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

Friday, March 10, 2017

Roadtrip to Greece

"..................uhhh Ohrid!" Boban

          A few weeks back some coworkers, friends and I went to Veria/Veroia Greece to see the city and visit Philip II's tomb in Vergina. It was a nice day trip out of Ohrid and to a new spot.  One of the other teachers organized a van so we could head at our leisure. I was really looking forward to this day trip not only because of the historical sites we'd see but also to experience a road trip Macedonian style!  
          So we started off early around 7ish and immediately headed out.  The driver, Tomi, was a chatty fellow and went through the standard introduction questions with everyone in the van.  Later on I would hear him ask Natasha, the one who organized the van, who I was and why I was there. When he asked if I knew Macedonian I waited until we had a pit stop and then talked about the ride so far. He got the hint. 
          He also had a few intense conversations with my counterpart and colleagues on gender roles, current politics and his job. The poor guy just wasn't prepared for the backlash his comments created. I couldn't follow everything, the grammar and vocabulary was highly educated, but it was hilarious listening to them all go at it. Yet, this is the Balkans so after 10-15 minutes of silence the small talk would start back up again and everyone would move on. It's one of the most positive attributes of Balkan culture. 

6:30 am dumpster fire. 
The obligatory van group selfie.
          We were quickly at the border and I immediately noticed two things. First, everyone but me had a single sheet of paper ready. Second, I was the only one who wasn't making jokes about being refused entry to Greece.  See, Greece doesn't recognize the name Macedonia as a country, only F.Y.R.O.M, and won't accept Macedonian passports. The border guards also enjoy asking Macedonians where they're going as the real Macedonia is in Greece.  So you can imagine my slight embarrassment as the border guard checked and rechecked my passport. He was confused why an American was with a bunch of Macedonians and had passport stamps from Muslim, Balkan and Western European countries!  Think about the absurdity of this for a moment. First, Macedonians can't use their passport when traveling to their neighbor country. Second, they had to convince the border guard I was a coworker.  It was embarrassing that my status as an American caused a problem instead of solving one.
The geography is a bit different from Ohrid.
You might be able to barely spot the wind mills on the Greek mountain tops. 
          Once we were through the border we had a pit stop in Edessa and Tomi wanted us to see a waterfall. Not just any waterfall but one that's only flowing in the winter. It was very cool. 

Again you can only see this in the winter because of the snow in the mountains. For a video go to my Instagram page.  @LoganMonday
If you can't read the text it says, "Great and wonderful are Thy deeds O Lord God  the Almighty! Who shall not fear and glorify Thy name o Lord?" 
In the cave underneath the waterfall. 
Behind the waterfall.
Half group selfie. 
It was quite powerful I can only imagine how powerful Niagara Falls is.
          We continued on to Vergina, Greece for the purpose of our visit, seeing King Philip II tomb.  The tomb was discovered 40 years ago and is buried underground. It was quite interesting going inside, I don't have pictures of the artifacts for those click here.  Honestly, I was taken aback by the excellent craftsmanship of the suits of armor, jewelry and accessories found in the tombs. For example look at this golden royal wreath:

I examined this for a while, it was flawless. *
Philip II was 5'11, 156cm, which was quite tall 23 centuries ago. The shield was massive, it must've weighed 55lbs, 25kg. Imagine carrying that for months on end. Well his servants did. *
          Truly, the other artifacts were just as astounding. Again click here to see them.

The old symbol of Macedon and the original symbol in the first flag of Macedonia.
Thank goodness for the English because it's all Greek to me.
Outside the tomb. 
The entrance.
King Philip II's tomb.
Macedonian wine for the former king of Macedon.
Nazdravje! Cheers!
I felt quite comfortable wearing this. Just needed the armor and shield. 
          Next we headed to Veria and the Byzantine Museum. Click here for the exhibit. 
The museum had been rebuilt after a fire. The large steel beams in the foreground were put there after the fire as a memorial. The fire was so hot it bent the steel. Unbelievable.
Seeing the old Jewish Quarter.
Lunch time. 
The lunch was fantastic. 
On the Greek side of the border there was a large grocery outlet store that had products from all over. I bought a Chilean wine for three Euro. Ahhh it was delicious. 
The last of the several smoke and kafe breaks. Macedonians travel far but not fast. It takes some adjusting but once I did, I've come to really enjoy it. 
          Ok, some funny points from the trip:

  • Boban did a good navigating us around but at one point we did stop to make sure we were on the right track. An elderly Greek woman walked by and he said, "Excuse me, hi." in English. Everyone in the van lost it. There was no way she knew English but that's his third language so he gave it a shot. 
  • Once we were through laughing Julia gets out of the car and gets directions from a guy, in Greek, without skipping a beat. That's language number six I've heard her speak fluently in. Remarkable. 
  • All day Boban had told everyone not to say we were from Macedonia. So at the Byzantine Museum he walks up to the guide who asks, "Where are you from? One second passes, two then three and Boban finally says, "Ohrid!" I'm laughing now just remembering his face torn in confusion over what he should say. We all laughed about it at lunch. 
          As the day went on it slowly dawned on me that I'm finished in three months. Listening to everyone in the van but especially at lunch it truly hit me.  The fact is I will leave, I will get a job elsewhere and people will always recognize my country. For nearly my entire service Macedonia has been in a political crisis without a functioning government. My colleagues don't know if they'll be paid from month to month and if they are it's always been late by days or weeks. My success as a volunteer is in part because of their patience and guidance.  Seeing how they persevere despite those setbacks has lit a fire in me. I no longer take our constitution, our institutions, our individualism for granted.  But before I come home we've got an English Room to finish. More on that in a few weeks.

