One School Year to Impact

One School Year to Impact

This year I have found myself very, very busy everyday and crawling into bed happy on how much I am helping at my school. One of the Macedonian teachers at the school pulled me aside today and personally thanked me for all the work I have done and will be doing this year. He told me I am a special person to be focusing on helping all the teachers, students, and community members. The love I feel when I entire my two schools is that of a super star of some sort. This thank you from this teacher that does not speak any English gave me the confidence and energy to continue going. I know my actions are appreciated and I hope to leave a mark that will keep teachers motivated to teach.

One of the projects that I have just started implementing is the recycling of plastic bottles. The idea behind this is to keep plastic bottles from being thrown into the river and streets and instead make a small profit on the bottles. One teacher two weeks ago complained to me that they have to pay for their own copies and bring their own paper to the school. I decided that this plastic bottle recycling will allow the school to have some money for paper. Teachers shouldn’t have to go to Tetovo (a 25 minute kombi ride) just to get some copies for their class. Instead this environmentally friendly movement will allow teachers to access paper from a green action. I hope over time to implement a paper recycling too where at least the other side of a page can be reprinted on. The teachers and students are behind this recycling because it is really easy.

Another project I am working on is trying to get a resource room for all the teachers in the school. Ideally I would love to have a smart board projector and more English books. It would be great to expand to Albanian books so that the reading level of the students could be expanded and worked on throughout the school year. This classroom that already has computers can be used by all the teachers and allow them all to have hands-on/technology classes. Right now we are using the classroom for power point presentations and getting the students excited for the potential here. So far one community member has donated bookshelves, another will be donating his time to paint, and the school will be buying paint for the resource room. Everything seems to be going well in wonderful happy way!

With this resource room, we are starting a school fundraiser. One class every Friday will bring baked goods from home and sell them at the bake-sale. All the other students in the school will buy these baked goods instead of going to the local store. This will allow us to acquire money slowly over time for the lab. This resource lab, if we get the funding for it, will need to have at least 30 % contribution from the community. I want to start these actions so that it illustrates the motivation in my community.

In addition, I am continuing with girls and boys basketball. Boys basketball has not met yet because they have been behaving badly every time we attempt to practice with the girls. There are less girls this year but who knows what’ll happen as the year progresses.

I have started a running club at my school which is adored and celebrated. All the students want to run around with me and have a blast together.

The other huge project one of my counterparts and I have started is having a school play. This has been a stressful, but successful endeavor. The plan is to perform the play this December at a private school in Tetovo. We are acting Peter Pan and I already see a huge progress in all the students’ English inside and outside of class. The trick will be costumes, but I am hoping they just work out in the end. Luckily my counterpart is really invested in this and will hopefully do a play after I leave–some level of sustainability.

My focus this year has been really giving it my all every school day and seeing what I could do that would be sustainable. I have fully implemented a grading system–engrade–and hope to implement it with the rest of the school.

In other news I just spent the last weekend celebrating Bajram with my tutor and best friend and her family. I got to experience Bajram with a half Macedonian, half Albanian family. I thoroughly enjoyed it and got to learn some different saying in Macedonian. This family has meant everything to me with teaching me how to make the creamy treleche, the sweet baklava, and the ever so spicy ajvar. I honestly feel like I could hang with them the rest of my life and I hope the two sisters I have grown to love I will stay friends with for the rest of my life: Gona and Dika.

Stepping into a World Unknown

 
Guest Writer Sheryl Burt
 
I had the opportunity and the privilege of being Kelly’s first American visitor during her first year of service in Macedonia! In my short week stay I was able get a glimpse into her new world. 
 
Let me begin by explaining how I got myself into traveling to such an unknown (by many Americans) place. It was senior year. Kelly and I were finishing up our education requirements, gearing up for student teaching, and excited about making a difference in the minds of the munchkins. She told me that she was seriously considering the Peace Corps and asked if I would visit her. Fresh off of our New Zealand Adventure, I was itching for more. So, of course I said YES without hesitation or knowledge of where Kelly would be placed. When Kelly found out she was placed in Macedonia (a country that I had never heard of and couldn’t locate on a map), I wasn’t swayed. The only stipulation was that I had to get a job…graduation was approaching and there were so many unknowns. 
Well, everything worked out. I started my first year teaching kindergarten and Kelly was making a difference halfway around the world. 
 
