Saturday, June 30, 2012

Send Cilantro to Macedonia: June 30, 2012

There are two things that I've been hunting in Skopje.  The first one was a portable fan to supplement and redirect the flow from our air conditioner.  In Macedonia, and indeed in the entire Balkans, the word "fan" when translated means hair blow dryer.  So, first I had to use the right word which is "ventilator."  I began my search at our local mall.  Ramstore grocery has almost everything, but it does not have ventilators.  And, no other store in the entire mall carried ventilators.  With no car and no idea where to look, I asked some of my friends for leads.

Ventilators are not a common appliance in Macedonia because most Macedonians do not like to feel any breeze.  Тhe Macedonian word for draft is "promaya."  In Macedonia the Promaya has achieved mythical status.  No matter what the season or temperature, the Promaya must be avoided because the Promaya will cause neck aches, back aches, loss of hearing, etc. This is why ventilators and air conditioners are not common in Macedonian homes.  If I roll down the back window of a taxi, the driver will often close his window so there is no cross current of air.  But Macedonians are not alone in this fear of a draft.  We faced the same issue in Tajikistan, Georgia, and Egypt although fans were much easier to find.  I'm old enough to recall being warned of drafts when I was growing up in California.  I haven't heard that warning in many years so I think Western medicine finally put an end to the belief that drafts are to be feared.

Before we went to Ohrid, Olivera called me and said she heard there were ventilators for sale along the "plastics street."  The day was hot and the last thing I wanted to do was search the outdoor markets for a ventilator.  I put the search off until we returned.

While I was in Ohrid, I received a text message from my friend Eszter saying she had seen ventilators at a store called Реплек Хубо (Replek Hubo).  The store was described to me as like Home Depot.  So, on our way back from Ohrid with our rental car, we stopped at Реплек Хубо to buy a ventilator. They had some very nice assembled fans as floor models but the fans they were selling were unassembled and in boxes. We bought a бентилатор (ventilator) in a box. The ventilator at 1027 MKD ($20.83) was slightly less than the parking ticket. The ventilator box was one of the reasons why we wanted to park near our building that night.

The assembly steps seemed straight forward, but after finishing step 1 I couldn't proceed to step 2 because a cap was stuck on the motor rod and I couldn't get it off so I could put on the ventilator blade.  Yesterday morning I consulted Olivera to see if perhaps her brother Andrea could look at it.  She didn't think he had any particular skill at fixing things.  I tried again, but no luck.  This morning Olivera called again and said she and her brother would come over and see if they could solve the assembly problem.

They ran into the same issue as I did.  The cap would not come off so the blade could not be installed.  So, at Olivera's suggestion, we grabbed the pieces and Andrea drove us back to Реплек Хубо. Olivera charmingly explained the issue and an employee volunteered to assemble the ventilator. He simply turned the cap the other direction and it unscrewed. That was it. He put it all together in less than 5 minutes and we were on our way again.

The second thing I have been hunting for lately is cilantro AKA coriander.  It is not sold at the green markets because coriander is not an ingredient in Macedonian cooking.  Periodically, I have found coriander at Ramstore or Vero, but for the last several weeks it has disappeared.

Cilantro/coriander was always available in Georgia, Egypt, and Tajikistan, but in those countries, I couldn't buy tortilla chips. Now I have tortilla chips, but no cilantro for my tomato salsa.


Friday, June 29, 2012

Skopje Summer Evenings: June 29, 2012

Skopje Summer 2012 (Скопско лето 2012) began June 21 and runs through July 31.  Skopje Summer is 40 evenings of entertainment consisting of concerts, folk dancing, theater performances, and gallery/museum art openings.  The mostly free entertainment begins at 8:30 or 9:00 pm which is when the thought of going outside finally becomes tolerable.  The nights are crowded with families and couples strolling around enjoying the cooler, evening temperatures.

While some of the entertainers are local, many come from abroad.  On the second night of the festival we saw a performance by the International Students' Folklore Festival that included groups from Albania, Macedonia, Bosnia, Serbia, and Montenegro.






