I asked my American friends recently what the craziest thing is that I’ve told them about my service.
“That you can’t flush your toilet paper!”
Fair. When I got here, it was certainly a new concept. I thought I would always be forgetting and would single handedly destroy the infrastructure and plumbing in all of Macedonia. (Spoiler: that didn’t happen.)
Fast forward a year and a half and I can’t imagine throwing toilet paper in the toilet. I stayed at a hostel in Serbia (next blog post!) and the sign in the bathroom said, “Please throw toilet paper IN the toilet.”
I read it three times and specifically asked the woman working there to confirm for me. Apparently they’ve had enough visitors from places where TP in the trash is a norm that it takes this kind of reminder.
So I guess I don’t find it that crazy. It was an adjustment for sure, but like most of the unfamiliar things I’ve encountered here, it’s normal now, routine.
I think the only thing I find truly wild; couldn’t ever get used to living here a thousand years; even locals think it’s bizarre, is Vevcani. This is an annual carnival/festival held every January in – you guessed it – a town called Vevcani. The carnival is part of the “old new year” celebration, and is nearly 1,500 years old.
I missed it last year, so this year I was determined to see it in all of its splendor. It was hands down the most bizarre day of my service.
Even the weather was whacky. I left my camera at a friends because the day started with torrential rain. The rain turned to heavy snow by the time we arrived and by the end of the day, with slush everywhere and a lost umbrella, I was a mess.
There is a parade and music and a lot of people dress up in all kinds of costumes. Shortly after arriving, we saw an SUV fly by with guys handing out the window dressed as ISIS, complete with the flag flying from the top of the vehicles. I don’t think anything is off limits here (though several local friends said they found that offensive). People also carried around dead animal skins. Last year I had friends who walked away covered in blood spatter, having been wrapped in animal skins. Yeah.
There was no blood spatter for me. My weird contribution was wearing my fox earmuffs. I also painted on some fake stitches later on the day because I realized that I needed to step up my weird.
I love a good theme party, but I have no chance of ever being on their level.
This is a festival has been covered by international media, though I didn’t see any this year. (And I would have steered clear anyway. I only represent Peace Corps when I’m not soaking wet, in bizarre face paint, and two Bloody Mary’s deep.) You can see some of the coverage over the years here and here.
It felt like a strange mix of a day of undergrad, Halloween, and Mardis Gras, if you multiply the weird factor exponentially.
It requires a vacation day to attend, so my friend Alex and I were the only PCVs who made the trek. Somehow, we took only one terrible photo together, but we did get a lovely shot of a man with a dead rabbit handing out of his mouth, so there’s that.
I’m pretty sure it makes the whole toilet paper thing seem pretty tame.