Musings at Mid Service

This is the last week of March, 2013. During the first week of this month my cohort and I participated in MST (Mid Service Training). Officially marking the midpoint of our service has caused me to have many reflections during the past few weeks about how long I have been here and what I have experienced, learned and accomplished.

A common thought I have had is how much I have adapted to and how my initial enthusiasm has waned, leaving me feeling so tired most of the time. There are many aspects of living here which cause me to realize how much I took for granted back in the States. One thing we PCVs do not have to worry about is the cost of gas for cars, because we are not allowed to drive during our service. The cost of gasoline here is more than twice the cost in the States. That, in perspective of the much overall lower cost of living here, makes the cost of gasoline here almost prohibitively high in comparison with the cost in the States. I do not usually miss driving and all of the walking is actually healthful. However there are all of the other aspects of daily living which do affect my daily activities in ways I rarely ever had to contend with in the States.

One of those daily challenges is the water situation here in my town, which is due to two significant factors. One is the fact that the main source of water is a stream that flows from the surrounding mountains to and through the town. The other factor is the antiquated infrastructure; the water purification system simply cannot meet the demand and has to stop pumping for this time periods in order to ‘catch up’ each day. By the way, that is not true in other areas of this country. I have been working with the American Embassy and the US Army Corps of Engineers to see if something such as more efficient, pumps will alleviate this. Unfortunately, the supply is limited because of consumption of the water by the villages and towns upstream of this town. Larger pumps here will not totally resolve the problem.

While on the topic of public utilities, I can also tell you that the waste water (sewage treatment) in all areas of this country is also antiquated and cannot handle much without backing up, or breaking down. The biggest problem presented by this is that NOTHING except “whatever has gone through your body” can be flushed in a toilet. This holds true for flush toilets as well as for squat toilets (a hole in the floor).  So, what does that mean? Well, it means that just like anywhere else, we cannot flush paper towels, or feminine sanitary products. However,  it also means that here we cannot flush ANYTHING ELSE. Yes, this means that not even toilet paper can be flushed and ALL toilet paper must be put in a trash can that we find beside every toilet everywhere, even in our own home/apartment bathrooms. Taking out the trash has become a more frequent event for me. Oh, another frightening thing is that if you do not carry your own toilet paper with you at all times, you will be in a real predicament when using a public toilet, even in such places as the опстина (opstina = city hall); There is usually no toilet paper in public toilets, which are also frequently likely to be squat toilets.

Then, there is the matter of the electricity rates . . . they are very high. As I mentioned, there are off-peak periods, such as between 11pm and 7am and all day Sunday during which times the electricity is one-half as expensive as during the other times.  Can you see what is coming? In order to keep expenses low, I must run my electric water distiller at night, or on Sunday. It takes about 4 hours to make a gallon of pure water. Oh, the public water is potable, but laden with chemicals and heavy minerals. So, I distill it. Speaking of saving costs, I feel it prudent to do my laundry and house cleaning on Sundays when the electricity rate is half that of other times. However, despite having low electricity rates all day on Sunday, I must start early in the morning in order to get the laundry done before the water is shut off.  It is also necessary to do the laundry early if I am going to hang everything out to dry. Otherwise, I have to leave it out overnight and hope it will be dry the next day. When we do get rain, it is more likely at night. I do not know of any Macedonians who have a clothes dryer because of the high electric rates. The few stores that sell washing machines do not even have clothes dryers on display. Still, I feel fortunate when I realize that some of my fellow PCVs must wash their clothes by hand.

Then, on top of dealing with all of these challenges, there is the constant mental effort involved in all activities throughout every day. I must consciously be thinking ahead of what I am doing and try to have comments and questions formulated in Macedonian, using my limited vocabulary and grammatical abilities in creative ways to express even the most common thoughts and questions in ALL interactions. Responding to unexpected comments and questions from others is always a stress-inducing challenge. It is exhausting.

