Happy two month anniversary Macedonia!
I don’t want to make a big deal of it, but I’m pretty sure we’re going steady.
To celebrate, I’m answering some of the questions I’ve received since my arrival. Who needs flowers and chocolates, when you can have information! (I lied. I’m eating chocolate as I type. Don’t judge me.)
I’ve talked to locals, bothered my teachers and independently researched, but some of the sites with the best info are more advanced than my language level. I’ve done my best. More questions? Please, let me know.
It sounds like there’s a lot of smoking. Are there any programs or initiatives to deter the habit?
First, there is a lot of smoking. I checked the prices in the grocery store the last time I restocked my chocolate stash (yeah, that’s a thing) and a pack of cigarettes ranges from about 45 den to 65 den. A cup of coffee at the local café is about 40 den. Last I checked, $1 U.S. was equal to about 47 den. It’s an incredibly affordable vice.
I’ve asked around and while officially, there are programs to deter smoking, they aren’t incredibly effective. This article from NPR lays out some data analyzed by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. It shows that while smoking has dropped significantly in the U.S., Macedonia is quite literally, a hotspot. The country got a shoutout by name for prevalence of smokers.
The article also noted that while the percentage of the population smoking has gone down worldwide, the overall population has increased. Overall, there are more smokers now than ever before because there are more people than ever before.
I don’t know of a single host family without at least one smoker. I was joking with my host dad yesterday about how the doctor told my host mom she needs to stop smoking because she’s been sick. I said doctors usually say things like that. My host dad laughed and said the doctor smokes too.
What’s the health care system like? Insurance? Facilities?
If we’re being honest, I’m no expert at the health care system in the U.S., but I did my best to boil down some information.
The healthcare system is government subsidized. Some things are completely free. Some things you partially pay. Typically you pay for dental. Sometimes medication is subsidized and sometimes it isn’t.
(Medication sidenote: you can often obtain medicine without a prescription, excluding narcotics. I was sick recently and purchased antibiotics no questions asked. Apparently there is legislation in place to change that, but it’s a slow process.)
There are some big companies who have contracts with privatized hospitals and those have more funding and more technology. Very few can afford that option. For everyone else, the government option is the only option.
Insurance can be paid either by an employer or employee. Not everyone has it.
Doctors don’t make significantly more than the average salary, according to locals I’ve spoken with and it’s not a highly sought after job. (Google says the average salary nationally is about 21,000 den a month, or about 340 euros. This article, from 2012, says the average salary nationally was about 300 euros a month and doctors made about 550 euros.) There is however, a higher chance of employment as a doctor and with a steep unemployment rate, that is a big influence.
There are hospitals in all the major cities. There’s one in Sveti Nikole. It’s where members of my host family have gone when they’ve needed to see a doctor.
I can’t tell you a lot about this website, but the information rang true with what I’ve experienced and what I’ve been told by locals. If you’re interested to learn more about the healthcare system, check it out.
Another note on health: Peace Corps trainees and volunteers have the incredible benefit of an on-call Peace Corps Medical Officer to address our medical needs. They can treat us, refer us locally, or in the case of a major health problem, they have the capacity to evacuate us to an out-of-country hospital. They’re also gracious and patient enough to answer every question we have about bug bites, rashes, vaccinations, that weird thing we ate yesterday, mysterious head colds and anything else we may come down with while we’re here.
I heard Macedonia has the highest rate of unemployment worldwide at 30 percent. Have you seen the effects of that?
Yes, that statistic is more or less accurate. (I think the exact rate currently is closer to 28 percent.) There’s a lot more to the definition though.
To be considered employed, there’s a list of criteria and taxes you must pay, including: income taxes, social security, pension and more. If you miss any of the taxes or other criteria on the list, you’re counted among the unemployed, even if you have a job and make good money. (That’s the case sometimes. This 2013 article from CNN called that group the “gray market.”)
This article, posted last year on balkaninsight.com, touches on that idea. More people are working than that statistic shows, but it’s complicated.
For more insight:
Al Jazeera ran this piece in 2013 about job prospects in Macedonia.
This is information compiled by worldbank.org.
Not in Macedonia. Google told me KFC isn’t here. McDonald’s did have a few restaurants around the country until about a year and a half ago. I believe it was a licensing issue. I have seen a Burger King though, both in the capital city of Skopje, and a tiny one in Kocani, the city closest to my village.
Just like in the U.S., I won’t be eating there.