Sunday, April 29, 2012

Road Trip Day 4: The Long Drive Home!

The final day of our road trip got off to a really slow start. Justin didn’t want to leave until 11am for our 13 hour journey home. But hey, he was the driver. Sadly this was just early enough to not get to go see another museum :( But it started off again with burek! And French fries. Don’t ask, but they were yummy! We drove north towards Croatia, hoping to avoid the bad roads that we encountered on our way here, and shorten the time (only worked by 2 hours, but we saw something different).  On our way out of the city, we pasted the site of the 1984 winter Olympics!
It was cool to drive by.

On the way out of the country we also saw something not cool- signs warning us to stay out of the mountains because of mines. We even saw a team de-mining an area. Just another reminder of the war. But beautiful countryside none the less. We were able to stop for lunch before we left Bosnia, but this was an adventure in itself. We tried about 4-5 different places advertising food before we actually found food. Yummy food, but just the same thing we’d been eating all four days- salad and fried stuff nothing too fancy.
warning us to stay out of the woods

Then we were in Croatia, to jump on the interstate (I use this instead of highway because it was a legit interstate! or in this case intercountry?). Then we were in Serbia. No it was really that quick. Serbia looked a lot different than what we had been seeing when we drove the rest of the time- it was pretty flat! We drove through Belgrade and Nis on our way to Skopje, but didn’t really stop anywhere. We did buy gas, and I found a CD of a singer I had been looking for that is Croatian! There were no real funny stories to make this part of the trip more interesting, sorry guys. Just a normal day on the road! We got back to Skopje at about 12 am  and Jen, Justin and Lizzie decided to keep driving to Tetovo and spend the night there. I tried to find food, but failing, just went home and ate some cereal.

See you around the globe!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Road Trip Day 3: Sarajevo

Guess how our day started? With burek and yogurt for breakfast of course! This burek was so delicious, it was made with zucchini! This will be a type that I will make when I am back home. Then we set off to explore. We wandered down around the river (just to look at it) There were a lot of police out today and we were a little nervous until we realized that there was a marathon going on that day! Whew! We found an awesome bridge to walk over  and basically take pictures of the river. Jen and I had set out for a museum day, and we succeeded!

Our first stop of the day was the National Museum. We thought it would be cooler than it was, but not so much. There was 2 rooms full of old Roman ruins. There was a little book in a special locked room that we couldn’t figure out what it was because there was no signs. Turns out that it is Sarajevo Haggadah (a Jewish book of rites) It was made around 1314 in Spain. We then wandered around in the botanical garden, which would have made a beautiful wedding backdrop, by the way. We wandered into the Natural History Museum (which is part of the complex and covered by the same museum ticket). I really don’t like these places, but when they are included in other tickets, I look at them because randomly there are non creepy ones. Maybe it is the ethical person in me, but all the dead carcasses around a room in glass cases just staring at you with dead eyes. *shiver* This one was only slightly less than normal creepy. But they had a bunch of random crabs and things in there rather than your typical dead mammals (which they had as well). There was also the ethnographical museum, which had really cool wooden architecture! It was set up like an old Ottoman house, complete with models in clothing, in a really informative way!

Our next stop was right next door, the History Museum. No joke, that is its name. This one was really interesting (although frigid!). It had a bit of history from olden times to Yugoslavia, but its main focus was on the siege. Throughout the day, you can’t escape the knowledge that the siege took place. There are bullet holes and destroyed buildings everywhere. One thing I kept thinking about was “why? Why would they do it? How can you justify cutting off a city for four years? How can you justify bombing schools instead of military targets? What justification can you even use? What was the point?” The siege is the longest siege of a capita city in the history of modern warfare. The Serb forces surrounded the city from 5 April 1992 to Feb 1996. The casualties are totaled at 11,154 people. (They just had a memorial for them recently.) It just took your breath away. The utter senselessness of it. There was the main museum floor and a temporary photo exhibition of photos taken during the war. Heart wrenching. I think more than anything it was the knowledge that this took place while I was alive. That the atrocities were happening when I was blissfully unaware playing as a small child in Southern California. Had I been born there instead of in the US, I might not have been alive today.

After that, Jen and I decided to venture out to the Tunnel Museum. We weren’t 100% sure we were heading in the right direction, but the map provided free of charge to the tourist told us to hop on a tram, then a bus, so that is what we did. I proceeded to leave my umbrella on the tram, but luckily it didn’t rain the rest of the time we were there! Once we were on the bus, we realized we didn’t know what to do once we got off the bus or exactly what stop to get off on. Out came the Lonely Planet pdf guide on my Evo (thanks Mama!). IT told us to ride to the end of the bus line (that should be obvious right?) cross the bridge, turn left and walk 600 meters. Which we did, even though we weren’t really sure what 600 meters was. They should say to the last house on the right! But not to difficult to find. This house was so full of bullet holes I am surprised it was still standing. When we got there, the guy who answered the door spoke a little English, and I told him I didn’t speak Bosnian, but a little Macedonian. He ushered us into the movie viewing room, underground. We sat on ammunition boxes and watched a chilling 20 minute video (at least that is how long they say it is, it went by much faster). It was news reels and home video of the siege. I tried finding something online for you to watch, but could not. After the video, the guy told us to walk through the little bit of tunnel that is still open and then go into the museum. (the tunnel was filled in to support the heavier airport traffic as planes increased.) We did. I couldn’t stand up straight unless I was in between the tracks and not where the beams of support were. And apparently it often had water in it.

The tunnel was built to supply the city with food and supplies. It was their only lifeline to the outside world. They had pipes going through of diesel, gas, electricity, and TV cables. When we went through the museum, the guy who had been showing us around, kept pointing things out. Then he said, “That helmet there was mine.” Not only does he help run this museum, but he worked in the tunnel. And made it. Every day he drove a truck from the tunnel, up into the mountains on curvy roads with no headlights to supply people up there. Every day. He pointed out the truck to us. We asked if we could take our picture with him and the truck and he was more than happy to do so. He then offered to take us back down into the city because he had to go where we were going. Of course we said yes! He pointed out various buildings and said what had happened to them during the war. It turns out he has a daughter who was 11 during the war. His family all made it through.

