Pictures by Kim Vermaat.
By aldo Rodriguez.
Prior to beginning her diplomatic career in 2003, upon marrying her husband, H.E. Igor Popov, Ambassador of the Republic of Macedonia to the Netherlands, Mrs. Maja Popova enjoyed an illustrious career that spanned over two decades in Metal Conservation Archeology, at a renown museum in Macedonia’s capitol city, Skopje – her hometown. She is a pharmacist by training and a philanthropist by experience. It was her passion for humanitarian work that brought her path to cross the Ambassador’s, when he attended a public park clean-up event hosted by Green Planet, an environmental protection nonprofit organization where she served as Executive Director, on a volunteer basis. As you may have noticed, Mrs. Popova’s name carries with it an extra “a” unlike the Ambassador’s name due to the grammatical gender of Macedonian – the “a” makes the name feminine because she is a woman.
She seems to like her new found home and holds her new neighbors in high esteem, “Dutch people are like fighters, they don’t give up.” she says “Probably due to their struggles with the sea and the climate that has lasted for centuries.” Having just moved to the Netherlands in May 2014, Mrs. Popova, like any good parent, worked swiftly to help her family feel at home. She has two children, the first of which is Marco who is 11-years-old and attends an international school, while her four-year-old daughter, Bisera, attends a local Dutch school. Little Bisera, she stated, takes after her father, so she is very extraverted, has quickly adapted to the Netherlands and has already picked-up some Dutch. While young Marco, who is having a slightly harder time making friends at school, benefits from having his cousins in close proximity, as the Ambassador has family who immigrated to the Amsterdam-area some 25 years ago. This gives her family a distinct advantage over the typical expat community, she admits, as they have been able to frequent the Netherlands throughout the years due to family functions and holidays. She hopes the life experiences afforded by their modern nomadic lifestyle will benefit Marco and Bisera later in life, giving them a different perspective on the world.
Once the settling down phase is complete she plans to further explore the Netherlands – first up, she says, will be the Dutch Wadden Sea Islands, particularly Schiermonnikoog, thought to be one of the prettiest places in the country. Leiden, she says, is one of her favorite cities to visit thus far because of its charming beauty, traditional architecture and of course, its museums – which are of particular interest to her, due to her professional background. She intends to reengage her artifact conservation work to some degree in the coming year through new contacts she has made at museums in Leiden, once the kids have a routine set, that is. Now that the rainy days of winter have began she also looks forward to visiting museums like Naturalis Biodiversity Center, Corpus, and the newly reopened Mauritshuis, with her kids.
Her embassy recently celebrated the Macedonian National Day, which is on September 8th, in collaboration with Diplomat Magazine. The event was well attended by the local diplomatic and Macedonian communities, alike. Traditional treats and delicious wines were served. Macedonia is known for its rich and aromatic red wines and bountiful peppers, which are undoubtedly delicious byproducts of its sunny climate. Its abundant sunshine is even depicted on their flag “The New Sun of Liberty” and also referred to in the nation’s anthem. Despite her life-long love affair with adventure and travel, she confesses that nostalgia for her homeland, as is natural, does set-in from time-to-time. She longs for the general calm and helpful atmosphere of Macedonia and its kitchen, as she rarely gets to visit. “Of course I cook. Of course! Every day. I have two kids and a husband – so they all depend on my kitchen,” she chuckles, as we discuss where she shops for key ingredients. She quickly compliments the Dutch greenhouse industry for allowing her to find many of the “delicious, very hot, green peppers that Macedonians cannot live without,” despite our lack of sun here. When describing produce at the “beautiful, beautiful, beautiful” Haagse Markt her eyes light up. The local Moroccan and Turkish butchers also get high praise for having excellent meats.
Mrs. Popova communicates with ease. She is a natural people-person and possesses vast professional experience, which the local nonprofit community will surely benefit from once she branches out to volunteer during her limited free time, until the right job opportunity presents itself. In closing, she shares some of the life-lessons she has gained as a world citizen. In short, “Life is a gift,” she says, which has to be respected for what it is, while maintaining awareness and compassion for those living with less. “We have to be humble and be satisfied with what we have,” she concludes, that is her recipe for a happy life – one she is trying to impart on her microcosm which is her family.