Where in the World is Rene?

The weblog of an American Peace Corps Volunteer in Macedonia

Archive for October, 2008

Dear FIFA, My people are waiting for a call, Love Rene

A BREAKTHROUGH!  No, I don’t speak Macedonian.  No, I don’t know where my job or my home will be.  No, I haven’t received my Peace Corps issued heater (seriously!).  But these issues are completely trivial because I found out that…wait for it…

I AM AN ATHLETE!

I know, you all thought I was totally clumsy, right. I thought so, too.  It might have been seeing videotapes of myself spinning in the outfield with my glove sitting in the grass during my T-Ball games in second grade.  And then there was the incident when I pegged a team member in the chest while playing catch at a softball game last year.  Whoops.  But leave it to Macedonia to really bring my unknown talents to the forefront, because I just played a mildly competitive game of football (not American) and totally loved it.

It all started with trickery.  My host mom, Biliana, said we should go to a match at the high school that was being sponsored by the local women’s organization.  The match was in support of the FARE program which is Football Against Racism in Europe, so how could I say no, right.  Biliana promised ten minutes so that I could come home and study.  Ha.  I get there and the coordinator slaps a t-shirt on me and says it would be a symbol of support and friendship if I played.  Easy for you to say, man, you didn’t get pigeonholed as right field in T-ball because you were an embarrassment to the sport…of T-ball.

Also, they want me to make a speech.  No prob, speeches are my fave.  So I address the crowd with my most diplomatic face and then I go hyperventilate in the corner for the next five min while the crowd is jamming to some spirited Macedonian pop music.  It’s OK, I tell myself, you watch soccer all the time.  Clearly there has to be some skill transfer between you and the TV.  Clearly.  Maybe you can channel the spirit of a dolphin or the foot of Michael Ballak or the entire animal kingdom to help you.

And then (CRAP!) the game starts and immediately the ball is kicked to me.  Panic, panic, panic.  I stop the ball and pass it to a foreward who actually receives it.  Holy crap!  I just made a play!  I don’t suck!  Huzzah!

Well, my team didn’t win.  But I got the award for best player!  It’s sad, but it is my first merit based acknowledgement in team sports!  And most importantly I didn’t embarrass the Peace Corps or all American women in general, so mission complete.  So at at the end of the day, I had to mentally high-five myself and grin as I enjoyed my juice pack.

Channeling the ferocity of a Lynx

Channeling the ferocity of a Lynx

Haley, Ivana and I

Haley, Ivana and I

The women of Na Zheni in Sveti Nikole

The women of Na Zheni in Sveti Nikole

The Day of Seven Cakes and After

Well Hello,

Hmm where to start…Orientation Week ended last Saturday and since then many many things have happened.  I suppose the most important is that since then, I have been placed in a smaller group of volunteers (5 as opposed to the entire group of 35) in Sveti Nicole to continue Pre-Service Training for the next two months. I have also been placed with a home stay family for the training session.  I was not placed in a multi ethnic community, and so my placement is predominantly Macedonian and I live with a Macedonian family.  Because I was not placed in a multi-ethnic position, I still have to wait about a month until training is over to find out where my permanent post will be.

Training has been pretty challenging.  Four hours of language lessons followed by community development sessions is enough to make smoke come out of my ears.  In addition, next week we will begin our practicum sessions with local NGOs which will last throughout the training.  I have been placed with a women’s group in Sveti Nikole, and I am actually pretty excited to begin working with them even though I am going to have some pretty full days.

Although the training sessions are pretty taxing, the home stay portion is pretty fun.  My Macedonian family is hilarious and they really have many of the same traits as I do (read: had wine at lunch today).  My host mother’s name is Biliana, my host father is Toshi and my host brother’s name is Ane.  Everyone in the family speaks English at least at a caveman level, and Ane speaks pretty fluently.  There have been so many ridiculous things that have happened trying to communicate in a wacky pastiche of English, Macedonian, German, Spanish and general charades that I certainly can’t recall all of them right now.  One of my favorite bits is that my name in the Cyrillic alphabet looks like PEHE POPC, and because of it, my host family delights in calling me Pee Hee.  I feel that this has advanced even further than most nicknames, as they even introduce me to strangers in town as Pee Hee.

