Thursday, February 27, 2014

On a much more personal note.

A heads-up; I wrote this with the intention of keeping it private. However, me being me.... public it is. I apologize if its not coherent.

We have just exceeded our halfway mark in this crazy life we call Peace Corps, so with the amount of reflection I have gone through, I decided I might as well put pen to paper, figuratively of course. This is Peace Corps after all. Hello computer, internet, connectivity. Posh Corps however is not the purpose of this entry. I would consider it more, in my current sense of melancholy, a time of recognition of the struggles I had never imagined I would face, as well I suppose the successes as PC has us refer to everything from big projects to personal achievements should be covered as well.

When joining the Peace Corps, I had thought my struggles would be isolation from friends, struggle with language and/or culture, and not quite being qualified enough for the job I would have. Some of these do come into play, but they do not emotionally pull at me. I often have to combat my self-deprecating comparisons and thoughts that I am not doing enough for my community. But this is something I see in the eyes of other volunteers occasionally. The real struggle, the one that I had never ever ever expected, something I have never had to really come to terms with, with the sense of people entering and leaving my life just as quickly as they came. I had just graduated from college and had to break ties with many friends I had, then I jumped into Peace Corps with two feet. I have grown close to some, I have developed friendships, relationships, although I remind myself that nearly all the people I meet and get to know on a personal level I will never meet again. It is incredibly difficult to not be close to some, and I do find myself being avoidant, or pushing people away. Of those who leave, some I miss and some I just say bye and walk away. There is a barrier I have built to protect myself from having more goodbyes to make.

There is another, maybe the most fearful of goodbyes, the lingering, the reminder. As many people know, my father was sick throughout my senior year of college with pancreatic cancer. He was diagnosed after I began my application process for Peace Corps, and thankfully went into remission as I was leaving to come to Macedonia. Unfortunately, he was diagnosed again with a cancer in his lymph node in his neck shortly after we returned from our cruise in July. He had spent most of the cruise sick which makes me concerned how much of this illness was due to the lymph and how much of it was previous to actually coming. Did my dad risk his health just to see me? How much pressure am I putting on them by being here, by not being that supportive person in their lives? I had clear understanding that if they ever decide I need to return, I will. However, I do not trust them so much in this. After seeing how things have changed, or how many things have not changed from when my father was ill last time, I felt that they were never going to tell me if they really needed me to come back. This part is still an unknown. 

Either way, the biggest struggles at this time are those feelings of constant goodbyes with little promise of a hello, or a stability. Am I getting old and wanting to ‘settle down’ as my mom says? I crave what I have always craved and have achieved only part of. I crave real and true friendships, relationships with people who I have more similarities than differences. I believe that these people out there, no matter how hidden. I crave that sense of adventure that other PCV’s crave, that sense to explore, to appreciate, to live and breathe something new. I always have wanted to have the experiences I am having. I want to meet people from cultures I have not interacted with previously. I want experience, share, and give the human kindness within us all. I am doing all of these things, and these are the experiences I live for. These are the reasons I have not ET’ed yet. 

I have grown a lot since I first arrived. I have developed a balance with my own confidences and sometimes lack there-of. In some ways I have grown, they have not been in favor for myself and I hope that in time I can change those things. The residual of distance from the emotional connection I say I want so bad, but I still avoid. However, I am only twenty-four. I have a lot of time to grow and to reach that goal. Unfortunately, my own problems with this affect others.  In this last year, I have become more honest, more outspoken, and more courageous. I have realized my reason for being a PCV in Macedonia. I have realized how amazing it is to interact with all of my amazing students. My anxiety over situations I find myself in has decreased and my coping mechanisms have changed drastically. I have met some incredible people who have taught me a lot about myself, about the type of person I want to become, as well as the type of person I don’t want to ever be like. I have learned about the inherent goodness in children, about how they will help this country so much in the future. I have placed a lot of hope in the children I teach to create good in our world. I have developed my old ideals into ones that I want to live by, that I want to remind myself of as time continues. I know and trust that everything will become clear when it needs to. Whatever I do next will become clear, whenever I need to go home will become clear. The relationships that will last throughout this experience will become clear. The connections will all become clear. It just doesn’t need to be so clear, yet.  

