Monday, February 27, 2012

Disabilities in Macedonia

The meeting with Polio Plus (only in MK, the EN page is not working) was a bit different than my other meetings. I recently met a Political Officer at the Embassy who has been giving me some more contacts with NGOs. She had a meeting scheduled with Polio Plus, who I had been trying to meet with for about 2 months, and invited me along. This made for some different observations and discussions that I usually had. They were more direct in asking the US government for help, specifically stating that “we” should help them lobby. At the same time, they were much more critical of the current government and their actions regarding people with disabilities than many NGOs I had visited. I was able to learn most of what I would by myself. I might try to email them a few more questions soon. As I was typing this up, I realized that I actually learned more about how disabilities are treated in MK than I did about Polio Plus, so this is more about that than the organization (thus the reason I am putting it on my travel blog and waiting to publish it on my research blog!).  

They had one of the larger offices that I had seen in Skopje. The had one large office room/entry way where there were three desks and a seating area set up, then there were two smaller rooms off to the side, with a conference room in the back. We met in the conference room.

They tend to focus on policy implementation and legislative changes, rather than services to the people. They do help those who are disabled fight for their legal rights. They do provide some services, such as mediation in the labor market, providing legal advice (such as how to make complaints), and helping them write business plans.

They are mainly funded from international organizations or embassies. The funds are small for NGOs in MK especially if you are focused solely on one issue. Even further, disability is lower on the funding tier in all locations, according to Polio Plus. Disabilities have received some funds from the state, roughly 2 million Euros, but it only goes to the older Union of Disabilities that was set up by the state. In the Union of Disabilities, there are 7 separate organizations that provide services to the disabled. The regulations, however, are from the Yugoslav era. The funding also only goes to the traditional organizations that use the medical approach.

Like in the US and elsewhere, disabilities still face harsh discrimination. Although in MK people with disabilities are almost all treated as if they are “crazy” or “have something wrong” or “aren’t normal and need to be excluded from daily life.” There is a law on discrimination that, according to Polio Plus, is actually discriminatory. In order to be hired as a manager or someone above the bottom level of employment, you have to be tested if you have a disability. The person with a disability, be it mental or physical, has to prove that they are mentally capable by going to a medical commission that examines their ability to work. All people with a disability are grouped together, in the guise of protecting those with mental disabilities.

There is no “gate-keeping” for disability status in MK. Almost any one can be declared disabled. The government then provides a subsidy for the disability (roughly 7,000 MKD/month minimum[$150]). However, with all of the “extras” that people might qualify for, they could end up getting 15-16,000 MKD/month [$318-340]. This is a decent salary in MK, and thus provides no incentive for them to go out and search for work on their own, especially if they are employed at all (even part time), they only get the lower 7,000 plus their salary.

Polio Plus submitted the first (and only so far) Citizen’s Initiative law to the MK parliament. It was essentially a law to retrofit all building to make them handicapped accessible. In order to do this, you have to get 10,000 signatures. To get these, you can’t just sign them with a notary, oh no, you have to go into your local governmental office with an official register and sign there after proving that you are who you say you are. They submitted this law a while ago, but there has been no movement on it in the Parliament. The word is that this law would be too expensive to implement, so they aren’t voting on it.

In the years that Polio Plus has been around (12), there has been a change in the attitudes of people towards those with disabilities, but it is slim to none. The example they gave, is that if in 1991 those with disabilities were considered at step 1 to the rest of society being at step 5, now they are at 5 while the rest of society is at 10.They were trying to show that while changes have been made, those with disabilities are still the last considered group of people. Many people here do not have a creative mentality, and they believe that change is taking too long to occur. While many work to solve the issues that people with disabilities face, no real progress is being made. There has been a shift from institutionalization to community based care, but not enough of one.

They claimed that almost no one is motivated to learn to work with those with disabilities because it takes too much work. There is some training available, but mostly it is in the medical approach. (which is a way of thinking about “what they can NOT do” rather than what the CAN do. According to BFI’s educational resources, the medical approach sees the disabled people as the problem. That the people who are disabled need to be adapted to fit in the world as it is, and if this isn’t possible, they need to be hidden. I had to look this up as I was not quite sure what she meant by the medical approach).