As a result of all of the above, I am feeling tired most of the time. I have come to realize that I am beginning to feel soooo old. On the bright side, the enthusiasm I feel among the younger PCVs and their accomplishments which I marvel at provide some compensatory incentive for me to continue going forward in my service. Above all, the enthusiasm which I see in the faces of the beneficiaries at my NGO when I organize trainings, workshops and sport/exercise activities and the eagerness they express to be involved in yet more such activities gives me an incentive to continue to try to overcome most of my fatigue. They seek me out and talk to me excitedly and rapidly in Macedonian with their various dialects and speech impairments and never react negatively to my language limitations. In fact, we often laugh together at the creative ways we have developed to communicate. We have developed our own, humorous individualized means of communication which always helps me feel that I am filling a needed role here.

So, as I reflect on what has transpired in the past 16 months I feel a renewed initiative to work toward even more improvements for the lives of the intellectually challenged beneficiaries of my NGO.  Focusing on this helps me to realize that the various annoyances in my daily activities do not really matter all that much.

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THIS makes perfect sense:

The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) is Australia’s national science agency. The CSIRO, in collaboration with the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) which is the world’s largest and highest-energy particle accelerator has discovered the heaviest element yet known to science.

The new element is Governmentium (Gv). It has one neutron, 25 assistant neutrons, 88 deputy neutrons and 198 assistant deputy neutrons, giving it an atomic mass of 312.

These 312 particles are held together by forces called morons, which are surrounded by vast quantities of lefton-like particles called peons.

Since Governmentium has no electrons or protons, it is inert. However, it can be detected, because it impedes every reaction with which it comes into contact.

A tiny amount of Governmentium can cause a reaction normally taking less than a second to take from four days to four years to complete.

 Governmentium has a normal half-life of 2- 6 years. It does not decay but instead undergoes a reorganization in which a portion of the assistant neutrons and deputy neutrons exchange places.

In fact, Governmentium’s mass will actually increase over time, since each reorganization will cause more morons to become neutrons, forming isodopes.

This characteristic of moron promotion leads some scientists to believe that Governmentium is formed whenever morons reach a critical concentration. This hypothetical quantity is referred to as critical morass.

When catalyzed with money, Governmentium becomes Administratium, an element that radiates just as much energy as Governmentium since it has half as many peons but twice as many morons. All of the money is consumed in the exchange, and no other by-products are produced.

Now, I understand.

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Is there any hope?

Human conflicts have been going on since the beginning of time, and now they have reached new heights (see news article copied below).

The Middle East conflict at 35,000 feet

By Paul Moss BBC News

It is not just the election results that show that Israelis have different views about who should be running the country: a flight to Tel Aviv can provide a glimpse into some of the simmering tensions in the Middle East.

The conflict was awfully familiar.

The Israelis were arguing with the non-Israelis, and indeed with each other – over who was entitled to what territory.

Some were polite, but others more hostile. It was an ugly scene. At one point, I thought people might well come to blows.

And still they could not sort it out. Who was supposed to be in what seat? The plane had not even taken off yet, but already Flight 2085, from Luton to Tel Aviv, had become a microcosm of the Middle East.

Some argued from a point of legal entitlement. They held up their boarding passes, the seat number clearly visible.

“I have a right to be here,” they protested. But others simply pointed out that they had got there first. I felt I had heard this before somewhere.

Meanwhile, bolder passengers were simply shoving their luggage – and themselves – into the places they wanted. You might call it “establishing facts on the ground”.

They ignored the would-be occupants towering above them, now waving boarding cards in their faces, like title-deeds to a house.

“Sit down,” yelled the exasperated air [flight attendant], sounding like a teacher dealing with unruly children on a school bus trip. But no-one was listening to teacher that day.

Eventually, the captain’s voice came over the intercom, more imploring than commanding.

“If you do not take your seats soon, we will miss our slot, and take-off could be delayed by a very long time.” In other words, if the fighting continued, everyone would lose.

That kind of reasoning has never seemed to work too well in the Middle East, and it certainly did not make an impression on Flight 2085. The stand-off continued.