Finally a fun anecdote that I think really demonstrates both the hospitality and closeness of my new community:  The second day after our arrival, all of the volunteers went to each others houses to find out where in town each other lived.  When we got to each person’s house we were invited inside to meet the host family, have a cup of coffee and visit.  At each of the five volunteers’ houses, we were offered some food and drinks.  Wait, offered isn’t really the right word.  Hmm how to explain… being given food in Macedonia is alot like asking your parents if your friend can come over for dinner directly in front of your friend.  Turning it down would be awkward and there may be some unwanted tears.  So each of the families offered us their own “special” type of cake, and at each one all of the volunteers scarfed it down.  After that I went to a birthday party with my host family where, you guessed it, they generally eat cake.  PS, there were two birthday girls which equals two different cakes.  So I ate SEVEN pieces of cake that day.  My host mother thought this was frikin hilarious and told everyone about it for the next two days (in Macedonian and in front of me).  So three days later I ran into another Volunteer from the year before whom I have met a few times and she told me she had heard about the Seven Cakes day from someone she works with. Ta Da! In Macedonia, everyone knows everyone else and they all know exactly how much you eat.  And then I found ten dollars.*

*This is NOT true but it IS a very good way to end a story on a high note.

Biliana's Cake Factory

Biliana's Cake Factory

Toshi the Nutcracker

Toshi the Nutcracker

  • My Host Family
  • My Host Family
  • Zdravo Makedonija!

    Well Zdravo,

    Ok, I’m here deeeep breath … and I’m OK! I mean I’m Dobre!

    I landed in Skopje on Monday and was greeted by our Country Director and his glowing staff of host country nationals and current PCVs.  Then it was off to the town of Kumanovo and the hotel Satelit where our week of (dis)orientation would take place.  It has been quite a blur and between being jet lagged and overwhelmed with new info I kinda feel like I may have a permanently vacant facial expression for the next three months.  Oh, and on top of that- welcome to Macedonia- here’s the flu!  I have been sick for the last three days and that is always a little freaky in another country.  BOO! I jest, I have had some good times and I have met some very wonderful and interesting people amongst the mix of Macedonian Peace Corps Staff, current Volunteers and my fellow Trainees.  I do feel like I am living and working with like minded folks (read: hippy liberal globe huggers) and I do feel like this is where I am meant to be.

    So not being one to take the easy Peace Corps road (yeah, like there is one) I have applied to work in a multi-ethnic community.  If I am chosen for this opportunity then I will be living in a mixed or predominantly Albanian community and I will learn both Macedonian and Albanian languages.  I will also have the experience of living with an Albanian Muslim family.  I am very excited to hear if I am chosen for this position and I feel like this would be a great way of having as many different types of experiences as possible! Dobre!

    I’m also learning some fun things about my own culture in my “the government is going to tell you how to be culturally sensitive now classes.”  For instance, did you know that Americans are an overwhelmingly jubilant bunch?  I didn’t think so either, but I am told that we are given to frivolous bouts of smiling and cheering and that this is a very noticeable and intimidating characteristic.  I’m now in a no clapping zone!  So I have been trying to keep a lid on singing in the streets where the predominant facial expression is… how do I say…restrained jubilation.  Also, Americans (at least Peace Corps Volunteers) are not such snappy dressers.  At least not compared to the stylin Macedonians.  Well, now I know what I will be asking for  Christmas gifts- a Bedazzler, a glittery belt and probably some sort of faux fur vest.

    Well, I’m off to have my fourth coffee of the day!

    I miss you all! Valla!