Friday, September 21, 2012

A Visit From Home

So I feel like I should write about the last two weeks with my parents and Sloans being here, but because of their love of Facebook updates, I feel like almost everyone who reads my blog, knows what we/they did. But for those of you not as addicted to Facebook as my mother, here is a quick photo summary of their trip with a run-on sentence series of captions.

My parents got to meet my host family from PST in Lozovo,
Saw some odd English translations at the grocery store,
Had an amazing meal and cultural experience with my new host family,
Hung out with Phil and visited the old Roman settlement of Bargala in Shtip,
Drove on some horrible roads to Albania,
Spent a couple days in Sarande, Albania,
Swam in the Ionian Sea,
Drove on some more horrible Albanian roads,
Did the Lake Ohrid thing,
Visited Popuva Kula Winery in Demir Kapija,
And had time for a couple family photos in Skopje.
 Ајде чао семејство! Ќе се гледаме во Ноември 2013.

*All of this was accomplished with the help of a few kriglas of Skopsko.

Monday, September 10, 2012

American Invasion: Days 1 & 2

10:39pm, 11:27pm, 12:42am, 1:16am, 3:48am, 4:02am. The minutes tick by as I lay here on my pull out couch with the gentle snoring of my father in the background. Today I ended my sabbatical with Turkish coffee and now I am paying the price. That combined with this retched cold makes for the perfect no sleep combo (and the perfect time to write a blog post of course!). Despite this I know I will awake early in the morning to start another action packed day with my American family.

My parents and Sloans only arrived this past Friday evening but have already experienced so much Macedonian culture. Their trip started with an afternoon visit to my first Macedonian family's house in Lozovo. They got to meet the first people who took me in. My host mother prepared my favourite meal they make, musaka, along with quite a few other things. In typical Macedonian fashion, the glasses were never empty, the plates filled with too much food, and the words "ручи, ручи" (eat, eat) were uttered over and over again. I clearly hadn't prepared these American stomachs for jut how much food they would be eating as even they were pleading with my host mother not to eat any more. The combination of massive quantities of food and jetlag proved to be deadly as eyes started to close. It was time to hit the road before our driver, my father, drifted off to dreamland.

Upon arriving in Kamenica we took a quick walk around the town center to see the church, town square, and buy a few groceries for the morning. Then it was Christmas for Sara with all the American treats that were packed and an early night for all.

Sunday we awoke and relaxed for a short time before we made another trip to the grocery store, this time with eyes open further and minds more curious. On our way down, they got to observe a few of my neighbour ladies making јуфка for the winter. Јуфка is a very thinly rolled dough that is dried and stored. It is then cooked in a large pan with a little water or milk to saturate it somewhat, leaving some of it with the texture of pasta when cooked.

At the store we picked out some typical snack foods that are unique to Macedonia, including: gazoza (a pear/bubblegum flavoured soda), some smoki (peanut flavored puff chips), ham flavoured chips, and an assortment of 5 denari candy bars.

Next we had a quick stop at the police station to get everyone registered (aka. Sara filling out five sets of forms and my parents and Sloans checking out an old Macedonian map).

The day continued with lunch at my new host family's house. We were welcomed into the house and seated around the kitchen table already ladened with several traditional salads and kifli (homemade bread rolls). Before the meal could start, they opened the gift from my parents and then presented each of us a gift (Macedonian flag keychains for them and a gold and pearl broach for me). Then everyone was served rakija and the feasting began. I ushered a reminder that more food was coming after the over eating yesterday, but I am not sure it helped. The meal continued with everyone eating and talking and my head switching back and forth between English and Macedonian needing to translate everything that was said, which was, for the most part successful. Following the main meal was dessert with homemade baklava and three types of slatko (a syrupy sweet dessert with fruit chunks which this time were cherry, fig, and blackberry).

We got a little break from food and drink as my family was shown first my new bedroom and then my host parents downstairs house where they do all the canning for the winter. It's typical for Macedonians to make lots of food in the summer and can it for the winter, but these people take it to a whole new level making hundreds of jars of ajvar, pinjur, slatko, ketchup, juice, rakija, honey, and more. After viewing all the jars, we went out to see everything in the garden and got to view their water powered flour mill. There used to be four flour mills in Kamenica, now they said they are the only one.

Arriving back to my house after lunch, we stopped to see how the јуфкa was coming along and were invited to sit. The lady tried to convince us to eat again by bring out homemade зелник (leek filled phyllo dough). It took some convincing, but finally she accepted that we couldn't eat any more so she packaged some up for us to take home.

