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The content and opinions expressed in this blog are mine. They do not represent the US Government or US Peace Corps...Jud Dolphin

Saturday, July 11

Macedonian Collaboration and Social Entrepreneurship

Coming together is a beginning,
keeping together is progress,
working together is success.
                           ...Henry Ford
 

Our office is buzzing with activity.  Tonight at a cafe, we'll launch another issue of Лице в Лице, our street magazine. 

Lice v Lice means “face to face” in Macedonian.  The name is based on the way the magazine is distributed.  Instead of selling on-line or by subscription, it’s sold on the street “face to face” by vendors.

Our vendors are the homeless, Roma, disabled and others living on the margins.  They go to office buildings, street corners and other public places selling Lice v Lice. For their efforts, they collect half of the cover price - about a dollar.   It’s a form of social entrepreneurship. 

Social Entrepreneurship is an idea that has been expanding among NGOs. Business practices are used to sustain NGOs while achieving social good. For my organization, the business need of selling the magazine also achieves income and opportunities for those who have little of both. 

Street papers are a movement that has been spreading across the globe. Recently leaders from 115 papers in 36 countries gathered in Seattle, Washington to share best practices and be inspired by achievements of one another. 

Together the street papers boast 6 million readers for each edition. Learn more. 

Lice v Lice participated in the conference and presented a workshop. Others were impressed with the depth of our magazine's content. Every issue is over 65 pages and focuses on a major social issue.

To give you an idea in English, here is a link.  Read more about this social issue called Embrace Rarity.

I like the mix of data with human story and policy suggestions. People say they buy the magazine to support the marginalized but then discover it's a good read on issues that rarely are heard in mainstream media. What do you think?

The launch event starts.  We're filling the Rakia Bar, a trendy place in the heart of Skopje. The event is part of an emerging marketing strategy. It draws attention of the media and brings together a growing number of supporters. 

Tonight 200 will eventually spill onto the streets.  It's exciting.

Bundles of the magazine are carried in. I leave the heavy lifting for the younger ones. This month’s issue focuses on social responsibility and collaboration between business and NGOs. 

According to Klimentina, Director of my organization, “It’s an area that is not well developed in Macedonia. We want to encourage more.”

Underwriting tonight's event and publication costs is Knauf, an international building supply company. 

It's a first for them in Macedonia and demonstrates corporate leadership. Robert, our liaison, tells me he admires the work of Lice v Lice and is glad Knauf can help.

Robert and Klimentina
Actually, his involvement sparked a creative idea. In transporting their products, Knauf uses industrial bags. Could these bags be re-purposed?

I'm not sure how, but together Klimentina's and Robert's creativity went into over-drive. They caught an idea that these old bags could be transformed and made into something beautifully unique.

Klimentina contacted a designer friend, Irina. Soon she came up with a pattern and created a prototype for a tote bag. Other designers got involved with original art work to decorate the bags. From industrial bags emerge totally unique totes. Collaboration works.

At the event, the bags, a la totes, are on display for sale. People crowd in to take a look. It feels a little like bargain day at Filene's basement. Before long, actually less than 30 minutes, all the bags are sold. 


Cory, the Peace Corps Director in Macedonia, beams as she snags one of the last ones.

I think it adds excitement and an urban edge to the evening.  And I can’t help making an analogy. If these industrial bags can be transformed, then maybe urban societies can be too. People on the margins included and valued face to face.  Read more about the bags

But there’s more to the evening. I had assumed that the proceeds would go to Lice v Lice. Budgets are always a challenge. But no, Klimentina informs me that there's a special purpose.

We decided to organize a collaboration with the Center for Street Children,” she says. She goes on explaining how they helped them before, but nothing sustainable. The Center tries to offer a lunch program, but sometimes there's not enough food.

Staff: Aneta, Zarmena, Alexsandra, a vendor, Klimentina, Maja
Nebojsa missed this picture.  He is off doing something important
Unknown to me, Zarmena on our staff makes many calls until she finds 4 food companies ready to donate. Tonight's money will provide the missing link.