Tensions rose and so did voices in English, in Hebrew and in Russian. I only speak one of those languages but I am quite sure I was being treated to a crash course in their finest insults and for the first time I found myself awfully glad that metal implements are no longer permitted in carry-on luggage.

And then she appeared. The heroine of the day. I do not know her name, I guess I never will, but she seemed like Florence Nightingale and Mother Teresa all rolled in to one.

A clever, sensitive [flight attendant] came up with a compromise. “Sit down where you are for now,” she said, “and we can sort out who goes where, once we are up in the air.”

Brilliant. The passengers looked at her, they looked at each other, and they meekly obeyed. Those wanting a window seat accepted an aisle; couples hoping to travel together agreed to be rent asunder.

It reminded me of the Oslo Agreement, back in the day when that seemed like a solution to the Middle East problem. Let us all calm down for a bit, live in our respective places for now, and sort out the final agreement later on in the day.

The [flight attendant] had brought unexpected calm to a conflict-ridden flight.

I thought of telling the [flight attendant] she had missed her métier, that instead of serving gin and tonics to rude passengers, she should be working for the United Nations – she certainly could not have made a worse job than others who have tried.

I drifted off into a reverie, imagining this diplomatic wonder-woman circling the globe, perhaps still wearing her Easyjet uniform – she would shuttle between North and South Korea, between the US and Iran – everywhere bringing her home-spun approach to international crises.

But I soon snapped out of my fantasy, because a while after take-off, a new problem arose.

A group of Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox Jews had been given space at the back of the plane to hold a prayer meeting. They bowed, and recited, but in the process they attracted more worshippers and, who knows, perhaps new worshippers converted to the faith by this stirring display of mid-air religiosity.

Eventually there were so many offering their thanks to God that they were blocking the aisle, and the non-observant passengers found they could not reach the toilet.

One unfortunate lady found herself stuck inside the lavatory, pushing on the door but meeting resistance from the mini-congregation now gathered outside.

Soon the secular bladders were causing real problems to their owners, who began to complain that the religious people were getting things all their own way.

Now that is a complaint you will hear in Israel itself where there have been furious quarrels between zealous followers of God and those of a more skeptical inclination.

But here we were nearly a thousand miles from the Holy Land and quite a few thousand feet up in the sky.

I searched in vain for Easyjet’s unappreciated ambassador-of-peace – the [flight attendant] who had brought unexpected calm to a conflict-ridden flight.

But she had gone back to serving gin and tonics – and it looked like this time, she just did not want to get involved.

_______________________________

While reading that story, and for quite a while afterwards, I had so many thoughts whirling through my mind; there have been some airlines which have recently abandoned seat assignments to allow “Open Boarding” to avoid such conflicts. This flies in the face of the original reason for seat assignments, which was from the pre-DNA days and the need to have a way to identify bodies in the event of a fatal crash. However such attempts are nothing new, and have been attempted in other aspects of life, as in land ownership. Results have varied.  The Middle East is dotted with examples of people vying for establishing settlements for a stake in territory claimed by others. Our own American history has some significant examples, such as the “Boomers” and, later, the “Sooners” in the opening of the Oklahoma Territory. Could “open borders” ever really work?

Reflecting back on the story, it represents my experience every time I take an inter-city bus here in Macedonia. Each ticket has a seat assignment number, but the fun begins even before boarding the bus, when everyone pushes and shoves everyone else to try to get on before others without regard to social status, gender or age. In fact, babas (grandmothers) are among the most aggressive. This seems to be consistent behavior at ATMs, cashiers, ticket windows and other similar situations. Then, after boarding the bus, everyone takes whatever seat they please and they put things (coats, packages, etc) on seats beside them to prevent anyone from using that seat. If anyone displays a ticket with a seat number corresponding to the occupied seats, the most common response is a shrug of the shoulders and one of several verbal statements to the effect of, “sit anywhere else.” I find this extremely odd because in most person-to-person interactions anywhere in this country, people are extremely pleasant, warm and hospitable. But, suggest that people Queue up and you will either be ignored, or given ridiculing remarks and scornful glances.