After he dropped us off, we went to get lunch! Jen had a kebab and I had, wait for it…burek! (By this point I was done with burek, like isn’t there anything else vegetarian in the world? Really?!!) Then we wandered around old town taking pictures and buying souvenirs.  We found some of the best souvenirs of all time here- basically just hand made personalized things rather than mass produced in China things. (I wish Skopje would do more of this, I would seriously spend more money in Skopje then!) As in we bought so much that I had to go to the ATM 3 times that day! (given I wasn’t pulling out much at a time, but still it became a bit of a joke…)

Catholic Church
Orthodox Cathedral

the eternal flame  for WW2 victims. Yes he is lighting a cigarette on it.
Then we headed back to the hostel to write our postcards and relax a bit before dinner. We all went out for dinner but couldn’t decide on a place. We wandered for about 30 minutes before going back to the place right next to the place Aryn, Justin and I ate at on Friday. So delicious! Lentil soup, fried dough, shopska salad and house wine of course! It was nice to sit and chat with everyone and see how their days had gone differently.  After a relaxing paced dinner, we went back and went to sleep!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Road Trip Day 2: Mostar and Wine!

The next day we woke up before our alarms went off, well Jen and I did. And off we went to get breakfast. Turned out to be delicious potato burek with yogurt. I had some of this in Strumitca and wanted it again, well I got my wish and fill in Bosnia. Apparently, they do it often there. Then we bought some stamps for our postcards and some books for Jen. Then we hopped in the car with everyone else and were on our way to Mostar.

Mostar is located on a river in the mountains and thus developed as a city. It’s basically famous for its bridge that was built in 1565, then it was destroyed and rebuilt a few times. So of course we headed straight to the bridge when we got there.

After lunch and souvenir purchasing, we left for a winery or two. We didn’t really know where they were located, but figured we would see signs and that we did. We also went up a seriously scary mountain side.I refuse to call this anything other than a mountain, although, it did look like it might be more of a plateau while where we were was gouged out of the regular landscape and made lower. Oh well. We found one winery, but it wasn’t open so we kept looking for a new one. We found another winery, this one was called Andrija. And normally they don’t do tasting on Saturday, but they opened up a two bottles for us and poured us a glass. They gave us one red and one white. And cheese. This cheese was so good. I wanted to buy the cheese not the wine. The white wine was really good, but I didn’t like the red. However, the rest of the party thought the opposite. Then the guy gave us a tour of the winery.

And off we went to find the next winery. This road was vicious and I almost got sick twice on the way to these wineries. I eventually had to just close my eyes and hope for the best. The wine made it so much worse! The next one we found was Brkic. The guy was super nice. He told us all about his wines and how he makes them. Then invited us to join this tour that they had arranged for some local embassy workers (American, Polish, and Norwegian to be exact). We ate some more delicious cheese and olive oil. I mean this was the best olive oil I had ever had- it actually tasted like olives! Then we got to taste 3 whites and 3 reds. One of the whites was called “Moon Walker.” They allow the grapes to get some yeast on them before putting the whole grape into the barrel. Then when the moon is young, they churn the wine. When the moon is full, they let the moon church the wine (with gravity). It was interesting. The last red we had tasted the best, but it wasn’t for sale sadly.

Then we headed back to Sarajevo. We had to go down the creepy side of the mountain again. It was a lot less scary going down. People suggested that it was less scary because I was in front, but I claim that it was just less fast.

We stopped for dinner in a little restaurant on the side of the road. It was kind of creepy because I knew out the back of the restaurant was basically a giant river, but because it was so pitch black dark, we couldn’t see it! They literally had no veggie food. The guy just shrugged when we asked for some. Eventually we convinced him that shopska and cabbage would be an acceptable version. Then he seriously over charged us, but apparently the hunk of lamb was yummy. We made it back to Sarajevo in time to go to sleep to be functional tomorrow while exploring!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Road Trip Day One!

We all got up bright and early on Friday the 13th for our long road trip through 5 countries. I have to admit. I was SUPER SUPER nervous for this trip. Jen and I had it planned for about a month, and invited Lizzie/Justin/Aryn and others who couldn’t make it along with us. And then they changed the plans. I get car sick ever since I was 15 if I don’t start out driving. So we were going to rent an automatic, but a few people refused to do so and said if I wanted an automatic and the ability to drive I needed to pay the difference by myself. All 130 euros of difference. Needless to say I was not happy to be starting this trip. I felt like people were telling me that my health/comfort didn’t matter and they didn’t care if I was sick for two of the 5 days of our trip. And there were other things involved, but to keep things nameless, I will leave those concerns out.  I almost backed out a few different times. Every time I thought about it, I got nervous and a little sick to my stomach. However, with medication and Justin’s driving skills I only got nauseous 3 times.

We started almost exactly at our target time of 6AM in our tiny Kia Rio towards our first border crossing of the day. We pull up at the Macedonian side and the guy waves us through. We slow down and look at the next group of guys and they don’t move or even look at us. We basically stopped and they did nothing, so we start going forward and Then They Care. So Justin backs us up and we pass through customs on the MK border. Then we drive through no man’s land to the Kosovo border. Where he accidently misses one window (because there were two) and has to back up again! They let us through after laughing a bit and asking us what we were doing in Kosovo.

The mountains were beautiful. Breathtaking. Even though it was cloudy.

We stopped once for a bathroom break and then got lost in Prizern. Apparently signs aren’t as necessary in Kosovo as they are in the US. And a straight arrow actually means turn left. So after about 30 minutes of driving, I check on our GPS (aka my US HTC Evo that allows GPS to still work w/o a data connection), and see that we seriously missed the highway.

bridge we wouldn't have gotten to see if we didn't get lost!
I was worried about that, but we trusted the sign (not the last time of this problem on this trip, spoilers!) and got a bit lost. Eventually we found the correct way and made it to the border. The Kosovo border police literally just waved us through. I have no idea if Kosovo computers still show me in Kosovo or not. But we actually stopped at this crossing and they (from inside the office) waved us through, and there was only one office so we didn’t miss it. The Albanian side actually had a bit of a bottle neck- many cars waiting to get through. So about 20 minutes later we make it through and our on our way!

