Life in Macedonia
Some Have Found a Way
to Live and Even Thrive
just don’t mention it. “It’s a very touchy subject,” she attests.
“You shouldn’t talk about it, because chances are, your students will know
someone who has died, or been kidnapped.”
for scarcely a decade, Macedonia’s expat allure has yet to materialize.
Although nearby countries like Greece, the Czech Republic, and Turkey have
become expat havens, a combination of poverty and political instability
have brought uncertainty to life in Macedonia. A 1994 economic boycott
from Greece was followed by the huge strain of sheltering over 400,000
Kosovar refugees in 1999. Conditions worsened in early 2001, when
Albanian extremists went to war against the Macedonian state. A US-imposed
peace treaty was brokered last summer. Although this technically
meant an end to the fighting, sporadic gunfire, kidnappings and bombings
continue to this day. All things considered, it’s easy to understand
why Macedonia isn’t exactly a hot spot on the expat map.
experience: some glowing testimonials
Yet some adventurous
foreigners have found a way to live - and even thrive - in Macedonia.
Most are employed by English-language schools, or with one of the many
NGO’s (Non-governmental organizations) in Macedonia. These groups
typically are involved with relief work, humanitarian assistance, technical
training, or political interface.
One expat who
has made it in Macedonia is Carol Cho, a 23 year-old from New Jersey.
Carol is a photographer for a news website called Reality Macedonia.
She also teaches English part-time. While she finds it a rewarding
experience, Carol says, “I’m really an artist, and the money I earn from
my job helps me to pursue my photography.”
In many countries,
grammatical snares are the extent of an English teacher’s concerns.
After living through a year of war, Carol has some advice for any
Deliso is a frequent contributor to Escape from America Magazine. Until
recently his stories for EFAM have concentrated on out-of-the-way travel
articles, about pleasant places like the Greek Isles and Ireland. This
article takes the slant of investigative reporting. Macedonia, in the Balkans,
has been the site of civil upheaval. Chris traveled to Macedonia to find
out how Expat Life is. Although not yet entirely able to rebound from the
recent war, Macedonia still is home to expats who have fallen in love with
the beauty that still survives. The article provides abundant resource
links good for keeping pace with changes underway.
International Jobs Marketplace
sobering realities, Carol believes that Macedonia is generally a safe place
to live, and the Macedonians, excellent hosts. “Honestly, they are
the most hospitable people I have met in the Balkans,”
what you can say
- it’s a very regulated society in the States. In Macedonia, there
are rules and regulations, but they aren’t enforced too strictly.
You can actually live - you get to feel things for the way they are.”
who has also been to Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia and Kosovo.
“They have been very tolerant and patient about my questions on the crisis.”
affair with Macedonia, she admits, has another dimension: Marco, her boyfriend
of almost three years. “It’s hard to imagine, that I will have to
leave this place one day,” she says. “Yet I know that even then,
I will come back again and again. I can see it as a retirement place
- some small village in the east of Macedonia. It’s very peaceful
life in general, Carol believes that Macedonia, despite its limitations,
has something special to offer. “Everyone says, ‘America is the land
of the free,’ but you know how it is there! They tell you where to
park, how to live, where to smoke,
Tank at Tetovo Checkpoint
came to love the
land and the people “…of all ethnic groups.” Sherry found the Macedonians
to be even more than warm hosts: “they will steal your heart if you let
them,” she swears.
on life in Macedonia comes from Laura Decabooter, a 27 year-old woman from
Arizona. Laura found herself in Macedonia on assignment with the
Peace Corps. Although she was planning to stay 27 months, the assigment
was cut short due to the war. The Peace Corp contingent was evacuated
to Bulgaria after exchanging tearful goodbyes with their newly-made Macedonian
friends. Like Carol, Laura also found the Macedonian people to be
friendly and hospitable. According to Laura, Macedonia was a great
place for having fun: “I enjoyed my time in all the towns I was able to
visit, from hiking through vineyards, to (historical) sites, to nightclubs.
