Things my father taught me.

My Dad was a pretty incredible guy! He didn’t have any sons and was surrounded by a houseful of women.  Poor guy!  But I am constantly reminded of things he taught us.

I can grill a steak to perfection thanks to him. I know how to make sure the fire is just the right temperature and then I cook it to the perfect level of deliciousness–rare of course. Anything else is criminal. And rare steaks are as uncommon as a three dollar bill in this  country.

Don’t talk with food in your mouth/close your mouth when you are chewing. I am reminded of this on a daily basis. It doesn’t seem to happen here. Of course, I know many people who try to talk with food in their mouth in the states, also, but this is just unbelievable and incredibly disgusting.

Don’t speak unless spoken to. I went to a meeting today where everyone was talking at once. I walked out of there with raging headache. How do they do it? One person at a time please. And this went on for over an hour.

Be on time. Nothing starts at the appointed time here. 0900 means 0930. I was warned of this during PST and I knew that it would drive me crazy. 0900 to me usually means be there at 0845. I’m just that way.

So, thanks, Poppy, for teaching me manners.


Macedonia and the Migrant Crisis

Many of you are beginning to see reports in the media about the migrant crisis in Macedonia. About two months ago, the government agreed that migrants could have 72 hours to transit through the country and they could also use public transportation conveyances. Since then,  the numbers transiting through the  country have increased dramatically. It is making it difficult to handle.

Most media continue to carry prominent reports and reactions on the situation with refugees.  The most recent online media reports say that the first 1,000 migrants that transited through Macedonia under the new system they have put in place at the border have reached Hungary through Serbia.   
All media quote Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz, who met with Macedonian Foreign Minister Nikola Poposki in Skopje yesterday, underlining his statement that the EU must help Macedonia through a coordinated response to the refugee crisis.  “By my visit today I wish to urge Brussels to consider not leaving Macedonia and Serbia alone with this problem, but rather helping them.  It is very problematic that refugees are coming from an EU country, namely from Greece, into nonEU country. We have created a system without borders in the EU, which means that the EU’s outer border should be securebut now we see Greece letting migrants go to Macedonia, which is unacceptable. I therefore, appeal for a stronger cooperation between the EU and Greece and Greece and Macedonia,” he said.  He added that Austria has a five-point plan for resolving the crisis, which he will present at the Western Balkans conference on Thursday in Vienna.  He believes the plan will also be discussed at the EU Summit in October.   Media also report that he joined Interior Minister Mitko Cavkov and toured the refugee camp near Gevgelija.  
Some media quote the President of the European Commission Jean- Claude Juncker saying in a recent op-ed in French Figaro that there is no need for a new EU summit on immigration.  He underlines that the member states should rather stop dragging their feet and implement the existing measures in their territories.
Some media quote French FM Laurent Fabius saying that the migrant crisis in Macedonia should be resolved without delay.  He announced that EU foreign and interior ministers will address the issue of the increasing number of migrants coming to EU countries through Macedonia.
Vest cites UNHCR call to the EU to consolidate their positions in addressing the current migrant crisis after the chaotic scenes over the weekend in Greece, Macedonia and Serbia.  UNHCR also criticized Greece for not registering the migrants before letting them into Macedonia, Vest reports.
In its report, Sloboden Pecat notes that Russian Ambassador to Serbia visited a refugee center yesterday and commended Serbia for its human approach to handling the crisis.  He called the refugee surge an Arab Autumn – a continuation of the Arab Sprig, which has returned as a boomerang to those who started it, the paper reports.
And, of course, the media is continually covering this issue. Volunteers are doing whatever they can to lessen the problems these migrants may encounter. It is a very sad situation  and  one that we as volunteers in service pay very close attention. We have seen these migrants walking along the highways carrying their possessions and carrying their children. Some are on bicycles. I don’t know the answer but hopefully they can soon figure it out as the EU countries are becoming swamped by the hopeful refugees looking for a better life. At some point they will not be able to accept anymore as they will have exhausted the capacity of the countries helping.

Grace is not my middle name

Summer is basically over. It is time to go back to school. Unfortunately we don’t have a schedule yet and I understand that we may not until the end of September. And this isn’t just happening here but all over the country. And it drives me crazy. I crave organization and well planned programs. Chaos is anathema to me.  However, it works for the people here and so I’m trying to let go of my needs and go with the flow. Not easy!