What might happen if every country would accept that people will have conflicts regardless of any international diplomatic strategies, or military posturing? What if they would redirect the money they budget for weapons and apply it to greater efforts for cross cultural understanding and acceptance, such as we do with our relatively small Peace Corps budget?  What if more funding were to be directed internally toward their own human service issues? Will international conflicts always involve the possible escalation to all out warfare? Really, is there any hope?

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2012 in review

While struggling to post some sort of review of the past year, I received the following information from WordPress about my blog. It’s not what I would have written, but it just saved me a lot of time.

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

 This blog got about 3,300 views in 2012 from people living in 91 different countries.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Treasure Hunts and Charades

Living in a foreign land and trying to learn the local language while simultaneously going about daily living activities and attempting to be productive at work requires a willingness to move beyond the usual and familiar comfort zone. Specifically, this requires 1) a willingness to take risks with your use of self and your relationships with others (often strangers), and, 2) a fairly healthy sense of humor including a willingness to engage in impromptu theatrics.

Having any experience with treasure  hunts and charades is a big plus.

But, everyday?

This was proven necessary once again today. It was Sunday and I purposefully got up early. I had laundry to get done before the town water supply shut down as it does daily for a few hours in order to allow the limited water treatment system to catch up with citizens’ demands. I also had other activities on my agenda. It was not going to be a day of R & R. But, it was a dreary, overcast, cold, and rainy morning and my bed had been so nice and warm with the extra comforter I had put on it last night.

It was a cold, dreary, overcast morning. I could tell how cold it was by the number of wood stoves that had been started across town.

It was a cold, dreary, overcast morning. I could tell how cold it was by looking out my window and seeing the smoke indicating the number of wood stoves that had been started across town.

With the Christmas Holidays coming and a gathering of PCVs  planned for next weekend, I had to make the cookies I had promised to contribute to the feast. So, I started the laundry, showered, dressed, and sat down to write my shopping list and then work with my language books, dictionary and computer and practice the vocabulary I would need to do some grocery shopping for my contribution to the feast, as well as for the PCVs who would be staying in my apartment before and/or after the feast that will be in the apartment of fellow PCVs in a neighboring village. Then off I go to the stores to search for what I need. I begin by going to the deli counter and asking for bacon which was fairly easy; “May I have a half-kilogram of bacon and please slice it (in Macedonian).” With that success behind me, I boldly try to be self-sufficient and I look in isles where I think I will find the other things on my list. Well, of course brown sugar is not near the refined cane sugar and honey is nowhere to be found near sugar or in the baking or breakfast sections and how in the world will I find vanilla, or sprinkles? I resort to asking store personnel; “Do you have honey?” Where is it?” What do you mean what kind do I want?

Both are Мед (Med = Honey) , but the print font seems to say MEA. Then, to differentiate, one is шумска,  and the other is цветен (wild and color). WAIT! The Macedonian language makes multiple uses out of the same words and differentiates by contextual usage. You have to deduce that these two jars of honey are woodsy/mountain forest and colorful/flora flowers.

Both are Мед (Med = Honey) , but the print font seems to say MEA. Then, to differentiate, one is шумска (forest), and the other is цветен (wild and color).

WAIT! The Macedonian language makes multiple uses out of the same words and differentiates by contextual usage. You have to deduce that these two jars of honey are woodsy/mountain forest and colorful/flora flowers.

Do you have sugar that is a brown color? (I couldn’t find a Macedonian word for brown sugar in my dictionary, so I did not think I could ask for brown sugar properly). Most of the time I forgot what I had practiced and had to act out what I wanted and even use some other things off the shelves as props, such as the white cane sugar which I pointed to and said in Macedonian,

Шеќер - 100% рафиниран шеќер (Shecher - 100% rafiniran shecher) - Sugar - 100% refined sugar

Шеќер – 100% рафиниран шеќер (Shecher – 100% rafiniran shecher) – – – – – – Sugar – 100% refined sugar

“This, but brown color.” Who would have guessed that I should have looked in the health food section? How was I to know that the honey was next to raisins? And SRINKLES?