Shkoder Lake

We get to pass through a 5.3 KM tunnel, and as we are coming out, we get flagged by the police. In this part of the world, the police stand on the side of the road and flag people over rather than follow them with lights and sirens on. So we pull over. (I’m going to tell you as it happens rather than how I found out, which was after we left the cop.) He walks over to us and tries talking to us in Albanian but only Aryn speaks it and she is in the back seat behind the passenger side. So she starts speaking to him in Albanian (he speaks a slightly different dialect and the car is beeping so she can’t hear him all that well). But he tells us that it is illegal to pass a truck coming out of a tunnel (which we were inadvertently doing) and asks for Justin’s passport (I had to look through about 5 of them to find his! All of ours were just in the glove box for easy border crossings.). Then he looks in the car and through the passport a bit and asks Aryn what Justin’s name. And she blanks and has to ask Jen what it is! Then she calls him over to her side of the car so she can hear better. The conversation goes something like:

Cop: Are you the only one that speaks AL in the car?

Aryn: Yes

Cop: Can anyone else understand?

Aryn: No

Cop: Are you being trafficked?

Aryn: What? No!!!

Cop: So you are really American? All of you?

Aryn: yes

Cop: Then what are you doing on this road? American’s don’t take this road!

We were all glad that he was concerned, but it was HIRLARIOUS in hindsight! He let us go, and we then had a good laugh when Aryn said “He thought we were being trafficked!” We continued on the road until we got to Shkoder we ate lunch. We ordered salad, and the waiter had to go get the veggies from the market! I had pilaf with yogurt and salad. After walking a bit, we got back in the car and were off. This is where the day got interesting. Up until this point the word “highway” meant the same thing in every language. Not so from this point on. Highway in Albanian can apparently mean ½ finished highway with gravel connecting the parts that aren’t finished. And to stop you from going over the bridges that aren’t finished there is rocks placed across them. It made for some interesting roads and stories! Like this video! (The video is not as scary as it was!)

We then made it through both the Albanian and Montenegro borders with no incident. (or any funny stories.) But the “highway” in Montenegro was a one car lane road up a steep hill. We stopped because Justin’s nerves were on edge by some goats, and this car come careening around the corner at breakneck speed!

it was raining and I didn't have my umbrealla out, but I had just straightened my hair and didn't want it to get ruined by the rain!

We had thought that this was a one way street and were a bit freaked out. So he drove extra careful until we got to a real road. (which was a bit far away, by the way…we had a fun time following the “highway signs”) We drove through a few towns and some mountains with no eventful happenings. Then we stopped for coffee. (That sounded more eventful than it was. We just stopped for coffee at a lake. Had coffee. Got some pictures of the lake. Left.) Then we drove through some breathtaking scenery. Like wow. Gorges and lakes and rivers. That you can apparently raft. There were a lot of guard rails, and some of them (like literally every single one) had been hit in some way. We figured that most of them were from snow plows since they were the first part of the rail.

these were taken byholding the camera out of the car window and snapping as fast as it would let me!
When we made it to the itty bitty border crossing in Montenegro and handed over our passports. Then the guy proceeded to talk on his phone, talk to whomever stopped by, joke with the other workers, and generally just try to show off his border crossing power. About 20 minutes later (we were the only car on this side, so no blaming it like the Albanians with actual people there) we cross through no man’s land over a rickety one car bridge and in Bosnia (and the Repulika Srpbska)!

said bridge and view. Juston drove slow so I could quickly snap this picture before we got to the other side
It was odd that the EU was supporting a border creation/joint post. But the Montenegrins were in a fancy building, and the Bosnians were in a shack. But off we went on our last border crossing. If you are counting that was 8 (if you count them as leaving MK (1) entering Kosovo (2) etc…)! This road was a bit scary. We knew what the mountains looked like off the side, but this time there were no guardrails and it got dark, and there were no lights, and there was mist. But we didn’t really see any cars, so we were lucky.

Then there were signs. Gloriously big signs with big arrows! And we were on our way to the capital! When we got within the city limits, suddenly the radio started working. Literally, we crossed the sign and suddenly there was radio. And we got pulled over by the cops again. This time one he realized we didn’t really speak a lot of Bosnian, and we had US passports he waved us on. We also told him we were tourists. It was a tad difficult to find the hostel. We drove around in a circle and then parked while I went to find the hostel. I guessed a few streets based on how we had drove around and where we thought the hostel was. And you know what? I literally came out at exactly the right place, like next to the hostel! No joke! Ran inside and checked us in, then the guy was showing me where the parking was, and I asked him how to get back here and he said he would show us. So I walked him back to the car and dropped him off with the crew then walked back to hostel. It was nice to be out of the car and walking around.

Aryn, Justin and I were actually hungry (did you notice the complete lack of food throughout the day?) so we went to find dinner. Note that it was 12 AM at the time. There was a place open and we got pizza! We ordered a veggie pizza and it came with tomato, corn and peas. And wine. Then back to the hostel to discover that there was no hot water. Well not for me and not any day was there hot water, ever. Not even lukewarm water. But other than that it was ok. But I do not recommend this hostel. It's called Hostel Tito by the way.

Saying of the day that will only be funny if you were there: “It’s not about you Cassidy, it’s about David.” These will get no explanations. None at all!

See you around the globe!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Week Between Travel Part one

The week between Greece and our Road Trip was a bit relaxed. I just rested up, tried to get some stuff finished and worked. Including getting a TB test here!

For Teach For America, you have to have a TB test to work in Chicago Public Schools, where I will be student teaching over the summer. Now, in the US, you can basically walk into any doctors office and get one done. Not the case in MK. You can literally only go to the State Clinic at the Institute for Lung Diseases and TB. I had to wander around the massive state hospital grounds to find the right building. And ask three different people for directions. Luckily, I spoke enough MK and the nurse enough English that she understood I needed a TB test for school. She was able to do it for me. It only cost 600 MKD (13 USD). Then I had to go back on Thursday to have it read. (Which upped the price because it involved two cab rides from work, but I digress.) Then later that day I had to go over to Daniel & Anjies house to scan this paperwork to get it into TFA before June 1. Technically it was supposed to be by April 17, but I basically told them (when they never answered an email [our only means of communication)] that the deadline was impossible. Just plain impossible. They then said I could scan them and email them to them, which I did and crisis adverted!

