By Hana Truscott, Peace Corps Volunteer in Macedonia
Twelve months into my term of service as a Community Development Peace Corps Volunteer, and I'm just now beginning to get into the swing of things. The first year was well spent learning a new language, immersing into a new community, and overcoming cultural challenges: namely weaning myself off of stress and increasing my quote of smiles, coffee breaks, and fun. The Municipality of Novaci where I work waited for 3 years to get a Peace Corps Volunteer, and it is my pleasure to be its first. The site placement feels like a natural fit, from the projects that engage the skills I learned in my International Administration courses at DU's Korbel School of International Studies through the Peace Corps Master's International program to my fabulous counterparts who know how to get things done. Here's a sneak peek into the highlights from this first year:
- 10 grants submitted, ranging from $4,000.00 to €600,000.00 for both local and cross-border projects with Greece and Albania relating to rural tourism, culture, air quality, waste management, sustainable energy and development, health, and pre-school renovation.
- 5 American connections made for the Mayor of Novaci (my boss) who now refers to me as the official ambassador for the Municipality of Novaci. One recent meeting with an American businessman resulted in a potential partnership project that seeks to connect Macedonia's successful food industries with local farmers in Macedonia, Novaci included. The major Macedonian food industries currently source needed crops from countries outside of Macedonia, while local farmers are struggling to make ends meet. This project will increase the quality and yield of local crops and make the food industry's supply chain local.
- 3 current projects in the works: seeking innovative, green technology to tackle 3
immediate issues in our Municipality: sewage system, waste water treatment plant,
and communal waste disposal. I'm interested especially in waste water/waste to energy
- The problem in our Municipality: there is 1 stinky, unregulated landfill sprawling with waste, among countless illegal dump sites throughout the otherwise pristine mountains and valleys of our region;
- Only 1 of the 41 villages has infrastructure for a sewer system (mine);
- There is no waste water treatment plant to treat sewage, rendering the one sewage system in my village useless for the time being. Most people use outhouses here; my waste goes into a hole by my house with haphazard roofing material laid over it.
- Any ideas? Please holler!
- 2 new leadership positions for me for the upcoming year: Managing Editor of Pauza magazine (Peace Corps Macedonia's quarterly publication), and Board Member for the Environment Committee, made up of Peace Corps Volunteers. We put on a nation-wide forum this spring for Macedonian stakeholders to collaborate on the very urgent and important topic of "Waste Management" for the country. Three colleagues joined me for the successful event, including the Director of the local waste management company.
- 1 project underway: "Healthy Environment = Healthy Kids" at the local Bambi pre-school and includes: renovation of the building, educational seminars for parents, increased participation of parents in early childhood education, purchase of new playground equipment (merry-go-round!), and the donation of a new lawn mower from local residents. Mariah and Bethany helped in the building renovation while visiting!
- 98% over my fear of spiders (the relatively small, non-poisonous type)
- 160 (minimum) 60-minute living room workouts, from Bob Harper videos to simply jumping around my living room trying not to go crazy for an hour. My village is full of stray dogs that frightened me the first (and only) time I ever tried to run here
- 70 jars of pickles, tomato sauce, ajvar (red pepper pesto), and peaches that I've helped can with my neighbor. In addition: two American friends visiting helped me string up 3 strands of peppers to dry for winter cooking, and helped me make a freezer full of spaghetti sauce from my overly zealous tomato plants. Winter, here I come!
- 10 months – time it took for me to finally feel comfortable in the Macedonian language; or rather, I no longer dread the personal humiliation of not knowing what someone is saying, no matter how many times they repeat it (or how LOUD they say it)
- 6 notable "Posh" Corps problems thus far:
1. Had to purchase 1st hair dryer of my life, because it's taboo to leave the house with a wet head;
2. Pantyhose is a MUST;
3. Stiletto heels are the in-thing in my region (the fashion capital of Macedonia) – so I purchased my first pair to better fit in with the locals. Turns out the ones I bought have better traction than my firefighting boots, so I used them to walk to work in the snow;
4. The custom-suit made for me at work and paid for by the Municipality is too tight (must've been sucking in when the tailor measured me);
5. Internet was done for the past 6 weeks at my house (despite Macedonia being the first "wireless" country in the world);
6. Frequent power outages throughout the village force us employees at the Municipality to take several hour coffee and chit chat breaks. Oh, darn.
- 6 European countries traveled to since arrival: Austria, Albania, Greece, Bulgaria, Turkey, and Macedonia
- 1 new continent visited: Asia!! Was there to help my Auntie Carla track down the birthplace and mysterious history of her Turkish grandfather Aladdin Hussein who emigrated from Turkey to Butte, Montana in the early 1900's.
So THIS is Peace Corps.
Hana Truscott is currently serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Macedonia as part of the Master's International program at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies.