February 10, 2008

Future, Present, and Past

Last week in English class I was talking to the students about the future--nothing really grand, it's the topic of the current chapter in their textbooks. Students made all sorts of predictions about what the next fifty years might hold and I have to admit some of it was a surprisingly accurate description of things America already has.

Said one boy: "I think that we won't have to leave our house to do anything, like buy groceries. We can just sit at our computer and order them and they'll come to our house." I was debating whether I should mention the numerous billboards along American highways advertising just that when another teen raised her hand and said, "Maybe parents will be able to see where their children are using their mobile phone."

Good grief. "Well," I responded, "how about the more, ummm, distant future?"

Let me shift now to the present where, if computers had some kind of olifactory sensor, I would embed on this post the sensational frangrance that is currently dissemenating throughout the house: that's the smell of us cooking Mexican food. I don't mean good-as-we-could-manage-in-the-Balkans Mexican food. I'm talking about the real deal. Earlier this afternoon Jillian and I (with the help of the PC volunteer cookbook) made our own tortillas. Rolled 'em out and grilled 'em and let me tell you, in taste and texture they're right on the money.

Action shot: Jillian rolls out a torilla with a Nalgene bottle

From dough balls to tortillas in ten minutes flat

So now with the help of some taco seasoning sent overseas by the Kearney Family, Jillian is grilling up some chicken. The tomatoes and onions are diced and the rice and corn are boiling together with some chili powder. Shazam!

Sticking with the theme of ethnic foods (as that aisle in the grocery store is always called), we were in Skopje again on Thursday and Friday for some meetings with the Peace Corps and we made it out to a great Indian restaurant with some other volunteers. Skopje has one of just about every type of restaurant, Indian, Thai, Mexican, Irish, Japanese etc, though most of them are quite expensive.

Oho! Speaking of expensive, Jillian and I took what will go down as the most expensive bus ride of our lives while in Skopje. While taking the city bus across town from our friend Erin's to the PC office, the group of us were approached by Skopje transit police. Tickets, please. No problem, except we couldn't find our tickets. We had literally boarded the bus five minutes earlier and yet, to our increasing embarrassment, they were nowhere to be found. Finally, following a big to do, we had no choice but to pay the fine, equal to seven times the cost of the original ticket. That ride cost us more than the fare from Skopje back to our town.

Oh, don't think I'm not going to mention the insult that inevitably went along with this injury. No sooner had we handed over our cash to pay the fine than Jillian found said tickets and loudly waved them in the face of the police. Alas, they just shook their heads, said "too late," and got off the bus.

So following our meetings at the office, Jillian and I walked across Skopje to the bus station. Saving that ounce of cash seemed the least we could do after the morning's fiasco. Which brings me now to the past. As we walked across the city, we came across a couple items of interest. The first was a clock tower in the city center. The arms of the clock are stopped, frozen at the exact moment when a devestating, 6.1 magnitude earthquake struck the city--5:17am on July 26, 1963. This earthquake, in fact, explains the rather prominent dearth of historic buildings in Skopje. Most were wiped out that day, replaced by 60's-era communist concrete.

Just a few minutes later, we came upon a fascinating, though not terribly unusual, sight. A man had setup a makeshift tribute to Tito, the longtime ruler of Yugoslavia. In addition to several portraits and a bust, there was a small radio playing recorded speeches by the man still revered by many people in the former Yugoslavian states. There's even a term for this, "Yugonostalgia," and it reflects the feeling among some in this region that life was better in those days. Perhaps not freer, but somehow better. The New York Times recently ran an article about just this phenomenon.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got some Mexican food to devour. Bye!

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