So to make it easier, Susie and I decided to take a trip to Berovo and rest for a long weekend. We were just going to read, watch movies, go for walks and just relax. We selected the Hotel Manastir for the exorbitant price of €40 per night! And that included breakfast! And we did exactly as planned. It rained most of Saturday so that is when we stayed in and read. Sunday we walked all over town and found the church of St. Michael the Archangel–it is part of the hotel complex! The meals were amazing and the staff was incredible. We each got a massage which cost us a whole €10. The massage was a bit different than I’m used to. First, it is a masseur and not a masseuse. He steps out of the room and says, tell me when you are ready. I’m used to stripping down and then getting under a sheet. Ummm–there is only a towel here and it is not beach towel size! So I strip down and get on the table and finally figure out that the towel is just to cover my buns. Okay, I’m ready!  And, oh, he was wonderful. Only the back side got massaged but oh, did my body need it.  I began to realize how much I miss Ashley! When he was done and I got off the table I felt like a new woman!

So it was now time to check out but we have a couple of hours to kill before our bus so we are going to go sit on the patio and enjoy our Schweppes. Huge mistake! Susie, how about that table over in the corner overlooking the playground? Sure. I decided to sit on the back side of the table. As I made my way back there I made a very critical mistake. I didn’t notice that there were three steps behind the table and managed to tumble down them and landed face down on the flagstone floor. Fortunately for me, at the next table was an orthopedic surgeon/professor. He was at my side so fast it wasn’t funny–checking me to see what I had broken. I was so shaken that  I felt that I was physically going to be ill. He managed to get me up in my chair and totally checked me out. He cleaned and bandaged all of the abrasions on my hand, elbow and foot. Miraculously my knee was fine. When I told him I had just seen my orthopedist earlier last week, he just rolled his eyes. He was sure I must have fractured my patella. But there was no evidence of knee damage. All of the good work done by the masseur was wiped out in one clumsy step. The doctor said I managed to make that fall in slow motion. He had never seen anything quite like it. I was just trying to regain my balance and failed miserably. So , what were the total damages?  A very sore left side that made it difficult to sleep, abrasions and a horribly bruised ego–but absolutely nothing broken! The doctor told me I should go over to the church and pray because I must have had an angel watching over me! Nope–not me! I’m going to be looking for another massage very soon.

So much for our weekend of relaxation. But we did have a wonderful time. And as a bonus, after the drama of Eileen “Grace” Swinehart taking a nose dive was just a memory I saw a man walking in to the area that looked familiar. Hmmm–that is Zoran Zaev–leader of the opposition party and those  guys on either side of him are carrying concealed weapons (they don’t hide real well under a t-shirt!). He sat down at the table next to us, talked to a couple of people and then got up and drove off with his body guards in his big black Audi!

Next up?  Information about the migrant crisis.


The rest of the story

There was so much more to camp than you can possibly imagine.  I think the young women who attended the camp got a lot out of it and didn’t mind too much that they lost one  day of camp.  But the staff was another story.  It, of course, started with the  suitcase episode and progressed from there. The NGO had no intention of teaching a single class they had committed to  and expected to be treated like royalty.

The PCV leadership staff consists of six people. A senior and junior programming coordinator, a senior and junior communications coordinator and a senior and junior sustainability coordinator. First glitch: the senior communications coordinator left service early and so  was not available for camp. However, she had trained her junior well. So now our team is down to five people along with a Host Country National (HCN) who is  to work with the counseling staff. We don’t see much of her as she is working with the campers and their counselors and leaving administrative stuff to the five of us. Programming is committed to making sure that classes happen and that campers are getting what  we promised.  Communications needs to take pictures, handle phone calls from parents, call parents for sick campers, coordinate all camp programs, make sure needed classroom equipment is functioning. Sustainability gets everything else–buying and stocking supplies, handing out supplies, managing the snack store, all logistics–toilet needs a plunger, room is too hot, water is not any good–go buy enough for 120 people. We also have to track all  expenses and do a complete inventory of everything we have. In the middle of all this, the printer refuses to work so we have to go out to get prints of handouts for classes and put money on phones because we are all using up all of our credit and we can’t  afford to be  out of touch–especially with this “epidemic” on our hands.

