Saturday, October 22, 2005

Fun Times on the Train

Last night a big group of us went to the Skopje Jazz Festival. I was pretty excited because I love jazz and have missed this festival the past 2 years, and this was my last chance. While the two performers weren't the type of jazz any of us were expecting, it was still entertaining. Afterwards, we all went to a friend's apartment to partake in some wine that some of us won through a wine promotion at the festival. And when I say some of us, I mean everyone besides Vanessa and I- we just got sad faces on our scratch-off cards. Anyways, there's a 3:25 am train that goes back through Veles on it's way to Thesolliniki from Skopje every night, so of course we decided it'd be a great idea to hang out in Skopje till 3 am and then take the train home. Kendra and I already have some experience with this train, but it's still always a surprise. This time around, the conductor tried to charge us 160 denars (roughly 3 dollars) for a ticket, when it's usually only 80 denars. Kendra got pissed and started telling him that he was ripping us off, and while that was happening, the other conductor came by and I started talking with him. He actually showed me the price charts and everything, and somehow he was right- the tickets really were 160 denars for some crazy reason. Now, I may have had some Skopje Jazz Festival Special Edition red wine in me, but I still understood it all and it was all legit- the tickets actually were 160 denars and we were totally in the wrong for thinking we were being ripped off. But, my conductor was considerably more laid back than the one Kendra was dealing with, so I looked at him, flashed a bright smile and said, "Well, what are we gonna do?" My conductor caught my drift and told me to just give 300 denars total for all 5 of us and call it even. So, I interrupted Kendra and her conductor, who were still discussing the price of the ticket, and told him that the other conductor told us that 300 denars was just fine. Kendra's conductor conceded, took the 300 denars, and told us to keep it on the DL. So, in the end, we all had to pay just 60 denars each, which is even less than if we were paying what we thought was the real price! Score! Below is a picture of Vanessa, me and Kendra in our train cart on our way back to Veles.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Still Here!

That's right, folks, I'm still alive, but just barely. This new position as TCF has me working night and day, day and night, and everything in between. I'm working pretty hard, and it's been a little difficult to adjust to the 9-5 (more like 8-8) job schedule again. But, in a way, it's really refreshing to be so busy with such scheduled, organized things again. Plus, everyone keeps saying that it'll be like a great practice for when I go back home and have to get a real job and am expected to work these kinds of hours. So, once I get used to it again (dear lord, I hope I do!), I'll be fine.

Training itself seems to be going really well. I love the staff that I work with- they're all fabulous! The newbies are really great and super enthusiastic yet also have very realistic expectations for what's ahead for them. Many of them are also very experienced in their sectors (such as TEFL or CD), and I think that'll be a great help to those of us who are doing their technical job training. Right now they're all in what we like to call the Honeymoon Phase, where everything is fantastic and wonderful and nothing is horrible. I'm guessing that they'll hit their slump around Week 5. Any takers? But, seriously, they're a really great group of people and I'm so happy to be able to train them.

Oh, and don't worry, I've been having my fun as well. Not only have I been able to have a small taste of the nightlife here in Veles, my new home, but this weekend was especially special. During the day on Saturday, there was a Field Day held by the Peace Corps Macedonia Entertainment Committee, which is a group of MAK 9's who are committed to providing fun stuff for all us volunteers to do together in order to bond and meet each other. Let me just say, they did a fantastic job with this weekend's Field Day. There was almost 100% attendance from both the newbies and MAK 9, while MAK 8 had a measley 7 show up. But, in all fairness, everyone is very busy with wrapping up their sites and everything, and if I didn't already live in Veles, I probably wouldn't have gone. BUT, I'm so glad I did because it was such a blast! We played games such as tug-of-war, wheelbarrow race, crab-walk soccer, dodgeball, and other fun stuff. I got to be a team captain, and while our team (The Fighting Ass Kickers) placed 3rd out of 4, we still had a great time. Well done, Entertainment Committee!

Then, Kendra and I had our own fun that night at the Prodigy concert held in Skopje. That's right, the same group that did Firestarter were in Skopje last night. It was SUCH a great concert! I'm not the biggest Prodigy fan in the world, but I do like what I've heard, and seeing as live concerts like that are a little rare in Macedonia, I thought it'd be worth it to check it out. I'm really glad I did- it was an excellent concert, full of lots of sweaty jumping around and dancing. The only problem was that the only way for Kendra and I to get back to Veles that night was by the 3 am train that goes to Thessoliniki every night. So, that was a little tough- after an entire day of Field Day activities PLUS a fantastic concert, we had to roam around Skopje for a few hours and then take the super late train back. Not something I recommend to do on a regular basis, but it definitely worked out fine for us, after a small incident with a conductor who was trying to convince us that we had to pay a 3,000 denar ($60) fine for putting our feet on the seats. We took the "kill with kindness" approach, which proved successful, and we made it home by 5 am. What a night!

