Tuesday, November 27, 2012


I ate a rooster today. Chicken is quite popular here, but this was the first time I have knowingly ate rooster. Rooster is a lot more gamey, fatty, and chewy than chicken and a lot more pinkish/reddish. The bones also appeared to be of a different consistency- they seemed more hollow. I don't know if that is true or not, but it seemed that way. The drumstick that I was given was massive (my host mother joked it was almost as big as that of a turkey as turkey has been a frequent conversation topic since Thanksgiving). My stomach feels quite heavy after eating it.

I turned down eating the spinal column and the kidneys as well as the thick fat-saturated skin. Those parts were all swiped off my plate and placed on the plate of my host father who hungrily downed them all in one fell swoop. I have eaten small pieces of chicken kidneys before, but there is no way my stomach could muster eating one whole or even taking bites of it (it was about the size of a grape). The kidney was no match for my host father though who swallowed it like a champ and thoroughly enjoyed it.

I was also quite thankful I was at school this morning because the rooster was brought from the village last night and slaughtered in the yard this morning. I think that is an experience I can live without.

All in all, I give rooster 5/10. Chicken and turkey both beat it. I haven't had duck, goose, quail, or other fowl recently enough to compare.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Happy Turkey Day from MK

Despite their being a word for "Thanksgiving" in Macedonian, most Macedonians have never heard of the holiday and if they have heard of it, they know very little about it. I had one teacher at school approach me to tell me an early "happy holidays" for Thanksgiving, however, she told me "Среќен Црн Петок", or Happy Black Friday. Ahhh... apparently the news here focused more on Black Friday than it did on Thanksgiving! I decided to take this opportunity as a chance to teach some of the kids about Thanksgiving. In 1st grade we made turkey hats that were pretty adorable. There wasn't time in any of the other classes to talk much about Thanksgiving, but I did probe the kids asking them what they are thankful for. Many of the responses were along the lines of: cell phones, Facebook, and friends. With my adults we read a mini book about the history of Thanksgiving and I did the same with a little 4th grader that I tutor.

Working on turkey hats
Typical- no smile
This kid is quite a character. His English skills are quite impressive for a first grader, but he often only pulls them out for me. I work with his older sister in fifth grade and she is quite good at English, so clearly the family is doing something right at home.

My counterpart and all the little 1st graders. The boy sitting outside of the group without a hat was the most excited about making the hats, but couldn't make his feathers as nice as mine, so he threw his hat away and pouted.
Four of the boys decided it was their job to crawl on the floor and bawk like turkeys (chickens).
As far as my own plans for Thanksgiving, as with everything in Macedonia, plans changed last minute. I was going to go to Bogdanci (a small town on the border with Greece) on Thursday for casino night (the Greeks have built several large casinos down there) and then we would have Thanksgiving dinner on Friday, however many people cancelled on Thursday last minute, so I ended up just going to Shtip to see Phil. We spent most of the day enjoying the nice weather walking around town and running a few errands, including getting me my first Macedonian haircut. Phil's landlord's daughter owns a beauty salon in Shtip, so we decided to go there to 1) get him brownie points with his landlords and 2) I decided I trusted her more than the random old guy with no hair I had seen cutting it in my town. While I don't have a picture, it is quite a bit shorter than I wanted, about chin-length, but can't really put hair back after its been cut. She did a pretty nice job, other than the fact that we later discovered about 10 hairs randomly that hadn't been cut. 

We then went back and started our cooking for Thanksgiving, which turned into an 8 hour process that finished about 3:30 in the morning! However, some pretty epic food was created- two loaves of homemade wheat bread, hummus, thai peanut ginger dip, and homemade crackers. Tied into the cooking was a Skype call to Phil's parents and family. I had been prepped that the next time I went to Shtip, I would be meeting his parents over Skype and so I figured I might talk to them on Thanksgiving, that day I was informed that it wouldn't just be the parents, but also his brother and sister-in-law, the niece and nephews, some cousins, and an aunt. Clearly since I am writing this, I survived! It was so easy to talk to them. One of Phil's cousins was a PCV in Nicaragua a few years back, so there were lots of jokes exchanged about how "easy" we have it over here in MK (Phil didn't really help the cause by sitting there drinking a Guinness).

