Thursday, December 29, 2011

Среќенa Нова 2012 Година!

Two blog posts in a day- it’s a big day/I feel guilty when I haven’t updated for awhile but I get messages from people saying they enjoy my blog! That is how you get me to write if its been a little while!

I have now been at site for over a month. Christmas Day marked our one month anniversary as PCVs, so we had all the more reason to celebrate. A lot has happened in this past month. I have experienced the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, something my fellow MAK-16s can easily agree with. I am still trying to figure out my place here both in the community and at school.

This month I have spent shadowing all six English teachers at my school and one of the village schools. Most of the time I have just sat and observed the class, occasionally read a text or two in American English (which the kids prefer and find it easier to pronounce- I can see it now….in two years there will be a whole bunch of little Macedonian children running around with Minnesotan accents!). Now after our big break (we have a break from December 31-January 20 or so due to the many holidays- Нова Година (New Years- December 31/January 1), Божик (Eastern Orthodox Christmas- January 6/7), and Стара Нова Година (Old New Years- January 14) my schedule will change and I will be working with fewer teachers and focusing on the younger grades (right now I have been in 1st-8th). My counterpart is great and really enjoys teaching. She wants to improve her English and teaching and is really curious about how things are done in America. She is a good teacher and uses methods more similar to the American system than the others. I have loved being in the 3rd and 4th grade classes the most and will be spending more time with them. Hopefully after the break I will be able to help more in the classroom and start some secondary projects because right now I am not very useful. However, today I actually got to help with the 4th and 6th graders. I talked to the 4th graders about American Christmas traditions and helped the 6th graders write compositions about their good and bad habits. I also will start helping out at the kindergarten with the English teacher there (even if I go when they aren’t learning English, the Macedonian of 3, 4, and 5-year-olds is much more at my level).

Here in Macedonia, I am an expert on a multitude of topics, simply because I am American. I have been an expert on global warming (which doesn’t really exist in Macedonia of course) to haggis (why yes, every American knows about the traditional Scottish dish) and British laws (again, because we speak the same language, I must know everything about the British government). I was an expert at addressing Ambassadors and ribbon cutting ceremonies (the Swiss Ambassador to Macedonia came to Kamenica on December 23rd to open a brand new playground that they helped fund with the Opstina (government) and a local HBO (NGO) and I was there with my counterpart to help provide English translation (because after studying Macedonian for 3 months I can certainly translate for the Swiss Ambassador- lucky for me his personal assistant was fluent in Macedonian, English, Italian, and German). I was an expert on drawing Christmas trees and the internet (I often am asked to translate error messages for people since they show up in English).

As far as my house, I have made it more my own. I will try to post pictures soon. I have learned how to build fires in my wood burning stove and haul wood 2-3 times a day. When I get a good fire going, it heats up all of the radiators in my house and makes every room warm (even my forbidden room- the room Peace Corps isn’t paying for me to have, but I can really use it anyway if I want). Without a fire, it is dreadfully cold and I can barely stand to be outside of my down sleeping bag. I constantly can see my breath if I don’t have a fire going and my shampoo and conditioner freeze. I still don’t have internet. This has been quite the battle. I was promised internet by Lucia and was looking forward to Skyping with people back home then, didn’t happen. Then by American Christmas, didn’t happen. Now, I was told after the new year (that is the big holiday here, Christmas isn’t a big deal, but New Year’s Eve is huge). It is starting to get a little frustrating since I really haven’t talked to my parents in over a month when they were in California with Anna. But soon, hopefully (although I am not getting my hopes up). I recently have really gotten to see what my water distiller takes out of my water. Previously it was just white crystallized sludge, now it has started to be more of a reddish (I am assuming suddenly the iron content from the mine has increased, but I am still waiting to see what medical has to say about this).

I am debating if my language has gotten better or worse. A lot of people lost language skills when we stopped having 4 hours of Macedonian language a day, however I speak only Macedonian outside of school, so I don’t have a choice to practice. It is no big deal now to walk into a prodov and ask for some item I want to buy. Even if I don’t know the exact Macedonian word, I can usually describe what I am looking for and they understand (Trying to explain shower curtain was an interesting one- кого јас се туширам, многу вода сел бања. Треба голема пластик крпа- When I shower, lots water whole bathroom. Need big plastic towel- complete with gestures- And after all of this, I found out they don’t sell shower curtains in my town). I translate what I want to say when talking to younger kids at school without much difficulty. Once I get internet, I will be able to start my Skype tutoring with Dushko (my LCF from PST) which will help too.

Tomorrow is the last day of school until the new year. I still am not sure what I will be doing for New Year’s Eve. Another volunteer is coming into town and we will na gosti somewhere, either the girls next door, the teachers at school, or my landlady. Tonight I am going to the old cinema to see my student’s New Years performance and tomorrow I was invited to go to the kindergarten to see their holiday performance which I am really excited about as well.

Среќенa Нова 2012 Година!

Christmas in the Rock

Well, American Christmas has come and gone here in Macedonia (we still have Macedonian Christmas to look forward to on January 7th). It was the first Christmas away from home for many of the MAK-16s, but we celebrated together and had a good time. There were several Christmas parties going on around the country, but somehow I think Kamenica ended up having the largest, and certainly the longest (we started Friday and went until Monday) party. There were 11 volunteers in my house at one point, which my house is larger than most here, but still meant we had some interesting sleeping accomodations (especially when you have to take into account the snorers and those who have violent nightmares). Several people traveled over 6 hours by bus to get to Kamenica and their presence was much appreciated.

