Saturday, December 31, 2011

Horseback riding!

There is a website over here like is like Groupon or LivingSocial, and they had a deal for a horseback riding! I called everyone up and asked if they wanted to go, and since they did I tried to buy it.

But the website wouldn't take my credit card, since it was a US card. But there is an option to pay in the banks using a little blue form. So I went to a bank and filled out the form accordinly, all but the spot for the MK social security number. When I get up to the cashier lady, she says I can pay in a bank if I go to the bank that the company uses since I don't have the Social Secuirty number.

So I go to that bank and wait in line, and then they say I can't pay because I am a foreigner! A new law passed on Sept 1 for banks. If you don't have a bank account, then you can't pay at a bank. If you aren't a citizen, you can't open an account. Since we have special staus here, we can't open accounts. We don't have foreigner staus, and thus can't open accounts.

So I emailed the company with the horseback riding, and they agreed to honor the agreement that they had. So we were all set for Sept 10!

You have heard of Jen, Lizzie and Justin, but I am not sure I ever told you about Mary or Stephaine! Mary is a Fulbrighter in Kosovo teaching English. Stephanie was an intern at the US Embassy this fall semester, and I met her at an Embassy event. (I was smiling at someone and they smiled back and I thought to myself- she must be American! She was!).

We met up on the 10th and caught a bus out to Gorche Petrov (a part of the larger city of Skopje, kinda like New Orleans has parishes, Skopje has districts). Where we were to meet the guy in front of the European Eye Hospital- I know interesting!  I of course took some pictures while we were waiting:

Then we walked a little bit over to where they had the horses ready. The guy was super nice, and joked with us a lot! Before we could go up the mountain, we had to "practice" with one of the horses. Walk in a circle, stop and go. Oh and get on and off! It was harder than I remembered! I volunteered to go first and had fun trying it out. Then everyone took a short ride. He then assigned us all a horse and we took off to towards the begining of the trail. I was on Micky!

When we got to the bridge that you saw earlier, we all dismounted and they walked the horses over the bridge for us. We then remounted and took off. We didn't dismount until about 2 hours later! We rode up Vodno towards Saint Panteleimon - Dolno Nerezi, a well known Monastery. We passed some older buildings that looked a little bombed out, but were just old and falling apart. We also passed a cemetary on the way up. When we got to the top, we had coffee at the restaurant and then headed back down. on the way back down, we even gallopped! But here are the pictures! And a video to boot!

Part 2! There is only a link for the second one beacause blogger and youtube are being stupid!


Friday, December 30, 2011

The Name Issue

I recently had a conversation with some one about Macedonia’s future. I will not reveal the identity of this person, because I want to recreate this conversation as truly as possible. Thus I have waited to post this until after a while since I had the conversation. Since this first conversation, I have had numerous other small talks relating to this topic.

The Macedonian Name Issue.

In case you don’t happen to know this, or I haven’t posted on it before, the Name Issue is between Macedonia and Greece. When MK declared independence in 1991, GR objected because they believe that the name “Macedonia” is solely a region in Greece. Greece claims that the Ancient Macedonians have a direct lineage to the current Greeks. Since 1991, the Greeks have consistently caused problems with the Republic of Macedonia and the world. They held back recognition of Macedonia for a few years by the EU (even though they were the only Yugoslav republic to break away with no violence). Then Greece imposed an embargo on Macedonia, helping to cripple their economic beginnings as an independent country. Then in 2008, Greece stopped Macedonia from joining NATO due to the name issue, directly against an international agreement they signed in 1993. Macedonia’s pathway to the EU has been blocked due to Greece’s dispute with the name.

This is not to say that Macedonia is blameless- they try to grab the Ancient Macedonian heroes just as much as Greece does. Including an ostentatious statue of a “Warrior On A Horse” (AKA Aleksandr) in the center of Skopje. According to some sources, the textbooks are also pretty nationalistic claiming that Macedonia fits the borders of Ancient Macedonia) parts in Greece, Republic of MK, and Bulgaria). Macedonia has also renamed a lot of different things around the country to ancient names or people.

When I was completing my thesis research, I had such a Huge Problem finding any reliable unbiased source. Either things were written from the Greek point of view or the Macedonian nationalist point of view. I was very curious to see what individual Macedonians would say when I could ask them about “it”. I was curious if what I had read would match up with what others tell me. Both on the Greece side and the Macedonian side.

Some thing that confounds this issue is that more than 20% of Macedonia’s population is non-ethnic Macedonian. Some are Albanian, Roma, Turkish, and a few others. Would their opinions differ than the ethnic Macedonians?

Most of the Macedonians who I have talked to don’t understand how they can change their name, their identity, their heritage. [Could you (if you are American) imagine having some other country tell you that you are no longer American even though you and your family has been calling your self that since the early 1800s?] “If we are not Macedonian, who are we?” “If my father told me that I am Macedonian, and his father told him that he is Macedonian, what else are we supposed to be?” “Why does Greece have the right to tell us to change our name?”

