The country is still in crisis with protests scheduled every evening. The protesters have taken to using paint balls on buildings and monuments. While the buildings and monuments are beautiful and designed to impress tourists, they have come with a huge price tag. The number of statues around Macedonia Square is absolutely incredible. There are foot bridges across the Vardar River that have statues about every 3 metres. They are incredibly beautiful but the cost of these has been in the hundred millions of Euros. Money which perhaps could have been spent on infrastructure and schools. However, you do need something to draw the tourists to the country and this has been doing it. So there is also some good in this. Here is an interesting opinion piece that gives some insight as to where the country is right now.
So now the Regional Spelling Bees are over and we are ready to head into the Nationals. I registered a total of 29 students for the Skopje Regional Bee from three different schools. The fifth graders were from my host brother’s school and I had worked with them off and on and just two days before the bee to let them hear words pronounced by a native American English speaker. Two of the four went to the final round and one of them emerged as a National Bee finalist. She was ecstatic. Now I will try to get her ready for the National Bee which means she needs to learn the words at the high school level also. And her portion of the spelling bee tends to be the longest. Those fifth graders are incredibly smart and competitive!
We had sixth graders from both the main school of Emin Duraku in Bukoviq (Boo-ka-vitch) and my satellite school in Arnaqi (Are-nuh-chee) I helped prepare them by hosting practice spelling bees. The hardest things for these students is not knowing what American English pronunciation will be like since these are not words normally found in their English lessons. So it becomes imperative for them to practice the words repeatedly–preferably as spoken by a native speaker. So at the end of the 6th grade round, we had another qualifier for the National Bee from Bukoviq.
Seventh graders didn’t do as well, unfortunately. But I was fairly certain they wouldn’t as they had trouble mastering the 7th grade list and never made it to the next level. They were incredibly excited by being selected to participate but they just didn’t make the final round. I’m still incredibly proud of them for trying.
Eighth and ninth grade were combined and studied from the same list. I had six eighth graders and two ninth graders. One of my 8th graders pulled out at the last minute as he was also enrolled in a math competition that day and didn’t think he could make it in time for the bee. So the spelling begins and people are being eliminated. I had accounted for five of my seven students in this bee but two still have not come out. As I peek in rooms I see that these two students are now in the final round of the competition. But now Vjollca has misspelled her word and she is out. We all sat around waiting and waiting for Sara. Finally, she came out in tears. She had misspelled “itinerary” and would not be headed to the national bee. I could not have been prouder of all my students. They conducted themselves beautifully and practiced good sportsmanship as well. I now have two students headed to the national bee and that makes me very happy. My goal was to get at least one!
To make the weekend even better, Susie and I had rented an apartment downtown–far enough away from the city center that Goce let us go that far into town since it was for Spelling Bee. On Friday night before the bee, we went out for a wonderful dinner and then went to the movies. We saw “My Big Fat Greek Wedding – 2” and laughed ourselves silly while watching it. There were only 6 of us in the theater and we were the only two laughing out loud. And then Sunday morning, we had a lazy morning, got checked out and went and did a little shopping. I finally made it back home to my ever present dinner of……….BEANS! Now to prep for the National Bee. We have four weeks until that.
Another weekend, another spelling bee. This one in Штип (Shtip). This is not a big city and the hotels do not look particularly nice when we started looking so Susie and I decided on an Air BnB. I did some checking and I found one that sounded quite nice and it was close to the city and close to the outdoors. Perfect! Two days prior to arriving, the proprietor called me to find out what time we would be arriving as she would pick us up and take us to the Air BnB. Wow! This is service! No taxi worries. I didn’t have an exact address so a taxi might have been a bit difficult. We arrived in Штип on time and within five minutes Alexandra was there. So were her sister and her mother. Okay we can all fit in the car and off we go.
As we start down the road, they tell us the BnB is about 10 km out of town. Wow! That might make it difficult to walk to the spelling bee the next morning. Well we’ll just call a taxi. It’s at about this time that we also find out there is no wi-fi at the house. Well, I have my phone and it has a data plan. We keep going and going into a more and more rural setting. Susie and I are looking at each other from the corners of our eyes. Finally we turn down a gravel road and are stuck behind a horse and cart. Oh boy!
We pull up to a gate and drive down a long driveway. Hmmm chickens roaming around. Okay. They open the house/cottage and we go in. We are apparently the first guests they have ever had here. Looks fairly decent. So we ask, where is your house? Oh it is in town. Who else is staying out here? Just the two of you. By ourselves?! Yes. It is so peaceful. You will love it. But first let me show you around and make you a cup of coffee and show you the sweet treats I have made for you. Oh, and here is dinner–corn on the cob and a nice big bowl of salad fixings. Wow! Neither one of us knows what to say. At least there is food for us as we have not seen a grocery or convenience store anywhere near here. There are also freshly laid brown eggs for breakfast along with a big bowl of fruit, bread, coffee and tea. Okay. We are set. And they tell us that a taxi will come in the morning to fetch us to take us to the spelling bee. And by the way..will you latch the chicken coop after they all go in at evening time. Well, this is a new one.
We had been sitting outside near the coop
and had not seen the chickens. We were assured that Perro the rooster would herd them in. No sign. Well, let’s go in the house, build a fire and then make our dinner. Let’s also figure out how to lock this place up. No one is out here, no one knows exactly where we are–including us, better safe than sorry. But let’s check on the chickens again–no sign.