Some of the highlights:

Going in search of an Божик елка (Christmas Tree). They brought back not one, but four.
Julie decorating the tree.
Kenzie and Morgan enjoying some holiday drinks.
The start of the White Elephant gift exchange. Check out the sweet bag I found with race cars and fast cats. That in itself was a gift!
Paul's White Elephant from Enid: A whisk and a pack of spaghetti sauce mix from America
Julie's White Elephant from Sara: A mushroom jar, a Saint portrait, and a fake metal weapon.
Faron received a Macedonian Children's Concert video from Paul
Enid opened a White Elephant from Morgan that was wet. It was a yellow plastic bottle with knobs and some sort of liquid inside.
Kenzie opening a White Elephant that had "popular" American star posters, a used loofa, and a mystery Macedonian homemade wall hanging
Anna's White Elephant gift went to Dale: A glass cockatoo statue.
The most coveted White Elephant gift, prior and post opening, was Faron's. The recipient was Dan. Apparently Faron has 3 or 4 of these lovely framed pictures in his house and decided to share.
Building Gingerbread Houses
Dale using part of Paul's White Elephant gift
Christmas Stockings from Дедо Мраз (Santa Claus)

Paul and Julie
Christmas Day Dinner- Roast Chickens and Vegetables
Andres bobbing for cookies with the ones that were stuck to the pan.

The boys were in charge of decorating the cookies. This is the cookie they made for me- three layers and about a pound of frosting, sprinkles, and red hots. AKA: A handful of diabetes.
Clearly I am a 2 year old and wore more of the cookie than I ate.
The Kratavo Group: Paul, Dale, Dan, Faron
The Girls: Anna, Julie, Morgan, Enid, Sara
Team Lozovo: Anna, Julie, Kenzie, Morgan, Andres, Sara

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Life in "The Rock"

Well life here in Kamenica keeps ticking along. School days are a little long some days since I am still trying to figure out what my job is/where I am useful. In talking with previous/current volunteers this often takes 3 months to a year, so I guess I have lots of sitting and observing left to do. However, I am going to try a new approach and try to figure out just what the school wanted when they requested me. I have yet to figure out who exactly did- whether it was a specific teacher, the director, or just a general thought that I could be a useful addition for a while. Once I get this figure out hopefully I can figure out more what I should be doing. I have been emailing with an RPCV who lived in Kamenica and he has been a good resource. He was a MAK 7 back in the early 2002/2003, however was only in Kamenica for about 8 months due to the mine flooding/pollution incident everyone here seems to not talk about at all.

I have learned though that in this country, I can’t be passive and unopinionated like I was in US. If I don’t like something, I can’t just go with it/hope it will change. I need to address it right away and be blunt. This is really hard for me to do since it isn’t my way. If I am tired and just want to go home and relax, I need to say I am tired instead of sitting at one more na gosti not enjoying myself/thinking about how I wish I could be home sleeping. I would like to think this will a) get easier over time and b) get easier when I have more stuff going on. I think I need to be blunt and after observing a little more, tell the teachers that I am not a decoration for their classroom. If I am not going to be used by a certain teacher/grade, there is no point in me being there.

Despite not having language class anymore, I can tell my Macedonian is still improving. When I introduce myself to new classes, I do it in English first, then Macedonian and between that and a few other things, I have been doing lots of translating, which is good practice. My task now is translating my chocolate chip cookie recipe into Macedonian for the teachers who have been asking daily for it after I brought in some cookies. As soon as I get internet I will start Skype tutoring with my Macedonian Language Teacher from Lozovo, Dushko, and he sent me a message yesterday in Macedonian and I understood it and responded back in Macedonian, to which he said he was impressed because I was 90% accurate on it all. I still don’t quite know when to use which prepositions and direct and indirect objects are still the bane of my existence, however I am using over half of the long form direct objects on a regular basis now.

Highlights of Today:
·  Built a second fire all on my own! It still takes me a while (longer than a Macedonian) and a lot of paper (I was scolded today for using plain paper, but that’s all I have right now- you don’t just walk into a store and buy old used paper, so I don’t exactly know where to get other stuff this time of year), but I eventually get it.  It is amazing how natural hauling wood several times a day is now and its only been a week and a half.
·  Watched fish being scaled and gutted (Yeah I know I am from MN, but believe it or not I have never been fishing). It was gross as is, but I kinda freaked out a little when they started scaling the fish that were still alive. Please can someone start cutting off my outer layer of skin while I am alive!
·  Met the final English teacher at the school today and she is AMAZING! She teaches the first, second, and fifth graders. She had me working with them from the start, helping the first graders cut shapes to make masks. A huge plus with her too is that she has experience working with the last few volunteers, so she understands much more than most why I am here. I am hoping to work with her a lot.
·  I killed a bug (like a giant box elder bug) with my bare hands and only slightly flinched.
·  I messaged back and forth briefly with my host brother and host sister and Kenzie’s host father in Lozovo and I am very excited to go back and visit in January. While I know Kamenica is my new home, right now Lozovo is still my Macedonian home to me.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Week One in Kamenica- Check √

Just a quick update because I am still at school using their internet since I don't have it at my house yet.

1) Today I will attempt to build a fire on my own. My fingers are crossed that I can do it. My landlady showed me again last night, but we will see how it goes.