We'll rent a van and every week the driver will collect and deliver the food,” says Klimentina as she turns to me and asks, “What do you think?”

I’m amazed. Food for street children. 

 Lice v Lice not only writes about collaboration, publish a magazine about collaboration and gets Knauf and designers involved, but they also manage to create collaboration where street children are fed. And to make it even more amazing, it's sustainable – food from re-purposed industrial bags.

I'm thinking...

“Coming together is a beginning, keeping together is progress and working together is success.” 

Henry Ford said it first and now I see it in Macedonia.  Collaboration and social entrepreneurship working together.  

Success.



Sunday, June 28

Kindness - On the Way Home and Beyond

It's a day for festivities. Peace Corps Volunteers are being celebrated for their work in Macedonia.

This story has an unlikely beginning. It started decades ago when Ace, our Macedonian host, was young. As an adventuresome boy might do, he was exploring the town's graveyard when he discovered a stone in English. It was for an American doctor – James F. Donnelly. He lost is life here while treating others during the great Typhoid epidemic of 1914.

Ace tells us the story 
Ace was deeply moved then and now in the retelling - “A man, not Macedonian, leaving family and home, helping others and losing his life here – the first American.” 

 As the gravestone says, “Greater love has no man than this that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

This boyhood memory connects years later when Ace meets his first Peace Corps Volunteers. Again, here are Americans leaving family and homes to help Macedonians. 

As a result of this friendship, he became involved in projects helping disabled children. “We didn't know there was such a problem until David helped us become aware.”

PC Country Director, Corey, assists 
Ace in laying flowers on the grave site
We walk to the town's graveyard. Flowers are laid on the doctor's grave. The story is retold and we pay our respects. James F. Donnely is remembered even though there's no mention of him on Google as far as I can tell.

As I walk back, I have a growing awareness that acts of kindness are not lost. They live on. And sometimes, even out of grave yards, a century later, they inspire others.

We gather in a room. Volunteers sit with Macedonian counterparts. All take turns sharing glimpses of Peace Corps service. I marvel at the enthusiasm of younger volunteers. Young in life, they already are making a difference.

The celebration part of our day begins. We make our way to a grand winery outside of town. As we drive down the dusty drive, I see neatly staked vines already filling with clusters of grape. It'll be a good harvest.

On the veranda of the main house, a luncheon is ready for us.


Everyone is in high spirits as we take our seats.  The day is beautiful.  A cool breeze, unusual for this time of year, sweeps down the long table.  

The meal starts with offers of Rakia – alcohol content 60% plus. It's traditional Macedonian welcome.


Two new friends.  One directs a local cultural center and wants to teach youth film making and the other belongs to a wood carving guild and mentors the next generation into the craft.  
After toasts and careful sips (at least for me), we dig into large platters of greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, roasted peppers and shredded carrots. Side dishes with feta and olives are passed along too.


I ask if the peppers are hot ones. “Just the small.” I'm told. “But try them all, you'll like.” I smile and pass the plate along. I've been there before.  Salad is followed by platters of meco. The meats include slabs of pork ribs, chicken and tasty sausages.  I transition from the Rakia to a nice Rose wine.  It's fresh and not too sweet.  



And then I try the Cabernet.  


Wow, I've never tasted such a delicious wine. It's wonderful - full body velvet with a smooth finish.

We share lots of toasts and lively conversations.  It's like we have a lot in common and of course, we do - Americans and Macedonians serving together through the Peace Corps.  
The owner beckons me to follow him. We descend into the wine cellar. It's cool and the shelves are neatly displaying bottle after bottle. I tell the owner how much I enjoyed the wine. He stands proud and I ask to snap a photo.

I buy four for about $20. I would have bought more, but I knew I had a bus ride home at the end of the day. Four is enough for now.

We say our goodbyes and head for Skopje. Along the way we see young men on bikes and others on foot moving northward. At first I thought they might be Euro-kids trekking for the summer, but no.

