December 02, 2008

Thanksgiving "Vacation"

Macedonia doesn't have any Wal-Marts and nobody here has ever heard of Black Friday, so the Skopje holiday season is off to a retailer-trampled-to-death-free start. While the streets of this country may have bit more trash blowing around them then one would like, none of those articles of debris are Best Buy or Kohl's fliers, screaming out the discounts THIS WEEKEND ONLY! And there's no Starbucks here either. While I miss the coffee, I don't miss their ridiculous holiday slogan, printed cheerfully on those red cups: "It only happens once a year." What only happens once? Only one gun is pulled out at a Toys 'R Us? It's hard to understand how a season that lasts 45 days can be described as happening "once."

Macedonia is, shall we say, a bit more sedate this time of year. Not exactly a consumer society yet (at least, outside of Skopje it's not), this country hasn't embraced the big Christmas/New Year's tsunami. Which is really for the best, since the vast majority of Macedonians don't have that sort of money and, happily, personal debt like credit cards is virtually unknown here. Still, it's a bummer missing out on all the holiday decorations, festivities and cheer. And egg nog.

So while Christmas just ain't the same, Thanksgiving is a pretty close facsimile, courtesy of an all-volunteer Peace Corps turkey dinner. You may remember this get-together from last year, when Jillian was more or less forced into reading a long Macedonian text in front of the entire audience (many of whom are Macedonians) during our skit. Well, this year we only had to bring along some food for the potluck portion of the meal (the turkeys were flown in from Washington, D.C.). I made a baked apple concoction that no one touched. I couldn't blame them. Most of the food was ultra-delicious, though highly tilted towards desserts, and the whole evening was a real blast.

Thanksgiving food, so much it had to be stacked

Of course we're smiling. It's the Eating Holiday.

Following the meal and skits performed by the new group of trainees, we headed back home along with eight other volunteers. Jillian had organized a working weekend with fellow counselors from Camp GLOW...yeah, the camp's not till next July, but Jillian is what you might call Super Duper Organized. If doctors were to hook her up to one of those brain scan machines, I guarantee the print out would closely resemble a flow chart. The weekend was a great success, she reports, with much progress made by day and much fun had at night. And we got in a trip to the local monastery on Saturday afternoon.

Meanwhile, there hasn't been school in over a week, thanks to a nearly nation-wide teachers' strike. The cause of the strike is pay--not salary, but a sort of transportation and food stipend that all Macedonian civil servants receive in addition to salary--but the truly interesting part of all this has been the execution of the whole thing. Let's just say it's not exactly a model of Solidarity. Some schools only striked for a day or so, some never held the strike. In our town, some teachers quickly became fed up with the protest and started calling their students into school. On top of this, the lines of communication are such that local teachers are forced to watch the evening news to learn whether or not the strike will continue the next day.

For our part, the strike has come at a pretty good time: Bube and Tina are submitting their applications to colleges this week, so having the extra free time has been nice for last-minute tuning of their essays and paperwork. And, of course, all the local students are just loving this unexpected holiday. It looks like Saturday on the town's main street, with kids walking around and sitting in the cafe bars all day. Like them, I know the reckoning will come later, most likely in the form of a truncated winter break or several consecutive Saturdays of classes...still, I can't help but give thanks.

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