Some[ethnic Macedonian], on the other hand. could care less- they just want a good paying job and the ability to travel at times. They either don’t strongly identify with Macedonian, and they would be ok with a geographic qualifier. Since they can call themselves whatever they want, it doesn’t matter what others call them.

Then there are the ethnic Albanians who I have talked to. They more often than not do not feel Any connection with their state of Macedonia. “I am not Macedonian. They do not do anything to help me.”

Then someone asked me a simple question: “What will happen if we change the name?”

It made me think. What will change? If it is satisfactory to Greece, then they will drop their arguments to let Macedonia join the EU and NATO. There is nothing but a positive in those actions (well, that can now be debated, but let’s assume that is the end goal and it is a good one).

What will happen if in 10-20 years, they change their names back, it will do nothing but help Macedonia’s situation. (So the people I have talked to suggested).

Almost everyone in the world, except for Greece, calls them Macedonian, refers to their country as The Republic Of Macedonia, and their language as Macedonian. Their money is already known as MKD (Macedonian Denars) in the currency market, and Greece can’t change that. If only Greece has a problem with the name, but they have the ability to abuse their political power over a weaker state, why not change the name as the ultimate f* You to them? (they suggest). Some have suggested that changing their legal name will not change anything relevant to the Macedonian lifestyle, but rather make it better.

While I personally believe that every state has the right to determine their own name (if some state wanted to call itself Narnia, I don’t believe that we have the right to argue with it), I do also believe that pelting the mama bear with rocks is not a good idea either. Either way, what I think does not matter, but rather what the people of Macedonia think. And then if their government will actually respond to their ideas and thoughts.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

December 12: Kumanovo on strictly business- so no sight-seeing. Must go back later! If nothing else for the seasoned fries at the Irish pub!
 December 14th: Taught a class on Advanced English learners at the university so they could hear a native speaker. Mira Beaker, a former Fulbrighter to the US, had met up with us a few weeks ago and asked me to present a topic to her class. We met on Monday to discuss the topic, and the I prepared to teach. I was kinda terrified, to be perfectly honest. But it all went smoothly.  I literally followed the examples in the book and had them do a popcorn reading of the text they were supposed to read. Jen would be a better resource than I am, but college is really different in MK than in the US. Classes are a lot easier, they have almost no concept of homework or outside preparation. But, they only have one or two exams in the class and if you don’t pass that you get two more chances. If you don’t pass by then, you have to take the course over again.

Dec 16th: I met with an NGO contact in the morning. Then I went to an American Corner event: A Christmas workshop where we attempted to make German Christmas stars. I failed at the workshop, but it was a huge turnout and that was awesome! It was more than anyone expected! Then Nicola (sp?) the Peace Corps volunteer that taught the workshop stayed at my apartment overnight. But before that, we and another Peace Corps Volunteer (Lillian, who is leaving Dec 24th) went out to eat at Mecho’s. I had been told it was a pizza joint, but it isn’t! It is traditional Macedonian food. Lillian ordered frog legs, while Nicola and I ordered Tavche Grache. Yup, frog legs. Apparently they are a specialty in Eastern MK. Nicola and I enjoyed hanging out and trying the stars again at my apartment later that night. It was refreshing to talk to a Peace Corps Volunteer that doesn’t hate the country and want to leave ASAP!

Dec 18th: First train ride in MK! I went to Bitola, because I had two appointments with NGOs on the 19st.  The train was pretty crowded, but cheap! I got a student discount that made the price 150 MKD or $3.17 USD. Yup for a 3.5-4 hour ride across a country. I met his really nice lady that helped me figure out which train to get on, and where to go. The train pretty much emptied out after Prilep, and I figured that the next stop would be Bitola. Well the next stop where most people got off (p.s. it was). Some pictures of Bitola decorated for Christmas!

Dec 19st: Met with two different NGOs. One went really well, the other only sort of well. I ate lunch as a restaurant in the center of Bitola, but it was horrible food. The spaghetti sauce was basically sweet ketchup, ugh. I Couldn’t even finish ¼ of the food! I took the bus back to Skopje that afternoon. It was crowded, uncomfy and 450 MKD. I will try my hardest to plan around a train schedule to go back to Bitola. I do NOT want to take the bus again if I can help it. I even managed to aggravate someone. When people were getting off, I had to switch seats to let someone off, and then when people started coming back on, I went back to my original seat…but some lady thought she was supposed to sit there with her friend. Then when they realized that I didn’t speak Macedonian (it’s a great ploy even when you understand some of what they were saying). Turns out that it was ok, the girl just sat up front next to the bus driver. Then at the stop, when I tried to switch with her, the Bus driver thought I was crazy and then found me a seat somewhere up front (not next to him- apparently some one had gotten off, so there was a free seat). And the people in the front kept saying something about the Foreigner. The bus driver said something to the guy that he found the seat next to about me being English of French or something and I didn’t understand anything. I’m sorry- but I don’t understand all the social rules for riding a bus, we don’t really have that form of transportation in the US! I just keep smiling and hoping it will be ok.

