It rained all day.
On Wednesday we woke up and went to the Embassy. Our program started at 10:30 officially, but we were told to be there at least 15 minutes early so that we can get through security. We had to give up our passports to the nice Marines/local security forces at the door. Then walk through security, and like the US Consulate in St. Petersburg we had to turn off and give up our cell phones. (I had learned from there not to even attempt to bring in my chapstick! Or bottle of water.)
Then Gazmend, the “Educational Affairs Assistant”/main point of contact at the Embassy, came and got us to show us where to go/we weren’t allowed to be on our own. At one point he said “Welcome Home!” And in a way, it was true. All US Embassies are US soil, so we were kinda home.
Once all 5 of us arrived, we began with a security briefing by the “Regional Security Officer” (because her real term of “agent” has negative connotations in some countries). The good thing is that nothing really bad happens to Americans. The last “attack” was non-sexual in nature against a women who was jogging alone with ear plugs in in a remote place of the city in 2006.
We will however possibly have demonstrations about anything or everything. And like any big gathering, they have the possibility of turning violent.
Also, since traffic laws are different and accidents are common, always be careful. I mean you have to dodge mopeds, scooters, bikes, cars, trucks, semis, and donkey drawn carriages.
You may face pick-pockets (but never in a family or women with children). And if you are silly enough to leave stuff out in the open in your car, then it might get broken into and stolen. (like some KFOR guy’s camera last month)
Also, there are no Good Samaritan laws, so we are advised to turn and go the other way. Which, for me goes against all of my CPR/First-aid/CERT training. (Don’t know what CERT is? Check it out here and then get involved!)
We also got to talk to /”meet” the Ambassador for about 10-15 minutes. He seemed nice and genuinely interested in our projects- however, this is his second week in Macedonia as an Ambassador. (I arrived in country before him by a week. Lol). He said he wants to follow our projects or whatever gets published from them.
And I observed something weird- everyone stands when he (or any Ambassador would be my guess) or high level embassy employee comes or goes. Like they walk in the door/leave/get-up and everyone stands. Like we are back in the 1500s with Kings or Queens or in the Military. It seems a little antiquated to me. “Well it is a sign of respect,” you say. Then why MAKE people do it? Is it still respectful if you are required to do it? But, hey this is just my personal opinion. (And I will totally be the ones mandated to stand in a few years [hopefully] and will do it, but…still kinda weird to me).
We then got to talk to Carolyn, the Consular Section Chief, who told us about services for American Citizens and she mentioned the safety issues we might encounter. We can mail our ballots from there (but not taxes, as those are considered private compared to public voting?) and have things notarized. But we can’t get fingerprinted (a worry for me as I will need it done for Teach For America next spring).
Then, Agron a Program Assistant who oversees the Small Grants given to local non-profits, told us about the grants and encouraged us to help some local NGOS write grants for projects to get funded. He was really nice too.
Then closing thoughts, and lunch in the café they have. I had „помфритс“ and „шопска салад“ or French fries and shopska salad (cucumbers, tomatoes, and cerene (which they translate as feta, but it is not feat as we know it in the states).
After we left (and got our passports back) Daniel, Jen, Lizzie and I caught a taxi back downtown. We met Angie, Daniel’s wife, at Ramstore with the kids and had a yummy desert. I got this cake with vanilla cream, whipped cream thing covered in chocolate with chocolate sprinkles! For only 80 denar or abour $2. And it was soooo yummy. And filling.
The Embassy had also given us a welcome packet with some helpful words in Macedonian, taxi numbers, hotel numbers, things about tipping or pharmacies or other living information for those living in Skopje. However, the packet is technically for US Embassy staff and families as it had some info that didn’t pertain to us Fulbrighters, but was still good information.
See you around the globe!
*There are no pictures to accompany this post, as it is forwned upon to take pictues in, around or of government buildings in Macedonia*