Sunday, November 29, 2015

Fall Beauty and Thanksgiving Dinner

My home away from home.

          Hey there, it's been a while since I've written and that's because I've been focused with work, my daily routine and the perfect Fall weather we had.  I took complete advantage of the weather and hiked, ran, exercised or biked in or around the mountains all month. However, last week Winter began its march from the North and has come to stay. 

Shooting hoops between classes.
Daniella made avjar while the cats helped.  
This is a little nook underneath the church in the previous picture.  It's a great spot to chill at.
These students live in a smaller village near mine on the way to Ohrid. Every time I ride through I slow down so we can chat and high five. 
The first slava of the season. 
The key to surviving a slava is pacing yourself. Eat slowly, chat often and try not to breath in the cigarette smoke.
This is my store I made during a shopping lesson. Clearly, I wanted to have a coffee and eat breakfast.
Julia had a more diverse store. Many of the students did too.
Alright, these two brothers couldn't be more different but every now and then they have matching outfits.  
I told my coworkers that I wanted to clean off the Halloween decorations and make some Thanksgiving ones. They took the idea and owned it. 
They only wanted me to write Happy Thanksgiving. I loved their enthusiasm so I wasn't offended at all. 
          As you'll see the weather was perfect for nearly the past six weeks. People repeatedly told me that it's been the best Fall in 15 years.

Nearly everyday I was in the mountains behind my village.
I ran, exercised and was never bored with the beauty surrounding me. 
This monastery, built in honor of St. Nedela, is one I ran into. It's between my village and the Ohrid's sister city, Struga.  The word to describe being there is serene.
Here's Ohrid Valley. I've never breathed air this clean nor seen skies so clear for weeks on end.
Petar and I watched Planet Earth together and this is his mountain goat impression.  
I met up with my coworkers to listen to the school director's husband band play. (Say that 10x fast). They were good and everyone sang a bit too.
All that clean mountain air sprouted a burly mountain beard. 
I enjoy shopping and chatting with the people in the bazaar. Monday is the best day to go and I snapped this before heading in.
I teach at two schools. My main one is in my village and the second one is the Central School three miles down the road. This is my sixth grade class playing on their break.
          Obviously I enjoyed just working and getting outside but at the end of it was Thanksgiving. No matter how you spin it, it hurts being away from family.  In lieu of that there was a Thanksgiving Dinner hosted by the American Corner in Struga.  I've been going to the American Corner every Tuesday for Gina's, another PCV, painting classes.  When I found out about the dinner I immediately offered to cook the turkey.  I really enjoy cooking and also made some brownies. Also, on Thanksgiving we the Ohrid area volunteers got together for our own Thanksgiving Dinner. 

No turkey can be made without basting it with butter.  
It was quite the feast and had the youth from the GLOW club and YMLP sit down together. For most of them it was their first experience with Thanksgiving. We made sure to go around the table and say what we're each thankful for.
Just like camp.  
On Thanksgiving Julia and I had a lesson on Thanksgiving and showed them how to draw their own hand turkeys.  
The next day I went to class and found this. 
The end of Fall. Winter is here and has already brought snow to the mountains. 
          All in all, it was a good month and ended well with Thanksgiving. I hope you too had a nice Thanksgiving with friends and family. 

Thursday, November 5, 2015


"Darkness falls across the land
The midnight hour is close at hand
Creatures crawl in search of blood
To terrorize y'awl's neighborhood
And whosoever shall be found
Without the soul for getting down
Must stand and face the hounds of hell
And rot inside a corpse's shell."

          The past month was the busiest I've had since joining the Peace Corps and there's no sign of it slowing down.  Halloween is a non-Holiday here in Macedonia so I wanted my students to enjoy Halloween while giving it the same build up that we do back home.  Thus, for the entire month of October I incorporated Halloween themes into each lesson for every class in some form or another. Sometimes, it was nothing more than the students creating scary or funny stories from Halloween vocabulary. Other times, they listened to Halloween music or watched film clips from movies.  They all especially enjoyed Michael Jackson's Thriller!

          In my 9th grade English Reading Clubs, they watched Goosebumps, wrote creative stories and shared their favorite treats. By the end of October the kids were ready for a fun Halloween party, so we made masks, listened to music and ate some candy.  They seemed to really enjoy it and I was ready to just chill after a month of preparing each lesson.  

The master craftsmen, and women, at work.
There were zombies, princesses and ghosts.
I could not figure out what the block masks were.
One of the kids brought his Italian Renaissance mask.
I'm always game to have a laugh with them.
The 9th graders made smaller but really detailed masks.

These sixth graders were quite creative.
Afterwards some of the classes wanted to take their masks home and others wanted to hang them up in the classroom. Either way they were proud to show them off. 
          That also applied to celebrating Halloween.  With it being a non-holiday here in Macedonia  many PCV's traveled around to celebrate but I just traveled to Ohrid.  Jones and I watched the Rugby World Cup Final between New Zealand and Australia. (Which was a well earned repeat by the All Blacks) and then met up with Kait and Victoria. Kait was hosting an event for her GLOW club so we helped her get some games started so the girls would chat and relax. Afterwards we went to our favorite pub for a drink and chat. After going full throttle for my kids I was happy to tone it down this year.
Clark is always looking for any excuse to undress.
Victoria was the Ohrid Sharknado.
Dammit Clark keep your clothes on!
I live in Eastern Europe why wouldn't I find an antique gun in a bar.
          Lastly, the new group of Mak 20's were told their site placements last week and, surprisingly, none will be coming to the Ohrid, Struga areas.  Honestly, that means Peace Corps Macedonia was able to put them in areas all over Macedonia and not just near the bigger cities. It's a good thing and gives them all an excuse to visit next summer. 

