Saturday, May 18, 2013

1st Annual Guthrie-Scholin Spring Wine Festival 2013

Phil and I had our first date at the 2012 Spring Wine Festival in Skopje. This year, we were unable to go to the 2013 Spring Wine Festival, so we decided to have our own wine festival and have decided to make this a yearly event (next year, we might even invite guests, depending on where in the world we are and if we have any friends!).

Without further ado, here is the 1st Annual Guthrie-School Spring Wine Festival- 2013, held in Shtip, Macedonia.

He might hate me for uploading this, but one of the most memorable moments of the 2012 Wine Festival, and the whole reason we went there, in fact, was that the 7:00pm bus was full, so we had to take the very last bus to Shtip- the 8:37 Strumica Express Komvi. Phil decided to make this a part of our 2013 event and turned himself into a Strumica Express komvi complete with a driver who was talking on his phone, smoking a cigarette (fake), and blaring turbo-folk music. His creativity is one of the many things I love about him!
We each had the job of buying some wine. Note- we did NOT drink it all. As an entrance fee into the 2012 Wine Fest, you had to buy your glasses, so Phil and I have nice glasses with the logo on it. This year, I thought I would surprise Phil with making us some glasses to commemorate this year's event. Well, with only about 1 hour and limited supplies (white nail polish), I had a few struggles. I spent the first 55 minutes trying to draw and cut out a template of the poster logo out of tape to stick on the glasses. Then I was going to paint over with the nail polish. FAIL. We ended up with glasses that just say "WINE" in big letters and the date on the base. I was quite frustrated they weren't perfect, but in the end, they are far more "Peace Corps-ish" this way.
The wine selection: A very nice Vranec from Bovin Winery in Negotino (the expensive 450 mkd bottle), the cheapest bottled Vranec you can buy, a Cabernet Sauvignon made here in Shtip, a gross jug of white wine that was left by another PCV who is famous for her love of large jugs of wine, a new one to us- a Vranec and Merlot mix, and a Kavadarka- a PCV red wine staple as its only 99 mkd. Again, we did NOT drink all of this.
One of my goals for this next year is to do a better job of taking people pictures, not just pictures of scenery, etc. The smoke from the grill made it a little hard.
The wind decided to switch directions.
We grilled pork kebabs and potatoes.
They were delicious!
And ate part of this massive vegan strawberry and coconut cream chocolate layered cake I made.
 It was a great night and I can't wait to see what is in store for the 2nd Annual Guthrie-Scholin Spring Wine Festival in 2014.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Crawling Under the Table

Easter, or Veligden, is a pretty important holiday here. Due to Macedonia using the Orthodox calendar, Easter fell in early May this year. Easter started early, however at school, where I taught my 5th graders about Easter in America and we compared it to Easter here. I taught them lots of new vocabulary words and at the end of the lesson they made mini picture dictionaries. My counterpart then took over Easter lessons day 2 and had the kids make Easter cards- one of which I was lucky enough to receive.

 Last year, I spent Easter in Kamenica and was able to partake in almost all of the traditional events, except for two- showering with red dyed Easter eggs on Thursday morning and crawling under the table at the church on Friday. I was able to cross one of those off my list this year. Phil and I mustered up enough courage to tackle crawling under the table on our own, so we went to the huge church in Shtip. Now, it doesn't sound like crawling under a table is so hard, but when you don't know the protocol, its a little intimidating. We bought our candles, light them, did a whole lot of crossing (half the time we did it the Orthodox way, the other half the Catholic way- neither one of us was raised in "crossing" families). We stood in the doorway of the church for a little bit watching others. I had a fairly good idea of what should go on after talking about it in school, but observing for a little bit definitely helped. We paid our 10 mkd to the pope who put oil on our foreheads, asked our names, and then blessed us. Then we stood in line in front of the table. At the table we paid another 10 mkd to kiss a picture of Jesus and crawl under the table. Upon exiting the table, we had water generously sprinkled all over us. Then it was another 10 mkd to kiss another picture and more crossing. Somewhere in there we were supposed to take a branch, but that step wasn't obvious, so we left the church branchless- I guess no good health for us, despite having been reborn (crawling out from under the table symbolizes re-exiting the womb if you hadn't picked up on that).