*Used from the museum's website.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Returning to Lakocerej

"Trust is the glue of life. It's the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It's the foundation principle that holds all relationships."  Stephen Covey

          It's been busy since returning from my visit home and I'm not going to go through everything since then but I am gonna share a couple of highlights. However before doing so one thing that's helped me get right back into the swing of life here was the fact I did have a long break back home. When I returned I discovered my Macedonian had actually improved! I suppose I just needed some time away to relax and let my brain settle in.  I've been focusing on getting to know the new Volunteers that were placed in or around Ohrid and Struga, continued to work with YMLP Struga and really soak in my remaining time here in my village and Ohrid. 
          The new Volunteers around my area are level headed, mature and a lively group. They're working very hard to settle in and I'm enjoying getting to know them. I keep reminding them to not be frustrated about their language skills and to just keep practicing.  It isn't easy but that's one of the challenges of being a Peace Corps Volunteer.  That also ties into my work at YMLP Struga. Since the departure of one of the Mak 19's, YMLP Glow hasn't had an official mentor. That's now changing with a new Mak 21 Volunteer deciding to pick up the torch of mentorship.  However, I wanted to have my guys do a couple of events with the girls to endorse more cooperation between YMLP and GLOW Struga. So I asked another volunteer to come and do a self-sefense session with both groups, separately, that went really well.  We also had a combined session with GLOW Struga on Masculinity & Femininity about stereotypes that was attended by all of the Volunteers in the area.  
          It was led by my fellow Mak 19 extende Alex. The session was on how socially strict gender roles aren't necessarily healthy or true. For example men can cook and be good at it. Girls can successfully play sports, lead and feel sexy. Again, Eastern Europe is very traditional so a session that can seem obvious to many isn't necessarily the case here.  I made sure to keep quiet during the session but once Alex was finished decided to share my experience of being labeled by a stereotype in the Peace Corps. 
          I said, "I'm white, male and Southern. Since joining the Peace Corps I've been called by other Volunteers a racist, sexist and misogynist. I was told those things without people knowing who I was, my background nor my family. Being told those things didn't stop me from participating in the  YMLP camps, nor did they prevent me from starting YMLP Struga or working with GLOW Struga. There will always be people that try and label you. In those moments you find out your character. You reveal how THEY really are because they're judging you without knowing your character or talents. Never forget that and be you."
          The following day I was back in Struga for a joint session with the Ohrid/Struga Mak 21's and  their host families.  It's a new program designed to talk about cultural differences and to do activities to show what everyone does have in common. I was happy to participate so I could continue to learn more about the new volunteers and share a lesson or two from my experience.
          Immediately after that I returned home and was surprised to see that my host family was having a Sunday dinner!  So I sat down and started chatting with everyone. It was Goce's sister and her family who I hadn't seen since before the summer and they were clearly quite surprised that I was comfortably conversing with them.  Five hours later we had talked about life in Yugoslavia, their relatives in America, growing up in Lakocerej, what school was like and even a few local ghost stories. Daniella had to translate a bit with some of the older, and village, vocabulary but it flowed nicely.  It was an incredibly stark difference from when I first met them as I could barely describe how old I was much less anything else.

          Some things I've learned:
  • Older men with beards have grown them because a relative passed away. The mourning period is 40 days.
  • I really seem to have earned the trust of my villagers and neighbors. For example one man has me read his mail to make sure he's not being scammed.  Another example is how many women of all ages say hi, or small talk, with me. It seems that they all know who I am, my work at the school and that they can chat with me without people thinking something nefarious is going on. 
  • It's been a chilly winter. I'm quite confident in my fire starting, and wood organizing, skills and I've exercised a lot indoors. 
  • Going to work has always been enjoyable, if difficult at times, but it's really fun now. The kids really are comfortable with me and vice versa. The ninth grade started a clothing donation drive just from a lesson we did on Fashion and it's reliance on sweatshops. 
  • Ohrid is wonderful after Old New Year to Easter. Absolutely zero tourists are here so it's just us locals. I've enjoyed it immensely. 
  • There are days that are extremely difficult not because of the language but because you see how life isn't moving forward for most Macedonians. I know I will finish my contract and leave but for many that isn't an option. After becoming close with so many people it's continuously a true punch in the gut but motivates me more to be as fully engaged with everyone as I possibly can. 

Rainbow in Struga after our joint YMLP/GLOW session.
The boys enjoyed Scott's self-defense class. We talked about verbal disengagement, situational awareness and few self-defense exercises. 
Making sure English is fun not a bore. 
I really enjoy chatting with our school's handyman, Naumche. He's a true mechanical genius, has very interesting stories from his army days and is hysterical.
When your friend in the band makes the reservations, just roll with it.
The guys can really jam. Listening to them takes me back to live shows in Nashville, they're that good. 
Grading quizzes.
Ahhhh a kafana filled with locals, it warms the heart.
Clothes for the donation drive our ninth graders created.
Most days I'm either a tree or a spotter but usually both. 
Finally a warm day to sit by the lake.

Walking Bruno requires a harness not a leash. 
          Lastly, since the Lakocerej World Map project is completed we've immediately moved on to our next project, the Lakocerej English Room.  It's part of a SPA Grant, small projects assistance program, that my counterpart and I applied for and was approved in December. It's one of the reasons I extended and you're going to see a post about it in the near future. We're building a new room, equipped with a laptop, three in one printer, projector and usb's for file sharing along with a few lessons on teaching methodology. Personally, I want it to be used not only for media viewing but for students just to go and read in.  It will be practical, elegant and multi-purpose. More on that later though.