2) Here are the links to Lozovo's video from Swearing-In. It is our tribute to the many soap operas of Macedonia.
 The Video:
And the out takes:

3) I went to one of the village schools today and the English teacher I was working with had to leave early. Thus, I was left with her class of 7th graders all by myself. I wasn't really told about this, she kind of explained it, but told me to just do what this other lady said. Well that lady didn't speak any English, so there I ended up- with a class of my own. It was good practice for me translating from English into Macedonian, however the students either struggled to understand or more than likely, they just didn't want to do anything.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

It's Amazing What A Little Heat Can Do For A Girl!

Written at 11pm on Monday:

Tonight is a special night in Macedonia. It is the night I have finally have heat! When I came home from school around 2:00, I ran into my policeman neighbour. We talked for awhile, as much as we can talk with only slightly speaking the same language. He once again told me if I have any problems, to go to him. I got his phone number (I figure its always good to have a policeman on speed dial). 

I was sitting here at home freezing cold because all I had was my Peace Corps issued heater. I was huddled wearing about 10 layers- including my fleece, my down jacket and my hat inside my down sleeping bag and I was still freezing. My heater was smelling bad and the smell was giving me a headache. I pulled out the heater my landlord had left in the house and tried that, but it smelled like burning. Here I sat, freezing and sad. My landlord’s friend (on the sheet from Peace Corps it says she is his spouse, but she keeps saying her friend and doesn’t wear a ring) was supposed to stop by tonight to check on me, but hadn’t yet. I figured I could ask her then about the radiators and try to figure out a way to stay warmer. Come 7:30 I was near tears because I was so cold (for your Minnesotans, picture sitting in a fish house without any kind of insulation for hours on end). I thought about something the Country Director had said, the reason people ET is because they don’t ask for help soon enough. Well, Stephen (if you are reading this), I listened to your advice and I asked for help. I texted my kind of landlady/kind of not and in horrible Macedonian said (or tried to say), “I don’t think the heating is working because the house is cold and so am I”. She immediately called me and said she would come over shortly.

When she arrived, she brought a posse with her, a friend (who has come with her almost every time) and my landlord’s nephew. The nephew graduated from the university in electrical engineering, so he was ripping apart the heaters like there was no tomorrow trying to fix them. The Peace Corps one needs a new part and the one the landlord provided works after a lot of tinkering. I asked about the radiators throughout the house and was told they are run through the fire. I asked if it would be possible to buy wood so I could have a fire and they told me Peace Corps said no (previously volunteers in Macedonian were not allowed to have wood burning stoves as a safety precaution, however, after several fires caused by the heaters the policy has changed recently). I tried to explain it was alright for me to have one and after some convincing, my landlady (I am going to call her that for lack of a better term) and her friend rushed outside and came back moments later with their arms full of wood. They had a fire going in no time. They told me that my landlord supplies all the wood for Kamenica, so if I want wood, I will have wood (still trying to figure out if I have to pay for it or whatnot). I was shown how to make it all work and within a matter of an hour or so, my entire house was heating up, even parts I hadn’t planned on heating because the radiators are all connected and I figure if I am building a fire to heat one room, I may as well let it heat the others while it is at it.
While my landlady was tending to the fire (she wouldn’t allow me to help get wood) and the nephew was ripping apart and putting back together heaters, I tried to show my domakinka skills. I offered them coffee or tea, which they declined, but when I pulled out the chocolate chip cookies I had made on Saturday, they were delighted to try to see if I really knew how to bake. Much to their surprise, they loved them and I promised my landlady I would bake them with her sometime so she knows how.

During all of this (they were at my place for 2 ½ hours), the nephew was attempting to do some translating, as he knows some English. Sometimes I wish I could play dumb and not understand when I do, but when it is English being spoken, that isn’t really an option. He asked me how old I was (a typical question) and I told him- he is also 24. When the ladies heard that, they started winking and doing the “We are going to set you two up because you need to marry a good Macedonian man” show and I knew what was coming. He asked me if I would go to coffee with him sometime and, in the off chance that he was just being polite, I said sure. However, to safeguard myself against any unwanted romances, I have decided I suddenly have a boyfriend in the US who I care deeply about and will marry when I return. Or at least that is the story I am going to portray. I figure this is a good solution, because it keeps potential suitors/green card seekers at bay, but if I decide in the next two years someone here sparks my interest, said boyfriend can magically disappear because the distance was too much.

Long story short, I am a much happier person now that I have warmth. I still plan on asking for more long underwear and wool socks to be sent, but I no longer worry about Peace Corps calling my parents to say they are sorry but I was frozen alive.

Other: Today was my first day at school. I will write more about that later because this post is long enough already, but I am super excited to start Adult English Classes tomorrow night. They are already running so when I was asked if I would help, I jumped on that offer. Since then, I have had three people ask me if I will teach them, so depending on how class goes tomorrow night, maybe I will spend many nights teaching Adult English. Lastly, I have a lead on how to get internet. Kamenica is trying to provide free wireless to all residents, however, I kinda live in the boonies of Kamenica, so the signal doesn’t reach me. Because of this, I have been struggling to find any information about how much internet will cost/what company to use/etc. But tonight, I made contact and my goal is to, by the end of the week, at least have talked to the company and have it figure out when I will get internet.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving America!

