School’s out, school’s out. Teacher let the fools out!

Remember that phrase? I sure do! And school truly is out. We finished testing on Friday afternoon and I promptly came home and took a nap. Macedonia has a procedure for year end testing. They test in every single subject taught but random students are selected to take each subject test. One student doesn’t usually take more than three tests. The problem with these tests is that they are compared with the grade the teacher gives based on tests and classroom work. If they aren’t the same, the teacher gets a monetary penalty. Now teachers in Macedonia can’t really afford a penalty, as regardless of seniority (tenure is unknown in this  country) the salary is 20,000 denari a month. (That translates to about 400 USD.) Yeah, not a lot of money. (And you thought teachers in America were underpaid!?) Yes, the cost of living over here is cheaper but that is still not an adequate amount to support your family, which is why many teachers take tutoring jobs, second jobs, live at home with their parents or have a working spouse. (Or in my case, house a PCV)

Group effort
Group effort

To keep from being penalized, the teachers support the students through the testing process to make sure that those students who get a 5 (A) get a 5 on the test. At any given time most every student has a “helper” with them.

More bus woes: Well, my card worked for four rides and then ceased working again,  leaving me with at least 15 rides on the card. I  have called it quits and reverted to buying the paper card. I even tried contacting the bus company but they have not responded. I don’t have a clue where my card is, either. It must have fallen out of my pocket when I was on the bus. These busses are the worst thing on earth! Light fixtures are broken and just bare wires hang there. Everything is rusty on this bus and you are in mortal danger of falling off seats when he makes a turn of any kind. Hold on for dear life. On an accordion bus the flexible part in the middle has all kinds of holes in it so when it rains, too bad–you get wet! I have all kinds of ideas as to why we get such crappy busses out here but that won’t change anything.

Camp time is rapidly approaching.  Emi and I went down to camp to scope the place out on Monday. I think we have a plan for how to house them. Now we just have to figure out where everything else goes. It will be a challenge. Fortunately for Emi and I the owner of the camp was kind enough to bring us home in his car. He lives and works in Skopje so he told us to just hop in his car and off we went. I got home easily two hours sooner than I would have had I taken the bus. And there was a very real possibility that it would have been more like four hours. I’m excited about camp but it is going to happen way too fast!

And now it is time for pushim (vacation). I’m headed to the UK and going to go to Ireland, Scotland and England. Despite having lived here in Europe once upon a time, I never made it there. It was really never a high priority. However, the hubs is teaching a course in Wales and so a visit with him has turned into a tour of the UK. I’m looking forward to it. My traveling partner is off on her own vacation too–she is at Machu Pichu. Some day I will go there. But the UK will be nice and right now they are predicting very warm weather for Macedonia during the time I’m gone so it will be good and cool weather for the UK. Watch for UK updates.

I had to turn my watch over to a local jeweler here in Macedonia. Based on what it was doing, I needed to have the battery changed. They couldn’t do it locally. Despite what some people feared would happen by entrusting my watch to a local dealer, it came back to me in a velvet cast and as sparkling clean and operational as the day it was presented to me. They also presented me with a service booklet much like you get with your car. I am incredibly impressed with the service even if it did cost more than any other watch I have ever owned.

 

 

 

Не работи

Living in and working in an Albanian village gives me virtually no opportunity to use and/or develop my Macedonian language. On Saturday a week ago, my electronic bus card registered empty when I got on the bus so I decided to go directly to the bus station to get more money put on it. Give me 250 MKD on the card, please. That will give me ten rides. So she did and we had no problem communicating. I used broken Macedonian and she used broken English. I finished my business in town and  got on the bus and went home with no problems with my card. So imagine my shock on Monday when I go to use the card and I get a red X instead of a green check mark. Okay, when I came home, I stopped at the Saraj bus station and had 500 MKD more put on the card thinking that perhaps she had made an error and entered 25 instead of 250. I didn’t want to have to buy one time passes as they cost 35 denari and not the 25 you get charged by using the electronic card. So I should be good the next time I need to use my card which turns out to be Wednesday. I had to go into town to turn my watch over to the jeweler so they could send it off to be serviced. The battery was almost at its end and since it is a waterproof Tag Heuer it must be done by professionals. (to the tune of 5100 MKD–about 85 USD. I’ve never even paid that much for a  watch let alone to have it serviced) and I needed to get a dose of my favorite pasta and some wine and interview my last two girls for camp. So I got on the bus after school and the damned card shows no credit! Okay! Now I’m mad–or at least as mad as Eileen ever gets. So after visiting the jeweler, I walk over to the bus station. I was hopeful someone spoke English and I was pretty sure that no one spoke Shqip.

“Do you speak English”.

“Не”.

Okay. Here goes my feeble attempt at concluding this business transaction in Macedonian. “Имам проблем со картичка електроника. Не работи.” ( E-mom problem so car-tich-ka e-lec-tron-ee-ka. Nay ra-bo-tee. I have a problem with my electronic card. It doesn’t work.) I went on to explain that  I had purchased 750 denari of credit and it doesn’t work. Somewhere my conversation didn’t quite work as she tried to put more money on the card and then  wanted me to pay another 750 den. I showed her my receipts and told her repeatedly –Не работи (Nay ra-bo-tee….it doesn’t work) I then had to pantomime that when I waved the card in front of the reader I got an X not a check mark. She finally understood–went into the computer and checked the records in the archives and fixed my card. However, I wasn’t leaving until I made sure the card was working. Just not that trusting. So I got on the closest bus and waved it in front of the reader and bingo–green check mark. Okay. Фала многу. Ciao. I walked away feeling pretty good that I had solved the problem totally by myself.