In the old city part of Skopje there are several ancient caravansaries (called An in Macedonia) that have been converted into restaurants or performance spaces.  A caravansary is a rectangular or square shaped building with an open courtyard.  The surrounding buildings were once used to house travelers and their animals.  

Kuršumli An during the Macedonian Documentary Film Festival

Last week at Suli An we saw a Macedonian choir and a Turkish choir from the University of Marmara.  Suli An is a beautiful setting for concerts.  It is smaller than Kuršumli An.  On that particular night, the weather was quite threatening with thunder, lightening, and some brief downpours.  The concert carried on despite the drama of the weather.  Tonight we saw another performance at Suli An.  It was a Turkish group with a singer, two harpists, and a percussionist.  Suli An is also the home of the Faculty of Fine Arts in Skopje.

One of the performances at Suli An

At least until July 31 there are a lot of evening diversions to keep us entertained.  And, Duran Duran comes to Skopje on July 7.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Ohrid in Summer, Part 2: June 28, 2012

I met Bobbie, the boatman, at 8:00 a.m.  Just as last evening, I got into the boat and Bobbie moved the boat a few meters away from the dock.  He stopped his engine and poured me a cup of rakija.  Bobbie says that in the morning rakija gets the blood flowing and the heart beating.  He says it is better for your heart than running 3 kilometers each day.  With a rakija for each of us, we set off again toward St. Jovan of Kaneo.  Another stop was made for the preparation of Turkish coffee, and then we were off again.  More rakija was offered and declined.

The old city of Ohrid is even more beautiful in the morning from the water.  It is quiet and calm and most people are still sleeping.

After St. Jovan of Kaneo, we traveled in Bobbie's boat toward Tito's former residence.  There wasn't much to photograph, but the residence sits on a hill above the lake and it is nestled in a forest of large trees.  A new presidential residence sits nearby.  Presidents really know how to live.  The boat trip lasted about 1-1/2 hours and was a very good way to begin a summer day in Ohrid.

I checked out of our room and picked up Dan about 2:00 pm.  We drove about 27 kilometers farther west to visit Sveti (Saint) Naum Monastery.  This monastery sits very close to the border with Albania.  Approximately 30% of Lake Ohrid is in Albania.  Sveti Naum is in a lovely location above Lake Ohrid.  The current structure was built in the 16th century on much older foundations.  Free-range peacocks stroll the grounds and sit on the church rooftops.

After our brief sightseeing detour, it was time to drive back to Skopje.  When we arrived in Skopje, we decided that we'd make it easier on ourselves and park the rental car in a nearby parking space to empty it of our luggage and accumulation.  About 20 minutes later, we returned to the car to drive it back to the rental car agency--the car had been booted.

We've never parked a car in Skopje so did not realize that the parking space was in a pay lot and that even at 9:30 p.m., there was a parking fee.  We called the phone number on the sticker on our window but no one spoke English.  Dan called his co-worker who called the city parking department for us.  She told us someone would be there in about 15 minutes.

The parking guy showed up within 5 minutes on a Skopje City Rent-a-Bicycle.  Dan paid him 1,100 MKD (about $22 US), and he removed the boot.  He was tough and said ignorance of the law/rules/sign was no excuse.  We appreciated his efficiency.  If he worked in the ministries responsible for our Visas, we'd have them by now.  Last week Dan got his permit to legally work in Macedonia, but at this point he is (we are) still illegally residing here.  He's still following the myriad steps necessary to get our resident Visas.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Ohrid in Summer, Part 1: June 27, 2012

We arrived in Ohrid yesterday.  We'll be here for 3 days.  Dan is working--conducting an advanced training class for Macedonian defense lawyers in conjunction with the US Embassy's training for prosecutors.  I'm just enjoying the scenery.  We stayed again at the Grebnos Stone House Apartments.  I love waking to the view of the lake every morning.

The above photo is what Ohrid's port looks like now.  The next photo shows what Ohrid's port looked like two months ago during our Orthodox Easter weekend visit.

