Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Truly a "Hardship"?

Prior to bidding on this post, I researched Macedonia extensively. As a "hardship" post, I wanted to be aware of the difficulties associated with life here in Skopje. I read about the problems with inadequate medical facilities, the occasional power outages, the unavailability of certain goods and services. I felt as though we could manage this unpleasantness and survive a tour here.

After arriving in Skopje, I started to wonder why this is even considered a "hardship" post. Life here up to this point has been very comfortable for our family, but in the last few weeks, things got a bit challenging.

A tour of the local children's' respiratory hospital a couple months ago was quite scary, and I pray daily that we will never find ourselves needing serious medical attention. Though the doctor providing our tour was genuinely kind, sincere, and very professional, the facility was overcrowded, dirty and depressing. Stories of inadequate care and medicines, lack of sanitation, and having to bribe doctors for attention run rampant among our Macedonian friends. A friend whose father suffered a stroke, possibly due to the another doctor's error, waited hours for the attending physician to evaluate his condition. Complaints or threats to sue are met with laughter and even worse care. Bringing doctors food, gifts, or money is apparently the best way to get screened, according to some of our Macedonian friends. Hospitals may have the latest medical equipment, but there may not be anyone adequately trained to use it. These are some of the problems regarding medical care here in Macedonia. Fortunately, we have a wonderful Health Unit at the Embassy to handle non-emergency problems, so our exposure to these conditions is unlikely. I am very grateful for the friendly, qualified nurses and for the monthly visits from the regional Physicians Assistant.

Power issues have become a serious problem for many of the people I know here, both Embassy staff and locals. With the extra needs for power due to the cold and the holiday season, supply has been lacking. Our babysitter loses power every night only to have it restored in the morning, leaving her and her two sons without heat at the coldest point in the day. Several families have inadequate levels of electricity flowing to their homes and rely on generators to power their appliances. We ourselves have experienced a few power outages and a decrease in power to our home. I guess it is like a "power drain". Some parts of the house have full power, others have none or simply not enough. For instance, the stove will work, but it will take an hour to boil a pot of water. The washer will turn on and circulate the clothes, but doesn't have enough power to spin, so I have to wring out the clothes by hand. Our front driveway gate must be opened manually and our microwave stopped working for several weeks. Granted, these are minor inconveniences for the most part, considering how difficult life is for some others, but when you are trying to feed 5 kids and keep their clothes clean, you miss the microwave and washing machine!!

Add to that the fact that our street was never cleared or plowed after nearly a foot of snow fell, and I understand now why Skopje deserves it's "hardship" designation! I am still very happy to be here and am still considering ways to extend our time in Skopje, but I think it should continue to be labeled as a "hardship".

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