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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Christmas in Macedonia

Merry Christmas, everyone!!

Here's the video from the weekend:

As you all know, I was in Kamenica for the weekend to celebrate Xmas with my fellow volunteers from all over the country. Friday, I rode into town to help Sara set up for the coming days' events. There, we met up with Paul and Julie. That night, we began our celebration by making and hanging the paper snowflakes (shown above). We hung them all over the ceiling so the place could feel a little festive!!

This is Sara's kitchen, and this is Sara building a real fire inside of her wood burning stove. Friday night, we waited for the rest of the first crew to show up: Enid, Kenzie, and Andres. Upon their arrival, I realized just how much I've been missing them. Seeing them again felt like I was having a family reunion!! That night, we headed into town for some kebabs, chicken fingers, salads, and beer. There was some live music, so we stuck around for a bit before heading back to the house. 

The next morning looked like this. We all laid around on Sara's pull-out couches and just caught up on how things were going at each other's sites. We snacked on Anna's famous banana bread, drank coffee and tea, and listened to Xmas music. Later that day, some of the people went up the side of a mountain and cut down a Xmas tree for us. We made homemade decorations out of aluminum foil. Here's our tree:


By the middle of the day, the rest of our crew began to arrive: Faron, Dan, and Dale. We took a walk into town to get some last minute things we figured we'd need to the upcoming meals.



Andres and I in front of one of the two churches in the town. Here, we met one of the priests who gave Sara all the details about people she knew in town. It was pretty entertaining.

That night, we made a lot of Mexican food. We had a taco bar set up, and we made a troth of nachos to go along with it. We played Apples to Apples that night and spent a good chunk of time just dancing and joking around. We also shared a "white elephant gift exchange." The deal was we all had to bring something that was in our home when we first moved in...something weird or funny. Some people got some wildly hilarious gifts, while others got gifts that were oddly perfect for them!! For example, I got these cute little knit slippers that are TINY. I was literally the only person whose tiny feet could fit in them, and I somehow managed to get that bag. It was perfect!!

Sunday morning was kind of a slow one. We woke up, and Julie had made everyone "stockings" out of Sara's socks. In them, she put a bunch of random items, like veggies, candy, mini American flags, and tea bags. She left this message from Santa on the table:


It was really sweet. From there, we decided to finally sit down all together to watch a Xmas movie...so we put on The Grinch. I loved being able to sit around with everyone for that. It was probably the most festive feeling moment of the entire weekend. Some people fell asleep, while others stayed up and laughed along. Regardless, we were all curled up together, and it felt like a family. After we all finally got moving, I began to work on our Xmas day meal. We didnt have much, bc the local bazaars were empty last week. It must have been from the snow we had. We made due though!! We baked 3 small chickens with potatoes, carrots, and onions. We also made some moussaka. Then, we all gathered around the den for one last meal:


Shortly after we ate, I decided to catch a ride back into Kocani. I was feeling extremely homesick and a little sad I wasnt able to see my family yet. As soon as my ride began to pull into Kocani, I began to feel so much better. Even walking up my 6 flights of stairs felt good....it just felt good to be home. I immediately turned on my cheap little Xmas tree and got online to Skype my momma, who was just getting up. She walked me around the house as her and Jessica got ready for the day. I watched Xmas movies on their TV across the internet. I chatted with them as they put on their makeup and did their hair. Later, I was carried around on the computer as my family opened all their presents and stockings. I was able to see and speak to everyone, and it truly felt like I was there! I was SO HAPPY to feel like I was still able to share such an important holiday with my family. Being able to hear them laugh and joke around made me miss them all so much more, but I was smiling from ear to ear when I finally shut my computer. 

Suddenly, Lilika, the student from school I've grown close with, showed up at my house with a jorgan, which is kind of like a super heavy blanket. She sat around and met my mom and sis via Skype with me and helped me admire how wonderful their Xmas tree was. We sat around for a bit, eating popcorn and chatting, before Emilija called me. She was on her way to pick me up!! Emilija and her husband showed up with a piece of cake for me, and then they took me down to the center for some pizza, salad, and coffee. Having them drop what they were doing on a Sunday...the one day Emilija and her family have to themselves..made me feel like part of the family. It became evident how much they cared, and even though I know they care, their simple act of taking me out on Xmas meant so much to me, I simply cannot explain. Emilija and Lilika really own my heart here. I love them so much for being there for me on what we all knew would be a difficult day. By the time I shut my eyes for sleep, I was a happy  and fulfilled girl.

I went into work on Monday, and it felt a little slow. I was just feeling tired, I guess. And then his morning, I woke u with a sore throat. I decided I'd get through work so I could spend the rest of the evening in bed with tea and soup, which is exactly what I've done. I think it's really the extreme drop in temperature that's made me feel like I'm getting a cold. Regardless, Im going to battle through it, b/c tomorrow Rob comes into town!! Hoorah!! His plane gets in late, so I am probably going to be beat by Thursday. Not sure what we are going to do for the New Year yet....we may just stick around here. I dont think either of us would mind that...it will feel good to relax.

Hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas. Although I survived this year, I must admit I think I'll have to come back next year for sure!! I miss and love you all. Keep the emails coming : )

Thursday, December 22, 2011

We are having a white Christmas!!

It's almost Christmas!!!!!!

