Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Traveling Summer Part 2: Thessaloniki, Greece

The flag of Greece (Hellenic Republic)- each stripe represents the syllables in the Greek saying, “Freedom or Death” (Eleftheria i thanatos) and the nine letters in the Greek word for “freedom” (eleftheria). They may also represent the nine Greek Muses. The cross represents Eastern Orthodox Christianity. Sometimes the flag is this colour blue, other times, the blue is darker.
One of the best trips Phil and I have taken so far was to Thessaloniki, Greece. We were expecting it to be a nice mini vacation, but underestimated just how nice it would be.

Every good travel adventure requires a bit of misadventure in my opinion. For us and this trip, it was actually getting to Thessaloniki. We awoke ridiculously early so we could catch a 5am bus from Shtip to Veles, where we planned on catching a different bus to Thessaloniki. However, after sitting at the Veles bus station (not a place I recommend hanging out) for hours, we realized the bus wasn't stopping for us. Thanks to some wonderful PCVs, we created an alternate plan and sat for a few more hours until we could catch the first bus of the morning to Gevgelija on the Macedonia/Greek border. By the time the bus arrived, we had been awake for 5+ hours and there had been no reason to wake up at 3:45am. With our Plan B in place, we found a taxi driver who was willing to bring us across the border and down to Thessaloniki for a fairly reasonable price. It seemed too easy and well, when things are too easy, something usually isn't quite right. We arrived at the border crossing and for some unknown reason, the taxi driver didn't have the appropriate papers, so after going back and forth from office-to-office and person-to-person for over 45 minutes, he finally appeared to collect Phil and I and take us the rest of the way to Thessaloniki. To this day, we are still unsure what the problem was, but it might have had something to do with him not having the appropriate papers filled out and then lying to the border patrol.

From there, it was pretty smooth sailing, thankfully. We had missed our time to check in with our host from our Airbnb apartment we were renting, so we had to schlep our bags around for a few hours, but none-the-less, we were just happy to have arrived in Thessaloniki only 4 hours and 50 euros later.

As usual, I will let the pictures do most of the talking!
Our first taste of Greek beer was at a very aptly named place.
Phil's first Mythos
View from the pier.
Another view from the pier.
And another one.
It was a little sunny out!
Our first meal- mussels and octopus
In our wandering, we came across a fun little street full of these colourful characters and two delicious restaurants.
Our view from the beach in Epanomi- the view straight ahead was nice, however our fellow beach goers were an interesting crowd of overweight, senior citizens whose bikinis only covered about half of what they were supposed to cover!
One of the main bus transportation hubs is at IKEA. Of course I had to take a picture!
The ruins of an old Roman Fortress
Fortress wall
At the fortress
Modiano Market
We ate these!
Inside one of the many churches. I wasn't sure if it was ok to enter with bare shoulders, but then the lady behind me was sitting there plucking her eyebrows and grunting, so I figured I was fine.
Hagia Sophia
Phil and I aren't very good at taking pictures together, so I made it a mission one day.
The Arch of Galerius

The Rotunda
This is the tree that Mustafa Ataturk played around when he was a child.
Ataturk's house.
Outside Ataturk's house.
The White Tower
White Tower
The pedestrian walkway along the water.
When in Greece, I think its a requirement to take a picture of a small fishing boat.
View back at the White Tower from the walkway.
There was live Greek music at our restaurant one night. It was very enjoyable.
We finally made it to the top of the White Tower (we went once and it was closed).
Very top of the White Tower

Monday, July 15, 2013

Traveling Summer Part 1: Pristina, Kosovo

The flag of Kosovo- each star represents one of the major ethnic groups living in Kosovo- Albanian, Serbian, Turkish, Gorani, Roma, and Bosniak.
On Saturday, Phil and I awoke in the early hours- much to our disappointment as we had been up late celebrating a friend's name day- to embark on the first of many trips together this summer. We had wanted to go visit Kosovo and after much deliberation, decided to make it just a day trip- a long day trip, but a day trip since neither one of us can say more than about 10 words in Albanian. Thankfully for us, Pristina is only 2- 2 1/2 hours from Skopje and there are frequent buses, so after a taxi, followed by a bus, followed by a komvi, and then another komvi, and finally another taxi, we emerged in the center of Pristina around 10:30am. This gave us about 6 hours to see the sites of Pristina before needing to catch the last bus back to Skopje at 5pm.

Now, I should point out that while we had done some research about what we wanted to see in Pristina, we weren't the most prepared as we didn't have a map with us, so despite having looked at a Google map the night before, we really didn't know where things were. So naturally, we hopped in a taxi and asked to be taken to the center. We started our trip strolling along the center walking promenade lined with coffee shops- typical in many Balkan cities.

From there, we wandered around and happened to stumble into almost everything we wanted to see. The only thing we were unable to find was the Ethnographic Museum, despite having been given directions by several people.
Mosques everywhere
Yugoslav World War II Monument of Brotherhood and Unity
Yugoslav World War II Monument of Brotherhood and Unity
The Kosovo Museum was surrounded by a high fence covered in razor wire
Some old artillery in the yard of the museum
Military equipment in the museum
The military zones of Kosovo
Just a table full of big guns inside the museum
One of the oldest and most famous mosques in Pristina
The clock tower
Best part of the clock tower was that it was put in so everyone knew when it would be prayer time- however, these two faces of the clock were about 4 minutes apart. Oops!
The Newborn monument
Phil and I signed our names in the bottom left corner of the first full white stripe
The Bill Clinton statue on Bil Klinton Boulevard that contains a store called Hillary
One of the best parts of the day didn't get photographed. We wandered and wandered and finally found the restaurant we were looking for- Himalayan Gorkha. It was in this rundown shopping center that was barely marked but the food was worth the wandering and hunting. It was the best Nepalese/Indian food I think I have ever had and certainly one of the best meals I have had in the past two years. Phil and I stuffed ourselves with mutton momos, garlic naan, Himalayan spiced mutton, and chicken korma. We could barely move and had enough left over food that we contemplated taking it on the 4 1/2 hour bus ride home, but decided not to.

After eating, we had about an hour and a half until our bus back to Skopje, so we decided to slowly walk towards the bus station. However, like I mentioned earlier, we didn't really know where things were in Pristina. We knew the general direction and there were a few signs to follow, but we finally resorted to stopping to ask. Now the thing with Pristina is that many people do speak English due to the extremely large international presence there, however, Phil and I kept choosing the people who didn't speak English. I stopped at a little tobacco stand to ask and accidentally said "da" to the guy's Albanian. He then asked me if I spoke Serbian, to which I said, "No, I speak Macedonian" (Kosovo and Serbia aren't the best of friends). He got really excited and gave us directions in Serbian while we responded in Macedonian (proof again that Serbians and Macedonians can understand each other despite what the Serbians like to say). We followed the directions and almost got the bus station, there was just the small problem of a 5 lane busy freeway and about 50 meters separating us from it. After feverishly wandering around some more, we stopped to ask the security guard at the site for the new US Embassy in Pristina who wasn't real helpful. Finally after wandering around some more, getting a little worried that we might miss our bus back to Skopje, we ended up back where we started and just gave in and took a taxi to the bus station. Within minutes of getting on the bus, we both fell asleep as it had been quite the day and we still had 4 1/2 hours on two different buses before we could crawl into bed.

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.