- Never have I ever celebrated so many holidays (and eaten so much).
There are so many holidays here. Name days. Orthodox holidays. Holidays to celebrate the people who started the Cyrillic alphabet. Holidays to celebrate saints. Holidays where people dress up and carry around dead animals. I’m always learning new traditions and wishing I wore the stretchy pants to dinner.
This week alone, I’ve watched a group of grown men jump into an icy river to retrieve a cross (Orthodox holiday called Vodici) and had two slavas. The first slava, a big dinner celebrating the “name day” of the house, was relatively tame. There was a meat and cheese platter, mayonnaise-based salad, homemade rolls, cabbage rolls, grilled meat, chocolates, cakes, and banana bread (from the American attendees). This along with all the beer, juice, wine, water, etc. you can drink and several hours of conversation about life in Macedonia and the Turkish soap opera that played in the background for the duration of the meal.
The next night was a slava at my house. My host father’s name is Jovan, and it was St. Jovan’s day. I helped prepare the green salad, potato and onion salad, cabbage salad. After the salads (and rakija) came the fish soup. Then the baked, stuffed fish. Then wine. Then homemade baklava, fig stuffed chocolates, and cakes. Then a few hours later the salads and soup came out again, plus mayonnaise-based salad. Then fried fish. And a carrot and apple salad. And homemade bread. And desserts again.
- Never have I ever been so aware of the value of taking time.
The unofficial motto of Macedonia is “ima vreme,” or “there is time.” It took me a while, but I’ve embraced Balkan time. (Most of the time anyway.) I’ve gotten a lot better at putting my “schedule” aside and taking time for coffee, to chat with a neighbor, play with the village strays, or anything else that comes up. For instance, I walked into school on Wednesday and found out that halfway through the school year, my entire class schedule was changing. It’s cool.
- Never have I ever known how dangerous the cold can be.
There are a lot of interesting superstitions and traditions here. For instance, one of my counterparts has told me that her mother keeps to all the old traditions, which include not clipping your nails on Friday and not taking the trash out after dark. You wouldn’t believe how many uses rakija has, from cleaning product to healing powers. (True story: put it on my face and a pimple went away.)
One of the biggest offenders though is the cold. If I walk outside with wet hair, no matter the season or the temperature, I will get sick, according to the babas. The same goes for barefeet. (Where are your socks??) Just being cold is a universal worry. The way they bundle up children here for all seasons is a sight to see. (I laugh at this, but as I sit here typing I’m wearing two pairs of socks, two long sleeved shirts under my sweater, and leggings under my pants. I think I’m integrating, and winter is darn cold.)
The granddaddy of all the cold ills though is a phenomenon known as promaja. This refers to a cross breeze. If you have a door and a window open at the same time, just quit. You’re a goner. People might joke about clipping nails and let wet hair go because I’m an American, but promaja? It’s science.