On the (new) home front

I have a wonderful new host mom, and I may be at war with a street cat named Џули (Julie).

Moving to my new site means a new home, a new family, and a new routine. So far, that has including watching my favorite Turkish soap opera with my host mom.

(Bless her heart. She helped me understand that сила stopped two men who kidnapped her and tried to kill her on the orders of Boran’s parents. By the way, she had the baby and is back to pre-baby weight after only a few episodes. Crying must be great cardio.)

She owns a boutique in the nearby city of Kocani. (My host mom, not сила.) She also has a huge garden, which I am excited to help with next summer. (Please don’t tell her that I’m a terrible gardener who once killed a cactus.) She has said over and over that I’m her new daughter, since her two adult daughters no longer live at home.

My first day at site, we stopped on the way home from the bus station to get some fresh veggies at the pazar (market).

My first day at site, we stopped on the way home from the bus station to get some fresh veggies at the pazar (market).

We went into Kocani to go to the ATM (because there isn't one in the village) and of course, my host mom suggested stopping for a sweet.

We went into Kocani to go to the ATM (because there isn’t one in the village) and of course, my host mom suggested stopping for a sweet.

I think she’s wonderful.

The street cat is another story.

Џули is sneaky. And she resents me. I’m pretty sure she had my room all picked out before I moved in.

Presents from my host mom! Soap, lotion...and a collar tag. I think she thought it was a keychain. It only added fuel to the street cat fire.

Presents from my host mom! Soap, lotion…and a collar tag. I think she thought it was a keychain. It only added fuel to the street cat fire.

She followed me into the house after school one day last week. I didn’t see her as I fumbled with the lock. (I’m starting to think the problem may be me.) As soon as I found the light switch, I saw her sitting in the hallway looking at me like I was the rain-soaked, dirty, intruder.

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I tried to shoo her outside, but she ran up the stairs instead. Luckily, all the doors were closed and after a little chasing and waving my boots in each hand, she finally headed back outside.

She is a pretty cat from a distance, surprisingly fluffy for a street cat. She’s also conniving.

I was reading through curriculum a few days ago when I heard a crash in the hallway. My host mom’s two-year-old grandson has been visiting and there are numerous explanations for what he could have destroyed. I didn’t see anything in the hallway and on a whim, opened the bathroom door. Џули locked eyes with me just before darting back out the open window and into the tree she climbed to get there.

Every single bottle, roll of toilet paper and bar of soap had been knocked on the floor. I guess she wasn’t happy that she snuck in a window, only to find the door to the rest of the house closed.

She has also started to make regular appearances in the kitchen window. I can’t blame her. It often smells terrific. My host mom also likes her, I assume named her, and feeds her.

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It’s pretty comical to watch street cat’s mouth move with silent meows outside the window of the kitchen.

It’s less comical when meows come at full volume outside my bedroom door.

There’s a little balcony where I hang up my laundry and a few nights ago, Џули came calling, crashing onto the balcony (from that same tree) and slammed into the window shades. (The window shades are on the outside of windows and doors here. Picture the roll up doors outside stores at the mall, only more of a tough plastic.)

The next 20 minutes were either her desperate cry for attention or her audition for the feline adaptation of Handel’s “Messiah.” And then, she added percussion.

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I hadn’t let the shades down all the way to the ground, so her little kitty paws started slamming on them and reaching up, as if they would force the blinds upward. Guess again kitty.

Apart from having a feline arch nemesis, my village is really a great place. I’m close enough to Kocani that I can access all the necessities with a quick bus ride, but I’m far enough away that I can still enjoy chickens, pigs and the occasional donkey on my way to school in the morning.

My room sort of reminds me of college. I have a twin bed, concrete walls, a small desk attached to an armoire of sorts, and no idea what the next few years hold.

I think this is Dewey and Huey. No word on where Dewey has gone.

I think this is Dewey and Huey. No word on where Louie has gone.

I found this garland and plastic ornaments for about 150 den (About $3). I made the paper star out of scrap paper I've been saving. My room is cozier already.

I found this garland and these plastic ornaments for about 150 den (About $3). I made the paper star out of scrap paper I’ve been saving. My room is cozier already.

Free decor: I took the Pennsylvania map from the Peace Corps office. I bought the string to hang my few photos from home. The Balkans map was provided by Peace Corps.

Free decor: I took the Pennsylvania map from the Peace Corps office. I bought the string to hang my few photos from home. The Balkans map was provided by Peace Corps.

I found a map of Pennsylvania in the Peace Corps office. Based on this line-up, it had been there for a while.

Based on this line-up, the PA map had been in the office for a while.

My room in undergrad didn’t have a Donald Duck carpet, but that probably would have been an improvement.

It’s been a lot quieter living with my host mom here. (Except for the past week with our two-year-old house guest, who is thinks that if you kiss someone after slapping them, it makes it okay.)