I just got home from my last day of school for the week, because early tomo morning I'll be hoping on a bus to Kamenica for the holiday!! Right now, we've got around 12 people going this weekend, which should be REALLY interesting figuring out where everyone is going to sleep. Im going to try and not worry about it, because the snow outside may prevent some people from even making it....although, I really hope that isnt the case. Oh, speaking of snow:

This is what I saw on my walk into school this morning!! It is supposed to keep on snowing throughout the weekend. As of right now, getting to and from Kamenica shouldn't be a problem. I only live about 30-45 minutes away, so hopefully the sun will help melt some of the snow by Monday morning. The temperature keeps dropping!! I woke up this morning, and I was SO COLD. It may be about time to get a second blanket. My Director told me today that it can get as cold as -30 here in the winter......WOW!!

On a side note, I went by a new butcher shop on my way home today. The Director had suggested this place to me, as it apparently has the best fresh meat in town. I love discovering places that will become my regular shopping place, so I was eager to go there straight from work. It's my job to pick up all the meat for this weekend, so what better time to do it??
Anywho....so I get to the butcher's shop, which is a tiny little shop right behind my building. I man and his son run the place, and they were both there as I walked in. Upon entering, I realized they had no ground meat readily available. I got a little nervous, because I realized I was going to have to explain myself in Macedonian, and my butcher shop vocabulary isn't the best. That being said, the men were SO HELPFUL and nice!! They told me they could make some, and then they asked how much I needed. The next thing I know, they are literally cutting the meat right off the hanging carcasses. They put it through the grinding machine and mixed it all up until it was the freshest looking ground meat I'd ever seen. They made me a mixture of ground pork and beef. I watched the entire process!! They talked to me about my Macedonian and told me I'd have to come back again (which I will!!) Before I knew it, I was walking out with 4 kilos of meat and the two men were wishing me well. It's experiences like that which make me feel so accomplished. 

On another side note, I have to tell everyone that I got a new water boiler this week. I was super excited the day it got installed, and I decided to allow it to heat for an entire day before testing the waters...pun intended. : ) I woke up the following morning and got ready for what I was hoping to be an epic shower. After shaving HALF of one leg, the water began to get cold.....I couldnt believe it!! I was so disappointed. I told the people at school, and everyone was shocked. I havent had the courage to contact PC or my landlord to tell them the problem is still present....That being said, I AM taking care it up. More on that another day.

Well that's all for now. Tonight, I'll be packing for my weekend getaway. I need everyone to know that I will not have internet again until Monday. So if you happen to email me, dont expect a response until then. Im going to try and find an internet cafe in Kamenica on Xmas, just so I can Skype my family....I feel bad my momma is 1 daughter short this year. We actually spent some time talking about it, but we're both very thankful that we can communicate in general. What would we do without the internet?!?!?! 

I hope you all have a lovely Xmas. Im thinking and missing all of you, but please trust I'll be having a fantastic and unforgettable Xmas with my second family in Macedonia. : )

Sunday, December 18, 2011

12/18

New video:

December video

This weekend was a lot of fun...much like every weekend so far. In summary:

-Friday was Mexican night. I made the most amazing and heavenly Mexican food ever and we ate ALL of it. It was the best meal I've had in a long time!!
-Saturday, I went to Stip for the Model UN thing. It was good!! Martin, one of my students, tried out for a chair position and did an awesome job!! We will find out in a week if he got accepted. In the meantime, my Model UN group will continue to work hard so we can kick butt in May.
-Saturday, I also enjoyed a nice afternoon in the city with Paul and Phil before heading back to Kocani to meet up with Sara. God bless the delicious pizzerias here!!
-Saturday night was an epic failure, but in a good/funny way. Paul, Sara, and myself all tried to make homemade hummus, and it was a big fail (see video). Just cooking in the kitchen was a good laugh though....we had a lot of fun and learned some cooking lessons. haha Later, we met up with a teacher friend of mine for a couple drinks in the center. I was so excited to go out with her, because we seem to have a lot in common, and I've been anxious to make more local friends. It was a good rest of the night!! Hopefully, her and I will see more of each other now.
-Sunday morning was a proper breakfast with Paul and Sara. Potatoes and eggs!!
-Sunday day was spent setting up for the big basketball event.
-Sunday evening was the event itself (see video), which was awesome!!

I was really pleased with how the basketball event turned out. The director seemed really happy as well. I'm absolutely exhausted from the weekend, but I seriously had a good time!! I'm always so glad to have fellow volunteers come into share the weekends with me. I love having them, and I love just being able to lounge around in some pajamas and cook food.....it just feels normal, and I love them for that.

This weekend was another example of why I feel so proud to live in Kocani. Even my friends love coming here to visit. It means so much when they care about what I do for work, and then they make time to come and support it in person!! My students, colleagues, and friends all make this city what it is.....even being there tonight with everyone made me feel like such a big part of the community, and that was a very rewarding feeling to have after only being here for a month.

That being said...I'm off to bed. This week is another busy one, and then Christmas begins on Friday for me!! Thanks again to everyone for sending me emails. OH, and a major CONGRATS to my cousin, Chelsea, for graduating from her nursing school this week. I'm still extremely proud the accomplishments going on at home. : )

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Proud

I'd like to share a proud moment.

