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.


  1. Good morning, how are you?

    My name is Emilio, I am a Spanish boy and I live in a town near to Madrid. I am a very interested person in knowing things so different as the culture, the way of life of the inhabitants of our planet, the fauna, the flora, and the landscapes of all the countries of the world etc. in summary, I am a person that enjoys traveling, learning and respecting people's diversity from all over the world.

    I would love to travel and meet in person all the aspects above mentioned, but unfortunately as this is very expensive and my purchasing power is quite small, so I devised a way to travel with the imagination in every corner of our planet. A few years ago I started a collection of used stamps because through them, you can see pictures about fauna, flora, monuments, landscapes etc. from all the countries. As every day is more and more difficult to get stamps, some years ago I started a new collection in order to get traditional letters addressed to me in which my goal was to get at least 1 letter from each country in the world. This modest goal is feasible to reach in the most part of countries, but unfortunately, it is impossible to achieve in other various territories for several reasons, either because they are very small countries with very few population, either because they are countries at war, either because they are countries with extreme poverty or because for whatever reason the postal system is not functioning properly.

    For all this, I would ask you one small favor:
    Would you be so kind as to send me a letter by traditional mail from Macedonia? I understand perfectly that you think that your blog is not the appropriate place to ask this, and even, is very probably that you ignore my letter, but I would call your attention to the difficulty involved in getting a letter from that country, and also I don’t know anyone neither where to write in Macedonia in order to increase my collection. a letter for me is like a little souvenir, like if I have had visited that territory with my imagination and at same time, the arrival of the letters from a country is a sign of peace and normality and an original way to promote a country in the world. My postal address is the following one:

    Emilio Fernandez Esteban
    Avenida Juan de la Cierva, 44
    28902 Getafe (Madrid)

    If you wish, you can visit my blog where you can see the pictures of all the letters that I have received from whole World.

    Finally, I would like to thank the attention given to this letter, and whether you can help me or not, I send my best wishes for peace, health and happiness for you, your family and all your dear beings.

    Yours Sincerely

    Emilio Fernandez

  2. Emilio,

    First thank you for asking me to assist you in your passionate project with acquiring postcards from the world over. I'd be happy to mail you several from here in Macedonia and Ohrid. Once you receive them and put them in your new Macedonian category for "Letters in my Mailbox" if you'd be so kind to provide a link for this blog I'd really appreciate it.

    Keep an eye out in the coming weeks for some postcards from Macedonia, they're coming your way!



  3. Dear Logan,

    Only a few words to thank you for the nice postcards that you have sent to me from Macedonia, which I have received today. If you wish, you can see their pictures published in my blog about postcards:

    Also I have to tell you that I have added your blog to my list of favourites, by this way I have a direct link to your blog.

    Thank you again for helping me in order to increase my collection of letters, postcards and stamps from whole world.

    a hug from Spain

    Emilio Fernandez