On this visit, the weather is perfect and Ohrid is truly at its best. With the weather as fine as it is, Ohrid is a place one could fall in love with and forget that there was life before Ohrid.

While Dan worked, I strolled around taking photos.  Tonight, after Dan finished his day of work, we took a boat ride to see St. Jovan of Kaneo from the water with the lovely golden late afternoon light.

St. Jovan of Kaneo was built in the late 13th century.  It is much visited and photographed because of its stunning location above the former fishing village of Kaneo and just outside of the old city walls of Ohrid.

Our boatman, Bobbie, was a charming character.  He looks for passengers all day long while chatting with his fellow boatmen.  Every time I walked past him, he tried to charm me into his boat.  He was so persistent that I picked him tonight.  Once in the boat and a few meters into the lake, Bobbie stopped his engine and offered us rakija which we accepted.  Then we traveled a few meters farther and he stopped the engine again.  This time it was to make Turkish coffee on his little propane burner.  We finally made it to the point under St. Jovan of Kaneo just and the light had become beautifully golden.

Bobbie told us he was famous in Ohrid because a CNN reporter, Nic Robertson, did a story on Ohrid in May 2010.  Bobbie was his boatman.  I watched the video and indeed, Bobbie, was Nic Robertson's boatman.  The video shows Bobbie making Turkish coffee over his little propane burner just like for us.  The rakija didn't show up on camera, but I'm sure Bobbie shared his rakija with Nic.

The boat ride was so pleasant, that I arranged to meet Bobbie at 8:00 a.m. to see the old city and St. Jovan of Kaneo in the morning light.

Dan and I left Bobbie behind and went off to the Belvedere Restaurant for a lovely dinner--probably the best we've had in Ohrid.  The restaurant's outside seating is under massive plane trees that have been trimmed to offer a thick canopy over the table area.  I had grilled river trout. The trout had been flaked and combined with onions and parsley and a lemony sauce.  It was like a warm seafood salad.  Dan had the specialty of the house: Belvedere Brochette.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Summer in the City: June 17, 2012

Last weekend Dan began teaching his Friday, Saturday, and Sunday training classes.  These weekend courses will run until mid-July.  He's on his second weekend now and has already figured out that working 7 days a week is grueling for him and boring for me.

Last weekend while Dan worked I accepted an invitation to go to Greece with our friend Angel.  Angel is a travel agent and he was delivering 12 clients and picking up 35 clients to/from a resort area of the first "finger."  Even though it meant 6 hours down by bus and 6 hours back by bus, I went because I wanted to see the area and I was bored.  Angel promised me lunch on the beach, but alas that was not to be.  He was occupied with travel agent duties during the entire 2 hours at the resort.  I sat on the beach under an umbrella with my legs exposed to the sun and then I walked to the center to grab a lunch before the return 6-hour bus ride.  No matter how bored I am I will never do that again.

Olivera was able to get a certificate proving she owns the apartment that we rent from her, so on Wednesday, Olivera and Dan went again to a Notary to have our rental agreement notarized.  They had success.  On Thursday, Dan and his Macedonian lawyer, Ivan, went to the Ministry of Interior.  The employee looked at them like she didn't know why they were there.  Dan said Ivan and the woman at the Ministry had an argument in Macedonian and then Dan and Ivan left.  This is not a good sign.  Next week, Dan and his lawyer will go to the Bureau of Labor for something regarding his work permit.  We remain illegal residents of Macedonia.

Kali, who is normally a very good eater (hence the diet) and always hungry (because she is on a diet), began leaving some of the Royal Canin wet food untouched in her dish this week.  During the week she was lethargic and also had some diarrhea and vomiting.  Friday morning she refused to eat any Royal Canin.  Fortunately, I had a Friskies packet of food courtesy of Olivera.  I put the Friskies in her dish and she ate it all.