The Ladies of Lozovo: Julie was practicing her Macedonian smile!
Team Dushko: Claire, Me, Kenzie, Shannon, and Morgan
While all of you back in America are watching the Macy's parade, eating your turkey, watching football, and socializing with family and friends, Peace Corps Volunteers around the world are celebrating the day a little different. Here in Macedonian, 36 of us were sworn in as official Peace Corps Volunteers today by the U.S. Ambassador.
I,____________(name) do solemly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America against all enemies, domestic or foreign, that I take this obligation freely. And without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion. And that I will well and faithfully discharge my duties in the Peace Corps, so help me God.
The Swearing-In ceremony was great. A traditional Macedonian folk group played, sang, and dance. We had speeches from the Ambassador, the Country Director, the PST Director, a Representative of the Macedonian President's Cabinet, the Minister of Education and Science, and two of our own, Paul and Carly. They did a wonderful job with their dual Macedonian and Albanian speech.
Thanksgiving Buffet: It looks tame in the picture, but believe me, it was a unique experience!
After the ceremony, we had a feast. Peace Corps flew in turkeys from America for today and all of the host families brought food to share, so it was one giant potluck (be careful if you use this word in Macedonia as it means something very, very different in Macedonian). We had been warned that this becomes a feeding frenzy as the concept of lines doesn't really exist here. As soon as food was put out, there was a mad rush by the Macedonians fighting for food. We tried our best to jump in there and were somewhat successful. I talked with a few of the MAK 14s and 15s because they were fighting just as hard as the Macedonians and they said that by next year, I will be a pro at this sort of thing.
Julie, Shannon, Enid, and I
Then it came time for presentations. Each training community developed a movie of sorts to show at the event thanking our families. All of the movies were good, but I think Lozovo really won it with our Turkish soap opera. The video will be up soon on Morgan's YouTube page, so check it out for sure. Once presentations were done, almost every stood up and left, leaving almost no time to say goodbye. But as typical, Lozovo hung out and we ended up having a dance party with Evelina, the PST Director, Ivana, the Language Coordinator, and all of the female LCFs as well as some current volunteers.  
Claire and I
When we got back to Lozovo, we all went over to Julie's with our families so they could see all of the work we did on their garage. They loved it and were quite impressed with how well we had captured Macedonia. We celebrated with wine and more dancing before it was time to say our goodbyes amongst our group.
Cheers to Lozovo!
Shannon, Anna, and I
We came to Macedonia as 36 Trainees and we left Kumanovo today, 36 volunteers. It was, perhaps, the best way to spend Thanksgiving away from our families and friends back home. Tomorrow, while many of you are out there pushing through crowds to get the best Black Friday deals, we all will be pushing onto buses with 2 years worth of stuff, moving to site, to start our lives as Peace Corps Volunteers.

It really was a bittersweet day. There was much happiness and excitement as we are now official volunteers. We are excited to be moving to site and settling in, exiting the stage of limbo we have been in. However, we also had to say goodbye to some of the best friends we have ever had.

To my Lozovo group: You are all amazing and I couldn't have asked for a better training group. I know we will have our ups and downs over the next two years, but we have each other. Remember the pact we made on the bus coming home from Hub Day: If anyone of us starts considering ETing, you owe each and every other person a phone call. And Julie will be mad if you do, "so just don't."

Finally, Peace Corps posted a press release on their website about all of the groups that are Swearing-In this weekend:

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Morgan Paige: The YouTube Sensation

Morgan has made more movies and they are AMAZING! I wanted to make sure to post the link to her YouTube again so you all can check them out. The newest is the trailer for our Turkish Soap Opera style film that will be released on Thanksgiving Day in front of all 36 of our families, Peace Corps staff, current Peace Corps Volunteers, the US Ambassador, and many other important people. It should be quite entertaining, so be sure to check back after Thanksgiving to see the whole deal.

Link to Morgan's YouTube Page

Friday, November 18, 2011

Butchering the Language One Day at a Time

Today has been an interesting day for language. This is unfortunate because we had our LPIs (language tests) today and while passing/not passing isn't life or death, it is kind of a big deal. We need to reach at least an Intermediate Low level for language, which we've been told shouldn't be too hard for most of us.

During class today we each had to tell a story in past tense and the others had to ask questions about it. Morgan was telling a story about ghosts that lived in an old house. My question for her was supposed to be, "Did you meet the ghosts?" meaning did she ever encounter the ghosts. Instead, however, I asked, "Дали ти мило ми е ооооооооооооо?" or "Did you nice to meet you (ghost sound)?" I had no idea what the word for ghost was and even after Dushko told us several times, it became more fun to just say, "oooooooo". Also, I have been told the real word for meet, запознавеме, many times, however, I can never remember it, and I have turned "nice to meet you" into a verb that I use on a regular basis.

After this statement, Dushko went over the word for "to meet" once again. I wrote it down again and tried to memorize it quickly. I had it down. Well, when it came time for my LPI with Ivana, the Language Coordinator, I was asked what I was going to do after the LPI. I started explaining that a group of us are going to Veles to....(dang, I couldn't remember the word for meet). What did I say, "Ние ќе мило ми е со Џасон, Сами, и Карен". So much for speaking correctly!

Friday, November 11, 2011

You Know You Are In PST Macedonia When.....

As PST is coming to an end shortly, I decided to compile a list of things that I that remind me I am in PST.

