Every morning begins the same: at 9:00 am a red Yugo drives down the small alley that separates a block of Communist-era apartments from a row of tin garages. It’s Zlatko. I get into the car and close the door. “You really have to put some muscle into it,” Zlatko warns. “It’s a Yugo.”
We drive past the Bulgarian market, the Vero superstore, and down a winding street where we pick up Maja. After a few blocks and a quick stop for cigarettes, we arrive at the Youth Cultural Center office in Bitola.
The building that houses the YCC is located on Bitola’s main street. Zlatko explains that the building is on loan from the city for the next 8 years. They were able to lease the space for such a long time because YCC staff members renovated the structure by themselves. It must have been a huge endeavor. The building has three floors and a basement that has been converted into a recording studio. The staff offices, which can be accessed by a huge spiral staircase near the entryway, are on the second floor, and the third floor consists of a large, empty space for hosting workshops. The first floor is currently unoccupied except for a French class that meets there weekly. The YCC has tentative plans to use that space as an internet café.
As we walk in, Aleksander is already putting on the first pot of coffee for the day. This will be the first of many. I grab a cup, move to my desk, and begin to unpack my computer. Maja yells at me for being antisocial, and I am pulled back into the breakroom. This is where the YCC staff hangs out before work. Maja offers me a cigarette. “No thanks,” I say, “I’d prefer to take my breakfast second hand.”
The breakroom opens up onto a balcony, and every morning I watch as some local kids kick around a soccer ball outside our courtyard. (There are also several soccer balls that have found their final resting place on the rooftop next to our office.)
Then the work begins. Zlatko Talevski is the executive director of the YCC. He is the wearer of many hats: volunteer coordinator, music producer and promoter, and internship director. He has even been known to beg for a last-minute visa so that a local band can perform in Greece. He is dedicated, focused, and often overworked.
Of all the other employees at the YCC, Maja has been the one who has gone the most out of her way to show me around town. She is a campaign assistant for the YCC. Last week she provided me with a guided tour of Bitola, and on Saturday we took a walk into the hills that surround the city. We have plans to go mountain biking soon.
She also took me out for a beer at a local pub. It was an uneventful evening until I met a local while standing in line for the restroom. The obviously inebriated guy, probably ten years my junior, asked me if I wanted to go to a club with him (I can understand quite a bit of Macedonian from my knowledge of Polish). I said, “I’m sorry, I don’t speak Macedonian.” He then responded, “That’s ok, I speak English. American, eh. George Bush and Iraq.” “Wow,” I thought to myself, “that has to be the worst pickup line I’ve ever heard.” I looked at the girl standing next to me and rolled my eyes. It’s funny how that gesture translates so well across linguistic and cultural barriers.
I’m now looking forward to immersing myself in my job. I will likely be working on the planning and implementation of Macedonia’s participation in the National and Global Youth Service Day in April. It should be interesting. I’m hoping that participation in this event will bring some much needed exposure and legitimacy to volunteerism in Macedonia. But more on that later.
Posted By Katie Wroblewski (Macedonia)
Posted Jun 18th, 2014