Friday we had one more errand we wanted to run before going to Bogdanci and that was to get to the Bargala Shoe Factory in Shtip to see if we could find some boots large enough for skis like mine. Most stores don't sell women's shoes larger than a 39 (US 9), but the factory was wonderful enough to make size 41 so I bought myself an early Christmas present- brown leather riding boots. I don't think I have ever owned shoes this nice, so I am a little protective right now! After the factory we headed to Bogdanci by way of Veles and after a bus never appearing, we had to take a taxi down, but made it in time to do last minute preparations for the meal. Turkeys were found here (they are very rare and most Macedonians have never eaten one) as well as ingredients for stuffing, so we had some of the typical T-day foods as well as some Macedonian dishes. All in all, a good second Thanksgiving in Macedonia. It is up in the air as to whether or not I will have a third one here or not as my COS date will be sometime in November of next year.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

What would we do without Google?

Being a PCV means you assume the role of 'expert' lots of times when you shouldn't. However, sometimes, you need to just hold off answering until you have access to Google. And let me just say, I don't know what I would do without Google! My two most recent Google searches: "what are penguin arms called" and "parts of an ostrich". For those who care, penguins wings are called flippers and ostrich arms are classified as wings.
Today, the 7th graders finally got their new books. You know, its only two months into the school year and the Ministry just released which books they are using. The craziest part is their English books are the first books they have received, so teachers are having to use the old books until the new ones arrive, but are still expected to accomplish the same standards (aka finish the book) but in much less time. I don't think I could be a real teacher here. The penguins and ostriches tie in here. We started using the new book today and there was a fill-in-the-blank question about can and can't with penguins and flying (Penguins ________ fly.). The kids all knew penguins couldn't fly, but then we got into a discussion about what their arms are called. Are they wings? Aren't wings for flying? My counterpart wasn't even sure what they are officially called in Macedonian, so we couldn't even attempt to come up with a translation for the kids. I spent about 20 minutes of class sitting there thinking through what they would be called. They aren't exactly wings, but they aren't flippers. I wasn't sure. Then we brought up ostriches. They don't fly either, but they have wing-like arms. I think my counterpart and I were more curious than the kids were, but I was determined to find the answer, hence the Google search.
 I also had to be an expert on pronouncing numbers today. That doesn't sound too hard does it? Try it: ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, sixty, seventy, eighty, ninety, one hundred. How did you pronounce 30? Thirty or thirdy? Seventy or sevendy? Ninety or ninedy? They are written with a "t", so logically it would be a "t" sound, but it really is more of a "d". Which lead me to my current Google search of "pronounce numbers + english".  After lots of searching, my cconclusion is that people pronounce the numbers both ways. Everyone knows they are written with a "t" but the sound might be more of a "d". 
 My last Google search was about the popular "gangnam style". I have heard people talk about this, but due to my blockage of YouTube, I didn't actually know what this meant. (Clearly I don't know much about this since my Google search was for "gangham style" and Google had to correct me- gangnam style). This search came about by walking into a classroom of 7th graders where 5 of the girls were in the front of the room all doing some sort of dance. When asked what they were doing, they said they were doing the "style dance". I first checked out the Wikipedia article to learn about this and then, finally was able to watch a short clip of a video before it told me I couldn't. Apparently Gangnam style became popular in August. At this point, if I mentioned it to my parents, I think they could tell me what it was. That is how out of it I feel over here sometimes- when you parents know what a popular trend is and you don't. #peacecorpshardship# (I think this is a "cool" thing to do too- with the #s. I gotta show I have some street cred). Yes, that is what my girls were doing. Yes, I did then feel the need to practice in my room to see if I could do it. And yes, I do feel like a cool kid now that I know what this thing is.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Recycler Art

The Ministry of Education now has/now is pushing ecological standards for schools. My school decided today was the day to take a step forward on attaining the ecological certificate (certificates are everything in this country). A few of the teachers worked together to put on a workshop about how to create new paper out of old. As usual, a picture is worth 1,000 words, so here are 20,000 words!