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

A very delayed post... June 10th 2013

It is spring now. The sun has a habit of showing its face between multiple rainy/cloudy days. On the occasion that we have sun I love going out. It seems like the town comes alive, small children can be seen playing in the square on little electric cars like the Barbie cars I saw as a child. The older kids go around in roller blades, bikes, or walk around eating sunflower seeds. The park is covered with seed shells by the end of the day. I still try to go to the Pazar every Saturday with my host mom. We walk around, chat with her friends and, for example, today we sat and enjoyed the beautiful weather and drank a drink called Boza, a type of fermented soda. I know it sounds strange, but I love it.

As you might be able to guess, my mood is significantly better and more fruitful with the weather. Growing up in a warm environment and experiencing my first real winter in a long time made me realize how difficult it is for me to survive wintertime. No more slow mood. It is nice out. The town is instantly more active and more beautiful. 

We celebrated my host father’s name day, Todoritsa, with many many family members. It also happens to be the town’s name day and several vendors from all over were selling clothes and other household items. We walked around the area, I bought some pants, and went home to prepare for the guests. There was food, fun, and plenty of wine. 

We hosted our local spelling bee and had several students to take to the National Bee. The local bee went off with no hitches, and besides a minor confusion with bussing the students went to the national bee, with one fifth grader continuing to the final round. The students came back with stories about their trip to the capital, posting pictures of themselves and their certificates onto facebook, and an experience that I hope they will be able to do all over again.

The new activity on my agenda has been Camp Glow. I am excited to get underway. I made a trip to Skopje to meet the other counselors and teachers and begin planning for our camp. It will start in late June and will have high school girls who identify as ethnically Macedonian, Albanian, or Turkish. They will be learning about leadership skills, teamwork, self-esteem and body confidence. I will be co-teaching a Mural Art class, as well as a Self-esteem and body issues class. It will be a ton of fun, Ill follow up about that after the camp finishes. 

We had an in-service training in Skopje and had the time to go adventure around. It was great to see all the other volunteers and meet some of their counterparts. I think a lot was taken from the training, with a focus on working with our counterparts. I felt like I was able to get to know my counterpart better and get to know a lot of the PCV’s better. After the training, we had the National Spelling bee the volunteers and especially the planners worked incredibly hard to pull off the event. 

We have had a few holidays recently, May first is a day where nearly everyone in this town goes to the mountain top to have a barbeque. I was able to go with Lizzy, Maja, Zoki, and their friends and we had a day of eating, drinking, and cows. It was another experience to add to the list and the multitude of meat and beer reminded me of our 4th of July celebrations.

One of the most important things to me as I have lived in this community is developing relationships with many of the people here. I have strong friendships with Lizzy and Dan, as they are Americans and often I have things to complain about, to discuss, to understand, or to laugh about that only they can understand. As an American in a completely different cultural climate, there are often many of these conversations to have. Lizzy, at the time of me writing this, has just gone back to America and it has been difficult to lose my good female friend here at site. Part of the reason I have a reputation of never leaving site is because I have had such amazing sitemates.

Since I had known of her impending departure date, I think I emotionally prepared myself for her leaving. Mentally, it is hard to know that you prepare for most of your relationships to not necessarily end but to change indefinitely. I have maintained very few of my friendships from high school, from college, from old romances. It is a bad habit to become completely comfortable with understanding these relationships will change or end, but I guess that is a part of reality and a part of the ever-changing lifestyle I have chosen.  I have spent a lot of time thinking about how my life here is so much different than many of the people who still reside in America. 

Continued in next update.... 

