Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Surviving Vevchani 2013

This post will be primarily pictures, as the only way to begin to fathom Vevchani Carnival is through photos. If you want to learn more, there is certainly plenty out there, including this buzzfeed article and my blog post from last year.

Blindfold Dinner: Our Vevchani weekend started with Stephen cooking a group of 32 a blindfold dinner. We drank kiwi/banana/apple smoothies and ate Comoran eggplant spread on a garlic crostini, rice balls with a fig chutney, chips with refried beans and creme fresh, potato dumplings, homemade Texas tortillas with kiwi salsa, and homemade cheesecake (I might have forgotten an item or two in there!). 
One group blindfolded and ready for their meal.
Some of the servers and kitchen staff- Alex, Sara, Kaitlin, Shannon, and Carly
The servers and kitchen staff Jessica, Alex, Sara, Kaitlin, Shannon, Carly, Jamie, and Chef Stephen.
 Vevchani Carnival: This year was more tame than last year, however still just as frighteningly bazaar. Pictures tell the story so much better than words.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Happy Holidays from MK!

The holiday season here is long, especially if you are an American living here. The holiday season starts with American Christmas and ends three weeks later with Old New Years.

This year, for American Christmas, many of the PCVs here celebrated in Demir Kapija with wonderful hosts Aaron and Lori. All in all there were between 20 and 30 PCVs there for the weekend. Friday, we went up the hill to Popova Kula Winery and sampled some of their delicious wine and food. Saturday, was spent cooking and getting ready for the holiday meal. A whole pig was roasted at a local bakery and we had quite the spread of sides.
I didn't get a picture of our pig, but figured this guy looks about the same.
Later on we exchanged Secret Santa presents. I had a PCV who wanted cat toys, something hard to find in Macedonia, so I spent the weeks before sewing some out of assorted fabric I found in my house.
The best of the cat toys I made for my Secret Santa gift. Clearly sewing runs in the family.
After Secret Santa, Santa paid a visit and brought stockings for the group. The night finished with some Catch Phrase and everyone trying to find a place on a bed, couch, or the floor to squeeze in to sleep.
The stockings I started making Phil and I for Christmas- I didn't have enough time to finish, so that is a January/February project!
Merry Christmas Phillip is what it says.
Phil and I felt it necessary to celebrate Christmas on our own too, so after much secret planning and plotting, we (mostly Phil) put together quite a nice first Christmas if I do say so myself.
Our Christmas tree and presents- we both went a little crazy with gifts as our theme was small, many, and cheap.
Our Christmas feast included:
French carrot salad
Made from scratch rolls
A lemon, mint, garlic, parsley chicken
Roasted sweet potatoes
A delicious meal!
Phil took on the man's job of carving the chicken.
Next we moved onto New Year's Eve, perhaps the largest and most hyped holiday in this country. The Friday before, my students put on their annual New Year's show, which was a lot of fun to see. My favourite act by far was one of my 7th grade boys. He ended the show with a solo performance of Adele's "Rolling in the Deep". He was so nervous before and when he first started, but received a standing ovation at the end because he was so good.
The school choir
Some students singing and dancing

Some of my 5th graders reciting a poem
The 7th grade boy who rocked it!
On New Year's Eve, a group of us rented an apartment in Skopje for the night and celebrated with Chinese food, the free concert in the city square, and, unfortunately, firecrackers thrown into the crowd exploding under our feet. Firecrackers are very popular here and adults, kids, and babies start shooting them off the month before New Year's and continue a month after New Year's. It is often thought to be funny to throw them under someone's feet so they explode right under them. Not funny in my book. While at the concert, there were several guys who thought it was funny to throw them at us. The police just stood and watched, doing nothing for quite some time. One exploded and hit another Volunteer in the eye and we all had minor aches and pains from being hit by pieces of the burning explosive. However, I am pleased to report that there were no casualties or major injuries.

The Lozovo crew before we went out.
We had noise makers
The girls
The outdoor concert sponsored by T-Mobile
Happy New Year Aleksandar!
Fireworks at midnight- right before the firecrackers really made their appearance.
The next holiday is Macedonian Christmas. Last year, I went to Lozovo to celebrate with my host family there. This year, however, I wanted to see how it is celebrated by another family and what do ya know, I have a family here! While many things were similar, it was fun to see some of the differences. My family here is much more traditional and religious than my family in Lozovo was, so it was a great experience to see a more traditional Christmas Eve.

