Welcome to the Republic of Macedonia

A look into my life and the culture of Skopje

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

What A Week...or Two!

Independence Day! Or in my world just passed, Independence Weekend, or possibly Independence Month. Upon my arrival over a month ago now, I was told that the RSO's office would be very busy preparing for the festivities surrounding our nation's birthday. I suppose the work load was quite a lot from the beginning, but much like a frog will supposedly stay in water until it's boiling, because the temp. is rising slowly, so too was my work load. I realized today that last week, the climax of preparations, was well beyond boiling. So what were we preparing for? Well, that is what I'm going over today.
The largest of events was the 2nd of July. This past Friday night 3,000 invitees descended upon the U.S. Embassy in Skopje. Everyone from the current and past President, the Prime Minister, various other ministers, religious leaders, political party leaders, NGO, non-profits, celebrities, students, Peace Corps, military, and yes...interns! Well, it has been my job and the job of my office to prepare the embassy, a secure compound, for 3,000 guest and hundreds of staff to service all of our guest. The key word in the last sentence is of course "secure." I can't get into specifics, but there is a lot of checking, re-checking and then some other things (not to be totally cryptic).
The event was a success though. Afterwards we exercised one of my favorite parts of European culture, a zest for social activity....well into the wee hours of the morning, or well let's be honest, dawn!
The next day, July 3rd, was the Embassy staff picnic. With another band and a Marine Color Guard, it really felt like a holiday picnic, like we where in English Landing Park! It was really great to see how into our Independence Day the Macedonians were. Most of them new and sang parts of the National Anthem, and just about everyone enjoyed some hotdogs and hamburgers. It is events like these that I see how well respected America really is. I know that many people don't agree with everything that we do, but most have a high regard for who we are.
As for the Forth it's self, well that was spent by the pool. Sunning myself and napping. In the evening we were invited to a live TV show to talk about America and to give a young person's typical holiday activities. Then we did as any good American should and ate McDonald's for dinner. I don't eat McD's in the states, but we all agreed that we had to do something uber American for the Forth. This activity was not mentioned during our interview of course!
Overall this holiday was a great success. Of course I missed being around loved ones and the smell of freshly burnt fireworks, but people here made it quite delightful! Now I have the excitement of part two of my internship. I'm looking forward to this half of the summer because now I can begin branching out into other sections of the embassy and really get a feel for the embassy as a whole. First stop on my list: Political!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Greetings once again from the Republic of Macedonia! As I begin my forth week as an intern, I have also begun to prepare a presentation of just that, my internship. This Thursday myself and two other interns will have the opportunity to present at American Corners, a weekly class setting put together by USAID and the American Embassy. It's function is to educate Macedonians in a multitude of areas, all of which are meant to assist them in understanding American culture, but also on how they might further themselves in a global community. That goal is why we were asked to present, to provide an explanation as to why internships are important and how they can greatly impact a future career.
Personally I don't have a problem with public speaking, but I did get a little nervous when I first thought of presenting. Why? Well, I have never stopped and put down on paper (or in a power point) why an internship is important. Of course I know why, but how do you relay that information to students and young professionals who's culture doesn't really even know what an internship is?
At an Embassy garden party I attended recently at the Ambassador's home, I spoke with a gentleman in the Ministry of Culture here in Macedonia. He was baffled by the situation I had placed myself in; paying to travel to Macedonia, working for no monetary benefit or contractual reason, and doing so with excitement and great expectations. He was even more surprised to learn that our educational system is moving to virtually requiring all undergraduates to do at least one internship as a graduation requirement. Obviously this is something new to the educational system here.
So this experience, preparing for this presentation, has really shown a light onto why I am really here. I haven't had any great awakenings over this, but I do have a new since of appreciation for my own culture and experiences it has, in some cases forced, me to have. I am also very excited to share this piece of America with the students on Thursday, as the same day USAID will be announcing their internship program opportunities here in Macedonia with the American Corners. As I think about all of the great benefits I am gaining from doing this internship, it makes me quite excited to realize I may help to steer others into the same situation who would have never done such a thing before. Helping others is one of the reasons I came here, and now I get to do so in a manner I never expected to. Awesome!

