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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 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 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 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 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:

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


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. : )


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:

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


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. : )

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Another video

Here's a video my good friend, Andres made:

I think it is the PERFECT summary of our two months in Lozovo. If you like my videos, you'll LOVE this one!! Enjoy!!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Birthday weekend

My birthday weekend was spent with my sister and friends in Skopje. What better way to celebrate?!

Friday afternoon was spent waiting over an hour for a bus to pass through Lozovo. Lozovo doesn’t have a train or bus station, so you just have to stand in the road and flag one down when it passes by. It was funny for the first 45 minutes, but then the sun went down, and it got a lil cold!! Once we got on the bus, there was nowhere to sit, but after passing through Velec, everyone had a seat. Upon arrival in Skopje, we immediately hopped in a cab and went to our hostel. The hostel was ADORABLE!! It was in a random part of the city, about a 20-minute walk from the center. The rooms were all painted artistically, and there were private rooms, as well as rooms with bunk beds. There was an open lounging area and kitchen, as well as two bathrooms. What I like most was the fact that it was indeed a hostel, but it did not feel like your typical ‘hippies passing through’ type of place. The people we met there were all older and all had very interesting stories about where they were from and where they were going.

Friday night started off with an Italian dinner at Ginos. Jess and I decided to split a pizza and salad, and everyone else indulged as well. We listened to someone play the cello for us, and even ran into a few people from the PC staff!! It’s funny…Macedonia truly is such a small country, it is impossible not to run into someone you know!!

After dinner, we all headed out to a trendy bar in the older part of town. This area of Skopje is my favorite….it’s just cute and not touristy. There, we drank mulled wine and cognacs while a Serbian band played downstairs. A few of the people from the hostel came to meet us for a drink as well!! It was around this time that I began developing quite a nasty cough though, so I decided to take it a little easy. Instead of going out and partying it up, we all lounged around there. I felt kind of bad, because I wanted to show Jessica more of the city, but with such limited time it is just impossible to see everything I wanted to show her.

Everyone went to bed extremely late that night, even though we got home at a somewhat reasonable hour. I was really beginning to feel sick, coughing-wise. Saturday morning, I woke up with an even worse cough. Here, we all get sick in cycles. I knew I’d be getting ‘the cough’ sooner or later…and it just sucked that it happened this weekend. That being said, I didn’t want to waste any time, so we all walked into town for one last meal with Jessica before sending her off to Istanbul.

Our original plan was to find this Arabic restaurant, but we couldn’t find it and were getting short on time, so we hit up a local pub instead. I began to get really sad, because I was realizing the reality of my sister leaving. Having her here this weekend was fantastic, because she got to see everything and nearly everyone. But having her leave, was really really difficult for me. I was going through everything we’d done in my head, because I wanted her to have a fantastic time, and I hope she did….She says she is coming back in the Spring for at least a couple of weeks, and I feel like having more time would be best. You simply cant accomplish much in just a 3 day trip. That being said, having her here was the best birthday present there was…I cant tell you how good it made me feel to have my sister here.

Ok, so enough of me being sad about her leaving!! Jessica set off for her epic trip to Istanbul, and we all headed back into the city for some light shopping and lounging. This was probably the most normal thing I’ve done since I moved here!! We sat around drinking coffee and watching TV. We shopped in the mall a bit, and I even made a few purchases myself with the wonderful birthday money everyone sent me (thank you everyone!!) We then FINALLY found the Arabic restaurant, and had one of the best meals here, complete with a legit hookah!! We even ended up making friends with our waiter, who invited us to join him and his friends for a later meal. Yay for new local friends!!

The rest of the night was great, but my energy really died. I felt really guilty, because I was feeling really sick, and I felt like I was being boring for everyone who was there to celebrate with me. I stuck to tea that night and we joined our new friend for dinner. We got to see some belly dancing, which was fantastic, and we also got our second helping of Arabic food!! I was a happy girl when finally was able to hit the hay.

The birthday weekend ended on a beautiful note. It was a slow morning…the kind where you sit around in your pajamas, drinking coffee with your friends. The hostel felt like a home to me this morning, and I was sad we had to leave. We joined our new friends for a delicious breakfast in the square before heading back to Lozovo. Undoubtedly, it was a successful weekend.

Monday, my actual bday, was spent running around Skopje for a “resource day.” The day was pretty uneventful, until we made it to the PC office, where I found two bday packages waiting for me!! I had one box of goodies from the wonderful people of Willowbrook (thank you!!), as well as a fantastic bag of coffee from someone else very close to me (thanks, love!!). It was amazing to have gifts to open on my actual bday!! Anywo…we got on the bus back to Lozovo, where we then celebrated with TWO cakes (one American and one Macedonia), and all the volunteers came over to help me celebrate. I just want to tell you how extremely loved I felt when all of my Lozovo friends showed up. It was like family…us all sitting around eating popcorn and cake and drinking wine. Even Milevka had a glass, and I’ve NEVER seen her drink a drop of alcohol!! I got some fantastic gifts from the fellow volunteers, and didn’t even make it to bed until sometime after 11, which is late for me here!! All in all, Monday night was the PERFECT way to celebrate. I’m a very lucky girl to have such an experience on my bday.

I’ll be sad to leave my home here in two weeks, but I am anxious to get settled somewhere I can call my home. Making the new friends this weekend also made me eager to find friends in Kocani, as well as all the good places to eat!! J And lastly, I’m eager to get through this winter, so I can have my sister (and hopefully my mother!!) come back to see me in the spring. Thanks to everyone for helping make my birthday beautiful. It isn’t easy being away from my family and home, but it’s times like these when I’m reminded of how fortunate I am to have such opportunities. Love you all!!