Were we having coffee, it would be Turkish, or I would sacrifice some of my French breakfast tea for you. I haven’t even had it, so you’re welcome.
I am currently in North Macedonia, in the Polog region. The Peace Corps picked a few of us to be in the dual-language programme, which means we’ll be learning Albanian and Macedonian at the same time. I’m living with an Albanian woman who speaks no English, and I speak basically no Albanian, so the first few days should be interesting. The city I’m living in has a majority Albanian population, but that’s no guarantee where I’ll be living after these first three months.
So far, everyone has been very hospitable and helpful and I’ve felt very welcome. It’s difficult when there’s an enormous language gulf but for the most part, just saying yes or copying what other people are doing seems to help. I don’t usually have this issue when I travel, but then again I stick to countries where I know the language. I’ll be fine in a bit, but the anxiety is a bit much.
The house that I’m living in is part of a bigger compound of families all facing a courtyard. Every family’s house is different with some similarities in style and decoration. One of the houses is literally being built as we speak.
I’m looking forward to learning more about the culture as I slowly learn the language, but for now I’m soaking in as much as possible.
The Weekend Coffee Share is hosted by Eclectic Ali and the link party can be found here.
If I had to use one word to describe these past 72 hours, I would use “overwhelmed”. There is no describing the intensity of 56 people trying to get through security at JFK and onto a plane filled with confused non Peace Corps people. Nothing will describe the bleary morning arrival of those same people to the N Macedonian airport (aerodrom). Nothing will describe the first meal, the first heavy rain, the first nervous classes. We have already made friends and learnt so much about ourselves.
As it’s only been about three days since my arrival in N Macedonia, I can only talk about my first impressions. We are in the west, and the mountains here are breath-taking. We counted minarets on the way from the airport to our orientation site, and marvelled at the strangely empty detached houses along the way, musing on why they looked so new and yet were so empty. There were men selling grapes fresh from the vineyards in boxes along the motorway, and piles of rubbish were on fire as we passed.
So far, we have seen one street of our orientation site city, and I have been twice to go for tiny shops in the grocery store. We have been visited by two cats and a very loyal and dirty white dog who was baptised newly as Mochi by some trainees. I have never visited the Balkans, so the buildings feel familiar but strange at the same time.
Other observations: Remembering to throw toilet paper into the bin is tricky but I think I have perfected it. The Cyrillic alphabet is not difficult but I am struggling with it. I’m not struggling with speaking though, if I may brag. I am slightly confused on how phone service works here, even though I have a new N Macedonian number. I have only had black tea with milk once since I’ve been here, and I am missing it badly. I think I have already lost my sunglasses, which is a shame.
I am always surprised about the mundane nature of our first observations, but then I suppose we are trying to cling to some normalcy and will doing anything to keep our mind clear. Everything is different, but nothing really is, honestly. We still have to sleep and eat and learn, just in a different country. I think everything will be fine.
photo by author
Hello! My name is SD and I will be headed somewhere in North Macedonia to teach English as a Foreign Language. North Macedonia is a Balkan state, surrounded by five countries. For more information about North Macedonia, you can check out Virtual Macedonia. (None of the opinions expressed on this site is endorsed by me, the Macedonian government or the Peace Corps.)
I am 33 years old and have been teaching since 2010. I’ve taught in France, the UK and the USA, and I’ve taught English, Spanish and French. I’m fluent in English, French, German and Swedish. In the Peace Corps, I will be studying Macedonian and possibly Albanian, if I am put in a dual-language area. I love travelling, and hope to visit many of the Balkan countries surrounding Macedonia and Greece.
North Macedonia is going through some interesting changes, including joining NATO and possibly entering into talks to join the European Union. I am sure that on the ground, nothing big will be happening, but I can’t wait to see what happens on the grand stage.
This blog will be updated regularly, and photos will also be posted to my Instagram. I would love to hear from you in the comments, and thanks for visiting!
Map of North Macedonia from geology.com