November 21, 2007

Where in the World is Skopje?

As our email last week indicated, we learned the site of our home for the next two years. We also indicated that, in accordance with PC policy, we can’t name it in the blog. No matter, we’ll have lots of information and pictures forthcoming about The Place That Shall Not Be Named.

We traveled on Tuesday and spent three days and two nights at the site. In short, we had a fantastic time and are even more excited about moving there than we were when we first learned of our assignment. In terms of size, it’s really quite small, but the main street along the river still houses all the necessary resources and accommodations: restaurants, cafes, shops, a grocery store, banks, etc.

We stayed at a decidedly un-cozy spot Whose Name Shall Also Not Be Named that certainly no tourist has seen the inside of since the Reagan years. But it was centrally located and clean, so it did the trick. We met the English teachers at our schools and were thrilled to find them both energetic and excited about our arrival. Rather than the typical one counterpart that we had expected, it seems we’ll be working equally with all the English teachers as native English-speaking resources, team-teachers, and solo teachers.

While at my school, I spotted an old globe on the floor in the teacher’s lounge (where smoking is not allowed! Yay!) and picked it up. In light of recent border reorganizations, this thing was a dinosaur. The USSR, Yugoslavia, Zaire, Rhodesia, and East Germany all made an appearance (It reminded me a bit of this archaic encyclopedia set we had growing up…there was an entry titled “Negroes”). As I glanced at the Balkans, I couldn’t help but notice that Skopje didn’t make the cut. Every other capital in the region—Tirana, Belgrade, Sofia, Zagreb—was on the globe, but not Skopje. If you have a globe at home or at work, take a look…is Skopje there? Is it just the capital that time forgot or has it been regarded as simply irrelevant?

Regardless, we were in Skopje this past weekend, meeting up with other volunteers for a weekend away from the village. I’ll admit, our initial impression of Skopje a few weeks ago was not overwhelmingly positive—the city is a bit of a cracked, concrete jungle. But on this trip we saw a few things that tempered that reaction. Old Skopje, perhaps the only section of the city that survived the earthquake of 1963, is quite charming and has many boutiques and cafes. Later, after sundown, we made our way to a Turkish café with amazing atmosphere…lamp light, eastern music, and hot, spiced wine. It felt like it could be the opening sequence to the next Indiana Jones installment.

At that cozy little cafe

That night a group of approximately ten volunteers made our way to the City Stadium to catch the soccer match between Macedonia and Croatia in EuroCup competition. Croatia, another former Yugoslavian state, is one of the premier teams in the world, while Macedonia is essentially an also-ran. On top of that, Croatia had already qualified for the next round and Macedonia was out. But there’s a rivalry between these teams and this is European football we’re talking about, so all bets were off.

We were still a good quarter mile from the stadium and thirty minutes from kickoff when we heard it, at first a distant, dull roar and then, as we got closer, an unbelievable heave of sound rising into the night air. The stadium was packed and the place was going crazy. Never mind that it was in the 30’s and raining, that decrepit old football palace was rocking.

We somehow managed to find our seats (not that it really mattered, people were standing just anywhere) and paused to take in the raucous scene. The pitch turned fevered as the teams made their way out and it was pretty much mayhem from there on out. The contingent of Croatian fans was small, but yet rowdy enough to get the attention of the riot police, who stormed the stands midway through the first half. I don’t know, maybe it was those lit flares they were throwing out on to the field during play or the punches they were throwing at anyone in the general vicinity. Just a guess.

Not that Macedonian fans were sitting on their hands. When the home team scored what would prove to be the winning goal, it felt like City Stadium might topple. We were surrounded by airborne projectiles and several flares were lit in the stands as a deafening roar filled the arena. We, of course, were completely caught up in the excitement, screaming our lungs out for this huge upset in the making.

Video: Macedonia scores...the crowd goes bananas
(might only work with Mozilla Firefox)

The final score: Macedonia 2, Croatia 0. Frozen toes: 10. No matter, on this evening we felt like true countrymen as we threw around high-fives and cheered the night away. Still riding the high from the victory, Jillian and I made our way to another volunteer’s apartment in Skopje for the night, grabbed some late night бурек (a sort of Macedonian pizza pie, with pork and eggs) and Скопско beer and stayed up chatting with our friend until the wee hours.


Anonymous said...

Hi Dan and Jillian!
Happy Thanksgiving! One of the things I give thanks for today is this incredible blog that allows all of us to share your grand adventure in Macedonia. It gives us all such joy:) I think Grandpa hit on the right name for you Jilly - sparkplug! The Halloween party just goes to show how much incredible creativity you have, with the energy to follow through! The pictures are so much fun and there is such happiness and excitement in your faces, I'm so proud of you both - you embody the best of what it is to be American!
All My Love,

Alexandra said...

Happy Thanksgiving!