Justin, Lizzie, and Jen came into town on Thursday afternoon so we could leave bright and early the next day for our road trip. We had dinner with Aryn at our favorite Macedonian restaurant in Skopje- Kaj Cedarot! Yummy food, AMAZING prices and a wonderful friendly owner. It was nice to hang out with them.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Last Day of Thessaloniki! (5)

We woke up (kind of) early the next day so we could go to the Museum of the Macedonian Struggle. I was really curious about this museum that was located in Greece. I wanted to see how much propaganda was in there vs. actual history. Surprisingly enough, it was almost all history. There was only one room that was anti-Macedonian/not true to history. The rest was about how the Greeks over threw the Ottoman empire and how they Greek had “special” diplomatic officers that were really military people. (So admitting to spying while the rest of the world doesn’t, way to go!) The last room had a video that I SO wish I could have gotten my hands on (but I couldn’t I asked). It was describing how the FYROM people succeed in 1991 after failing to get the Real Macedonia from Greece after WW2 when Yugoslavia took over. Then the book/movie states:

Claims were not limited to Hellenic territories but sought to challenge and usurp cherished symbols and the cultural heritage of the Greek Macedonians. Under these circumstances the reactions of the Greeks, especially in Macedonia, were reasonable and unavoidable. (emphasis mine) Publication of the Foundation of the Museum For the Macedonian Struggle

*Political viewpoints ahead, please feel free to skip* An economic boycott that threaten democracy, human rights and the stability of the only country to succeed from Yugoslavia without war is reasonable? How was a tiny country with NO military supposed to take over or even think about invading and EU and NATO member? Cultural heritage of the Greeks, you do realize that Alexsander of MACEDON (not Greece) didn’t speak Greek nor consider himself Greek and he ruled over modern day Macedonia? So how can that symbol belong ONLY to the modern Greek nation? How can history only belong to the victors that happen to survive into modern times (which, by the way, there is no relation in any way shape or form to the modern Greeks or Macedonians to the Ancient Macedonians)?*end rant*

But it was interesting to see, and to learn a bit more of the history there. Since I don’t really remember any of it from school (did we even cover this?).

After the museum, Daniel, Andy and I walked back to the hotel while stopping along the way at a few bookstore to look for books for Jen. Do you know how odd it is to walk into a bookstore and ask for Captain Underpants? But for you Jen, I did it multiple times to no avail! Then we checked out of the hotel and walked to look for a specific type of pizza for Anjie (didn’t find it). And picked up the car and drove to a CarreFour where we did a bit of shopping. I literally only bought stuff that wasn’t good for me: Oreos, chocolate, (cous cous), Cheetos, and hot chocolate.

Then we were on our way back to Macedonia. We made it safely and had a lovely new CD serenading us- check it out here!

See you around the globe!

Sorry for the picture less post, I can't find any of the pictures I took on the way back, and my hard drive has stopped working, so I don't know if I even have any left!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Fulbright (Thessaloniki) Day 3!

I was really looking forward to our last “official” day in Greece. We were to go see the historical site of Vergina. There is a lot of controversy at this site. They found a tomb there that they said is Phillip II and his grandson Aleksandar (not the great, but his son). The controversy surround it involves Macedonia. The 16 pointed sun was found at this site (as well as others) but because Phillip 2 is buried here, Greece claims that no one else can use this sun. And promptly yelled at MK for doing so on their flag. To this day, people still use the old flag when trying to make a political statement. So I was curious to see what all the fuss was about.

The city of Aigai, the ancient first capital of the Kingdom of Macedonia, was discovered in the 19th century near Vergina, in northern Greece. The most important remains are the monumental palace, lavishly decorated with mosaics and painted stuccoes, and the burial ground with more than 300 tumuli, some of which date from the 11th century B.C. One of the royal tombs in the Great Tumulus is identified as that of Philip II, who conquered all the Greek cities, paving the way for his son Alexander and the expansion of the Hellenistic world. Or for the long description: UNESCO Site

We hopped on the bus (a bit late, of course) and took off to the monastery that the guide had recommended. Beautiful countryside. It also let me mark where the turn off to Skopje is so I could find it the next day when we were going home. Well, we saw some beautiful beautiful countryside, even though we were going the wrong way! We turned the wrong way and went out about 30 minutes the wrong way. We pulled into this monestary (turned out to be a nunnery), and these nuns looked at the tour bus like we were crazy! We were so at the wrong place. The little drive up to this place was amazingly scary- so twisty turny and step and no guard rails! But the driver was amazing and soon we were on the right way to the right monastery where we were supposed to have a guide. We did arrive there and it was breathtaking. See:

We heard about how this was where this “saint” had gone and had a vision or something like that. It was a bit difficult to hear/understand, because it was being translated and that wasn’t very good either.  After a tour with the priest and our guide, in the rain we hopped back on the bus to go to Vergina. At this point we were about 1-2 hours off of our schedule. (and already behind on lunch!) We made it there, but only the tombs were open due to reconstruction. I was interested to see how the tour guide explained the history since it is so controversial. She failed. She basically spouted the party line that Macedonia is only Greek and no one else can claim anything related to the kingdom of Ancient Macedonia. (which is a little harsh due to this map, just saying.)

I would tune in to her talking for a bit and then tune out. She even at one point said “Since 75% of the gravestones are in Greek, that means that everyone was ethnically Greek.” I’ll just let that sink in a bit. If most of the population is one ethnicity, that means, according to her, that no other ethnicity matters or deserves recognition. Like WOAH! That’s when she lost me the first time. You know it’s bad when the girl who is studying the classics tells you she is incorrect in her history. But regardless, it was interesting to see the sights and the possible bones of Phillip 2.

After this we went on a 45 minute drive to lunch. Lunch was at what is supposed to be a high class ski resort that is well known for its trout (or something like that), but at this point we were all just willing to stop and get something along the way we were sooo hungry! Lunch was ok. There was way too much oil in the veggie plate, and a lot of the appetizers were just not to m liking (or had too much oil). But the people who got the meat plate seemed to really enjoy it.

