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!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Village of Lozovo: A Journey Through Paint

Things are still going great in Lozovo. The 9 of us Americans here have embarked on a new project.... We are painting a pretty intense 3-walled mural on the inside. We have been working nightly on a mural of Lozovo, a traditional Macedonian feast, the journey to the neighbouring village of Milino, and possibly even attempting Skopje and part of America. We have been working from about 4pm-10pm the last couple nights. Or I should say, working and enjoying the fabulous hospitality Mama and Tatko are providing us all with. Our wine glasses are never empty, multiple shots of rakija are passed around, and we have been served two very delicious meals as well as constant snacks (I swear every time I turn around, Mama is bringing out a new plate of something delicious). This is the Macedonia everyone should experience- the extreme graciousness and hospitality.

This is the Lozovo wall. Claire and I are working on the цирква (church) and the winery.
Trend, the local coffee bar. It is wood paneled, so I used a fork to give it a wood-like texture.
Andres, Me, Julie, and Claire painting away.
While blending the many greens in the grass, I found it much more effective to use my hand.
Shannon used the one colour effect on her camera. 
The Lozovo wall.
The Wednesday Night Painting Crew with Julie's Mama:
Julie, Mama, Andres, Me, Claire, Shannon, Amy, Kenzie
Language is going extremely well. It is fast paced, but I am certainly learning a lot. On days when I am frustrated either because I can't understand what my family is saying or I am unable to communicate something to them, or I am overwhelmed by everything we learned in class, I just take a step back and remember I have been in this country for just over a month. I came not knowing the entire alphabet even and now I am able to have a decent conversation in Macedonian. I know my sentence structure is lacking, but I am able to put the words I want to use together. Even if the words aren't in the correct order, the Macedonians understand what I am trying to say (i.e. Yesterday I with other Americans paint Lozovo picture Julie's house- It doesn't make sense grammatically, but you certainly know what I am trying to say!). At the end of October we have a practice LPI (language assessment) to see where we are at. At the end of PST, Peace Corps requires us all to achieve at least an intermediate low level of language. If we don't reach it, we are required to have tutoring during the start of our service and then take the test again a few months later. I am not too worried as I have seen I can communicate on a very basic level already and we still have a month and a half of PST.

Tomorrow we have another Hub Day in Kumanovo with all 36 of the PCTs. Last time we talked a lot about STDs, this time, we are talking about the History and Politics of Macedonia. Then starting next week, we have one week of Practicum. Since Lozovo only has one elementary school, most of us are traveling to the nearby large city of Veles. I will be working with an English Language teacher who teaches 1st and 5th grade, so it will be nice to see two different ends of the spectrum age/language wise. I am with my teacher Monday and Tuesday. Wednesday I shadow another English Language teacher who travels to the small villages around Lozovo. Then Thursday and Friday I am back at my original school teaching a few lessons (potentially). The following week is a big week for us....we find out our site placements a.k.a. where we will live for the next two years! 

Monday, October 10, 2011

Многу Убави Слики!

Just two more reasons why I love this country (and why you all should come visit).

The radio tower shown transmits the strongest signal in the Balkan area. It apparently transmits signal all the way to Australia. Who would have thought such a thing would exist in Lozovo.

Walking to the Стар Железничка Станица (old train station) on Friday night.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Јади, Јади, Јади, Земи, Земи, Земи

Јади: to eat
Земи: to take

All of the food (Храна) here has been absolutely amazing. I have been in Macedonia for three weeks now and I have only eaten a few things I didn't like. The first was паштета. If you decide to come visit me, I may ask you to bring some canned cat food with for comparison. Although my guess is that it will, without a doubt, be better than the canned meat known as паштета. I knew I wouldn't like it just by looking at it, smelling it, and knowing what exactly it was. However, my philosophy here is try everything I am offered. If I don't like it, I don't eat it, but try. When my host mother opened a can of it one of my first days in Lozovo, the smell was astounding. I could feel my taste buds running for shelter as I started to breath a little faster in anticipation of what was to come. She was very "nice" and gave me 1/4 of the can (lucky me!). I slowly picked up my fork and very delicately scraped a dime-sized piece onto my fork. Taking a deep breath, I put it into my mouth and even without a mirror, I know I made a horrific face. Let's just say, I am pretty sure that face guaranteed that I will never be offered that again!