My Macedonia experience started with about 40 hours of travel (flights, layovers, time zone changes) and arriving in Skopje at about 12:30am. We did some exploring and traditional Macedonia hamburger eating before getting some sleep. With Skopje being a larger city, the first adjustment I had to make was the language barrier. I knew going in that I wouldn’t be able to understand or talk with the Macedonians but the experience was more than expected. I like to be able to do things for myself but the simple tasks like purchasing a bus ticket, ordering a meal, or paying for a purchase I had to entrust to Kelly. Don’t get me wrong, I’d trust this girl with my life, but there was a sense of helplessness that was uncomfortable. The biggest struggle was not being able to communicate with Kelly’s host family. She’d spent the last 8 months living with this family and I would have loved to get to know them more. During our shared meals, I would have liked to partake in the conversations or at least understand their discussions. Her host brother is fluent in English and I enjoyed the time I got to spend with him. 
 
Another thing that took me a while to grasp (and I still don’t understand), is some of their priorities. I understand that each culture is different and we all deem things more important than others. Kelly has told me from the beginning that Macedonia’s economy is in trouble and her village in particular is very poor with a high unemployment rate. However, while walking around the village, I didn’t see it. I expected to see the poverty in the buildings and houses, but it wasn’t there. The houses were aesthetically pleasing, a decent size, and the yards were well kept.  Kelly explained that appearance is a high priority. Poverty is not seen in the objects they own but in the hunger in their bellies. Along with appearance, family is one of their main priorities. Extended families usually live in the same village and are very supportive. They help each other out in any way they can. I was honored to be invited to dinner with Kelly’s extended host family. They welcomed me with open arms. Their love and support was evident even with a language barrier. The respect exhibited towards their elders was inspiring. Sometimes I feel like we have lost that in our culture. Kelly’s host grandmother was a remarkable lady with an awesome garden!! She let me sample some strawberries and dragon beans…oh my!! It makes me want to ditch the city and buy a plot of land!
 
Everywhere we went, we ran into some type of market/bazaar. I wish fresh fruit and vegetables were that easily available in our society. After I left, I found myself craving the watermelon that I had been indulging in for the past week. Another thing that amazed me was at the end of the day, the sellers left their produce/products on their  stands. Even in a poverty stricken community, there was a sense of honor and respect. Stealing was not an issue. This is not something we could find in our society. Just think about this for a second…high poverty, high unemployment, and hunger bordering on starvation, yet stealing is not a concern. I truly believe that speaks volumes. 
 
Macedonia is not one of those places you find in a destination book and you’ll never see it on the top 100 places to visit before you die. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t have anything to offer! However, I wouldn’t recommend the trip unless you speak Macedonian or Albanian or you happen to have an awesome connection (like I did). It would be extremely complicated to navigate. 
 
I’d like to conclude with a shoutout to all the Peace Corps Volunteers who were apart of my Macedonia experience. Y’all are doing amazing work! I know that some days may be rough and you feel like your not making progress, but remember, your presence and attitude of caring is sometimes all that’s needed. I see it in the classroom all the time! Keep you head up and hearts open and never stop being awesome!!!
 
Kelly, thank you for an experience of a life time! Love ya girl!!!

Sheryl Burt. GLOW Camp. Traveling Camp. Traveling. And almost a year into service.

In the past month and a half, I have managed to travel to Italy, Albania, Greece, be a counselor at  GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) Camp, run a summer camp in my village, and have my dear friend Sheryl Burt visit me.  I thought my summer would be a long three months…little did I know it is officially over tomorrow with school starting.

Sheryl Burt, one of my bests from college and the ONE AND ONLY OTHER Early Childhood Education major from Hendrix College, came to visit me at my site. I filled our days with seeing different parts of Macedonia, visiting my village and the city next to mine, and a glorious trip to Greece. When Sheryl was here it opened up my eyes to the fact that my perspective on everything has changed a lot. It was wonderful to get Sheryl’s new perspective on everything and realize how pessimistic I have gotten about some things. I also realize how I have turned off and ignored some aspects that annoyed me previously. 

One aspect that Sheryl found overwhelming was the language barrier she was surrounded by in my village. I found this half funny and half my life all the time. I wasn’t able to translate for her all the time. It was also a good eye opening experience for her to see what I experienced everyday for my first three months and still today in Macedonian situations. Not understanding whats going on all the time is part of my service. I am happy that Sheryl understands this struggle and can empathize with me now about it.