They have tried to work closely with different Members of Parliament, and different governmental bodies, but the others often do not want to work with those with disabilities (they don’t make as good of a picture story). Polio Plus isn’t sure how to change the system. They have to be extra cautious on how they try to change things.

There is also a group of companies called “Shelter Companies” (this lead to a bit of miscommunication in the beginning of the description), because they “shelter” those who are disabled. In these companies they must meet a few regulations: have a minimum of 10 people working, with 4 of them with disabilities. They must also keep the people with disabilities employed for 3 years, and in the second company where the person is hired, they have to be employed for 5 years. They get the following benefits as a way of getting companies to hire more people with disabilities:
  • they don’t have to pay taxes for any of the people working for them
  • The state can pay between 20-100% of the salaries in the form of a grant (less common)
  • The companies do not pay the profit taxes.
  • The customs fees are free
  • they get reimbursed for 10,000 MKD for equipment.
  • The social packages are covered by the government for all workers

The companies can request this after 9 months of employing the people with disabilities. Mainly the companies in graphics and printing take advantage of this program. However, there is a large scale abuse in this program. There is a commission that has to determine if you meet the standards for receiving this aid, and it is staffed by those who are connected. They often run the companies that are already receiving this aid and therefore have no desire to allow more companies into this special tax zone.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Off to Venice (with Mama!)

On Sunday we were headed to VENICE! So excited to go see another country! We took it pretty slow this day, just trying to make sure everything was packed! We had to go de-register Mama with the police, then we went to get Hot Chocolate/palachinki.  Then it was to the airport (thanks Hyun!) and off to Venice via WizzAir.

For those of you who have never lived in Europe, they have these things called “budget airlines.” There is no real comparison budget ailine in the states. Some here are RyanAir and WizzAir, but there are others. They fly you from place to place packed in like Sardines for pretty cheap (30 Euro round trip to Venice or London from Skopje?). You do have to pay extra for ANY extra services (food, drink, checked luggage [sometimes this is more expensive than the ticket]). We decided to take advantage of the opportunity and go to Italy when my mom came to visit!

Upon arriving in Italy, we hopped the bus to go to the Piazzale Roma (AKA the bus station on the island). I sat next to this really nice Serbian lady pursuing her PhD in Climate Change in Venice. The hostel told us to call them when we got to the bus station and hopped on the public BOAT. Well, they didn’t pick up the phone the first 3 times we called. And then when we did, they were all “it’s going to take at least 30 minutes.”  Well, I was a bit aggravated. It was cold and we had all of our stuff. I mean, you could have told me to call earlier if it would take you that long! But a nice old man (read 70s or so) meet us at the boat stop about 30 minutes later and took us to the apartment. But this nice man couldn’t speak any English. But with my old dusty French skills and ways of thinking for the past 5 months in broken English we figured it out.

We went downstairs to the little restaurant that was like 10 feet from our entryway to eat. No need to explore when all we had to do was grab a quick bite to eat and crash! the food was pretty good, a bit on the expensive side, but still pretty good. We had....ITALIAN food, how’d you know? Pizza and one of those wrapped pasta things with stuff in it? (the word escapes me right now). Also a delicious chocolate desssert.

Then sleep. nice nice sleep in a nice dark room due to shutters!

see you around the globe!
P.S- there are no pictures on this post, since we only used my mom's camera and since she is in the US, can't get the pictures....

Thursday, February 9, 2012

saturday, saturday

On Saturday, we were getting ready to go to Italy mostly and finishing up around Skopje. We stopped off at the American Corner to pick up some travel books from Nevenka about Italy (since ours had not come in!). Then we drove to Tetovo in a combi (with one of the drivers that recognized me....I guess the random American girl who tries to speak Macedonian is memorable) to pick up Mama’s suits.

We then grabbed lunch at the delicious burek place. The guy remembered us and brought over an extra drink than we asked for. On our way home we caught a combi home. This one was a “15” passenger van. We had way more people this time! There was even a poor guy in the back where the luggage would go!!

