Thursday, March 28, 2013

Those Times When You Realize, "Hey, I'm in the Peace Corps."

It is easy, even over here, to get stuck in the hum-drum of life. It's easy to wash, rinse, and repeat each day. But then there are those days that just throw you for a loop and you have to remember you're not in America. You aren't living a "normal" life. You are a Peace Corps Volunteer.

- You talk about poop- your own, your fellow PCVs, the animals, and your host mother 's (and unfortunately got to witness that last one).

- You don't even ask what you are eating until after you have eaten it because chances are, you don't want to know and if its free, you probably don't care.

- You don't shower every day, every other day, or sometimes even every week (don't judge us- we're either too poor to pay to heat the water, our town/village once again has no water, or we're on a so-called "vision quest")

- You give a stray dog a chunk of bread on your way home from the store so you can have a friend in town. 

And then there are those things that you can't even begin to describe.

The other day I came home from school and went downstairs to collect some wood to start my fire- however I didn't make it to the wood pile. I walked out on my host mother cleaning goat intestines. I will let the pictures do the rest of the talking since I have to include them (A. This is something hard to imagine without seeing it and B. My host mother laughed for a good 3 minutes when I asked if I could take pictures). One thing the pictures can't capture is the smell. It was horrible- very ammonia like. The smell is so strong it has been known to make PCVs quit smoking!

My host mother working on her intestines. The first step was to find the end of the intestines and hook it onto the end of a long stick.
Then she would push the intestines onto the stick so they would bunch up- she did this quite fast too I might add.
She really bunched them up on the stick.
The next step was putting the stick in the bowl and pulling on the intestines to turn them right side out (she had already turned them inside out and cleaned them by the time I got there).
The bowl of "cleaned" intestines
Then she washed them over and over again in clean water. The bubbles aren't from soap, but rather simply the intestines themselves.
After washing them, she threw them in a pot with water to boil for awhile. At this point, I stepped out of the action and just asked her what she would do. She said after they had boiled, she would throw the water, chop them up into small pieces (about the size of your thumb tip). After that, they would be eaten in a variety of manners- cooked with rice and spinach, soup, etc. I told her I would pass on eating them as I have already tried intestines and despite being a delicacy, I don't like them. So far, I have escaped having to eat any, but we shall see.

Oh to be 26 and living the life of a Peace Corps Volunteer. I know you all wish you could trade lives with me!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Macedonia is Buzz-ing

The last month and a half of my life has been filled with work for the National Spelling Bee. You know you are working on a project way too much when your dreams involve kids spelling words and when you hear a word you think to yourself, "oh, that's on the x grade's word list" (or at least I usually think it to myself- Phil has, however, had to put up with a whole lot of NSB talk).

This year's National Bee, on April 13th, is expected to have between 800-1,000 kids in attendance, along with their teachers and about 80% of Peace Corps Macedonia (including PC staff). This is by far the largest project done here in Peace Corps Macedonia as we have already had over 2,500 kids involved and numbers are still coming in. There are close to 100 Local Qualifying Bees happening in March this year, which is a big increase over last year and we are getting more and more teachers and communities involved. This is definitely a project the kids remember. In September this past year, on the first day of school, I had a 6th grader come up to me and ask when the word lists would be out so he could start studying!

Rather than keep talking about this, I will let some pictures from my Local Qualifying Bee give you a better idea. You can also feel free to check out our Facebook page or our Blog.

An 8th grader trying to qualify- she was spelling "counterfeit". Other 8th grade words include- "admiration", "embarrassed", and "poultry".
Two 8th graders just qualified. I decided this year to make paper bees as the invitations instead of just printing out a half sheet of paper with the information. I was up half the night making them, but it was definitely worth it when the next day there were excited kids "flying" their bees around the halls in between classes. I also gave each student a fun pencil and an eraser (courtesy of the Target Dollar Section and my parents!).
Three 6th graders who qualified- typical Macedonian smiles. I promise they were actually quite excited and happy.
8th graders
6th graders who qualified- again the serious faces.
Group of 8th graders who studied hard and qualified to go to the National Bee!
More 6th graders who qualified. The 6th graders had to spell words like- "university", "tarantula", and "national".
Some of my 5th graders- these girls rock!
Half way to qualifying...
....and he spelled all 12 words correct!
More 8th graders (if you couldn't tell, the two girls were quite proud of their bees and wanted their picture taken over and over again).
6th grader focusing on spelling those words right.
5th grader spelling- They had words like "cake", "basketball", and "family".
 Best Peace Corps project ever*.

