The First Work Week

We are beginning to establish a routine. Elizabeth teaches on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and I teach on Wednesdays & Fridays in all cases 9-12, plus one hour for office hours. On those days, we must be up at 6:45, prepare breakfast (we have found local equivalents to our normal breakfast – but miss strawberries already), gather our works & pomps (usually including 2 computers) & walk to work – about 10 minutes. One morning it drizzled (so I bought an umbrella.) Another day it poured in the afternoon, then cleared, so we cheerfully walked home – and got drenched by cars passing through the deep puddles that remained. My Middle East class (undergrad) has two students who have lived in the US, plus one foreigner – all the rest are Macedonian. All speak English satisfactorily, but all are shy and speak softly. I tell them I’m an old man, so they must yell, and they raise their voices to almost audibility. The Friday class (Peace & Conflict studies) is all female and apparently at an awkward time – only one student showed up. I assumed a tutor mode, and started talking and asking questions, and she finally, three hours later, actually raised her hand and said “My brain hurts. That’s too much information.“ I MUST learn to slow down. I’ll also meet with all the students and try to reschedule the class.

Elizabeth is getting lots of guidance from her Dean and her colleagues, while I am getting nothing. I don’t yet know if they assume I know how things are done, or are afraid to ‘correct‘ me because I’m senior, or have just not gotten around to it, but I still don’t know the school procedures as well as I should.   However, my office is beginning to get supplied (I now have a bookcase & a telephone, my computer works, and supplies are beginning to appear.  (Elizabeth) I have a clock.  This is an earlier photo before the fourth desk was added.   Each of the four of us has a desk, chair, and computer.  Nothing else.

First week of classes

(Note that this is old news–we now have speakers for two of the computers.) There are perks to being a Professor.  We are four M.A.s and it’s hard getting cabinets, tables, and bookcases, none of which were available in the office.  But the window opens, so that’s good, and we have a lovely view.

(David)The most exciting (and frustrating) event was the appearance of my reference books. I had shipped them in early August, and the Post Office assured me they would arrive in 2-3 weeks. When I arrived, I asked Viktorija (our contact/keeper) and with her went to every office in the University asking, and we were assured they had not shown up yet, and not to worry. On Tuesday, Viktorija triumphantly brandished a local post-office notice, and off we went to the PO/customs. While going, Viktorija noticed that the card was, in fact, a duplicate. At PO/customs, we went to five offices, and finally found a friendly official who looked it up and found it! – on the stack of parcels being ‘returned to sender’ that morning. He extracted it, and found it had arrived on August 18, and that three notices had been sent to the University with no response. As we talked, the truck arrived to take the Return packages away. I asked about the other box, and when they checked, was told it had arrived on Aug. 17, and had been picked up by “The University” (no name, of course.) On the way back, Viktorija was on the phone yelling at everyone and anyone, telling them to “find the books”. We then went from office to office again, with no one admitting knowledge, and gave up, returning to Viktorija’s office, where the errant box was sitting in the middle of her desk. So I also have books to fill my bookcase!

(Elizabeth) Tuesday (28-9) met my first class, Modern English Language (MEL) 3. Five students–four girls sitting two by two and one boy sitting as far away as possible.  Very quiet bunch, but they seem to understand what I say.  The Dean came in and spoke more rapidly than I do, but they had no questions afterward. Helped that I had already told them a lot of the stuff.  This class is supposed to cover one unit per class.  Well, we did a little less than half of it, and I assigned them to read it all and be ready to answer the questions next week.  And I figured out how to get the listening texts to play, so that’s good.  I’ll have to see if I can do videos as well to liven the class up a bit.  We’ll never catch up, so I’m going to have to prune what we do in class to the real essentials and count on their homework to fill in the gaps.

Seen while walking to school.

Tuesday was, of course, David’s birthday.  He was delighted with all the e-cards and e-mails he received from the world.  We tried to set up a dinner party but one guest we wanted to include was having a root canal after work, so we postponed it till next Tuesday.  So the two of us went to the new Vero (shopping) Center.  It looks fantastic with soaring ceilings, lots of marble, and lots of glass.  We had dinner in a bistro on the main floor, entertained by the shoppers hurrying by.  We’d read the menu before and thought we’d get a great dinner, but we arrived way too early.  Dinner service starts at 6, and we came after school.  So we were limited to the lunch menu for the festive dinner.  Live and learn.