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Athens Part I: The Acropolis and Agora.

          Sitting in the small, worn, airplane chair all I could hear in-front of me, was excited German. Next to me was a relaxed British couple chatting about their upcoming vacation.  Here I was, an American finally going to cross off one of his dream visits to Athens. The city that birthed democracy and helped inspire me to travel. Yet, I felt disjointed, unconnected to the people around me.  It wasn’t until we were all in the terminal and I stood waiting for Mom, Gary and Landon to gather their bags that I heard a noise I hadn’t heard in a long time.  It was the comforting, mid-American tourist drawl.  Turning to my left I listened to a family chat about the long plane ride over, the hot weather here and if the currency exchange booth had any Euro’s left.  
          In that brief moment I smiled as memories of playing soccer at my high school, walking through Nashville, listening to a street band in Austin and meeting my New York stepfamily for the first time flashed through my mind. That family brought regular, middle America back to me. The insulated Peace Corps bubble that I’d been living in for the past eight months slowly caved and popped. That family didn’t give a damn about geopolitics, learning Macedonian, or chatting with a baba at a slava. They were there together, as a family, to experience their vacation together. All the frustrations, the laughter, the created memories were to be done together. It was in that terminal that I finally accepted I too was on a family vacation.

          Athens is one of those cities you have to visit.  It's a sprawling, organic, fluid city that is watched by the ancient Parthenon's gaze.  By day it's an aggressive tourist town but by night it transforms into a sophisticated European town, filled with cafe's that were hidden from the tourists daytime gaze. In the tourist center I enjoyed sitting at a cafe lazily gazing at the strolling tourists, most of whom were couples, Asian tour groups or Americans. Remember I was there in June, so if it was August or September then it would have been mostly Europeans not Americans. 
          For our first night Landon and I sat on our terrace and watched the sun set. It was the perfect setting to appreciate a building I'd been wanting to see since I was five. Enjoying it with my little brother, while smoking a cigar was icing on the cake. 

No words needed.

A flaming piece of icing none the less.

Being on a rooftop bar with the Parthenon as the backdrop? Perfection. 
          The following morning we were all up early and on our way.  As you will see we weren't the only ones but I am glad that Nashville has a perfect replica because I was able to envision the ruins in their glory.  To think that the Parthenon was built in eight years on top of the most imposing hill in the area is inspiring. The foundation stones were laid perfectly, the columns rose majestically as if they yearned to support the absent roof once more.  

During the day this was an empty space. 

The theater of Dionysus. It held 15,000 people, larger than most basketball arenas. 
Gary and Mom in front of the Temple of Nike. Yes, the Athenians built a temple called Victory after defeating the Persians. 
Travel goal. Check. 
The fam, and the engineer, checking it out. 
Seeing it together, priceless. 

I had no idea how large and sprawling Athens was.
Under the ever-present sun Athens gleams and shimmers as a sea of glass and white walled stone. 

          The Athenians built the Parthenon to celebrate their victory over the Persians in the 5th Century B.C.E. Standing in front of it brought a chest-thumping smile to my face. They built it because they won, because they could and it was majestic to see. Have we not done the same. It's no surprise why Europeans, and later, early Americans were so inspired by Ancient architecture, literature and history. 

This is the print I bought of the Acropolis showing what it was like completed. 

This the Athenian Agora. The Romans later added their own temples and buildings.
          After visiting the Acropolis I lost the family in the crowd and figured they would venture down the hill to the Agora. The Agora is a public space for people to meet, shop, worship etc.  It was used by the Athenians and then the Romans. I had been so focused on seeing the Acropolis I'd forgotten about the Agora. It was really neat walking around and seeing the ruins of a place that for millennia had held concerts, debates, executions, shopping and worship.

The Temple of Hephaestus
Built before the Parthenon this temple is still intact with it's original stones.
These engraved figures are showing the trials of Hercules. 
I have no idea why but in the grass were large tortoises who just hung out there.
A well from the 5th Century B.C.E.

This is the reconstructed Stoa of Attalos. It was originally built around 150 B.C.E. and is now a museum for the Agora.

It was massive.
This is a bust of the Emperor Hadrian and many more were lined outside, and inside, the Stoa of Attalos museum.
Following Rome's collapse the Byzantines occupied Athens which brought Greek Orthodoxy to the Agora. 
It was special going to a place where history wasn't wholly buried over top itself. I relished being able to walk through different time periods while the buildings were adjacent to each other.
Another print showing what the Agora looked like in it's prime. 
Across the tracks lay modernity and all it's hedonistic zeal.
          Visiting the Acropolis was a phenomenal experience that, like many millions before, I was awed by.  Nevertheless, Athens is more than it's historical monuments, it's a modern city that had delicious food to try, art to see and people to meet.  Additionally, it was the epicenter for a government in bankruptcy that was on the verge of collapse. What was it like being there days before the people voted on whether to stay in the EU or leave? That's in part II. Enjoy your weekend. 

*Photo taken by Landon Monday