Our next Easter activity was heading to Kratovo to Phil's host family's house. I had met his host parents once in November when the Mak-17s were sworn in, but it was a super quick and awkward meeting, and I had never been to Kratovo, so this seemed like a good opportunity. We had been planning on going after the Spelling Bee, but due to the buses suddenly deciding not to run, we were unable to go.

We got to explore the whole town, eat Kratovo's pastramajka (the Kratovo version of pastramalija), attend the midnight church service on Easter while attempting to keep our candles lit, and spend some time with his host parents and sister. It was a great little trip and as usual, I will let the pictures do most of the talking.
Exploring the town.
Kratovo is one of the older towns here in Macedonia and built in the crater of a dormant volcano. It is filled with lots of hills and bridges.

Phil's new Peace Corps house perhaps?
Phil's host sister took us into one of the lesser known places in Kratovo- one of the caves that connected all of the towers together during Ottoman rule.
Phil's host mother's beautifully dyed eggs.
His mother insisted on getting a picture of him with the eggs.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

National Spelling Bee 2013: The Un-official Write Up

A Day (or two) in the Life of the National Spelling Bee Committee

- Friday -
9:00am: Plan to arrive at University American College-Skopje (UACS) to meet the Tinex truck that is delivering donations.

9:15am: Actually arrive at UACS after spending 5 minutes arguing with the taxi driver in Macedonian about the price. I may speak with a Minnesotan accent, but I know the price didn't change overnight! Finally throw the 200 denari at him, call him a thief, and hop out of the car.

9:30am: Stand around with Alastair waiting for our contact at UACS to show up and help us figure out what to do with the 50+ 2-liter bottles of water and boxes of snacks. Eavesdrop on a conversation (in Macedonian) being held by some nicely dressed people outside the college who keep staring at us.
Tinex (a local grocery chain) donated lots of water and snacks for the event
9:45am: Finally one of the ladies asks us in English what we plan to do with all of this stuff. We start to explain about the event happening the following day, to which we learn, she is well aware.

9:50am: Our contact shows up and there is some debate as to where we can store these things since the college has classes going on. The nicely dressed women make a few phone calls and it is all taken care of.

10:15am: The last bottles of water have been carted off by the maintenance guys and we head upstairs to begin our preparations. Lori and Michelle arrive to get working.

10:35am: We are in the swing of preparations- making signs, finalizing registration lists and volunteer schedules.

11:20am: We discover there is a problem. The college has overbooked itself due to some communication issues. We are told the rooms we had planned on using aren't available.

11:25am: Head want to bang against the walls as we thought we were ahead of the game.

11:45am: We meet with one of the nicely dressed ladies. We find out she is the Vice President of the college. Our rooms change around for the fourth time this week.

11:55am: We finalize our schedule and start getting back to work on preparations.

12:05pm: The VP comes in again and says we need to make more changes. Preparations halt at this point because another change means redoing everything.

12:25pm: I meet with the VP and we figure out a schedule. She tells us which rooms we can use and we agree upon a schedule.

1:00pm: A new lady comes and says we need to talk about the room schedule. We though we had it all cleared as the VP agreed. Turns out there need to be more changes to the rooms. I clarify that this new lady is the one who will give the final say, not the VP. Correct.

1:10pm: We have a new room schedule to work off of and are ready to get started making signs, finalizing volunteer schedules and registration lists.

1:15pm: Our Peace Corps liaison shows up after a busy week of training. I have been in contact with her all morning about the rooms changing and she is happy to hear that we have finally worked out a schedule with the college.
Evelina is the queen of multi-tasking. I couldn't have survived the Bee without her.
1:50pm: The lady appears again and says we need to change around a few rooms again, this time losing rooms, so we wont have enough. I politely argue with her almost making her cry, but we eventually get things figured out and we only have to give up one room. It isn't ideal, but we will make it work.

2:00pm: Claire arrives with the t-shirts. They look fantastic! Thanks for the design Ari.

2:20pm: The lady appears yet again with more changes. I rip another clump of hair out of my head in frustration at the ever changing schedule. We do a walk-through of the building with the lady painstakingly going over which rooms we can use and which rooms we can't. I clarify and re-clarify, making sure there aren't any language miscommunications. We are told we are good to go.

2:40pm: She comes back yet again to change around more rooms on us. This time, spreading us out all over the confusing building- only one or two rooms on each floor on each wing. This is not a good solution for us, but its the day before the event, what can we do.

3:15pm: The rooms change once more, but this time the change is in our favor. We now agree on a schedule that is almost identical to what we originally had- nice big rooms, one side of the building, only a few floors. Hooray! Fingers crossed that it won't change again.

