Author: Katarina Karcolova (EVS volunteer in Macedonia)
Photos: Katarina Karcolova and Ondrej Masiar
Macedonia? Hmm, that might be too much. That was the first idea, which came to my mind when I found my hosting organisation. It is true that I wanted to go to the Balkans from the beginning, but I had never thought about Macedonia. And here I am!
One of the first challenges was the Cyrillic alphabet, but being the language freak that I am I prepared well. Luckily, because of the Internet it was not a problem to start learning it before coming here and as soon as I started I was really excited about it. To my surprise, when I finally arrived in Skopje, the signs where not only in Cyrillic, as I had presumed, but luckily in Latin as well. I still clearly remember how long I was deciphering the first shopping receipt, it took me ages. Of course the most confusing for me were the letters which are the same in Latin, but in Cyrillic stand for different ones. There are also different fonts and handwritten letters, which still remain a challenge for me. As I come from Slovakia the Macedonian language is not such a big problem. Yes, the grammar is different and there are many words influenced by the Turkish language, but in general the languages are similar. The only significant difference, which I still need to overcome, is the basic phrase “nie sme” (we are) which in Slovak means “we are not”!
The first thing that I noticed in Skopje and found it very strange was the parking. Probably, because there are so many cars in front of the block of flats, people do not park their cars only on the sides, but also in the middle of the road! I knew that as you go deeper into the south, the traffic and the drivers get ‘wilder’, but seeing cars turning on the traffic lights over the pedestrian crossing it is more than surprising.
There are many things I fell in love with from the beginning. As a girl from the mountains I think this is one of the best places I could visit. Skopje is surrounded by mountains. The closest one is Vodno with a big cross on the top, which shines in the night. I have been here for a month now, but I am still fascinated when the sun sets behind it. In spite of declaring that I am not the romantic type, I still keep taking photos of it. Vodno is the first mountain I climbed here, which was probably a good start as it is one of the easiest. Apart from the narrow paths there is also a road heading to the top, so maybe one day I will get to the top on bike. I have already got to know some people, who do hiking and love it even more than I do, so I cannot wait for the spring to come to explore all the great places in Macedonia.
The other thing I like is the ‘food culture‘. Compared to Slovakia, I feel that people here do not take food only as an essential thing for survival and something that they can fill their stomachs with, but it is an important part of their life and culture. I love to enjoy food and the time with people who share the food with me. I really like the cafes and pubs in Skopje. There are many places with live music, from jazz, blues, rock, ska to more alternative styles. The pubs are usually small with special flavour and atmosphere. For book fans, like myself, there is a special bookshop, which is also a cafe during the day and a bar during the night. Drinking a nice wine in a cosy place full of book on sides, live jazz and great people around is amazing.
The young people here share many similarities with young Slovaks, but there is one significant difference, which I really like. It is the preservation of the folklore, music and dance especially. For example if there is a house party, it is common to listen to traditional music. Actually, it is not only about listening but also about singing and dancing. When I asked whether all those people are members of a folklore group because they could dance so well, they told me that they are not. Macedonian folklore is so rich that they are proud of it and want to keep it.
The best thing about my stay in Macedonia is the real opportunity to get to know the culture and the people through living the daily life. Travelling is nice, you can see many places, take a lot of pictures, meet many people, but you cannot compare it to the pure experience of living and spending time with the local people. I really believe that coming to Macedonia, a decision I was a little bit afraid of, was the best one I could have made.