украсни трошки за колачи (Decorative coolie crumbs) = Sprinkles!

украсни трошки за колачи (Decorative coolie crumbs) = Sprinkles! Yes, the window in the package would give it away, but it is a tiny package and I was hurredly scanning labels.

That was some of the best charade work I have ever done.

But, if you persevere and act out things and forget about feeling comfortable, or safe, you can get a lot done, perhaps meet more Macedonians, who certainly won’t forget that you are a very animated/funny American. The next time you are in that store, they might greet you by name, and will most certainly offer to help even when you might just want to find something for yourself.

Finally, with the cookies made, the day is turning out just fine.

The sun trid to break through the overcast and the whole day seemed to be just a little bit brighter.

The sun tried to break through the overcast and the whole day seemed to be just a little bit brighter.

Once more, a day of being reinforced for pushing past the boundaries of my comfort zone and learning new things, meeting more people and feeling just a little more acculturated in a strange land.

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“Quitcherbitchin!”

Perhaps someone should say that to me the next time I let things get to me and I start ventilating about my frustrations. Then, they should remind me that there is always balance in life . . . eventually, if only by reassessing our perspective and counting our blessings.

This past week I asked a lot of several family members and friends when I unloaded my frustrations. The recent Thanksgiving Holiday week in America was another of the American holidays I was going to miss out on while serving in the Peace Corps this past year here in Eastern Europe. The Peace Corps does not provide for the volunteers to have time off to celebrate American holiday because, after all, those holidays are not celebrated in our country of service and we are expected to become integrated in the local culture. That is all well and good, but I became resentful and righteously indignant when I learned that while the volunteers, who do not receive paychecks, are not give the day off, while the host country nationals (HCNs, for those who are tracking the acronyms) who are employed by and DO receive paychecks from the Peace Corps here, are given the American holidays off with pay. Well, I was quick to express my frustration about that with several friends here as well as family and friends in the States.

It is important that I acknowledge the fabulous friends and family who unanimously and politely listened to my rants and offered no opposing points of view. Good listeners are ofter hard to find.

Now, just to be open and honest with everyone, I have had a more recent and unexpected experience which has taught me, once again, to be patient with life and allow events to unfold without me feeling compelled to make them happen my way.

As I said earlier, I had to work on Thursday, Thanksgiving Day. It was going to be a long day, too; about 10 hours. Adding to my poor perspective was the realization that I had long ago committed to traveling to one of the training meetings for the new MAK17 trainees on the next day, Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. Okay, so I gritted my teeth and determined to get through these days of work which I would have off if I were back in the States. Then, while laboring under my burdensome thoughts, my counterpart interrupted a mentoring session I was having with other staff during behavioral treatment with a four year old child. My counterpart wanted to know if I would work on Saturday. I intuitively agreed while adding more gloom in the back of my mind. I was told that we would go to Skopje, “and meet with some representatives from Habitat for Humanity and some people from the US Embassy.” She reminded me that I had met with some of them not too long ago here in Negotino. I went back to work wondering to myself what might be expected of me at the Saturday meeting. I went home that evening and cleaned my shoes and laid out a dress shirt and necktie along with a sport jacket, hoping I would be appropriately dressed for the people from the Embassy and the Habitat for Humanity representatives. On Friday, as I was traveling back from my participation in the PST training session, I received a call from my counterpart who wanted to update me on the plans for Saturday. She advised me to wear old clothes and, “by the way, we will leave at 6am.” Okay, now I was totally confused and simultaneously somewhat annoyed at not only working on Saturday after working the holiday, but needing to be out on the street by 6am waiting to be picked up to travel to Skopje. When I arrived home home, I called my counterpart to confirm that I had understood her because I had been on a noisy bus when she had called me. Yes, she confirmed that I should wear old clothes and I would be picked up at 6am.

So, I managed to be out on the street at 6am. I was picked up at 6:20 by my counterpart, one of our beneficiaries and a contractor who does work for my NGO. He drove us to Skopje in his work truck. I recognized the building when we pulled up to it. It had been a group home we had visited a year ago in December. But it was not habitable now; the windows were missing, or in the process of being replaced, the roof was in the process of being restored and most of the masonry looked deplorable.