If you've been following up on my blog, you know I've been helping to organize a basketball event at my school. It's the kind of event where the students play against teachers and parents. There will be 4 games with 6 teams total. The school will be having the chorus sing, the orchestra play, and some other entertaining elements to the event. As part of my contribution, I made two videos last week:

Video 1

Video 2

The shorter of the two videos (video 2), began airing on local TV last night. : ) I am extremely proud!! The event is this coming Sunday, and I've extended the invite to many volunteers and some PC people as well. I've had some excellent help from some of the boys at my school. The Director's son and his friends have created fantastic posters and tickets and have seriously been so helpful. The hardest thing about organizing the event has been recruiting cheerleaders. Cheerleaders just arent common here...girls are not interested. It's taken me almost two weeks to get the 4 girls I have, and I'm not even sure if they will all follow through. Today, I'm getting t-shirts made for them. : ) Anywho...the video will continue to air every night until Sunday, but I unfortunately dont have a TV to see my video debut on Macedonian TV. haha

 I stayed up really late last night, and I slept in really late today. I decided I needed to make some potatoes, peppers, and eggs for breakfast. It's the type of thing my mother makes for breakfast, but I can never quite make it as good as her!! Today, I should have my landlord come by to pick up my water boiler, because I still havent had a warm shower that lasts longer than 4 minutes. Later tonight, I think Paul may come into town to kick it. He lives with a host family in his village, and with the stress we've all been going through in adjusting to our sites, it's just nice to get out and be normal from time to time. Sara might also come into town to stay the night. We have to go into Vinica tomorrow for a PC 50th anniversary event, so it's just makes more sense for her to come tonight, rather than at 6am in the morning. I'm excited about tomorrow though!! It will be the first PC event I've really attended outside of all my training and swearing-in stuff. And it'll be nice to spend lunch with the other volunteers after the event.

I'm also getting more and more excited about Xmas here. So far, I've been really homesick when I see and hear about festive things going on in the states. Even watching an Xmas episode of a TV show here is killing me. That being said though, the volunteers I'll be sharing Xmas with are really doing an excellent job of getting everyone excited!! It will be a 3-day event, complete with LOTS of baking, one night of homemade Mexican food, making and watching funny videos, have a proper Xmas feast, complete with mulled wine and eggnog, and simply getting really dressed up, just like we would if we were all home. We'll basically be hibernating in Sara's home in Kamenica. As of now, I think we may have close to 10 or more people!! I already have my Xmas dress picked out, which is a fantastic vintage dress I bought at an estate sale with mom this summer. I hope we will all get a chance to Skype home while we are there too. Id really love to see my family on Xmas.

Ok...I have to go attempt to get t-shirts made now. It's 52 and sunny here. Let's make this a good day.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

12/11/11

Yay for the weekend!!!!! My weekend was a fantastic one!! So far, I haven't had a bad weekend, and I love that.

The weekend was different than anything I've experienced in Macedonia so far. Friday evening started with an American friend of mine, Francesco, coming into town. He's been traveling for over a year, and he decided to stop through for a visit on his way to Greece. A new local friend of mine suggested a bar to Paul (volunteer that lives nearby) and I the night before, so we decided we were going to try it out. The three of us headed over to what is called either "the house" or "the fig." It is basically just a house bar. You walk into an entryway that is lit by a red bulb and has paper clippings taped all over the walls. There are three doors, all leading to three separate rooms. We decided to go with the door on the far left, only to discover one of the teachers that works at my school to be sitting there!! He apparently is a co-owner of the bar, and he was just as equally surprised and happy to see me. So we ended up having a couple of beers there, before we decided to head over to another bar for a change of scenery.

The rest of the night was pretty basic. We went to two other bars, but one of them was full of youngsters, and by the time we made it to the other one we were pretty tired. We ended the night at my place, surrounded by my last batch of Ranch dip. We literally pigged out for like a good hour and a half, before my mom and sister Skyped us. It was fun!!

The following day, I took Francesco around Kochani. We went up to Freedom Monument and did a bit of exploring around the city. We also made an epic feast of baked chicken and potatoes!! Later that night, the Director picked us both up for dinner. We went to this fantastic fish restaurant up in the mountains. The place was located on the dam, and even at night, you could just see how fantastic the view was!! It was so peaceful up there. We were there to celebrate a group of the teachers earning their permanent jobs, which was nice to be a part of...although Francesco and I really only spoke with the Director the entire night. It is still difficult for me to follow along with some of the Macedonian, and when you get 13 people speaking Macedonian really fast it is nearly impossible to keep up!! For that reason, I was even more thankful to have Francesco by my side!! We had some excellent conversations with the Director and ended up being there until midnight!! After 5 hours of indulging in fish, potatoes, appetizers, and wine, we all headed back into the city. Needless to say, nothing else exciting happened that night, because we were in a food coma!!

Sunday morning was perfect. We got up and had some coffee and breakfast and just sat around talking about everything under the sun. Suddenly, my counterpart, Emilija, called me and offered to take us out for coffee. Excited, we both hurried to get ready before running out to meet her and her husband. They ended up taking us back into the mountains to this other restaurant that was very close to the one from the night before. It was SO BEAUTIFUL up there!! Seeing the view in the daytime was fantastic. Seeing all the mountains made me so excited for warmer weather, when I can begin hiking!! It also made me want to purchase a bike at some point, because I could totally take a bike ride up there!! Anyways, we had some nice coffee and conversation before heading back into the city.

