October 19, 2007

A Nation in Mourning

This week we were witness to a truly modern Macedonian cultural happening. Toshe Proeski, a young music star and by all accounts great guy, died in a car accident in Croatia at the age of 26. Toshe, as he is known around the Balkans, was a local boy made good, born to very humble origins in a southern Macedonian village and his death is being viewed as nothing short of national tragedy. In addition to being a very popular musician around Europe—he sang with the likes of Pavarotti and Elton John and had a slew of hit songs—he was a UNICEF goodwill ambassador and was known equally for his work on the behalf of children living in poverty and those with disabilities. Just over a week ago he held a benefit concert in Skopje for Macedonian schools. He was introduced at the show by the U.S. Ambassador to Macedonia, Gillian Milovanovich.

It’s really something to see such a national outpouring for a celebrity. Many people, including teachers at our practicum schools, were visibly upset and there were many crying faces at a small candlelight vigil in our village’s square. For a small, struggling nation like this one, what Toshe represented is almost impossible to quantify: a new, young, European Macedonia that doesn’t forget its origins but isn’t hobbled by its past. This sentiment is surely lost in translation to American culture, where there is such an embarrassment of celebrity riches that the death of a single star could never produce such a flood of public emotion. Here, meanwhile, the president and prime minister led a ceremony in honor of Toshe and declared the day after his death a national day of mourning. For a lot of Macedonians it seems fair to say that Toshe meant a great deal more than any political figure ever could.

Our village from afar

In other news, tomorrow is the annual Field Day for all Macedonian volunteers, which basically means a day of friendly competition and a chance for us to meet the volunteers who have been here one and two years. The event was supposed to be in a village near our own, but the forecast is calling for highs in the 30s and rain, so it’s been moved to Skopje, the capital. This will be our first time visiting Macedonia’s largest city (approx. 700,000 people) and should make for an interesting comparison to the village life we’ve seen thus far. Hopefully we’ll have some pictures next time…

This week has seen some real progress on the language front. Just today, for instance, we learned the future tense. This opens up a whole new world of opportunity when speaking at home and takes much of the caveman out of our communication with Lela. “Later I walk school” has just recently turned into “At three o’clock I will walk to school.” Still, Lela is well versed in the art of speaking to PC volunteers (and, not coincidentally, Macedonian 3-year olds) and it’s quite a shock to be peppered with questions from random villagers at full conversational speed. But it’s coming along.

Finally, it’s worth mentioning that we played in our first football (soccer) game with the local team here yesterday. Jillian’s cleats arrived just in time (thanks, mom and dad!) and we walked down to the field for a pickup game. Another volunteer, Vince, and I were thoroughly embarrassing out there and I’m quite certain we won’t be invited back. Jillian, on the other hand, wowed those guys and was throwing around high-fives left and right after her many goals.

ЧАО! (goodbye!)

The surrounding area...very much like San Diego County

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Zdrova, Dan and Jillian, It was sad to hear that Toche Poleski's life was cut short at such a young age. The Macedonian's lost an icon of their society. It sounds like your language barrier is well on the way to being part of your daily accomplishments. We are glad that Jillian is still involved in Soccer and is such a hit with the local sports fans. Sure like to get more pictures of your everyday adventures. Love to you both. Grandpa K