I searched the internet to see if there were any new reports of tainted pet food and I found a site ( listing May and June complaints originating in the USA and Canada about Royal Canin food.  The pets all had the same symptoms as Kali.  Some pet owners reported that once the food was changed, the symptoms disappeared, but some said the animal was so damaged that it had to be put down.  I contacted the Royal Canin distributor in Macedonia and their vet wrote me that my cat was old and all cats have digestive issues.  She said it wasn't their pet food that was causing the issues.  I realize that all the complaints so far are anecdotal, but now I have no confidence in Royal Canin's products and Kali is getting Whiskas and Friskies packets of wet food.  I returned all the Royal Canin to the pet supply store where it had been purchased.  Kali has returned to her old self--fortunately.

Last Saturday I went to a charity bazaar on the pedestrian street.  I bought 10 raffle tickets for about $20 from which I won 3 prizes.  1.  I won 1 ticket to the performance of the Sofia Philharmonic Orchestra here in Skopje.  2.  I won two vouchers at a "Salt Medical Clinic."  Olivera and I went yesterday to find out what a "salt room" is.  After sitting 45 minutes in a room covered with salt (walls, ceiling, floor) and breathing salt, we are still puzzled.  The "salt room" literature broadly states that it is good for respiratory system problems.  Anyway, it was a nice escape from the outside heat.  3.  And, best of all, I won a cell phone.  It is a Samsung S3770.  I'm not completely sure what it can do as all the written literature is in Macedonian, but it is definitely a step up from my other phone.

This week we had our last IWA meeting until September.  Many of the members leave Macedonia for the summer.  Next Monday will be the last "official" Monday hike for the same reason.  Fortunately, there seem to be a lot of events going on in Skopje.  On Wednesday night, Turkish Folk Dancers from the Kirklareli Province in the Marmara Region of Turkey performed in Ploshtad Makedonija.

Last week, there were still clouds and rain, this week the clouds have disappeared and it has been hot.  Most days it reaches a high temperature in the 30s (91-93F).  By the end of next week the forecast is for 36C (about 97F).  The coolest place to be during the day is next to the fountain under the Alexander the Great statue or on my little balcony sipping homemade mint-lemonade.  Cheers!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Yet Another Kink in the Pursuit of a Visa: June 11, 2012

Dan just called me to report that the rental agreement I altered did not pass muster with two different notaries.  Not only must we have the rental agreement re-typed, our landlady must provide proof that she owns the apartment.  Now this last step seems like it should have nothing to do with our Visas, but that is the latest demand that we must meet.  So, our landlady must start her own bureaucratic nightmare to obtain a new certificate to prove she owns the property because the certificate must be less than 6 months old.  Why does where we live or how the property is owned make any difference to the Macedonian government or to our pursuit for a Visa?

On a much lighter note, this morning my IWA friends and I had another Monday Hike.  We went again to Matka Canyon and found the trailhead for the easier trail up to the Church of St. Nilola.  

The fastest way to the trailhead is across a small bridge over the kayak course and along some narrow concrete dams built in the River Treska.  That was an adventure in itself.  

On the other side of the River Treska, we met a very sweet little dog who hiked to the top and back with us and then just went back to where she lives in the forest.

Church of St. Nikola

The air was a little steamy from yesterday's heavy rain, but the trail was mostly shaded on the way up the mountain.  We had a picnic in this small covered terrace with a fabulous view of St. Andrea and the restaurant at Lake Matka.

This little dog was so nice.  Corby, Celia's dog, led the group, and this little female brought up the rear.  

Friday, June 8, 2012

Having Fun in Macedonia, but still Illegal: June 8, 2012

Dan returned Friday, June 1, from his short trip to Washington DC.  The whole purpose of the trip was to pick up his work permit.  The work permit turned out to be an unimpressive piece of paper.  The guy at the Macedonian Embassy in DC told Dan that the piece of paper should be date stamped by immigration upon arrival in Skopje.  As instructed, Dan showed the immigration officer the paper, but the officer shrugged his shoulders and didn't know what to do with the piece of paper.  It was not date stamped.

When foreigners enter Macedonia they are required to be registered within 48 hours with the police. On Saturday, Dan met Olivera (our landlady) at the police station for the purpose of his registration.  The police department did not have any registration cards and told Dan and Olivera to come back on Monday.