The Christmas season starts with Koleda, the day before Christmas Eve. Early in the morning on this day, children go on a hybrid of trick-or-treating combined with caroling and are given dried fruit and nuts. I thought maybe this year I would get to experience living with a family and living in town, but yet again, I missed it (kind of ok though as sometime the kids come as early as 4am). On Koleda evening, there are huge bonfires all over the country and people eat, drink, and dance the Oro. This year I went with my old neighbours up to one in another village. I had forgotten about this event, and wasn't given any advance notice, so I was not dressed appropriately for standing outside for hours on end, so I didn't stay too late, but it is definitely a cultural experience. My favourite moment was when the Babas decided they wanted to dance, so they requested a song from the musician and danced their own little Oro.
I didn't take any pictures this year, so here is one from Bonfire Night last year.
January 6th is Christmas Eve. The evening started with my host father taking some coal from the fire and placing incense on top of it to create smoke. The smoke was then brought through the house to warn off the spirits (I think). There was lots of crossing your chest and it was repeated over and over, "Christ is born". Then we sat down to eat and once we sat down, we were not allowed to leave the table. The Christmas Eve food is posno- meaning fasting- so no meat or dairy is served. The food served is pretty typical in every home you go to, although there were a few differences.
The Christmas Eve spread- this was all for just three people!
Three types of banitsa, fish, dried fruits....
Roasted pumpkin, the bread with money inside, walnuts, fruit, peppers, bean soup...and more!

Before eating anything, the food is blessed and offered up to God. I can't even count the number of times I crossed myself trying to fit in while God was being called to the table to eat and share.

Each person was given a plastic bag and part of the Christmas Eve meal was divided up between God, and each member of the family and this bag we would take and eat on Christmas Day. In the end, the bag contained roasted pumpkin, an apple, a banana, an orange, garlic, lots of dried fruit, nuts, candy, and bread. I could barely tie my bag shut at the end of the night there was so much in it!

My host mother had planted wheat grass back a month or so ago (I don't remember the exact date) and the grass then grows and holds the Christmas candles which represent Christ's birth. The leaves in the back are called Christmas leaves and every home, at least here, places them on the table along with their wheat grass on Christmas Eve. My host mother told me that she went to the church early in the morning to pick them up as that is where all the ladies of the houses go on Christmas Eve morning to get their leafy branch.
The wheat grass, candle, and Christmas leaves.
I didn't get a picture of this, but my family here also did the traditional straw under the table. The man of the house brings in a bundle of straw and recites the Christmas wish for the house. The straw then was spread under the table as a symbol of Christ in the manger. There was also a chain under our table and I didn't quite understand what that was for. Usually, my family here sits on the floor and eats the Christmas Eve meal atop the straw, however this year we didn't, as my host mother has had some problems with her legs.

Another tradition here is that each family bakes a loaf of bread with a coin inside. The man of the house breaks the bread into pieces giving first to God, then to himself, the mother, and so on down to the youngest child. I was the lucky one this year finding the money inside my piece. This means I will have good luck and money for the coming year. Last year, the bread also contained a piece of garlic for health and a chunk of wood for success in addition to the coin.
My lucky coin!
 After the meal, everything had to be left on the table just as it was when we finished eating, as to provide Jesus a place to sit and eat when he came to the house that night (it sounded like a religious version of leaving milk and cookies out for Santa). In the morning, everything would be put away.

The next, and last holiday, will be Old New Year's on the 14th of January. Vevchani is famous for their Old New Year's carnival and I just might pay it a visit again this year.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Life of a TEFL

Today one of my 5th grade students came in wearing a shirt that said: "Race for Sex". It had a picture of a car on the shirt. English fail- clearly his mother can't read English.

I also was required to become an expert on rabies. When the 6th grade students were learning about "scary things" in the book, there was the word "bat". One child then raised their hand and asked if you would die if you were bitten by a bat. My counterpart turned to me and said, "What does happen Sara?" I guess I look like someone who knows the ins and outs of bats and rabies because after telling them they might get rabies, they had a ton of questions about rabies. Peace Corps Training fail- I was not taught about rabies.

I was just friended by one of my 1st graders on Facebook. Life fail- not mine, but this country's obsession with Facebook just reached an all new high with this friend request.

Our school has been going through Ministry inspections this week. There have been four men from the area in town observing the teachers and writing up notes. In theory this makes sense, however, in practice, I am not really convinced it is the most effective system. I was with one of my counterparts when she got inspected and the man came into class with 10 minutes left. I had been teaching, but my counterpart took over since the man wasn't there to critique me. She switched to talking mostly in Macedonian because she wanted to make sure the guy understood what she was saying. He sat in the back and jotted down a few notes. When the bell rang, he left and didn't provide any feedback. I talked with my counterpart right after and she said she was super confused about whether she should speak English or Macedonian. It is English class, however, if the inspector doesn't speak English, how can he judge her teaching if he doesn't understand what she is saying. My other counterpart said she asked for feedback and the men looked super confused and said that's not what they do. What do these men actually do then? I talked with them both about the English vs Macedonian use in the classroom when the inspectors are there and they were both confused about which language they were supposed to use, so clearly the directions we not made very clear.

