A Day in the Life

Many of my friends and family from home have been asking me about what I usually do every day as a Peace Corps volunteer – which made me realize that I have been good at sharing snippets of my experience, but not really sharing the specific details of what my life looks like here.

I work at a Municipality (local government) full time with a project team that is responsible for implementing an EU funded grant for regional tourism.  As a volunteer, I can take on other projects as well…which in my case currently involves teaching English to municipal workers – and beginning a women’s yoga class at the local house of culture.  I am so excited about kicking off the yoga class; I think that there is a growing shift in consciousness about health here, and while yoga classes are available in the capital, there are no resources in my town.  It is difficult for many women here to find the time to exercise or to attend a class like this due to the many responsibilities that they have in the home and at work.  Most women that are around my age are “nuse’s”, or new brides.  The majority of them move into their husband’s household after marriage and become responsible for managing (or co-managing, with their sister-in-laws – and mother-in-laws, depending on how nice the mother-in-law is) the house – which means cooking all meals, entertaining guests, and keeping the home clean.  This is on top of their jobs outside the home, which means that these are some very busy women.

On a typical day, I will wake up at about seven a.m. to get to work at eight a.m.  I greet the security guards of the Municipality in Albanian or Macedonian.  I am perfectly fluent in greetings, it’s the next levels of conversations that are problematic!  I settle in at the office and check my e-mail before joining a group of my female co-workers for our morning coffee.  Below is a photo of one of my colleagues and I sipping a cup of delicious Turkish coffee.  Coffee is made in every office using a small gas burner and finjan (the object you can see sitting on the burner).  Work here (and truly everywhere) is all about relationships, and the way you build relationships in Macedonia is over kafe.  The women that I drink coffee with every morning were my very first friends, and I love to start the day with their laughter and to hear the mixture of Albanian and Macedonian languages.

Coffee at the Office

Coffee at the Office

Turkish Kafe

Turkish Kafe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After coffee, I spend my time in a variety of ways: either A) working directly with my colleagues for project-related activities B) planning the curriculum for my next English class, or sequences for the yoga class C) working on my Peace Corps committee work for the Environmental Working Group or the Volunteer Support Network, or D) helping other volunteers with their projects or committee work (for example helping to interview applicants for this year’s Girls Leading Our World camp).  I take a break for breakfast at about 10:30 or 11 am (most people here eat their first meal at this time), either returning home to make a sandwich or going to a nearby restaurant with coworkers for my favorite dish, the pita submarine. In addition to my usual projects, I also usually have meetings or training related to the Peace Corps or my work at the Municipality.  My workday at the Municipality ends at 4 pm.

I return to my host family’s house to relax and grab a snack before going to the gym, going to language tutoring, or going for a run.  Whenever I tell people that I am going for a run, they usually look at me a bit quizzically, and either warn me that there are wild dogs around or ask me if I am worried that the wild dogs will attack me.  Of course, I was really worried when I first started running, and while I still give dogs – especially sheep dogs – wide berth, I feel comfortable with my running route.  Now that the weather has become more pleasant, I also see other people out for a walk or bicycle ride.

I also love going to the gym.  One of my friends at work invited me to go with her, and I was excited to have a gym buddy to work out with.  I knew that there was a gym or two in town, but I heard that it was mostly only men who worked out.  My friend’s neighbor works out at the gym too, and took us under his wing.  There are women who go to the gym, but we are few and far between.  I have found that the guys who regularly go to the gym are welcoming toward us, but there are also those few who simply stare or leer at us awkwardly.

After working out or finishing language tutoring, I go home or visit with my site mate to recap our days or to discuss some plans for new projects and activities – or I drop by a friend’s house for dinner.  I have found that I am incompetent at cooking meals over a standing gas canister, so if I eat dinner at home, it’s usually another sandwich or a salad.  And then?  I wrap up any outstanding Peace Corps related work, check and respond to e-mails, Skype with friends and family, and then get ready for the next day.

When I applied to the Peace Corps, I thought that I would be cooking my meals over a fire, or living in a hut in a village that has no internet or cell-phone service, and that my workplace would be in the fields.  Among many Peace Corps volunteers there is a skewed perception that in order to really be a PCV, you need to placed in areas of extreme poverty (which certainly do exist in Macedonia).  In reality, volunteers are sent to developing countries in all stages of development – we go where there is a need, and where we are invited to serve.  I am incredibly grateful to be a volunteer, and to be living and working in Macedonia.  It is a beautiful country, with warm and welcoming people, and it is my hope that I will be able to give as much to them as they have given to me.