Паштета: Avoid if at all possible!
A lot of the meat I am hesitant about, but I will usually eat a bite or two of it, since we have been told that the families normally don't eat a lot of meat since it is expensive, but they are doing it just for us. This morning I passed on the supposed salami, that was a pale pink and looked somewhat spreadable. I also just barely touched the sausage from the other night that had lots of hard chunks in it. Oh and I can't forget the American style hotdogs. They look like uncooked, extra soft, Fun Dogs. I try to avoid these, but sometimes it isn't possible, so I just take a deep breath, go to a happy place, and eat quickly, but not too quickly or I will get served more. (*I should mention thought that I have had some very delicious meat here as well. Not all of it is as sketchy as the types I have mentioned.*)

On a more delicious note, I have had some AMAZING meals here. I wish I had grabbed my camera every meal so I could take a picture of how delicious most of the food is. My host mother and sister do most of the cooking and it is одлично (wonderful)! The food is very fresh and almost everything is homemade as many fruits and vegetables grow right in my frontyard or backyard. My mother makes homemade plum jam and both she and my баба (grandma) make a dessert called слатко, which literally means sweet. My mother makes a plum version and my баба makes it using figs (смокви). Figs aren't super common in Minnesota, but they are a fruit I have learned to enjoy here and are plentiful. I discovered a few days ago that my family has a pomegranate tree and in one month, we will have многу (many) pomegranates. I am looking forward to this.

Pomegranate tree in my frontyard 
One of my favourite meals that I am served fairly regularly, usually for dinner (which tends to be served around 9:00 or 10:00pm) is eggs and peppers. The dish is usually about 75% peppers with some scrambled egg. So delicious (especially considering I didn't really eat eggs in the States). Another delicious meal is called мусака. It reminded me of a classic, hearty, Minnesotan hotdish. It was potatoes, a ground meat combination (that tasted amazing despite how sketchy it sounds), egg, and peppers. And of course I have to mention ајвар. Ајвар is a homemade пиперки (pepper) spread. За појадок јас сакам да јадам леб со ајбар (For breakfast, I like to eat bread with ајвар). I have not had the opportunity to help my family make ајвар, but I have certainly helped them eat it!

Another delicious item that is often served with a meal is tomatos, cucumber, and onion, either all together or the tomatoes alone. I wasn't a huge tomato fan previously, but I have had some mighty delicious tomatoes here. They also make really good cabbage and cucumber salad with a little oil and salt.

My host sister makes fabulous homemade cookies and I have asked her to teach me how to make them. My host mother made палачинки (they call them pancakes, but they are actually crepes) the other night and let me practice flipping them. I did pretty well if I do say so myself, and I learned how to make them, so I can make them on my own. It is a very basic egg, water, flour recipe, but I am very excited to experiment with that basic idea when I get to site. I might even try making an apple cinnamon version for my family here, since I am missing apple season back home.

Summary: No need to worry. I am eating quite well.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Goal #2

During PST, we are told that we will work a lot of Peace Corps Goal Two: Helping promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served. I have certainly done that recently.

Last night, my brother and I worked on it. After spending some time with Shannon, Andres, and Anna at Trend (the local coffee bar), we walked Shannon towards here house on the other side of town, then went home around 1am. Здравче and I then stayed up until 3am talking via Google Translate. He asked me what I thought was the funniest about Macedonia/what I didn't understand and I told him three things: 1) If a female has wet hair, she will get sick, 2) If a female sits on the floor, she will become infertile, and 3) промаја (pro-mi-ya).

He then clarified a few things. He said yes, I can't have wet hair or I will get sick. I then told him that at home, in America, lots of girls go outside with wet hair and in Minnesota if you do that in the winter, you're hair will freeze into icicles. The concept of just how cold Minnesota can be is hard for some here to comprehend.