Then it was back on the bus to Thessaloniki. We had a bit of down time before we were to have dinner again (about 2 hours or so total!). So a few of us just wandered around for a bit before eating dinner. We even went a picked up a few bottles of wine to split over our dinner tonight. After dinner, we went out to a pub to just hang out some more. I went home early because Daniel and I were going to go to the Museum for the Macedonian struggle the next morning, so I didn’t want to stay up too late.

See you around the globe!


Friday, April 20, 2012

Fulbright Seminar (Thessaloniki) Day 2

We started off the next day (after breakfast and informal social time) with a bus ride to the Museum of Byzantium Culture. That is where we were doing one more presentation and another lecture.

The first session there, was another group of student presentations. Including Mine!

Cassidy Henry, Studying A Community that Doesn’t Exist: (Do you know how hard it is to summarize your own presentation? Really difficult!) There are definitely challenges to working as an NGO in MK. The climate is realtively harsh- with political party connects, money laundering accusations, and a real lack of money coming in to help fund projects. In MK, there are two official documents governing the government and NGO cooperation: Strategy for Cooperation with Civil Society and the Law of Associations and Foundations. The Strategy was very overarching and too ambitious, so most of it was not accomplished when attempted. However, the Law on Associations and Foundations, implemented many great changes (allowing NGOs to make money to cover costs, and complete fundraising activities to even allowing organizations some tax havens). There is some research out there saying that NGOs communicate great and work well together, but none of the NGOs I have ever talked to had good cooperation with another NGO. Most never even really communicate with a different NGO, much less the government. There is also infighting for the same small pool of resources. Although there is some hope for the future- many organizations would like better cooperation with each other and the government and they are open to working together.

Jennifer Zenovich, Defining Feminism Amongst Women in Montenegro in Academia: It is difficult to define feminism, because so much of the definition is relevant to the context. Jennifer prefers bell hook’s definition (this might not be the exact quote, but it is close enough for horseshoes or hand grenades) “Feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression.” There is an element of taboo in mentioning feminism in Montenegro, with a subtext of being against the state. They rejected feminism (in the past) as being Western/bourgeoisie. Through the transition, there is a possibility for a re-working of this concept, but it is slow going. However, to ensure a democratic transition, women and feminism could really help. At the university, there are now two courses about feminism: ‘Feminist Literature’ and ‘Gender Psychology.’ One of these classes is taught by a younger professor and the other is taught by an older professor.  The younger professor is for a more western literacy movement and was raised after communism. The older professor claims to not be feminist, but for human rights. She said that she isn’t for the violent, radical events that feminists support. But a question that Jennifer is looking at: can it be called feminism if it is only viewed through a western ideology?

Adam Julian, Hip-hop and  minority language Revitalization: The Case of Gagauzian and Vitali Manjul: The Gagauzian language is considered a dying and endangered language. It is forecasted that within two generations, the language will be dead. Currently, only the over 50 crowd even speak it. The Gaguaz language is a Turkish language, although they currently live in Moldova (which speaks Romanian and Moldovan/Russian). They are separated from the Turkish religion words, although the Turkish influence is being absorbed into the language. Some of the grammatical structures are changing. Unlike other minority languages, Gagauz lacks a sphere of influence. Russian is everywhere- in schools, at the market, at home, in political life. Another problem they are facing is that there is not a unified script for Gagauz. There are some textbooks, but they are almost 20 years old and there is no changes for the Turkish words in them. Students are supposed to learn all three languages, but they can’t. Adam couldn’t even learn the language there! A new sphere that this one artist is doing is hip=hop using the Gagauz language. But he is mostly considered a laughing stock. Adam put together a video that I would like to link you about this rapper:

Karla Hoppman Buru, Exploring Cross-Cultural Social Work and Public Health Collaborations in the Jiu Valley: There are 7 smaller communities in the region. All organizations participating in the research had to have had international sponsors and volunteers. There were different reactions and support levels within the region. She is still in the research phrase, and talked mostly about how she is conducting her research. She is working closely with locals to complete the interviews. She interviews the international organizations and her local contact interviews the Romanians so that they aren’t inclined to make the picture more rosy than it is. She will be putting on a training in May to help them get on the same communication level.  (And I’ve been invited to observe it! I am really thinking about going, now if only I knew how to get there!)

After our presentation, we had the Deputy Mayor for Finance & Development speak and introduce the 2nd keynote speaker. Mr. Hasdai Capon, the Deputy Mayor basically just welcomed us to the city and said I hope you have a good time!  After her spoke, Mr. Dimitris Keridis, an Associate Professor of International Politics at a local university, spoke. Mr. Keridis also runs the Navarino Network, which promotes innovation and extroversion in public life while addressing the challenges of my generation. They also run these amazingly cool looking summer schools, (and although the deadline has passed, feel free to look at them). He then proceeded to talk about the economic crisis. We had been promised a talk about ethnicities that I was really looking forward to, but to no avail. Economics instead. If you know me at all, you know that econ is just not my thing. (it probably has to do with the math part of it and math and I don’t get along). The main take away that I got from his lecture, is probably not the one he wanted me to get. He kept stressing how Greece is not a European country but a more Eastern country. I had never heard that dialog before. Almost everything I had heard is how Europeanized Greece is. And how much it deserves to be in the EU because it is an European country. He did mention how the current crisis can’t just be blamed on economic means, but it also has to be blamed on politics. Institutional settings can also be blamed for part of the problems. Such as Greece not taking the Euro seriously and borrowing without limits. The global financial system didn’t account for difference between Germany and Greece. He did use a metaphor that was enlightening. The EU is like a bike, you either go forward or fall over.