So now that problem is resolved. Time to go get my wine and food and then go to the American corner and visit with Maya and interview the last two girls for camp. Time to go home. Oh piddle poop. The cops have all of the access streets to the center blocked and traffic must take alternate routes as the protestors have blocked three major intersections in town. I have no idea which route my bus will take so I finally hailed a taxi. It was the ride of a life time and for a change I had a driver who knew where Arnaqi is located. When he didn’t like how fast the traffic was moving, he would lay on his horn and drive on the sidewalk. And as a result of that I was home in about half an hour. I was totally amazed!

But the protestors are still at it and things really don’t look  any better. This article does a very good job of explaining things and is worth the time it takes to read it. The protestors have said that they are going to continue blocking intersections for an indefinite period during the lunch hour and evenings. It certainly doesn’t make it easy to get around. They protestors continue to paint monuments as well.

And Ramazan starts tonight at about 0200 when the first sliver of the moon will be sighted. I imagine we will have to eat at that point in time as the next meal time during the day to eat will be after sunset–sometime around 8:30 PM. Hopefully I can make two or three days this year.

Mi chiamo……

There is a lot of down time as a PCV–especially since I get up around 4 AM and don’t have to be to work until 10 AM. There are also plenty of times when I’m so busy I don’t have time to turn around. So reading is the perfect activity to fill the gaps when I’m not busy and which can be set aside at a moment’s notice when work calls. Peace Corps has lots of books (actually a mini library set up according to the Dewey Decimal System), we have a wonderful bookstore at the mall with lots of English language books and I’ve discovered free on line learning. Oh the courses I have found.  I found one on Religion and violence (fascinating) and a six part Religious literacy course (studying Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism and Judaism through their scriptures). I’ve also discovered a genealogy course, intercultural communication, TEFL courses, International women’s health. And the nice part? They are put on by excellent universities from all over the world. One of the courses I’m currently doing is offered by Harvard, another one by the University of the Andes and my Italian course is offered by Universitá per Stranieri di Siena. And oh, the wonderful ways they challenge my brain. I don’t do any of the written assignments but I love reading all of the assignments and watching the videos and then processing it through my cerebral cortex. My course from the University of the Andes is conducted in both English and Spanish and has a ton of reading–all  of it Gabriel García Márquez. It would be nice if they followed it up with a course on Isabel Allende but she isn’t a Nobel laureate. I would be in heaven then.

But in other news…..we are still a country in political crisis. Elections have been cancelled and they are attempting to force the president to withdraw all of the pardons he issued. And now the protesters are using a tactic which blocks all the major intersections into the center of the city from noon until 1 PM. It creates major chaos! Parliament has been called back into session but the Prime Minister is still sitting on the sidelines while his appointed replacement attempts to  govern.

I finally got to go to Kosovo. Our safety and security manager approved the travel but based on this article, I was still just a bit nervous. The faculty was going for a day and so for 600 Denari (about $11 USD) I got to go see this country that isn’t really a country according to Serbia.  It was a very quick drive but crossing the border seems to take forever. And since I was the only non-Macedonian passport holder on the bus, the border crossing people always wanted me identified. Fortunately I was in the front seat. They didn’t have far to go to see me. The country itself  was absolutely gorgeous. Rugged mountains,  spectacular scenery and roads that made me more than just a bit nervous. The organizers of the trip had an agenda but I think they had failed to tell the bus company so that the driver would know where we were going. There is apparently a spectacular series of waterfalls called Mirusha. Well, we would drive, stop and ask directions and, of course, about half the men had to get off the bus to get the directions and then they would all be pointing in different directions. The driver and I were laughing at it as it was truly comical. We must have asked for directions six times and never found the waterfalls. We just went into this little town and had a nondescript lunch and shivered while waiting for the bus to pick us back up. The weather in Kosovo was drastically different from what it was like in Macedonia. We were all freezing and it was raining intermittently–the wind was blowing. We finally ended up in Prizren.

 

Old City Tower
Old City Tower

Prizren City View

River running through the center of town.
River running through the center of town.

 

The country is almost entirely ethnic Albanians so I was able to communicate. It is truly a beautiful and historic city. From there we were considering going to Prishtina, however, time wasted on looking for waterfalls consumed a large part of the day and we all had to work the next day so we headed home.

And work! The school year is basically over. A few administrative tasks and then the external exams–a whole other story for another time and place. So now it is summer time.

On the home front, the house is being cleaned from top to bottom. Curtains washed, carpets washed, walls painted, windows cleaned. Monday morning at about 2 AM, Ramazan starts. It will run until about the 5th of July. This year I will be here to celebrate the ending of Ramazan. The basic intent of fasting is to remind the faithful of the people in this world who are homeless and don’t have clean water to drink or food to eat. I am physically unable to sustain this practice but will do a day or two to show my respect for their willpower. I simply cannot go that long without water. The date of Ramazan moves up by about 10 days each year and this year it will coincide with the summer solstice–the longest day of the year and they fast from sun up to sun down. I so admire there ability to do it and they truly relish doing it. You hear no complaints from anyone about it.

I’m taking a bit of a vacation again this year–this time to the UK so that I can practice my newly acquired skill of British English. “Have you got any Fish and Chips? Have you got some malt vinegar to  go with that?” It drives me crazy as I was brought up to not say “have got” and now here I am teaching people to say it! Yikes! After the UK, I’m headed to the embassy 4th of July celebration and then camp. August will find us back in Berovo for our COS conference and it is downhill very rapidly from there. I’m sure there will be lots and lots of tears.

But for now?  Ciao!