Internet stock photo
These are people fleeing the blood bath of Syria and Iraq. Even though I've seen images before, the horror of it all begins to seep through the car windows into my consciousness.

One fleeting image sticks with me. It's a father carrying a toddler and holding the hand of another on the side of the road and we wiz pass.

Two hours later we're on the outskirts of Skopje. My Peace Corps friends drop me off at a bus stop to get to my home. With back-pack and box of wine, I look like an American Baba.

Here comes the bus. It's #5 just as I expected, but with an added A. I ignore the A, climb aboard and buy a ticket. We get to the edge of the Center when the bus veers right. Soon I'm in unfamiliar territory.

Suddenly, the bus stops and all the people get off. What to do? I try to ask the driver. He grumbles three, three and points across the 4 lane parkway. I'm not sure what to do other than get to the other side of the road.

It's not easy, but I make it still carrying my box and clutching my bus ticket for a re-entry.

I ask an older woman about getting a #5 bus to my home in the Aerodrom neighborhood. She takes me to a bus shelter about a half a block away. I keep saying - #5 here? And she keeps looking at my ticket.

We are not yet communicating.

She opens her purse and pulls out her ID card pointing to her birth date – 1950. Huh?  And then I get it, sort of. I tell her 1945 for me. Actually, I write it since I can't recall how to say numbers that large. She points to my bus ticket saying, “ne, ne ,ne.” Finally, I figure it out. She's been trying to tell me that seniors ride free on Fridays.

We're communicating.

Suddenly, a #50 bus swooshes to a stop in front of us. She pushes me forward. I'm thinking it's not #5 or any number that I've taken before, but I'm in her hands, almost literally.

She insists that I take one of the last seats and finds a place for my box which has begun to feel awkward. Others look at us with curiosity. I try to remind myself that I'm on an adventure.

After a few stops, we get off. I think we're at a mega stop where many buses crisscross. Sure enough, here comes #5 without an A. The woman once again finds me a seat and a place for my box.  

The man next to me wonders who I am. She tells him I'm American and lots of other stuff that I don't understand. Maybe she's telling him about me buying an unnecessary ticket.  A young woman stands in front of us. She's smiling. I ask her to express my appreciation to the woman who has been so helpful. Others turn to see what's going on. Strangers are becoming friendlier. Questioning stares become gentle smiles. It's kind of amazing.

I step off the bus with farewell greetings, lots of smiles and great feelings. At home, I brim over with thoughts of my day. I'm thinking about kindness - How it works and what it does. I'm glad kindness lives on, maybe forever....
Across from my balcony,  a rainbow spreads across the sky




Sunday, June 21

Macedonian Legends

I'm in historic Dorjan in southern Macedonia at a Peace Corps language camp. We're here to learn more Macedonian and soak in the culture of this fascinating country.  

Our location is Lake Dorjan. People have lived here since prehistoric times.  Even the Greek historian, Herodotus, wrote about the Paeonians who were fishermen and lived in settlements accessible only by boat.

During a break from Macedonian classes, I join a group who are searching out ancient ruins amidst the modern building of this place. We walk along the rim of the Lake. 

In the far distance are mountains and the shore of Greece. If I was strong enough swimmer, I might be able to swim to Greece. Imagine that.  The lake is round in shape formed by powerful tectonic movement under the earth's crust. It's maximum depth is only 10 meters keeping the waters warm.
 


It's known for abundant algae that not only feed an abundance of fish, but whose mud is said to have curative powers. People come to cover their bodies with the mud, bake in the sun and realize relief from aches and pains of modern life. 

Does it work? People swear by it.  

I'm learning that there are many truths tempting belief.  Here's another.  It's the legend of how the lake was formed.    

Once there was a young woman named Dojrana. Everyday she went to draw water from the powerful springs near her village. Like everyone she knew that the springs had to be resealed after use to prevent flooding.

As she was filling her jugs, suddenly her lover appeared having returned from battle. She rushed to embrace him and in their passion retired to the village.

