Tuesday, August 25, 2009

New pictures

I was in and out of Struga quite a lot this summer--here are some photos from my latest trip to northern Greece and Mount Athos.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Dickinson College article

There's an article about me on Dickinson's website here. Some of the information is originally from this blog and the rest is from an email interview from back in January or February. But despite the time elapsed my opinions still hold about the same.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Cultural Heritage of Struga

Here's a cool site with lots of pictures and history of Struga. There are many old images and most of the writing is available in English:


Gallery: A Struga History

An excerpt from Rebecca West's famous Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, describing her 1937 trip to Yugoslavia.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

It must be tourist season...

Today I met a native American from Peru in Struga. Dressed in a typical Inca tunic, he was selling CDs of traditional Incan music on the main bridge, along with all the other usual souvenir hawkers. I learned that he lived in Skopje, for about a year now. He spoke a little English but more Macedonian, so we conversed that way. Definitely an out-of-the-ordinary experience, for an American to meet a Peruvian in Macedonia and have to use a language that has about 2 million speakers worldwide as a lingua franca.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Ethnic tensions interminable

If you happen to be a Macedonian news junkie, you'll know that problems between the Macedonian and Albanian students in Niko Nestor High School, which I am assigned to, have flared up again and have continued for about two weeks now. Yesterday a big meeting was held with teachers, the administration, parents, students, and the Minister of Education, in which it was decided to institute ethnically divided shifts, meaning that Albanians would attend classes in the morning and Macedonians in the afternoon. Today was to be the first day of these shifts, but classes were cancelled instead. Following is a series of articles about the events of the past couple days. When I find and read articles about Struga it makes me think that I'm in the thick of these events. Yet I really am not. I'm not a full time teacher or student at the school, and I've been here in Struga for less than 2 months. Each day I learn something new about the conflict, which just points up how little I understand. As time goes on, the teachers I talk to are more candid with me, but even brief news items like these contain important information I wouldn't have gotten otherwise.

Feb. 9 - Macedonian and Albanian high school students to attend seperate classes

Feb. 10 - Separate shift classes in Struga high school
Feb. 10 - Albanian parents and teachers oppose ethnic shifts
Feb. 10 - Albanian students boycott classes in Struga'ss high school
Feb. 10 - Struga authorities urge for reversal of decision on ethnic-based high-school shifts

I hope that these articles give you a bit of an idea as to what's going on in Struga. No one knows what will happen tomorrow, much less how the issue will be resolved. For now, suffice to say that it has a years-long history and it would have been a surprise to all involved if yesterday's meeting had solved the problem.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Un update!

...but sorry, a short one. You can finally see my pictures at http://picasaweb.google.com/dvdrk625, and I will put the highlights on Facebook shortly. AND THEN I will post a real update! For now suffice to say that things are fine here in Struga, and I'm getting more comfortable in the town as time goes on.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Farewell, Romanovce: 11/1-12/7

Today ends my last full week here in Romanovce. On Friday we will have our swearing-in ceremony, and the next morning everyone goes their separate ways across the country. I am very excited to start life in what will be my home for the next two years, but at the same time I really value these last few days with the host family. Lately I have been understanding much more Macedonian and we are much less inhibited when we speak. And living with people who let me do little for myself makes life pretty relaxing. I am a tad anxious about living on my own. My independence is pretty important to me, and I find myself getting more independent even here in these last couple weeks, but this will be the most independence I've ever had for the longest period of time, and there will have to be many changes. One night last week I got ready for bed fairly early. My host mom always makes my bed but she hadn't at that point, and I started putting it together myself. My host dad walked in on me and exclaimed (as far as I gathered), "Oh, David, you're making your bed by yourself! Why didn't you go find Mama and ask her to make it for you?" I couldn't think of what to say, so I just gave a slightly confused "Da." Lyubcho responded, "Well, when you go there to Struga you're going to live on your own, right? So you need to practice how to do things by yourself. Alright then, study!" And he left.