After his talk, we stood around waiting for a group picture. It took forever for him to get srt up, because the lightening was so bad! However, we then had a tour of the museum. Now, while I like museums. When Every. Little. Thing. Is. Very. Very. Important. And. You. Must. See. This. One. Last. Thing. About 40 times, you get tired of hearing the same thing over and over and over. Now, don’t get me wrong this guide was super friendly and she was very passionate about her stuff, but she kept repeating herself over and over and over again. Like we were supposed to quickly walk through the museum and then eat lunch, but the museum tour took about an hour because she kept wanting to point out even more stuff for us to look at. But they rewarded us with delicious Greek food at the end. All fried or baked or unhealthy for you (except for the small mostly bread mozzarella and tomato sandwiches), but the food was so good! They had this potato baked in bread thing, yum!

We hopped on a bus for what was supposed to be a city bus tour, but involved more walking and talking than actual bus touring. We stopped off at some churches whose names I can’t remember, but they were super pretty. One had been converted into a mosque during ottoman times, and then is recreating into a church now. We went up to the top of the hill and overlooked the city. She seemed to be very sensitive to her history. (Turns out she had a high fever and still came out and shared with us!) She kept repeating how everything was closed after 3 pm. To the point that we really understood that things were closed after 3pm and we wouldn’t get to see as much.  Oh and did you know that there is just one more thing, that you should really see, because it is very important? No? Well…..

After a bit of coffee time back at the hotel, we started our final panel.  In this panel there were only three presenters, I think one girl wasn’t able to make it to the conference.

Athan Geolas, Three Legged Chairs and Capable Cities: Athan is in Athens studying architecture.  He wanted to see if there was any correlation between space and usage. He mostly showed us his drawings, but he did share a few assumptions that architects have: (1) Building change peoples lives, if they don’t then they are useless. (2) Faith in building the right building right now. Some spaces they have seen as centered around a water source or private space (where everything is enclosed). His work is best seen by looking at it, so I suggest you go look at his blog. Here is an example:

Lisa Owen, Familial Roles in Contemporary Croatian Cinema: The film industry is developing in Croatia, they produce about 7-10 films every year. Usually the war features prominently in the films that are about the war specifically with family drama. There are important parent and son relationships. The male protagonist is often the main character. The strongest bond is between the mother and son in any movies. She suggests that it is due to the privileged space of mom. The “Wall of Love” or the fierce mother, they were recalled from the Yugoslav army to serve in the homeland war. She provided two examples of movies where the mother is fierce (and kid of scary).

Stefana Simic, Banja: Thermal Spa Designs: There is rich potential in the banja for health tourism and sustainable development. A bit of history- Serbia lies on 7 different tectonic areas, which over time created thermal springs. Banjas are hybrid thermal springs and hospitals. Every banja has a clinic or special hospital. If you need rehab you will often go here. Recent political restructuring has led to a change in the definition of a spa. The reconstruction or construction of banjas is not included in the current plan, and many are in total disrepair. They are even viewed as financial burdens on the local people; thus they are shut down and abandoned. Health tourism is a $1 million industry, and it could be focused sustainably. She's an amazing artist by the way- her work was just wow. She showed some paintings and designs and it was just wow! Here is an example of it:

Then we got our certificate. They love certificates in this region for some reason. Apparently it is seen as a attendance sheet, so you get one even for just participating in a conference. I find it a bit odd, but…Apparently in some cultures they even keep binders of their certificates of completion.  We had to take our picture with the certificates and then we were able to go across the street (to the hotel we are staying at) for dinner! After dinner, we went out for a little walk as we were waiting for others to return so we could go out with them, but they never returned! So off to bed for the long next day!

See you around the globe!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Thessaolniki Conference: Day 1

Our first “real day” of the Fulbright Enrichment Seminar, started with a yummy fulfilling breakfast! I was, of course, one of the first people down there from our group. But slowly the others started trickling down. (As a note, these early wake ups have seriously messed up my sleeping schedule! I am still waking up at about 7:30-8 am, but am staying up later than when I did at the conferences…) This was also part of our “informal social time” built into the conference schedule. (yes, they tagged breakfast as social time, like we weren’t already going to do that.) After social time, we headed across the street to the sister hotel of where we were staying and got ready for the conference to officially open.
The executive director of the Fulbright commission in Greece was there to open the conference up! She was followed by the Consulate General in Thessaloniki, Catherine Kay (I had already talked to her and looked forward to meeting her in person. Before we headed down there we received an email from some one at the Fulbright Commission [who shall remain nameless] asking use to use FYROM instead of Republic of Macedonia or even Macedonia while giving our presentations for the sensibilities of those who were in the audience of Greek origin. We were outraged to say the least. It is repeated over and over and over that our research is ours alone and doesn’t represent the official US government views and how we are independent researchers. But here we were being asked to change our views and our research. We were not cool with this (there were three of us asked to do this). I emailed our embassy here asking them how did they diplomatically deal with this issue so I could try to find a diplomatic response. And ended up involving our embassy, the consulate in Thessaloniki, the IIE office in DC, and the embassy in Albania. In the end, it was suggested by Catherine that we just use Macedonia and not mention the dispute in public. Or at least in our presentations.) She was quickly followed by George Frowick, the Cultural Attaché at the US Embassy in Athens. They then answered a few questions that we put to them, before having to run away to their next engagement.

They showed us a video of Fulbright Greece since 1948. It was highlighting the different accomplishments and programs that the Fulbright Commission in Greece has done since the beginning of the Fulbright program. They are the 2nd longest program in the world and the longest in Europe. (According to Wikipedia, China was the first program ever.) I tried to find the video for you, but to no avail, it is not online anywhere! After a short break, we had our first student presentations. Like the presentations in Ohrid, I think these deserve a bit about each one, so you get that now! Even if you don’t like it!  :)

The first presentation was by Dr. Leon Nar, who is a professor of Greek Literature in Thessaloniki. It was supposed to be on “Thessaloniki, the Future of the Past 1912-2012,” but it was more on the random history of the city. He jumped all over the place from place to place in the city to different times. So forgive me if these notes are a bit convoluted. Apparently on August 5, 1917, there was a 30 hour fire that destroyed the city, especially in the Jewish community area.  Greece also participated in the “exchange of populations” with the Ottoman Empire.  The Muslim populations “left” Greece and moved to Turkey while the Greeks “left” Turkey and went to Greece. However, many of these people didn’t speak any other language than the one that they left. Then WW2 happened, and 50 thousand were taken and only 2,000 returned. This obviously decimated the Jewish Community of Thessaloniki. Also to add insult to injury, Jewish gravestones were used to pave the roads and build houses while Greece was occupied. Throughout the years, Thessaloniki was neither a province or a capital. It occupied a weird position of having existed longer than Athens, but not being the capital. (About this time I got lost in his monotone reading of 20 some odd pages without stopping and had trouble paying attention. ) He did mention something about former Yugoslav people moving towards Greece after 1991. I wanted to ask him about how Greece doesn’t recognize minorities, but our questions were shushed because he had to go to work and lecture.