Less than a month and a half left, and I can't even believe it. With so much going on with work, it's hard to believe I'm ever leaving here. It's definitely a mix of emotions that range all over the place, that's for sure. But, I still have a month and a half left, and I'm gonna make the best of it!

Here are some pictures from the Field Day:

Here's me playing our nation's favorite playground pasttime...dodgeball. Notice my professional stance. Yeah, we lost that game.

Here is one fierce round of tug-of-war. We won that game, I'm sure due to the intense look on my face.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005


That's "chaos" in Macedonian, and that's a really good description of my life right now. But, it's a happy chaos, which is great. I've moved from my little Orizari and lived the life of a Skopjanka (that's Macedonian for girl from Skopje) for 10 days, which was SO much fun. Then, yesterday, we moved to Veles, which is the training site for PST. We've already hit a couple bumps with the whole moving process, but I'm confident they'll be smoothed out shortly. I've really enjoyed having a different position, no matter how much I loved teaching in Orizari, and I really like having normal 9-5 work hours again after not having them for the past 2 years. Life is definitely crazy-busy with all our planning, but I'm really enjoying the crazy-busyness of it all. I love the PST staff and think that we'll all have a blast working together for the next 2 months....and yes, ladies and gentlemen, for those of you keeping score at home, it is in exactly 2 months from today that I'll be leaving on a jet plane... But, there is SO much to do before that, so I can't even phathom the idea of actually going home. Unfortunately, with all this stuff going on, I'm gonna be a little slow on the postings, which is too bad because I'm sure I'll have tons of fun stuff to talk about, such as MAK 10's arrival (in 6 days!!), training fun, a girls-only hiking weekend on Pelister, a Volunteer Field Day, and much more stuff that I can't even begin to anticipate. SO, I really hope to post on a semi-semi-regular basis, so keep your eyes open!

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Quickish Update

So, there's a lot to report, but not too much time to do it, and I'm not sure when I'll get to update next, so I thought I'd do a quick rundown of my life, in 30 seconds:

Last week was our COS (Close of Service) Conference, where everyone from my group (who's still here) gathered and learned about how to leave. The first day was heavy on the admin stuff- and let me tell you, there is quite a lot of paperwork to be done. But, the staff tried to make it as quick and painless as possible, and you have to respect that. The second day was all about what it's going to be like to go home, and what to do when we get there. Let me just warn you all at home- apparently, I'm going to be a drifting, emotional wreck. Just thought you all should be warned. Honestly, I know it'll be an adjustment to come home, and more and more I think about what it'd be like to just hop to another international job, but the most important thing right now is for me to go home and start working a little and figure out my grad school plan and then pursue it. So, alas, I'll have to live in the states for a little while, although I have a feeling it won't be for too long....

I ended up leaving the conference a little early to pick up a very important package- my dad! He's here and I have tons of fun stories already, including the oh-so typical story of how I got from Krusevo (where our conference was) to Skopje (where my dad was). Basically, there was a mix up with the van company as to whether they were supposed to pick up me and Leanne (who also went home early) at 6 am from the hotel or not, so of course they didn't come and we were stuck at the hotel when really we needed to get to the closest city with a bus station (that would be Prilep). The next van was at 8:00, which was totally unacceptable, because I needed to get to Skopje to pick up my dad, and the 8:00 van wouldn't get me there in time. So, the people at the front desk started calling anyone who they knew was awake at 6:00 am. Nobody could drive us because they were either going to work or their car wasn't registered. So, the security guard is pulling us around, trying to find someone with a car who will take us to Prilep. It was really sweet of him, and he did feel bad, even though it wasn't his fault- it was the van company's. Anyways, so we're walking around, trying to find some guy with a VW Golf who drives very quickly and "will save us" as the security guard said. But, we didn't need the Golf guy, because miraculously, a van headed towards Prilep drove up right next to us and we jumped in, even though there wasn't supposed to be another van for another hour. SO, we made it to the Prilep bus station with plenty of time and I made it to Skopje with time to spare, thank goodness.

There are other fun stories and adventures that we've already had, including running out of gas while driving up the mountains in Zrnovci with my friend, Kristin, and her host father, Toso. It ended with us pushing his 8 foot-long car into a 20 point turn on a 9 foot-wide path. Good times. It's been amazing to have someone from home here, especially my dad, and we've been having a great time visiting all the locals and my host family. Tomorrow we're headed to Skopje, then Ohrid, and then on Friday he takes off and I immediately move to Skopje later that afternoon. Then, it's Skopje for a week, then moving to Veles for the last 2 months. It looks like I'll be living with the two other volunteers who are doing the same job as me, Kendra and Shaun, and I have to say I'm pretty excited because I think they're both pretty cool cats, and I think we'll have great times living together. Plus, it just makes sense, seeing as we'll be working together. So, hopefully good times ahead in Veles.