Of course, the springs kept flowing and the result of their love and deep, though mindless,  passion is what we now call Lake Dojran. 


We cross a road and begin climbing steps up a hillside. I notice that they're made of thick slabs of stone. Each one is cut into the hillside. Some are broken or slanted to the side. It's probably caused by that tectonic movement or centuries of use. My brother, Warren, who undertook a similar project on a hillside of his home in Connecticut, would appreciate the work which has endured so long.  

At the top is a church built in 1874 and named for Saint Ilija. The yard thick walls show faint evidence of frescoes. It must have been a beautiful church.


I say "must have been" because the church was bombarded during WWI.  The walls stood firm, but the dome was destroyed. It was rebuilt only to have it destroyed again by the warfare of WWII.  Macedonia has often been in the cross-hairs of bloodshed.  For decades the church stood broken and open to the elements.

Then villagers began to notice something strange. On Saint Ilija's feast day in August, a drowning would always seem to occur. Our guide, who tells us this story, swears it is true since both his grandmother and mother told it to him.

Strange as it sounds, these yearly drownings continued.  "No one knew what to think about this," says the man, "until an old Baba had a dream."

Her dream warned that until the dome was rebuilt drownings would continue. People heeded the warning and in 1992, the dome was finally restored.


No one has drowned on Saint Ilija's feast day since then,” swears our guide. 

I couldn't help but notice that 1992 is about the same time when Soviet influence collapsed and religion could once again be openly practiced. 

Coincidence? Connection? Causality? Who knows? With legends, truth is in the eye of the beholder.   

Further at the top of the hill is an ancient clock tower. Exact date of its construction is unknown, but it's likely to be from the late 1300s. At that time, a great Ottoman general, Evrenos, was sweeping through Macedonia consolidating the lands of the empire.

As legend has it, he came upon Lake Dojran. Fortunately, it was frozen solid. He was able to lead his army across the ice without any loss of life. To commemorate the safe passage, the clock tower was built on the highest hill. Of course, it also served as lookout and symbol of conquest.

Our walk is all down hill now. Instead of the stairs, we walk along winding roads – another legacy from Ottoman times. They apparently preferred winding paths to the straight broader roads of the lower Macedonian village.

My day concludes with a most unusual movie - Whose Is This Song? Check it out.

Adela Peeva is the film's maker and a kind of social archaeologist. She follows the history and national ownership of a traditional song. 

You Tube says in an introduction:

“In her search for the true origins of a haunting melody, the filmmaker travels to Turkey, Greece, Macedonia, Albania, Bosnia, Serbia and Bulgaria. The trip is filled with humor, suspense, tragedy and surprise as each country's citizens passionately claim the song to be their own and can even furnish elaborate histories for its origins.

Watch with a few friends and it's bound to open a lively discussion. Enjoy.  

Friday, May 29

Matka Macedonia: A Special Place

Just do it. I'm waking up with energy for the weekend. I've explore my new home base and now it's time to step out.


I say to myself, "Let's find new places and experience Macedonia beyond urban Skopje." My destination will be Lake Matka.  It's about 20 kilometers from Skopje. 
Hydro-electric plants.  New on the left and older on right.   

 It’s the site of Macedonia’s first hydroelectric plant. It was built in 1936 during Soviet times and has been the major source of electricity for Skopje. It's remains a favorite place to soak in the colors and sounds of nature.


Before human times, the river Treska has been gouging a pathway through mountain ridges. I’m told the rocky masses consist of thick layers of carbonate and slate carbonate stone.



Looking up through the grooves is like seeing back into a billion years. Punctuating the facade are caves. Several are among the largest and deepest in the Balkans and Europe.


Getting here has been an adventure.

While I had the bus number, I did not know where to catch it. At the bus station, I scurry from one staging area to another. I decide to take a short-cut around a high fence. 


But then, a guard yells, “Not this way. No one is allowed.” Or at least, that’s what I think he is saying since, of course, he is speaking Macedonian and I’m not.