Then we had lunch upstairs at the hotel. It was a salad, meat option or pea stew, and dessert. It was interesting to talk to people more and get a bit more of a feeling of what others are doing. We also got to talk with a lady who is a fellow completing research for her next book.

Then we had our first student presentations.  They were “kind of” grouped into related topics. But not really. The first group had four people presenting.

Gerald “Bill” Gugerty, The Sexy Microfinance Industry: Dispelling Myths to Refocus on Poverty”: In the 1970’s the industry became “sexy,” and has even been called this in academic publications apparently. 2005 was actually called the Year of Microfinance. But there are a few negatives: the over promotion of sustainability , anti-private market moves, and the lack of concern for the environment. A major problem is that the movement could be self-sustaining, it collects enough interest to pay bills and fund new ideas. Some microfinance agencies have become self-sustainable, but they are still being funded by the major aid agencies. But in becoming sustainable, many have a mission drift with no longer focusing on alleviating poverty. These “sustainable” ones are funding bigger loans that are still not fundable by normal means, but they are too big to be real community changers, and many people are left out of the loan process.  If they are sustainable, then private investors can choose to invest in it rather than have aid funds.  Another problem is the environment. It is often overlooked or ignored in the progress of development. This is really troubling because poor people rely disproportionately on the land they work for their survival. If their loans help them destroy the land, then they are not able to continue providing for themselves. We need to refocus on the poor and poverty alleviation as the main goal.

Anja Vojvodic, Women in Politics: Progress and Impact in the Serbian Context: In Serbia, there are no legal form of discrimination against women.  They make up 22% of the national assembly. Further,  2 of 17 ministers are female. Out of 150 mayors, 10 are women. But out of the 23 city mayors, only 1 is female. The Ministry of Social and Labor Policy recently did a survey and found that 43 % of Serbians believe that abortion should only be legal for health reasons. When Serbia wrote the National Strategy for Gender Promotion/Equality law, they wrote it so that every 3rd person on the party lists should be the under-represented gender. (Not specifically female or male, so in case it changes down the road.) Women usually run to help change the situation in Serbia

Richelle Bernazzoli, Keeping the State Viable: The security-Identity-Integration Triangle in ‘Euro-Atlantic’ Croatia: The security/identity nexus is where identity is fluid and context based, with geographies of inside/outside. Security is about guarding real and imagined boundaries. When we look at NGOs, state sovereignty might be strengthened by EU/NATO structures. A representative of the Meshihat Islamic Community, stated that they were no longer a minority party because they were now part of the larger international community. There is also the idea that Croatia has fought harder for western democracy than any other state and deserves to be a part of the EU with in Croatia. When looking at integration, people look towards identities that are beyond their national ones.

Cody Brown, Risky Endeavors: He is looking at those who participated in the Croatian Homeland War (1991-95). Participation was largely voluntary, and there wasn’t a draft. He is looking at why they decided to join. Literature states that it was greed (material gain) or grievance (oppression by the Serbs) that led people to join. However, his research doesn’t agree with these findings. If it was material interest, the soldiers didn’t see anything for the first 6-8 months. Of the 14 people included in this presentation, 10 of them had grievances: 2 had partisan family deaths, 4 had been arrested by the communists, 2 faced harassment, 10 were NDH supporters (the wrong side of the war in WW2). But given that killing was indiscriminate (not military targets), it represented a threat to all groups not just a specific group. Regardless of the attitudes to the other group (ie Serbs) it might be riskier to NOT participate than to participate. When asked why they joined at the time that they did, those he has interviewed replied: fighting was all around-7, Croats would be slaves if we didn’t fight-8, couldn’t watch it go on with out me-6, wanted revenge-1, independence-8.

After a short coffee break we went back for more student presentations. There were also four people in this panel!

Nicholas Sveholm, A Mighty, Crumbling Fortress: Diaspora, Romania’s German Speakers and the Volksgemeinschaft: After WW1, the Germans discovered that they had lost “brothers” in other areas, after they lost part of their territory. The ironic part, is that Romania was never part of an Unified Germany. Yet, diaspora organizations were created to aid those who were separated from Germany. The aid organizations used these areas as case studies to see what is really “German.” Mostly the aid organizations helped on a cultural level with schools and churches. These people rarely defined the diaspora, but the people who did define it were based in religion. There is some language difference between the two groups (mainland Germany and the Romanian enclave). The Germans in Romanian applied to help from the Germans in Germany when taking tests in Romanian, because they didn’t know that language very well.

Daniel Pout, Negotiating Identity: States, Migrants, and the Instability of Proper Names: (This one isn’t as long, because he was mostly telling stories about the people he interviewed and I didn’t wrote those down.) Identity is never just about the self, but it is also about the community. The state authorities (at borders) yield a lot of power in deciding who you are. But how do you convince others that you are who you say you are? Borders aren’t just at the state level anymore. When 6,000 ethnic Macedonians “left” Greece and went to Bulgraia, most of them then moved on to Macedonia because they felt like that was a better homeland. Even though the Greeks considered them Bulgarians and they were encouraged to take Bulgarian citizenship.

Ellen Rhudy, Identities Formed in Opposition: Albanian National Identity in Albania, Macedonia and Kosova: (Ellen lived in Debar, MK as a Peace Corps for a few years, which is where many of her stories come from.) In Debar many people strongly identified with their Albanian roots even more strongly than in Albania. They often would recognize the Greater Albania idea. They even named some kids after towns in Albania. While they are Muslims, they practice a slightly different way than those in Albania proper. The Macedonian-Albanians are working within the legal system of MK, but those in Kosova succeed from their state. Albania was created in the 1930s, but it wasn’t Albania deciding where they borders were- the Great Powers were. While there is a strong regional identity, they unit over other factors (such as religion). The “oppressed Albania” idea also helps to unite the Albanians. Some of the differences that can be observed between Albanian proper and the Albanians in the other countries can be attributed to the Former Yugoslav times when they were separated.