The rest of the day was a trip!! We had a FANTASTIC lunch at Emilija's house as we all frantically tried to figure out which bus/train/cab/etc Francesco would take to get into Greece. We had several plans we were tossing around, and the confusion of it all was just funny in itself. Unfortunately, we had to eat and leave really fast, which I still feel bad about, but it all made for such a good day. I really enjoy getting to spend time with that family.

Francesco is now gone, but his short trip here was fun!! Spending time with him and Paul on Friday made me miss all the guy friends I have back home. That being said, meeting a lot of the locals really makes me excited and proud of the city I'm living in!! I felt so proud while showing off my city all weekend, and I just love being shown all these new places by everyone. It was definitely a well-spent weekend.

These coming two weeks are going to be AWESOME..have I told you?! Ok, well:
-Tomorrow I have three meetings at school
-Wednesday I'm going to Vinica for a 50th anniversary Peace Corps event
-Saturday, I'll be in Veles with my Model UN group for their tryout to be an advanced group
-Sunday is the BIG EVENT--the basketball events I've been organizing

The next weeks:
-20th, someone from Peace Corps is coming to see me
-23-26, I'll be in Kamenica for Xmas with several of the volunteers (so excited!!)
-28th, Rob is coming to visit from London!!!!

Then, there is obviously New Years, which I don't know what we'll be doing for that, but then I have the first three weeks of January off for winter break. WOOHOO!! I plan on using the time off to spend time with people, start organizing the clubs/events for the school, and maybe travel a bit around Macedonia. I am just so excited for these next few weeks!!

That's all for now. Things are good. It's still taking some adjusting to not being home for the holidays, but I am finally beginning to feel like I have a home here. : )

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Time

It's hard to believe tomorrow is already Wednesday.

This week has already been an eventful one!! Monday morning, I was surprised with some house warming gifts from my Director. He'd heard about my lack of decent kitchenware and decided to bring me some!! I ended up with some stainless steal silverware, some nice drinking glasses, and some cooking utensils!! I was totally blown away by how nice the gesture was...it was a fantastic way to begin the day!!

Later that day, I began filming something for an event the school is throwing on December 18th. I met with a group of boys who will be playing in the game, and we filmed for a bit. Later, I spent some time with Emilija at her house. She truly has such a sweet family, and I always feel like I'm at home when I'm at her house!! That night, I was able to do some much needed online chatting with friends and family back home. Thank goodness for having internet.

I'm actually having some problems with my apartment right now. For instance, my hot water boiler for my shower only provides hot water for about 2 minutes, if that. You can imagine how impossible it is for me to have a decent shower. I'm also experiencing problems with my bathroom actually flooding, because the pipes all seem to be messed up. I haven't wanted to complain too much to anyone about it, because I dont like to feel like Im burdening anyone. Not to mention, I like to see if I can fix things on my own first. Well, my Director ended up contacting Peace Corps about it, who ended up calling me last night to discuss what needed to be done. I had Emilija get my landlord over last night, and he honestly did not believe there was any problem at all. Basically, Peace Corps requires him to replace that boiler, if needed, so if he doesnt....well, I may be looking into a new home. Let's hope it doesnt come to that!!

This morning, I woke up and took my time getting ready. I attempted to make the lemon zest pasta I love so much, but not having the right red pepper flakes really dulled the flavor, but it was good non the less!! I filmed the guys for a second day, and they looked super in their uniforms!! Afterwards, I spent the entire afternoon editing the two videos. It was exhausting, so I ended up snacking on all the food I had in the house and turning on some good music. : ) Currently, both videos are done, so I'm feeling accomplished!!

Tomorrow will be a long day. I have a meeting at 12:30 for anyone who is interested in being a cheerleader for the event. I really hope girls show up!!!!! Afterwards, Emilija and I have our longest day where we have classes from 1:30-6:40pm, with no real break. I will be sleeping like a baby tomorrow night. Thursday and Friday shouldn't be too busy though, so I'll have some time to put into finalizing things for the basketball event.

All in all, everything is going really well for me. I am beginning to settle into living here, which is a great feeling. The difference in dialect is still a lot for me to take in, but I am slowly getting used to that as well. The hardest thing about being here so far is having to explain yourself to people so that they understand you. A lot of people here can't understand why I like to spend so much time alone or why I'm sometimes being so quiet. How can I actually explain what it feels like to be in a country so different from my own with no family and friends nearby? It's a difficult concept to grasp, because most people have never had to make such a transition in their life....so they can't understand why it takes me a little while to come around fully. You know?

What I really need now to is find some friends here....and non-American ones. Don't get me wrong, I ADORE my volunteers buddies, but I really need someone who actually lives in the city and will come over and cook some dinner with me. I need someone I can relate to, someone to shop with, someone to drink a glass of wine with on my balcony, someone to travel with....I was just telling Lilika today, that in America, I'd play volleyball every Monday and Wednesday with my friends in the park. Afterwards, Amanda and I would always go eat Mexican food. Just the routine was something I looked forward to every week, and I miss having a girlfriend I can share all my time with...I'm really looking forward to making some friends, I simply don't know where to find them. : )

Enough for now!! I've recently discovered that I can actually rent movies on Itunes for about $3.99 per rental, and I am loving it!! So tonight, I plan on hibernating in bed with a movie and some popcorn. Sweet dreams everyone!!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

One week down

This weekend was by far entertaining.

