Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Sara's Disappearance Part 3: Istanbul

Immediately following Camp GLOW, I hopped on a bus from Tetovo to Istanbul for my first out of country vacation. The bus was long (12 hours), but the time actually flew by quite quickly as I was so exhausted from two weeks of little sleep that I slept most of the way. Istanbul is a gorgeous place and 5 days wasn't nearly enough time there. I feel the best way to showcase the trip is through photos. Here are a select few- more are on Facebook.
Phil was a great bus buddy!
There was an ice cream man who liked to play tricks on his customers.
On our first day we stumbled across a big graffiti festival in Taksim Square.
Artists were hard at work creating their masterpieces.
The Topkapi Palace
Inside the Topkapi Palace
The circumcision room at the Topkapi Palace (it had nice decorations)
At the Topkapi Palace looking out over the city.
The Cisterns- the most beautiful part of Istanbul.
The pictures can't even begin to capture the beauty of this place.
Hagia Sophia
Inside the Hagia Sophia
Showing some St Peter Halloween Fun Run and Walk pride
Upper level of the Hagia Sophia
Blue Mosque
Inside the Blue Mosque
View of Istanbul from the ferry
Ferry ride over to the Asian side
We climbed up a big hill and had a gorgeous view of the city.
Like most things in this city, the photos can't quite capture how beautiful it really was.
Inside courtyard of another mosque
Inside a mosque
On our last full day we had drinks under the bridge, which gave us even more beautiful views.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Part 2 of Sara's Disappearance: Camp GLOW

Following YMLP, I went straight to the other leadership camp PCVs help put on for the youth of Macedonia- Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World). As the name says, this is a leadership camp for high school girls from around the country. Like YMLP, this camp brings together youth from the many ethnic groups within the country to learn new skills, improve their English, and realize that they aren't that different from other girls, no matter what ethnic group they are a part of.

Camp GLOW has a large staff made up of PCVs and HCNs. There were close to 40 of us there to help make the 80 girls' week at camp the best week of their lives.
Staff waiting for the girls to arrive
Just days before, I had been told that my co-counselor would not be able to make it to camp, so I had no idea what I was in store for. However, after showing up at camp, I met my new co-counselor, Shqiponja, who was notified she was selected as a counselor that day! Shqiponja was a camper two years ago, a CIT (Counselor in Training) last year, and this year was my co-counselor.
Shqiponja and I were the leaders of Group F
Shqiponja and I had 10 girls from 14-17 from all over Macedonia. They were a fabulous group of girls- I know other counselors might argue, but they were the best! As a counselor, I was with the girls almost 24/7 (although because of the wonderfulness of Wilson School, we had our own room so we had a little break at night! I will admit, I was a little nervous before the girls came and the first day with them just as they were themselves, but by the end of the week, we were a happy little family.

The first day, we, as a group, had to come up with a team name, chant, and flag. My girls chose to be the Crazy Squirrels and designed a pretty awesome flag.
Designing our flag and writing our chant the first night.
The Crazy Squirrels and their flag
They also wrote a chant based off of a popular song (Sexy and You Know It by LMFAO). It went like this....
Open up your eyes, this is what you'll see
Crazy Squirrels are here, look how crazy we can be
We got something on our minds and we aren't afraid to show it, show it, show it
We are crazy and we know it, know it, know it
Nibble, nibble, nibble, nibble, nibble, YEAH!
During the week, the girls attended 8 hours of class a day, however the classes were all structured to be fun and not like school. They learned about project design, the environment, women's health, arts and crafts including tye dye and friendship bracelet making (which lead to lots of friendship bracelets by the end of the week), recreational and health activities like yoga, zumba, and ultimate Frisbee, stress management, and career choices and resumes. There were also fun electives each night including Chinese, Minute to Win It (I did it for the third time in 2 weeks!), Project Runway, School of Rock, Acting, and Karaoke. The busy week also included a team Field Day, an afternoon with the Red Cross learning some basic first aid and CPR, and a masquerade dance party. It all came to a close Friday night with group performances and a candlelight closing ceremony where each of the girls said something about camp, whether it was a memory, a thank you, or an idea of how they will take what they learned back to their hometowns (let me say, it takes a long time for 120 girls to share something about camp and lots of tears were shed and bugs burned with the candles (my girls got a little bored)). After Friday's closing ceremonies, we had one last community time with just our groups before packing, sleeping, and an early start in the morning for breakfast and good-byes.
American Line Dancing with Jori elective
Project Runway elective
For Field Day each group had to dress up like an animal- my group was, need-less-to-say, squirrels
The three tribal chiefs of Field Day.
I was Chief Minn-E-Sota
One Field Day activity was the Balloon Train
Team Building at its finest! Just how many girls can you fit onto 1/4 of a yoga mat?
The recyclable dress Michelle and Shqiponja made for me for Project Runway made a come back on Disco dance night.
Lori, Anna, Enid, and myself enjoying Disco dance night despite being very hot and sweaty.
Candlelight closing ceremonies
Almost all the way around the circle
Crazy Squirrels group picture the last morning.
Figured we may as well take a crazy picture too!
Camp GLOW 2012