After a rest, my mom, Sloans, and I went for a walk up the hill. My mom turned back part way, but Sloans and I continued up to one of the cemeteries that overlooks the town from above and had a chance to get in some good star gazing- the Big Dipper, Cassiopeia, the Milky Way... It was very relaxing and calming just sitting up there in the dark looking at the stars.

Friday, September 7, 2012

T-Minus 11 Hours!

My parents and Sloans come today! So excited. My mom updated her Facebook status:

"We must be in for a real adventure. It took three different lines to check in and none of the airline employees had heard of our final destination. Macedonia here we come!"
They certainly are in for an adventure. My town is currently without water. I haven't told them this yet....

Monday, September 3, 2012

The First Day of School

As many of my friends in the US are getting ready for the First Day of School tomorrow, we have already had our first day and let me tell you, school starts out much different here. 

I remember many summers of helping my mother get her classroom in America ready for the start of a new school year. My mother would have spent a good chunk of the summer, and money from her own pocket, getting her classroom ready. It would be very bright, colourful, and fun. There would be different areas of the classroom designated for different things, such as a word wall, math center, etc. Most importantly though, her classroom would be organized. She knew what children she was going to have and we would place name tags and the cursive alphabet on the desks, making sure it was straight! The books in her reading area were alphabetized, all 500 billion of them, and each puzzle and board game had all the pieces. 

(***Disclaimer: The following event happened over 15 years ago, so Sara accepts no responsibility if her, at the time, child's brain remembered this incident a little differently than her father remembers it.***)

One of the things I remember most from helping my mother in her classroom is that the room was fun. It was meant for kids and it was clear my mom knew what she was doing. I have vivid memories of one year she painted a giant tree on a refrigerator box. The tree was then placed over the classroom doorway and a hole was cut in it so the children would enter something akin to the magic tree house when they came to school that first day. As a child, I remember being fascinated by it and wishing I was in my mom's class. My mother, sister, and I were putting the finishing touches on her magic tree classroom and my dad stopped by to check it out. The room looked perfect and was all ready to go, down to the last details, at least in my mother's eyes. However, my father saw a problem. The drinking fountain spicket in the classroom was tilted, not quite straight. Being the handyman my father is, he decided it would be an easy fix and then my mom's classroom would be perfect with its new straightened drinking fountain. After a few moments of tweaking, scratching, and probably some quizzical looks, the drinking fountain was still a little crooked. My dad gave it one last tweak and suddenly water came shooting out at fire hydrant like speeds. Within a few seconds, half of my mother's perfect classroom was soaked. I don't remember what exactly happened next, probably a few inappropriate words from my mother, but my father ran in search of the turn off valve, leaving my mother holding a bucket trying to make the water splash down into the sink below with tears streaming down her face. Her perfect classroom was ruined. The only other memory I have of this event is one that my sister and I look back on with complete joy. We had sponges tied onto the bottom of our feet as we skated across the soaking wet hallway just outside my mom's classroom collecting water and practicing our double axels in preparation for the Olympics. 

The First Day of School is a big deal in America for kids too. There was always the excitement of new school clothes, brand new sharp crayons, unused notebooks, and getting to see your friends again. I know I always tried to wear my new school clothes at least once before school actually happened, but my mother was way to smart for that. The smell of new books, the look of clean school shoes, and the feeling of a new backpack on your back and lunchbox in your hand. Clearly I have education in my blood because these things still get me excited- new school supplies are still one of the little joys in my life. Oh and my family was definitely big into the First Day of School photos out in front of the house that first morning. The idea of the First Day of School still sends butterflies into my stomach with excitement and I do consider it to be a holiday, hence the capitalization of the words. 

Last night I went to bed unsure what the First Day of School in Macedonia would bring. I knew it would be more chaotic than what I am used to based on what I had seen and heard in terms of preparation for the upcoming school year. Well, let's just say, the day was fairly chaotic and I felt bad for the teachers here. For many of them, they were seeing their schedule for the year for the very first time. They were finding out which classes they were teaching and this was still changing halfway through the day. My school has two new teachers this year, both of which were notified at 11pm last night that they should show up today. The 7th graders are without text books and part of the school was without water. Because the teachers move from room to room, the teacher's don't necessarily feel ownership over the classrooms so there isn't the time and effort put into making it look just so. 

I felt bad watching my counterpart and the other teachers running around trying to figure things out with classes and such changing several times. Because the teachers here find out in August, usually late August, if they have their jobs for upcoming school year, the month of September is often spent working out all of the kinks in the school schedule and such. This is something I wouldn't be able to do, so I applaud these teachers for being able to not go insane while dealing with all of this.