When we got to Skopje, we were dropped off near the lion bridge. Then we bought a suitcase so Mama could take back some extra stuff I had picked up. We went home and went to Ramstore to get some stuff I needed around the house. One of the things I needed was light bulbs. The ones in my bedroom had been out for, oh, about a month. And then the lamp there died while Mama was there, so I really needed a new light bulb. And the one in the entry way was acting up too. The bulbs in the bedroom had no identification wattage on them. Nothing. But the single one in the hallway did. So we guessed at a lower wattage for the bedroom. But as soon as we put the bulb in the hallway one- it died. So apparently the wattage was wrong there. But it sure is nice to be able to see in my bedroom at night! (but at least the days are getting longer! )

For dinner we tried to go to Mechos- a pizza place/ traditional food place but they were closed! So we went to Pilister, the hotel restaurant on the square. I personally don’t really like their food. They are one of the most expensive places in town and the food is just not that good for the prices. But we were able to get Mama some ajvar. Ajvar is a red pepper spread that is baked, roasted, pounded, and cooked. Yea, a bit of overkill in my opinion, but who is to argue with tradition? And if you like red peppers, it taste pretty good.
See you around the globe!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Ohrid with Mama!

I guess you are noticing a theme with the post titles...What can I say, not feeling that inventive!
We woke up early to go to Ohrid. I called a cab, but they had no cabs, so we had to walk to the next taxi stand near-by and get a cab. There were only 2 cabs there, and my first woman taxi driver! She was nice and got us there on time. We bought a return ticket to come home that night as well. The bus left Skopje in a way that I had never seen before, it came back the same way. It was difficult to figure it out. We went through Tetovo, Gostivar, and Kichevo before arriving in Ohrid. We slept most of the way there.

When we got there, we changed our “return any time with in 30 days” to the “5:45 bus home to Skopje.” Then we caught a cab to the center. We then wandered around the down town up to the top of the mountain. We stopped into the Paper Making shop and museum on our way up.

We also stopped off at the old Roman Amphitheater. This guy started talking for us for like 10 minutes. Offering to be our guide. No matter how many times we told them that we didn’t need a guide, we still had to chat for a bit. This was just the first in a long line of people who felt the need to tell us that we needed a guide for the city.

Next we went up to the Old Gate and this really old church. There was this nice lady who gave us a personalized tour of the church. She apparently had done her PhD on the church and the frescoes in the church. Apparently she believes that Mary was 14 and Jacob was 80ish and seen more like a father figure. And that Mary was granted a prominent place in this church like she should be in the Christian religion. All in all the paintings were nice and worth paying to go into the church.

We then went up to the fortress, but along the way we met our second annoying person of the day. He was supposedly a professor, and told us about the history of Ohrid. We told him that we couldn’t pay for a guide and didn’t want a guide, but he followed us anyway and said for free! We let him talk and talk and talk and then said that we were going someplace. And he directly asked for money for alcohol from the “Rich Americans.” When he finally left, my mom and I went into the Samuel’s Fortress.

Samuel was a king of Macedonia in the 900s. He was eventually killed by competing forces, but left the foundation for a later Macedonian state. His history is disputed, with the Bulgarians claiming his birthright. (Wikipedia even calls him Samuel of Bulgaria).

There was much infighting while (Macedonia) was under Byzantine control, including the short kingdom of Samuel. King Samuel ruled from Ohrid from roughly 976 to 1014 AD.[1] His kingdom included most of geographic Macedonia.[2] Samuel’s kingdom is one of the historical areas that receives much attention for later nationality struggles: Was Samuel Bulgarian, as he often called himself? Or was he Macedonian, but used Bulgarian for ease? Is his kingdom the beginning of the struggle for international recognition of the ‘down-trodden Macedonian people’?[3] Adding to the confusion, Samuel’s kingdom fell to the Byzantine Empire under Basil II,[4] and afterwards Serbia briefly gained control of the area of Macedonia and established its capital in Skopje. However, the Serbian kingdom also fell to the Byzantine Empire.[5]

[1] Panev, 589
[2] Shea,58; Panev, 590
[3] Panev, 589-590; Cosmopoulos, 57; Shea, 58
[4] Elizabeth Barker, Macedonia: Its Place in Balkan Power Politics (London: Royal Institute of International Affairs, 1950), 14; Cosmopoulos 58; Panev, 590
[5] Barry Turner, “Macedonia” in The Statesman’s Yearbook 2011: the Politics, Cultures, and Economies of the World (New York: Palgrave, 2011), 813.

