Saturday afternoon, after going to shop rice and vegetables to the “pasar”, my beloved favorite amazing market in the center of Prilep, I proposed to my flatmate Catalin to join us to my friends who live in Bitola to take part of the Kolede’s celebration together them. It is a celebration during Orthodox Christmas here in Macedonia, but it does not belong to religion field. Actually I heard some confused stories about it but I think it deals with the wish of good luck for the year is coming. They usually arrange these fires around the city to burn and to throw away negativity and bad vibes by wishing just the best for the new year. So Cata and me took the last bus for Bitola and we reached the girls. By getting in Bitola we noticed a lot of snow around us that left my mouth open for a good while!
Hanne and Beyza were waiting for us at the bus station, I was really glad to see them again. They are volunteers from another project, we met each other in Skopje during our arrival training. Hanne comes from Netherlands and Beyza from Turkey. They led us across the city. I noticed right away that Bitola is bigger and fancier than Prilep. There are a lot of nice shops, restaurants, coffee bar. What it surprised me was that no one cared to pour the salt in the main street of the city, I mean it could be really dangerous for everyone but especially for children and old people! Anyway no one seemed notice it and about us we were able to reach the appointment location with the president of my friends’ organization. From there he picked us up and he led us over the gate of a stone’s majestic building. Over that there was a broad courtyard with a nice group of people who was divided between the shed in the corner, full of light, food, drinks; and the little fire arranged in the middle of the garden. All around it was just full of snow. The cold was really biting but the atmosphere was indescribable! The president suggested us to say to everyone there “za mnogu godini” ( literally “for many years”) to wish them a long and good life. After exchanging each other this good wishes they offered us hot rakija. Let’s say we were really grateful for that. Plus I ate some cheese, olives, nuts to feel me part of the celebration. In the table’s corner Beyza noticed some packages with inside candies and a coin in each one. I asked and I discovered they put a coin into it to wish good luck for money all the year just started. After spending some time around the fire by drinking again hot rakjia and by chatting with the others guys around us, we left to go in another neighborhood. Here we found a bigger and warmer fire with a nice group of people around that. Someone of them were warmer and invited us more times to take something to eat so finally Beyza and me came forward: she tried grilled meat and I tried grilled mushrooms and their too tasty salad with cabbage, carrot, beetroots. Oh I really love this salad! But what it is worrying me is that I start liking mushrooms since I arrived here, common! As the president of my friends’ organization said to me after discovering I have a Macedonian boyfriend, “you are really integrated here!”. But let’s come back to the tale. At some point a Balkan band appeared between us and they started playing Balkan music. We were drinking a very tasty macedonian red wine except Beyza, she prefer “ belo vino”, I mean white wine, and we started dancing. At the beginning just we foreigners were dancing, but after we broke the ice someone of Bitola’s people joined us. The most amazing moment was when someone started dancing traditional Macedonian dances and they dragged us in that dance. Fortunately we learned something about this dance during our Christmas party I arranged on 25th December in Prilep, that is Catalin had learned something and he was really good that night. About me, I just tried to follow the flow! Anyway it was amazing. We danced again, we drank other wine, we watched putting on the fire other wood. It was really excited for me because I felt Balkan. I felt to belong to this land somehow. Just the cold remembered me that I do not. Everything was really great except the cold that it was really biting. It was minus 15 degrees. I mean it was quite intolerable for me. I really suffered for the cold and I have been explained all the night to the others that I am Italian, moreover from Florence, and half part of my blood even comes from South of Italy! By the way, I would like finish this tale by taking this opportunity to publicly thank to “T’ga za jug” wine and hot rakjia to help me to survive again. Thanks guys, I love you. “Za mnogu godini” with you, I hope.
Written by: Venessa Torcasso