 

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Maturant

Last Friday was maturant (high school graduation) in town, which signals the beginning of summer.  I was in Skopje for a Peace Corps training, and was rushing to catch the last bus home to see my host sister in the traditional maturant parade.  I know most of the bus drivers by now, and decided to put my language skills to the test and request the bus driver pick me up by the Peace Corps office rather than the bus station.  I was fortunate and was scooped up – the bus driver indicated that I should sit in the fold-up exit seat.  I interpreted this as a sign of favor (the bus drivers usually have those that they like sit closer to the front), but also was wondered how this would work logistically, since I would have to get up anytime anyone would need to get off the bus or on the bus during the three hour trek home.  At the earliest opportunity, I covertly switched seats and ended up making a new friend with my fellow passenger – a freshly graduated university student who had traveled around the U.S. quite a bit.   He ensured that I got off at the correct place, and I dashed home to meet up with my host family.

Maturant itself was much like watching the Oscars, including the fashion commentary, but rather than watching it on the TV, you are just a foot or so away from the stars.  The entire town comes out to watch the graduates and their partners (dates) parade down the main street.  I had never seen so many people in town before.  The graduates looked very glamorous – the families spend a tremendous amount of money on designer clothes, jewelry, shoes, etc. to make sure that their son or daughter is beautifully outfitted.  Each pair is carefully evaluated by the crowd. I could here hushed conversations in admiration of one graduate’s beauty, or in criticism of another’s hair.  My host sister was absolutely beautiful – I tried to imagine how I would feel in her shoes, and I knew that I would have been a ball of anxiety if I had to walk in front of the entire town, and to hear them critique my appearance.

Once the parade ends, the graduates all go to a large restaurant for their celebration; they stay out all night, returning home in the early morning to change and to pick up their luggage.  They all take a bus together to Durres,a beach town in Albania, for a three day vacation – which sounds like a good way to wind down from stress of tests and maturant itself!

 

Accidental Easter

Ohrid Church     Ohrid Lake View    


ImageOhrid Old SchoolOhrid Traditional Dancing

My Easter was a bit off kilter this year, but enjoyable nonetheless.  Orthodox Easter and Non-Orthodox Easter fell on the same date, leaving plenty of options for celebratory activities.  While I do not consider myself a Christian, I grew up celebrating Easter (more as a tradition than a religious occasion), and didn’t want to let the day pass by without defining it from every other Sunday.

Ohrid, a beautiful resort town. is only about 45 minutes away from where I live and has a Catholic Church.  As my parents were both Catholic, I decided that I would travel to Ohrid to attend the service there.  I had reached out to another volunteer who lives in Ohrid and persuaded her to join me to attend the 11 am service on Sunday.  I caught the 10 o’clock bus to Ohrid, but found out that on Sunday the bus only travels to Struga – a town which is about 15 minutes from Ohrid. The bus traveled at an agonizingly slow pace, stopping at every village between my point of origin and destination.  One of the best and worst things about the buses in Macedonia is that they will stop (mostly) wherever they are asked.  It is wonderful when you have to stop in a strange and random location, but you are less inclined to be happy when your fellow passengers are making the requests.

By the time we arrived in Struga, it was already 11 am.  In my haste, I hopped into a taxi rather than waiting for the local bus.  The taxi was crammed with other travelers making the journey to Ohrid, and upon hearing that I traveled to Ohrid merely to attend a service at the Catholic Church, the passengers were all concerned that I did not know that there were beautiful churches right in my town (I did know, but I had wanted to attend a Catholic service).  They were quite sweet, and my taxi driver, who I learned was Muslim and had a Christian mother and Muslim father, wished me a “среќен Велигден” (Happy Easter) and dropped me off right in front of the Catholic Church at 11:20.

The church was cool and smelled the way I would expect – clean with a touch of incense.  I scanned the room and saw about about 15 to 20 other people in attendance, none of whom were my friend.  I settled in for the remaining 30 minutes of the service, pretending that I knew the prayers that were being expressed by my fellow parishioners in Macedonian.  I did feel more relaxed and peaceful after the service, though this was perhaps was partially due to the fact that I was no longer rushing to get to the service.  I tried to call my friend to see where she was, but there was no answer.  I thought that perhaps her phone was not charged, so I made my way to the lakeside  to hunt down a kafe with WiFi.

I am quite good at identifying a good, WiFi enabled kafe, and was soon comfortably seated by the lake with a cappuccino in one hand and my iPod touch in the other.  There were no messages from my friend.  Perplexed, I decided that I would just enjoy having the day to myself and wander around Ohrid, which is exactly what I did.  I watched traditional Macedonian dancers and listened to the chanting of Orthodox monks – which was beautiful.

By 4:30 pm, I was ready to go home and began to walk to the local bus stop.  As I was walking I heard my name being called, and turning around, I saw two girls running toward me…daughters of one of the English teachers from my town.  I was so surprised, that at first I did not recognize them.  They invited me to join their family for a stroll and dessert – how could I refuse?  We chatted, ate and then journeyed home together – a much speedier and more pleasant journey than my morning bus trip.

I later spoke with my friend, who had been unable to meet up due to extenuating circumstances – for those who were concerned : )