Senior programming coordinator Grace is outstanding! She is continually in action and everyone loves her. However, her junior coordinator became basically a no  show. She was good at  leading songs at meal time but that was all she did! She complained about the food and did nothing but whine about the limited internet access. She had to leave the building to get it. Guess what, we all did  but that was a chance for us to take a break. Apparently she wanted to talk to her boyfriend all the time. And she was notably absent from the office. Our assumption was that she was attending classes. Nope! We’d pop in our room to get something and she would be asleep in there or reading her kindle. And when asked if she would lead the evening meeting, her  response was “I’d rather not.” Now programming is the lead coordinator on this project so she needs to be ready to lead at a moment’s notice. And because we had  to let an instructor go at the last minute she needed to step in to teach those classes. Nope! Grace ended up doing it. And when she showed up for a meeting, if it was scheduled to be over at 10.15 she just got up and left without saying a word to anyone at 10.15 I’ve never seen a poorer example of leadership. She refused to be part of the “nursing squad” and went to bed. “I don’t do sick people.” We don’t want you to “do” sick people we just want someone to make sure there are no emergencies. Sit outside the room! She actually commented to one of the counselors that is her “friend” that if she could have, she would have left the second day of camp. As it was, when we closed camp, everyone was told they could leave if they wanted or stay behind and relax. She and her friend were the only ones to leave. She wasn’t even there for the debrief with PC staff.

Now let’s move to the medical personnel. She’s young and pregnant. She has barely finished medical school. We also have a psychologist who is 24 years old and is walking around in her Daisy Duke type shorts. First order of business–no short shorts or halter tops. We must set the example for these young women. Next we had the water issue. It really frustrated me. Do you really believe that a very expensive private school would be permitted to operate if the water was unsafe to drink? But we did as requested and came back with about 100 liters of water. That is a lot of water!  The doctor is still insisting that the girls are getting sick because of the water. And we are generating a huge amount of waste with these bottles. The doctor continually requested medications for the girls and was taking them to the clinic in Tetovo for “infusions” of vitamins. Once she decided it was a virus she started handing out antibiotics. Umm, I think those don’t work on viruses–only bacterial infections, but then I’m not a doctor so what do I know? I really think  they tend to overmedicate in this country. And when the doctor was gone, the psychologist was dispensing medications per her instructions over the phone. An absolute No-No! But now we are running out of water. Stacie, bless her heart, suggests we collect the empty bottles and go to the local well and fill up the bottles. The school had one of the drivers take her to the well and they filled up probably 15 jugs. But this still was not good enough for the doctor. However, by now, we have had a number of girls taken to the clinic and the health department has been notified of the epidemic at Wilson School. In  come the people in white coats.  The first piece of good news is that we have clean  water. It is perfectly safe to drink. However, they recommend that we have hand sanitizer all over he place.  I stand at the beginning of the chow line and squirt everyone with hand sanitizer before letting them get their food. All of this education and commitment to social justice and I’m reduced to hand squirter.  We do what we have to do.

Then we have a couple of the counselors–actually just one, who stays up half the night and then sleeps away the day. Fortunately each group has two counselors so there is someone to be with the girls at all times. When the counselor is forced to come to a meeting, she falls asleep and has to be told to wake up multiple times. I don’t think she will be back next year.

And then we find out that the NGO has been pilfering some of our “in kind” donations.  A popular snack company in the country gave us cookies, chips, candy, snack items, cereal, pudding and soup.  At the end of the week, the kitchen put the left overs out for us to take with us. Hmmmm. What happened to the pudding and the soup? It was never served nor was it in the “leftovers”. That is when we found out that they had been taking boxes up to their room. And, of course, they very conveniently departed while we were in our debrief meeting so we couldn’t monitor what they were taking home with them.

Truly a camp story for the ages.



Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World)

Aye chihuahua! I don’t even know where to begin. Warning: THIS WILL  BE A LENGTHY POST SO KICK BACK WITH A DRINK AND RELAX. To say it was a unique experience is an understatement. So I’ll just start at the beginning. Camp was held at Woodrow Wilson School in Tetovo. It is an all English school and boarding school for those that need sleeping accommodations.  The dormitory is on the 4th floor (3rd floor European) and very few rooms are air conditioned. Fortunately for staff one of the large eight bed rooms had clima so we  at least slept in comfort. There is no AC anywhere else in the building.GLOW 2015

