They laughed when I told them I didn’t kiss.
The caterpillars in my stomach turned into butterflies just before the bus pulled up to a group of milling host parents-to-be Saturday. I promptly forgot all of my Macedonian and after recalling enough to say hello, forgot my host dad’s name.
After a quiet drive to my home for the next three months in Sveti Nikole, I declared to my new host family that I don’t kiss.
I thought I was telling them I didn’t smoke.
It was the difference of suh to shuh in the word. Language fail number one (likely of many).
I was a little embarrassed when my language teacher explained what I’d actually said in class yesterday, but by then, my host dad had laughed and retold the story for everyone who had stopped by. I even helped by jumping in with the word for kissing.
(Apparently most of the other trainees in Sveti have had questions about dating and marriage. My family hasn’t asked. They must just assume I’m an old maid at 27 who doesn’t kiss.)
The first few days in Sveti have not been without challenges, like oh you know, that pesky language barrier, but have mostly been a delight. I have a host dad who knows a bit of broken English. My host mom doesn’t speak any, but she and I graduated from the same school of charades, so we’ve been getting along alright. I also live with the two cutest tiny humans in my host sisters, who are seven and nine.
The younger likes to watch me do things, sits on my lap at every chance and fell asleep on my shoulder on the drive home from visiting her older sister last night. The elder has taken to playing monkey see, monkey do with my every move. If I ask for more shopska (tomato, cucumber, onion, cheese salad), she wants more. If I smear cheese on my bread, despite puzzling looks from her parents, she’s doing it too.
Both of them have started referring to me as dada Rebekah, or big sister Rebekah. (I know. The feels!)
They have been a highlight for me in this first 72 hours of adjustment.
The behavior and interaction of little girls is universal. They both chatter on at me, oblivious to my lack of understanding. They’re fascinated whenever I pull out my phone. They coo over photos of my family and laugh at the number of photos of my dog I have. (Crazy dog lady in training.)
Saturday was a whirlwind of unpacking, staring at the conversation starter cheat sheet, pantomiming more than speaking and discovering that spaghetti with ketchup is actually pretty delicious. (It’s not the ketchup you think of in a glass bottle at the diner. It’s some love child of tomato sauce.)
My host dad builds houses. He built the one we stay in. My host mom washes clothes. They both share the cooking and cleaning duties and have been accommodating and kind.
Sunday, we went to visit another volunteer who lives around the corner. After a visit and a coffee (the second of about five that day), we met up with another volunteer and family nearby to trek to a local monastery. (We drove about 15 minutes and up a mountain, of sorts.)
I didn’t understand the significance at the time, save a brief explanation of a holy day. It turns out, it was Mother Mary’s birthday and that meant a weekend-long shindig. The actual religious aspect wasn’t the highlight and it reminded me of a church bazaar.
We lit a candle before entering and once inside, my entire family lined up, kissed an icon on a pedestal (Mary I would assume) and left either a few denar or some other token. (Bottles of juice and socks were among the gifts left.) From the time we entered to exited, less than 10 minutes passed.
Outside, we watched a spiraling line dance. Flanked by my host sisters, who held my hands any time they were free, we wandered over to watch the group circling and spiraling inward, all in time with the music.
Three steps right, one step left. Three steps right, one step left.
I’m no dancer, but I can never resist so at my host mom’s behest (probably after watching my feet start to practice on the sidelines), I joined the circling group. A sweet grandfather next to me told me that my oro (dancing) was dobro (good).
Honesty is the best policy, unless you’re lying to me about my dancing skills.
It was a hot day and we didn’t stay long, but detoured on the drive home to fill water bottles at a natural spring and take in the view of Sveti Nikole below. From the hillside, it was a tiny clump of terra-cotta among rolling fields in the valley of deep, purple mountains.
This place is gorgeous.
A typical weekday starts at 7:15 a.m. My host dad already has coffee ready and after a bowl of cereal (which everyone thinks is weird), I’m out the door for the 20 minute walk to school. I walk with the two other trainees who live nearby.
The running joke among trainees is that PST (pre service training) is like kindergarten. It’s not inaccurate.
Our parents drove/walked us to school the first day. They know our teachers. They ask what we learned when we get home. They check our homework when we’re done, ask about our friends and tell all their friends about us.
This morning, my host dad refused to let me walk to school because it was raining. (Okay, wasn’t mad at that.)
Language classes are starting to pick up and I can hold a very broken conversation, especially if it involves food, which was today’s focus.
My skills are minimal, but apparently enough to satisfy my host dad. His oldest daughter (18 I believe) had her first baby today, so he left to go celebrate with friends. I stayed home with the 7-year-old for several terrifying hours of zero English.
We survived. 🙂