 *This statement reflects my personal opinion at this moment.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Life Continues, Even in America

I have attempted to write a post for weeks, but nothing seemed worthwhile to write about. Now, that doesn't mean nothing has been going on, but none of the topics at hand sparked my interest. As I sat and thought, I lacked inspiration. Writing about my struggles at site, my secondary projects, the recent (or was at the time) Mid-Service Conference, future travels, etc, didn't grab my attention. Therefore, this post has become far more delayed than I hoped (although I could also blame it on my internet going from horrible to worse than horrible- something I didn't think possible). However, a few emails I received today, got me thinking and I think I have found something worthy of writing on.

Yesterday morning I learned that my 1st grade teacher passed away the other night, after quite the battle with breast cancer. When I opened my mom's email and read those words, I was suddenly hit with an emotion I have never felt before and don't even know how to describe. It wasn't exactly sadness, emptiness, or any of the other words often associated with death, but rather this mysterious new feeling.

I feel now that I should backtrack a bit. Growing up in a small town with parents who were teachers, gave my teachers all through elementary, high school, and even college a much larger role in my life than many people experience. My teachers weren't just people I saw at school from 8:00-3:00, but rather they were in almost every aspect of my life. They were my parents' friends; I saw them not just at school, but at bonfires, birthday parties, and the dinner table. They were my extended family. Their children, the extra brothers, sisters, and cousins, that I had always longed for. Learning that one of these pseudo-relatives is gone is a very odd feeling.

While I hadn't seen Sandy for years and it has been 20 years since she was my teacher, I still remember many things from 1st grade very clearly. In the last few days, I know I am not the only student who is sitting back and thinking of memories of her.

I remember hiding in the school library after school with Megan Hughes working on part of our 100s project. We had been given a drawing of a dalmatian and our homework was to draw 100 spots on the dalmatian. I, accidentally, drew 101 and was so upset because I always wanted to do everything perfect and make Mrs. Marty happy. With tears in my eyes, Megan and I walked down to the classroom and she leapt up from her chair and asked me what was wrong. When I showed her and told her, she dried my tears, got out a white sticker, and placed it over one of my dots and told me that now my dalmatian was perfect.

I remember sitting on the floor around her chair for story time one winter day when we discovered that the corner behind her chair had a big crack and cold air from outside was coming in. That day at recess, a group of us built a snow fort around that corner to block the wind from blowing in and making Mrs. Marty cold.

And while I am 5000 miles away and unable to express my condolences to her family in person, I think they know just how many people are thinking of her now.

Death is one of those things that you hope you don't have to deal with while you are away from friends and family for 27 months, unfortunately, however, it has a way of finding you no matter where you are. Many of my fellow PCVs have had a loved one at home die or become sick while they have been over here. I am thankful that I have been able to dodge this obstacle for the most part as I can't even begin to imagine what it must be like. 

I think the word that best describes my emotion from yesterday morning is disbelief. I came over here, was hit with all kinds of new and unique cultural experiences and suddenly, 18 months later, this is life and I have removed myself from so many aspects of “life” back in America. For one reason or another, I don't have very strong ties to what was “home”. I have some communication with my parents, sister, and a handful of friends, but nothing else. Therefore, news like this from home, throws me off and forces me to realize that life in America has continued to move on, just as my life here has. By withdrawing from life in America and focusing on life here in Macedonia, I, like many PCVs before me, forgot that life back in America doesn't just stop and stand still for 27 months. That realization is a weird one and until yesterday, wasn't something I had really thought about. Emails from family and friends back home have lead me to believe that everything just continues on- my parents continue to do their thing, my sister hers, and my friends theirs, but there haven't been too many big life changes. But despite all of that, life continues, even in America.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

It's been a long, long time....