When I arrived at 11.30, the lead coordinator (Grace) was the only person there and just as I arrived,  the Peace Corps van pulled up with our supplies. So Grace, Boris and I unloaded the van in the noon day sun.  The temperature was at least 35°. (That’s 95° for you Fahrenheit users). We were dripping wet by the time we got them inside the building. The next step was to get them all up to the 3rd floor (2nd floor European) from the first floor (ground floor European) and there is NO elevator. It is  twenty steps between each floor. Grace and I  carried the light things up but decided that when the others arrived, they could bring up the  rest. We were exhausted and that was one hour into camp. The rest of the leadership team finally arrived at 2 PM and after being shown the room we would be sharing, they were immediately put to work taking boxes up the stairs. We had our meeting, set up an office and then all showered. There was only one shower in our room but we had 36 others to pick from so everyone was quickly ready to go to  dinner at our favorite restaurant: Bakal Restaurant and Bakery . We had a wonderful dinner and some wine. After dinner we stopped to buy some toilet paper as the school was providing neither TP or towels, ( we have all  learned to  travel with a pack or two of tissues with us in a pocket or purse) and then we headed back and worked for another couple of hours assigning rooms, collecting keys and clima remote controls.

The rest of the staff started arriving on Wednesday morning. Training was to start at 1 PM so leadership had to have it’s act together. We had been taking bets as to whether or not our partner NGO (non governmental organization–the global term for non-profit) would send a representative and how long they would stay. We knew that at least one person would have to show up today as they had to pay the school a 50% deposit on the food. Well……….about 2 PM, they arrived: Three of them demanding to be shown their rooms so they could “freshen up” and they wanted private rooms. Well, we had tentatively planned on  one person and had assigned her a roommate. This now changed the picture.  The most vocal of the three, Gordana, insisted she had sent us an email telling us this and that she would be leaving on Tuesday-the 28th and that Ljatife would replace her. Ljatife would be making daily trips to camp until she arrived to stay on Tuesday. So Alanna (my counterpart) headed upstairs to scope out the rooms. There are no private rooms. I indicated they should follow me up the stairs. Halfway up the first flight, Gordana said, “Eileen, aren’t you going to carry our bags?” I turned around and gave her a WTF look and said no. I had carried 50 boxes up these steps and my own suitcase and I’m 67 years old! I was shocked! (And believe it or not, they complained to PC that I had not carried it. PC said there was no requirement for the PCV’s to wait on her.) So she turned around and gave her suitcase to  her assistant who also had her own suitcase. When we finally got up there we decided on the room furthest away from us would be ideal! But in the mean time, her left breast (boob) has fallen out of her top. TMI! It was all we could do to keep a straight face. Alanna tried to talk to Gordana about the arrangements and Gordana said, she thought she deserved a little more respect because she was 46 years old and they (the NGO) were putting this camp on. Alanna lost it and snapped at her that she might get some respect if she would quit treating her like a child. Alanna is the calmest, sweetest person you will ever meet, so when she snapped, I stepped in and tried to play diplomat and told them I would get them a fan and that I had turned on the switch to their hot water tank so they should have hot water very soon. Also, I would get them some TP but please do not flush TP down the toilet, it will automatically clog. Anything to divert her attention from the conflict. And really their function was to be the NGO designated to receive and disburse the funds to operate the camp. I then turned to Alanna and indicated we needed to get out of there–fast because we were both at the boiling point. I sent Grace to see them and she came back equally frustrated. The classes they said they would teach they had decided they wouldn’t teach. Now we have to figure out what to do about those classes. Most we could handle but no one knew how to belly dance so we had to cancel that class.

Now it is time to get ready for the opening ceremony. The campers are all here and are settling in. We are all supposed to wear our yellow Camp GLOW t-shirts to the ceremony that included addresses by the US ambassador, the mayor of Tetovo (a woman), and the CEO of Wilson School. We would have a special GLOW video, a dance done by staff, and a reading of Dr. Maya Angelou’s Phenomenal Woman. Everything was awe inspiring and I don’t believe there was a dry eye in the house.  Next we filed out to have a picture done with the dignitaries in front of the school. I end up behind Gordana. Oh feces! She is wearing sheer white pants and has nothing on under them! Trust me—NOTHING! And she is dancing around like she is 15 years old. Just allow me to say that she is a very substantial woman. If I thought we had TMI earlier, this was the ultimate. I can still picture it in my brain!

And camp has barely started!