Friday, I decided I absolutely had to get out of the apartment. I was still feeling really down over Thursday's bad news. I decided to invite a couple of the closer volunteers into the city for dinner and drinks. CJ and Elena made their way into town, where we ended up indulging in chicken fingers, salads, pizza, and some beers. The night was just what I needed to start feeling better. I began to feel normal....it simply felt nice to be out having a drink with some friends on a Friday....and I needed that. In the meantime, I was texting Sara and Anna, two of the volunteers I lived in Lozovo with. I told them about my loss back home, and they agreed to come to my rescue first thing in the morning!!

Saturday morning was kind of slow...I got up SUPER early and ended up cleaning up a bit before the girls got into town. Saturday turned out to be just perfect. I showed them around Kochani for a bit. We went into a lot of the little stores I pass by so often, and now I know where to go buy clothes and accessories!! We grabbed lunch in the center, and then we decided we were going to have an epic slumber party. Naturally, we needed some essentials, like snacks and drinks, so after a mini shopping spree in the grocery store, we headed back to the apartment. We seriously went all out. We lounged around in our comfy clothes eating endless amounts of food and playing the most ridiculous games, all while catching up on how our first weeks were. I absolutely LOVED Saturday!! By the end of the night, we were all laying on my bed with my mini Xmas tree flashing its lights in the background and it felt like I had a home.

Sunday morning was a long one. We decided to finally try and figure out my washing machine. To our surprise, my entire bathroom got flooded. It's a long story.....so anyways, here we are, literally scooping buckets of water in the sinks, when I decide I want to make more coffee. Suddenly, my french press slips on some water on the table and slams onto the floor busting into pieces and scattering all the coffee and grinds all over the carpet!! And we have ALL of this on camera!! In the meantime, I had to figure out where and how to hang my laundry, on top of a few other mishaps around the apartment. It was honestly one of those days where EVERYTHING either breaks, goes missing, or simply goes wrong. Sadly, I had to say goodbye to my ladies as it got later. I was so sad to have them leave, but I cannot express how thankful I was to have such good friends who were ready to come see me at the drop of a hat. I suddenly felt like I had a real home....I guess I just needed help breaking it in. : )

This week should be fun!! Im running a big basketball event with my school where the students, teachers, and parents all play against each other. The event isnt until Dec 18th, but we are getting together all the media for the event, starting tomorrow. I've also still got the Model UN stuff I am working on, and we have a holiday on Thursday, which means no school. I plan on settling in a bit more this week...just taking my time with things and spending more time trying to make some local friends. And perhaps I'll try to find a new french press in the meantime.

Oh, and guess who has a friend coming into town for New Years?! THIS GIRL!! : )

Oh, and here's a photo of me and the ambassador

Thursday, December 1, 2011

What a day....

Today has been such a mixture for me. I worked first shift this morning, which meant school began at 7:15 for me. The day was fun!! I got to speak with the director of the school for a couple hours over coffee, and we had some excellent conversation!! It's really interesting hearing about the education system here and how it compares to what we have in America...it's also incredible to hear about all the change that has happened here over such a short period of time. Im lucky to have a Director who is interested in forming a relationship with me, as I know some volunteers arent as lucky.
Classes were fine. There was one class today that was mostly girls, and they were so fun!! It must have been from all the coffee I drank, but I was just SO HYPER by the end of the day. After school, Emilija took me to go buy a lamp, and I ended up finding the coolest lamp ever. It looks like it is straight out of IKEA or something...like, I like it so much, I wouldnt be surprised if I tried to bring it home with me. Following the lamp shop, I decided to venture out on my own down to the bazaar that comes through every Thursday. There, I bought my own lettuce, cabbage, mandarines, and lemons...all in Macedonian!! 

A couple hours later, I met up with Lilika, the student whose photo I posted in my last entry. She wanted to take me up to what is called Freedom Monument (I think) for some sunset photos. It was INCREDIBLE!!
Here is a view of Kocani from the top!!

This is the monument. I believe it was built in the 1980s...maybe 1981.

Another view

The monument from the other side


This is Lilika. dont you love her hood?! I told her I want one : )

Afterwards, we walked back into the center, where I discovered all sorts of shops putting out Xmas decorations. GOODNESS, this made my day!!!!! So I splurged, and I bought a small Xmas tree!! I even managed to buy some super cheap lights from one of the little Asian shops. This turned out to be an AWFUL idea, because one of the literally blew-up in my hands....seriously, it blew-up. It scared the daylights out of me, not to mention, I couldnt see clearly for about 2 minutes following the explosion. No worries though, I still had one strand. See:


Anyways....the second half of my day was not as good as the first part, unfortunately. I was talking with my mother online, and she informed me of an awful 45 car wreck in Nashville. 45 CARS!! I was so surprised to hear this, and then she told me one person did die in the wreck. About 45 minutes later, I get on Facebook, and I instantly read the newsfeed.....one of my friends, Paul Warren, was the person that died.

I was shocked. I cant quite describe it. Death is something Ive always had a really hard time managing. Paul was such a good guy, and he always loved to hear about my new adventures in life. I actually saw Paul the last day I was in Nashville....he works at my bank. In fact, Paul was the one who help me set up my photography business account, back in the day!! My family has always liked Paul, and from what I've heard, he actually just got married only a couple of months ago. It's just so sad.