Once again, I feel like I am falling behind on my blogging- sorry. Life has been pretty busy. Since my last post:

- School started up and this second half of the school year has proved to be much life the first

- Phil came home after 5 weeks in America, where he flew all over the country visiting friends and family and taking, and passing the Foreign Service Oral Assessment. He now moves onto the security and medical clearance stage and is hoping for a spot in a January or March 2014 A-100 class, as they are the first ones he can do after finishing up in Macedonia.
We have started a new tradition of writing a short message on each bottle of nice wine we buy. The message has to give the time in which we are to drink the bottle. We got to have our first bottle as Phil passed the FSOA! It was a lovely Vranec from Popova Kula*

- I celebrated my 26th birthday, and last birthday in Macedonia. This was the first year in 7 or 8 years that I haven't been sick on my birthday. Perhaps finding the coin in the bread at Christmas is bringing me luck.
Two of my 6th grade classes decorated the classroom for my birthday and I walked into them singing a lovely rendition of Happy Birthday
Some of my 6th graders. After they sang to me, each class even gave me a present. From one class I received a box of Milka chocolate and from the other, the popular perfume deodorant spray. They were very sweet.

- Phil and I perfected the art of veggie pizza
This was our first attempt (and this does have a little meat on it because it was left in my fridge). We since decided to spend some time slightly altering our recipe and making it even better. The pizza now contains a ton of fresh spinach, onions, garlic, green onion, roasted red pepper, and lots of spices.
The pizza is best if matched with some lovely Popova Kula black label Vranec. Delicious!*

- The National Spelling Bee has started consuming most of my life again. But it is ok with me as it is a job I love! This year's National Bee will take place on my sister's birthday, April 13th.

- I will also now get to start planning my classes for this summer's Camp GLOW. I am very excited to be heading back for a second year, this year, however, as an Instructor rather than a Counselor. I won't have my own group of girls this year, but I will get to meet them all while I am teaching classes ranging from Sex Ed to Stress Management to Women in the Media (I don't know what classes exactly I will be teaching yet, but should find out in the next couple weeks).
Camp GLOW 2012 was great, I can only guess what exciting adventures await at GLOW 2013!
- I am headed to the Embassy this week to have a chat with Diplomatic Security helping to move along Phil's security clearance. I am actually quite excited to see the Embassy because, as Peace Corps Volunteers, we don't really get the chance.

* DISCLAIMER: I promise Phil and I aren't spending our Peace Corps service just sitting around drinking wine, despite wine making its way into my blog twice this week. February 14th, happens to be the Day of Wine here in Macedonia, so one must partake a little!

Sunday, February 3, 2013


So back in mid January we celebrated Epiphany, known here as Vodici. To celebrate, hundreds (or at least a bunch) of crosses are blessed and then thrown into bodies of water, with the largest celebration being in Ohrid. Here in Kamenica, it is thrown into the shallow river that flows through town. Once the cross is thrown, participants can jump into the river with the goal of trying to be the first to grab the cross (sort of like polar plunge, although as you can see here, we don't have any snow- writing this two weeks later, we still don't have snow). 

Most of the pictures below were taken of the Municipality's Facebook page as their photographer could push in front of the crowds to get the best pictures, while the lowly American was stuck in the middle of the crowd.

View of the crowd from somewhere up high. I was squeezed between the bridge and the second tree, right up near the back of the first clump of people.
The religious folk carrying everything from the church to the river (how convenient for them that the church is located right next to the river).
The wooden cross is being blessed.
Another of the cross being blessed.
More blessing.
The cross (top left corner) is about to be thrown into the river.
And their off! It was only young males who participated here.
The lucky victor holds the cross up for all to see.
Here is the winner. He now gets to spend the day going from house to house having people give him money to go along with the good luck the cross has brought him for the coming year.
The winner, the mayor, and the religious man.
Once the cross had been blessed, there was extra holy water, so the priest dumped it into the river. After the event now, lots of people bent down and drank and washed themselves from this water since it is now holy. I did not participate in this as I couldn't get past the fact that there was still a garbage pile just upstream, along with waste from the mine, and probably quite a bit of animal fleeces. No thanks.
Vodici marks the end of two month long holiday season here as we started back to school the following Monday.

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.