volunteer adventures

Something is missing here by Maria Kokkonen
November 19, 2009, 10:30 am
Filed under: Life in Skopje

My mom phone call and the sentence “It’s snowing in here” was the first thing that wake me up to realise what I have forgot in here: Christmas.

This time in Finland people and especially kids are preparing for the biggest family celebration of the year. My friends are buying Christmas presents, going out for ice-skating and talking about how they are gonna spend their Christmas holidays. Everyone is having a better mood and the stores are full of people who are looking for something special for their relatives, friends and lovers.

This year I’m gonna spend my Christmas in different way. Without the original family supper and the meetings with friends and exchanging of  presents . It will be Macedonia’s Christmas and definitely one of those Christmas that I will remember a long time.

The secret of museum by Paula Kokovkin
November 14, 2009, 11:13 pm
Filed under: Life in Skopje

I finally got the time to go to the museums. I’ve been looking at the old train station for a while and the clock on it standing still since the earthquake – how mysterious.
Inside there’s an archeological museum. I guess there’s only one archeological excavation site in Skopje – in the Kale, everything seemed to come from there. And what a rich site it is! There’s items from stone age to middle ages to the Ottomans. I only wish they also had the poison cups one of the signs on the wall was talking about.
And what an unusual strange place it was, the museum! In the middle of the room there were three buckets, water was dripping from a pipe under the ceiling. Shouldn’t there be a percise level of humidity in the room? And what if that pipe falls down, crashing the objects below?
At one point I walked to a bit wrong place in the room and ended up behind the display case. And behind the case there was a christmas tree with a one-armed nude and bald store-mannequin sitting on a chair in front of it.

Seminar in Skopje by Emma Oskarsson
November 13, 2009, 10:48 am
Filed under: Life in Skopje

Now  I have been in Macedonia for one month. Last week, week 44, there was a sober seminar in Skopje. Twenty-four people from different parts of Europe gathered for  seminar “be the change you want to see in the world” with the subject conflicts. After one week of preparations and learning to know each other and become friends we went to make action, a street action! We had a big banderol where it stood “you don’t need alcohol to get friends” and this seminar was one of the proofs of that. The real theme for this street action was do you dare sober? We asked different people, would you dare to have a silent disco 12 o clock on the day? Do you dare to dance sober? Do you dare to have a sober drinking game? Our goal wasn’t to make people stop drinking it was more to show that you can have fun sober to. My question for you is do you dare to party sober? Try it you might even have more fun!

Getting to know Macedonia’s people and culture by Maria Kokkonen
November 5, 2009, 9:49 am
Filed under: Life in Skopje

If you are living for a long time in foreign country, you have two options. First one is to get to know the people and the culture and have a fun and the second is weeping in your own apartment. Both options will definitely take you somewhere but where is a differend story.

In Macedonia there is just one option, to get to know people. Here making new friends it’s not so difficult than in my home country, Finland. You just have to be open in every options that comes your way and you can find yourself in places that you have never dreamed of.

Of course you can do it everywhere, but some places it’s easier than others. In here I have luckily found it easier, finding the local culture and new friends. In one month that I have been in here I have tasted local drinks like rakija and danced with local people and talked with them. I can say that this is not because of me, it’s mostly because of people who are living here. If they want to share their thoughts and free time with foreigners it tell a lot about people in here and they way to see the world.

Black people in Macedonia by Ludivine Egounleti
November 4, 2009, 11:11 am
Filed under: Life in Skopje

Let’s talk about Black people in Macedonia, without any shame. Coming from a country where live lot of black people, and where its paradoxically, kind of tabou to talk about them, here I come in Macedonia, where I feel like the only one black person.  From people looking at me, to hearing « Africa ! America ! Barack Obama ! » in the street, I face lot of obamadifferents reactions. Some are funny, others are  embarassing … But the point is that these situations are never negative. Macedonian people are, before all, friendly people, living in a small country that almost no one knows, in a region that  is just starting to be attractive… So, seeing people coming from « so far » is like really unexpected, and almost an honour.

Well… the thing is that I just come from France, where things are totally different, but, here I am, so even if this reactions can be embarassing, they are not mean, so the last thing to do is just enjoying this particular position, and keep on getting to know this small, but friendly country!

