May 17, 2008

Of Proms and Stone Weddings

In our first five months at site, we've learned that it's often all about the small, unexpected stuff. Before we got on that jetplane and came to Macedonia we envisioned--thanks to Peace Corps literature and our own idealism and imaginations--major events which we could walk away from and say, "Wow, now THAT was a cross-cultural exchange!"

But such exchanges come in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes it's big (explaining to a classroom of students the major differences between American and Macedonian schools) and at other times small (one-on-one coffee with the neighbor). And sometimes it's, well, prom night.
You know the drill: once a year you find yourself sitting at Olive Garden and two booths over is an awkward teenager in a tuxedo smiling behind the confidence of Dad's credit card in his wallet and his date dressed in this year's fashion and an oversized corsage. And you say, "Must be prom night. Pass the breadsticks." Because if it's not your prom, or your kid's prom, what's the big deal?

Well, Friday was prom night in our town and to call it a big deal would be a bit like saying the Oscars are just some awards show that happens every year. Mentioning the Oscars, in fact, feels quite apropos for what we witnessed outside the town's motel banquet hall. Around seven o'clock there was a general migration of people through the center of town so that, had we not heard about all of this beforehand, we certainly would have followed to see what all the fuss was about. Has an alien spaceship crash landed on the edge of town?

While there is something rather Borg-ish about communist-era architecture, it wasn't Star Trek we saw at the motel so much as just stars. A large crowd had gathered, paparazzi-style, to witness the arrival of the seniors in all their prom night glory. The path to the motel's entrance was lined with curious on-lookers and well-wishers like any decent red carpet. For their part, the seniors did a masterful job playing the whole thing up, arriving at staggered intervals, posing for pictures, and generally just taking in the celebratory atmosphere.

A few seniors invited Jillian and I inside for the festivities and so, feeling a bit like we'd been slipped a backstage pass, we strolled past the teeming crowd and stepped inside to take some photos with the students.

The next morning we chartered a van and took the debate team to Kratovo, a nearby town nestled in the crater of a long-extinct volcano. Known for its many stone bridges, Kratovo definitely has charisma to burn. The debates went very well (Again. The students are naturals.) and afterwards the PC volunteer in Kratovo and his students gave us a little walking tour of their town.

On our way out, we had the van driver take a small detour to the Stone Dolls. No, it's not a rock 'n roll band and, no, archaeologists haven't discovered Alexander the Great's toy collection--it's actually even more interesting. Five kilometers outside Kratovo on a dusty, bumpy dirt road is found a small collection of rock formations not unlike those found in the Badlands of South Dakota. Ancient deposits of volcanic ash, weathered and eroded over millions of years, have been transformed into what Macedonians refer to as "the wedding party."

As legend has it, a man was considering two women for marriage. When the day of the wedding arrived, he made his decision and the celebration began. The rebuffed woman, devastated by the man's choice, hexed the wedding party and everyone was turned to stone. Today, each of the stone "dolls" is labeled with a small sign: there's the bride, groom, godfather, bride's maid, etc. Part geology, part local folklore, the Stone Dolls were a nice finish to a very fun day.

And perhaps a cautionary tale about picking your prom date.

Two wedding guests...the toaster they brought as a gift turned to stone, too

Jillian and Bube

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