Oh, and I am going to begin posting pictures this week!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Cross breeze bad, dry hair good!

Just yesterday I went on a ride in an embassy SUV along with another intern. Our mission was to prepare a house for some visiting VIP's. Now this may not be the most glamorous part of my internship, but it did prove to be very interesting. Our driver, we'll call him Boron, was aiming to please from the moment we entered the vehicle. Since it was around 100 degrees out, we elected to turn on the air conditioning. This decision was met with immediate questions about if Americans too get sick from the Air. We responded, without pause, "huh?" Well let me tell about his concern.
In Macedonia, and most of the Balkans, cross breezes are considered dangerous. It was explained to us that the air moving over your face, especially at night, can cause paralysis, deformation, or death. Some cases only result in flu-like symptoms, but no one should risk it. We were told of a friend who slept with his window and door open and awoke with a deformed face. One does not leave the house with wet hair, and air conditioning should be used very sparingly. Now at first, these claims seem to be a joke, but upon further discussion, we realized he was quite serious.
He was not the only one either. Many other members of the embassy staff later shared of their experiences, like having to threaten to fire a contractor before they would install an air conditioner unit next to a bed, or convincing them that a room can in fact have two screens, placed in windows opposite each other. Some have had staff bring blankets or pillows to place into chairs so that the cold surface would not damage internal organs.
Again, these may sound absurd, but has been the first major cultural shock since I've been here. Not everyone believes this in it's fullness, but most do in some capacity. Again, this was the first cultural difference I did not plan for. My best guess, and that of others I spoke with, is that these are the equivalent to "old wives tales" in America that haven't been disproved amongst the entire population. Now sleeping in warm bedrooms, or driving in hot cars will certainly not cause any major harm to someone, but the willingness to do so when coolness is so close, does shine a light on a greater problem. That problem is the stem of many problems in Macedonia; lack of eduction.
Thankfully this problem is being met with many efforts by the Macedonian government, foreign government aid, and NGO's. Macedonia has in recent years began to place major emphasis on education as it has pushed for entry in the EU. Not only does it need a well educated population, but a well educated work force.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Mother Theresa!

This past week was spent doing a multitude of activities! Checking into the Embassy and becoming a secret squirrel again, learning the inner workings of the Embassy itself, and discovering new and unique sites in Skopje itself. I personally did not know Mother Theresa was born in Skopje, but I am going to tell you the truth, she was. Now, I did learn this before I left for Macedonia, but I didn't know she is actually a moderately controversial figure among her own countrymen. Regardless, she has a beautiful gallery and chapel dedicated to her right in the heart of the city.
With-in the gallery, multiple artifacts can be found to include her sari, bible, and multiple awards. Other interesting pieces include pictures of her throughout her life, a replication of her bed chamber, and a rosary. The gallery itself is not large, but the information contained with-in gives a great look into who Mother Theresa was as a person, very enlightening.
I then also visited the chapel above the gallery. Modern architecture, windows designs, and a giant glass cross definitely drew you in, but also took away from the general feeling the gallery put you into. Now it is just my opinion, but I don't believe one of the most humble and giving women in modern history would have enjoyed such a display. Again, just my opinion! I will be posting pictures soon, at that time I would love feed back as to what everyone else thinks.
Finally a note: It has taken a bit but settling has finally come to fruition, with that I hope to make much more regular in depth blog entries. So please keep checking in and leave comments. One of the best ways for me to realize even my own experiences and the significance of them is to answer questions.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Greetings from Macedonia. I landed in Skopje only hours ago and have already realized the potential this city has. The temperatures are hot, the humidity is low and I'm dirty (I slept in an airport last night), but the country is beautiful and the waterfalls outside my window are very relaxing. I can tell this is going to be the beginning of a great summer.
Over the next 11 weeks, I will be working out of the US Embassy, Skopje, Macedonia. A real opportunity to see the inner workings of our State Department and to work hand in hand with the Macedonian people. I will work to post pictures, cultural perspectives and personal stories; all to portray to everyone back home the experience I am having here in the heart of the Balkans. Please leave comments and questions as these often lead to the best of postings! Thanks so much for reading, I look forward to sharing these next couple months with everyone.