Was lucky enough to visit Ohrid this past weekend. Even in miserable weather, the lake was beautiful and the city is breath-taking. I am jealous of the volunteers who get to call this place home, but glad that it’s only a few hours away from my own site. Ohrid is another Macedonian only town, but I was understood. Also, since it’s a very popular tourist destination, most everyone spoke at least some level of English. Sometimes, I forget to be more appreciative of that fact. Imagine having to learn another language for work or some other necessity. (I know that, as the face of America changes, many people are picking up another language, and I applaud you!) I never think of my own language abilities either, at this point, but I’ve learnt two languages at the same time in six months. I forget that sometimes, except when someone exclaims excitedly when I reply in Macedonian or Albanian.
Peace Corps Volunteers around the world are in a bit of an uproar over the COVID-19 Corona virus. Each country is handling it differently, including here in N Macedonia, where it seems to be mostly travel restrictions to various countries and a reminder to be cautious about being in large groups. There are some countries facing evacuations, and the ending of the programme in China (or “graduation” as it is called, as not being a Peace Corps country is — and should be — seen as a positive) coincided with this virus. I am sorry for the volunteers who are facing evacuation or the premature graduation of their programme; it must be devastating and frightening to have to think of your future when you’re unprepared for it.
In my downtime this weekend, I watched the Netflix special Pandemic, which I would recommend. I think the whole world is unprepared for a pandemic, but I don’t think COVID-19 will reach pandemic levels. It is smart, however, to pay attention, and of course, WASH YOUR HANDS. I now have the beginning of “Welcome to the Black Parade” by My Chemical Romance forever stuck in my brain because that’s what I’ve chosen to sing whilst I wash my hands for the requisite twenty seconds.
Other things of note: the US primary has opened up political discussions around the world, especially since we are an American organisation with younger, probably more politically active folks. I already sent in my absentee ballot for Georgia’s Democratic primary, because N Macedonia’s postal system is…ancient and unreliable. It’s been received by the registrar in my home city; I love that they have a system in place where you can see online if your ballot was received. Go Georgia! There are obviously very different opinions about this year’s election, even amongst people in the same party. If you follow my twitter account you already know my feelings, and I am doing my best to avoid discussing it with host country nationals. I never refuse to answer a question, however.
I’ve devised this little game that I play while I’m walking around my city. I give two points to every car that comes from another city in Macedonia (according to its license plate); five points for every car that comes from another Eastern European country and ten points for every Western European country. I don’t always keep score, though I should. The reason I do this is because during PST a car from France was parked in front of the house I was living in. I had never seen one from France, and I excitedly took a picture of the plate. The owner happened to be standing near it and we had a lively conversation in French, confusing the other Volunteer that was with me. Nowadays, most of the cars I see have plates from Serbia, Slovenia and Croatia, with visitors from the Czech Republic, Switzerland and Germany. Because of the movement of Macedonian workers to these countries, it’s not surprising that they buy cars there. They do spend most of their time in these countries, as well. My city is also seemingly wealthier than most, with Mercedes, Porsches and other luxury cars driving around. I say seemingly wealthier because it’s hard to know what people’s incomes are like, or even where they come from.
Politics is a popular topic of conversation everywhere. Ethnic Albanians have a generally very positive view of Americans, because of our interventions in Kosovo. Bill Clinton is still intensely well-liked. I was asked about the current president recently, which is always dicey, because what you say could become the standard line of ‘what Americans think’, especially since you may be the only American the person will meet for a while. I went with “Some people like him, and some people don’t. Most people think he is running the country like a businessman.” We aren’t diplomats in any way, shape or form, but finding diplomatic answers to difficult questions is something that we need to do in the Peace Corps.
Missing “Catholic” (as opposed to Orthodox) Christmas is going to be very difficult. It’s my favourite season, and I’m especially going to miss Christmas crackers, Weißwurst and pretzels with herring salad and a traditional Christmas dinner. I’m going to miss my mum and our cosy Christmas decorations. I will especially miss putting up our crèche, which is as old as I am. It will be hard to do two Christmases without my mum, just as I’m sure she will have a difficult time without me. Working might make it easier, although I’m doing a Christmas presentation on Christmas Day, so I might feel a bit maudlin.
I’m still in observation mode, although students recognise me in the street and servers in restaurants; it’s also become obvious that I go to certain stalls in the пазар because they nearly always have what I want (that is, really nice bananas). I don’t feel incredibly integrated yet, but I’m sure that will take more than the three months that I’ve been here.