My time is running out. I have just 5 minutes to find the platform for bus 60. “Take a deep breath, Jud,” I say to myself. “Remember, it’s all an adventure.”


I ask a man for directions thinking how grateful I am for learning those Macedonian words. He points over there and I arrive just as the last passengers are climbing aboard. I’m meant to take this trip.

Inside the bus is crowed and becoming more so when others join us at stops along the way. I notice a baba and her grandson. He’s older than my grandson, Max. He's maybe three.

The boy's face is fixed towards the smudgy windows. When you’re three, there’s a lot to see. It's a parade of new sights. With wide eye wonder, he's enjoying the crowded bus more than anyone. I think.

The bus takes a long time to wind through the streets of Skopje. Slowly the concrete gives way to fields of green and newly turned soil. Our road narrows. We creep through several villages and come to a dead end. “Are we at Matka,” I ask the driver? He nods a da.

I hop off my bus. My first impressions are of sounds and colors.


River Treska roars down a steep hill. Even though a new hydro plant has nearly tripled output to 9.6 MW of electricity, the river still thunders with energy. 

They tell me competitive kayak racing takes place here. I believe it. My nephew Garth would love it.


I wander closer. I feel the coolness of the mountain stream. The color is amazing. It’s a deep turquoise even on this gray day. Maybe I’ll try capturing the tone in a watercolor. I’m mesmerized.



Overhead in trees, birds compete with their own territorial sounds. I smile to myself when I spot a little bird with a big song and snap a picture. 

It’s great to be surrounded by nature.

A narrow path follows the river hugging the mountain side. I see that it’s been equipped with new guard rails.  Since Macedonia has been featured in western publications, including the New York Times, tourist preparations are everywhere. I even saw construction for a new Hilton Hotel in Skopje. It won't be long....



I learn that Matka is the Macedonian word for womb. Is it like a place of birth or rebirth? What's the mythology behind the naming of this place?

Locals say they don’t know of any kind of mythology. For them it’s just a nice place to go with family and friends. “We go there to get away from the concrete and heat of Skopje.”



Still I think it’s a pity because such beauty deserves a legend or at least a good story. 

It's having an affect on me. I’m feeling rejuvenated. Like the little boy on the bus, my senses are seeing colors and hearing sounds as if for the first time. For me Matka is becoming a special place. 



I continue my stroll to an ancient Monastery – St Andrews. It was built at the end of the 14th century. I'm intrigued by the decorative brick work and try to imagine workmen who laid the bricks for the glory of God and probably the King too.

A little further on is a cafe attached to a small hotel. Seeing it and comparing it to photos from the Internet, I realize it too has been rejuvenated. 


I check out the menu – ones in English – and sit down for a snack. It's a lovely place available only to those who walk the path.

In the distance, I hear afternoon thunder. I check the bus schedule and realize one will be leaving in about a half hour. If I hurry, I can catch it.

But still on my way back, I pause to take a few more mental impressions. The lure of this place does rejuvenate even without a legend. Matka - I won't forget you. 


PS   As I was ending my experience, I came upon this trio. 

It's an electronic world too....

Tuesday, May 12

Live Life and Get Along

Somoil Castle, a medieval
heritage sight in Ohrid, Macedonia
Many friends and family have asked, "How are you?"

I want to assure everyone that all is well here.  The violence that played out over the weekend has subsided and all is calm now.  

Last weekend, violence flared in a city about 25 miles from Skopje.  There was loss of life and damage to homes.  The episode was contained although it worried many many Macedonians.  As a new friend shared, "We've seem too much violence and suffering.  People just want to live life." 


Peace Corps has been diligent in monitoring developments and keeping us volunteers informed.  Our safety and well-being is their highest priority.  If a situation develops, there are plans in place.  I feel quite safe and secure.  

There are always problems to solve.  For example, in Macedonia unemployment is at 30% with the young and minority types even higher.  The Peace Corps is here to help.  We share our skills and goodwill. We help to build the capacity for a better life.  I think in a cumulative way we are making a positive difference. 