Thursday (30-9) Met my first class of MEL 1.  5 students–four girls sitting two by two and one boy sitting as far away as possible. This one has a twist tho, two of the girls are “Albanian” and don’t speak Macedonian.  Good thing I don’t either.  And Alexander inherited a restaurant, Lira, which he is trying to run while getting his degree.  We’ll have to go there—it’s out past the old U.S. Embassy. They all understand English at levels ranging from basic to almost native. (That student lived in Australia for some years, so she knows Australian and is learning British, taught by an American.  Good thing English is flexible).  Note that this picture was taken at the second meeting and the lineup has improved.

On Thursday night, we were invited by a colleague to join her for a concert by a touring Polish pianist and the Macedonian Philharmonic Orchestra, celebrating Chopin’s 200th anniversary. The colleague bowed out, so we went alone to Army Hall – a magnificent concert hall, directly behind the ‘Mother Theresa House’ on the Center’s primary walking-shopping street. (Okay, I should explain: Skopje is large.  The Center is the main shopping area and has a wide walking boulevard, Makadonia, that is lined with posh stores and coffee shops and ends at the Stone Bridge that crosses the Vardar River into the “Turkish” section.  On Makadonia right now there is a expo of honey with farmers from all over the country setting up their wares.  (We live in Aerodrom and the university is on the edge of the same section.  Makes it easy for us to talk with taxi drivers—as long as we say the right section, we know that at least we’ll be in the right area. David also knows that we live at the corner of Vladimir Kamarov and Vasco Karavangeleski, but I can never say that when I’m in a taxi.)  Back to the main story:  The inside of the hall is all polished wood, the acoustics were great, the music was wonderful, and we – still without Macedonian – were silent observers (BTW, the front-row seats were “expensive” – Den 200 ea. (about $4).  The concert ended at 10:30, and we got a taxi directly home because Friday was a work day.

We are both finding it tiring to teach – a three-hour class drains us, but I cook on Elizabeth’s days and she cooks on my days, so we get along fine. Finally, though, came the weekend. Saturday, we had tickets for the Ballet, so we spent the morning shopping, and the afternoon doing schoolwork, then went to the National Opera & Ballet Hall at 8:00. Again, a magnificent building, though showing a bit of wear, and surrounded by construction zones, so to get there you have to pick your way across crumbling concrete & gravel pits. We later realized that if you are of “personal vehicle” class, you can drive right off the main road into the garage and meet nary a crumble.

The ballet was Scheherazade – with familiar music, but a totally new story. (Sultan’s harem, he goes off to war, the women bribe the Wazir to let in a bandit chief & his men, they dally, the sultan returns and kills everyone but Scheherazade, who then kills herself.) The ballet orchestra was wonderful.  The dancing (especially the Principal) was excellent, the choreography pleasant but somewhat repetitive, and the audience loved it (especially the hordes of 5-9-yr. old girls who were an awe-struck audience.) And it only lasted an hour, so they didn’t get tired of it.

Then out to the walking street again, and instead of the pleasant promenade we’d seen before, we found Coney Island. The street was packed side to side, with vendors (and makers) of toys, jewelry, clothing, art, etc in every block, surrounded by admirers and purchasers. Among the music buskers were a didgeridoo, electric guitar, violin, accordion, and others, plus a pair of young women doing a sort of dance-play to recorded music while wearing whalebone hoop skirts and orange and blue wigs. The noise level along the street was unbelievable. Right down the center of the street was a row of about 20 stands each featuring honey from different regions of Macedonia (with free samples to taste – exquisite) Lining the street were jewelry and high-class clothing stores, interspersed with cafes, so we could sit and watch people going by. Macedonia has a huge population of young people – healthy, happy, and apparently all intending to leave to get jobs elsewhere. Evening entertainment starts late and continues late—it was still in full fling when we left after 11.  Later we learned from our students that the celebration was “White Night” and that it’s held all over Europe.  All the stores and restaurants stay open all night, and there are all the extras that we found so delightful when we stumbled on the celebration.  Just lucky, I guess.

Sunday we got up late, because an English–language Mass was scheduled for 5:00pm – the farewell mass of the only English speaking priest in Macedonia. (Also the first he has given in a month.) I was invited to read, and to discuss with the departing priest, and from him to the Bishop, officiating in future at English-language Communion Services after his departure. We shall see.

And just so you know how beautiful this place is, here’s another sunset photo David took from our balcony. 

This entry was posted in Macedonia, September 2010 - June 2011, Skopje, Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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