It has been an eventful month since my previous update. I finished my practicum at the high school with a day in which I taught all of Afrim's classes on my own. I followed the typical straightforward teaching method, and it grew a bit mind-numbing after four classes. It's not hard to understand Afrim's frustrations after that, but it was good to experience it and know what I don't want to be doing for all two years. Plus it was really great to get to know Afrim and have him as a counterpart. The next weekend he took me and another volunteer on an outing that he had been talking about since the day we met, to a reservoir in the mountains called Lipkovo. It is very close by to Kumanovo, and we got to see some more of the country and some hillside villages.

The dam at Lipkovo

One Sunday evening I went to a wedding with my host parents. They had been talking about it for a week, but I had little idea what it would be. All I knew was that it would involve music and dancing. My host mom's brother acted as the kum (best man or godfather) and there was dancing and visiting all day before the actual ceremony that I didn't witness. That evening my host dad commanded me to get dressed and we drove to the old church in Kumanovo. We were there early so we went to the office and hung out with the fathers, one of whom spoke English. The wedding party then arrived and the ceremony began. It was fairly brief, and not terribly formal. Most people were dressed nicely but not everyone, and small conversations went on while the priests chanted and swung incense. A couple times people answered cell phones out loud. At the end everyone had a piece of candy and threw coins on the ground as the couple exited the church. Everyone then removed to the restaurant where the celebration was to take place, and about four times the number of people who were at the ceremony showed up. They had a live band and the guest seemed to dance the oro non-stop for all six hours or so. I joined in as well, and after about two hours I could follow the steps decently well.

The happy couple at the church

Not long after that the rest of the trainees not in the dual language program found out where their permanent placements will be, and then we all went on three-day visits to see our sites. All of us in Romanovce made our way to Skopje, and then split up: Benson and I traveled to Struga, Evan and Ree to Kichevo, and Heidi stayed in Skopje. The small bus to Struga made good time, despite the narrow curving highway through the mountains and the snow we encountered south of Gostivar.

Snow by the road to Struga

When the bus emerged from the mountains and entered the valley north of Lake Ohrid, it was foggy and raining, and we couldn't see the lake until we reached the highway right next to it. As we approached the city, Benson and I called our respective counterparts, who were to meet us and take us to our hotel. Benson's counterpart at the municipality told him to get out of the bus right then and there, while I told my counterpart we would meet at the bus station, on the same road as the high school. As it turned out we had taken a bus that doesn't stop at the bus station, and instead goes by it and then fifteen kilometers north to a nearby village. But I didn't know this as we passed the sign for the bus station, and then the bus station itself. I looked back worriedly several times, then tried asking a couple on the bus if we were going back to the bus station, using whatever Macedonian or Albanian I could think of. They asked if I spoke German but at that moment I couldn't remember any German. Finally I asked, "Struga, finished?" "Da!" they replied emphatically. I turned to another nearby passenger, asked if he understood English, and then asked where the bus was going. Labunisht, he told me. "Does Labunisht have taxis? I want to go to Struga." He told me there were taxis there, and I relaxed, anxious, however, to get off the bus and get going back so as not to keep my counterpart waiting. The bus picked up another passenger, and he learned of my plight from everyone else on board, who by now were all invested in helping me. "If you get a taxi from Labunisht, only pay them 3 euro, not 5, three!" he warned me. When the bus finally arrived in the village, the couple I had first asked got off and took me to get on the local bus back to Struga, which was arriving at just that moment. They flagged the bus down for me, opened the door, and told the driver, "You take him to Struga!" On the way there my counterpart called me twice and told me where to get out by the high school, and we finally met a few minutes later.

Daniela, my counterpart, is in her third year of teaching, and this is her second at the high school. That week she was teaching in the evening, so I was able to observe three of her classes not long after I arrived. She teaches at the vocational school, so each class is divided by profession. The first class was the medical students, who were the best behaved, the second was the chemistry students, who were fairly well behaved, and last was the architecture students, who were rather chaotic. I introduced myself to each class, and asked them if they had any questions for me. Most students were too shy or unsure of their English to say anything, but in the third class I got a number of questions about my favorite futbal team or players. A number of the students also asked me if I would hang out with them in a cafe-bar.