On Tuesday (June 5) Dan and his lawyer went to the Ministry of Interior to see if the work permit would now get him a resident visa.  It did not.  Dan was told that he needed the new resident card from the police and that he needed to present a notarized rental agreement for the apartment.

On Wednesday, Dan and Olivera went again to the police department.  Dan wrote the date of entry into Macedonia as June 1. The police did not notice that his residence registration was 96 hours after his arrival in Macedonia.  Dan left the police station with his new registration card.

Olivera brought her copy of our rental agreement written in Macedonian.  I changed the dates on the rental agreement to begin June 3, 2012 (not January 15).   Now, the agreement must be notarized which means that both Dan and Olivera must appear before a notary on Monday, June 11.

On Tuesday, June 12, after submitting all the newly secured documents, Dan will have his photo taken by an official photographer (who only works Tuesdays and Thursdays and only until 2:00 pm) at the Ministry of Interior.  I'm hoping that no further requests for additional documentation will be made, and that finally, he will receive his visa.

When Dan went to DC, he was also carrying my credit report, my criminal history, our marriage license all of which had been translated into Macedonian and notarized.  He was instructed by his Macedonian lawyer to present these documents to the Macedonian Embassy in the US to begin the process of securing my visa.  Dan, as instructed, presented my documents but the embassy employee shrugged and said I would have to come myself to get a visa to live in Macedonia.

We have already lived in Skopje for five months and been illegal for two of those five months.  Since we've been here, he has had to get his criminal history and credit report, have them translated into Macedonian, have them notarized, and had to get them again as they became older than 60 days.  He had to hide in our apartment one day because someone from the Ministry was going to visit the ABA office to make sure the ABA still planned to hire Dan.  He has had to provide a statement that no Macedonian has the same qualifications as Dan so the ABA can only hire Dan.  All this even though Dan is the only ABA presence in Macedonia.

The Macedonian Embassy employee in DC told Dan a joke about Macedonian immigration officers:

Why do some immigration officers have one star while some have two stars?  One star means someone in the officer's family can read and write; two stars mean the officer can also read and write.  Dan told Olivera this joke and she told us a similar joke:  Why do police officers go everywhere in pairs? Because one officer can read and the other can write.

We're beginning to understand why these jokes exist in Macedonia.  There must be some version for Macedonian Embassy workers as well.

In this long process, I've heard that some people simply give up or even get new passports to restart the 90 day visa-free period.  The Macedonian Embassy workers told Dan that for me if anyone questioned my lack of a visa to say that it had been applied for and was in process--even though it is not.

Dan is away again--working. This time he is holding a training class in Štip.  Štip, pronounced Shteep, is about two hours east of Skopje.  The course begins today and will continue until Sunday afternoon.

Between his trips out of country/town, we have taken advantage of two festivals.  The OFFest is a five-day festival of world music.  We went to performances on three nights.  The other festival, Buskerfest, is a festival of street performers.  It begins each evening just as the the heat of the day leaves.  There are mime statues, musicians, tight-rope walkers, sword swallowers, jugglers, and a Canadian who lays down on a bed of nails with a spectator standing on top of him.

This human statue maintained her tranquility when faced with a bratty little boy who first kicked her and then kept tugging on her clothes and even attempted to hit her.

The Buskerfest will end this weekend; our quest for legal status in Macedonia will not.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Miracles or Not: June 7, 2012

This week, I found out that the "Miracle in Skopje" ( was in fact the "Fraud in Skopje." When conservation officials took samples of the "reappearing frescos," someone connected with the St. Dimitrija's Church confessed.  Apparently, this person or these persons thought the frescos would look better if the golden metal halos were polished.  The polishing began with one wall and each night after the church was locked up, continued one wall at a time.  Once finished and with the chandelier lights on, the frescos gave the appearance of "reappearing." It was a short-lived miracle.