Friday, April 19, 2013

A little more serious of an update

I was sitting working on a more professional update, but at the moment I cannot get the bigger more serious thoughts out of my mind. The ‘ Emma’s  monthly peace corps update’  will have to be saved for later. (I apologize of the next few paragraphs are a disorganized jumble of thoughts but that’s how this is going to be right now)

I have been contemplating my existence here in Macedonia.  Not so long ago I had this conception of my life and what it would be like, why I was going, the struggles I would face, and a lot of different things. Now that I am here and people often ask how I am doing in this country,  I say the same things. I am surviving.  The positives are better than I could have ever imagined and the negatives are things I had never seen coming. It is hard to work with people. I am a grown woman, still only 23 and learning so much about the world. I consider myself as someone who is nice, kind, easy-hearted, and passive. This has not worked out for me so far. I have these morals, these ways of thinking and often that essence doesn’t work out so well in this world. It is not easy to get by if you are as passive as I am. But I do not believe in making work harder for others, about bringing people down, or offending people. I am who I am, I have these beliefs and I will stick to that. I may not be the cookie-cutter overtly aggressive volunteer that is almost required to fulfill your needs here. However, I am still here. It is now April 19th, I have been here since September 14th. That is a total of 7 months. I have a long way to go, but I have come a long way.

In these recent days I have been more exposed to the struggles that have been here in Macedonia. The political, cultural, financial tensions and anxieties. The people here are used to many stressful things. It is different here. Sometimes I think Americans have a habit to forget or overlook this because the people here still lead normal lives, there is not much blatant poverty or starvation. People take care of themselves and each other. I consider my life here very well. The family I have been living with has potable water, electricity, wireless internet, a cable package. I know this isn’t true for other PCV’s and I am often just lucky. The people I have grown close with outside of my family often have struggles that are more hidden. They have fears like other people, but they keep on going and they appreciate the happiness that is within reach. I have become immersed in my life here… and I love my community, my family, and nearly everything here. That being said… being separated from America has been getting me in a state of mind that I would have never perceived (insert emotional unexpected struggle here).

I think I became more emotionally affected by absolutely everything that has been happening in the US, not because of my age or my awareness of news stories or anything like that as I had first hypothesized.  It has taken the physical separation, having this country as a whole separate thought, to realize how much struggle America will feel. I think many Americans often are so used to the violence and the suffering so much that they are not emotionally connected to the state of the country. Obviously this can be seen as a generalization, it is not. I know there are many people very emotionally connected to the laundry list of losses, pains, sufferings that have happened recently in these days. Maybe I could be discussing my own denial and inability to feel, to empathize, to hurt as they hurt. Either way, now that I am as far as I probably will ever be from my country, I am aware and I hurt intensely. 

It did not take the losses of twenty children and two adults in Sandy Hook for our country to realize that we need to make some dire changes in gun control laws and support for mental health.  It did not take the Virginia Tech shooting with the loss of 32 people. It did not take the recent bombings in Boston with the loss of 3 and the injury of just under 200 more.  America has been seeing many losses for a long time. There are so many ways to help decrease these happenings and many governmental institutions are trying to save face with their business partners. They first come up with the solution to arm teachers with guns to protect their students. That, being a teacher, seems absolutely crazy to me.  How does America find it logical to not pass any sort of Gun Control laws, not even stricter regulations for background checks. Americans are concerned about drug testing to get welfare, but not background checks for owning a gun. I cannot get my mind around that. We work hard to find solutions to our problems, but as we work and disagree and focus on the politics behind everything we do, we lose our sense of humanity.

I am familiar with the lack of attention Americans use toward other countries and their many many many struggles. Many Americans have aspects of denial of their own struggles. The struggles that happen at home.  We as Americans pay attention to our issues first. Any person in any country does the same for their own people. Americans do care about other countries struggles, but the idea that they do not wish to pay attention is reiterated by the publicity of the media. New and breaking news are of American struggles because they are our people, our country, our errors that we need to fix. I see nothing wrong with America’s need to focus on their issues.

We still seem to forget that we are the cause of others’ own suffering. As being the hypothetically  “ most powerful country in the world” which obviously needs to be questioned, it seems selfish and unreasonable to not identify with the losses that we cause. Many of our soldiers are fighting and losing their own lives and ending the lives of others who were not intended to be lost. These soldiers as well as the civilian victims gain nearly no media attention.  The American government is sending people out to fight and risk and lose their lives but the denial or the reduction of human emotion or caring for life and humanity reduces how Americans understand and comprehend what is happening.  As the soldiers return from their battles, their in-person encounters with the brutality of war and death, they receive little to no mental or health support from the government. The government that sent them out to support their political needs reacts not appropriately to their personal and human needs. 