And really, that's it. I have a feeling this time is going to completely fly by, and suddenly I'll be home again, reading and re-reading my journal entries and being amazed that it all happened so quickly. Speaking of quick, this update was supposed to be a little quicker than this. So, this will be it for a while, but I'm sure I'll have lots more fun stories about my dad's visit here as well as the beginnings of my new job, so stay tuned!

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Good Times in Bulgaria

I completely forgot to talk about my trip! Bulgaria was amazing- I had such a great time just relaxing on the beach. I stayed with a Peace Corps Bulgaria Volunteer, Lise, who was a fantastic hostess! She lives in Burgas, which is on the coast of the Black Sea. It's a pretty large city of about 200,000 and isn't really considered as a big tourist place because it has an oil refinery. But, that's where everyone else is wrong- Burgas is a great city and has tons to do, some great restaurants, and some really great beaches! Plus, because everyone thinks that it's not a good place to go, the beaches aren't packed at all! There are tons of cute little seaside villages along the coast, so I took a few day trips to some of those and enjoyed their beaches as well. I probably clocked more time laying on the beach in that one week than I have in my entire life combined! And some very fun sunbathing it was ;) On the last night, Lise took me to a bar in Burgas where one of her favorite bands were playing. They're called Lora, and they're basically a rock band that does a lot of great covers of American songs from the 90's (Coldplay, No Doubt, Alanis Morissette, U2). It was SUCH a great time. The band was amazing and the bar was really small, so we got to stand really close to the band and jump around, sing, and dance all night long. There were almost a few moshing-induced catastrophes, but we left the bar at 3 am unscathed, but really sweaty from all the dancing. It was a fantastic way to end my trip. All in all, it was SUCH a relaxing trip and just what I needed before the big haul to the end!

And, here we are at the big haul. Things are getting pretty crazy, and I'm just trying to keep up with it all. I've got lots of packing to do still for my move to Veles, not to mention our Close-of-Service Conference next week, and dad comes!!!! That's right- exactly a week from tomorrow, my dad will be gracing this lovely country with his presence. I can't wait to show him around everywhere and introduce him to everyone. It's going to be absolutely fabulous. Then, the day he leaves, I leave my little village, my beautiful Orizari, and head to Skopje for a week for some planning and training of my own, then Veles. It'll be a crazy last couple of months, that's for sure!

This is part of the beach in Burgas where I spent a lot of my time. And a man in a Speedo. Yes, this happens a lot in Europe.

Something I Won't Miss From Macedonia....

With my time here dwindling down to less than 3 months, I've done a lot of thinking about the things I'm going to miss when I leave. And believe me, the list is quite hefty. This, however, is something that I'll never miss. This is a Turkish Toilet. I had no idea these existed until I came here, but I got to know them as soon as I stepped off the plane when I arrived here almost 2 years ago. A few of us had to use the bathroom in the airport, so we made our way to the bathroom and as I opened the stall door, I stared at something very similar to this picture and said outloud, "What the crap is this?" One of the other volunteers was like, "Oh, it's a Turkish Toilet." Needless to say, I've gotten pretty cozy with quite a few Turkish Toilets in my 2 years here, as they frequent bus stations, restaurants, and cafes. I've definitely mastered the technique of successfully using one and not getting unwanted substances on my clothes (ladies- skirts work best). I've even had conversations with other volunteers about the places with the best Turkish Toilets (a restaurant called El Pida in Kocani wins so far). So, as sad as it makes me to think of things I'll miss, I can't help but get a little excited about not having to face these anytime in the near future...

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Fun With Acronyms

As many of you know, Peace Corps is all about acronyms (even more than at Valpo, if you can believe it). I've explained some of them to some of you, but I figured I'd let you all in on the acronym fun. So, below is a list of acronyms that are commonly used in Peace Corps and ones that I'll be using a lot more once I start my new position in September. Remember to take notes, as there will be a test at a later date:

