Saturday, February 21, 2009

dearly beloved...

at approximately 11:45am today, Saturday, February 21st, 2009, the
green pony was pronounced dead. or rather, in the even empathetic
words of the BikeStop employee: throw it in the trash. yes, after
fewer than three short weeks in my care and one busted tire, some
unknown and osstensibly essential part broke in the green pony and
caused it's departure from this earth. the green pony's advanced age,
over 30 years old apparently, rendered a replacement piece impossible.
the fall of communism in yugoslavia took with it a great many things,
including, apparently, the green pony replacement factory. so for
those of you rathered worried that I may meet my untimely death
adventuring around town with the green pony, may your hearts be
gladdened that a different sacrificial lamb has been chosen. may you
rest in peace, dear green pony (and may my bus fare not break the bank).

yours, amy

Friday, February 20, 2009

roma comedy hour

this past week, temperature have dropped to the lowest they've been
since I've arrived. over the past two days, Skopje has been covered in
a layer of snow that went from picturesque to dirty in record time.
the change in weather and apparent stubbornness of winter has turned
the kids a little wacky this week, with more than one day ending with
the kids being sent home early at the frustration of the teachers.

part of their wacky behavior has been manifested in what I like to
call Roma comedy hour, also known as the telling of really bad jokes.
(and if you know me well enough to know my absolute 'delight' of
improv and stand-up, you know how this is absolutely killing me
inside). particularly funny, apparently, are English words that have a
different meaning in Macedonia if properly stretched and exaggurated.
here's a funny: if you refer to 'my moon,' you're saying monkey in
Macedonia. or if you say 'I am a sheep, ta,' you're saying 'I'm an
Albanian.' hilarious, no? they didn't seem too phased when I tried to
explain that you would never refer to the moon in a possessive way or
that most non-Tourettes Syndrome folks would never follow the word
sheep with the meaningless sound of 'ta.' nope, these kids have a
strong stomach when it comes to their comedy routines. I will give
them credit, however, for showing me that if you say 6-2-9 slowly and
a bit slurred, it sounds like you're saying 'sex tonight.' so not only
is the weather horrible, but so are the jokes.

another little funny about the Roma community in Shutka is their love
of Spanish soap operas. now, these are pretty popular all over
Macedonia I think; Borka is quite the fan herself. but the Roma have
taken it a step further and proliferated their community with Spanish-
inspired names for their children. one of my students is named
Cassandra, another has a baby brother named Juanito, you get the
picture. it's absolutely priceless to wander around Shutka looking for
your nedt bread fix and hear calls on the street for Pedro and
Fernando and Juanita amidst such a vastly different backdrop and

all in all though, the kids and my time spent at school are my
favorite part of being in Macedonia. they're really and truly sweet
and well-intentioned, despite the horrific jokes and occassional
craziness. I feel incredibly lucky to have landed with such a great
organization- it's the most important part of my time here and
luckily, so far, it seems to be working out fabulously.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

two gods

i've spent this sunday morning with paulo coehlo: it's a world away from a typical sunday morning but i couldn't agree more, so i thought i'd share it here

There are two Gods:

The God that our teachers taught us about and the God that teaches us.

The God that people usually talk about and the God that talks to us.

The God we learn to fear and the God that talks to us of mercy.

The God on high and the God that is part of our daily life.

The God that makes demands of us and the God that forgives our debts.

The God that threatens us with the punishments of hell and the God that shows us the best path.

There are two Gods:

A God that drives us away because of our faults and a God that calls us with His love.

- Paulo Coehlo

Friday, February 13, 2009

borka's cronies

my current living situation goes a little something like this: amy +
chatty, elderly Serbian woman with chin growths named Borka + copious
amounts of mayonaise = shockingly functional balkan family. it's
actually been one of the lovlier parts of my stay in Macedonia thus
far (if you can imagine, what with all the fun flat tires the green
pony has suffered along with the 'second winter' we seem to be
experiencing now).

I had the thought when I first moved in with borka that this would be
helpful for both of us: I was in need of someone who might stop me
from burning down the apartment while cooking spaghetti and she seemed
to be in dire need of companionship. despite the fact that I had
absolutely no idea what she was saying, borka bombarded me with story
after story whenever I idled too long in her presence. I smiled and
went along with it, assuming I was the only human contact she recieved
outside of her Spanish soap opera. in the past few weeks, I've learned
how terribly, terribly incorrect that initial stereotype was.

borka has, for lack of a better word, a slew of cronies. some fraction
of the group visits probably every other day, even in the midst of our
cold spell. borka rarely leaves the house to visit them, a fact I have
concluded means she is either the ringleader and czar of this
mismatched bunch or simply its least healthy and mobile member. from
the amount of edible and drinkable offerings they bring, I'm inclined
to assume the former.

