman’s

Freedom Square

overlook.  Then we did the Pest side including the memorial park, famous restorative baths, the national repository, Chain Bridge,  St. Stephen’s Church, and much much more.  Did you know that Budapest has statues of 2 American presidents? We ended the day by viewing the remainder of the Jewish ghetto wall from WWII

Buda Castle by night….the view from our hotel room including the Chain Bridge across the Danube

and touring both the modern and traditional synagogues.   The memorial gardens were sobering.

Our tour guide was very knowledgeable as she’d been doing this since she was 18.  Now a single-mom with an 8-yr old daughter and a musician by night, she’s struggling to make ends meet.  We felt priveleged to hear

Parliament Building

details of her own family history–her parents met after being released from  jail following the 1956 uprising, and could have fled the country, but following Prime Minister Nagy’s lead, stayed and accepted the consequences of their rebellion against Soviet occupation.   (Nagy was later tried and executed.)  Taxes are now at ~60%,

Candy and I on the statue of ‘Anonymous”. His face is cloaked, but his gold pen is prominent and supposedly brings you good luck if you touch it.

the national debt is at a dangerous level and one “brilliant”  proposal was to sell the gold in the National Reserve.  Their most recent president was forced to resign in scandal over his credentials.  (OK, now I’ll tell you….the 2 American presidents that have statues in Budapest are Washington and Reagan)

The last day, Tuesday, we went to the Parliament building to tour the place and see St. Stephen’s crown and scepter.  The tour was interesting, but

The famous crown a scepter of St. Stephen with Hungarian children looking on from the back.

also interesting was that there are over 350 members reflecting a time when Hungary was 3 times bigger than it is now.  They keep saying they will pass a resolution to reduce the size of congress, but no one really expects the politicians to vote themselves out of jobs.

Tuesday evening we flew back to Sofia where

At the ‘new’ synagogue

timely taxi driver Robert was there to pick us up and take us back to Kriva Palanka.  It was a great trip.  The food was good, meeting new people was fun, the cabin was comfortable and the amenities luxurious after 18 months of PC life.  Blake and Candy and I traveled well together and even picked up an Australian widower who

Thousands of dead are buried in this courtyard of the old synagogue as there was no where else to bury people in the ghetto. It was later planted with the weeping willow trees and as many names as possible are on plaques leaning against the ledges.

rounded out our card games and after dinner dancing in the lounge.

Now back to the grindstone….and Peace Corps adventures.

Spring flowers outside our hotel

Linda with the Danube River and Castle hill behind her

Beautiful Budapest

Sign at the fortress in Belgrade….I just thought it was funny

Surprising Invitation

I came home looking forward to a relaxing evening of NOTHING…and then I answered my phone. It would not have mattered if I hadn’t…. They all know where I live.  But the truth is I was Very flattered. The Fire Chief called asking me to come to dinner with him and a host of dignitaries in the Municipality……..for a Macedonian specialty. Apparently one of the fire-fighters had shot a wild boar this past Monday. The meat had been dressed and cooked and they were celebrating in a local restaurant where it’s OK to bring your own food.   They sent one of the Fire-fihgters to pick me up at my apartment building because I couldn’t understand WHERE they wanted me to go…ahhh, language! So I showed up to a restaurent where I’d been before and was happy to know I would be able to walk home. I love these men, but they’re all married and for me, I’m just happier knowing I can walk home!
I had a WONDERFUL time! A casserole of wild pork, potatoes, onions, carrots, mushrooms, and I don’t know what else. was served, but it was delicious! Of course it was accompanied by home-made rakija and wine, and it was such a privelege to be the invited guest. Now I don’t exactly understand how it’s OK to bring your own food and beverage to restaurents, but it’s OK here!!
These people are so generous, so welcoming, and so tolerant of my language deficiency that I could hardly complain!!!
I did walk home, happy for the cold air and grateful for the unexpected invitation, the good food, the home-made spirits, and the feeling that I’m accepted in this community

On the other side of my conscience…it was birthday-day for my co-worker and fluent English speaking upstairs neighbor who found me my new apartment.  The fire-chief had also called my project manager who said he couldn’t come because he was at the other guy’s birthday party in my building.  Now I’m sure there’s a cultural differentiation, a way to understand, but if given the choice, …..well, I wasn’t invited to the birthday party, so there was no choice.   Saved me from having to buy a present I suppose.

The impact of death


With 2 of their grandsons

Her name was Stanitza and to our mutual delight, we got to know each other in the human sense …even without much language.  She was 82 when she died on Wednesday leaving her spouse of 62 years, a daughter, 2 sons, at least 5 grandchildren, and 3 great grandchildren (that I know of).

Honey harvesting

They let me keep my bike in the empty room below my apartment which they used as a work-room.  The pictures in this blog are of the time they invited me down to see how they harvested honey.  (And of course they gifted me a jar!)
She was often in the workroom or taking a walk when I’d come home from work on my bike.  I’d

You scrape the wax off the honeycomb and then spin it in a big tub (background) and the honey comes out a spigot at the bottom

stop and give her a hug and kiss on the cheek and we’d stretch the limits of my Macedonian together.  She cried when I had to move out of the apartment, which touched me deeply.  I always looked forward to going back to visit them in the spring….now I’ll only visit him.

Apparently she’d gone to the hospital Wednesday morning and gotten an IV of fluids and vitamins, but

4 Generations

was feeling ‘normal’.  She came home, ate, and lay down for a nap in the afternoon, from which she never awoke.