- You have been told јади, јади, јади so many times and given in so many times that the Freshman 15 has nothing on you compared to the weight your host mother has forced you to gain.
- You no longer question what sort of animal droppings you are walking in on your way to school and you no longer try to avoid them since they are everywhere.
- You pretend you don't understand a conversation in Macedonian when you really do, just to avoid having to say the same awkward sentences over and over again.
- You no longer are weirded out by throwing your toilet paper in the garbage instead of flushing it.
- You find yourself not being able to remember words in English.
- You accept that showering every day or even every other day is over rated and are lucky if you are able to shower two times a week.
- You don't think twice about being offered ракија, пиво, or сок for breakfast.
- You play dumb with your family so you can listen in on what they are saying to the entire town about you.
- You realize the locals who study English at the University know far more about the English language than you do.
- You have a new "p" word in your vocabulary......промија and you better be scared of might kill you.
- You acknowledge and accept that every person you meet is going to ask you about how much money you had, currently have, and will have.
- Despite the many errors, you have used Google Translate at least once to talk with your family.
- You have been a part of 8 hour на гости.
- When writing in English, you use a combination of Cyrillic and Latin letters and you can't spell in English to save your life.
- Your stomach never really quite gets used to all of the oil used in the food.
- You find yourself agreeing that Тоше was the best musician ever.
- Times that would have been awkward silences in America, are instead welcomed as breaks when you don't have to try and figure out what someone is saying.
- You are cautious when you get in the shower because if you turn the water on just a little too much, you will be burnt.
- Whether you are male or female, you have become quite a good домакинка.
- While on a hike you take photographs of everything in sight so you now have 50 pictures of donkeys and chickens.
- You learn to hate Greece without ever having been there.
- Despite not tasting the best, you get excited when you are given a крем croissant instead of the ham and ketchup variety as it is much less disgusting.
- Your not surprised when the water in your house is suddenly gone and doesn't return for a few days.
- You log into Facebook and discover you have 8 new Macedonian Facebook friends and you don't know any of them.
- You've figured out how to drink just the right amount of coffee so you aren't chewing the grounds.
- You've discovered that mixing Sudafed and ракија is the perfect cure for a cold.
- While on a walk, you are offered coffee by people you don't know.
- You have to walk less that two minutes to find yet another gorgeous view of this country.
- During class you sometimes break into fits of laughter out of no reason other than exhaustion.
- You agree to questions in Macedonian without knowing what they mean, later to realize you just told someone you that you hate them.
- You have had at least four marriage proposals.
- You watch your host siblings creeping on your Facebook profile and "liking" every picture of yours while you are in the room.
- You are given flowers by a Turkish girl that you just met while her mother is yelling to her to ask if you have a boyfriend.
- Even when speaking in English to other PCTs, you throw in a few Macedonian words that have become staples in your vocabulary.
- You have random dance parties and break into song whenever the moment allows.
- You have been frustrated multiple times by the direct and indirect objects in Macedonian.
- You are comfortable walking through random people's yards.
- You have seen more animal's getting it on in the broad daylight on the main street than you ever have before.
- You embarrassed yourself trying to learn the Оро, but that doesn't stop you from trying again.
- You have experienced the ајвар making process....all 10 hours of it.
- You have people standing outside your house yelling your family member's names because they can see you through the window.
- You wake up to roosters crowing, you eat lunch while roosters are crowing, and you go to sleep with roosters crowing as the roosters have no sense of time.
- You wear your jacket, hat, and scarf in the house because even with a fire going, you are still freezing.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Kamenica Love!

WARNING: This is a long post; probably the post of all posts. The last few days have been very busy and I have learned a lot!

The past few days, the MAK-16s went on our Site Visits, meaning we spent three days at the place that will become our new home. This was a great opportunity to ease some of our anxieties about leaving our training communities and moving out on our own.

Tuesday morning I set out for Makedonska Kamenica. I decided to take the 7:25 bus from Lozovo to Stip, visit with one of the volunteers currently serving there, and then continue onto Kamenica. I got to the bus stop (hut on the side of the road) in Lozovo about 7:15 and waited. There were a bunch of guys waiting as well, so I knew the bus was coming. At 7:25 a bus shows up headed to Stip and we all get on. The bus is full of males and they are all staring at me, but no one says anything. The driver looks really confused and starts to pull away slowly. Finally someone tells me that the bus is only for men in the military traveling to base. I’m glad no one wanted to say anything for a little while! Oh well, at least me making a fool of myself gave them all something to talk about for the rest of the day- the crazy American girl who had no idea what she was doing. I waited some more at the bus stop and an old man shows up and starts talking to me. I love the fact that now I can have a conversation with someone in Macedonian. I know I don’t speak perfect and I give a lot of blank stares, but I can do it and most people really are very patient and are just excited that I am trying to speak their language. We talk for a while in the cold before he gets impatient and leaves because no bus has arrived. Turns out the 7:25 bus doesn’t exist anymore and the 8:40 bus comes at 8:20, so after waiting for over an hour, I finally got on the bus. This was the first time I had been traveling on my own and it was a great lesson in Macedonian transportation- there is always something, but the times and frequency can vary every day.

When I got to Stip, I met up with Dan, a MAK-14 who has finished his service and COSing this week. During packing he had found some items he thought might be useful to pass on to a new volunteer and I got to be the lucky one. I am most excited about the Macedonian-English-German-French phrase book he gave me. He said it is out of print, but since he knew the author he was able to get one and it came in handy many times. I think it will become a new friend of mine.

