Life Lessons


Dear Reader, no doubt you have been worrying yourself over my health and happiness, and the general state of affairs in the Peace Corps Macedonia, for the past two weeks now. How can it be that I have gone two weeks without finding some insignificant event (my sister lighting her hair on fire, my brother cutting himself while slicing meat in the shop, the day the dog got loose) to bore you all with?

Thus begins my sad tale of the past two weeks.

1. Thunderstorms and the Internet

I know my parents unplug their computers during thunderstorms. I know that I unplug my computer during thunderstorms. But two weeks ago we had such a thunderstorm here that I couldn’t think of anything to do other than watch an episode of Gossip Girl. Let’s just say that my surge protector failed me and I no longer have a router or a power cable for my laptop, and that you shouldn’t be as stupid as me since it will probably take another four to five weeks to get T-Mobile to bring the promised replacement router to my home.

2. Macedonian medical care is not the same as American medical care

The day after losing internet I uncovered a medical issue that I won’t bother detailing here as (despite all evidence to the contrary) I do value my privacy. This is the sort of thing that, in America, would be checked out quickly and laid to rest, but turns out to here require arguing with Peace Corps doctors, arguing with the doctor the Peace Corps doctors brought in, and then calling in to Peace Corps to make sure that the follow-up appointments will indeed be scheduled to my satisfaction. An issue that could be dealt with in an hour in America, counting driving to the doctors’ office (well, and a little waiting afterwards) here will end up taking me three six-hour round trips to Skopje.

3. If you forget your PIN, don’t keep trying out imaginary PINs at the ATM

On my way to Skopje for the aforementioned doctor appointment, I spent a night in Tetovo. Seeing no way to prevent myself from prematurely writing my obituary, I had a couple of beers, which may have contributed to both my inability to remember my pin and my inability to remember that if you input the incorrect pin number three times in a row the ATM will eat your debit card.

So it was that, already convinced that I was shortly to die from the issue mentioned in #2, and unable to skype or email my parents to detail what I’d like the newspaper to write about me following my death, I lost my debit card. The next morning I went to the other bank in Tetovo, it not having occurred to me that I should have gone back to, as it were, the scene of the crime, to withdraw money using my laminated bank identification card. They wouldn’t allow me to take out money because I didn’t have my debit card, and after I explained a couple times that the ATM had eaten my card, they agreed to make me a new one, only to tell me after finding that I didn’t have my passport that actually they couldn’t.

The day after my appointment, when I was back home, I went to my own bank, again tried to withdraw money, couldn’t, and was sent over to a kind woman who called the bank in Tetovo and learned that they had my debit card. Hurrah! Now knowing the whereabouts of my debit card, they let me withdraw money and told me to go to the bank in Tetovo to retrieve my card.

Two days later I went to Tetovo, went to the bank, explained in precise terms (“I lost my debit card in the ATM here at this bank, on Sunday”) what had happened, only to have the woman tell me repeatedly that she had no idea what I was saying. I jammed my bank ID card across the counter for her, she looked me up on the computer, and some confusion about where I was from: was I from Skopje (where the Peace Corps office is, and my card is apparently registered?); was I from D. (where I told her I had learned I could come to this bank to retrieve my card; and if so, why on earth was I in the Tetovo bank?); was I from Tetovo (where I had, of course, lost the card)? Finally she got sick of me and told me to go to another room and make a copy of my passport she could include in paperwork for a new debit card.

Joany found me there, on the verge of tears, and as I was explaining my sad tale to her (it goes like: I still don’t have internet, I’m still going to die, and I spent two hours on a combi to learn that there’s no reason for me to be here because I’m not getting my card back anyway) she looked behind me and saw her counterpart’s father. We went over, said hello, and although his job was clearly not the recovery of missing debit cards, I explained my problem to him. He told us to wait, ran off, and moments later returned with a stack of debit cards. He rifled through them, we saw my card on the bottom, I resisted the urge to simultaneously cry and hug him, I signed a piece of paper confirming the receipt of my card, and we walked out.

Let’s wrap this up with a moral: some things in Macedonia are not like they are in America (medical care), some things are pretty different (customer service, the value of personal relations when doing business), and some things are exactly the same (that it will take the internet company six weeks to come out to your house but they will continue charging you for the internet you don’t have).


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