#PeaceCorps MAK24: PST, start!

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Sometimes, when walking around my PST (Pre-Service Training) city, I feel like I’m in any European city. But then I hear the adhan (call to prayer for Muslims) and realise that there is something very different to this place. It’s hard to put your finger on it, but the sheer mix of ethnicity and culture is astounding. Western N Macedonia is heavily Albanian, and the city I find myself in has representation from all ethnicities. To best illustrate this, another PCT (Peace Corps Trainee) and I went to lunch together, and the menu was Albanian (until we got an English one). Our server was Macedonian, and they served Turkish coffee and tea to Turkish music. (Speaking of Turkish tea, it was a balm to my tea-loving soul–I have unluckily chosen another country that thrives on coffee.)

My host family is Albanian. When I say host family, I really mean host mother, as both her husband and her son are working in Germany. We live in what I would truly call a compound, houses surrounding a courtyard where we take most of our meals. She only speaks Albanian, which puts me on a bit of a back foot as I speak none of it. But I’m pretty sure I will catch on quickly and for now, charades and pointing get things done. However, my host mum does know two German words: spazieren (which means to go for a walk/a stroll) and essen (which means food). So at least I know when to eat and when to stroll about the city.

Part of a total immersion into a new and completely different culture is the ability to sit back and just let it wash over you. There are things that happen that I legitimately don’t understand, and can only describe. My host mum usually cooks dinner on a camp stove, but has two refrigerators (one for upstairs in what I call the “show kitchen” and one for downstairs in the “work kitchen”). Do I know why? No. We were warned in Orientation that we may have to negotiate for shower time because of the boiler situation (electricity is very expensive compared to the salaries); I can take showers whenever I please. My observation about having to put toilet paper in the bin in only true in my classroom now. I have a big bed and a television, and a desk at which to do my homework.

If you have ever seen Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “The Danger of a Single Story”, you are probably thinking that my experience does not line up with what you may have heard about Peace Corps. I can hear you thinking You have running water and electricity! You have WiFi and I see BMWs in that picture up there! But it is not without hardship–the poverty of my city is palpable. There are casinos everywhere, false hope for a desperate people. A third of the population of the city is abroad, having given up this country for a bad job. You hear the scorn in young peoples’ voices when talking about it, and the wish to go anywhere else is strong: Germany, Switzerland, Italy. America is the holy grail, but one word stops a dream: ‘Visa’. A part of my job in the Peace Corps is to show host country nationals (HCNs) the beauty and worth of their own country. I hope they are infected by my enthusiasm.

NB: Sorry for all the initialisms/abbreviations. Like any federal government programme, Peace Corps is full of them. There are a few things I have to keep private (my exact location, for example), but I will never keep these secret from you.

 

#WeekendCoffeeShare An Albanian-Macedonian Surprise

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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.

#PeaceCorps MAK24: An Introduction

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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