I was very nervous when I got on the bus to Kamenica since I was really on my own (going to Stip wasn’t a big deal because it was close and I knew who was meeting me there). However, much to my delight, there were three other MAK-16s on the bus going to their towns near mine. We all had the same anxieties and were happy to have one another to help ease our minds. Paul got off first in Obleshevo. It is a small village outside of Kochani, but it seemed much bigger than other villages. After Paul left, it was Morgan’s turn to depart in Kochani. Kochani is a big city (around 28,000 people), but her counterpart has a current volunteer, so Morgan knew more than most going into it since she had talked to the current PCV a lot. After we left Morgan, Alastair and I looked at each other, growing a little more nervous since it was down to just the two of us. Alastair is living in Kratavo for training, so I haven’t really spent much time with him, but we had the exact same feelings about what lay ahead and were very happy to have each other (a couple times we even said exactly what the other person was thinking). It was especially nice having him when we got higher up in the mountains and the roads became more narrow, very windy, very high, and with limited guardrail (Dad, Mom, and Anna- think similar to Trasillico, but on a bus and having a little more guardrail and roads a little wider). I was the next one off, leaving Alastair by himself for the last 15 minutes of his journey.

The view Alastair and I had on our ride towards Kamenica/Delchevo
My counterpart, Maja, met me at the bus station. I had talked to her briefly on the phone the night before, but didn’t know a whole lot. During this time, I have discovered we are very similar. She is 26, so very young, single, and into a lot of the same things I am. She is very excited to be working with me. She has made me feel very at ease about coming here and I feel like I really will be able to work with her. She wants suggestions and my input into her lessons and I feel like we will learn a lot from each other.

After my arrival, Maja took me to where I would be staying for these few days. On my sheet from Peace Corps it said, “rooms for let arranged by the school” which had me a little scared. I figured I would be staying in a room in someone’s house- someone who wanted to make a few extra denari. We met up with the art teacher from the school and walked into this slightly run down looking building and up quite a few flights of stairs. It was dirty, broken windows everywhere, and looked abandoned, but when we got to one of the top floors, we went through a door and were suddenly in a nice little boutique hotel. There I met my future landlady who owns this hotel here (hint, hint). There are five rooms, each with their own bathroom. I was in heaven. I suddenly have a real bed, legitimate heat, hot water, American TV, and alone time!

My hotel room in Kamenica
And my bathroom- unlimited hot water was AMAZING!
Living with my family is good, but I haven’t been by myself for almost two months except when I am sleeping or in the bathroom. After I got settled, I walked with Maja and the art teacher, Marija, around Kamenica and they showed me where the most important things are and I really have everything I need- there are two Супермаркети (small grocery stores), Стопанска банка (the bank Peace Corps uses), амбуланта (mini hospital/dentist), пошта (post office), ресторани (restaurants), and several other small stores.

I got a good feeling on what Kamenica is like from this. It is a larger town, 5000 people (the 8000 I said earlier is in the municipality which includes several small villages), but it really does have a small town feel. It was obvious I was a foreigner and the fish bowl affect happened immediately, but everyone I met was very nice. The pace of life here is very similar to life in a village, except apparently in August when it is like a big city since hundreds of people that work in other countries come home. I also have been able to learn a little more of the dialect of Macedonian that I will be learning. The dialect of the area has a lot of Bulgarian influence, so Maja told me I will probably know both Macedonian and Bulgarian by the end of my time here.

I learned a lot about the town. Kamenica is only about 40 years old. The town was built because of the mine. The mining company built lots of flats (they speak in British English here) and hotels for people to stay in. However, when the economy started to change, the wage for minors went down and the town has lots a lot of people. When Maja was in school here, there were over 1400 students, now there are just 650. Most of the hotels are vacant currently. The schools (there is a primary and a high school here) were built 30 years ago when each person in Kamenica gave two months of salary towards the building of the schools.

Part of the School
Despite the decreasing population, a lot of work has been done to make Kamenica a much nicer place to live and while I haven’t had much experience in other towns in Macedonia, I feel like Kamenica is pretty progressive. Within the last three years, they have built a beautiful new church, town square, and the arts teacher is actually organizing the building of a brand new playground in town with funds provided by the Swiss government. It is scheduled to open in December and the Swiss Ambassador will be here, so it is a big deal. I also learned that the mayor is putting in wireless for the entire town. It is currently functioning, but the signal doesn’t reach everywhere yet so in the next month or so they are hoping to amplify it so every house in town has access to free wireless. There are very few towns in America that even have this!

The site of the new playground
The new church that was just opened in 2009
The fountain in the new town square
On Wednesday I spent the day at the school with my counterpart. I went with her to classes. She teaches 4th and 6th grade English. The kids were so excited to see me and I think the school will be a great place. I might also be working with another English teacher in Kamenica as well as one who travels to the satellite schools, but I won’t know about that until December when I move here. I met with the Director of the school and he was excited to have a volunteer. He kept talking about a project another PCV had helped with in a neighbouring town, building a music classroom, and wants to meet later on to see what I want to help with. I feel like I really will have a lot of opportunities to do a lot here if I want to. The town seems very focused on change for the better right now. I met lots of other teachers and staff at the school and they were all so friendly and got excited when I spoke in my limited Macedonian. The school has a lot of young staff, which surprised me. There were certainly plenty of older staff members as well, but many more young staff members than I saw when I was in Veles.
After school I had the opportunity to see my house where I will be living when I move here. It is so much more than I could have asked for. It is very nice, especially in comparison to other PCV houses I have seen. First, my house is kind of in the country of Kamenica. I have a 15-20 minute walk into the downtown area of Kamenica, which will seem long in the winter when I have groceries, but otherwise, not bad. My area is all houses and it has the village feel. At least one of my neighbours has chickens and my closest neighbour is a police officer, so I was told it is super safe in my area.