3:25pm: We decide that this late in the day we need to keep working on preparations and just cross our fingers nothing changes again.

3:40pm: Our new "friend" appears once more with another change, but again, its for the good. One of the groups that was going to also be using the college on Saturday cancelled, so that has freed up one more room for us. It is a small room, but will work great as our Volunteer HQ.

4:20pm: The rest of the committee appears with the goal of having one last meeting. However, because of how far behind we are from all the room changes, the meeting is scraped and another committee member takes them on a tour of the building giving me a few minutes to finish up the registration lists and the volunteer schedules.

5:00pm: YES! The college offices are closed for the day so they can't change our rooms on us anymore! In appears an amazing maintenance man who is here to do anything we want from him. He tells me he is happy we are there because it makes his night and day tomorrow far more interesting.

5:15pm: The registration room starts getting set up. Signs are hung and well as the paper Bees my students helped me make. Teacher certificates are having names added and the large whiteboard is being decorated welcoming everyone.
One of the Bees I designed with the help of 5th graders. We made about 50 or 60 of these.
You have to throw a few "Bee" puns in there!
6:00pm: The registration lists are almost done. The bulk of the committee is sent home, leaving only a few of us to finish up.

7:00pm: Lori and I start to print registration lists and volunteer schedules. The printer is a little slow.

7:45pm: We are still printing our lists.

8:15pm: We finally finish up and grab our stuff to head out for the night.

8:45pm: Lori and I arrive at our apartment where our boys and a few other PCVs are starting to make dinner for us (and themselves- we aren't that special!)

10:30pm: An early night for all as tomorrow is the big day!

- Saturday -
6:25am: Early to bed, early to rise! Good morning!

6:55am: Phil makes Lori and I some oatmeal- this could be our only meal of the day, so we better make it count.

7:35am: Time to call the taxi and hope it can find our apartment. We can't be late today.

8:00am: We arrive at the college to double check everything is ready to go. Organize one last meeting before we open the doors of the Registration room to a hallway that is already packed with teachers and students.
Quick run-through of the day
8:15am: My registration volunteers arrive- many of them Peace Corps staff members. I know we will be off to a fantastic start as PC staff members are excellent problem solvers, work efficiently and quickly, and are so positive.

Phil and Evelina were partners in crime for the day. They worked registration together and judged together.
8:30am: Registration is open! My mini-me (next year's registration guru) Kaitlin has jumped right in directing people. It is clear she is the perfect person for the job.

Go Kaitlin!
8:45am: My earlier thoughts about Peace Corps staff at registration are proven correct. They are all so positive telling every kid good luck. While only one of them speaks Albanian, the others write themselves a cheat sheet so they can speak to the students in both Macedonian and Albanian.

9:00am: Someone has thrown up in the bathroom. Good thing our trusty maintenance man from last night is on duty again and left me with his phone number.

9:45am: Grade 5 registration is almost complete. The time flew by. We are ready to start grade 6.

10:15am: A late bus has arrived. The grade 5 Mini-Bees have already started- time to improv. I grab a few PCVs and an Albanian speaker and we hold a Mini-Bee for the four 5th graders on that bus in the volunteer room.

11:10am: Grade 5 Mini-Bees are underway and Grade 6 Mini-Bees are about to start. We have a slight break at registration. I didn't even realize what time it was as the registration room was so busy. Despite having almost 600 kids and their teachers come through our doors to register, it seemed so calm compared to last year. Clearly good organization!
6th graders from my school waiting to compete
11:12am: I discover what Phil had been hiding from me for the last few minutes.

Thank you for all your help inmate 182.
11:45am: Ahh! We have opened registration up for grades 7 and 8, which means almost 600 kids to get through in an hour and a half. Can we do it?

1:00pm: We all survived and just in time. My entire staff will now change over as only the high schoolers have yet to register.

1:10pm: The 5th grade Bee is still going on and using rooms that we need for the 7th and 8th graders. Time to make some more last minute adjustments. A quick hallway meeting will help solve this issue.

This is a posed photo. But we really did have a meeting at that point.
1:40pm: The 7th grade Bees were supposed to have already started, but those 5th graders are still spelling! We are out of materials and rooms and have 100 7th graders and their teachers standing around the halls waiting to be told what to do and where to go.

