Sunday, July 14, 2013

4th of July in Macedonia

The 4th of July is a truly American holiday, Phil and I decided to spend the afternoon with a truly American group at the US Embassy in Skopje. As Peace Corps Volunteers, we aren't really supposed to go to the Embassy or interact with the Embassy community much as it a) heightens the idea that we are spys (we aren't- in case you were confused), and b) tends to have the locals think we can get them visas (we can't), however we are invited to attend the informal 4th of July celebration there (many US Embassies have an official celebration that is formal and many local dignitaries are invited and then an informal celebration for the Embassy employees and other ex-pats in the country).
We, along with about 20 other Peace Corps Volunteers made our way to the Embassy for an afternoon filled with games, food, and English speakers!
Ambassador Wohlers making a speech
One of the highlights for the PCVs was the food. First, we were amazed that without even being asked, people formed lines and patiently waited for their turn. This is a cultural thing that has not transferred over to Macedonia and no matter how hard every PCV ever were to try here, the concept of lines doesn't exist.
 American hotdogs, hamburgers (real ones- not the mixed "meat" variety sold here), Wonder bread, potato salad, Lays chips, and an assortment of desserts. Everyone was required to bring a dessert to share, so the table was quite magical. And because the Embassy folks are a little better connected to America than we are as PCVs, there were several dishes that had all-American ingredients- mostly those with peanut butter! Lori and I stared at the table long and hard before making our choices that included, special k bars, peanut butter cookies, warm peach cobbler, chocolate cupcakes, and chocolate chip cookies.
Phil and I had a chance to talk with a few Embassy folks, including one FS daughter who is a soon to be PCV in Thailand! We also got to show our very inferior croquet skills....until some children stole our balls and wickets (probably for the best as we were all struggling). And we got to see a few RPCVs who were back in Macedonia visiting/working.

While I missed hanging out around Don and Elisa's pool with the Pine City family, it was a great afternoon, despite the rain ending the party early. I hope there will be many 4th of July's like this in the future!
Happy Independence Day!
*Thanks to Terri and Harry for the photos as I didn't take any

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Girls Leading Our World 2013

We welcome you to Camp GLOW, we're really glad you're here.
We'll send the air reverberating with our mighty cheer.
We'll sing you in, we'll sing you out.
To you we'll give a mighty shout. Hooray!
Hail, hail, the gangs all here- welcome to Camp GLOW-oh-oh
Hail, hail, the gangs all here- welcome to Camp GLOW!
The best week of my year was without-a-doubt, this past week at Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World). Camp GLOW brings together 80 girls from all over Macedonia, from the different ethnic groups here, for a week long leadership camp. The entire camp is done in English, so the girls that come are some of the most talented girls in the country. This year's camp took place at a private English school in Tetovo (in western Macedonia). I had three girls from my town at camp this year, which was exciting, so now five from my town have joined the GLOW family.

Last year at camp, I was a counselor and together with my co-counselor, we had a group of ten girls that were our charge for the week. I taught a few classes, but not many. This year, I came back to camp as an Instructor, which meant my job was teaching classes and getting to hang out with all the girls. I taught eight classes, with six of them being taught four times to a group of 20 girls. My classes this year were:
- The 5 W's of Project Planning: where the girls learned how to develop and implement a project
Awesome poster one group of girls created about a problem they saw in Macedonia- the different groups not getting along. An Albanian girl drew the Macedonian flag, a Macedonian girl drew the Albanian flag, and there was a bit of arguing over who would get to be the lesbian. What more could we ask for in terms of these girls addressing tough issues right off the bat?!
- Minute to Win It: an elective class based on the American TV show
- Our Effects on the Environment: where the girls learned about their impact on our earth
The girls learned how long it took for everyday items to fully decay. The bright yellow notes are their guesses and the light yellow ones were how long it really takes.
- Are You Smarter than the GLOW Staff?: an elective class where the girls competed to see if they knew more useless trivia than the staff
- Field Day: an all camp competition between the different groups where the girls had to work together as a team to complete the challenges (water balloon volleyball, minefield, name that tune, bubblegum blowing, ...)
All the teams started out having to unfreeze a t-shirt
Try and make your way through the minefield without hitting a mine
Can you match the baby picture with the staff member?
Work together to launch a water balloon back and forth 8 times.
- Stereotypes and the Iceberg Theory: where we really dove into the different stereotypes the girls have heard in their country about the different ethnic groups and how the stereotypes affect us
- Sex Ed 1: we talked about STDs and how they spread and how to prevent them. The girls all learned how to correctly put a condom on- many of the girls were scared as they had never touched a condom before. 
Shaking hands and passing "STD"s to show how quickly they can spread
- Sex Ed 2: we talked birth control in this class, which is especially important as 1 in 4 pregnancies in Macedonia end in abortion and on 13.5% of women in a relationship use any form of birth control.