Tonight I witnessed further "miracles." A Macedonian friend took me to visit Ѓорѓи филев (Dorji).  Dorji possesses "bio-energy." Bio-energetic persons are said to have an internal energy that can heal illness, injuries, bad habits.  This man also claims to be telepathic and he says he often knows when a person will die.  Dorji is rather famous in the Balkans and a google search will yield several articles written in Macedonian about his abilities.  Dorji said that these skills first manifest themselves in him when he was about 2-1/2 years. old.  At that age, he would point at a person and tell his parents that that person was about to die--and he/she did die. Dorji comes from a family bioenergetic people.  He said that the bio-energy trait is in their genes.

According to an online article in Makedon Magazine, "for more than 20 years [Dorji has been] treating inflamed sinuses, abdominal pain, paralysis, multiple sclerosis, benign and malignant diseases, psychiatric disorders, impaired hearing and vision, various addictions, diseases of respiratory organs, inflamed sinuses, infertility and more. [Dorji] operates under a doctor's diagnosis, but says he can telepathically feel sore spot and can treat patients regardless of where they are - in another city or continent ...."

Perhaps to impress me or as a means of proving his skill, Dorji sprinkled the conversation with far-fetched, unbelievable anecdotal tidbits.  He told me that four months before September 11, 2001, he told a US General that the Twin Towers would be destroyed.  Dorji told me that two Serbians were responsible for the 9-11 disaster.  These two Serb men committed the crime to revenge their children who ended up with kidney problems after the US bombed Serbia. He also said that he had an opportunity to meet Princess Diana when he visited the UK but he declined because he knew she was going to be killed.  He said the British government initiated Diana's death because the royal family did not want their bloodline sullied by Diana's relationship with a Muslim.

Dorji's apartment, like him, is basic and nondescript.  A few orthodox icons sit on tables and there is an embroidered Alexander the Great helmet on the wall. He sees patients while he is in Skopje, but returns to the Strumica area to see his family on the weekends.

When my friend and I arrived at Dorji's apartment, he was treating a young woman.  Next he treated her young son.  Dorji told me that the woman had multiple sclerosis and before his treatments she was not able to walk up the stairs to his apartment.  In the present time, to me she looked quite normal and did not have any difficulties with her movements.  Dorji said he as even "helped" patients with multiple sclerosis so advanced that they were bed bound prior to administering his bioenergy. The treatment for the young woman was a light laying on of hands.  Dorji placed one hand on the woman's back and with the other hand, he lightly stroked up and down her back.  For her son, he lightly flicked his fingers along the child's nose and forehead to treat a sinus problem.  During my visit, I watched patients flow like a river into Dorji's apartment.  The patient walked in and when or if the chair was free, he/she sat down.  Dorji seated himself behind the patient.  For one young woman with facial acne, he hovered his hands over her face moving them up and down.

A mother brought in her toddler who was covered with a rash.  Dorji looked at the child's arms and face and said his bio-energy could not help her.  He advised the mother that the rash was from dust mites/bed bugs and that she should apply rakia (a liquor made from a resin that smells like licorice called mastika) to the child's skin because the biting bugs don't like the smell of mastika.

Another patient, an overweight woman, came in and Dorji began treating her with his hands moving over her back.  She had back/shoulder pain.  Dorji bluntly told her she need to reduce her tonnage.  His treatment was to balance her energy so that she would consume less food and within one month lose 10 kilos.

Throughout these treatments, Dorji continued conversing with my friend who translated on my behalf.  There was often an audience of 2, 3, or 4 present during the patient's treatment/consultation. There was no privacy for the patient.

The patient pays whatever amount he/she can afford.  Sometimes I saw the patient leave a folded bill on the table and sometimes I saw no money left.

My friend suggested Dorji look at my ankle which is still swollen 6 weeks after I sprained it.  Dorji looked at it and said he could help.  He lightly moved his fingers up and down and over the swollen areas.  I am skeptical.  My ankle is in the waning stage of its injury.  As I sat there observing the treatments and breathing in cigarette smoke, my head began to ache.  My friend was smoking.  Dorji said he does not smoke, but tonight he smoked her cigarettes to "neutralize" the effect of her smoking.  By the time I left, my eyes were bleary and my head ached quite badly.  If Dorji is telepathic and bio-energetic, he should have been able to sense the ache in my eyes and head.