My house
I have the entire floor of a house and as of right now, no one lives below me. I have a large second-story balcony, which will be wonderful in the summer. When you enter my house there is a large entryway. My bathroom is on the right and in my bathroom I have a washing machine!

My bathroom- nothing amazing, but it has indoor plumbing, so I am happy!
The next door goes into my large kitchen/dining/living room. I have a large (for this country) fridge, a big wood burning stove, and lots of cabinet space as well as a nice table and chairs set. Connected to my kitchen is my living room that has two couches and a TV. My landlady clearly likes deep red.

My very nice kitchen
Large wood burning stove
My living room
My bedroom is great too. I have LOTS of closet space- more than I have ever had in my entire life! There is a big bed- a real bed, which is exciting after seeing how many of the beds in this country are fold out, hard, wooden things. I have a TV/DVD player in my bedroom as well.

I have what looks like a real bed! In this country, that can be hard to find.
Loving the closets already!
I have one other room in my house that I didn’t look at. I probably won’t need the space since it is already a large place, but I am sure I will explore it when I move in. My landlady had a headache and didn’t want to stay long.

I am pretty sure the free wireless will not reach my house, but I won’t need to spend much of my settling in allowance since my place has basically everything I would need. My landlady rents the house out for a business, which I think will be a real advantage. Many PCVs have talked about the frustrations they have with landlords, so I am hoping I have escaped that.

View from my house
After seeing my house, Maja and I met up with one of her friends, Elizabet, who teaches English at the kindergarten here in Kamenica. She was excited that I will be coming and had already told the kindergarteners that I would come visit. She said she would love to have me come help her out in the kindergarten sometimes, so I might see if I can work that into my weekly schedule. They work on colours, animals, family, and some basic phrases and learn it through games, stories, and songs.

After tea with Maja and Elizabet, I met up with two currently serving PCVs who live in Delchevo (where Alastair is moving to). One of them is a MAK-13, Rochelle, has extended her service and will be leaving in January. The other, Jenny, is a MAK-15, so she will be here for another year. They were both super nice and I am really excited to have them nearby. As typical of PCVs, they gave me lots of great advice.

Coming up I have Ricky’s (the MAK-14 who lives in Lozovo) going away party as he has completed his service and is headed back to Are-Kansas (that is how it is pronounced here). Shannon and I have spent a fair amount of time with Ricky and are really going to miss him. He has been a great resource for us on what life will be like for us. Our time in Lozovo is coming to an end quickly, however, I am excited about moving out on my own to site after having the opportunity to visit Kamenica.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Site Placements

In the past two days, all of the MAK-16s have learned where we will be living for the next two years. This was much awaited news for all of us, despite the fact that we don't have a vast knowledge of the cities, towns, and villages here in Macedonia. We were given very little information about or new locations, however, we will be visiting them this next week. It will be so great to see the school, meet my counterpart, and hopefully even see my new apartment/house.

My new home is Македонска Каменица, or Каменица for short. Каменица is in northeastern Macedonia, just 30 minutes from the Bulgarian border (My friend Megan from high school is a PCV in Bulgaria and I discovered I will be about 3 hours by bus from her). Because of the proximity to Bulgaria, it was recommended that I also learn Bulgarian, so that will be interesting. It is a town of just over 8,000 people (which is more than twice the size of my hometown in Minnesota). I will be working at the local primary school with 6-15 year olds and a young female English teacher. The school really wants someone to help co-teach, but also to assist with integrating technology into the classroom and creating extra-curricular activities. Каменица is a mining town up in the mountains. I was told there is a fountain there. My host mother's first cousin works in the school (or she thinks he does) and I met a guy here in Lozovo last night that is related to the Mayor of Каменица. That's pretty much all I know right now. I have found a little more information on the internet from on the Municipality's site. While I am the only volunteer in my town, I have quite a few volunteers within 30-40 minutes from me with direct bus lines going between us.

The Lozovo group is rather spread out in the country. In the Northeast with me will be Anna and Morgan. Amy is in Southeast Macedonia on the Greek boarder. In the Southwest are Shannon and Claire. Julie and Kenzie are in West Central Macedonia. And finally in the Northwest is Andres bordering Kosovo. Good thing it is only 8 hours by bus from one end of the country to the other (aka the distance between Shannon and I since I think we are as far away from each other as possible).

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Skopje and Practicum

This past Saturday, the Lozovo group went to the capital city of Skopje for the day. We met my teacher, Dushko, there and he showed us around the city. Dushko took us around and showed us the many monuments (I now understand why there was a recent CNN article questioning where Skopje is becoming a theme park) and gave us a Macedonian history lesson.