Having my host family and friends meet her was delightful. They got to see a huge part of my life and someone that has been super supportive throughout the process. After the Macedonia experience we rushed down to Greece to get some sun, greek food, and relaxation. We ended up doing a lot of walking and exploring. I felt like I was back in America during that vacation because I had access to Starbucks, H&M, and feta. 

The oddest part of this trip was I ran into two different groups of Albanians on different accounts. I feel like the rest of my life I will be connected to this ethnic group. Sheryl and I were walking down the boardwalk next to sea and I decided to stop a group of older men, about the same age as my parents. They took a photo of Sheryl and I together. Then I noticed one of the men speaking in Albanian…so I boldly asked where he was from in Albanian. Then we had a side conversation for a bit in Albanian. It turned out he was from a village near Tetovo as well. Such a small world. 

After this encounter I felt sky high with my luck and Albanian language skills. It also may have been the amazing salads, pork, and greek greek greek food. The day Sheryl and I went to the beach we ran into another group of Albanians. We took a ferry to some beaches and on the ferry sitting across from us there were some Albanians speaking Albanian. Of course I interjected and talked to them for a bit. They were from Diber, which is a mountain town in-between Gostivar and Struga. I don’t know what Sheryl thought of the constant interaction with Albanians, but I thought it was hilarious. 

After Sheryl left me for Zurich I hurriedly prepared for Camp GLOW. Camp GLOW is one of the best and hardest experiences I have had thus far in my Peace Corps service. You take 80 girls from all over the country with different religions, ethnicities, and values and put them in the same school for 7 days together. The results are overwhelming and powerful. I found myself in tears of joy and the end of the camp. I was a counselor with host country national and we had a counselor in training…and 10 amazing young ladies in our group. We went through the stages of forming a group roughly and were performing like professionals by the end of the week. My group had a huge diversity of backgrounds, ethnicities, and perspectives on life. They learned to be a healthy family and support each other through all the challenging and thought provoking classes. I had a lot of sleepless nights pondering on how to support my group and how to approach different aspects. It was amazing to witness some young women lead with such strength. I don’t know if I can describe the week in a way to give it justice other than it was one of the most powerful experiences I have been apart of thus far in my Peace Corps service. Having everything in English gave a safe zone for all the girls.

In addition two of my wonderful girls from my village attended the camp. The grew and matured throughout the week. I can proudly say they are confident and amazing young women now. I can’t wait to be there to support them this year in developing their leadership goals. My Peace Corps service has been supported and enhanced through this camp. Thank you Camp GLOW Macedonia!

After the whirlwind of GLOW Camp I went on a wonderful vacation to Venice, Italy. Luckily there is this thing called Wizzair. You can find extremely cheap plane tickets. So I was able to escape and explore the city I have dreamed of visiting since I read The Book Thief when I was little. Here I was in my dream land of how I pictured it. I realized how thoroughly lucky I was. Here I am traveling the world tasting, smelling, and feeling the vibrant world around me. My week in Italy consisted of eating pizza, drinking spritzer, eating pasta, eating mozzarella, and exploring every nook and cranny of Venice (and the neighboring islands).

After Italy, I had a couple of days to decompress and then I left for a four day adventure in Albania with the “bros” and a bunch of other volunteers. I enjoyed fresh seafood, seaside comforts, a cold springs-syri i kilter-and exploring an ancient city left by the Romans. Albania is an ideal traveling location for me because I speak the language, I love the sea, and I love swimming. I plan on going back there again, but this time exploring the outdoor wilderness in northern Albania. 

Then, I finished off my summer with a summer camp in my village. There were some complications because the people that originally were going to host the three boy volunteers helping at the camp couldn’t host the volunteers anymore. My amazing director ended up paying for the boy volunteers to stay in a hotel in Tetovo for the week. The four half day camp at my school was very chaotic but the students walked out of the school each day grinning and enjoying the activities thoroughly. I think my school was ab it confused all week because it was the week before school started, but in the end they realized how much the camp benefited the students and the community at large. The community enjoyed it so much that they bought our last lunch as volunteers. Some communities show different ways to say thank you. I think I will be hearing about this camp for weeks to come. A huge shout out to Aaron, Beverly, Jake, Nick, David, Jordan, Alanna for coming all the way to my village and helping me with the camp. I would not have been able to do this camp without your help, patience, and guidance. Flm shume!