More Bitola for Christmas!

Dec 20th: First snow in Skopje!!!

Dec 21st: I went and had coffee with the International Women’s Association (well hot chocolate). Then I went to a doctor. I will write a separate post on that soon- but the end result is I am fine, but getting over a virus. That night, I had Conversation Hour at the American Corner. We discussed Holiday Traditions (New Year and Christmas), vegetarian lifestyle (did ya’ know that children NEED meat to function?), and a few other random topics. I kind of like not having a real plan, it makes the conversation more free flowing.

Dec 22nd: Off to Tetovo again! I seem to always catch the same combi driver. We pulled forward to a little bakery so the mom and kid also riding with us, could grab a bite to eat, and the driver turns around and goes “Sthul?” (the university that Jen works at).  Then he proceeds to ask me if I go over every day- now you know you take him combi too often! This guy is super nice and friendly however. I was going to Tetovo to see the Deputy Prime Minister of the Ohrid Framework Agreement (OFA) give a talk. Apparently SEEU had complied a book about the 10 years since OFA. The OFA ended the conflict in 2001. See this previous blog post for a summary of the OFA. The speech he gave was only about 20 minutes, but still worth going to see. He said some interesting things that I thought were poignant.

·        We should leave the OFA and the past 10 years to history and move forward to a new direction

·        The future of MK is the country of all parities with no one party better than another.

·        One of the goals was the protection of citizen’s ethnic identity and culture.

·        The implementation WAS hard (I liked how he used the past tense, implying that it had been implemented)

·        The implementation was an investment into the future of MK.

·        The OFA is a process, not just an agreement on paper. It is important for the democratization of MK. It was a goal for opening and strengthening the state institutions.

After the talk, he and the rector and editor gave a press conference while Jen and I picked up the book that they published. I have it in Albanian, Macedonian, and English. I look forward to reading it and then possibly donating it to FAU’s library. Then I went back to Jen's office and worked on my research blog while Jen went to her class that she teaches. After she got back we went to a 3:30pm linner with Vesna, who leaves for the US and her PhD program on the 28th! Linner (lunch-dinner, like brunch) was pretty good. I had pizzia because that was one of like 3 things I could order off the menu!

Dec 23rd: I started a mini exercise program in my apartment, after realizing that I needed to get in better health and that finding a gym that wasn’t out of my price range would be hard. (I have a hard time spending over $40 for a one month membership, but maybe I will break down and do it in Feb…). I also just realized that I never told you about aqua aerobics in MK- see future blog post… I had a meeting with another NGO in the afternoon. But the guy stood me up. He thought that we hadn't confirmed the meeting, or he never recieved the email about confirmation. I also started private tutoring in Macedonian. It took this long to find a class or private tutor that I could afford. No one gave me any ideas for where to look for classes until mid-November! And then I found a wonderful lady at Lumina Lingua! She has VERY reasonable prices and is super super nice!

Friday, December 23, 2011

First Week of December

To show you how far behind I am in posting, I give you dates!

December 3rd: When I went to leave in the morning, my lovely $80 purse broke. You remember, the one that is supposed to be pickpocket proof? Yea seriously disappointed. But this meant I had to go buy another purse before we went to Ohrid, because I only brought over one purse! Erin had recommended this little shop in the Old Town, so after the IWA Christmas Bazaar, I headed over there. I walked into the store and basically only saw black and white purses. I’m a color girl- I really don’t do just black and white. I’m just not good with looking that depressed. So, I pulled one down that was more white than black, and as I was doing so noticed one with bright (really really small) dots of color and started looking at that one, figuring I would get that over just black and white.  When the guy held up his finger (as in one minute please) went to the window display and pulled out a beautiful blue and white stripped purse! I smiled really big and said “Good, yes!” I don’t remember exactly how much it was, but it was under $10. You might have seen it appear in my Ohrid pictures.

December 5th: I was supposed to meet with my official affiliation partner today, but they did not show up and it was the final straw. I now claim I am “freelance.” I will just focus on my research and blog and not work with any official institution of education. I will continue to work with Florozon one day a week, because they are AWESOME!!!

 December 6th: I attended a presentation at the American Corner on “The US Military, Media, and Public Inforamtion: On the Job.” This is how the American Corner summarized it:

American Corner Skopje had the honor to host Lieutenant Jennifer Franco and members of the U.S. European Command's Public Affairs staff on December 6.