I immediately called my sister with the news. She was also in shock. It's strange that I found out before her, and I'm on the other side of the world, but Im just glad I was able to call her. I think I may need to just hibernate tonight. It's one of those unfortunate events where you look at everything going on in life, and you take inventory. I feel sad that I cant be home right now for the news, but this will just be another growing experience for me here.

Till tomorrow...tell everyone you love them : )

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

One week into Kocani

So I havent been home much, so I havent had time to write a proper update. But before I forget, here is a link to some of my photos from the swearing-in ceremony. You will also find a couple photos of my new home at the end of the album!!
Everything is going really well. I started teaching, and I think the kids all really like me, and Im sure they think I'm a little crazy, haha!! I'm still finding it hard to fully adjust to being here....don't get me wrong, I absolutely love it, but Im just trying to adjust still. I had a great day today though....here is a photo one of the students at my school took. Her name is Lilika, and we are going to become photography buddies!!
I like the photo. Anywho, I am making new friends already! I made friends with a French guy. One of the guys who works for Peace Corps put him in touch with me and some of the other volunteers that live around here, so that was fun. I also met CJ this week. He lives super close, and we will be doing the Model UN stuff together. Paul and Elena, two more volunteers, came over the other night. I made RANCH DRESSING (thank you, women and men of Willowbrook), and we ate the living hell out of it!!!!!!! Goodness it was so good. For the record, if you want to send me Ranch dressing and other seasoning packets, please do so. I also made my lemon alfredo pasta I love so much, AND I had to make more sugar cookies, because people are in love with them. My counterpart's son wont stop talking about them, so I made more and gave her some to give to him. Haha, fun fun!! 

Now all I need is to find some Xmas decorations. I hope I get to feeling festive sometime soon. Im feeling really fortunate to have such a great placement. That's all for now!!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Long overdue

I am officially living in Kocani.

Thursday was my swearing-in ceremony. It was super official...had a bunch of fancy people there, like the ambassador. When it came time to eat, it was absolutely hilarious. All of the Macedonian families treated the food tables like they were the best Black Friday sales in the history of ever. I mean these women would literally take the serving spoon right out of your hand during mid-serve. I'm not even kidding. Apparently, someone filmed this part of the evening, so I'll try and find it. Explaining it in words just doesnt do any justice. After the swearing in, we showed our videos, and of course everyone just loved ours!! Even the woman in charge of our PST came up to me and said they were definitely going to have me film something for their PST next year, haha. After the presentations, we danced around a bit, and then we hoped on a bus back to Lozovo with all of our families.

The last night was kind of sad. We went to Julie's house and hung out in the garage we painted the mural on. We drank wine and danced with the families. It was really starting to hit. Finally, I think Kenzie was the first one to start giving good-bye hugs. One by one, we all began to leave. I actually cried at this point. I walked home with my host family, and we basically sat around the kitchen table for the rest of the night. We had some company...had some snacks...and talked about how I was going to be ok in Kocani.

So much has happened since Thursday. Friday morning was an ADVENTURE getting all of my luggage not only to the bus stop, but all the way to Kocani and up all 6 flights of stairs!! It's amazing that is has even been that long already. Friday, I spent unpacking. I was so ready get my new apt set up, so I worked my butt off for a few hours before I realized I probably needed to go buy some things, like groceries. So I took a break and walked around Kocani for a couple hours. I was so NERVOUS buying things!! They speak a totally different dialect here....so when I speak in Macedonian, they sometimes dont understand me, or they think Im speaking incorrectly, even though I'm using literature Macedonian. It is really interesting, because a lot of volunteers are experiencing this problem right now. It's just something I'll adjust to. Anywho, so yea...buying things was difficult. My confidence was pretty low, so I tried to not speak a lot and just find what I needed to get out. I managed to buy the basics for my fridge, as well as a blanket for my bed!! (yes, my landlord gave me a kickass bed) The next feat was getting everything back up those 6 flights of stairs. After two trips, I decided to spent the rest of the night hibernating in my apartment. Saturday was another day of shopping and trying to learn how to cook on the damn hot plates and toaster oven. There are 6 settings, which are all the same and burn the hell out of the food, no matter what you cook it in. My pots and pans are pathetic, and my 3 forks and spoons actually bend when you add too much pressure. So Saturday was all about discovering the joys of cooking.

I must say...I am already experiencing a new culture shock. Sunday was hard for me. I was actually really sad. I woke up feeling funky. I made my Christmas Blend coffee in my French press, and I decided to make hashbrowns, because they are a type of comfort food for me. Well of course, the hashbrowns turned out like shit, because I still have no idea how to properly use anything in my kitchen, but I ate them anyways. Afterwards, I sat out on my little mini balcony and thought about why I was not feeling well. I realized that it was the weekend after Thanksgiving, and that is when my mom always puts the Xmas tree up. All the cities start to decorate for the holidays, I spend a lot of time with my mom and sis watching old home movies, eat Chinese food, and listening to Xmas music in the car....I set up my house for the holidays, and I bust out my winter skirts. There's a lot that happens beginning now, in America...and instead, I was sitting all alone on a balcony in the middle of Macedonia in a city where no one really knows me.

So I made cookies.