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

YMLP Summer Camp 2012

It is hard to capture in writing what all has gone on in the past month. Even the best writing would never be able to completely capture just how amazing and wonderful my month away from site has been. It started with a group of the most motivated high school boys in the country at the Young Men's Leadership Camp Summer Camp.
The 2012 YMLP Camp flag the boys created with one of the guys from YMCA Kent
For one week 45 boys from all over the country, 13 PCVs, and a handful of HCNs gathered in Tajmiste at a gorgeous mountain house to practice English, learn about the Environment, Social Inclusion, Project Design, Media, and Health, break down ethnic stereotypes, and enjoy some good ole' American style camping (complete with American smores). Words can't even describe how phenomenal these boys are. Sometimes at site it is easy to get discouraged by the lack of excitement in learning English or the lack of support on potential projects. However, being around these boys renewed some of that lost hope. They all came because they want to break down ethnic stereotypes in the country, improve their English skills, and learn how to be leaders in their hometowns. That they did. They broke down the stereotypes they had and made friends with boys from all ethnic groups within the country, something many adults in this country aren't able to do.
Campers and Staff
Almost all of the Staff
I was the PCV environmental facilitator at camp, so I got to know all of the boys during my environmental classes with them. We talked about trash and how long it takes for different items to decay, water quality and even tested the quality of the local water in Tajmiste, and learned how to identify different plants in the area and which animals are edible (even had one boy decide on the spot to pop a grasshopper into his mount). The boys also learned about climate change and carbon footprints, however I was not with them that day. I, instead, helped out the health class learn about sexual health so they could get the American perspective and the female perspective. I was a little nervous this day because teaching sex ed to groups of teenage boys isn't quite what I signed up for, however, it went really well. The boys were very respectful and curious as sexual health isn't something that is really discussed in this country so for some of these boys it was the first time they were talked to about these issues and the first time they were able to get information outside of the internet and YouTube (it was amazing the number of boys who said they got their information from YouTube and Wikipedia). The classes started with a competition for who could yell "penis" and "vagina" the loudest to get the boys comfortable hearing and saying these words without laughing and ended with a demonstration of how to correctly put a condom on a cucumber. One should never underestimate just how loud boys can yell and just how gross lubricated cucumbers are! The boys asked great questions and were very appreciative of having someone take the time to give them some accurate information about an important, but somewhat taboo, subject here.

In addition to teaching classes, I also was the human soap dispenser for the week, which was quite a fun job as it gave me a chance to talk to all the boys three times a day before meals.
The boys waiting in line to wash their hands before meals
Who knew being a soap dispenser could be this much fun!
The boys also got to partake in some fun electives including, Minute to Win It, fencing, egg drop, Turkish language, and many more.
I helped with the fencing class and was killed in the opening because my cap gun ran out of caps and Phil knew how to fence and I didn't.
Cupstacking was one of the Minute to Win It events
During the Olympics the boys had to melt a frozen t-shirt
 The last night of camp, the owner of the mountain house, Boshko, had a special event planned for all of us. There was a presentation by Boshko where he gave all of the staff and coordinators a special tavche gravche dish and a warm thank you for the work we did with the kids. Then there was local Macedonian music, including one of the campers pulling out his drumming skills as he is one of the best Romani drummers in the country and lots of Oro dancing. It was the perfect way to spend the last night of camp.

Camp ended on the 4th of July, so after sending the kids on their merry way home, doing some cleaning of the campsite, and some napping and showering (some had not showered in 10 days while on a "vision quest") we celebrated the 4th quite well. There weren't any fireworks, but we had a lovely bonfire and American smores and I enjoyed one last night in Tajmiste before heading off to the next adventure of the summer.