Friday, December 2, 2016

Thanksgiving 2016

          This past week was Thanksgiving and it was a busy one. For the third year in a row I was the designated turkey maker and had to cook two of them! The first one was for the American Corner's celebration in Struga. It was a very nice dinner filled with a table of good food and people. The second was again at the American Corner but with the YMLP/GLOW groups. Immediately after that I was at a Volunteer's house for an all American Thanksgiving. 

The little guy being brined. (It was only 6lbs). 
Finished up!
The pans I cook with were made at least 25 years ago.
Invited guests to the American Corner's Thanksgiving dinner.
Friday night the family and I watched Shrek. 
Since the subtitles were in Macedonian I everyone understood the film but a couple of times I was the only one laughing. 
Saturday the YMLP and GLOW groups combined for our first ever joint Thanksgiving dinner .
Kait, a fellow PCV, was finishing the last weeks of her service and the GLOW girls gave her a nice sending off.
A few hours later I was in Kicevo for an "All-American Formal Thanksgiving". *
It was tricky finger painting without getting it on my clothes. Clearly I wasn't ready to paint before eating. *
We put our masterpieces on the wall. *
Hanging out.*
One of us, Coco our host, was ready for the photo.*
Everyone made phenomenal dishes. I kept it simple with homemade brownies. *
Thankful for good food, friends and a place to call home. *
Swapping stories.*
They were ready for this pic.*
Bryce's face, on the right, says, "Someone just got burned."*
Then a cinnamon challenge happened. Evidently you have to swallow a tablespoon of cinnamon without water. I didn't know this was a thing. *
Clearly, they're regretting the decision. Hahahaha. *
Sarah was always camera ready. *
          It was a busy week filled with cooking, running around, cooking, work and conversations but I'll take it. I hope that each of you enjoyed your Thanksgiving as well and were able to slow down and appreciate it. 

*Photos taken by Brycen Ek. 

Friday, November 25, 2016

World Map Project

          So major surprise here but I like maps. A lot. They tell as much about the country or culture that made it as they do what they're describing. I enjoy using them to teach but not if you're trying to describe current events and the only maps available have Yugoslavia on them.  I was dismayed the first time I entered a classroom and saw that the maps that were being used still had Yugoslavia and the U.S.S.R.  Now I do love a classic map but not when you're trying to teach current events!  So I waited to see how I could remedy that. My solution, make your own, came from a volunteer who painted a world map just before she finished her Peace Corps service last Fall. 
          So I began thinking about how to initiate my vision for a world map at my school. I decided that it would be done in three phases. The first would be to just get everyone used to painting. With help I painted the school's door windows as the seasons changed.  The following semester I asked if we could do a student led art exhibition. My coworkers took that and owned it, creating the first annual Lakocerej Art Exhibition. You can read that story here.  
          It was after the Lakocerej Art Exhibition that I asked about painting a map on the wall. I was told that they'd think about it in the next school year. So I waited and waited and then school started and I waited another couple of weeks to let everyone settle and finally asked about it again. My coworkers laughed and said sure ok.  (I'm pretty sure they agreed just so I'd stop asking). We pooled our money, bought the supplies and decided to use the school's projector to trace the map. 

Biljana, the geography teacher, was the first to being tracing. 
It wasn't too difficult.
Especially with everyone pitching in.
The students spent every break watching us.
You can see the outlines with a few colors.
Helping out with the borders. 
It quickly began to fill in.
Beti, the math teacher, was great on filling in the smaller countries. 
Milena put in the compass.
Alexandar, our new music teacher, hummed along as he worked.
Jovanka was very detailed as well.
Surveying their work.
Our paint mixing station.
Naumche, our do it all handyman, and I told jokes while we painted.
As you can see not one country is painted blue. That's so the ocean wouldn't compete with the countries. 
Everyone learned how gigantic Africa really is.
Everyone chipped in whether they had five minutes or fifty.
Phase I is complete. 
Phase II would be to fill in the oceans and paint the Macedonian flag and Peace Corps logo.
Marija, another English teacher, was very focused on the borders. 
You might be wondering why there's ocean around Antartica. Well it's simple. Antartica is at the bottom of the world but you can still sail around it or walk over it. To have a small amount of blue around it reinforces that fact. 
While painting Biljana came up with more ideas for Phase III of the project. She wants to create a book from the map to use in her classes. I'm all for it. 
Now the students helped a little but the teachers really wanted to have them help from the sidelines. This was one of those things I compromised on. 
Notice the chalk outlines for the Macedonian flag and Peace Corps logo. 
Phase II is complete. (I have since added in Crete, Cyprus and corrected Malaysia's borders). 
          After completing Phase II I was asked by the Peace Corps Third Goal office if I would participate in a Google+ Hangout discussing how someone can make their own map back in the States.  That video is here.   Next week we're going to start Phase III which is labeling the countries and creating a geography book. I'll update when we're finished. Happy Thanksgiving! 