Because of the inspections, the teachers all are very diligently writing in the red book (the grade book) at the beginning of class instead of doing it at a later date. This means there is a lot of time when the kids are just sitting there, so I have taken advantage of this time to do some fun activities with my kids. In the 1st grade, I made up a song to help teach them what "how are you?" means since I get a lot of blank stares when I ask them that. Within the song, I also taught them a few adjectives- happy, sad, mad, sleepy, and hungry. They loved it and didn't want to stop when it was time for the actual lesson.

In 6th grade, we reviewed parts of the body and then did heads-shoulders-knees-and-toes, which you would never do with 6th graders in the US, but my kids loved it, especially when we went into hyper-speed. Another day I wrote, "Merry Christmas" on the board and they had to rearrange the letters to see how many words they could spell. Whenever I do this activity with them, I always think back to Mrs. Hughes's Language Arts classes because I am pretty sure that is the first time I did the activity. I promised my kids we would have a competition between the classes the next time we did it.

All-in-all, school is going pretty well now. There have been a few rough spots, but it seems like we have finally figured out a rhythm that works for us, just in time for the holidays and the winter break until the end of January!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Mak-17 Swearing In and a Journey to the capital of the former Yugoslavia

After a few angry Facebook messages/emails, I am finally getting around to writing a blog post. It's not that there has been nothing to write about or even that I haven't had time, I just couldn't quite bring myself to write a post (or 10 that could have been written). So we need to travel back in time a little bit.

November 29- The new group of Volunteers (Mak17s) were sworn in and transitioned from being Trainees to official Volunteers. This was a very bittersweet moment as it really signaled the end of the Mak15s. We have a handful of 15s staying around for another year, but most of them had already left and the ceremony made that very clear.
Kaitlin is one of the new Mak-17s and the first Mak-17 I got to know.
Sisters (minus one)- Erika is the Mak-17 who lived with my host family, Bojana my host sister in Lozovo, and I celebrate Erika becoming an official PCV!
That night we celebrated the end of some Mak-15s service and had a good-bye party at the Irish Pub in Skopje. This included saying good-bye to my Minnesota companion, Marlys. She is headed back to the frozen north, but is hoping to meet up with my parents and left me quite a few Minnesota things she had here. Because of all the MN gear I have now, I did put in a request with our Country Director for a Minnesota Mak-18 so I have someone to pass it all onto.
Saying good-bye to Marlys!

After a sad good-bye, we parted ways, some to America, some to Italy, and a group of us headed to Belgrade, Serbia- capital of the former Yugoslavia. We hoped on an overnight bus and after an hour and a half at the border crossing, one bathroom break, and one "sandwich", we arrived in Belgrade early in the morning, ready to find our hostel and dump our gear before exploring the city. Well, finding the hostel turned out to be a little harder than we thought and I think we ended up wandering around a 5 block area (containing our hostel) for close to two hours. Eventually, we found it, had some Serbian rakija, coffee, a quick nap, and were ready to hit the town. As always, pictures show it best, so here is a short photo compilation of our three days in Belgrade.
Supposedly this is the largest Orthodox church in the Balkans, however it is unfinished on the inside.
My favourite piece of art from the trip- of course there should be a dinosaur peeking out of the corner of this mountain scene.
Enjoying some coffee and hard cider
The Nikola Tesla Museum
We got to see a bunch of his experiments work- Phil even participated in a couple.
Czar Dushan's tomb- only significant to me because prior to coming, I was working on editing a book for a Macedonian about the local history and Dushan was mentioned a lot.
The parliament building
Anna likes to take artistic shots of the group, but that means she gets left out of the photos.
We went on a free 2 1/2 hour walking tour (that was really good) and got to see the Bohemian quarter. Our guide was great and liked to add in little language lessons, but because Macedonian and Serbian are so similar, we were "those people" answering all of his simple questions before giving the others a chance- good thing he liked the fact we could speak the language!
We got to pass by the Macedonian Embassy in Belgrade and might have broken out into the MK national anthem.
Our guide pointed out the bullet holes above some of the doors from the break up of Yugoslavia in the '90s.
At Kalemegdon- the old fortress
Where the Danube and the Sava Rivers join together as one.
There was a US States photo exhibit going on and of course all of us and the American International teachers from Kosovo had to take pictures in front of our state!
The oldest kafana (bar) in Serbia called "?". They served the BEST honey rakija.
We made a journey to the Yugoslav History Museum and to the grave of Josif Broz Tito- one of Phil and Jason's favourite people- Чичко Тито
Tito's grave
Anna, Jason, Phil, and I decided to take the train back, instead of the bus and we had a grand ole time in our quite dirty and old train cabin. The bathrooms were to be avoided at all costs as it really was a free-for-all, but we played a series of games, got a little sleep, and those who had been to Kosovo got their passports anti-Kosovo-ed at the border crossing (Serbians are not at all in support of Albanian Kosovo and do not recognize it as an independent country).