Strange as it may sound, my first acquaintance with the Macedonia started in Istanbul =) My flight to Skopje got cancelled and I ended up hanging out with two Macedonians. They introduced me to the country and its culture before I even stepped onto its grounds. The most vivid first impression was an excessive smoking habit of the people. It proved to be true not just for those two guys =)
A trip from Skopje to Bitola took several hours and I was happy to observe the picturesque mountain views from the windows. I chose not to sleep in the bus just to see more of the country. The surrounding nature amazed me for a long time. Already in Bitola, it took me a long time to get used to seeing a mountain with the snow on its top that close on the horizon every time I went out.
I like walking and exploring new sites. Here I’ve been satisfying this desire just walking out of the city and walking in the hills. Or walking to the neighbor villages. Just sitting there, with no people around, looking at the city view, the city noise far away, breathing…
Abandoned buildings. It strikes me how much of these are there around the city and outside of it. To be honest, they lured me in to come and check what’s inside every time. And sometimes during the walks I ran into some interesting people.Trying to communicate with locals is another story. Even though I was told that I’ll find a lot of similar words in Ukrainian and Macedonian languages, it wasn’t that easy for me. How do you survive in such a situation? I used the mixture of my knowledge of Ukrainian, Russian, Polish, English, and signs, of course, that’s an international language!) =) Later on, we started the Macedonian language classes so at least I started to look politer by being able to say hello and bye, introduce myself, and thank a person.
By the first look, I wouldn’t say that Macedonia is completely different from Ukraine. So, no cultural shock here. I was lucky to interact with the local people in the streets in scope of one of our volunteering tasks. We went to the streets of Bitola interviewing people about their thoughts on environmental problems in the city and in Macedonia in general. Well, I was surprised to find out how many people of different ages could speak good English here. And how many of those who decided to stop and talk to us were genuinely concerned about the ecological problems. You can find a resulting video here, by the way – http://sferamacedonia.org/environmental-issue-in-bitola/.
Hitch-hiking. Macedonians I talked to about hitch-hiking were divided in their opinions on whether it’s a good idea or not. Anyways, armored with patience and hope for the better, we took the risk. Destination point was selected – National part Pelister. And there we are, at the roadside, with the thumbs up. Apparently, local people are not used to this kind of experience. There were a lot of surprised and curious looks, sometimes people just showed us the thumbs up from the car windows in return. But we didn’t have to wait long. The people who picked us were so kind as to give us an extra ride just to take us to the place we asked for. We safely got there, had a walk around and caught a car to get back to the city. We were not that adventurous as to hitch-hike in the night =) That was the first time I tried hitch-hiking in my life and I liked the experience. I believe, I can cross that item out of my bucket list now. Even though there’s more trips to come, for sure.
Coming back to the city. To be honest, I expected to see more people riding bikes here in Bitola. What I found was there are not enough pavements for pedestrians to walk, let alone the place for bikes. The roads. Seems like it’s ok to cross the street wherever you want, no need to search for a pedestrian crossing =). And the car drivers stop to let you cross the street. Amazing! =))
Since I’m here for the environmental project, at some point of time I started searching for possible topics for workshops. After discussing the initial list that I came up with, I ended up with the waste free lifestyle idea. I never tried it myself. Was I in the position to tell people how cool it was if I’ve never been there myself? That’s not fair, I though. And that’s how I got myself into another first-time experience. Zero waste lifestyle experiment this time. The plan is to investigate the idea and then gradually step into that path during my stay here, in the Macedonian reality. And to share the results and conclusions afterwards.
Another thing that I always wanted to do and that became a reality here in Bitola is leading the drama classes. It’s not directly related to the main topic of my volunteering project but after some period of doubts I decided to give it a try. Why not, if I’ve got the support, perfect time, place, and interested people? Sometimes it’s good to step back and assess the situation before making decisions.
To recap, I came here trying not to have any expectations. Now I realize that’s the time for me to try new things, have new experiences, ruin the stereotypes, doubts, and fears.
Truth to be told, I’m not sure why I’m here, at this specific place, at this time, with the people I share my life with. But I choose to believe that the place we’re at is always the best place for us. I choose to trust.