Sunday, February 19, 2017

Returning to Lakocerej

"Trust is the glue of life. It's the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It's the foundation principle that holds all relationships."  Stephen Covey

          It's been busy since returning from my visit home and I'm not going to go through everything since then but I am gonna share a couple of highlights. However before doing so one thing that's helped me get right back into the swing of life here was the fact I did have a long break back home. When I returned I discovered my Macedonian had actually improved! I suppose I just needed some time away to relax and let my brain settle in.  I've been focusing on getting to know the new Volunteers that were placed in or around Ohrid and Struga, continued to work with YMLP Struga and really soak in my remaining time here in my village and Ohrid. 
          The new Volunteers around my area are level headed, mature and a lively group. They're working very hard to settle in and I'm enjoying getting to know them. I keep reminding them to not be frustrated about their language skills and to just keep practicing.  It isn't easy but that's one of the challenges of being a Peace Corps Volunteer.  That also ties into my work at YMLP Struga. Since the departure of one of the Mak 19's, YMLP Glow hasn't had an official mentor. That's now changing with a new Mak 21 Volunteer deciding to pick up the torch of mentorship.  However, I wanted to have my guys do a couple of events with the girls to endorse more cooperation between YMLP and GLOW Struga. So I asked another volunteer to come and do a self-sefense session with both groups, separately, that went really well.  We also had a combined session with GLOW Struga on Masculinity & Femininity about stereotypes that was attended by all of the Volunteers in the area.  
          It was led by my fellow Mak 19 extende Alex. The session was on how socially strict gender roles aren't necessarily healthy or true. For example men can cook and be good at it. Girls can successfully play sports, lead and feel sexy. Again, Eastern Europe is very traditional so a session that can seem obvious to many isn't necessarily the case here.  I made sure to keep quiet during the session but once Alex was finished decided to share my experience of being labeled by a stereotype in the Peace Corps. 
          I said, "I'm white, male and Southern. Since joining the Peace Corps I've been called by other Volunteers a racist, sexist and misogynist. I was told those things without people knowing who I was, my background nor my family. Being told those things didn't stop me from participating in the  YMLP camps, nor did they prevent me from starting YMLP Struga or working with GLOW Struga. There will always be people that try and label you. In those moments you find out your character. You reveal how THEY really are because they're judging you without knowing your character or talents. Never forget that and be you."
          The following day I was back in Struga for a joint session with the Ohrid/Struga Mak 21's and  their host families.  It's a new program designed to talk about cultural differences and to do activities to show what everyone does have in common. I was happy to participate so I could continue to learn more about the new volunteers and share a lesson or two from my experience.
          Immediately after that I returned home and was surprised to see that my host family was having a Sunday dinner!  So I sat down and started chatting with everyone. It was Goce's sister and her family who I hadn't seen since before the summer and they were clearly quite surprised that I was comfortably conversing with them.  Five hours later we had talked about life in Yugoslavia, their relatives in America, growing up in Lakocerej, what school was like and even a few local ghost stories. Daniella had to translate a bit with some of the older, and village, vocabulary but it flowed nicely.  It was an incredibly stark difference from when I first met them as I could barely describe how old I was much less anything else.

          Some things I've learned:
  • Older men with beards have grown them because a relative passed away. The mourning period is 40 days.
  • I really seem to have earned the trust of my villagers and neighbors. For example one man has me read his mail to make sure he's not being scammed.  Another example is how many women of all ages say hi, or small talk, with me. It seems that they all know who I am, my work at the school and that they can chat with me without people thinking something nefarious is going on. 
  • It's been a chilly winter. I'm quite confident in my fire starting, and wood organizing, skills and I've exercised a lot indoors. 
  • Going to work has always been enjoyable, if difficult at times, but it's really fun now. The kids really are comfortable with me and vice versa. The ninth grade started a clothing donation drive just from a lesson we did on Fashion and it's reliance on sweatshops. 
  • Ohrid is wonderful after Old New Year to Easter. Absolutely zero tourists are here so it's just us locals. I've enjoyed it immensely. 
  • There are days that are extremely difficult not because of the language but because you see how life isn't moving forward for most Macedonians. I know I will finish my contract and leave but for many that isn't an option. After becoming close with so many people it's continuously a true punch in the gut but motivates me more to be as fully engaged with everyone as I possibly can. 

Rainbow in Struga after our joint YMLP/GLOW session.
The boys enjoyed Scott's self-defense class. We talked about verbal disengagement, situational awareness and few self-defense exercises. 
Making sure English is fun not a bore. 
I really enjoy chatting with our school's handyman, Naumche. He's a true mechanical genius, has very interesting stories from his army days and is hysterical.
When your friend in the band makes the reservations, just roll with it.
The guys can really jam. Listening to them takes me back to live shows in Nashville, they're that good. 
Grading quizzes.
Ahhhh a kafana filled with locals, it warms the heart.
Clothes for the donation drive our ninth graders created.
Most days I'm either a tree or a spotter but usually both. 
Finally a warm day to sit by the lake.

Walking Bruno requires a harness not a leash. 
          Lastly, since the Lakocerej World Map project is completed we've immediately moved on to our next project, the Lakocerej English Room.  It's part of a SPA Grant, small projects assistance program, that my counterpart and I applied for and was approved in December. It's one of the reasons I extended and you're going to see a post about it in the near future. We're building a new room, equipped with a laptop, three in one printer, projector and usb's for file sharing along with a few lessons on teaching methodology. Personally, I want it to be used not only for media viewing but for students just to go and read in.  It will be practical, elegant and multi-purpose. More on that later though.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Lakocerej World Map Project: The Finished Result

"Do what you can, with what you have, where you are."  Theodore Roosevelt

          We did it.  It took many months of everyone chipping in when they had the time.  Whether that time was between classes or during a free period but the Lakocerej World Map Project is complete. I really can't thank my coworkers enough for their support and participation.  They added their own touches or suggestions to the map which is why it has such a beautiful flourish.

Using the projector we traced the countries onto the wall.
We had to correct and repaint several times. 
Chairs and ladders oh my. 
Wonder how so much orange is in it? Hint:  Go Vols. 
The attention to detail is what made the biggest difference .
Only the oceans were blue as not a single country has blue.
For many this was the finished result. For us, we still had to label Europe in Macedonian and English. But how?  Scroll down to see how we did it.
It takes up the entire wall.
The last thing to do was date it. 
 The beautiful finish.
We assigned each European country a number and then wrote them down so the students can read the text. On the left under the Macedonian flag is for the Macedonian text is and English is under the Peace Corps logo.
It's detailed, elegant and practical. 
          All told it took:  
$10 for paint and brushes. 
$0 for ladders and chairs.
$0 for the projector. 
Time: 2.5 months. 

          For the layout each country, border and the oceans were painted twice.  Where it's white it was painted three times. 

          Now you know that you can do this too. If you can't use a projector then the Peace Corps has a grid system that works as well.  The link for that is here at The World Map Project. 

          Bravo y'all bravo.