Sunday, July 24, 2016

YMLP 2016: Thumos Encapsulated

"There is nothing so beautiful and legitimate as to play the man well and properly...the most barbarous of our maladies is to despise our being." Michel de Montaigne

          Well I cannot believe that it’s been a year since last year’s YMLP camp but is has.  Obviously I was excited to return to Shula Mina in Krusevo not only for the camping but also to see returned campers and my fellow PCV’s. There aren’t a lot of opportunities for us to get together so it’s nice when we do. YMLP is special since it’s purely in English and is held to our American standards of professionalism. 

          Now, before I describe how camp was this year I want to share a special word with you. The Ancient Greeks had a word that they used to define what we know moderns know as "spiritedness". It was "thumos" and it defined not only a person's attitude but their recognition of turning their thoughts into action. It's a quality everyone has but not many tap into.  Fortunately, Young Men's Leadership Project, or YMLP, recognizes this quality in the youth here and creates the space to channel their thumos. With the camp's core classes comprising of Democracy, Civic Responsibility, Personal Development, Leadership and Environmentalism there are plenty of topics for discussion. Additionally, the camp electives include American football, baseball, chess, Man Up, drama, art, basketball, poetry, music, self-defense and yoga. It's designed to challenge the campers thinking and to develop their known talents as they're learning new ones.  Essentially, YMLP provides positive outlets for young men to channel their thumos while developing their character.

          For myself last year's camp was about impacting the campers only on my team, the White Walkers. This year I focused on expanding my influence to include not just my former campers, nor the returning campers but all of the campers. Moreover, I opened up on sharing what I do alone, exercising, and how to process it as a mentor so I could motivate the campers to add it to their own lives. 

What a beautiful setting for a camp.
Before the campers arrived we had to get the campfire set up.
This year my Junior Counselor, Dimitar, and I were excited to meet our new team.
We were all catching up as everyone filled into camp.
For some of the campers it was their first time in a tent so we made sure they knew how to set it up.
This year we were the Purple Knights and they were phenomenal young men. We bonded over the week during rough camp, playing sports, bonfires, classes, ghost stories and through deep conversations and goofy ones. 
For the first time in years a TV was operational so we could watch the EuroCup final. (I was disappointed Portugal won). 
Petar, Kiko and Blagoja.*
Kyle kept the bonfires lit and the axes sharp.*
Why yes Jenga is a great team-building activity.
Ready for class.
Ready for the next challenge to challenge themselves.
During the classes we teamed up with other groups to complete the challenges.
They passed every challenge with flying colors.

          Rough camp is one of the campers favorite nights at YMLP as they get to start a fire, cook their dinner and sleep out in the woods on their own. It's the first time many of them get to do all of these activities not to mention eat s'mores! I love rough camp as it's when the team gels over stories, sharing our life experiences and ghost stories. 

They were pumped to get the fire going and start cooking dinner.
A perfect setting for life stories and ghost stories.
My terrible attempt at a selfie.
No need for an alarm when the sun wakes you up.
My lovely room. 


          Located in the heart of Macedonia at Krusevo, the Shula Mina cabins and grounds are well known. It's the perfect venue for a summer camp and is much cooler than the cities in the valley. I especially enjoyed looking at the stars through the trees while laying in my hammock. 

Shula Mina.
Four times a day the teams lined up for announcements, activities and to sing our team chant.*
Lunch time. (Don't ask me about the "unique" paintings). 
Excluding breakfast, each team, facilitator, Junior Counselors, support staff and Counselors took turns serving the meals. 
During my "Lifting with Logan" elective campers learned about exercising using only their body weight and natural materials. However, if they were expecting to bro out they quickly learned something else.  Before we even lifted a finger we sat down and talked about Motivation, and the negative and positive emotions that fuel it. Then we went through the importance of proper Technique and finally the Exercises themselves.  I only showed them six exercises and then two with the rocks and logs. That was enough, none of them could move the next day!  The best part was how the session sparked conversation about many other things including body image, treating women with respect, dating advice, healthy eating, positive competition and overall self-improvement. 
All week long the campers chanted "awesome" whenever Alex said something or gave an announcement they liked. Well one day he broke it down and one of my Purple Knights captured that very special moment. Then they made this in-camp meme so we could use it in our chant. Oh how fun that was!
Learning about self-defense.
The guys were ready for their next challenge.
The had to be lead around the obstacle course by their Junior Counselor.
There was a large chess tournament too.
I love chess and these guys were quite good at it. 
Dinner time.
They also played Ultimate.** 
American football was taught by Aaron and I. *
Every night we had a bonfire to hang out at. 
Last year he was my Junior Counselor, this year he was a Counselor himself, my man Riste.
A few of us counselor's hung out to watch the Olympics.
Without these six individuals YMLP wouldn't have been the great success it was.
Sleeping outside in my hammock, and the electronic detox, was heaven.
YMLP, I will miss it dearly. 
          Again, YMLP was a phenomenal week of working with my fellow PCV's and the young men of Macedonia.  Moreover, I relished in the opportunity to find ways to mentor those young men and to help show how they can channel their thumos.  It also was a week of defining character, challenging assumptions and just enjoying playing outside. From last year's camp to this year's camp I've grown a lot and recognize YMLP's impact on me has proven there is a need for a leadership camp back home. When I return home I will also seek to find a similar organization to YMLP and if there isn't one then I'll create one so there's a positive outlet for young men to channel their thumos while developing their character. Stay cool and enjoy your Sunday.  