However, we went up to the top and saw a bunch of really cool views of Ohrid! Have I mentioned that it was cold this day? Like Really REALLY COLD! So cold, that my mom sat up in the wind to get her feet warm.

Then we wandered down to this church. We are guessing that it is St. Ohridski, but Mama just kept calling it “The Church of the Warmth” because it was  heated! One of the few places that was. I say it is St. Ohridski, because I think it was his body in there, and the nice lady earlier had told us his body was moved when a church was built.

After the church we went down to the little church on the edge of the mountain. It is just so beautiful there. Just breath taking-ly beautiful.

We walked past the sign that caused so much trouble with a few people, and I took an ironic picture that I will not be posting do avoid further unwarranted criticism. You can contact me if you want to see it. ;)

Then it was randomly wandering into a celebration. Apparently it was like the Voditi, but with wine. You put like 12 barrels of wine in and one is white- you get lots of wine or something if you find the white one.  And they made (I’m assuming) fish stew in a gigantic pot. But they gave out free (nasty) wine.

Then to lunch at Leonardo’s, since Mama had worked at a Leonardo’s way back when. We had pizza and spaghetti alfredo!

We also wandered a bit through the center before meeting up with Emilija (Vensa’s friend that we meet the first time we went to Ohrid) for coffee. It was great to talk with people! (not that we weren’t talking all day Mama). We had a few drinks and met a new friend. We were also just killing time until our bus left.

When we got into Skopje, we just crashed!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Водици / Vodici

January 19, on the Orthodox Calendar, is known as Водици/voditi. It is, apparently, the celebration of the baptism of Jesus. It is very good luck to catch the cross, especially the cross in Ohrid. We were warned that trying to get to Ohrid would be really really difficult! So we decided to stay in Skopje.

We wandered through Old Town/Charshia a bit before going to watch The Event (which was an AMAZING show that some stupid execs cancelled). There were a ton of people there. Oh and did I mention that this religious event seemed to be sponsored by a winery? Yeah, I was a bit shocked too. The City Red Cross was also there to help out in case anyone gets hurt.  (Although, legend has it that no one will get sick trying to catch the cross in the almost freezing water in the freezing temperature. God will protect them.)

See...sponsored by wineary. Also, "sup? no worries, just walking home after a day's work"

We stood around for about 10 minutes before the singing started. Then then there was a speech by the head priest guy (yea, my orthodox religious topics need some work). I didn’t understand much, but there was a lot of talk about water (Daniel later said that he thinks they were retelling every story that had water in it. They started with Moses or Noah and went from there. About 10-15 minutes later they tossed the cross into the water. One very happy man caught it. Then everyone tried to kiss it and hug that man. Eventually the priest guys congratulated him and his family and wished him luck.

Someone was carried out in a stretcher (see above?).

Mama and I then went to The Cuban (it has a different name, but no one calls it anything but the Cuban) for lunch with the Pouts. Mama and I order pumpkin soup and carrot chips. Everyone liked the carrot chips! Especially Eliana and Aidan.

Afterwards, we went back to Old Town and wandered around some more. Then we went through it to Kale (the fortress) to over look another view of Skopje and see the closed off fortress. If we had just stayed around a bit longer, we could have sweet talked our way into the fortress with these other tourists, but no avail. We stopped off in a cafe to have Salep and just talk. Salep is a flour made from orchids and sweetened into a hot drink, sprinkled with cinnamon. It was very delicious!

Then we went to Anja’s again, but this time we got shopska, pizza, and palichinki. The guys remembered us, and brought us free rakija after dessert.

The waiters are really super nice, by the way. We just talked for an hour or so, and then we  went home to go to bed for a early start the next morning.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Exploring Skopje with Mama

On Wednesday we decided to go up to the Millennium Cross where you have amazing views of the city of Skopje. You can catch a city bus for 25 MKD to the top of the mountain. Then there is a cable car that you can take for 110 MKD to the actual top.

However, we missed the first bus up there, so we decided to go to the City Museum right across the street from my apartment. They have a lot of stuff from the timeline of the city- tons of clothing and pictures! There was also a little exhibit of the Culture/History of money and how it was used for decoration. Then it was up to the top of the mountain! The views were incredible!