As this summer ended quickly and abruptly I find myself realizing that I have almost done an entire year of service as a volunteer. New volunteers are coming in two weeks exactly and I have the honor to welcome them into the country and extend a hand for support for the rest of their service. I find myself writing down goals and hoping to accomplish a lot for the rest of my service. I have one year and three months to impact my community as much as I can. Send me luck, love, and support. 

Thank you everyone that has been there for me this past year. I have appreciated every moment of support and faith that I have it in me to serve here. A determined volunteer is ready for another year of service!

Summer Time.

This summer time started out with a bang. After the last day of school, which was very chaotic with inspectors from the bureau of education of Macedonia and external testing, I headed to language IST (In-Service Training). This was in Struga, Macedonia. We had a hotel on the lake and after the language sessions everyday we had the freedom to cool off in the lake. These language sessions were honestly frustrating for me. All the Albanian speaking volunteers are at a hugely different speaking level and putting us all in the same level of classes is challenging. It was really nice to be reunited with everyone again. Odd to see how everyone has grown and changed at site, but really nice.

After the four intensive days of language–which reminded me why I was so tired during PST–I went for a quick transition back at site before heading off to the Boy’s Leadership Summer Camp, or more correctly called: Young Men’s Leadership Project Summer Camp or YLMP Summer Camp. I packed everything I needed and said good-bye to a bed for two weeks.

YLMP

To most people’s surprise, this was my first time working at a summer camp. I have always wanted to work at a summer camp, but those jobs never paid well enough for me during college. My position was a facilitator of democracy. I co-taught classes on democracy with a host country national. We planned and prepared months in advanced. We wanted each lesson to build off of each other and for each class to be shaped by the young men’s passions and discussions. My co-facilitator was extremely passionate, which made planning and preparing a lot easier.

I was fairly nervous because the last time I worked with 14-18 year olds was the previous summer with conservation trail crews. I felt a bit rusty with that area because I have been extremely focused on elementary and junior high aged students. And addition to that, I haven’t taught high school aged students in a classroom setting, ever. My domain with them is outside.

The next two weeks at the summer camp was a complete blur. It was held in Krushevo a small town tucked into the mountains near Prilep (a city in the center of Macedonia). Our camp was about a 20 minute walk away from the town, which means close enough to get a chocolate bar for staff when needed, but far enough away to build a health dynamic within the camp. I ended up teaching far more than my democracy class. I taught some environmental classes, including Leave No Trace, and things like mafia and tie dye. I am happy to report there are 20 young men (yes 20 men did the tie dye course) that are walking around their communities in tie dye shirts. That’s why I did this summer camp, to change their perspective on these type of things. You can still be a man, and wear tie dye…huzzah!

I became friends and older sisters to many of the young men there and got to know all the peace corps volunteers and local staff on a different level. Those two weeks of traveling there, teaching, and coming back were absolutely exhausting, but absolutely worth it. I also felt like I changed every single young man that attended my classes. Not to think of democracy as a good thing, but rather to critically think and understand that questing everything is a part of a deep thinker. I want to do a huge shout out to Mr. Russ Brown one of my amazing high school teachers. He gave me the lesson plans for one of the lessons I facilitated (the island simulation) and I wanted to say it was a huge success.

I came back to my community in high spirits. These young men were show smart, talented, and truly a big breath of fresh air. These young men are the start of the next generation and if they can change where this world is going, I have hope, high hope.

Since YLMP camp I have been chilling with my host family, visiting some neighbors, and now just processing the ever proceeding Ramadan.

Right before Ramadan happened, there was a basketball tournament in Tetovo. Now, this tournament was a perfect opportunity for my young women. We entered the competition, and were the only women that showed up…so we played each other.
Here are a couple of photos from the tournament against ourselves.

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Ramadan.

Now, I have had friends that have fasted. I knew it involved fasting from sunrise to sunset, just like passover fasting. What I didn’t know is how spiritually inspiring and overwhelming it is when an entire community fasts together. So you can break your fast when the call to prayer is sung from the mosque. These meals are called Iftar.  It is basically thanksgiving, every single meal. It is fabulous because everyone around to is eating loads of food and drinking loads of liquids. You can enjoy everything you want until about 2:30- 3:00 . This is two hours before the sun comes up and this is because (I think) it is two hours before sunrise and your stomachs have processed most of what you ate. So everyone goes without water and food for 18 hours. That’s so impressive and mind boggling. This is for 30 days. 30 days.