Right now, I'm remembering the famous quote attributed to Rodney King, "Can't we all just get along." 

Of course, this applies not only here, but also in places like Baltimore and dozens of others if we only take a moment to think about them.   What people want around the world is to just live life and get along.  

Simplistic, perhaps, but maybe worth trying since nothing else seems to be working so well.  


Sunday, May 3

No Pandora Here

They don't have Pandora in Macedonia.

It's a surprise as I take a break from language training and click on my tablet for some music. “No Pandora in your current country.” It probably has something to do with copyrights and other legal stuff.

Back in America, I got use to listening to Folk Rock from the 60s and 70s. It's music of my social activist era. But it's not available in Skopje.

It's not that Skopje is backwards. Actually this Capitol City appears quite modern. It's a city of about 550,000 where almost a third of the Country's people live.


My living space with fold down futon
My one room efficiency is in a modern part of town. I'm on the third floor and trees surround me. In the morning, sunlight floods through the windows dancing dappled patterns on the floor and walls. 

Earlier today, a couple of crow like birds (black with white on the body) squawked to wake up the morning and me too!

Morning coffee among the trees




I can walk out onto a large balcony. I love having an outdoor space. I have one chair, but my landlord says he'll bring another and a small table. In the corner, a flower pot sits neglected, but not for long. Planting time!


Outside tall sycamore trees line a wide boulevard – two lanes each way and a grassy area in the middle with more trees. Between highrise apartments, distant mountains hover over the horizon. Some are still snow capped. Lovely. It gives me a refreshing feeling even though cars wiz by.  

My boulevard and double decked bus with snow capped mountains in the distance
Across the boulevard about a block away, there's a cluster of stores including a supermarket. Wow, I've lucked out. Good karma is with me.

Though today, I'm hunting for the Green Market. It's called a bazaar in Ukraine and a farmer's market in the USA – a place for garden fresh produce.

Down a narrow alley lined by shops, I go. I walk past several clothing shops, a toy store, a barber shop and a bedding store. I'll remember the latter for another day since I'll need some sheets. These are not chain stores like the ones that have taken over America. They are run by Mon and Pop entrepreneurs.


Opening into a parking lot area, I find the Green Market. I congratulate myself. My first adventure. Success!

Today is a day for fresh salad. Big heads of lettuce, spinach, spring onions, radishes and more are displayed on the ground or in small stalls. I walk the aisles feeling a little intimidated since I'm not sure how I'll navigate through the purchasing of tonight's meal.


Peace Corps has been great in orienting us PCRV (Peace Corps Response Volunteers), but it's only been a week. Over the past 4 days, they answered questions and outlined essential health, safety, administrative and IT issues. And everyday we had 4 hours of language learning with an excellent teacher.  

Language learning works. I'm speaking “Makedonski.” I can say hello and goodbye, please and thank you. I can ask where, how much, how are you and even say, “nice to meet you.”

Of course there's more. I can introduce myself. Tell locals a little about the Peace Corps and what I'll be doing. Given enough time, I can sound out signs and guess at their meaning. But is it enough for the Green Market?


Alexandra introduced herself in English.  She worked for two years in London
Not to worry. The vendors are friendly and patient. You can communicate a lot with a few words and lots and lots of gestures. When in doubt of a price, ask for it to be written down. Numbers are universal.

One man insists that I take a “digital” of his eggs. Obviously he's proud. One of these XXL egg easily equals two large ones. As I say goodbye, he grabs my hand and I think he is saying, “Come back, come back again.” I will. His big smile makes me feel quite welcomed.
 
I'm ready to cook my first meal in my new home. It'll be curried lentils with olives, feta and spinach salad.


A 1st meal at home
It occurs to me that this is a meal I could share with my counterparts at Public.” 

 We only met for a few hours at the end of training, but already I'm getting a positive feeling for the leaders of Public, a civic engagement NGO.

