Thursday, February 19, 2015

Valentines Day Dance Party

          With the past weekend being St. Valentine's Day I was pleasantly surprised to find that it's a day not for over-commercialized love but for family.  Within the Christian and Orthodox Churches another saint is celebrated on February 14th and that's St. Trifun.  He's the guardian, or patron, of wine, wine-makers and vineyards.   I know that on St. Trifun's Day elsewhere in Macedonia and throughout the Balkans people go to the vineyards to trim the vines while the priests bless them.  My family has a vineyard but that's not what we did.  
          Instead, we hung out at the house and prepared to leave for a large dinner.  I watched some rugby Six Nations, well done England, and taught Goce the rules of the game.  This being Macedonia we didn't get ready and head out the door until 8:30.  We drove out of town to a large hotel where the dinner was being held.  I knew that it'd be a late night but I wasn't expecting 300 people to be there.  Now, most of them were not from my village so I didn't know who they were.  They, however, knew exactly who I was.  Walking in behind Goce and Daniella I felt every eyeball on me.  
            Once we were at our table I felt much more comfortable chatting with the extended family.  We joked around a bit, enjoyed our starters and then the music started.  Now, I'm not talking about "Shout" or "Uptown Funk" but the traditional music that makes every Macedonian get their groove on and dance the horo, or oro.  I waited a couple minutes and then decided to take the bull by the horns and dance with the group instead of sitting on the sidelines.  I ended up dancing for hours.  It was a lot of fun and you can watch it here.  

Age is no excuse so everyone joined in.
The dance floor was quickly filled.

          After dancing everyone settled back down and enjoyed the main course.  It turned out that the pig we killed the previous week was used as the main meal for this dinner.  Yup, so that animal isn't just feeding my family and I for a year it also fed 300 people for a night.  I was very impressed by Goce and Daniella since neither of them mentioned that they would be giving the meat away.  Next, was a fun raffle that had Petar winning a set of binoculars!  (They're really quality set too).  I missed winning $20 by one number. 

           Afterwards, a belly dancer came out and entertained everyone, aka the men, for a bit.  I was pretty amused by how all the women just ignored her.  Of course I got a picture. 

She was covered up but the ladies weren't impressed. Goce laughed when she appeared and then hung out with his buddies on the other side of the room. 
This is a small boar that was killed on the last official hunting weekend.  It was brought in to celebrate the end of hunting season and to bring luck for the next one.  The cycles of agriculture and hunting are threaded together here and greatly respected.
The last dance was started by the men and I jumped in after this picture.  At first they were surprised but got over their surprise once I showed I knew the rhythm and steps. 

A polaroid was taken when we walked in.
          All in all, it was a great night.  Because of all the slava's, parties and dinners I went to over the holiday's I wasn't overwhelmed by the dinner.  It was a fun, late, night but it was worth it since I danced for most of it.  

Monday, February 9, 2015

School Life: One Of The Reasons Why I'm Here.

Alright I've finally got a night to sit down and write another post. Things are pretty busy here which is a good thing. I was going to write about my experience helping the family prep the pig for the BBQ but my phone isn't charging so my pictures aren't available. As soon as I get my phone fixed I'll write a post about that experience.  So let's go into the threads that make up my teaching tapestry.  

          My days at school are a bit different from what than they were in the States or Korea. For starters, they're organized into "shifts" of a morning and afternoon shift.  I still haven't figured out the cultural reason but I suspect it's due to the Ministry's of Education policy.  (Probably a remnant of the system under Yugoslavian rule).  The first shift starts at 7:40am and the second 12:30pm.  I also teach at two different school locations and classes are never longer than 40 minutes.  I don't know what you took growing up but my primary school classes were 50 minutes long and I had about eight different classes.  It's different the world over but I always had school from 8:25-3:30 in Tennessee.  

Petar, my host brother, and I on our walk to school. 
I mix up vocabulary lessons by having them do crossword puzzles.
One of the most lively students, Alexandra.
          Fortunately, Macedonian doesn't have that problem but they do have the problem of apathy.  Because the school "shifts" change there's an inconsistency of students knowing that their schedule is permanent.  To them this makes sense because it's always been that way.  A schedule change, the power going out, the bus being late, or not even showing up, is a fact of life.  It's a bit frustrating to figure out and deal with.    

  Another thread is the people I work with. My coteachers are good people who work very hard and aren't paid near enough for it.  They do their best but because of the Ministry of Education's extremely rigid demands on lesson planning they spend their time writing in a big "Red Book".  When a MoE inspector, there are many and few have any teaching experience they're just political appointees, will check the book and not the teaching style or student's abilities.  

          However, they do know how to make in-service fun!  Clearly, I enjoy spending time with my coworkers, they truly care about the kids but they're frustrated they have to follow too many rules instead of creating inspiring lessons for their kids.  They do the best with what they have, even if it isn't a lot, and I respect them for that.  For example, for the past four or five weeks some of the teachers around the country have been on strike because they weren't getting paid on time.  The teachers at my school had a long and heated debate on what they should do but they decided to not strike.   I learned today that after intense negotiations, the Ministry of Education and the Union of Education, Science and Culture workers (SONK) reached a mutually agreeable solution.  SONK has rescinded the strike and teachers are back in the classroom.  I really felt for the other TEFL volunteers who weren't working this past month.

Believe it or not in-service can be fun.
          Before I finished my winter break I made a point to come back to school and quietly instill my expectations to the students and my coworkers.   Because of that my counterpart and I are working well together since we're applying the expectations as a unit and it's already paying off.  For example, if the students don't do their homework they have to stand at their desk for two minutes.  Why is that a big deal? Well, detention, demerits or other consequences are nonexistent if they don't do their homework.  (This worked to great effect in Korea and is proving effective here as well.  Today, we had an entire class of 20 seventh graders complete their homework)! I'm also having them organize their notes by writing the day's date on the wall at the start of class.  It's the simple things that add up. 

Ana Maria wasn't pleased I took this.
Julia's translating and going through the grammar.
Theodore and Victor. 
This is our ninth grade class in Dolno Lakocerej which only has six students.
          Another thread of work is my secondary project. (As a PCV you have must have a secondary project in addition to your main work).  So last week I started my secondary project of tutoring the teachers.  I have two different levels of English classes that makes four classes total, M-R, with about 15-20 teachers participating.  I feel lucky to have so many energetic students and I really focus on making the classes practical, relaxed and fun.

I had the teacher's take an assessment test so I could figure out the classes.  I really enjoy teaching them.
          Clearly, all this activity has put a damper on my writing but I'll get back on that too.  Hopefully, you have a better idea of what my work life is like.  I'll add more to the tapestry as I make or discover new threads.  Chow!