Friday, April 29, 2016

The Colorful Revolution: Macedonia's Evolving Politics

          I'm sure that you've seen in the news the political discourse going on here in Macedonia. It hasn't affected my daily life in any way but these are the facts about why there are currently protests. Furthermore, as a Peace Corps Volunteer I am not promoting either political party but am describing events as they have happened.
          On April 12th Macedonia's President Gjorge Ivanov abruptly pardoned all who were being investigated by the Special Prosecution for wire-tapping over 20,000 people. Additionally, the ruling VMRO-DPMNE party has insisted on having elections on the pre-determined date of June 5th. The opposition has pulled their consent following Parliament's disbandment with only the ruling parties present. They also cite fears of voting fraud and non transparency. 
          This all stems from the oppositions claims, that the former Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, orchestrated a massive illegal surveillance of over 20,000 people and other crimes. The VRMO-DPMNE claim that unnamed foreign intelligence services "fabricated" the wire tapping tapes and gave them to the opposition to destabilize the country. 
          So for the past 15 days people supporting both parties have held rallies in Skopje and other cities throughout Macedonia. The first night they were violent as a few protestors broke into the Presidents office and trashed it. Since then, with the police separating the two groups, they've been peaceful. Thus, the opposition supporters have taken their frustrations out on the Skopje 2014 buildings, brainchild of and constructed by the ruling party, by throwing paint and paint-filled balloons at the structures, thus the "Colorful Revolution" was named.  To see pictures showing the damage done to the government building and statues click here
            Again, my daily life hasn't been affected by the protests, as a Peace Corps Volunteer I do not support either party yet I have no idea what will happen if the elections are held on June 5th.  Since this is ongoing I'll update when necessary.


Thursday, April 21, 2016

Field Trip: University, Planetarium and the Zoo

"If a child is to keep his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement, and mystery of the world we live in." Rachel Carson

          This past Monday my school went on a "excursia" or field trip to Skopje. We took the 6th and 8th graders from my school and the Central School.  We went to three places, the Faculty of Natural Sciences, the Skopje planetarium and the Skopje Zoo.  
          Since the capital is three hours from Ohrid we were up and out by 6am, no really we were I was amazed! After a brief stop for breakfast some of the kids were close to losing that breakfast but fortunately none did. 
Our ride for the day.
Selfies, bread and yogurt. 
All of the snow is finally gone and the leaves are out. 
"Ohhh teacher too much burek and yogurt."
          Our first stop was the science university, which a few of the math and physics teachers were alums. I was prepared for a long, boring lecture and was happily proven wrong. He was energetic, gave excellent examples and made some funny cracks about the kids only liking football.  He kept middle schoolers interested for an hour, no easy feat mind you. Lastly, he spoke clearly and slowly so I was able to follow along as well. 

Ladies shot in front of the University. 
Group shot.
Everyone's PUMPED for the lecture.
He showed some experiments with water refraction. 
Also, he showed how light can be focused. The kids enjoyed it.
          The planetarium was something the kids went into unsure about but left very impressed.  They absolutely loved it. Afterwards, they were telling me that the stars in America and here are the same but are different from the ones at their relatives house in Australia. It's a good thing I like astronomy because I fell asleep. Yup, the room was dark, warm and the guy spoke at 100mph. I'd been up since five and enjoyed my recharging siesta. 

          Next, we had lunch at the large department store, Vero. Everyone ate, shopped and hung out. It was pretty similar to how it was when I was in school. We kept an eye on the kids but let them roam free inside the store.  

One rule: No selfies in the streets kids!
          Following that we were off to the Skopje Zoo.  The kids could not get enough of the animals, the anaconda and lions were huge hits, but I couldn't get over how close the animals were. The ostrich's, camel and bison could have easily bitten or hit someone. 

Everyone was shocked by how tall the giraffe's were.
It took a moment but I finally explained that lemurs weren't monkeys.
I'd forgotten how active they are.
Ok that ostrich doesn't look very big but just wait.
Petar, in black, wasn't impressed but right after this I had to pull him away because the ostrich poked it's head between the bars! (Sometimes I feel like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, "You never thank me!")
          Zoo's are a catch-22 for me. It's great the kids can go see animals they'd never get a chance to but the animals always seem unhappy. 

This 6th grade class was all about the tiger. 
Kliment, in yellow, is proudly presenting the tiger.
It was beautiful, I'd love to see one in the wild. (From a distance of course). 
There were some people out on a Monday besides all of us.
Martin, Kliment and Viktor. Martin and Viktor will be at the regional Spelling Bee this Saturday!
If you zoom in to the left of the kid in the blue shirt you'll see a chicken. Yup, chickens were just roaming around.

Viktor liked the smaller monkeys.
He's a single humped camel. Probably not very comfortable to ride. 
Candid student shot. 
Just a bison and peacock hanging out together. Funny thing was the peacock's buddies were all in their cages. 
          Some observations:  We teachers always use the same threats. I heard the classic, "Don't make me turn this bus around." Or, "Your mother and I are going to have a chat when we're back." My personal favorite though, "I don't care if you're not interested you better act like you're interested!" Julia had to accurately translate that for me cause I wasn't sure I'd heard it correctly. I had to bite my lip to keep from laughing. 
The 8th grade Lakocerej class. The boys and I have really developed a great rapport.
Selfies, pictures and sunglasses. 
          I enjoyed the entire day as I was able to chat with the kids outside of school and learn a lot more about them.  It's interesting to see who's chatty outside of class and who isn't.  The kids were well behaved, something not all volunteers have the luxury of saying. Obviously, we teachers enjoyed the precious few quiet moments we could get together.  Lastly, the entire day was well organized and fun but my brain was fried after it was all over.

