Where are you, again?

There have been many questions since I embarked on my journey as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Macedonia. I’ve assembled some of the most common questions I’ve heard and the answers below.

Where is Macedonia?

Macedonia is on the northern border of Greece. It’s also bordered by Albania, Kosovo, Serbia and Bulgaria. It’s not part of the European Union or NATO, but it would like to be. It’s geographically, a little bit larger than Vermont and the population is about two million people.

What language do they speak?

Macedonian. (I bet that wasn’t your first guess.) There is also a significant Albanian population, so Albanian is spoken in some places.

What’s the weather like?

There are four seasons. Temperatures can stay in the 90-100-degree range (Fahrenheit) in the summer and snow can fall across the country in the winter.

Do you have _____ (insert your favorite modern convenience here)?

Yes, I have electricity, internet, and even a cell phone. I bought a cell phone when I arrived in country that sort of reminds me of the wonderful Nokia brick I had in undergrad. I have daily access to the internet, so I’ve been blogging at least once a week (usually sometime during the weekend) and I check my email almost daily. (Sometimes, I unplug for the day.) I use the internet at a different frequency than I did in the United States, but barring bad weather, I have access at home.

Where will you live?

I live in an adorable village called Orizari with a host family. (Oriz means rice, so I like to think of my village as Rice Town.) It’s usually just my host mom and I, but my host dad is here quite a bit too. (He works out-of-town.) Of course, I’d be remiss if I talked about my host family without mentioning Julie the street cat. She lives outside and at first I thought she was a hang around stray, but it turns out my mom bought her in Bulgaria. She’s a Persian. She just had a kitten. (Not a Persian. It’s a little kitty scandal.)

Living with a host family helps me learn the language and learn about the culture of my new country. I attend holidays with my family and try to have coffee with them as often as I can. I live on the second floor, with my own small kitchen, and my host mom lives on the first floor. Julie, as I mentioned, lives outside with mini street cat.

How long will you be there?

My commitment is for 27 months of service, which includes the initial training period. I arrived September 2014 and my tentative departure is November 2016.

Back to Macedonia. What’s it like?

I’m leaning on Wikipedia a little here, but this isn’t my college term paper, so that’s probably okay. The Republic of Macedonia is part of the former Yugoslavia. It became an independent nation in 1991. Peace Corps first arrived in 1996, but we missed some time because of an ethnic conflict in 2001. Volunteers have been here since the conflict subsided, working in the TEFL (teaching English as a Foreign Language) and Community Development sectors.

That's me, behind my friend in the red dress, turning to chat with the president.

That’s me, behind my friend in the red dress, turning to chat with the president.

The system of government is parliamentary democracy, so we have a 120-seat Assembly (Parliament) and a president who is elected every five years. Currently, that person is Gjorge Ivanov. (You may recall, I casually said ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’ to him when he stood behind me for a photo op after our swearing-in ceremony in November 2014. No big deal.) There is also a Prime Minister, currently Nikola Gruevski. (He has more political power. The president is more ceremonial, Wikipedia tells me.)

The political parties are generally divided along ethnic lines. About 2/3 of Macedonia is ethnically Macedonian and 1/3 is ethnically Albanian. The religious majorities fall along those same lines with about 2/3 identifying as Eastern Orthodox and about 1/3 identifying as Muslim.

The actual name Macedonia is a sore spot with Greece. I’m not even going to touch this issue, but you can read about The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and some of the basics here.

There has been some political rumblings in recent months, with tension between the parties and allegations of illegal wire tapping, and election rigging, among other things. You can read more here. It’s nothing that affects the status of Volunteers right now, but it’s interesting to follow along.

Here are some of the latest current events:

Game of Thrones might be filming here next year? (Like Jon Snow, we know nothing for sure.)

There has been some legislation in the works to allow the passage of refugees, but there are still a lot of problems and thousands trying to pass through Macedonia to get to the EU. (I’m following Al Jazeera’s lead and going with refugees, because of the negative connotation the word migrant has. At the end of the day, we’re all people.)

Any other questions about Macedonia 101 and my Peace Corps service? Please let me know in the comment section.

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