Rakija – feel the difference by Andrzej Bukowski
November 3, 2009, 4:32 pm
Filed under: Life in Skopje

My classic contact with strong alcohol was usually connected with vodka. In Poland there is an unwritten rule that if sombody invites you to party, you need to bring one “flaszka” which is 0.5 litre. Well after such a few meetings you start to like it. Maybe not the day after, but still…

The first rakija Photo: Andrzej Bukowski With rakija it was different. My first contact was not really what I expected. Sinisha,  our coordinator fixed one bottle of pure rakija. It tasted so good that we didn’t want to stop raving about it. What happened next was a different story. Suddenly we got a super idea to buy more stuff in the nearby market. After we tasted it, we noticed that something was wrong with the taste. But who cares? When the party starts it needs to be finished. A few moments later “cyk” – no memory. Suddenly I was laying in bed and it was morning. All day I felt pain in my brain.

The second rakija was fake, we discovered after. It is availabe in almost every street market. The proces of making it is different than the classic domestic rakija.To not provoke pain in my brain again, I went with other guys to a rakija party. We were invited by Stojko – the owner of our house. He showed us the process of making traditional rakija. He also explained why we were sick Rakija night of Stojko Photo: Andrzej Bukowski after drinking the last time. After trying a few drops of his elixer we started to feel the difference. The party ended with singing and laughing. Next day I was without any hangover or something like this. We even had super good humor till Rakija night Photo: Andrzej Bukowskiend of next day.

So now it’s good advice for any future fresh customer. Try to fix classic Rakija, because even though it is harder to get it, the feeling after is real, not fake.

My first experience with Rakija by Tomas Marcinkevičius
November 3, 2009, 4:13 pm
Filed under: EVS, Life in Skopje

Well, folks, all I can say is that Rakija is quite a lady and she has quite a character. She is as gently as one can be when you treat her right, say nice things to her and don‘t push her. It doesn‘t take more than one faux pas to get her furious. I suppose I wasn‘t really gentle at that first night with dear Rakija. Of course, it had something to do with its own quality. The starting Rakija was given us by most reliable sources, so it was cheerful for a while. Then we changed the sources and all hell broke loose. I went to bed at 7 o‘clock that evening, not forgetting to throw up before. They say I got up at some time and inspected the ongoing party, but all I can remember is confusing a bottle of Rakija for a bottle of mineral water, taking a few big gulps and going back to bed. It was a peaceful 15 hour sleep. So, future visitors of Macedonia and bordering states, all I can advise you is to take good care when Rakija is around. Know what you‘re drinking, don‘t push her, don‘t curse her, don‘t do any wrong to her. It‘s not beer, it‘s not wine, it‘s not even vodka. That evening taught me a lesson and so far kind Rakija is only giving me good moments to remember.

Paula Kokovkin: Water pipe
November 3, 2009, 12:10 pm
Filed under: Life in Skopje

Me and Maria thought one day to go and have a waterpipe. So we went to an oriental cafe.
“Hello, do you have a waterpipe?” we asked.
“What do you want?” didn’t the cafe owner, a nice woman, understand.
“A waterpipe,” I repeated.
“A waterpipe? What is that? I don’t understand.”
(There were a couple of water pipes next to the wall)
“This thing there,” I pointed to the waterpipes.
“What? What do you want?” was the woman in the cafe still confused. It started to feel weird – should we not ask it?
“It’s alright, we’ll just drink salep.”
“No, no, tell me, what did you want,” insisted the woman.
“See, this thing in the corner there.”
“Aah, nargile!” and added with a slightly hushed tone, “I’ll try to prepare it for you”. And she left.
We sat down at the table and looked at each other.
“Is it illegal here?” Maria asked.
“It shouldn’t be… But it seemed a lot like it.”

Perpetual works in progress: thoughts on EVS in Skopje so far by Christopher Fleming
October 30, 2009, 6:43 am
Filed under: EVS, Life in Skopje

“Two roads diverged in a wood and I,  I took the one less travelled by, and that has made all the difference.”
Robert Frost

First moments in MacedoniaAll of my pre-departure doubts and anxiety seemed to dissolve in slow motion when I arrived in Skopje.Prior to coming, I couldn’t imagine what the experience would be like, and not knowing what to expect was like a mental darkness. Light came slowly, with every welcome and each new day in the Skopje indian summer. That was, until the weather changed rather unexpectedly (it still continues to surprise). Autumn in Skopje has been unpredictable, changeable and mixed up in more ways than one. With retrospect, those first few weeks in the sunshine were like a honeymoon – or a holiday.