I sense dedication. They talk about making Macedonia a better place by including the poor and marginalized.

Their passions hook into my social activism of earlier years when I worked with street gangs in Pittsburgh, organized for the inclusion of black construction workers in trade unions and started work at the Lafayette Urban Ministry.

My counterparts greet me with a gift bag. Inside is a bottle of Macedonian wine, a guide book of must-see sights and a big container of curry powder!


Imagine. They've been reading my blog and wanted to be sure that I didn't run out of curry. How sweet and thoughtful is that! We're going to get along just fine.

Natural trees to enjoy
So I'm thinking, “Tonight's meal will be a preparation for my first dinner party.” I'm looking forward to that gathering.

Macedonia may not have Pandora, but it has urban style, natural settings and a Green Market with the freshest seasonal foods. It has friendly caring people and an organization that wants to make a difference.


Who needs nostalgic feelings from folk rock music of the 60s and 70s when the challenges of real-life social activism awaits me at Public, my new NGO home for a year.  

Saturday, April 25

Moving a Life

It's not easy moving a life...although my niece and her military family do it all the time. She claims they have it down to a system. I'm not sure that's possible for me.

Sure I make lists and then I compile those lists into more lists. I'm working on my third final list now. Progress?

So many details to sort. Duplicate keys for renter. Pick up new glasses. Set up Skype. Pay bills. Stop Medicare. Alert bank of travel. Finalize will and medical directives. And of course sort clothes and decide what art supplies to take. Oh, and don't forget favorite spices. I've gotta have curry.

I'm packing two duffel bags which will hold my life-support for two years. While I'm sorting, my internal I-Pad hums a 60s folk tune – “All my bags are packed. I'm ready to go ….Cause I'm leavin' on a jet plane...” 

I'm thinking with a big smile, “the hassle of packing up a life is worth it 'cause I get to go to Macedonia. What an adventure!"

Macedonia seems exotic. Doesn't it? Like many Americans, I know little about it. I know it's in the Balkans, but not much more. I'm learning that when the former Soviet block country of Yugoslavia fractured in 1991, Macedonia re-gathered into its national identity.

Macedonia has deep roots. Archeologists see evidence of human settlements as far back as 7000 BCE. Along the way, notables like King Phillip II and Alexander The Great created the world’s largest Empire stretching from Europe, to North Africa and India.

Since then it's been fought over and conquered by Greeks, Romans, Serbians, Bulgarians, The Byzantine Empire, The Ottoman Empire and more. It's a history of cultural amalgamation and conflict.

Think World War I, Macedonia was in the center of the powder keg that ignited then. And still, It's neighbors especially Greece, Bulgaria and Albania protest its existence. Each thinks the land should be theirs and they can look back and make plausible claims. This time the conflicts have been a war of words mostly. I'm grateful.

The organization I'll be working with wants to include the marginalized in the new Macedonia. They want to alleviate poverty.

It's a big mission that they approach through social policy research and advocacy. Right now they are working on a project that “will produce the first empirical index measuring corruption and clientelism (sic) in media.”

I'm excited to be joining such a group. I hope to contribute to their organizational development drawing upon my 40 years of experience with social change organizations and the contacts I've made along the way. I see my work to be a way of sharing best practices and connecting my Macedonian counterparts with others in America who share a just and inclusive vision for life.

At a farewell party last week, I got talking with a friend who volunteered to contact the staff of DC's street paper. It's like the one in Macedonia. Homeless people sell the weekly paper and make income for their own needs.

We thought that maybe we could arrange a Skype conversation connecting these staff in a direct way. It's social entrepreneurship connecting around the world. Who knows where it might lead.

So here I am with just a few more hours in my apartment. I really am checking off my final, final final list. My physical possessions are down to necessities + curry carried in two duffel bags for the year.

Yet I'm thinking how fortunate...how very fortunate I am. 

 My life experience is about to expand. New friends, new challenges and lots of adventure.  My life is on the move.  I wonder what lies ahead....