The kids loved the first step of ripping up paper into small pieces.
One boy was joyously ripping up his English notebook from last year. Not sure how I feel about that- Thumbs up for recycling, Thumbs down for 4th grade English.
Of course we had to take a break from ripping paper for a little "photo with Sara" time! I can't attend any event with my students without this happening. These are some of my fantastic fifth graders- for real, some of my favourites!
Look at all that paper!
Had to play around with the camera settings a little.
Two of my 5th grade boys. The one in light blue is one of the funniest kids I have ever met, but 98% of his funniness isn't planned.
Two of my 6th graders reading about how to make new paper from old.
The school Director making some new paper.
One of the 1st grade teachers making paper.
Dip the screen in the watery paper pulp.
Lift the screen out and flip the paper onto a sheet to dry.
Sponge off the extra water.
One of my 6th graders making her paper.
Sponge off the extra water.
Scoop up some of that paper pulp.
One of my fifth graders getting ready to flip her paper.
Flip that paper!
The finished product

Monday, November 5, 2012

Random Thoughts

  • I have a brand new wood burning stove (my third one in country) and this one wins the award for being the most amazing stove ever! For once, I feel like Sara has won in the heating department.
  • I was given a plate of mashed wheat and walnut balls. Yup- they sound pretty nasty, but they sure do taste good. My host mother has been boiling wheat, then mashing it and mixing in sugar, walnuts and cinnamon. The idea is incredibly odd, but they really do taste oddly good.
  • I have the teachers at my school thinking about possible SPA (Small Project Assistance) Grants to create some large "action" within my community. The idea has melded from they typical TEFL project of an English Language Resource Room, to a creative community center and having creativity workshops including one where kids write and publish their own English storybooks. At this point, there is still a lot to be done before writing and submitting a grant and I think they have now decided to wait until the February grant round instead of the one going on right now, but at least they are thinking of ideas, getting excited, and one even volunteered to talk to the Mayor to get his input.
  • I have a consistent three students in my adult English class and another 4 who come on and off. While it would be nice to have more, the three regulars are a lot of fun and I can tell they are proud of themselves for what they have learned so far.
*Sorry, you would have had accompanying pictures for some of this, but I am too lazy to take the pictures, transfer them to my computer, and then upload them. Instead I will give you a few random photos from the last few weeks.

Most of Mak16 and Mak17 Lozovo Crew in Skopje
Blake showing off his going away present from the circus. It only seemed fitting to get him a clown nose since, while he might have been the oldest PCV in MK, he was also quite youthful.
The gorgeous and delicious cake Laura bought for Blake's going away party.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Circus Came to Town

Da-da-dada-da-da-da-da-dada.....There has been an international circus, Circus Safari, that has been touring around Macedonia and the other weekend it came to Shtip. Despite having lots of other things to do, including cooking for our adult dinner party later in the day, I begged Phil to take me to the circus and he obliged (just like any good boy should do) and we set off through the rain to the circus. As we pulled up outside the big red and white tent, my excitement grew (as Phil can attest to, I was pretty excited and may or may not have been bouncing up and down a little bit) and I could only imagine what an Eastern European circus would look like. I have been to the circus before in the US, the last time being about 5 years ago when I chaperoned a group of children there, but I figured since it was in Macedonia, it wouldn't be quite the same. We walked into the tent and lets just say this circus resembled the ones from my childhood that were held in the local armory with a very "small town" feel. As we climbed up the bleachers to sit down, we tossed around a few potential newspaper headlines such as, "2 Americans dead after circus bleachers collapse" and "Americans mauled in Macedonia by rogue lions" (Clearly since I am writing this though, we made it out just fine). I saw lions and horses, elephants and camels and instantly returned to a child-like state of enthusiasm.

Again, pictures will do a better job showing what it was like than my words, so ladies and gentleman, sit back, relax, enjoy the show, and welcome to the greatest show on earth!

The sky may have been cloudy, but the tent caught my eye right away.
This was what we saw when we walked in.
There were lions performing in "Lion School"
They rested their paws on the "cage" walls and they all shook- hence the "mauled by rogue lions" newspaper headline.
The acrobatics were hard to capture, but this was a young rope acrobat.
The first clown I have seen who didn't creep me out. I think it had something to do with very little makeup and overall normal clothing. He was from Israel and traveling with a Romanian ringmaster and other circus performers from all over the world.
A ring acrobat.
There were horses who jumped through hoops....
....and posed on platforms.