*Photo by David Strouse
**Photo by Bryce Davis

Monday, July 18, 2016

When Old Friends Visit: Two Brits and Albania

                     "It is one of the blessings of old friends that you can afford to be stupid with them."                           Ralph Waldo Emerson 

          A few weeks ago I had some friends that I know from my time in Korea visit from England. They're British not Korean and I greatly respect their attitudes, their open mindedness and resilience.  I'd seen them once before when they came through Nashville for a wedding in Charleston but that was years ago. Since then they both had contracted cancer, he had to have a bone marrow transplant, and her cervical, so seeing them was extra special as they were given the green light to travel abroad. They loved their time in Ohrid and I loved that they had a rental car so we wouldn't have to take the buses!! We visited the same places when my family visited which they loved just as much. We also had a wonderful dinner with my host family and thanks to Daniella, my host mother, knowing English we were really able to communicate together. Her with Maggie and Graham with Goce while I translated. 

Appreciating Sv. Jovan at Kaneo
Graham and I wore matching colors by accident during his entire visit. 
Standing at Czar Samuil's fortress.
Being tourists.
I found this little guy and named him Raphael for his smartass attitude. 
This is what I want to road trip in, a 1970's Toyota Land Crusier. 
Hanging out at home. 
          Next, we packed our bags, drove to Albania and it's capital Tirana. After hearing so many negative comments made by Macedonians I was prepared for a dirty country and cold-blooded people. I was immediately proven wrong. As soon as we had crossed the border and Ohrid Lake disappeared into our rearview mirror, the road widened, it was clean, though unlined, and the houses were completely built.  Also, there were no old cars from the Yugoslavia era, they were all from Western Europe, mostly Germany. The drive to Tirana was beautiful and quick only taking 2 hours.  As you can see in the pictures it was spectacular, clean, organized and progressive. The people were friendly, didn't stare, and most people knew English. I immediately felt comfortable there.  We had a wonderful time, took in all the sites, went to the EuroZone to watch the European soccer matches, enjoyed some bbq and just relaxed. 

Ready to cross the border. 
Even though we were only 30 minutes from Ohrid, the landscape was much different. 
One of the many old railway bridges left from the communist regime. 
Standard couple picture. 
On the left is the Tirana Clock Tower with Haji Et'hem Bey's Mosque on the right. 
Skanderbeg's Statue. 
Yes the government buildings have a green space on the roof.
The Skanderbeg Square was bustling with activity day and night.
You could see the entire city from the Clock Tower. 
Scoping out the clock tower.
Again, Haji Et'hem Bey's Mosque. 
Graham explaining more about our future Europe road trip that we'll take in one of his VW vehicles. 
Our apartment was huge, near the center and very cheap.
Mmmmm soccer, meat and beer. 
It was a solid place to get our bearings for the night.
A Full Moon rising over one of the city's ancient walls.
The Resurrection of Christ Orthodox Cathedral was completed in 2012  and was built on land returned to the Church as compensation for the old cathedral that was destroyed by the communist regime. 
Chilling at our favorite place in Tirana, Hemingway's. 
Graham was quite excited to find London Pride. 
The history of Albania was something I didn't know a lot about but I came away with three points. First, they have always had a strong ethnic and linguistic identity. Second, the post WWII dictatorship that ruled for 50 years was Stalinesque in it's brutality and oppression.  Albanians despise that period of their history and do not look back on it with nostalgia. Third, following the second point they only want two things; To join the EU and to do it as fast as possible. Moreover, they're working as hard not only on their infrastructure but their social ideas too.  Everyone was dressed in Western clothes and the people were friendly not only to one another but to us tourists as well. 

Selfie time. 
Here's Skanderbeg Square from the opposite side of my earlier pictures.
I was really impressed with how the building behind this structure was designed to enhance the space. Notice that the man on the left is admiring it as well. 
It was blue shirt day for Graham and I.
Lots of retired men were out playing chess, tabla or cards. 
The Tanner's Bridge is an 18th century Ottoman period stone footbridge. The Lana river was rerouted in the 1930's so the bridge was neglected. It was renovated in the 1990's and is now a pedestrian shortcut. 
Here Graham is in-front of the Pyramid of Tirana. Designed by the Communist leader Enver Hoxha daughter and son-in-law, it's now a dilapidated relic.
One of the broad streets criss crossing through Tirana.
There are thousands of these concrete bunkers around the country yet their primary purpose during the communist regime wasn't to prevent invasions but to keep it's citizens from leaving. 
"The only good system is a sound system."
Standing outside the EuroZone. 
It had not one but two massive high quality screens for the soccer matches.
Of course Graham and I hung out with Mr. Daniels for a minute. 
While exploring the park we found a memorial to the British Commonwealth soldiers that died during WWII in Albania.
This was the memorial for the Nazi soldiers. Again, the people do not gloss over the history of their country. 
Once outside the center we discovered that many buildings were colorfully decorated. This was done by the former mayor Edi Rama, a trained artist. 
This wonderful lady was the store owner near our apartment. She was a ball of energy and we had fun figuring out what we wanted to buy and how much it all cost. Right after this was taken she kissed me on both cheeks. 
Heading into the FanZone for the night game. 
It filled up despite Albania not playing and had a relaxed atmosphere.
Afterwards we walked around to check out the venders.
They were also having a Ms. Tirana beauty contest. 
Albanian money, called "Lek". 
Chilling at our favorite coffee shop.
You better believe I had a brownie for breakfast. 
This was the first of several Albanian wedding parties we saw. 
I have no idea what the name of this old fort was, but it looked very cool.
There were waterfalls from the previous nights rain in the hills behind the house.

Ohrid Lake from Albania.
One last pint together before we went our separate ways.
          We were a bit disappointed to leave Tirana but it was a great weekend visit. I'll be returning to Albania soon, I've checked out their beaches and they look spectacular.  I was also bummed to see Maggie and Graham leave but that just gives me a nice incentive to visit them in England.