Giving Thanks

November was a hectic month. When we weren’t dodging puddles, we were giving or writing exams. The Mid-term exam is required for all courses, and the students were extremely anxious about it – probably because both of us were unknown quantities to them.  We also had to take an exam, in Macedonian. Since that class started very late, there was little to test, and neither of us is very proficient, but we managed to scrape by. It gave us an easy week– supervising exams is minimal – followed by a week that was utterly crowded. The exams had to be corrected, students counseled and grades turned in, while classes resumed – all in one week.  And true to form, we were advised at 4:00pm on Thursday that Friday – the day Grades were due – was a holiday (National Plant a Tree Day)

The same week, David started his first Graduate Course – an Executive Education Course in Terrorism and Prediction – with 21 students. Because all the students are working adults, they squeeze a course (20 hours) into a total of six days – Thursday & Friday @3 hours and Saturday @4 hours – in two consecutive weeks. This means there is essentially no time for homework, research or even reflection. The Professor has to cram everything in with non-stop lectures, hoping the students will retain something. Then the students write a research paper based on the course. David is not looking forward to 21 graduate research papers landing on his desk on January 15, but will survive.  So National Tree day was a crisis – it coincided with day two of that course, and there is no provision for make-up classes in the schedule. At the last minute, it was determined that the obligatory holiday ended at 5:00pm, and the Graduate course started at 6:00, so we had a full schedule. For those two weeks, David came home dragging after a 16 hour day.

In the middle of this, we were invited to the 10th Anniversary gala of the American Chamber of Commerce. The speeches were the usual, but the food, wine and company were great. These are (at least some of) the people who believe Macedonia can grow, and are trying to make it happen. The Executive Director, Sonja McGurk is Macedonian married to the British DCM, whom I provided with info on the McGurk Tartan, courtesy of our McGurk historian cousins.

As soon as the rush of classes was over, we started plotting Thanksgiving. It’s worth noting that University American College had also decided, at the last minute, to celebrate Thanksgiving, since it is an American holiday. So everyone was called together at the last minute to meet two tiny brown butterflied turkeys. Nothing had been planned, so David gave a brief history of Thanksgiving, and, with Clarisse, carved bits off the birds, so everyone got a taste. Then Elizabeth, David & Clarisse left for the real Thanksgiving dinner.

On the 2010-2011 Fulbright scholars arrival, we had joined with them for a briefing, and had all agreed that Thanksgiving together would be fun. One of them, Dragan Stefanovich, tried to organize it, but it turned out to be very complicated. We failed to obtain any American turkeys, so Dragan (or his wife, Marie) had to get a trio of local birds (they are only about 10 pounds each). Another Fulbrighter, Mary, whose family were restaurateurs, finally found a restaurant which would cook the turkeys under supervision and allow us to bring our traditional side dishes. She stood over the cooks, so the turkeys were succulent and not overcooked.  In fact, delicious.  And she convinced them that Americans like “lumpy potatoes”, so they mashed them instead of the usual puree.  Tasted absolutely perfect.  We ended up with about 15 people, eating American dressing, gravy, mashed potatoes and Elizabeth’s cranberry-orange relish to supplement three very small birds.

One of the guests was Fulbrighter Katie Bachmeyer, who teaches at a school for handicapped children.

Katie and Eric live in Stip

She has a project at Toys r Us–you have to look up her wish list  (http:\\www.toysrus.com/wishlist/link/index.jsp?wishlistid=30644244) Or you could go to Toy R Us , put wish list in the search box, and search on Bachmeyer, Katie.  Then you buy something (look only at items that have a listed price; if you have to select the item to get the price, it’s not part of this project.)  It’s easy to do, and the items will be sent to her family in Cincinnati, OH, to be mailed to Stip, Macedonia by an organization of generous Americans.  I hope she is swamped with wonderful gifts.

Anyway, commercial’s over–back to dinner.  Jeff volunteered to carve

One turkey of three

and there was plenty of turkey for all.  We ate two birds and split the leftovers, so David and I will have a private feast one of these days.

The cranberry-orange relish was a real treat, but it wasn’t easy.  Of course Elizabeth makes it in a snap in the big Cuisinart.  Well there were several challenges to overcome here.  First, we have found no whole fresh cranberries in Macedonia. Elizabeth bought dried, sweetened cranberries, washed them in five changes of water to get some of the sugar out, then soaked them overnight to revivify them. It worked–they looked almost like fresh and they were soft, but our coffee-milk mixer proved unable to blend them with the oranges. David tried to help with a chopping knife, but the result was pretty chunky. Finally, the day before the dinner, we broke down and bought a small blender. It worked beautifully, the relish was the hit of the dinner, and several things will now be easier to make.

Before we sat down, everyone was telling of their frustrations & problems functioning in Macedonia. Then as we sat down to eat, we suddenly all realized that we were delighted to be having this adventure – so we all gave thanks.  I(E) decided I could have seconds and then thirds on some things because of course there would be no reason to save room for pumpkin pie.  Oops, misjudged that.  We had three baklava types and  chocolate and banana crepes.  I didn’t have to have dessert–but I did and ended up with the usual stuffed-after-Thanksgiving-dinner feeling.