That's right....I made the most amazing sugar cookies. I actually found the ingredients here AND I managed to make it work in the toaster oven, no less. My counterpart, Emilija,  also swung by my place with her husband and one of her kids. I shared my American coffee with them and we laughed about how pathetic I was feeling earlier. I am SO LUCKY to have her...you all just have no idea. We hardly know each other, but we just click. Anyway, she agreed to let me settle some more and said she'd come pick me up to have dinner at their place later. So I decided to take that time to just relax. I was able to talk to my mom, Mimi, and Jessica online, and just talking/seeing them made me feel better. Later, I did go over to Emilija's place for dinner, and we sat around just enjoying the food, a glass of wine, and sharing photos and videos online about our lives. I even managed to buy some trout from her family's fish store!!

I got home last night sometime after 10, and walking up those dark stairs at night is CREEPY. Even being alone in my apartment creeped me out last night. I thought about a lot while laying in bed, and I realized this was probably the first time I've actually slept in a place where I literally have no one around me that I know. I mean, even in my travels, I always had people I shared rooms with...in Lozovo, I had my family in the next room and all the other volunteers within 5 minutes of my house. In America, I either had a roommate, my sister across the street, or someone that was always close. But here in Kocani, on the 6th floor in the middle of the city, I dont have that. It was a weird epiphany!! haha

Anywho...I'm sorry for making such a long post. I knew some of you were anxious for an update. I realize some of this stuff sounds a little sad, but I really am OK. I just need about a week or so to adjust...just like in Lozovo. Not to mention, going from living in a village to living in a city is a shock all on its own, so dont worry about me!! This is normal : ) Send me some emails, ya'll!! I'm picking up free internet from the hotel across the street :D

Friday, November 25, 2011

Two new videos : )

I made it to Kocani, and am currently setting up my new home. I'll give a proper update in a day or two, because I simply am too tired to do so right now. To hold you over, here is the epic movie we debuted last night:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QV9PILQGDTo


And if you want to see the outtakes video, you get a little bonus!!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oKmzn2mn83M

ENJOY!!!!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Last two days in Lozovo...


Tonight is the kind of night that makes me miss home. I’m going through a strange rush of emotions.

In just two days, I’ll be moving to my new home of Kocani. It’s crazy to think that I’ve already been here for 2 ½ months. When I think back to all the things that have happened since I got here, I’m simply amazed.

My first two weeks were quite a struggle. I knew very little of the language. I could hardly communicate with my family. I spent the majority of my time sitting in the living room, reading or trying to read the Macedonian subtitles on the Turkish soap operas. I ate more than I wanted, and I drank more Turkish coffee than I think was safe to consume
.
A couple weeks in, I had begun to really dive into some friendships here. I was going on little day adventures to the abandoned train station, but I was still spending the majority of time at home…just hanging out and trying my hardest to communicate. I was so worried about possibly offending my family, so I didn’t really do too much with my days, other than school. This was the time where I felt REALLY home sick.

The second half of the adjustment was much better. I slowly began to understand more and more of the language. I forced myself to leave the house more. I told myself it was OK if I didn’t Facetime my mom every day. And it was around this time that PC events and training really began to pick up. I was gone more and more from my home. Often times, I wouldn’t get back until after dark, and I think this made me want more and more of my own space. Naturally, after getting home from work, all you want to do is what YOU want to do, which, for me, is relaxing. So I began to spend more time in my room. I told myself it was OK, and my family seemed to appreciate and respect my need for personal space. It was around this time that I began to really feel comfortable.

During this time, I received lots of packages. I taped photos all over my room. I began to again spend more time at home. With the colder months, came colder homes. Unfortunately, these training months fall on 3 whole seasons. Already, I’ve experienced summer, fall, and winter. Winter is by far BRUTAL. In America, everywhere you go is warm inside. Here…not even being inside of a school, a restaurant, or a home will make you warm. It’s probably what I miss most about America.

The last few weeks have just seemed so final. My home life is still very comfortable. I spend more one on one time with each volunteer and their families. I've gone on day trips with my own family. I've already had one person come visit!! I've adjusted to the Macedonian time schedule of everything. I'm able to walk down the street and speak with a stranger the entire way to school. I'm able to understand those silly soap operas. I'm able to sit at the table with my family and actually hold a real conversation. And I landed an "Intermediate Medium" on my language proficiency test. : ) 

That being said, I feel really good about the time I spent in Lozovo. I have a fantastic relationship with my host family and the other volunteers here. Undoubtedly, we will only continue to grow closer. I am now more and more anxious though about the big move. I feel READY.

Tomorrow, I will go to my swearing in ceremony. It is a HUGE deal. There will be around 200 or so people there, and yours truly will be wearing a suit. Tomorrow night, I will finish my packing, which I still have no idea how to accomplish. I literally have too much stuff now…I cant fit it all, and I’m not sure how I’ll manage it, but we shall see. : ) And then Friday morning….I’m off!!

I’m going to go ahead and say this….I don’t know when I’ll have internet again. I will not have access tomorrow or Friday, and I don’t know how long it will take to get internet set up in my new home. So if you need me, CALL ME. If you write me, don’t expect a response for about a week, I’m sorry.