One more group shot.*

*Photo Credit: Jovanka Jofka

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Living Moments Not Picturesque Ones

          There have been plenty of times that I've captured some wonderful moments thanks to my camera.  However, there are many, many more that no picture posted onto Facebook or Instagram can reproduce. These four mini-stories are just a few of those, I hope you enjoy them. 

Misty Mountain

Every day the kids have their breakfast after second period at 9:25. They line up to get their toast sandwiches, gevrek or bread and yogurt. Then, without fail, a few of them rush to find me and ask if, “Teacher Logan ке играме футбол?” or “Teacher Logan we will play football?” I always answer, “Да, после јадете поуадук.” or “After you all eat breakfast.” Once everyone finishes their breakfast I go outside to get the ball rolling, quickly organizing the teams after the usual high fives, fist bumps and hugs. 

 A few weeks ago I was walking around the pitch, encouraging the girls to get in after the ball, I looked up at the mountains across the valley and was stopped cold. Directly in my line of sight a jutted section of the mountain was illuminated in perfect clarity by three massive beams of sunshine which had slipped through cracks in the clouds. The top third of the mountain was deeply covered in snow. As the wind blew from the back of the valley it cleared away the morning mists leaving us dry but it pushed those mists onto the mountain creating beautiful swells that rolled along its center.  In the depression following the jutted mountain I could see snow falling on top of the mountain, the mist hovering over, rolling through and wrapping the village nestled at the base of the mountain. In the village each house lazily puffed its morning fire out into the mist.

Then, suddenly, a soccer ball flew into that view breaking my spell.  I watched it land and felt a tiny pull on my sleeve. Looking down, it was fiesty Lupche, telling me to stop standing and help him get the ball. I reminded him to wipe off the bread crumbs and yogurt on his cheeks and then we were back to the game.  

Father & Son

December and January are busy times for all of us but for my host family it’s exceptionally busy.  The first winter I was here I was overwhelmed by all of the slavas and na gosti’s we went to. This past winter it slowed down but one night Goce, Petar and I went out together for a night of slavas. 

 On the way to our first visit we passed by the Ohrid airport. It’s a small, one-strip, airport but we could see one plane preparing to take off.  So at Petar’s request Goce pulled over. The air was crisp and cold but not bitterly so. There were no clouds so the Moon and stars reflected off the lake behind the airport. Goce and Petar were together on one side of the car and I behind them on the other. Lighting his cigarette, Goce began to explain to Petar what the plane was doing and where it might be going. A few moments passed as we waited on the plane, Petar chatting excitedly, Goce commenting and I listening. Then the pilot was given the all clear, he lined the plane up, opened the throttle and was off. We watched as the heavy plane easily lifted into the night sky. Petar was enthrawed by it, voicing his approval in a long, “Ohhhhhhhhh!!”  

Goce put out his second cigarette, patted Petar on the shoulder and they both got into the car. Smiling, I opened my door and got in, fortunate to have seen such a moment between father and son. 

No Excuses

As my counterpart and I walked into our sixth grade class the students stood up and sat down following our order to sit. My counterpart began writing the day’s lesson in the red book and I had the students take off their Macedonian caps and put on their English caps. In the back of the class Martin, an intelligent and energetic kid, had a cast on his right arm.  I checked the student’s homework and made sure to get to him last. I asked him how he hurt his arm, “I fall Teacher” and then asked where his homework was. He didn’t have it and said, “No writing Teacher, my arm.” I looked at him for two heartbeats and then walked to the front of the class. I grabbed the chalk and said, “I write with my right hand. Јас пишам со моу десно рака, така?” “Da” the class responded. I turned around and wrote with my left hand, “I can write with my left hand because I hurt my right arm many times.” 

 Standing up Julia grabbed another piece of chalk and began writing with her left hand. After she finished I looked at Martin and he just sighed, all excuses having left him. He turned around, pulled his notebook and English book out of his backpack and grabbed a pen. Walking back towards him I helped him move his stuff around and showed him how to hold the pen with his left hand. Then we resumed class, making sure to involve him a little more than usual.

Svetan & His Smilies

In my sixth grade class there is a kid who is the most “Macedonian” little boy in the entire school. His walk, attitude and outlook is pure Balkan. He’s incredibly intelligent, needs to be constantly challenged and can anwer any question with just a shoulder shrug or witty comment. Now, he can be a bit headstrong, loves to tormet the girls and is quite protective of his little sister. In other words he’s a typical 11 year old kid.  At the beginning of every class I write the date on the board and then check the kids homework.  One day I made a smily face next to the date and Svetan loved it. So for the next couple of weeks he too wrote a smiley next to his date and if I forgot it then he told me while pointing to the board “Teacher, smiley.” 

One day I walked in, wrote the date down, turned around and immediately noticed that he was sitting away from the other kids. He didn’t have his homework out nor any books.  He was looking down and not responding to my hellos.  I asked the other kids what was wrong and they all shrugged their shoulders.  I slowly coaxed him to get out his books and homework, despite his apathy. At that point I was a little worried because he’s never down or unresponsive. I checked his homework and instead of writing a check I just made a big smiley and said, “Don’t forget your smiley today Svetan.” 

I went and checked the rest of the class then Julia and I began the lesson.  Looking back at Svetan, I saw that his shoulders were high and his back straight again. By the end of class he was answering questions and was back to making witty but smart ass comments. Even the best of us need a smiley to return to our center.