We need to transform our views on life, on humanity, on what we define as the importance of politics and needs from our government. It may take removing yourself from your country and viewing it from several thousands of miles away. It may take some meditation, breathing, loss, suffering. It may take something you are not receiving, but America you are heading in a dangerous direction and I beg of you to pause and take a look to see what is important, what matters, what your country is asking for and what it needs.
“Whether we consider the individual, family, local, national or international level, peace must arise from inner peace. For example, making prayers for peace while continuing to harbor anger is futile. Training the mind and overcoming your anger is much more effective than mere prayer. Anger, hatred and jealousy never solve problems, only affection, concern and respect can do that”-Dalai Lama

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

February Update

Hey everyone, so it has been a really busy month. I was talking with some friends and I realized that I do have a lot to update you with.

I was able to go to my first legit Peace Corps festivities, as I have been staying sitebound quite a bit lately. I have been super comfortable with my life here which is surely because I am constantly busy with my friends and site mates Lizzy and Dan as well as my host family. I went to a place called Kavadarci which is in one of the Wine regions of Macedonia. We were able to celebrate the birthday of a fellow volunteer as well as a Macedonian holiday called Sveti Trifun. This holiday also happens to be on the same day as Valentine's Day. We went to a very nice wine tour of Tikves and then followed up with a nice little Macedonian party.  

Julie (whose birthday it was), Me, Sitemates Dan and Lizzy with an array of wine behind us

All of us after the Wine Tasting at Tikves
 I began the undertaking my Spelling Bee project  that basically is just a local spelling bee for 5th grade through senior year high school that will be the starter point for the students who will then, assuming they can spell twelve words, go to the capital city Skopje for nationals. We haven't hosted it yet, but with the help of my language tutor and friend Maja, speaking with many of the school directors and teachers has become a lot easier. I will surely make an update about how it goes once we finish it.

My other project, the letter writing project is officially a Peace Corps World Wise School project. I was able to match up with a teacher in Washington, DC who responded to a post I had made on Reddit requesting a match. Many of my 6th graders chose to write letters to several students in 6th, 7th, and 8th grade and are excitedly awaiting the responses. 

I recently made friends with a little puppy here on my street. In the period of several weeks, I began bonding with three strays and a litter of about 10 puppies. Soon, one by one, the puppies disappeared and found new homes, as I suspect after spotting several children with all of the puppies in a box in a parking lot and playing with them. Eventually, there was only 1 puppy left. I spent time feeding this one, and we became close. Sadly, today as I was walking home from school. I saw this little puppy lying on the side of the road. I guess that it got hit by a car. I am sad to lose my little friend to not have any little cute thing to chat with as I stop and say hello on my way to and from work every day.

It is officially Election season and things are definitely completely politically focused here as far as conversation. I try to listen but it is very hard to not participate in the conversations as we are definitely reminded that we aren't supposed have a political view, and I can see why. Everyone's lives are surrounded by politics, as far as work and schooling are concerned. We will see how much it does change post-election.

On a more personal note...

It is hard to believe it has been about 5 months in country. Some days it feels like a lot longer, and some days it feels like a lot shorter, but I often feel like time is going by very quickly. 5 months... That is a long time, especially since it seems so recently that I was having spring break from school like most of my peers in Florida now. I'd like to think that I have made some accomplishments here, but things are slow. In a country where many things move slowly, you have to focus on the little steps towards a difference. I do think that I may not expect many of those empirical changes I had at one time believed that I would see... like we all imagine or picture as the fantasy. All of those changes for the most part are now just within myself. I feel my concepts changing, my hopes changing, and really now it is just a simple satisfaction of not knowing what is really going on and not being 5 steps ahead or prepared. I think this often fits well with many PCV's who do live off of the randomness of life, but it throws me off.. and now I am getting used to it. I thought I didn't have a plan, but now I see what it really means to have absolutely no idea.