Now, pregnant women, women on their period, and men working outside are not suppose to fast because they don’t want it to damage your body. Also if your too sick and if your a child (9 years old for girls and 11 years old for boys) you are not suppose to fast. Everyone believes when you fast that Allah gave you the strength to do everything you needed to do.

I thought because everyone around me was fasting that I would give it a shot. I fasted one day from 2:30 am to 8:30 pm. It was a long 18 hours. The hardest part for me was going without water. I could handle going without food especially if I was being lazy and relaxing. But without water on hot summer days was very challenging.

What this experience provided me was ultimate respect for every Muslim I have ever met and every Muslim in my community and Macedonia at large. I can see how these 30 days are challenging and a spiritual journey. Women go to the mosques during this time and I like that everyone is in this spiritual mindset.

Tetovo is a ghost town during the day and a crazy chaotic city at night. It is nice to get some peace and quiet there during the day, but yet again I can get that here in my village since everyone sleeps in and people that don’t have to work, don’t.

My host family has been very respectful that I decided not to fast more than one day and are fine with me cooking my meals when they are fasting. As one Albanian told me the other day, “Ramadan is a very personal experience and whatever you do as long as you respect what they are doing, they’ll respect you.”

In other news, I have had and will have some basketball practices at 9:30 pm once all the girls have gotten some proper food and liquid in them. The basketball court has some lights and hopefully we’ll be able to use it until a soccer tournament starts next week. Other than that, there’s not a lot of projects I can do because everyone is fasting and not exactly game for doing work.

I tried to do a city of Tetovo Fourth of July celebration, but it fell through do to some funding issues.

Overall, I have been relaxing a lot this summer and reading away. I just picked up my guitar again and plan on studying some more Albanian.

Keep living the dream and drink some of that sweet tea or lemonade for me wherever you are in this world.

Cannot Produce Tears if my Life Depended on It

This past week a very sad event occurred in my community. One of the beloved second grade teachers passed away. I did not know this teacher VERY well, but him and I have had several conversations throughout the school year with him. My first memory with this teacher was one of my first runs in the community in January. I was running along and he ran out of his house shouting at me to stop and then he invited me him for a cup of coffee. I wish I took him up on that offer, but I told him I wanted to continue with my run. He always had a lively and fun personality. He always joked with coworkers and his students adored him.

 

I remember working with my afternoon English teacher and him coming up to me one day and explaining to me that I am always invited over to his house for coffee and that I am considered a daughter in his eyes. He had an open heart and was of the friendliest coworkers I had. I remember when I came back from Skopje he welcomed me with open arms and asked me if I was feeling better. This open-heart and kindness is something that he left a huge mark in the village.

 

After I found out about him passing away from a heart attack I went to the school to see how I could support this community. The school was completely empty. Nobody was in sight. I called one of my counterparts and she told me that school got canceled that day because he passed away. The funeral was scheduled for that afternoon and I was encouraged to attend it.

 

Now, I have never even attended a funeral in the United States before, how am I suppose to go about attending this acquaintance’s funeral? I pulled myself together and showed up to the school when the other teachers were instructed to as well. We gathered for an hour and reflected on him and how he will be missed. Some teachers had tears in their eyes and others seemed to be lost in a world of sorrow. I was in a mix of confusion not knowing how to act or how to approach this situation.

 

Slowly, students gathered outside to attend the funeral, every age from 6 years old to 17 were outside waiting. Many students this teacher had years ago were there ready to experience this funeral. All the teachers gave each other a look of despair and step outside to face the students with strong faces. As a school we lined up all the students in orderly lines (this is one of the first times that I saw lines being enforced).

 

We walked to the house of the teacher. As we walked there as a school I felt somehow more apart of the community than I ever had before, I knew I belonged now. While walking there, many of the women teachers fought back their teachers overwhelmed with all their memories with their coworker. The streets of Pallchishte were unrecognizable. There were hundreds of cars lining the streets and hundreds of men lining the streets ready to walk to the funeral and show their regards to this amazing teacher. I felt uncomfortable walking through the pack of men because it truly made me feel apart of something bigger, but sadder.