He said in his house, it is fine to sit on the floor, but why would you do that when you can sit on the couch. I told him, sometimes it is comfortable to sit on the floor. He said, "ok, you can try, but my mom and dad will make you sit on the couch instead." (paraphrased the awkward Google Translate version)

Finally, on the topic of промаја, we could not come to an agreement. промаја is the belief here (and I believe other places in the area as well), that if you have a cross breeze in your house, you will get sick. It is fine for the wind to blow on your outside, but not inside. If you have one inside, you will get sick and possibly die (which is why even in the summer, on super crowded busses, you can't open your windows). I told him that in America, we don't have промаја (which that alone blew his mind). I then asked him if he had ever gotten sick from промаја and he said yes. He had промаја in his car once and got a headache and then later his back hurt, so he hasn't opened multiple windows since. I then told him that I like the breeze and am willing to chance getting sick from it and he shook his head and finger at me and made the disapproving clicking sound and said Не. Apparently, I am not allowed to try it here, so I am glad that it is getting cooler here.


For dessert today we had the Macedonian equivalent of Oreos. We could have just eaten them and enjoyed them, but then I wouldn't have fulfilled goal # 2. Instead, I taught my host mother, sister, and brother about the ancient American tradition of using the "Oreos" to determine who you are going to marry. We spent the next 15 minutes twisting our "Oreos" open and determining which side of the cookie had more frosting, thus selecting our future husband/wife. They loved it and after the first time, they did it with every cookie. My brother then decided to use his "Oreos" as first a monocle, then using two to make himself a pair of glasses. I finally was allowed to take a picture, but I know if I post it and he saw it, I would be in trouble (he laughed at the pictures and said, "глупи слики", which means stupid pictures.


I am starting to feel much more at home here. I am comfortable sitting on the couch relaxing, rather than sitting straight up with my feet on the floor and my hands in my lap. I will, to some extent, get food from the fridge if I am hungry (although I am very rarely hungry here as my family is still trying to feed me as much as a 18-year-old football player). I am fine making a fool out of myself with my limited language.


I jump back and forth from being the middle child in the family and the youngest in the family (despite actually being the oldest age-wise). Здравче really is my big brother now, despite being 3 1/2 years younger than me. He is always looking out for me and it is clearly his role to be my security here. He is like the ideal big brother. He told me yesterday when we were Google Translate talking that if I ever need anything, let him know. If any of the Americans need anything or have any problems, let him know as he wants to help all 9 of us. Growing up, I sometimes wished I had an older brother (nothing against you Anna), and now I have it, for a few months anyway. Sometimes I am the next oldest child in that my host parents let me stay out late and I can drink and I am an adult. That leaves Бојана as the youngest (which at 14, she is quite young still). Other times, I am treated like a two-year-old, not capable of doing anything for myself. The lack of language and cultural knowledge is the main reason for this. I definitely prefer it when I am the middle child. I am ok having my "big" brother take care of me, but I am not a huge fan of being treated like a child when I haven't lived with my real parents for quite some time.


I asked Здравче the other night if he liked living with his parents (last year he lived 20 minutes away at college, but this year he is living at home) and he said he did. His parents give him money when he needs it and take care of him. I told him that in America, most people don't live with their parents after age 18 and he knew that from a previous volunteer. I said I liked living on my own. That concept isn't really seen here. You live with your parents until you get married, then the bride moves to her husbands house, sometimes in the same house as his parents, sometimes in a house nearby.


Language learning is going really well, in my opinion. Later this week we all meet individually with our LCF to get his interpretation on our abilities. I was finally able to figure out the conjugations (thanks to Shannon's magic memory trick) and I already have a fairly large Macedonian vocabulary considering I've been here for three weeks. Јас се викам Сара. Јас сум од Америка. Јас живем од Лозобо. Јас имам дваесет и четири години. Јас имам една сестра. Cестра ми се викате Ана. Таа живее од Калифорнија. Маијка ми се викате џуди. Татке ми работи како професор по компjутери. Јас сакам да јадам леб со ајвар за појадок. Jас одиме школо со куче ми, Бени. (I am called Sara. I am from America. I live in Lozovo. I am 24-years-old. I have one sister. My sister is called Anna. She lives in California. My mother is called Judy. My father works as a professor of computers (I have yet to learn how to say Technology Coordinator). I like to eat bread with ajvar (a Macedonian specialty- red pepper spread) for breakfast. I walk to school with my dog, Beni.)


