Friday, April 28, 2017

Lakocerej English Room: A Culmination Of My Service

"How you do anything is how you do everything." Unknown.

          The Lakocerej English Room is complete. 

          It took time, patience and cooperation but it all came together to make a great learning space for the kids. It wasn't easy but we did it right and it was worth it. 

          First, a prelude. It takes time to develop trust and I worked with my colleagues on smaller projects, gradually building up their comfort with me. We painted the school windows, held Spelling Bee’s and soccer tournaments. We had a student-led art exhibition and painted a massive World Map

          After those projects were finished my counterpart, along with a few other coworkers, asked if I would submit a grant to create a much needed space for English learning. They mentioned that it would be very beneficial if they had the proper tools to create engaging lessons for their students. I was elated until I found out that the project would never be approved with my limited time remaining in service. So I promised them that I would extend my service to complete the school year thus allowing the necessary time to have the project approved and completed. 

          During the draft process my counterpart and I thought deeply about what to request.  We decided that we would use a multi-point approach. We requested digital technology, physical materials and the creation of a new classroom to organize those tools in a conducive environment for engaging lessons. The requested digital technology was a new laptop, projector and usb’s to share lesson plans with all teachers. The physical materials were two mobile white boards and a large stationary white board additionally used as the projector screen. Lastly, the new classroom would be built at the end of a hallway, incorporating the World Map project with a new floor, curtains to block out the morning sun and a large electric heater guaranteeing a warm and encouraging learning environment. 

          This project’s success was never guaranteed. However, due to our previous successful projects, my colleagues and the community knew that I would follow through on my promise.  So they greatly contributed to the success of this project by donating desks and pooled money together to buy new chairs.  They painted those desks and decorated the walls for a complete finish. 

          Honestly, the greatest frustration I had was being patient on the project coming together. This project was my largest focus but wasn’t for many others. They were more concerned with having enough food on the table or navigating the treacherous political terrain their governement is built on. Things that would take hours or days to complete in the West took weeks or months here. Realizing that was crucial for our success and my sanity.

          Lastly, this project wouldn't have succeeded without my colleagues, community members, director and counterpart. She especially made sure it all came together and that promises by people were followed through on.

Putting up the walls to make the room.
The room with the walls and plaster.
How it looked from the hallway.
Once the floorboards were put in the entire room brightened. 
Assembling the mobile white boards.
Installing the large white board.
Decorating the walls.
They painted the "Four Seasons". It's very well done.
Missing the desks and chairs.
Painting the desks. 
I wasn't allowed to paint without wearing the weird orange glove. 
The older students chipped in as well.
Little notes are left behind.
Here you can see how it all came together.
By using markers instead of chalk it's much easier for the students to write instead of just the teacher. 
Not to mention having a powerpoint presentation or watching a video is now a breeze to do instead of a massive chore.
  • Total budgeted cost:  $1,362.96 (73,600 den) + 25% from the school/community.
  • Total money spent: $1,250.07 (70,395 den).
  • Difference: $56.95 (3,205 den).
Requested Materials:  

  • Laptop, projector, mobile white boards, large white board, usb's, 3in1 printer, scanner and copier.

Community/school contributions:

  • Built a new room, added floorboards, painted the room, plastered  the walls four feet up from the floor. Donated desks and bought new chairs. Helped decorate the room and desks. Plus, a table for storage.
Extra materials bought since we were under budget:

  • Electric heater, curtains, curtain rods, paint, brushes, extra white board markers, erasers and school supplies.

Final Analysis:

  • A month late on the original, and aggressively expected, completion date but under budget thus able to purchase additional supplies. 

          Finishing up, the Lakocerej English Room blended the previously completed World Map with help from colleagues, the support of our school director, community members and my counterpart. It took a village to complete this project but similar to the map it came out detailed, practical and elegant allowing it to be used by teachers, students and the community for years to come.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Кафе. Kafe. Coffee.

"The heart wants neither coffee nor coffeehouses. The heart wants only a friend. Coffee is only the excuse." Turkish proverb

          There are many things that people say makes the world go round. Many of those things are emotional, many are physical yet one physical item invokes many emotional moments. Coffee.  I've mentioned before that coffee is a major part of life here.  Here in the Balkans "na gosti's" are the norm whether they're at 11am or 10pm. Ready to go to bed? Not if someone shows up unannounced you're not. Instead you're making Turkish coffee, smoking a cigarette and chatting for the next hour.

          Coffee pours itself into every conversation, every meeting here. Yet, how is it made? I had never drank Turkish style coffee before moving here and after learning how it's made I haven't described it to you.

          First you grab your handy Ѓезве, Gezve or Turkish coffee pot, add cold water and wait. Thus begins the different ways of preparing Turkish coffee. Some people will wait until the water boils and then will add the coffee grinds and mix.  Others put the coffee grinds in with the cold water and have them boil together. They'll then add white sugar and pour the coffee in your cup. Another group of brewers will heat the water, add the coffee grinds and stir.  They'll let the coffee rise, the part that boils and coalesces makes what's called камјак, kamjak.  They won't stir the coffee again, the kamik will rise once more.  Then they'll take the kamik with small spoon into the your cup, then pour the coffee and the kamik remains on top for you to enjoy the slightly bitter taste.

The traditional way of serving Balkan coffee. This was in a coffee shop Sarajevo and was delicious. 
Homemade Turkish coffee in Sarajevo. 
No coffee should be served without something to nibble on.
Coffee with my PST family in Sveti Nikola. 
Turkish coffee in Ohrid. 
          Now for some fun facts:

  • Coffee fortune telling is a big deal here. People will pay a lot of money to have their finished coffee "read" by a respected coffee reader. A coworker at my school does it everyday. 
  • When the bride and groom's family's formally meet to approve the coming marriage, the bride to be will prepare coffee for everyone with one twist. Her groom's coffee will be served with salt instead of sugar. If he smiles and drinks it without complaint then he likes her and sanctions her right to kitchen and home. If he complains about the taste or takes only a small sip then his character is revealed as well. 
  • Coffee arrived in Europe after the Ottomans were defeated at the Siege of Vienna. They left their unroasted beans and a Polish man, Georg Kolschitzky, had lived in the Ottoman Empire and knew how to roast the beans. So he opened Vienna's first coffee shop The Blue Bottle. It was there that our modern filtered coffee with milk was born. 
Kolschitzky and The Blue Bottle. *
          Lastly, after returning from the States I told my colleagues about the trip, over coffee of course. I explained how we Westerners order coffee to go and that everyone's car has a cup holder. The reaction was immediate, "That's stupid, Logan!" "Coffee is meant to be sipped slowly and you have a chat with everyone." "You only put sugar in coffee, not milk, honey or other flavors." Excluding a few good dirty jokes or stories, that was the hardest I've laughed here. 

          Have a great Easter weekend and enjoy your coffee "for here" instead of "to-go". Remember, it's all about the conversation.

*Courtesy of