Thursday morning I got a txt from her granddaughter who told me about the death and that the funeral was at 2:00 pm….they pretty much bury people within a day here because they don’t embalm.  She was ‘laid out’ in her coffin in her living room surrounded by family and friends (family had sat awake all night with the body).  Apparently visiting the dead and lighting a candle represents attending the funeral as people came and went, lighting candles, leaving money, flowers and small gifts.  I had been a little worried about what to wear and settled on black jeans and a black fleece in deference to the weather and was surprised to see that everyone else was remarkably casual–with one exception.  I was the only one wearing make up.  It only occurred to me afterwards that it must have been a signal of grief no not wear make-up, but they know that I don’t know any better.
The priest’ showed up at 1:30 when everyone received another candle, lit it and the service for the dead commenced.  It lasted about a half hour, everyone standing in the little room around the body.  (I was praying no one would catch on fire as we were tightly crowded and spilling into hallway as people tried to gain position.)  Afterwards the coffin (still uncovered) was loaded into a van which led a vehicle procession to the graveyard on the outskirts of town.  I was actually shocked they’d been able to dig a grave with the snow and temperatures we’ve been having here…but indeed they had.  (No backhoe, either!)
Now let me pause for a moment to say that death here seems very much like life here…so much closer to nature than we experience in America.  It’s not sanitized, pasteurized, packaged or filtered.  People actually look at, touch and kiss the corpse.  The jaw is tied shut with a black ribbon to prevent the mouth from falling open.  The hands and feet are also tied with black ribbon to keep them in place–all removed before the coffin is closed.   Very raw for this American who never saw a body not embalmed, but back to the graveside.
After more prayers, the blanket in the casket was neatly tucked around her, the coffin lid set atop, and the casket lowered by 4 men with rope into the grave.  People threw handfuls of dirt on top and made their way down to a canopied area where each took a bite of prepared grain, a piece of bread and rakija or juice if they wanted it.  (It sort of reminded me of communion)  Then the youngest son spoke to each person as they departed the canopied area with words I did not understand, but seemed to be a prescribed message.  We were hardly 5 feet down the hill before the grave attendants started filling it in…I’d certainly never been present for something like that.  I was planning on going home, but my ex-landlady(one of the daughters-in-law) told me to get in their car and we ended up at a restaurant…and soon so did everybody else.  After a full sit-down meal for all

Rest in Peace, sweet lady!

who had attended, I went over to where the family was sitting and again gave grandpa a hug and told him I would visit.  He was understandably in a fog, but I really think the family appreciated that I had attended the funeral.  For me it was an honor to be included.  I only knew her a year, but she impacted my life and I’m told she loved having me there…it was a mutual gift.

Crazy Success

still in town--I'm on far right

Yes it’s COLD here for those of you that are hearing of the Balkan freeze.  When I walk to work in the mornings, it’s frequently -20 c or about 2 F.  I wear smart-wool long underwear (top & bottom), fleece over-shirt, fleece vest, jeans, wool socks, hiking boots, coat, gloves and scarf to work.  But with no central heating, I’m  usually wearing everything but the coat & gloves throughout the day.

Beautiful Winter

Last weekend was even crazier.  I was invited to go hiking in the mountains, and since I’d done that hike before in November I said, “Sure”.   What I didn’t think about was the fact that I’d done the hike BEFORE one and a half  meters of snow had fallen.

But Sunday morning I was geared up (I thought)

This tree is >500 yrs old and a local landmark

and went to meet the hiking club in the center of town.  They took one look at me, whipped out a roll of packing tape and proceeded to tape the bottom of my jeans to the top of my hiking boots.  I was a bit confused, because the snow in town was now off the roads, but who was I to argue?  And off we went up the mountain.

Rose Hip bush with it's little red berries

It wasn’t long before I started to understand…Duh!  1) The mountains got much more snow than the town.  2) We were walking on roads that had neither been plowed nor driven over, so think deep powder.  3) We did about 22 km round trip–a little over 13.5 miles.

Now that kind of physical

Lots of layers--notice the tape at the ankles

effort does keep you warm and I was layered up well.  That said, by the half-way mark snow had worked it’s way into my boots, melted, and my socks were literally sloshing.  I even fell into a snow bank twice and one time needed 2 people to grab my hands and haul me out…I felt pretty ridiculous.

Most embarrassing, and hence the title of ‘crazy success’ is that this endeavor was written up in the National Newspaper.  “Peace Corps Volunteer Joins Hiking Club” and started with the headline, “Only the most experienced hikers dared to brave the cold for the traditional

Too beautiful

mountain hike, but that didn’t stop Peace Corps Volunteer Linda Reynolds.”  (or something like that…remember I’m still struggling with the language.)  The article ended with a quote (from ME) saying I’d fallen several times, and since I didn’t give an interview I don’t know how they got a quote.  But  beyond

We literally stopped in somebody's hay shed to eat lunch

being embarrassing, it was well-meant.  (Maybe they were as surprised as I was that I survived.)

The very next week another article in the National Newspaper detailed my new project I’m working on for the Scouts.  Again, a quote without an interview, but very complimentary.  http://www.dnevnik.com.mk/?ItemID=43465D6A3107CB469749B66166B8D48C    One of the people in the

Don't know who it belonged to but felt very grateful for the shelter

PC office teased me about not having to worry what I’m up to, they just have to open the newspaper.   I honestly have not sought any of this attention despite the excellent training in my former corporate life  regarding the value of good PR.  I suppose in a town of 15,000 and a country of 2.2mm (the size of Tampa/Clearwater/St. Pete) these kinds of things are interesting…but it gives you an idea of my somewhat ‘celebrity’ status and the attention I seem to get for doing nothing more than go for a hike.