I am still trying to figure out how to:
  • Say stop feeding me. I am not hungry. Actually, I know they understand what I am saying because they understand the word "full" and Јас не сакам де јадам сега (I dont want to eat now), but they pretend not to understand so they can keep feeding me. I was told this morning that chocolate will build muscles.
  • Explain that I am learning Macedonian at school and while I appreciate their help at home, I can only handle so much. I can't remember 100 new words a day and my text book from Peace Corps is correct, it is just a different dialect than they speak here.
  • When I can shower. You have to heat the water up here, so there isn't always hot water. It takes a few hours to heat up. I have been able to shower a few days in a row and I have also had the opposite. The last time I showered was on Wednesday...its Sunday (I did just shower like 20 minutes ago and it was one of the best showers I have ever had since it had been so long). I have tried to ask when I can shower and establish a routine, but it has yet to happen. I much prefer showering daily to showering every 4 days.
When I start to get frustrated with the above things, I just tell myself, I only have to deal with this until the end of November, then when I move to site, I can do things how I want to do them (or I better be able to!).


All in all, life is still good. I am still in the "honeymoon" phase. It has yet to hit me that I am in Macedonia for two years. We've been told, for some people, it will hit during PST, for others, it won't hit us until we have been in our site for a few days/weeks.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Hub Day!

Enid, Michele, Dan, Kenzie, Dan, Shannon, and Me
eating dinner at the Irish Pub in Kumanovo
Yesterday we had our first Hub Day, where all 36 PCTs from the four training communities met together in Kumanovo for training. It was great to see everyone else, since we haven't seen them in 2 weeks. It was like seeing old friends. The interesting part about it though, was even though there were some people from other communities that I really wanted to see, many of us hung out with others from our training communities, as those are the people we have really bonded with. For the most part, everyone is having a great time. The only real negative I heard was of one person who has either fleas or bedbugs at their home stay, but they are enjoying it despite that minor inconvenience. The statistics say that we will most likely loose at least two people from the MAK-16 group before Swearing In the end of November, but so far, everyone is holding up strong.

Shannon, Hana, Enid, and Me
It was kind of weird being back in Kumanovo after being in Lozovo since there is such a dramatic size difference. Those of us from the two small villages were a little overwhelmed at first. There was so much going on- people everywhere, lights everywhere.

Going back a few days, on Thursday we had our site placement interviews. They went really well. We met individually with the Program Managers, the Program Specialist, and the Program and Training Department Head. They asked questions about our previous experiences, our ideas of what we hope to accomplish in our time here, how we make friends, what our hobbies are, etc. I expressed interest in not caring if I am with a host family or not, I just want to be able to cook for myself and I would like to work with younger children. They were really excited that I have had experience with curriculum development and said the English curriculum for the youngest children (1st/2nd grade) needs a lot of work and is where English teachers are struggling the most, so hopefully I will get placed at that age level. Peace Corps anticipates us finding out our site placements on October 26th, so in one month I should know where I will be living for the next two years!

We were given our Macedonian bank accounts yesterday and will be getting our next months allowance put into them any day. One of the best parts about being in a village is you really don't spend much money because 1) there aren't places to go that cost money and 2) things are pretty cheap. Many of us still have a sizable chunk of our first walk-around allowance from Peace Corps, which is nice because right now we are getting 125 dinari, the equivalent of $2.75, a day. For the village trainees, that is a lot! That would buy us 8 coffees, or 3 bottles of Coke, or 5 large candy bars, or 2 1/2 bottles of Ckopcko.

Starting next weekend we can travel on our own for day trips. I don't know how much I will do that, but it will be nice to have the option. Next Saturday we have a training workshop in Probistip, so we will get to see everyone again.