This lady danced, climbed into big cloth pillowcases and changed her clothes.
Another acrobat, this time using only silk.
What circus is a circus without a camel!
After some mascot bull fighting, the mascots and clown started to dance to "Move it" from Madagascar.
All of the kids in the audience joined in a large train and dance party.
Last but not least, the elephants came out. Notice there is no real fencing keeping them in the ring. At this point, the kids were getting restless and in true Macedonian fashion, parents weren't really disciplining their kids so they were running around. The ringmaster announced at least 20 times for parents to keep their kids sitting next to them and for the kids to not scream- didn't really help. Oh MK.
Because of the chaos of the audience at this point, and the fact that elephants are massive creatures that you shouldn't spook, they said no taking photos, this was just so cool though, I managed to discretely snag a photo without the flash. Its a little hard to see, but one elephant is resting his front two legs on the other elephant's back and the elephant trainer has been raised into the air by the trunk of the elephant.
After attending the circus I was asked how it was. My response, it was pretty awesome. I mean it is a small-scale, low budget traveling circus so the acts weren't that crazy, but how many people can say they saw an international traveling circus in Macedonia?!

Friday, November 2, 2012

A Macedonian/American Halloween Celebration

So once again I disappeared for a little while- the ghosts, ghouls, and witches of Halloween captured me and took me off to Halloweentown: Macedonian/American style. A few weeks before Halloween a few of the 7th grade girls approached me asking if I could organize something for Halloween. I said, sure, and little did I know what I was getting myself into! I decided to do Halloween activities for the 5th-8th graders and soon realized that that meant about 400 kids. I knew there was no way to do one big event for them all, since there wasn't much time to plan, so I organized three after school activities. On Monday the kids were going to make Halloween decorations, Tuesday we would play Halloween BINGO, and Wednesday we would have a little Halloween party. I had originally wanted to carve pumpkins because that is a big part of American Halloween, but I didn't really want to have to deal with kids and knives and be responsible for them. I decided I would let 50 kids come during two time slots each day, meaning 100 kids a day. However, when it came time for kids to sign up, we had a complete disaster and my counterpart and I looked at each other and realized it wasn't going to work. We quickly changed it to Halloween BINGO on Monday and Tuesday and an evening costume contest and pumpkin contest on Wednesday. Doesn't sound too hard, but this was now less than one week before Halloween.

Long story short, I worked with two other teachers and we managed to put together an alright 3-day Halloween celebration for the kids at my school as well as some community members too. There were lots of hiccups along the way and lots of things we would do different, and will do differently next year for what has already been decided a bigger, better, and more organized town wide Halloween celebration.

5th graders eager to win BINGO!
8th grade girls hoping to win some prizes.
BINGO was standing room only- over 175 kids came to play BINGO over the course of two days.
7th grade girls looking for a "black cat", "vampire", or "mad scientist".
7th grade boys sitting three on two chairs because there wasn't enough space.

6th graders waiting intently for the next word.
Being a PCV makes you an automatic celebrity. My picture was taken with almost every kid there- in groups and individually.
The kids here pretty much only know one costume- ghoul/witch/zombie combined. But they sure looked good!
I was pretty impressed by the costumes my kids came up with.
We got about 20 pumpkins, which was way more than I thought! The one with green hair won 2nd place.
The cool thing these kids did, which I never did in the US, is lots of them attached chains to the pumpkin so they could be carried along during our Halloween parade through the streets.
My three fabulous, amazing, wonderful, 8th graders who served as MCs during the event. Despite the microphone not coming last minute so no one could hear them, they were fantastic!
My other helper of the night- a 7th grader who was willing to jump in and do whatever was necessary.
Kids lined up for the costume contest.
Somewhere between 100 and 150 kids participated in the costume contest.
My favourite part of the costumes the kids wore was that it was all just stuff they had at home. They don't really sell Halloween costumes here, so the kids had to be extra creative.
More costume contest kids.
The winner of the best costume. Those are actual zippers attached to her face.
This girl appeared just after the judging for the costume contest had taken place, otherwise I think she definitely would have taken the prize for scariest costume.
Batgirl and Candygirl
Overall, I think I had close to 500 kids come to my Halloween activities and a fair number of citizens came out to watch the Halloween parade. I call it, despite the mishaps, a successful event, and one I am so glad is over!