1:50pm: The 5th grad Bee finally finishes! They ended up spelling words off of the 8th grade word list!
Lori and our 2nd place winner
2:00pm: Finally the 7th grade Mini-Bees are all started. I can breathe now and go back and check on registration.

2:15pm: My counterpart found me and we had time to take a quick photo.
Apparently the cool thing to do here is take photos at an angle.
2:45pm: My phone rings for the billionth time today. It's the Peace Corps Macedonia Country Director. He will be arriving shortly and wants to know where I will meet him to show him around.

2:50pm: Our photographers are everywhere.

Thanks for all the photos Aaron!
Part of the Kamenica group hanging out
Demir Hisar/Zhvan is in representing!
Everyone has time to pose for a photo.
One school arrived in matching shirts they had made for the Bee.
Certificates are a big deal in Macedonia. This year we introduced Grade-Level Finalist ones in addition to the Participant ones. Thanks Friends of Macedonia for helping us fund these.
3:00pm: I meet the Country Director and escort him into the 8th grade Final Bee. I point out to him where the Ministry of Education officials are sitting. We stand and observe the 8th grade Final Bee.

3:20pm: The judges are debating on whether a student spelled “survey” correct or not. They ask the student for clarification, but he is unsure of what is being asked. I step in and confirm that the word was written correctly.

3:25pm: I run down to registration to check in one more time. Kaitlin has everything under control.

3:35pm: I head back up to the 8th grade Final Bee.

3:37pm: A student spells a word incorrectly. His teacher starts throwing a fit about how the word her student received wasn't fair, that it was much harder than the rest of the words. I step in and explain that these are hard words (the 8th graders are now spelling words from the high school lists) but they have been published two months in advance so the students could all have studied them and that the words each student is given are completely randomized. The teacher yells back throwing a fit. The Country Director steps in and politely asks her to leave. She leaves in a huff. No one is sure what to do. I tell the judges to just continue.

3:45pm: Thank goodness Stephen was there. I am not a huge fan of confrontation like that.

3:50pm: The 8th grade Bee finishes. The awards are presented by our Country Director and Ministry of Education officials. Congratulations to the winners.

3:58pm: The room is emptied and Erin and I start cleaning, getting the room all ready for when the Ambassador arrives for the Year 3 and 4 Bee.

4:15pm: The room is ready to go and we start to let in the contestants.

4:25pm: Erin gets everyone lined up and ready to go while I go meet the Ambassador and his wife.

4:30pm: I am waiting at the entrance to the building with our UACS contact and a photographer for the Ambassador, but he is no where in site.

4:31pm: Phil calls saying he is with the Ambassador. Where are we? (They went in a different door).

4:33pm: We fly up the stairs and run down the hall and I catch up with the Ambassador. I thank him for coming and make some small talk.

4:35pm: We all sit down and the Bee starts.

Just hanging out with the Ambassador
5:30pm: The competition is still fierce.

5:45pm: The students switch over to the secret bonus list that no one outside of the committee has seen. This will now test their spelling abilities, rather than their memorizing abilities.

6:10pm: The competition is even harder. Words like “smithereens” and “liaison” are being read.

6:24pm: And we have a winner! The winning word was “celestial”.

6:26pm: The Ambassador makes a speech thanking everyone and reading off some pretty outstanding numbers:
- We had about 6000 total students participate at the local level.
- Of those 6000, almost 1400 qualified for the National Bee.
- There were over 90 Local Qualifying Bees held in 60 different towns and villages, and approximately 130 different schools.
Presenting the award to the Year 3 and 4 winner
6:35pm: The Ambassador chats with some PCVs and locals while the committee does the final clean up.

6:50pm: The clean up is all done. We head outside to take a team photo (or what is left of the team).
What a FANTASTIC group!
7:00pm: A little celebration!

7:10pm: Someone suggested we do a jumping photo. Ugh oh....
7:35pm: We arrive back at the apartment where Stephen has cooked us another fantastic meal- homemade burgers. Best burger I have had in Macedonia.

7:40pm: Phil and Aaron treat Lori and I to some rum and cokes to celebrate the completion of a very successful event.

8:45pm: Lori and I lock ourselves in one of the bedrooms and sort through all of the paper we brought home from the Bee, hoping to leave a bunch of it in Skopje. We are almost ready to call it a night.

9:30pm: Lori and I finish our work for the night.

A complete set of photos from the event can be viewed on Facebook by clicking here.