Then, we waited as a white eerie van pulled up to the house; we all knew what this van was for. It was a very complicated process, but I picked up a couple new aspects of this culture.

  1. Women only attend funeral if they are coworkers with the individual that passed away.
  2. Besides that, only men go to the funeral. Women are seen as not needing to go to funerals.
  3. Women mourn in the house of the individual that passed away.
  4. Men either mourn in another house or outside in a courtyard/backyard.

Being able to go to a funeral is actually lucky in this case because I am a woman in this culture. The only time I would ever be socially acceptably allowed to go a funeral is in this situation.

 

I glace up high in the house of the teacher and saw about 20 women crowding around the windows tears falling down their faces. The pain in their hearts seeped into mine. I tried to empathize with them as in many ways as possible. As they laid the body at peace in the van I hear a faint cry from a young woman. In Albanian she was crying, “Don’t take my dad away, don’t leave dad, don’t leave.” All of a sudden I felt light headed. I placed my arm on a nearby car and tried to center my thoughts. Its hard to figure out what I am here. Am I mourning? Am I observing? Am I a teacher and a coworker? I am all, but in a different way. This young woman that was crying was his daughter.

 

As the van slowly pulled away from the house the closest family of the teacher walked behind the van. Then, we, as a school, walked behind that van. I felt a wave of emotion from around me. There was a feeling in the air, like we could almost feel this teacher’s presence around us. (Now I don’t believe in Ghosts but that is the only thing I could connect it with.)

 

As we walked through the village many other men joined behind. It almost felt like a parade of honor for this amazing teacher. Now it was something more than that, but I don’t think I can find the words to justify the experience. As we approached the cemetery, all the women teachers pulled aside and waited for all the men to pass. I watched as all the men entered the cemetery. There were at least a thousand men at the funeral and several hundred children. The teachers pulled me aside and told me that they were afraid to go to the cemetery. I still don’t understand why, but I think it has something to do with the fact that other women don’t attend funerals.

 

We entered the cemetery a round about way and joined the students and male teachers. Then there were some words spoken by the local Imam (Muslim leader in the Mosque). Everyone got down on their knees or bottoms. I asked one of the teachers what I should do next. She said I should I pray for him. So prayed, prayed with all my heart…to who…I’m not sure yet. Then everyone, and I mean everyone, raised their hands in the sky. This was how they pray in large crowds. I did the same trying to be respectful of the teacher.

 

As I looked around, tears rolled down many teachers’ eyes. The pain in their eyes was evident. I saw male teachers cry for the first time. I could see how much this community truly loved this man. I felt this warmth in my heart for him. He was truly loved and he left his mark on this community. Then, suddenly the funeral was over. I was ripped out of this peaceful environment back into my head of thoughts.

 

The next day, all the teachers gathered in the afternoon to pay a visit to the family. All the male teachers sat outside with the males in the family and all the female teachers went inside where all the women were mourning. As I stepped inside this house I could feel the pain within my soul. I got goose bumps and it took all the courage inside of me not to run away from all this pain. Every, single, teacher cried inside this house with all his loved ones. For some reason I couldn’t shed a tear. I tried, just to be polite and not to seem like the cold-hearted American. Alas, I couldn’t produce one drop of tear. Instead I tried to rip open my heart to show them my compassion. We let the daughter decompress as we sipped our tea quietly.

 

Then, we exited as soon as we came. I told every woman my heart was with them. They did not fully understand what I meant, but I hoped that they understood I was trying to sympathize. I learned I couldn’t shed tears when I needed to, but I also learned that being present and showing that I cared is sometimes something greater than words or tears.

 

This blog post is for this wonderful male teacher. I won’t reveal his name for the sake of his family’s privacy, but he will always be remember in my heart for his amazingly, kind-hearted, and generous spirit.

A Fresh Start “Yes Woman”

As human beings we like to pretend we are in control. In control of what goes on in our lives. How no matter what we do, we will be able to overcome the obstacles. Especially in America, success is measured by how much control we have and how we handle the situations with lack of control.

Three weeks ago, I realized that this entire experience in the Peace Corps rests on the fact that I do not have control. I may think I do, but  honestly do not. I have less control here than I did in the United States. My life rests in the hands of the people that surround me. Now, how I handle each situation, and if I go to each thing I am invited to, is within my control. Yet, there are so many variables I have no control over and I think it is good concept for me to swallow and process.