PC= Peace Corps. That one's simple enough.
PCT= Peace Corps Trainee. This is the title given to volunteers during their training. They then become:
PCV= Peace Corps Volunteer. After 3 months of training, there is a swearing-in ceremony where all PCTs become PCVs.
PST= Pre-Service Training. This is the 3 months of training that all trainees receive before starting their work in their country. During these 3 months, they all live with host families in both small and large communities. Five or six trainees will live in the same community and attend daily language classes and other training sessions together.
LCF= Language and Cultural Faciliator. These are basically our language teachers during PST. They live in the communities with the PCTs and give them their daily language classes as well as serve as a cultural facilitator, helping PCTs adjust to their new surroundings.
HCN= Host Country National. It's the what we call all natives citizens, regardless of ethnicity.
TCF= Technical and Cultural Facilitator. This is what I'm going to be. TCFs train the PCTs in their field of work, in my case, teaching English. They also serve as cultural facilitators and will probably be a sounding board for all cultural frustrations that the PCTs have.
MAK 10= The name of the group of newbies who are coming. We all come in groups and are numbered in the order that we come. I'm in MAK 8
TEFL= Teaching English as a Foreign Language. One of the three sector in which we work here in Macedonia. In case you all forgot, it's my sector as well. Pretty self-explanitory, but we all work in schools, either primary or secondary. Most of us team teach with other native teachers, but now a new law has been passed that allows foreigners to teach on their own, so more volunteers will be responsible for starting English language programs in schools that don't have them.
EEM= Environmental Education and Management. The second of the three sectors, and unfortunately the smallest. Most of these volunteers work in Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) that focus on the environment, although they could also work in schools to help the environmental education.
MUN/NGO= Municipality and Non-Governmental Organization. The last of the sectors. There are a few volunteers who are working with local municipalities, although the chunk of them are working with NGOs.

Below are a few pics from my 2nd camp in Mavravo:

Here's a view of the lake at sunset from right outside the hotel.

This is most of the group at this really cool ampitheatre in Galicnik, which is this awesome little village near Mavravo.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Back from Camp-o-rama

Yes, I have returned. What a crazy couple of weeks it's been! It'd take me years to explain everything that's happened, so I'll just give everyone the Reader's Digets version:

Camp GLOW was fantastic. It went much smoother than I anticipated, which was a huge relief. We only had 4 no-shows, and out of 60 girls, that's pretty good. The place we stayed at was nice, and all of the sessions seemed to go really smoothly. Some of the girls' favorite sessions were the yoga session they had with one of the counselors and a self defense class that we had with a special guest volunteer. For the rest of the week, they were practicing their "NO!"s, and it was awesome. The camp was mixed ethnicities, and we made it a point to mix all of the girls in their rooms and small groups so that they weren't with anyone from their own community. The defining moment for me was during our Tolerance and Appreciation day, when one of the Macedonian girls told us that she'd never met an Albanian before, and that the night before, she and her Albanian roommate stayed up all night talking about the differences between their religions and cultures. I looked around and saw a lot of girls nodding in agreement, confirming that they had done the same thing. It just made me so happy to hear that, because one of the main goals of GLOW for me is to promote inter-ethnic understanding. So many of these girls grow up listening to their parents' stereotypes and prejudices, and they just assume that they're correct. Here they had a chance to actually meet someone of a different ethnicity, and I think some long-lasting friendships were made. It was really amazing.

Another really funny moment happened on the last night during our Goodbye Party. There were some boys outside our conference room, not really causing any trouble, but definitely wanting to meet some of our girls. They would talk with any of the girls who went outside, but other than that, they weren't really doing anything, so I just let them stay. Anyways, at the end of the night when it was time for the girls to head to bed, I asked them to kindly ignore the boys outside because they really did need to get up to bed to sleep. So, as they all exited the party room, they started chanting "Boys are toys!" I swear I didn't teach them that, but it was hilarious to witness.

So, after GLOW, I had a day at home to unpack and then repack for my other camp, which was just your basic English camp. It was like a vacation for me- 20 kids, 3 days was no problem. I mean, we did have a lot of fun, and we were in a gorgeous location- Mavravo, a cute little village in the mountains that has its own man-made lake. It made me realize how much I really miss living near a body of water. But, less than 4 months to go, and then I'll be back home, near many many lakes.

Now what? Well, I've got a week back here in Orizari, and then I'm taking off for vacation. It's been quite a busy month for me, so I'm really looking forward to some nice R&R. I'm going with another volunteer to Burgas, Bulgaria, which is located right on the Black Sea. We'll be staying with a Peace Corps Bulgaria volunteer, so that saves me a lot of money. I just plan on laying on the beach all week with a nice book. After that, I've got a few weeks to prepare for the BIG VISIT- my dad's coming out here for a week!!! I'm excited beyond words. It'll be fantastic. After that, I'll be headed to Skopje to train for my new position for a week, and then the newbies will be here. Then, two months of training them, then.....HOME!!!!! :)

Here are some of the girls cutting out pictures to put on their Happy Thoughts Jar
Here's a rousing game of The Human Knot that we played outside.
This is the building where we had most of our sessions.

Katica, Marilyn and Zorica show off their newly made tie-dye t-shirts.

Here's Kristin, my cohort in GLOW crimes, and I making our friendship bracelets for our Secret Friends. Who says we can't enjoy the camp fun too?

And last but not least, the group picture, taken right before we jumped on the busses and headed home.