I hope you all have a festive Thanksgiving!! I sure do wish I was home, esp for some good ‘ol potato casserole. I miss you all so much!! Take photos of Thanksgiving and send them my way. : )

xoxo

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Hot hands


Everyone in Lozovo has discovered the phenomenon of “hot hands.” It all began a couple nights ago when I finally busted out some of the Hot Hands that my sister brought me. For those of you who don’t know, they are these little packets that, when exposed to air, create heat for up to 10 hours. Most people put them in their shoes and/or gloves. Personally, dealing with poor circulation is a struggle in the wintertime, so having them to put in my shoes is a godsend!!

So the other night, I decided it was time to bust out the Hot Hands. Our language teachers had planned a dinner for us that night, so I decided to swing by Anna’s house beforehand. (no pun intended) While there, I took the Hot Hands out of my shoes and just held them. We were having a legit convo with Anna’s host father, when he discovered the Hot Hands. It blew his mind!! We actually had to look up how they work, scientifically, and then attempt to translate it into Macedonian. He LOVED them!!

Just a couple of hours later, we headed over to our teachers’ house. There, both of our teachers were ALSO blown away by the Hot Hands, and even requested I bring them some the following day. So, sure enough, I bring them some, and they are just so curious about them. So I start thinking about how funny it is, and decide I must hand (pun) one to Milevka and see her reaction. As night fell, I sat down at the kitchen table with Milevka. She was going on about how she wasn’t feeling well and how it is all blamed on the ridiculously cold weather. I pulled out the Hot Hands from my coat pocket (yes, I still have to wear a coat inside), and handed it to her. She took it from me, cautiously, and immediately fell in love!! Of course, I had to attempt to explain how they worked, but Milevka didn’t even care anymore, because now she had one Hat Hand on her forehead and one on her neck. At one point, she even tucked one into her turtleneck. So I was like ok ok …you have these, and she was just SO excited about them!!

It’s a good thing my mother sent me a blue million of them with Jessica. Perfect timing too!! They sure have been getting used here…no complaints there!!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

нема мировен во лозово...The trailer....

Soooo, during our swearing in ceremony, all of the training sites are asked to make a 5 minute presentation. Of course, Lozovo decided to be a little different, and we went with making an EPIC drama. Here is the trailer:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W5XGEkqdn8w&feature=share

We will show our film to ALL of Peace Corps, families, and the Macedonian government officials on November 24, our swear-in date. Seriously. We are doing this. I'll upload the movie sometime after its release, as to not ruin the opening night. We can leak it to the press too early. Anywho...enjoy!!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Louie


Let me tell you about Louie…

Louie is this cute little basset hound in Lozovo. It’s funny that he’s a basset hound, because typically you can tell that all of the dogs here are related…except for Louie. His owners and origin were completely unknown to all of us until recently, which is why we named him Louie. It just felt right.

Louie and I’s relationship began way back. I’d see him running around in the field (the one with the goats) in the early mornings, and his long floppy ears always made me miss Turtle. Occasionally, on a walk home from school, I would pass Louie and talk to him in my “pet voice.” Of course, all of the locals who witnessed this gave me the craziest looks, because dogs here are simply tools. People don’t own dogs for love and affection…they are used as tools, and that’s just how it is.

One very early morning, I was on my way to catch the 7am train. I began my walk, as usual, down our one main road. All of a sudden, I hear little pitter-patters behind me. I immediately thought it was one of the stray dogs following me, so I told myself to not turn around by any means!! Peace Corps have given us tips to avoid a dog attack. The walking kept getting closer and closer, and I felt my chest tighten up as it does right before something bad happens. I couldn’t handle the anxiety any longer, so I turned around with the intentions to scare whichever dog it was, only to find good ‘ol Louie to be by my side!! “LOUIE!!” I yelled in excitement!! He was honestly so excited that I was so happy to see him, so he decided to continue following me.

About 5 minutes into the walk, I’d had quite a time with Louie. I went from thinking he was going to bite me at one point, to attempting to feed him one of my bananas, which he just spit out in order to not lose me. I will have you know that Louie followed me all the way to the train that day.

Since then, Louie and I have grown to become even closer. I now physically pet Louie!! It is the best feeling in the world. I also discovered that his owners live right around the corner from me, and they bought him from Croatia for $300 Euros!! Regardless, Louie appears to be a well-fed and well-groomed pup, so I have no problem petting the hell out of him!!

As it stands today, I am really going to miss Louie. Every day, I find myself looking for him. If we find each other in the morning, he will usually walk me all the way to school, until one of the stray dogs tries to attack him…and then he runs back home (poor Louie!! It’s the saddest thing ever!!) On my walks home from school, I always anticipate seeing him as I round the last corner to my house. When I do round the corner to find him standing there, I always yell “Louie!!” and he literally comes running at me with his long dopey ears and mopey eyes. He lifts his head up high as an invitation to scratch his neck, and we exchange attention for at least 5-10 minutes. Again, all of this is done with the neighbors watching and whispering about me. Hahaha

Sometimes, Louie is sad to have me go inside. He will walk me to my gate, and then try to paw his way up my legs as a way to beg me to stay and play. I always feel so sad when this happens, because all I want is for Louie to come on inside and just be an American dog!! But instead, I must leave Louie…and he’ll end up just sitting in front of my gate….poor little Louie.

I’m really going to miss Louie. Seeing him is something I look forward to every day. I just love animals, and having him around has made me a little less homesick…not having Turtle here is something I will continue to struggle with. I want all of you who have dogs (or cats) to go home today and show them how good they have it…and sneak a kiss in from me. : )