I spent two weeks in Skopje. I won’t go into details why. But when I cam back to my community last week I realized this was my chance to have a fresh start. I will be able to build and rebuild the friendships and relationships with full force effort. I decided when I got back to be the yes woman. One of my great friend’s friend advised me to try to be a yes woman because the people that were like that had the greatest enjoyment and success. So the past two weeks I have been trying to embrace every opportunity to say yes even if I am tired or am checked out.

Thus far, this approach has really helped me to reintegrate back into the community. The past two nights, my host father and host uncle have taken my host sister, my host cousins and I out for ice cream. Both times I was really exhausted and not feeling it, but saying yes was the wisest decision. Those small moments of laugher about language, travels, and silliness are what I am here for. I am starting to realize that my service is about the grass root relationships. Taking a break from my community has showed me everything I have done and what else I need/want to accomplish in the next two years.

I remember coming to Palchiste and wondering, what have I signed up for? Well, my host sister’s English has improved leaps and bounds. I could almost cry from happiness. She was already a very good English speaker when I first met her, but now she can confidently talk about a lot of other random topics. As her language skills have improved, mine has also improved. I feel like a 2 year old child at this point. Putting odd amounts of information together and repeating phrases that people have told me. Fluency is a different concept for me now. I am not going to be fluent in Albanian. Ever. But I will be able to communicate different ideas within the language.

This week I noticed something absolutely amazing about the Albanian education system. This is something that has been eating up and spit out by the American education system, honestly a detriment in the American culture. There are lots of male primary school teachers. Now, we are not just talking about the physical education teachers or the junior high teachers. There are two secondary grade male teachers, one fourth grade male teacher, and one kindergarten/first grade male teacher. This, this is an amazing concept. These male teachers take their job seriously. They also do not have worry about being alone in a classroom with female students. I feel like I am going back in time and I am enjoying the fact that they have a comfortable atmosphere. In the United States it is a very toxic environment of fear and worry related to male teachers–especially at the primary level. I don’t see the US going back on any of this, but I hope my school stay in this healthy environment with male teachers.

Last night was my school’s matura (aka graduation ceremony and prom) for my eight grade students headed to high school. I got to go and chaperone the dance. It was honestly one of the best school dances I have ever been to. I know I have only been with these eight grade students since December, but they were the students that welcomed me to Dervish Cara (the name of the school) with open arms. Their English was good enough that we could have deep conversations. They supported my English clubs and helped start the basketball teams. Their positivity and dedication inspired me. I almost cried last night because I did not want them to leave me. This school dance was interesting. It started at 2pm and finished at 10pm. It consisted of a dinner, oro/valle dancing (Albanian traditional dancing), and pop music dancing (Albanian and Ameircan) with a dj. As I ate dinner with all the first shift teachers (the junior high teachers), I realized that these will be my coworkers for the next two years. Then, I looked over that the three sections of tables filled with all the 8th grade students. These wonderful students will be leaving me for high school. I have built some great relationships with them. I am truly proud of them.Then as I stumbled with the valle for an hour with my students, I realized there is so much of their culture and their lives I will never be able to understand. Accepting that is half the battle. Two hours later, I became a “pro” at the valle. This means I wasn’t tripping over my feet or having to constantly look down at my feet hahaha.

Then, for the next three hours we jammed out to American and Albanian pop music. I showed my students my great dance moves. (Okay they are terrible…but I know how to have fun). I found myself in the middle of a circle one time where everyone sat down and cheered for me as I grooved.  These three hours it was a connection like no other. I was able to dance with ALL my students. The ones that could’t speak English and the ones that did not stop talking in English. It was a wonderful experience. I wish I could have this experience with them before they graduated because I feel like it broke down a lot of barriers. Some of the younger teachers joined me in dancing. It was fun to see how they danced and their crazy moves. That entire night I felt apart of the school community and integrated as much as an American can be in this culture.

The night before the dance I was thinking about backing out because I was tired and wanted some alone time. This “yes woman” approach has really helped me develop as a volunteer and feel apart of my community in a very different way.

Pictures:

Prilep Walk:

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My Garden!

 

 

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My cousin, sister, and me with makeup on.

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Dancing outside of the Restaurant.

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Dancing inside the venue

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My counterpart and the 5th grade teacher.

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More dancing

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