LTC Franco talked about her experience working with the media and implementing public information practices in Afghanistan and other operations. She shared with the audience information about media trainings conducted as well her experiences in working both with the American and local journalists.

LTC Franco pointed that during the current election cycle, the biggest question of the U.S. public is “What are we still doing in Afghanistan” which is why it is important to account to the U.S. taxpayer about every single dollar spent there. A good practice for this has been inviting the US media to learn about Afghanistan, in order to provide broader concept and see the changes for themselves. On the other hand, working with the local journalist there are different challenges to be faced. However, the established “Media Center” does provide the journalist with internet access and needed resources.

Present in the audience were also Rebecca M. Wriggle, Deputy Director of Strategic Communication for the United States European Command, John V. Tomassi, Deputy Director for U.S. European Command Public Affairs and Benjamin A. Benson, Strategic Communication Advisor at U.S. European Command’s Strategic Communication Directorate (ECSC). They answered the audiences questions about advice for the Macedonian mission in Afghanistan which does not have a Public Affairs team, EUCOM’s Social Media strategy as well as general questions about the European Command’s operations.

December 7th: Surprise (well two day notice) presentation to children (turns out to be 8th grade) at the American Corner on Big Cities in the US. They were super cool and wanted to just learn about the US. I was glad I was able to shuffle my schedule and meet with them.

December 8th: Stay tuned for a separate post! J

December 9th: I returned from Tetovo in the morning, and attended the National Assembly with Florozon to see a presentation on Waste Batteries in Macedonia. It was really interesting and I was glad I was able to attend!

 The guy with the purple tie is the Chairman of the Committee on Transport, Communications and Environment

Kiril (NGO Florozon) supporting the campaign.
Then I rushed off to attend a workshop on the “Impact of Volunteering on Community Development” hosted by an NGO I was to interview the following week. It was really interesting and informative. More info will later be found on my research blog (much later unfortunately…I stink at updating stuff.)

Later that night, Lizzie, Justin, Jen, and Mary (Kosovo Fulbright English Teacher) arrived and we attended Daniel’s club at the American Corner; stay tuned for a separate post.

December 10th: Once again, stay tuned. Don’t ya love how I don’t even give you any hints?
ok fine-- ONE hint!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Why yes, we HAVE been to Ohrid!

We are finally able to saw that WE HAVE BEEN TO OHRID!!!!
Everyone asks us “Oh where have you been besides Skopje?” And I list off a few towns, but they ALWAYS follow this up with “What about Ohrid? You HAVE to get to Ohrid!” It’s gotten to the point where I always go in my head “ ohasgpoihasgfj8! I know!” but publicly say “I know! I can’t wait!” But now I can say, I have been. It was only for a day, but I saw basically the whole town (minus museums). We also only saw the outside of the churches, and didn’t go into any actually church. We also walked the whole town, but that would be pretty easy, the streets were pretty small.

Jen and I were able to go down with Vesna, Jen’s friend and co-worker at the university. She offered to drive us there because she needed a break. The trip takes about 2 hours from Tetovo through the mountains. The mountains on this side of Macedonia are not as rocky as the other side. They were filled with more trees and less “Caution rocks falling signs!” It was a bit cloudy and rainy the whole way down (and actually the whole day) but I still should have gotten more pictures! I actually didn’t get any on the way down (STUPID!).

When we got to Ohrid, we met up with Vesna’s friend (Emilija) at a cafĂ© for a coffee. We all sat and talked for a bit, but then Jen and I wanted to give them some alone time, so we went to take pictures at this little old dock. This commenced….

 followed by this:

When we went back, they were done with their coffee and started wandered towards the mountain. We passed through most of the town taking lots of pictures!

I translated this, and went, wait, WHAT...did I translate that correctly? Yup, yup I did: Men know why

Traditional Ohrid architecture

We made it up to this Old Amphitheater, which according to WikiTravel (because they are the only real source about history of the tourist stuff (even the guides don’t tell you about all of the sights)), was from Ancient Greek times. The only Ancient Greek theater in Macedonia, all others are from Roman times.

We then walked towards the Fortifications with a Upper Gate. The whole old town is encircled by a stone wall.

Then we headed to the main church, St. Bogorodica Perivlepta (I think).

We also passed along the First Archbishopric/school of Macedonian.

Also, some GREAT views. The beauty of this city is almost indescribable.  We walked up to Samuel’s Fortress and then down to St. Jovan church along the edge of the lake.

We also encountered this:

It is meant to say “sign” as in your astrological sign:

Then Emilija had to leave us, but Vesna, Jen and I then wandered back to this little pizza joint where we all enjoyed  a different kind of pizza before heading back to the car and driving home.

Ohrid was AMAZING and I can’t wait to go back to see some of the museums and inside some of the churches!