I would love to go back, and certainly hope to someday!” Laura’s
fondness for Macedonia was shared by another of her Peace Corps colleagues,
62 year-old Sherry Milsap. Having spent over a year teaching in Macedonia,
Skopsko Beer Ad
Macedonia: drawbacks and dangers
Lest such testimony
convince the reader of Macedonia’s perfection, we must also mention the
negatives. Economic hardship has cast a general malaise over the
place, and the American consumer accustomed to having many choices will
often be thwarted. Telephone booths can be few and far between, and
eight years and
four babies, the woman tried to escape, but her 20-person “family” headed
her off at the US Embassy. Such stories are the exception rather
than the rule, however.
|cards or tokens.
For this reason, a mobile phone quickly becomes a necessity.
is generally safe, there are pockets of violence and areas to be avoided.
Poverty and crime are common, and feed off of one another. Indeed,
in a country where the average citizen removes the wiper blades when parking
his (very) compact car, while enormous SUV’s are driven by the mafia, dangers
and temptations are easily found. Just be aware that it is easy to
get into trouble in Macedonia, and that there are some areas where the
police can’t help you.
else, there are the occasional horror stories. One famous case involved
the American woman who married an ethnic Albanian villager, and was forced
to follow the traditional lifestyle - that is, “working from home” by producing
If anyone knows
about the ins and outs of expat life in Macedonia, it’s Dr. Sam Vaknin
a 41 year-old Israeli living in Skopje. The head business analyst
for UPI, and a former economic advisor to the Macedonian government, Dr.
Vaknin has been living in Macedonia since 1996. In that time, he
has developed a somewhat cynical view of the whole “expat community” idea.
He even claims that such a thing “…does not exist - expats meet only casually.
This is the first country in my career where no such community has emerged,
though there are well over 20,000 registered foreigners here.”
|In any case,
the lack of a large expat community, and its residual distractions, may
have worked in Dr. Vaknin’s favor - after all, he did meet his Macedonian
On the whole,
Dr. Vaknin characterized the Macedonia experience as “frustrating.”
This verdict has been colored by his experiences with short-sighted bureaocrats
and an economy still very much in transition. Yet the very elements
which diminish opportunities for the average Macedonian can also benefit
the resourceful expat. In Macedonia, says Dr. Vaknin, “there is a
dearth of good economists, international lawyers, marketing people, managers
and even journalists. In the land of the blind, even the one-eyed
man is king.”
Go and What to Do
of expats in Macedonia live in the capital, Skopje. Here one finds
most of the job opportunities, and fairly modern amenities. In recent
years, Skopje has become more expat-friendly (check out the new “Irish
Pub”). Skopje has plenty of bars, cafés, and nightclubs; these
are mainly concentrated downtown, in the vicinity of the open-air shopping
mall which passe for Skopje’s retail hub. A good bar is the Piazza
Liberta, replete with long wooden tables and bookshelves, its wooden floor
strewn with peanut shells. The “Blue Café” is another popular
meeting-place in the city center.
the city, one quickly encounters Macedonia’s spectacular natural beauty.
Unfortunately, the majestic Sar Planina mountains in the west of the country
are in the control of Albanian warlords, and are mostly off-limits.
Further south, however, Ochrid remains Macedonia’s prime attraction.
Featuring an enormous, placid lake dotted with cliff-top churches of Byzantine
design, tranquil Ochrid is a popular getaway for swimming, boating and
nightlife. Further to the east is Bitola, a former Ottoman capital
once famous for violin-making. The traces of Turkish occupation can
be readily found in Bitola; some of the streets use the Turkish name (‘Sokak’),
and the natives have that Turkish look. But be sure not to tell them-
Bitola people are said to be most patriotic in all Macedonia.
east of Macedonia is the country’s forgotten half. Happily excluded
from violence in 2001, it has also been excluded from development.
The lack of infrastructure means that many of the villages are slowly becoming
depopulated, as people head for a better life in Skopje. Nevertheless,
the heavily forested east of Macedonia is a haven for hikers and nature-lovers.
These are just
some of the many options that await in Macedonia. Given its small
size, the country has surprising variety, diversity - and adventure- enough
to keep any expat busy. A vulnerable, sometimes volatile country
still very much in transition, Macedonia has the potential to go in many
different directions. Macedonia is a small country, yet a vital one;
being there, you start to feel a palpable excitement - that you are participating
in history in the making.
Sunset in Stence