The building had become unfit for human habitation.

The building had become unfit for human habitation.

We were met by two representatives of Habitat for Humanity and they began to discuss their assessment of the structure and initial work on it.

Habitat for Humanity staff oriented us to what work needed to be accomplished.

Habitat for Humanity staff oriented us to what work needed to be accomplished.

Habitat for Humanity has become instrumental in helping my NGO provide improved and expanding services and resources so as to be able to help even more people leave the Institution at Demir Kapia and become integrated into communities.

Habitat for Humanity has become very supportive by helping in all aspects of work needing to be done to improve our facilities for our beneficiaries.

Habitat for Humanity has become very supportive by helping in all aspects of work needing to be done to improve our facilities for our beneficiaries.

This past Saturday, Habitat for Humanity partnered with PORAKA NEGOTINO to coordinate a huge work party for the rehabilitation of a building which will become another Daily Center as well as another residential group home. Many local citizens heeded the call by Habitat for Humanity and came to pitch in with the work.

Habitat for Humanity organized a huge work party that included the mayor of the local municipality, the U.S. Ambassador to macedonia, their wives and many others from the community along with our beneficiaries and staff.

Habitat for Humanity organized a huge work party that included the mayor of the local municipality, the U.S. Ambassador to Macedonia (white sweat shirt), their wives and many others from the community along with representatives from USAid, our beneficiaries and staff.

Not only that, but the Mayor and his wife came and personally assisted with the work. In addition, the “people from the Embassy” whom I was told would be there turned out to be US Ambassador and his wife plus several folk from the USAid office and many others.

The President of our NGO demonstrated that her prior career as a masters degreed mechanical engineer had prepared her for these tasks quite well. Here she is demonstrating for the Ambassador and mayor the proper techniques for applying adhesive cement to rigid foam insulation prior to installing it on the building.

The President of our NGO demonstrated that her prior career as a masters degreed mechanical engineer had prepared her for these tasks quite well. Here she is demonstrating for the Ambassador and mayor the proper techniques for applying adhesive cement to rigid foam insulation prior to installing it on the building.

This was a big news media event organized by Habitat for Humanity in conjunction with my NGO. So it goes, that my limitations with the Macedonian language and the limited English language abilities of staff at my NGO have once again left me with little knowledge of what was actually going to happen. It was also a big media event with many news stations covering the event.

There was going to be news coverage by several TV stations.

There was going to be news coverage by several TV stations.

Then, to cap it all, after we had worked for a few hours, a terrific reinforcement was provided for everyone by the US Embassy. They had arranged with the Hotel Aleksandar Palace to cater a huge traditional Thanksgiving banquet complete with a real Butterball turkey and served it for us right there in the middle of the work site.

The Thanksgiving buffet was catered by Alecksandar Palace Hotel, courtesy of the U.S. Embassy

The Thanksgiving buffet was catered by Alecksandar Palace Hotel, courtesy of the U.S. Embassy

The US Ambassador, accompanied by the Mayor led us in reflecting on what wonderful experiences we were having and what wonderful opportunities we were creating for so many people and we enjoyed eating a delicious traditional American Thanksgiving feast while standing amid an enormous amount of work yet to be completed. We all became of one mind and shared a common motivation which made everything else so much less important.

The U.S. Ambassador started the feast with some words of thanks for everyone who is helping our programs.

The U.S. Ambassador started the feast with some words of thanks for everyone who is helping our programs.

Then, after the wonderfully delicious feast and camaraderie, it was back to work for a little longer.

Everyone helped to the best of their abilities.

Everyone helped to the best of their abilities.

Finally, after a hard day of work which included a wonderful Thanksgiving buffet, came time for cleaning up and everyone returned to their homes.

Then, it was time for cleaning up and, of course, the news media and most others had left by then.

Then, it was time for cleaning up and, of course, the news media and most others had left by then.

