Lovely Fall

Fall is my favorite season of the year. It brings colored leaves, golden sun without the intense heat, cozy clothing layers, apples, harvesting and preserving, a new school year, and my birthday. This year, at the start of my second year here, is no different. I’m ready for cooler weather, making ajvar, eating apple pie, and for celebrating my continued presence in this world. After the heat of summer, some travel, and two months of working alone on school projects, I am also ready to be back among the students and teachers, and I am particularly ready for the classroom.

Signs of fall are everywhere. The walk to school serves to remind me that the mob scene of summer is truly over. I can walk anywhere at any time of day and have plenty of space. The Americans have gone, everyone has gotten married, and the children are all tanned and rosy from summer activities. Shops and street sellers have stocked school backpacks, farmers are bringing apples to town, and the shop that sells school supplies is busy all the time. IMG_5232.jpgHouseholds are ordering their wood for winter for heating and cooking. The wood is dumped like this:IMG_5305.jpgThen this machine (or the one in the above picture) cuts it up:IMG_5144.jpgLeaving it in pieces like this that will fit in the usual stove here:IMG_5307.jpgIMG_5317.jpg

My school has a divided day. The younger students come from 8am to 12:30pm, and then the older students start at 1pm, finishing at 6:45pm. After two weeks, the schedule flips. The first day back, I visited with students I taught last year in fifth grade and had coffee with other teachers.IMG_5255.jpgIMG_5256.jpgIMG_5257.jpg I didn’t teach the first days, as there was no schedule worked out yet. My fifth graders had transitioned from being the oldest in the lower grades to the youngest in the higher grades. Unfortunately, I won’t be teaching them this year, except for special projects. This year, I will be assisting my counterpart with fifth and seventh grade English. I will be continuing with the children’s chorus, and I hope to start an English club in which we will knit and speak only in English. Knitting is associated with grandmothers and great-grandmothers here. I am hoping to spread my joy of knitting, and perhaps surprise those older women when their young family members bring home their projects.IMG_2420.jpg

In addition to my work with the primary school, I will be spending time at the high school working with the school psychologist. My assignment there is to help her come up with ideas for teaching students with special needs. But I also have another idea for the high school. I want to help provide guidance for students who are interested in applying for university programs abroad. I learned that no one at the high school currently has access to that information, and that the students feel discouraged facing that daunting task.

Just as I did last year, I will be participating in making Ajvar, the red pepper spread that’s a staple of every Macedonian kitchen. Last year I helped my host family with all aspects of it. See the blog post here:

This year, I want to have a larger role, which will happen anyhow because I will be making it with my friend Qanije, who works on Saturdays. It will be up to me to do the first day’s work myself – the coring, roasting, and peeling of the peppers. I have even bought my own wood paddles for stirring the ajvar. The largest one measures 3.5 feet!IMG_5310.jpg

Also up this fall is a significant decade birthday. I will celebrate seventy years of life on this beautiful planet. When/How did this happen? Just this year, I have been seeing people I think look old, and I learn that they are my own age, or even more surprising, younger! But I still feel like the same person inside. Sure, I’ve learned a lot, and would probably make some different decisions, given the same opportunities as before. But I would also resoundingly make some the same. Well, now I am going to celebrate all of that, along with celebrating my current life in Dibër, which now includes a cat,IMG_5219.jpg the marvelous fact that I managed to return to Greece,IMG_4666.jpg and that I’m healthy and happy. Cheers!

About the cat: I have rescued a kitten from an uncertain future. I was walking home from my friend Qanije’s house, when I heard a kitten crying. I couldn’t immediately locate it. I checked a nearby dumpster because sometimes in their eagerness to forage, they fall in and can’t get back out. I looked around everywhere. Finally, I just stood still to locate the cry. Then I saw a little black and white kitten on top of a post, crying loudly for all it was worth. I was able to reach it by standing on the dirt mounded at the base. It was so little that I was pretty sure that it had help getting up there. I took it back to Qanije’s, where it ate eagerly and licked the wet pavement to get water. Fortunately, Qanije’s family loves animals. She agreed to keep the kitten until I could get my house ready.

This picture is from a week later. The grey wouldn’t wash off.IMG_5248.jpgLittle pink sock:IMG_5296.jpgIMG_5290.jpgIMG_5245.jpgThe veterinarian declared her female and gave her a clean bill of health after giving her a shot and an anti-parasitic pill. This cat has a very even temperament, affectionate without being needy, and she plays hard. The only name she has so far is Maca (pronounced Matsa), which is Albanian for cat. We play, eat, get crazy, sleep, and go for walks outside together. I’m so lucky!

This picture is from now, over three weeks later:IMG_5311.jpgIn many ways, this fall is one of the best I can remember. I’m living in a beautiful area of the Balkans, I have friends, a lovely house, a job I love, and I have a cat. And I’m in constant contact with my support system back home. Seventy is a very good year.

I’m not twenty
and won’t be again but ah! seventy. And still
in love with life. And still
full of beans. –
Mary Oliver


14 thoughts on “Lovely Fall

  1. Happy Birthday! Welcome Maca! Thank you for your lovely sharing. Eugene fall has begun as well with bounteous apples, pears, plums, cooler weather, school. I loved the story of wood and your connections. Blessed indeed.

  2. Happy Birthday Kathleen!!

    What a lovely time in your life. I’m so happy for you.

    And a kitten? Yay! I hope that love affair is very rewarding for both of you. 😉

    I’m off to the Bahamas for my dolphin trip today. Catching up on emails while riding the HUT shuttle to PDX.

    Thinking of you and sending Oregon love.

    ~ Terri

    PS I’ll send a few photos of my life now – we are calling our household The Brady Bunch.

  3. Lovely post – great pictures! You continue to inspire me Kathleen. I do not feel finished with Peace Corps yet and it’s so good to know women who are going strong at 70; that’s probably when I’ll get around to my second stint, lol!

  4. As always, an awesome report and pics. It almost feels like a live contact! A linguistic piece of info: your kitty’s name is actually a Slavic word, they float over borders in that part of the workd. It is a diminutive of “mačka” (pronounced “matchka”), the word for cat in Macedonian, Serbian, Croatian, possibly Bulgarian too. So “maca” is literally “kitty” and, interestingly, that is what we call little girls too, so every Serbian mother I know occasionally calls her daughter that – I know I did mine for many years.

    Happy BD and keep enjoying this new chapter of your very diverse life…

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