Time is inevitably passing by, the same as my sweet volunteering period. After living for several months in Skopje, I can say that even though I didn’t experience a huge cultural shock, some facts left me in awe or puzzlement. Let’s start with my subjective list of ten things which surprised me in Macedonia (the best country in the world)!
- Lots of Polish products
Yes, I am Polish. Slavic blood from the north landed in Skopje, and then what? I needed to find something to eat. I remember my first time doing groceries in Stokomak. My flatmate told me that I could find some Polish products there. But I didn’t expect that many. It was hella convenient because, at first, even though I knew the Cyrillic alphabet, I didn’t need to struggle with reading. I could find anything I craved – Polish sweets, yoghurt, kabanosy or cleaning products. Unfortunately, except for instant beetroot soup (crying in Polish).
- People smile in here
I lived for 28 years in Poland, where people are sad, grumpy, constantly tired, and smiling on the street is considered weird. Then here – people are so welcoming, warm and smile a lot. I have a small anecdote – in spring, we went to a small village in the South of Macedonia for an event with a few other volunteers. We crossed the street and saw a police car coming in our direction. I got used to seeing a very serious and scary policeman, but no, no, not in this case. The police officer was…smiling at us. I found that creepy as hell, to be honest. But after a few more months, even I, the grumpiest person, learned how to smile a bit.
That is one of the biggest secrets of the Macedonian people. Prices are going crazy; essential products cost more than even a few weeks ago. The minimum wage is around 300-350 EUR. Dear people, how are you able to survive?
- Stray animals
I come from a place where we don’t have a problem with stray animals. So what shocked me in the Balkans and Macedonia was the number of homeless dogs and cats. As an animal lover, not once and not twice, I was nearly crying because of that. Thank God many people from our neighbourhood take care of stray animals. But it doesn’t change my mind that every animal deserves a warm, loving home and not to spend their lives on the streets.
- Balkan time
Relax, take it easy. Are you inviting your friends at 9 p.m.? Don’t worry. They will come after 10 or 11. The same is with organizing events – it will never start on time. People will come one or two hours after the planned starting hour. At first, it is disturbing, significantly, when you grew up in a culture where everything needed to be right on time, duh. You’re expected to be a few minutes earlier. And then you have to get used to Balkan time if you don’t want to go mental.
- Statues, statues everywhere
Ach Skopje. You can find statues everywhere, even in places you would never expect to. Honestly, there are thousands of various statues and monuments here. Maybe it would be fun to make a challenge and catch them all?
- English level of young people
Before the summer holidays, as volunteers, we conducted workshops for elementary school students. At first, we were concerned – would they be able to understand us? We were in awe. Not only they understood us, but ups, their English level was better than ours. In general, young people, I’ve met here speak excellent English. When it comes to older Macedonians – they are so eager to help that even though they are not always able to talk, they will help you using body language.
Macedonia is a beautiful country with breathtaking views and wild nature. I am incredibly grateful that I could visit quite a few beautiful spots there because Macedonia is not limited to only Skopje, Matka Canyon and Ohrid. I had the opportunity to swim in Prespa and Dojran lakes and visit the Macedonian countryside and mountains. Those views will stay with me forever. Let us know what’s your favourite place in Macedonia!
- Trash everywhere but not in trash bins
This point is, unfortunately, connected to the previous one. While walking in nature, you can spot not only waterfalls but also trash waterfalls. Once, I visited Matka Canyon; some dude drank water, closed the bottle and threw it out to the river. I cannot express what I wanted to do to him. Fortunately, we can see the light at the end of the tunnel, and mentality is slowly starting to change. We cannot change the whole world, but we can start with our neighbourhood or city as we did during the project Highschoolers for cleaner Skopje.
I don’t want to finish in a pompous way, but I don’t regret my time in Macedonia. It passed too quickly to discover every gem and do everything I wanted to do. But what I could observe from ex-volunteers and what I feel inside of me, despite some minor inconvenience, the country and especially people here are why we want to come back. Macedonia, it’s not a goodbye, rather, see you soon.
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