October 24, 2007

On the Train to Skopje

It just so happens that our tiny village lies on one of Macedonia’s main train routes. As the track twists and turns its way through the countryside, it passes over the hill overlooking our placid село. This came in quite handy on Saturday when all seven of us made our way to Skopje for Field Day, a chance for currently serving volunteers to get together with the new group and bond over events like ultimate Frisbee and leg wrestling (I’ll explain). The 82-kilometer journey was a cinch, even if the train was thirty minutes late.

Sharing a cabin with four, ракија-sipping Macedonians, Jillian and I took in the scenery while listening to Bob Dylan—not only are his rambling songs perfect for a train ride, but I believe he’s the only artist on our iPod who’s older than that train. Talk about a blast from the Yugoslavian past. It was fantastic.

The actual event was held at a school across the street from the American Embassy. It’s not too far from the train station, so I can’t say that we saw a whole lot of Skopje. What we did see only reinforced the notion that the 1960’s was a bleak decade for architecture. Apparently there was a sizable earthquake in 1963 that leveled a good part of Skopje, including most of the old buildings. As in America, the structures that sprung up in the years that followed are like monuments to the cement industry. According to volunteers we met at Field Day, Skopje has a city center where some of the older buildings remain, so hopefully we can check that out at a later date.

We spent the day socializing with volunteers who have been in Macedonia for one or two years (the latter are set to head back home in about a month) and improvising some friendly competition, since the original plan for the day called for us to be outside. The highlight was no doubt leg wrestling, a, ummm, sport, I had not previously had the privilege of witnessing. It basically consists of two contestants lying down next to each other in opposite directions, each trying to flip the other one over by leveraging his/her leg.

The point here is that Jillian dominated the proceedings, culminating in a hilarious victory over a guy who easily outweighed her twice over. The crowd went wild; he turned crimson. It seemed for a second that Jillian might get carried out of building on the crowd’s shoulders. Ru-dy! Ru-dy! Pictures are forthcoming, I promise...

The weather cleared later and a group of us got in some rousing games of ultimate Frisbee. In fact, with the weather turning sunny, everyone went outside and forgot to place bids in the silent auctioning of stuff the departing volunteers no longer wanted. As a result, my meager bid (120 MKD or $2.75) on the first two seasons of Lost on DVD went uncontested. Woo-hoo!

At the bar after Field Day

Jillian with another volunteer, Erin

After a fun few hours at a Skopje bar with all the volunteers (we basically took the place over), we exhausted seven from the village caught the night train back. As the train moved through the darkness and the on-again rain, someone said, “I can’t wait to get home.” It might have caught us all a little by surprise to find that phrase sounded just about right.

Snow in the hills surrounding the village


Anonymous said...

Zdrova, Dan and Jillian, There is only one lesson to be derived from your night on the town and that is--Don't mess with an American lady Soccer player in leg wrestling!!! This must have been the sizzler event of the evening. I hope that Jillian gave a high five to the young man that lost the contest and bought him a beer. Hope you got pictures of this monumental event. Grandpa K

Alexandra said...

LOL - Can't wait to see your pictures of the leg wrestling. I definitely want to see how big the guy you dusted was. -Al