My home in Sveti Nikole was always bustling with relatives, neighbors and friends stopping in for coffee, rakia, both, or just to say hello. My sisters were always singing, playing, quizzing me on the English words for every piece of furniture in the house and flooding me with giggly Macedonian.

Both homes are wonderful in their own ways.

Here, I’ve enjoyed more time alone to relax, read, work, and settle in. I’ve loved being able to finally unpack all my bags, to pin up pictures, and put things away. I even created a make-shift Christmas tree on the wall.

Sidebar: If you ever send mail, please include photos. Printing out a bunch before I left slipped off my to-do list in the rush to pack warm socks and Reese’s Pieces.

Additional sidebar: Please send all of the Reese’s Pieces.

My host mom has been very easy to get along with and relaxed about the strange hours I keep. I’m still working out what classes I work with, when I’ll meet with the English teachers to plan lessons and what days I’ll meet with my language tutor. (I’m hoping the next time the two-year-old visits, my language skills exceed his.) When she knows I’ll beat her home, there is usually a pot of soup on the wood stove and a note on the table waiting for me.

She also dabbles in predicting the future. Coffee in Macedonia means Turkish coffee, which is made by boiling water with the ground coffee. Just after the water boils, the thickened mixture is poured into mugs that make a tall at Starbucks look supersized. The grounds settle to the bottom and ideally, your last sip is just before you get a mouthful. (Notice I said ideally.)

Those grounds at the bottom of the cup are apparently an indicator of the future, so this week, my host mom took a look in my empty mug. (Her niece translated.)

The first thing she saw was a romantic, with either dark features or maybe dark hair. (She was reading coffee grounds, so I assume all people have a dark hue.)

She said she saw a road and a letter. (Mail coming with Reese’s Pieces?) Someone is missing me from far away and wants to see me. They have brown eyes. (Coffee ground, brown, perhaps?) There are also three people who want to come see me. (Three people with Reese’s Pieces?)

Finally, she told me to put my finger in the grounds and make a wish. She examined the cup afterward and affirmed that my wish will come true. Then she gasped. My wish is going to come true AND she saw a ring.

Of course: I’m going to get married.

It was one of many bonding experiences.

There are many more to come as I settle in at my new home. I can’t seem to figure out how to make the water in the shower anything but cold, but I’ve mastered building a fire in the wood stove (I think).

Cooking with a wood stove presents a new set of issues, especially when I ‘m trying to bake. (How many logs on the fire to preheat to 350?) My Turkish coffee is starting to be respectable. My host mom’s planning to teach me how to make some of the traditional Macedonian pastries and dishes I love.

Home and family aside, I saw one of the best meteor showers I can remember last night.

There are ups and down, but this country mouse is pretty happy with village life so far.

Fire building 101 lesson, before I was allowed to construct my own.

Fire building 101 lesson, before I was allowed to construct my own.

The stove is used to heat the house, cook our meals and dry clothes on cloudy days.

The stove is used to heat the house, cook our meals and dry clothes on cloudy days.

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Walking home from school, I enjoy the mountains every day.

Walking home from school, I enjoy the mountains every day.

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13 thoughts on “On the (new) home front

  1. You’re going about it all wrong; you should be trying to befriend the cat. Let her in and snuggle.

    I’m glad you’re happy in your new home. I miss your pst family, but I’m sure I will grow to enjoy this new arrangement.

    In response to your last post, congrats on a good first week of school (and second, I presume, by now).

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    • I’m never going to be a cat person. We may eventually progress to sup nods when we pass outside. She’s never coming inside though. Inside pets are rare here. And thanks! Looking forward to sharing my new family and home (and more food of course)!

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  2. I have heard of reading tea leaves but not coffee grounds. As a mystic, I love it. Haha. It’s obviously Kat, me and Katie who want to come see you and are missing you from afar. And we all have dark hair! What’s your address? I will send you Reese’s Pieces and some pictures 🙂

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    • Working on my new address. Host moms says I don’t need a zip code. I want to make sure first. And the whole thing was really general, so I naturally assumed it was 15 different people…and my dog. She definitely misses me. We skyped last night and she had her paws up on the desk to get closer to the screen. 🙂

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  3. I love the photos of street cat, especially the one where she’s peeking under the shade. And remember, cats are very spiritual animals, and they don’t like you for just no reason. You might not be a cat person now, but Julie obviously sees some potential in you. I think she knows something you don’t.

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  4. Love the coffee grounds reading. She’s obviously channeling Salma. Also, totally spot on in her predictions. Impressive.

    I need more info on this stove. How does the oven work? Is there a thermometer?

    Love your Christmas decor. What sort of holiday celebrating is done in Macedonia? Are there decorations everywhere? Any neat traditions?

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    • I thought of Salma too, of course.

      There is a sort of gauge on the front of the oven. A needle moves to show the temperature, but I have no idea how accurate it is. To change the temperature, add more wood or let the fire burn lower. It’s not an exact science.

      Holiday post coming soon. Christmas is celebrated in January here, and I’m sure I’ll have lots to talk about.

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