Okay, dinner is done and darkness has set in. Susie decides one more check of the coop. She turns on her iPhone flashlight and starts down the driveway to where the coop is. Sure enough they are in there in one little corner. All six hens and one rooster. So we can now go to bed and be assured that our charges are also tucked snug in their beds. Next morning, I’m up bright and early as I usually am. I hear roosters in the neighborhood crowing so decide to go down and open up the coop to let “our” chickens out. I opened that door and they were out like a flash and followed me right up the driveway. Looked rather comical to me. I didn’t have any food to feed them so I don’t know what they expected. They had plenty in the coop. However, Perro stood outside the house and just crowed and crowed until Susie finally woke up. He was quite the alarm clock.
Next morning, we receive a phone call from Snezana to let us know that a taxi will be there to pick us up at about 0900. Sure enough–2 minutes till nine and it was there. We did the faux gate lock thing and off we went to the spelling bee. We got a peek of downtown Штип when we went to get lunch but we were pretty much locked in the school listening to students spell words all day. Snezana had told us to give her a call when we were done and we would figure out the rest of the day. She called a taxi for us and he took us to her house. Enjoyed a nice cup of Turkish coffee and some Schweppes and discussed taking them out to dinner. Ah, but first they wanted to show us Isar. It is the hill on which their home is built. There is a lovely church nearby and then steps going up, up, up. Once we got to the top we saw the remains of a fortress (seem to be a lot of those here in Macedonia.) and an incredible panoramic view of the area. It truly was amazing but as one might imagine with my bruised and battered body, I was in pain when we came back down. The knee did not like that activity. Went and had a lovely dinner and discussed going back to the “ranch”. We have chickens to put to bed, remember? So they took us back, we locked up the chickens and just crashed.
9.30 AM Snezana is back and brings three bags of groceries. Huh? She is going to prepare us a Macedonian lunch and then take us to see Bargala while it cooks. Bargala is really amazing and not far away. We didn’t have much time there as we had to get back in town so we wouldn’t miss our bus back to Skopje. We had to travel a bit earlier than we normally would have as a result of restrictions placed on PCV’s as a result of the presidential pardons and the resulting protests. (Because I live on the opposite side of the city from the bus station, I had to make sure I was past the city center before 16.00) Interestingly enough, there is very little information on this site and excavation has been halted for some unknown reason. However, we saw the executioner’s pedestal, the wine making spot and the heating system of the city. It truly was fascinating. Below it was a beautiful little church and one of the rivers that runs through the area with plenty of people “taking a rest”. The hills surrounding the area were the most beautiful green you can imagine. It looked like a travel poster. Alas, we couldn’t go down there as we had to go back and have our lunch. Lunch was indeed delicious. It consisted of meat, rice, peppers and some wonderful herbs and spices. We said good bye to our chickens and the family and headed back into town to catch our bus home. It was quite the weekend. We have been adopted by a new family.
In other news of Macedonia, we have travel restrictions in and around Skopje because of daily protests. Protests are also now in a number of cities throughout out the country including Штип where we just spent our weekend. An opinion article to read written by one of Nikolai Gruevski’s former ministers is very telling. We get daily press updates from our safety and security manager so I am not worried that we are being kept in the dark. We are safe. Never fear.
The political crisis in Macedonia is fascinating to follow. At times it seems like Keystone Cops and other times like a true political crisis. However, I really don’t know what to make of this latest development. As the special prosecutors are investigating and beginning to prosecute, the Macedonian president pardons everyone! There was a rumor that once the legislative body disbanded that they would fire the prosecutors. Well, that didn’t happen. They just said everyone is pardoned and in effect negated all past and future work of the prosecutors. My mouth has dropped open. What’s next? Stay tuned.
The month of insanity has arrived! First we have the government quitting to prepare for elections in June. Apparently Parliament must disband 60 days before an election and that will be 7 Prill. On 7 Qershor (June for the non-conversant Shqip speakers in the group) there will be elections. Did I mention that is also supposed to be the first day of Ramazan? Yup! Should make for fun and games.
But this month promises to be wild and crazy! I’m starting off with staff training for our GLOW camp today. The tough sale of the day in the training is telling people they cannot use their phones during camp. If you think it will be hard having staff do it, wait until we tell the campers they can’t use their phones. Call home when you arrive and then your phone is locked up except for one hour in the evening. I can just see it now. People live by their phones. Time to disconnect!
Then the next three Saturdays we have Regional Spelling Bees. I will be working at a different one each week. The final week is the Skopje area regional and I am sending 14 students. I’m very excited about their possibilities to move on to National. Additionally I am sending 11 students from another school in our district and 4 students from my host brother’s school. Yes, I have been busy with Spelling Bee. Following the Spelling Bees it is finally Easter weekend. We follow an Orthodox calendar here in Macedonia so this year Easter happens to coincide with International Labor Day–1 May. We will have a long weekend but I’m not sure how long. If I’m Orthodox, I definitely get Good Friday and Easter Monday off. But are we getting an extra day for Labor Day? It hasn’t been decided yet. We do have a few teachers who profess to be Orthodox so school may a bit short handed if we don’t take Good Friday off but that is still up in the air. As they say here има време.
Add to all of these activities the online courses I am trying to keep up with (four of them at last count) and you can see that I am planning to stay busy for quite a while.
So now it is off to the bus–so much time spent waiting on and riding on busses. The staff of Camp GLOW is calling and I have to figure out how we are bunking everyone when we get to крушево in July. Tomorrow is a day to play around. My friend Beverly is back in country and we are making chocolate chip cookies. Then she is off to teach at a private school in Thailand. Lucky girl! She even gets paid a living wage!