What a great day it had become and the ride time home gave me ample time to reflect on how things always seem to work out for the best. I need to remember to keep a positive perspective and be patient with things as they unfold in their own way and in their own time.

So, for those of you to whom I sometimes turn for a sympathetic ear, please feel free to remind me to “quitcherbitchen” and regain my perspective.

Above all, remember to always be thankful and expect the unexpected.

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Sometimes, an existential approach can come in handy.

Okay, so I had a sleepless night due to sinus congestion which made it difficult to breathe without conscious effort and that was accompanied by the onset of a sore throat which was making it painful to swallow. So, with maximum effort, I got up and went through my workday morning routine all the while thinking I should tell my NGO that I am sick and will not be in to work today. While doing the mental gymnastics involving weighing my decision, my intention to go on the community outing began to diminish. Well, I had been informed about only the day before and I needed to get some studying done in preparation for a session with my language tutor later this day, but I continued to go through my usual routine. By the time I had finally decided to call out sick, I found myself ready and on time to leave for work. So, with resolve to see the day through, I went off to work.

The morning at work was more hectic than usual due to many last minute things needing to be done and several people needing to coordinate plans so that the community outing could start as planned by 10am. My resolve to see this day through was rapidly waning.

With much confusion and mingling around, we managed to get out of the Daily Center and go to the community outing, which I had only been told was going to be a visit at “a place for old people.” Much to my surprise, when we arrived at out destination, I recognized it as a retirement / nursing home.

Дом ЖАНА, the “place for old people” as I was told we were visiting.

I had been living and working in this town for a year and had no idea that facilities such as this even existed in Macedonia at all, let alone here in Negotino. After all, All through PST and in subsequent discussions about Macedonian culture and social mores, we had been repeatedly impressed with the close knit Macedonian extended family system in which several generations live together and the younger members care for their elders. Coincidental with our arrival, two of the several students from the local high school who help considerably with many activities at the Center arrived to join us for the visit.

So, we entered the facility with considerable warm welcoming by many staff members from the facility. We were escorted into what we would refer to in a similar facility in the States as the Day Room, or Community Room. We found all of the residents lined up in neat rows awaiting our arrival.

All of the residents were neatly lined up awaiting our arrival.

We were introduced to the residents by staff and our beneficiaries proceeded to make their presentations which was a combination of short personal statements, solo and duet singing and an abbreviated performance from a stage play which the beneficiaries and the high school volunteers have developed as a portrayal of a Macedonian folk tale.

The beneficiaries and the high school volunteers provided some entertainment for the residents in the form of songs, short speeches, some dancing and a portrayal of part of a play based on an old Macedonian folk tale.

The beneficiaries and student volunteers mingled with and tried to actively engage the residents in conversation and managed to get some to join in dancing.

There was, of course, the obligatory posing for photographs to document the occasion.

While there, I saw several residents either being very pensive, or perhaps not completely conscious of what was going on.

While most residents were smiling and clapping, even singing along, several residents appeared to be very pensive, and some were perhaps not fully cognizant of what was happening.

I noticed one particular woman sitting there, barely responding to anything that was going on, so I tried to speak with her to see how alert she might be. She responded to my fractured Macedonian and said something in English and I detected a German accent. I asked her, in German, if she spoke German and she answered affirmatively. It turned out that she knew all three languages. She had been born in Austria, worked in an American hospital in Frankfurt, Germany and retired here because her (now deceased) husband was a Macedonian. We had fun speaking using Macedonian, German and English words, phrases and sentences all mixed together as we conversed. She had just been sitting there, almost stuporous and I got her to smile and even laugh when I mixed the languages in the same sentences. Then, she began doing it, too and became slightly giddy. We began laughing together and some staff came over to see what had perked her up.

we established an immediate friendly banter and had several mutually enjoyable minutes sharing personal information and learning about each other. While she did ask me a few personal questions, she was most eager to tell me about her life; all the while using a mixture of three languages.

Finally, when leaving, we said our farewells in all three languages while giggling about the mixture and the staff joined our laughter.

A good day after all with a memorable experience that was in no way planned or anticipated.

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