While I didn't get to know the girls quite as well as last year, it was great to have an impact on them through classes. For me, the Stereotypes and Sex Ed classes were the most important and had the biggest impact on the girls since for stereotypes it made them think about things they say and as far as sex ed goes, many girls have never had any form of sex ed in their lives. The girls said Sex Ed 1 and 2 were the classes that will have the biggest impact on their lives, which is fantastic. We also talked about tampons with the girls since no one wears tampons here for fear they will take their virginity away. However, their minds were blown when their learned they could go swimming during their period if they wore a tampon. 
Just like last year, my outfit for Disco Night was created during the Project Runway: Trash Fashion elective. Most of it was made out of Peace Corps Worldview magazines!
The last night of camp, the kitchen staff made us a fabulous surprise cake
Being a PCV is sometimes really hard because you don't feel like what you do matters. I have felt that way about 90% of my time here. However, when these national projects come along, I feel like I am actually doing something positive here. GLOW takes all those crappy things about being a PCV and makes them disappear. The girls that are at camp really are the best of the best in this country and the Host Country National staff at camp are incredibly successful. I got a much larger sense of accomplishment from being around these girls than anything else I have done in country.
With US Ambassador Wohlers and PC Country Director Kutzy
Camp GLOW 2013
I love Camp GLOW and everything it stands for!

Monday, June 17, 2013

English Library

This school year has definitely been an improvement over the last. I have been able to get more involved in classes and finally completed my first "big" project at school. I wrote to Darien Book Aid, a US based NGO that ships gently used books to Peace Corps Volunteers (and other aid workers) all over the world. My school was selected to receive a shipment of books in January and they finally arrived the end of April. However, I wanted to get the books cataloged and organized before it was a free-for-all with the kids.

Last week, we introduced the English Library to the students (or the English teachers were supposed to....) and our first books were checked out so the kids can practice their reading in English over the summer. There were probably 90 books in the English Library (the school had a few from a previous PCV) and in the matter of just two days, the shelves are empty and kids are still looking for books. One of the worst things I have had to do here yet was turning kids away from checking out books because we were out. I have found another company in the US that is willing to donate books, however, they don't cover shipping. I am still debating if I can come up with a fundraising scheme that would raise enough funds to ship more books over here for my students.
My first group of 5th graders checking out books.
The book choices ranged from fairly easy picture books like Hop on Pop to really advanced books like Twilight and Harry Potter.
They were so excited to get their books- despite the lack of smiling.
The books are all labeled and ready to be checked out- I organized them according to levels and each book was labeled with a corresponding colour star sticker. I am my mother's daughter.
There are two shelves of English books. I also created several binders of resources for my teachers to use when I am gone (at the top).
Helping the kids pick out books was pretty fun too- I was able to give out some of my favourite books from my childhood including Double Fudge, Ramona Quimby, and Junie B. Jones.
After one day of books being checked out, this is all that was left. The bottom left corner are really easy books (shapes and colours), the two groups of white books are kinda lame (donated by the English Language Teaching Association of Macedonia many years ago), and the top right books are the ones that are too difficult for most of my students (i.e. Nine Stories by J.D. Salinger).
I also worked on creating a bunch of resources for my teachers to use when I am gone. These range from worksheets to holiday themed activities, Bingo cards that use the textbook's vocabulary, grammar games, and lots of additional reading, writing, and speaking activities. Most were things I had used in the past year and a half, however, I also created some new things just for these books.
My illustrated alphabet letters that will help the 3rd graders learn the alphabet.
I created an illustrated alphabet for one of the teachers to use when she teachers the alphabet. The kids can make the letter in the shape of the animal/object that starts with that letter. I got the ideas for the first couple from another PCV and based the rest off of the AlphaFriends commonly used in US kindergarten classes.
A is for alligator, B is for bee, C is for caterpillar made out of circles, D is for dalmatian dog, E is for elephant, F is for flag, G is for giraffe, H is for house, I is for inchworm, J is for jeans, K is for king, L is for leg, M is for mouse, N is for nest, O is for octopus, P is for peacock, Q is for queen, R is for rabbit, S is for snake, T is for tiger, U is for underwater, V is for volcano, W is for world, X is for x-ray, Y is for yarn, Z is for zebra

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Moderation is Overrated

I've always been a fan of moderation. While there are times that call for excess, moderation is almost always the best way to go. I am struggling with this a little now.

My host parents have a cherry tree in our backyard. We are right in the middle of cherry season. About a week and a half ago my host mother brought me up a kilo (2.2 lbs for the American folks) of cherries freshly picked from our trees. I was overjoyed. I do enjoy cherries and free ones are even better! I happily ate some cherries that day, but made sure to save some for the upcoming days because a kilo of cherries really is quite a few. The next day, however, another bowl of cherries appeared. Now feeling like I had way to many cherries on my hands, I made some cherry sauce to go over french toast. Well with that many cherries (not using all, but still quite a few), I made a lot of cherry sauce, which when blended with a ripe banana, poured into plastic cups, and frozen, made fantastic cherry banana popsicles.

The following day even more cherries arrived. I can now say that in the past week and a half, I have been given easily over 10 pounds of cherries. Cherries are a somewhat fickle fruit that require one to use them quickly before they mold, so I have had to become quite creative in my cherry usage.

I have made:
- Cherry sauce
- Cherry banana popsicles
- Cherry muffins
- Cherry crisp
- Cherry cobbler
- Cherry muffins (again)

I have also:
- Frozen cherries for the future
- Eaten what seems like my weight in fresh cherries
- Given cherries to another PCV

However, as I write this, yet another half kilo of cherries just arrived and I am left with needing to become even more creative. My next cherry adventure will most likely be either a cherry pie, cherry liqueur, or a recipe I found for a cherry salsa.

I guess if you have to eat something in excess, cherries aren't a bad way to go.

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.