Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Busy social week

It has been quite a sociable week for us here in Skopje. Thank goodness too! With one of our laptops malfunctioning and the unbearable heat outdoors, the kids have been very restless. The opportunity to visit with new friends has been much appreciated.

A couple weeks ago, we discovered that our neighbors across the street had guests from Dubai. Irena and her family were here visiting her mother, Baba Slavitska, our neighbor. Irena had lived in London for several years with her husband and their 3 sons, but they recently relocated to Dubai and were here escaping the cruel August heat and humidity of Dubai. Last week, we met up with the kids at a local indoor playground and had a nice chat, and she issued an open invitation to pop over anytime. Monday evening, she insisted that we come over. We enjoyed some nice conversation, snacked on fresh plums and pears from their garden, and drank some Pivo (beer). It was a great opportunity to meet several of our Macedonian neighbors and the kids made some new friends.

We also learned quite a bit about the history of our street and our house. Apparently, most of the houses on our street were gifted by Tito to Greeks returning to Macedonia, and although they own the homes, the land is still owned by the government. Baba Slavitska's home has been in the family for generations and she is hoping to purchase the land soon. Our home does not fall into this category, it (and the land) is owned by the landlords. Mladen (our landlord)'s family are among the original inhabitants of this area and they were actually not too thrilled to see the program put in place! Our home, whose name is Villa Persida, is named for Mladen's paternal grandmother, and has won numerous architectural awards. Irena recalls how exciting it was to watch it being constructed around 12 years ago.

Tuesday, Christopher had his orientation day at school and spent 3 hours playing games and getting to know some of his fellow classmates. He enjoyed it. The house was full of children, as the girls played with Ivana (Baba Slavitska's granddaughter) and Arina (another neighbor). Arina's older brother, Stefan, came by to hang out with Chris and play basketball and Playstation. It was nice to have friends over and the kids had a great day!

Later in the evening, we accepted an invitation from Mladen and his wife, Gordana, to join them for some "pellichinki" (homemade crepes). We had a lovely time and enjoyed the crepes filled with jam, chocolate, and ham/cheese. The girls were shy at first, but opened up and had a lot of fun. Mladen does not speak English, but Gordana speaks very well. I am starting to pick up quite a few words of Macedonian, and though I could not catch most of his discussion, it was easy to grasp that he has a great sense of humor! He is a very congenial man and Chris enjoyed putting his Macedonian skills to the test. Mladen used to play soccer, later he coached a local club team, and eventually became a director. He is an electrician as well, but we were surprised to find he is retired, as he is so young. They proudly shared photos of the children Dragan and Dragana, who are studying at Virginia Tech right now. I suspect the rent that the Embassy pays for our home is paying a large part of their tuition, and that makes me very happy! They are a lovely family, and we are looking forward to getting to know them more.

Wednesday, the Embassy hosted a Hail and Farewell to welcome new families and say goodbye to the departing Ambassador, but I decided to skip it due to Collier. He wasn't feeling well, so I felt it best to stay home.

Thursday was the first day of school for the girls, and after dropping them off, I joined a number of parents at a nearby tennis club for coffee. It was a very nice way to kick off the new school year. I met several new women and enjoyed the conversation. They provided lots of useful information about hairdressers, restaurants, best places to shop for kid's clothes, etc. Collier enjoyed playing in all the mud puddles caused by the previous night's storms! It was a very messy but fun morning, and I learned a lot about the school and the community.

We were also invited to a barbecue on Saturday, but it was cancelled to illness. Instead, we took the kids out to dinner at a very nice pizza place that was recommended to me by the ladies on Thursday. It was very nice, but the location just across from the stadium proved to be a problem. Just as we were departing, the soccer game ended and it was quite chaotic. The waiter suggested that we wait a while before leaving, as some of the fans were getting too rowdy. Apparently, it was a match between ethnic Albanians and Macedonians and the tensions were high. The police arrived almost immediately and restored calm. The girls were happy with the delay--they each enjoyed two scoops of ice cream! At only $1.50, it was a true bargain!

So, it has been a busy week and we are all exhausted, but we enjoyed spending time with our new friends and look forward to many more opportunities for socializing!

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