It was also super cold, and I found out that my boots are not waterproof anymore! We stopped in the little cafe at the top for coffee and tea. I was using the tea to warm up my frozen toes! We then caught the cable car back down the mountain and the caught the conveniently timed city bus back home. We went and grabbed a bite to eat at Aladdin. Falafels and potatoes! So delicious!

We went to the Mother Teresa Museum. It is built in a three part style. The bottom is an open air amphitheater, the second floor is a museum, and the top floor is  church. It is supposed to symbolize the three stages of her life, or something like that. Then we went to have hot chocolate (MK style).

Then it was to the American Corner where she had a presentation about Child Abuse Protection in the US. It went very well. There were a few interested people there. There was a good discussion. I learned a lot about protection in MK. There are a few foster type houses in MK, but not many. There is not a social services type of organization that systematically watches out for children in MK.

ACS-Facebook Photos

After the presentation, Mama, Nevenka and I went out to Plazza de Torres. It has a much more active atmosphere than Anja’s and is usually very very busy. It’s also much louder than Anja’s. Mama and I got a Mozzarella Sandwich and french fries with cheese. (Mama has noted that we eat a lot of cheese here in MK). We stayed there talking for a few hours over a bunch of topics. Finally after a 3 hour dinner, Mama and I went home and went to bed.

See you around the globe!

Mama in Tetovo!

On Monday we went to Tetovo! Mama wanted to get a few suits made at this awesome tailor that I know.

So we visited him and then wandered towards the university seeing the sights of Tetovo as we went. Mostly the little art gallery in an old Turkish bath and the painted mosque.

We were supposed to meet Jen and Lizzie at 12:30 for burek, but we were super early, so we decided to walk to SEEU to meet them, since they were going to take a taxi to meet us there. We hung out at the university for a bit, then tried to taxi down to the center. We had to take a random detour for no reason that we knew of. And then the taxi driver ripped us off and didn’t even take us where we wanted to go. But we got delicious burek!

After lunch, Jen and Lizzie went to the tailor and we tried to make it to the top of the fortress. I use the word tried because we didn’t make it. The road was too icy for the car to make it up the mountain. The taxi driver was super nice! He told us about the history of Tetovo and where the Albanians and Macedonians live. He was telling us how the Albanians have no money to live in the big houses that the Macedonians live in on the mountain. We got some good pictures of the town of Tetovo.

We then had the guy take us back down to the bus station where we caught the bus leaving about 5 minutes after we got to the station!

When we got back to Skopje, we rode to the bus station so that we could walk back looking at new sights. After we stopped off at the apartment we went to Gusto’s! Ask any of the people that I bring to Gusto’s it has AMAZING cheese dip. Delicious rockfort cheese dip as well as delicious veggies risotto!

See the cheese dip?

Then home where we relaxed and went to bed.

See you around the globe!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Mama's in Skopje!

My mom and I had a really great time while she was visiting here. We went to Tetovo, Ohrid and, of course, Skopje. I will do my best to tell you what we did and where we went, but we did have a some what relaxed visit.  Mama arrived on Sunday afternoon and Anjie and I went to pick her up at the airport. Her flight landed right on time!

Then we went back to the apartment where we just kind of hung out and unpacked a bit. Then we went out for dinner and tried to register her. I was told that with my snazzy new “lechna karta” I could register people at the local police station without my landlord present. Well, when I went down there with Mama, they asked for my lease. We went back got it and then came back. Then they said I needed “my Macedonian.” I told them that I could register with out him, so I called Gazmend real fast. As I was calling him, the nice lady that helped us the first time (before we went back to get the lease) just came over and registered us. And then handed us the white card, smiled, and told us to have a good day.

triumphal Arch, did ya' know that it was in Skopje?

For dinner we went to one of my favorite locations for dinner-Anja’s! Anja’s has this great atmosphere where you can talk, and relax or watch whatever sporting event is going on.  We had a шопска салата (shopska salad), “homemade” sandwich, french fries with cheese (supposed to be feta, but it doesn’t taste like it at all!). We also had palachinki/crepes with eurocream, banana, and whipped cream for dessert. After dessert we went home and to bed!

This is my elevator. Yes, I am going through the door to push the elevator button.
See you around the globe!