Rakija party: Photo by Andrzej BukowskiDrinking rakija in the yard at one of our many welcome parties is now a hazy memory. Somehow it feels as if we’ve been here for longer. Being always together as a group, and being ushered to and from meetings it’s been difficult finding the time to write. The time to think….or take a solitary walk….or to not hurry.There is of course, a physical connotation to the word hurry, but I mean ‘slowing down’ in a mental sense. Allowing thoughts to come and to be sifted through.

Time to digest these new experiences before writing about them, which is as necessary as writing itself.
Still, so many ideas come just from talking with my fellow volunteers, debating and arguing.

Like should we be offended by the ignorance of visitors to our own countries about issues there?  Why should we expect visitors to know everything there is to know, when often our identities and our collective histories are complicated and complex?

There is clearly a difference between being disrespectful to other cultures, and coming to a country with an open mind. Afterall, isn’t that the very idea of cultural exchange and learning in general?

Does anything to the contrary betray a lack of understanding on the part of people in a potential host country?
Does it reflect the strength (or weakness) of civil society there, or the awarness of the general public?
Personally, I would prefer that visitors to my own country ask questions, rather than draw their own conclusions.

That is always better than ignorance or indifference. It would be hypocritical to expect someone to be aware of politically sensitive subjects in the country where I live, if I’m clueless about issues in theirs. Often conflicts are rooted in history and it’s difficult even for younger generations to fully understand the politics in their part of the world. Given it’s complex history, Skopje is no exception.

Here in the city of brutalist communist arcitecture; after dark the bleak uninviting buildings and malls obscure the modern interiors of most cafes and restaurants.

Take a walk. Photo by Andrzej Bukowski The rule is not to judge a book by it’s cover. In the same way Skopje could be like a book with an old worn cover from another era. The fabric of one-time modern architecture attached to an ancient turkish weave.

As I see it, the story on it’s pages (like the story of any place) is still being written. And next year when visas become available for people form the Balkan countries to travel within the Eurpean Union, that story will enter a new chapter.

It’s good to be here for at least part of that story, learning the language, and meeting new characters, in what is a perpetual work in progress.

Old Bazaar. Photo by Andrzej Bukowski

Andrzej Bukowski, Tomas Marcinkevičius: Two-round fight with Mount Vodno
October 24, 2009, 4:24 pm
Filed under: Life in Skopje

So, there is this thing. You come to Skopje as an EVS volunteer, all open to new experiences and stuff and then this big cross on Mount Vodno starts dissing you. You see it every day, confidently placed at the South of the city, laughing at your inability to reach it. Every evening it reminds you: „You still haven‘t been on this top, how can you fall asleep so innocently?..“

On the way to cross, Tomas and Andrzej

On the way to cross, Tomas and Andrzej

I know what you‘re thinking. It‘s only about a kilometer, so it is not even a mountain by Macedonian standards… We have to admit that Tomas has never lived by a mountain before (Lithuania defines the word „flat“) and Andrzej was born in Karpaty mountains, so we both had reasons to go up there.The first round of the fight occured one lazy Saturday. Three guys, Andrzej, Christopher and Tomas, decided to go up the mountain even while knowing that they‘re all pretty much hungover, the temperature is above 25 degrees and the supplies of drinking water are scarce. It all ended in the halfway. It was a knockout, especially for flatland-minded Tomas.

on the way to Vodno, Tomas and Christopher

on the way to Vodno, Tomas and Christopher

The victory against Mount Vodno was achieved about a week later.Fresh and well-slept, Andrzej and Tomas weresitting on the top and drinking Makedonsko Crveno as a prize. Tomas admitted he sees a live mountain eagle for the first time. Andrzej was already planning another trip up the mountain. And the cross on the top of Vodno will not bother them anymore.





Andrzej i makedonsko crveno

Andrzej i makedonsko crveno

moment from Vodno tour

moment from Vodno tour