Andy Halterman, Exploring the success of Vetёvendosje: The Vetёvendosje are a left wing Albanian nationalist organization founded in 2004 (after the UN administration). They successfully use Albanian imagery in their advertisements. They never use the Kosovo flag. They have had political meetings in virtually every village. They were a social movement until the most recent election when they joined the national legislature. Now they balance political power  and street activities. They appeal to the idea that independence is an ongoing process. He is seeing how they succeed and why. And how they are able to negotiate the political party vs. grassroots idea.

After the presentations we went to the Consulate for dinner. Dinner was basically the exact same thing as the day before. Did I mention how delicious those potatoes were? But we got to meet and talk with Catherine Kay (the Consulate General mentioned earlier).  It was nice to just talk to people again and relax. While I wasn’t allowed to get a picture that day of the consulate, I was the next day. (but got yelled at). Like seriously people. If I was a terrorist or something, do you really think that a random picture of an elevator is going to do anything for me? But I digress.

After dinner, we went and had drinks by the White Tower. More chit chatting and hanging out with Americans = more fun! Greece even sells alcohol after 7 pm! (shocker, right?!?!?) Then sleep for another early day!

See you around the world!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


Mountain in Kosovo
We interrupt your regularly scheduled posting schedule to tell you why it is interrupted. I still have 4 days of Thessaloniki conference and four days of a road trip we took to Bosnia!

The Thessaloniki trip is taking longer because I want to tell you about all of the research that is going on around our region. I don't just want to say that we sat in a room for four hours each day listening to lectures, then we  ate then we listened some more then we ate some more. So, it will take a bit longer.

Also, it will take longer because I am three weeks behind on my Teach For America reading and I am supposed to at this meeting on Thursday night about all of this reading. My bad!

But I have lots of good memories to share with you!

See you around the globe!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Last Day of Ohrid, First day of Thessaloniki

The last day of the Ohrid conference started with a change in schedule. The Foreign Minister was unable to attend so we had to switch the day up a bit and move the President’s speech up to 11am, which meant people stayed in bed a bit longer.

It is actually really cool to see the President of Macedonia speak. And shake his hand/talk to him for a bit! (Are you able to ask harsh questions to the President if it isn’t your country?) He had some very good quotes, and some interesting commentary on MK’s future. He used to be a lecturer at the University and I can tell why! He can speak and he has presence! He started off showing us some maps of the world (some of which had been shown to us the other day at this conference, but I thought it more appropriate to highlight it here. This is a traditional world map:

This is a world map where the equator is exactly half way on the paper, with as close as the right ratio as possible:

The thoughts of how we think about the world are shaped by our education, though history and geography. We are the “audiovisual generation” according to him. He did start to say things like all of our beliefs come from religion. But freedom is the source of knowledge and the dominant idea is “the idea of freedom.” What was ironic, is that he started talking about how we are supposed not be eurocentric but then starts showing videos that are really eurocentric about how republics are formed. Is money the new reason for conflict? He claims that freedom isn’t the idea that now moves people but rather wealth is. And the new form of slavery is debt. Another good line “People who only look to the future fly as I they had red bull!”

Did you know that 2 people are killed in conflict every minute?

He claims that most of the political spectrum is on the right now. Most politicians are on the right hand side of the political spectrum, even those of the left. He argues that we use the term “right” in almost all languages to symbolize the conservative side. Daniel thinks he was saying that to be on the “right” is the “right (correct)” move. But I just got that through history people were more conservative and thus the correct version was to be more conservative and that is how it got the name.

The first thing he said that was *ugh* feeling is that there is a problem assimilating due to maintain your own culture. And that this is a challenge that needs to be overcome. (WHY does this need to be overcome?) Also you need to learn to speak the language where you live because “those who communication integrate. And those who don’t communicate live in a ghetto.” (Once again….ummm…not all the time.) He claimed that the internet is a great leveling tool and has helped make territory loose it’s importance. He also claims that if the EU doesn’t start switching for the future and adopt for the new needs of the youth, it will be become a “museum for the Chinese/Indians/Brazilians to come and look at the past.”

I really wanted to ask him “How can you keep stressing freedom and democracy when your country, which you represent, is only listed as partially free according to Freedom House?” But I decided not too, when talking to him I wasn’t sure how much English he actually understood, or if he was just exhausted form speaking.

Daniel and I were going to meet with Andy, a Fulbright researcher who lives in Kosovo and was in Ohrid visiting a friend to drive down to Thessaloniki together! Since Daniel had decided to go to the Ohrid Conference at the last minute we had to change car rental companies and the price increased and we had to get a manual transmission. So Daniel was the only one who could actually drive the car. The lady was about 20 minutes late in showing up to give us the car (which ended up with us arriving RIGHT on time to our next conference). We were able to rent the car and get on our way!

The views were beautiful driving through the countryside of Macedonia. I would have never seen this part without having to drive to Thessaloniki! We drove through Bitola on the way there, that was the closest Greek border to Ohrid. The border was super easy and we flew right through! Then it was into Greece with more countryside that is beautiful and nowhere to stop for food! Luckily I had though ahead and bought some snacks!

even the Greek cities needed a city with a cross on a hill
When we checked into the hotel, they said under their breaths (some Skopjian just parked in our parking spots) because we had moved the thing to park in front of the hotel to check in. Immediately after checking in we went up to our rooms and then right back down to go to the opening reception at a local artist studio. The guy was on a Fulbright to study art and is very active in the commission in Greece. His studio was kind of cool! And they had food. Lots of greasy baked food. But yummy orange flavored potatoes. No dessert sadly. But free Greek wine. We tried to go out to a pub, but after they decided which pub to go in to, I helped this girl find her way back to the hotel. When I went back to the pub they had left! So I went back to the hotel and just checked my email and stuff!

See you around the globe!