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.
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.
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.