Hello!…or better yet здраво! My name is Claudia, newly EVS participant for SFERA, coming from a big city in Transylvania, Romania, called Cluj-Napoca. For the next two months, I will be volunteering in this beautiful city in Macedonia, called Bitola that to my luck is right at the foot of Baba Mountain.
If you are wondering how I ended up here I will explain you. It all started with discovering the European Volunteering Service program thorugh a friend who already had participated in it in Lithuania, last year. I started being curious about what exactly does this project mean and as I researched more and more, I recognized it as a new challenge for me to stretch my limits once again and see how big my impact can be over a community while experiencing a new culture abroad. As for coming particularly in Macedonia, it was fortunate to synchronize with a project that matched my interest for sustainability in a country I had never been before and that I was ready to discover and so far, so good.
If someone would ask to describe my first EVS week in Bitola, I would say it was cozy and “smiley”, sprinkled with a bit of cultural shock. Maybe my chose of words seems a bit quaint but I have my reasons to choose these adjectives. But first, I would like to mention that, of course, there was some cultural shock (like it happens most of the times) but I was expecting it. Nonetheless, it was not that big, given that Romania and Macedonia are pretty close countries, so I could recognize some familiarity in the people I was seeing on the streets or the food I was tasting. My first week was cozy and “smiley” mainly because of all the people I met this week. I am pleasantly surprised (and I think I will stay like this for the rest of my stay in Macedonia) of how nice people are, no matter where you decide to go or do. I noticed this as soon as I set foot outside Skopje airport, where I had a bit of an adventure with catching the buses so that I reach Bitola that night. Fortunately for me the airport bus driver spoke some English and was helpful enough so that my adventure that night have a happy end. Since my arrival to Bitola, I got to know the SFERA family, familiarize myself with the project and the downtown area of the city and be grateful I can use my feet to get around easily J. The furthest I have been so far was Pelister National Park and the school I will have my weekly recycling/upcycling projects. The National Park was breathtaking, the snow was just enough to enjoy the views and the (EVS) company was just right. The school where I will have my workshops seems like a fun place to try out new upcycling/recycling ideas and I cannot wait to put them in practice.
As for challenges, I think the biggest one so far was the fact that the area is not very tourist friendly so I confirmed to myself one more time how important it is to learn at least the basics of Macedonian as soon as possible in order to survive appropriately.
Last but not least, I want to mention the local and unusual charm given by the busy cafe shops of Shirok Sokak, no matter if it is 13.00 on a Monday or a 18.00 on a Friday. Basically, what I understood from it is that if you are not casually walking on the pedestrian street or having at least a coffee with your best pair of shoes on, at an outdoor table, at 0 degrees, chances are you remain invisible. Also, it is worth mentioning the colorful Bazaar where, you can find everything you need at reasonable prices.
More updates on my EVS experience are soon to come. Until then I wish you a great and productive week!