Then I (D) ran off to teach an evening course, while Elizabeth went off with Dragan & Marie to borrow an oven thermometer. We walked across the Stone Bridge to the south side of the Vardar River and then about another mile to their house.  Just what I needed after that dinner.

Oh, the oven thermometer.  Turns out our oven (which comes w/o a thermometer or any temperature markings on the dial) goes up to 550 degrees at the half-way mark–-which helps explain a few scorched dinners & desserts. Now that we know that, things are easier. The apartment now functions well, but we’re beginning to wonder what we’ll do with all the things we’ve acquired to make life easier. Seems as though we’ll have to introduce the concept of yard sale to Skopje.

So with Thanksgiving behind us, and lighted trees on the main boulevard, we’re thinking of Christmas.  Yes, we’re planning a caroling party.  So far we’ve identified 18 people to invite, but when David talked about it after Mass, he grandly suggested that the two couples we had invited should in turn invite any Americans they know who might want to sing.  This could be a madness.  But always fun.  We have chairs for about 12 people (depending on how closely they want to crowd on the sofas, but our rugs are very comfortable.  I will, as usual, make Cossack stew (without dill seeds–dill weed is easy to find, but so far, dill seed is impossible)  and hope everyone else brings something.  But that’s going to be interesting without any crock pots.  Still, having it in the house should make it easier in a way.  It will be on December 11, so we don’t have too much time to worry about it at all.  Just a note, we bought one largish pot and borrowed an even larger magnificent stainless steel pot from friends.  So the stew will happen–in fact the meat is cooking as we speak.  I prefer to make it first so I can cook it with the onions as long as it needs before adding vegetables.  Tell you about the party next time.

Then we leave for Christmas break on December 16.  That’s earlier than the college closes, but our 90 day visa runs out that day.  So we’re planning to drive around the Balkans and see what we can see of it.  We have no real itinerary, although Heinz and Silvana will be leading us for the first few days.  Then they head off from Belgrade to Western Europe for their Christmas celebration, and we wander back south (I guess) to see what we can see.  It will be an adventure–and I hope we don’t freeze to death in the mountains.  Of course everyone is telling us that it’s going to be very cold everywhere.  However, that’s what they told us about Skopje, and so far we haven’t even had a freezing night–the days have generally been in the 50s too.  We keep track of the weather in Alameda and, so far, Skopje’s been warmer.  So we’ll see what happens on the road.  Because we’re leaving a week early, we’ve had to have make-up classes.  I (Elizabeth) have my second and final one on Wednesday.  The first one was actually a lot of fun because only two students came so we were able to finish what we had to do and have plenty of time for talking. Actually, though, I’ll be happier if all of my students show up the next time because they have a lot to cover in a very short time.  Oh, well, not my problem I’m told.

The other strange thing about these courses is that a student can declare him/herself a part-timer.  That means they don’t have to attend any classes.  All they have to do is take (and pass) an exam and write a short paper.  And there don’t seem to be any prerequisites for this status. So I’ve had two p-t students who passed the exam with flying colors and one who didn’t. If a p-t student fails the exam, he/she can take a second one, but failing that means starting from scratch and paying another tuition fee.  So I’ve written two exams for my two classes and four exams for p-t students.  And, no, the p-t students don’t take the same exam.  The regular class mid-term covers half the course, but the p-t students are tested on the entire course.  I’m learning how these things work, but it isn’t anything I’ve encountered in teaching before.  And so it goes.

Oh, before it fades into memory, I have to tell you about the concert we went to Sunday night.  First, I should say that there’s an enterprising person named Panche who publishes a schedule of concerts, opera, and ballet in Skopje. It’s sent out by email, and if you want to go, you just email him back and he buys the tickets for you to pick up on the day.  Much simpler than trying to buy them yourself, and having the schedules in English is a great help.  So there was an announcement of a concert by the Dragan Dautovski Quartet. Who’s that, I thought.  But he included three YouTube examples, so we knew what to expect.  The music is fabulous. Dragan started playing bagpipes that were made of a whole goat accompanied by the drummer on a marching band type of drum.  Later the other string player joined in and finally the singer too.  The group starts, apparently, with Macedonian folk songs, but then goes off into a sort of jazz improvization around them.  It’s beyond imagination.  There’s Dragan, who played four different stringed instruments (three 6-string and one 8-string), a drummer who played two large kind of conga drums (ceramic), two small drums, a base drum, and (for a couple of songs) a speaker, a woman who played a stringed instument, a huge guitar (bass) with four strings, and two different flutes, and then a singer with the most amazing voice who sang the folk songs and then scatted around them. Apparently, they are very well known here–the place was packed and the audience wouldn’t let them go.  They played about two hours without a break.  The lights came up in the middle for intermission, but the audience kept clapping and wouldn’t let them go.  At the end too, they had to come back for a couple of encores.  I could have listened to them for another hour or so anyway. I’ll try to add a link:  http://www.myspace.com/dragandautovskiquartet/music/songs/Balkan-33366831

Anyway, classes go on, Sunday Communion Services go on, and life is better every week.

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