The next day was Tree Day, so no school, and Benson and I went to the beach by the lake and planted a tree with his counterpart and other bureaucrats from the municipality. The fog from the morning had largely lifted and we could see the other end of the lake, and the mountains looked spectacular with the freshly fallen snow laying lightly on their slopes. Next we met up with Peter, who was in his last week as a PCV in Struga. He took us to see two of the three possible apartments the Peace Corps chose for us, both in the same building close to the lake. Both were very livable--the one on the first floor has a nicer kitchen, and the one on the fourth floor has a great view. We then went with Peter to his last English club meeting at the high school, and afterwards he took us to his favorite art gallery, and introduced us to his contacts at a local NGO. We had dinner at his place with one of the current volunteers in Ohrid, and a fellow trainee, Cheryl, who will be teaching in a village close to Ohrid. It was a rather interesting and helpful day. The next day Peter took us on a short bike ride along the lake and the surrounding area. We said our farewells and thanked him profusely, and he went off to start packing up his apartment. Benson and I went to see consider the third apartment, also eminently livable. Afterwards we realized we both preferred the fourth floor apartment with the view. Before leaving for the site visit the previous week, we had joked that we might have to resort to rock-paper-scissors to decide who would get the better apartment, and now it seemed that would be the fairest way to choose. Statistics show that rock wins the most often, and I stuck to that the whole game and won. I'm pretty pleased with the outcome, but Benson will have a good place on the first floor of the same building, plus he has a much bigger fridge than me. Neither apartment has a washing machine--a problem to solve when the time comes.

On the return to Skopje all five of the Romanovce trainees met up at the train station and swapped stories about the visit. It was great to have a taste of more independence, but I was happy to go back to my host family for the final three weeks. That evening however I went with my host family on a visit for the upcoming Archangel Michael holiday, which I was in little mood for. I asked to leave around ten and we didn't get on our way until eleven. The next evening we had another visit in Kumanovo with my host mom's mother and brother, along with the couple whose wedding we went to. I was still pretty tired from the site visit and said little during the dinner. As the hour got later, I decided that we were still there at midnight, I would go lay down on the couch. Midnight came, I lay down, and was asleep until my host dad woke me to return home around two.

Since then the major events were a counterpart conference in Negotino, which my counterpart couldn't make, and then Thanksgiving. It was a huge gathering. All the trainees, two members of each host family, the language teachers and other Peace Corps staff, and all the current volunteers who could make it were there. Each training location had to put on a performance, and we went for brevity with a Thanksgiving haiku, read in Albanian, Macedonian, and English.

The day before Thanksgiving we had some unfortunate news when we learned that our fellow trainee, Ree, had decided to leave training and return to New York. We were all unhappy to see her go, but everyone recognized that it was the right thing for her. She did come to Thanksgiving and said farewell to everyone, and several of us saw her off in Skopje before her flight.

Now it is our last week in training and the end approaches swiftly. I find that I anticipate having my own place more and more as it gets closer, but there is no doubt that I will miss my host family, the other host families, our professors, and all fellow trainees. We have our last Hub Day on Wednesday, and then the swearing-in ceremony on Friday, which promises to be a big event, with members of the Macedonian government and media in attendance. The next day there will be mass movement across the country to our permanent sites. Others are already making concrete plans for visits and travel during the holiday season. I am looking forward to those, but I am going to wait until I'm a bit established to make any actual plans to travel. Except, that is, for the Presidential Inauguration--the director of Peace Corps Macedonia has invited everyone to come watch it at his house in Skopje, and I will definitely be there.

I have had a loyal ally in the glorious struggle against the chickens here in Romanovce. Her name is JJ, and as soon as she is unleashed her attack in the yard begins. Here are a few shots of her in action.