Alexander the Great Monument in Skopje
Close-up of the Alexander the Great Monument in Skopje
Dushko, Shannon, Sara, Morgan, Kenzie, Julie, Anna, Amy, Claire, Andres
Street view in Skopje
The inside of one of the Orthodox Churches in Skopje
Mother Theresa's House
When I got home from Skopje on Saturday, my family had started the first step of making the traditional Macedonian dish of Ajvar, fire roasting the peppers. I sat in the garage with them helping. They let me attempt to de-stem/seed the peppers (a much harder task than I imagined) and then they even let me help roast them. Once the peppers are roasted, they place them in a bag overnight. Sunday morning I woke up, we ate breakfast (peppers stuffed with rice, meat, and assorted vegetables), and then we peeled peppers for three hours. I failed miserably at peeling the skin off of my first few peppers, but by the end, I wasn't half bad. I would even go as far as saying I was somewhat decent at it. Once the peppers were all peeled, my host brother and mother put them through a machine that ground them up into a spread. The final step in making the ajvar is cooking it over a wood fire with lots of sunflower oil and salt for 5-6 hours. While it is cooking, it must be stirred constantly. When it was finally done cooking, we canned it for the winter. It is quite the process to make it, but it is well worth it.

This week we have our TEFL Practicum. We were each assigned an English teacher in the area to shadow for the week and then we are to teach a lesson either on Thursday or Friday. Monday and Tuesday I shadowed an English teacher at the largest primary school in Macedonia. It is in Veles. Veles is a large city (43,716 people according to Wikipedia) about 20 minutes from Lozovo. Julie and Claire are also at the same school as me. We were told there are over 2000 students attending the school. Because of the large number, the school has two shifts (one from 7:00-11:45, and another from 1:00-5:45). The students and teachers switch which shift they are on, which I would find really confusing. There are around 15-20 students per class, which may make some of the American teachers reading this jealous of class size, however, the students I observed didn't listen one bit to the teachers, so it seemed like far more students. Classes are 40 minutes long and with all of the distractions going on in the classroom, I don't feel like a whole lot was accomplished. My teacher is young and told me right away she struggles with classroom management, but from what I saw, it wasn't just her, it was other teachers as well. Overall, I thought she did quite a nice job, despite the challenges with students. She said she has a deaf and mute student that she is supposed to teach English too, which she said is a huge challenge. I asked her how she does it and she said she gives the student pictures with words written on them for vocab and the student looks at them during class, however the student is pretty bored. She also has a student who grew up in Ohio, so he is clearly fluent in English, but she said she likes having him in class because he helps her with her English and challenges her to learn more. I have been able to observe 1st, 3rd, and 5th graders at that school and there is quite a difference. The first graders know "hello", numbers, and are learning family members and most of the lesson is in Macedonian. The third graders can read some simple sentences, but still a majority of the lesson is in Macedonian. The fifth graders are pretty good English speakers, so much more of the lesson is in English.

Today, we shadowed different teachers at different schools to see how another school works. I spent the morning in the Milino school (Milino is a nearby village) with their English teacher. It was quite a different experience. There are only eight students in the whole school (one student in 1st grade, two students in 2nd grade, three students in 3rd grade, zero students in 4th grade, and two students in 5th grade) with two regular teachers and an English teacher who is there two days a week. The students were split 1st and 3rd grade in one classroom and 2nd and 5th in another. The English teacher meets with students in the small teacher's lounge. There is no Director (Principal), no gym, no library, nothing really. From the outside, the school looks kinda like it is abandoned. There are some broken windows and doors, the road leading to the school is horrible, and the grounds do not look like they have been taken very good care of. The classrooms are quite large (especially with only 4 students per class) and they felt kind of empty. However, despite all of this, I loved Milino's school much more than I like the large city school I have been at in Veles. There were 0 discipline problems and the kids were so respectful. The teacher I shadowed was great. I feel like I know her much more than I know the teacher I am with in Veles. I think largely because the school day is so rushed in Veles with so much going on. Milino had a very relaxed atmosphere. The teacher in Milino let me help the students right away instead of me just sitting there and I had a chance to actually talk to her. I felt like if Milino were my permanent site, I would be needed there (something I think every Peace Corps Volunteer wants- the feeling of being useful), and I don't feel like I would be any benefit to the school in Veles. For all of these reasons (and others), I really hope I get placed in a village for my permanent site. I would be ok if it were larger than Milino (the whole village is around 350 people, which makes Lozovo look large with its 760 people).

The short and sweet:

1) I now drink coffee.... and I actually enjoy it. Most of us who came not drinking it now have acclimated ourselves to the local custom of lots of coffee.

2) On Monday Shannon and I на гостивме (visited) Kenzie's house since we keep being told how adorable his little (19 month) host brother is. Adorable is an understatement. Vadren was very shy at first and wanted to hide, but by the end, I was getting constant hugs and kisses. I think from now on I will на гости Vadren, rather than Kenzie because nothing can compare to an adorable child.
Kenzie and Vadren (*Photo courtesy of Morgan's Facebook!)
Again, Morgan's photo
3) I ate white pig lung last night at Julie's house. It was not enjoyable. When I told my host family I had tried it and didn't like it (I figured I should tell them to hopefully avoid being served it for dinner at my house), they said they would make the black version one night for me since it is better. I tried to explain I would be ok if I never ate pig lung again, no matter what the colour, but they were insistant I try the black.

4) We are going to Skopje again this weekend for what is called "Field Day". It is a volunteer put on PC event, where all of the volunteers in the country can meet the new trainees (I have heard it referred to as the PCTs's "coming out" event) and the COSing volunteers (in this case the MAK-14s) can sell their belongings that they don't want to bring back to America.

Ајде чао!