Now we are in full camp mode. Friday night the doctor tries to tell us that the water in the school is bad because it was brown when she turned on her shower. Well, duh! No one has used the showers in two months, of course, the water is brown. Just let it run. She insisted it was bad–it’s technical water. We had bought each girl a bottle of water for their arrival, so we can deal with this tomorrow. She claims that one of the girls is sick from drinking the school  water. Now I was at this school for a week when we first arrived in country last September and we were assured the water in the school  was good as they had their own well and filtration system and not one of us got sick. But no, our NGO partner insisted we needed bottled water. So Saturday morning, Alanna and I called a taxi and headed into town. We decided we would get  20 five-liter sized jugs. We needed two carts–10 bottles in each cart.  Now it is time to get these things out to a taxi. The exit from the store involves either steps or a ramp. We will do the ramp. So I hold on to the handle of the cart, Alanna gets in  front and keeps it from being a run away.  My shoes started to slip. Oh,  crap!  Fortunately I got my feet turned sideways to keep the cart from running away and killing Alanna.  I can see the headline now: PCV KILLED BY RUNAWAY GROCERY CART. We got both carts down and flagged down a taxi and got the water back to the school and up the forty steps to our office.

By Saturday evening we have another girl sick and the doctor decides to take her to the hospital. Having a medical professional on staff keeps us from deciding how to treat the girl and deciding when to send her home. We did have two homesick campers request to go home and so we sent them. But the doctor felt she could handle the sick cases and did not give us an idea how many people she treated for anything. And when she was out of the office, she spoke with the staff psychologist and authorized her to dispense medications. We expressed concern about this  but were told it was perfectly legitimate in Macedonia. (We knew she was busy but most said it was a headache. That was to be expected the temperatures hovered around 40° (104°). At one place in Tetovo the temperature registered at 53° (127°) on one of those outdoor thermometers you see on banks and stores. I am pretty sure that was not accurate but it was freaking hot!) On Tuesday, the doctor comes to us and says she has  to leave as she is getting sick  and she doesn’t want to risk the health of the baby she is carrying.  Okay, we call PC and the CEO of the school. PC says if we don’t have a doctor we will have to close camp. CEO is from a family of physicians and she is even one herself so she might be able to help us. Elita (CEO) jumps into action and tells us we will have a doctor tomorrow. In the meantime, the current doctor tells us we have 25 girls that have at one point or another been affected by this bug that is manifested as a headache, then nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Holy feces! We need to isolate all of these girls for the night and take their temps every two hours. Also if any girl’s temp goes above 37°, we need to take her to the clinic and get her an “infusion”.  So now we are operating a hospital and we are all nurses. Not a single one of us is trained in any kind of medical field. However, we divided into shifts and took up our places outside the “wards” –three classrooms with mattresses on the floor. In the meantime, our country director was talking with the medical staff of the embassy and they told her to send all sick girls home ASAP and close the camp. Apparently Bulgaria had just gone through an epidemic of this “bug” and Macedonia was bracing for it.  So on Wednesday morning, Corey (Country Director) called all the campers into the amphitheater and told them we were closing camp early and that they would all go home on Thursday instead of Friday. So now camp staff is scrambling to change the schedule so they can have disco night, farewell circles and s’mores before they go home. The new doctor has cleared all but six campers to return to full participation.  She brings in IV stands and “infuses” sick campers on the spot before they go home. There are tears but it is the right thing to do.  We shouldn’t be running a hospital and we need to safeguard the rest of the campers and ourselves.  We  are planning to consult with the PC doctors to write a medical protocol for camps for the future.

Thursday morning arrives and we say goodbye to our campers, have a quick staff meeting, hand out clean up assignments, and PC comes to pick up most of our boxes. After lunch we all headed for naps. I think the shortest nap was mine at about two  hours. Most napped for four hours. Once we woke up it was time to party! But first we had dinner–with a cake made by the CEO’s mother for the Camp GLOW staff. We then opened the amphitheater, bought some beer and wine and watched two movies–“The Heat” and “Dirty Dancing” (the official Peace Corps movie–nobody puts Baby in a corner”) –both great movies!

Friday morning dawns bright and beautiful. There are a few things that PC needs to pick up–most especially fans which Alanna and I have purchased throughout the course to help alleviate some of the heat in the dormitory.  We also want to turn over the medical supplies to our own doctors. We suspect there may be things there we don’t want in our camp medical kit like syringes! Now we are checked out and headed to the bus station. But we are not ready to part company just yet so we find a lovely place in Tetovo to have lunch and at about 3 PM we bid a fond adieu to each other and head to our respective homes–and much needed rest.

There were other problems at  camp but those are minor and personal. However, the girls walked away empowered as future leaders in their schools, communities and country. They truly were phenomenal women reaching for the stars. We are proud of them and all that they accomplished.