they're quite the assortment of characters, these fellow retirees. a
jovial, strapping older man, who I first confused for a gentleman
caller, is the 'Presidental' of a relatively new political party
called the Council of Tito. his business suit is never without its pen-
induced adorned of Tito's face and emblems of communism. in fact, your
dutiful blogger is, as a result of his many visits, the proud owner of
a pocket Tito 2009 calendar. borka's son rounds out the male members
of the group and is the only real English speaker of the lot. it is
from him that I have heard all the wonders of Tito's communist glory
days, a tale the always reminds me a bit of the conversations I had
with elderly Russians. back in the good ol' days of Yugoslavia, you
could sleep outside with you wallet strewn about in front of you and
be totally safe; everyone had jobs, enough to eat, and apparently a
healthy appetite for the outdoors. from the numerous assortment of
Tito namesake cafes, stores and streets in Skopje, perhaps the
communist sentiment is a rather fond one. her son is a delightful man
and despite the fact that he may be trying to set me up with his
unemployed son, I always look forward to his visits. two elderly
women provide the bulk of the estrogen to the posse, both equally
spunky and full of life despite their fraile appearance. one appears
to have lost her entire row of bottom teeth while the other is the
absolute embodiment of my fear of old-woman-chin-hair-growth- but they
both get so excited to see me that I can't help
adorning them.

they're a funny little bunch and when they're all together I have a
great time watching their interactions, despite the fact that I'm
usually clueless to what's being said. as an honorary member, they've
shared all kinds of interesting Macedonian cuisine with me, including
a popular yeasty juice that took me a while to properly identify and
finish, a donut-type pastry identified by the phrase 'LA PD,' and, of
course, plenty of great wine. I may bring little to the table in terms
of great conversations, but I can hardly turn down a situation
involving free food and wine. it'd be uncommunist of me.

Monday, February 09, 2009

a day in the life

so perhaps you're wondering to yourself, what in the world is amy
actually doing over there? don't worry, it's a question I ask myself
almost daily, but I'll try and piece it together for you.

ambrela, as I've mentioned before, is a tiny two-room establishment
nestled in a labyrinth-like maze of roads in shutka. it's opens at ten
and within about ten minutes, the main room is full of at least twenty
rowdy elementary-age children. they come to ambrela to work with their
peers and the teachers on whatever homework they have for the day. it
ranges from Macedonian, English and Romani to math and writing. the
teachers get a little break around lunch and then the older, more
middle school kids come in after their morning at school. there
usually aren't as many of them, but probably over 25 pop in and out at
some point during the afternoon.

the teachers serve more a tutorial role than that of a teacher.
they'll help individuals or groups on any range of subjects, but don't
actually teach in the classroom setting style. two women, a Macedonian
and an Albanian, are the primary (read: paid) teachers but a Roma man
about my age comes in everyday to help out as well, and a few others
poke around occassionally.

you'll be proud to know that I'm boy quite as worthless at this whole
thing as I otherwise seem. I help out with English, obviously, but I
also help the younger kids with math and reading, since I've mastered
the numbers and can read reasonably well due to my Russian. and
finally, those years of german are paying off, since I can help all
the kids with that. the language barrier makes things harder of
course, but I'm slowly learning and the kids are starting to figure
out my weird gestures. I also teach actual English classes on Tuesday
and Wednesday to one group of younger kids and an afternoon session
with the older. it's gone shockingly well so far, though I wasn't
expecting much so you'll have to keep my classroom reviews relative.
no one's reading Thoreau yet, but if I can at least make their accent
a little less horrific, that will be a victory in itself.

I don't think anyone ever intended me to be a teacher, but I'm glad
I'm giving it a try for a bit now. the kids at ambrela are extremely
well behaved, much more so than any group
I ever worked with in Philly or oak ridge. behaviorable problems are,
at most, a bi-weekly occurance, as opposed to say, hourly. they're a
good group of kids, just sadly behind in their learning.

I'm going to go try and make one of these 'lesson plan' things I keep
hearing about. knowing me though, I'll put money on it never actually
happening. advice welcome ;)

Monday, February 02, 2009

a green pony

I didn't think Macedonians were the honking type. in fact, I was so
very impressed with the patient way they handle the irratic driving and
occassional person or horse in the road that I felt I was beginning to
see a softer, calmer side of the post-communist world. then I bought a
bike. a beautiful green pony 2, to quote the writing in the bike.
and while I started peddling around, the greater Skopje area
discovered their horns.

of course, it was an adventure in itself just getting the thing.
irmezad, an albian woman who works at ambrela, had offered to help me
find a good, cheap bike. apparently in the ethnic web of Skopje, the
Albanians are the bike dealers. anyway, after a suspicious amount of
phone calls, a cab ride to what appeared to be the Albanian slums and
a good deal of walking 'a bit slower behind me please' two gentlemen
rolled out my one and only option- the green pony. had I not been
surrounded by such unfamiliar circumstances I may have declined the
sad looking thing; but as things stood, I bought it on the spot.

my biking directions home were as simple as: take the third
left. the first two lights I saw immediatly, so it seemed easy enough.
but as a teetered around turn after turn of a narrow road on the side
of a mountain, I started having my doubts. and then, if course, the
horns began. when I later consulted a map and saw that I had been
crusinig down highway #2, however, their horns seemed somewhat more

I successfully biked to and from ambrela today, a trek that got me
lost several times and saw the release of a bird in my face by some
friendly Roma children. I had a few more close calls than my average
ride to work in DC and the scenary wasn't nearly as enjoyable, but
(sore butt aside) it felt great to be on a bike again. the horn-happy
drivers have found their way down from the mountain pass, but between
their honking and the cranks and squeaks my bike makes, I'm practially
immune to any sound. having more than one gear, however, would certainly
be welcomed in hilly and potholey little Skopje.

that being said, please keep the safety of me and the green pony in
your thoughts. we both need it