Friday, November 18, 2016

Celebration in Jablanica

          Up in the mountains overlooking Ohrid and Struga there's a village near the peaks, Jablanica. It's small, quaint and last month hosted a two day celebration in honor of their patron saint, Sv. Ilija. (St. Elijah). Why does the village have a celebration for him? I'm glad you asked. The story goes that many years ago a group of Islamic villagers left their village to plunder Jablanica. (Don't be fooled, the Islamic villages have stories of the Orthodox Christians doing the same). As they climbed the mountain it became foggy and difficult to orient themselves. They stumbled upon a shepherd and asked him for directions. He told them they were close but had to climb one more peak to reach Jablanica. The villagers did so and destroyed the village. When the fog lifted they realized they had burned their own village. The shepherd was Sv. Ilija so Jablanica, and their extended family members, celebrate on his nameday by slaughtering and eating a cow. 

It was a perfect day to climb to the church. 
Gina, Victoria, Brycen, Emma and I. 
Making the trek up. 
My selfie skills are still subpar.
Overlooking Jablanica one can see Struga, Ohrid and Ohrid Lake. 
There was meat galore, I loved it.
The guys in the green aprons were the ones who prepared the food. We had a good time standing around chatting and swapping jokes. (Most of which are not appropriate for this forum). 
The cow and I. 
          I know that for many killing a cow can seem cruel but the relationship to food here in Macedonia is quite intimate. Everyone knows where their meat comes from and that makes it even more important.  It's easy for us Westerners to tailgate every weekend but when the equivalent celebration only occurs once a year it heightens the experience. It's why they waited until midnight to kill it and lit a lot of fireworks.  Additionally, not a single piece was wasted. 

          One interesting thing that happened was some of the villagers figured out I could talk with them in Macedonian. So a few of them, after drinking rakia for who knows how long, came up and started chatting with me. We went through the rounds of my job, why I was here, how I knew Brycen etc. Then they pivoted to history and went right to why Macedonians are direct descendants of Alexander the Great. I've heard this a million times and let them go on before asking a few questions. Such as, "Why do you not speak Ancient Greek like Alexander did?" "Why do you speak a language that's more similar to Russian than Ancient Greek?" After they "educated" me about the history of the Macedonian language.  I asked "Do you think Tito cared about Alexander? Why did he not build any statues for him?"  The silence that followed was deafening. It was then that I looked around and realized a crowd of about 20 guys had gathered. Most of them were giggling at my logic, some were in disbelief and a few were annoyed.  Right then Brycen and his host father came up and told me they needed my help with the firewood.  As we walked away both told me the two main guys I had been talking with were a bit off and it was time to let them drink on their own.  I wasn't bothered by them but I agreed it was time to have some dinner.

          Now, the night we went up was the first night of the celebration and it was 99% men. The following morning, Sunday, all of the family members came up and the place went from being sparse to completely full. 

This guy brought his own pig to cook.
It smelled delicious. 
Park where you can.
There were trinket shops for kids.
Everyone was up a bit too early after staying up deep into the night.
Brycen was ready for coffee under Victoria's supervision.
The mountains were gorgeous.
We weren't that far from the peak.
You can see the church up in the trees.
By Sunday afternoon it was filled to the brim.
Many wore their "Sunday best". 
No celebration is complete here without music, dancing and rakia.
          I really enjoyed going up to Brycen's site and seeing how he's connected with everyone there. We all had a blast going camping for a night and enjoying being in his community. It was also the last time Gina, Victoria and I were out together as they have now completed their service and returned to America.