Monthly Archives: September 2011

My Tose Pilgrimage

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The easiest way I can think of explaining what Tose Proeski (Тоше Проески) means in Macedonia is to say that he is to Macedonians what Princess Diana is to the rest of the world. Proeski was a top Macedonian singer, popular all around the Balkans, known for his music, his humanitarian work and his phrase, “ве сакам ситe” (I love you all). Four years ago he died in a car crash in Croatia, when he was just 26.

I was in Macedonia a few months before I even heard of Tose. He’s a constant presence in Macedonian households, not Albanian ones, but partway through training I saw his portrait in the home of a volunteer living with a Macedonian Orthodox family. I asked if he was a cousin, trying to figure out why there were so many photos of him in the sitting room, and got my first lesson in Macedonian music.

Tose wasn’t just a musician to Macedonians; he was a symbol for the country and its rise, its great hope. At the time of his death he was working on his first English-language album, The Hardest Thing.

What I’m trying to get at here is that a pilgrimage to Tose’s hometown of Krusevo is something that must. be. done., and I finally did it, with two other volunteers, Jane and Katie. Our trip to the town from Bitola should have taken about an hour, but that it didn’t seemed fitting. The Bitola-Krusevo bus time we’d been told was incorrect, so we had to wait in the station an extra hour; then there was a police stop and we all had to get off the bus for fifteen minutes; then the bus broke down just outside Demir Hisar because, to quote the driver, “a part fell off”; then the driver and his assistant vanished, without a word, leaving us to stand next to the bus for thirty minutes; then we at last abandoned ship, walked into a few stores asking about taxis to Krusevo, and for 200 denars each made the last thirty minutes of our trip in a stylish minivan. (It has been a while since any of us have seen one, so that praise is genuine.)

Krusevo is not only the highest town in Macedonia but home to the Tose Proeski Memorial House. I was surprised by how well-done this museum was. There were stands where you could listen to Tose’s music, some very cool sections of wall and glass with etchings of Tose’s lyrics, two floor-to-ceiling segments of wall devoted to photos of Tose, and displays featuring such varied items as Tose’s numchuks, trainerkis, dental floss and Secretariat DVD.

Just up the hill from the Tose Musuem is the Macedonian Monument, commemorating the 1903 Ilinden Uprising, a revolt against the Ottoman Empire. Being the classy volunteers that we are, Jane, Katie and I took the opportunity to walk around humming the Death Star theme from Star Wars and taking glamour shots in front of the monument.

After a quick coffee (when we had the chance to watch the town cheer on the Macedonian basketball team, who after beating Greek and Lithuania were playing Spain in a[n ultimately failed] bid for an Olympic shot, if I’ve got this right [I know so much about sports]) we took a kombi to Prilep. This was my first visit to Prilep and its famed Thai restaurant. I was pretty pleased with myself when I got back home the next day, able to check two more things off my Macedonia To-Do List.

Both photos in this post are from Katie, since I forgot to bring my camera along for this epic journey. Go read her post on Krusevo too!

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Notes on Returning to School

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After two years in Macedonia, I sometimes find myself believing that there’s nothing new for me to see here, that nothing has the ability to surprise me anymore. I’ve walked down streets surrounded on all sides by sheep, I’ve sat outside drinking coffee ten feet from the cow my family’s slaughtering, I’ve gone up to strangers who I’ve been informed are holding on to my missing cell phone for me and gotten the phone back (people here are so honest it continues to amaze me; when I visited the States in July I needed constant reminders not to leave my cell phone on a bar while I went to the bathroom, or my bag unattended on a train), I’ve seen twelve-year-old students of mine driving station wagons down the street.

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What going back to school for my last few weeks is showing me is that there are still surprises in this country. Among the second, third and fourth graders whose classes I’ve been in, there are three or four girls who have started wearing head scarves; and not just scarves, but hijabs that cover their entire bodies from head to wrists to feet. In two years I’ve never seen a girl at my school dressed like this; not even the older girls have ever worn head scarves, at least not in school. It was a shock the first time I saw it and I’m still wondering what has changed in the last year that brought such a dramatic shift in how some of my female students dress.

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A few families must have moved back from America this summer, because many of my classes now include students who speak flawless, unaccented English. Yesterday I was giving instruction to a third-grader I’d never seen before when he stopped me and said, “Speak English! I know English!” And honestly, I love standing in the room listening to that NJ, NY region accent, which to me doesn’t sound like an accent at all.

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It’s so hot that my school has shortened classes to thirty minutes and shifts to two hours, total. I went in at 8am today and left at 10, walking through a crush of older students coming in for their 10 to noon shift. Even last year it wasn’t this bad; we never had a shortened day for the heat. Also, it has rained maybe two times (for a total of ten minutes) in the past two months, which is upsetting to me because all heat should be accompanied by enough humidity that you feel like you’re being walloped every time you step outside. And because it is unnatural to apply lotion in the middle of summer.

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I’ve already written too much on here about the library grant I helped my school apply for last year. Today I was walking out of my school when the director and vice-director asked to speak to me, then launched right into grant discussion. Had I talked to the grant organization? Could I take the money into my own account? Could I get the money for them? Could I tell the organization to give the money to Peace Corps, who could then give it to my school? (Answers: of course, but I stopped six months ago when it became clear my school would never do the grant; no; no; no.) This probably shouldn’t be surprising to me, but it is disappointing and frustrating. I spent a lot of time struggling to get my school administration to care about the grant they had asked me to help them apply for. That they are suddenly asking the same questions they were asking me when we won the grant nine months ago, and that I answered repeatedly and honestly (see again: no, no, no) makes me want to cry, because this isn’t something I want to be negatively coloring my last months of service.

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On a more positive note, A. and I made cookies today. They turned out well. Really well!

Closing Time (well, in 50 days)

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Earlier this week I went through my school supplies, organizing them into piles: stuff for my host family, stuff for my school, stuff I can conceivably use while I’m living in Albania. After putting aside books I need to return to school and some activities I made in past years and need to give to my co-workers, and a few things for Albania (see: one pack markers, I like color-coding my calendar) I was left with a huge stack of notebooks, markers, balloons, stickers and temporary tattoos for my family. My sisters A. and F. handled distribution, but I kind of wanted to cry watching them do it. A. was psyched to have so many new school supplies, but F. is old enough to know what it means I’m giving grocery bags of my things to them all, and said, “You’re leaving soon, aren’t you?”

Sometimes when A. and I are fighting she’ll yell at me that she won’t come on my walks to the bank/grocery store/post office anymore. But since our last bank/grocery run took 70 minutes (30 more than it should have) because A. was so busy throwing ripped-up leaves at me, buying ice cream, telling stories she’d picked up from recent visitors to the house, and pulling her Bajramski pari (money she got on Bajram) out of her pocket to count it, I’m not sure that’s all bad. She sometimes gives good advice at the grocery store (as when she instructed me re: the best snacks to buy for my flight home in July), but that’s often followed by her goading me into buying ingredients for cookies.

Yesterday was Macedonia’s Independence Day, meaning no school, meaning A. and I made a dessert for her family. We walked to the closest prodav (store) to get all the necessary ingredients, A. kept laughing to hear me speak Albanian (they keep most things behind the counter, so you have to ask the storekeeper to get everything for you; and the owners know Macedonian, of course, but they’re Albanian and my Albanian is better than my Macedonian, which means when I go in with A. I am always, weirdly, speaking Albanian to the owners and Macedonian to A., and they are switching back and forth too), and the owners asked if A. and me are friends. Then we came home and did our baking, and who is going to help me make a mess of my kitchen when I’m living in Tirana?