Nobody ever told me that Peace Corps was easy, and for anyone planning on joining Peace Corps reading this blog, let me reiterate that it isn't necessarily easy. That being said, the challenges that you are confronted with are pretty much nothing you can expect. The struggles you have are the ones that appear after going through the experience, and nearly all of the struggles are inward, things you you will learn about yourself. There is a sense of solitude about this place, and I imagine any place you may be sent. And within this solitude, you not only begin to appreciate yourself, you will begin to argue with yourself, tear yourself apart, and put the pieces back together, because we are all here to survive and keep a sense of sanity. I am sure within my next 22 months, I will see many many more struggles that I cannot share at this point. I know that, now, I will forever be an expat and there is no going back.

- Emma

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Another update

Hi everybody,

Where our food comes from.

Walking home in the snowfall.
Its that time where I start thinking if I don't update my blog, I will accidentally forget everything that I have done this past month. There is something about getting motivated to update... Anyways, things here in Macedonia are going very well.

These last couple of weeks have felt more inspiring, or maybe its just the feeling of getting back into work post winter break. The feeling of idling just wasn't very comfortable and I didn't feel like I was accomplishing much of anything.

What exactly did I do this month... Well I began working with my counterparts at the school again, and I taught a lesson and hope to begin teaching more in the classroom. I think my main counterpart now understands that I am willing to teach from the book and though I do want to do many interactive activities, I am not denouncing the textbook and want to utilize it. Progress progress. I also am working on getting the Penpal project up and running between my students here in Macedonia and some students in America. It is a bit complicated, because I had assumed that the entire class would want to participate or at least most of the classes, but I am getting smaller numbers. The plan may need more work with technicalities, but I hope to get them sent out by next week so I have a little time to find the connections.

Anyways, I have still continued going to yoga at the school gym and it has been a great way to relax. I haven't been able to keep active and the Macedonian diet is very heavy on bread, oil, and salt. I am getting used to trying to limit the intake on these foods as I have been getting a little  'punka' aka chubby. My host mother makes the most delicious foods and I have finally realized that my ability to turn down cake is nearly impossible, especially when it is homemade. Food here is always a made from scratch meal, no frozen meals, prepared meals, etc.My friends and I have been going to this one restaurant enough now that we have gotten free cappuccinos when we go there, something hard to fathom being an Amerikanka I suppose.

I made a trip to Skopje this month to see the Peace Corps doctor. Though what I thought was something turned out to be nothing, I got some great advice from Dr. Mimi about how I was feeling about my service thusfar. She basically reiterated what I had heard several times about feeling a little useless at this point in my service and that it isn't so much about completing more as it is about getting over that mindset. Sounds good... I'll work on that.

I got a couple of Christmas gifts from my family, as well as a package from my parents. I was recycling the same longsleeved shirts over and over, so I made a request for some more. Mom did a great job of finding me the perfect shirts with great colors. I was very happy to receive everything, and my host family's dog loves the doggy treats that were sent in the box as well.

Politics are heating up here, and officially I cannot have an opinion about any of the political things happening, but it is very interesting to see my host family's debates with other people and their frustrations over what is seen on the television. To see how politics effects every single inner working of the jobs around here and just how politics exists here is so different from America. I wish every American could see/experience this...

Until next month,

Friday, January 11, 2013


Hi everyone,
I figured since I am on break from work, and really have no current important responsibilities right now I figured I should give a much needed update about how everything in Macedonia is going. I will give tyou the short form first. Good. 

Moving on, I am enjoying my time with my new host family and have developed my Makedonski quite a bit and am learning more and more every day. I have a stable tutor, Maya, who was a Language Facilitator previously, before she fell in love  and married one of the PCV’s Natty who also resides in Sveti Nikole. I am now able to understand most of my host family’s jokes and am able to joke around with them.  Sometimes I don’t feel like I do enough to help out in the house but I try to help out. 

I honestly don’t feel like I do much in general and this isn’t any different than my lazy life at home, however the students are on winter break and once January 20th comes back around I will be working at the school again. I have a bunch of beginning ideas of what I would like to do, so hopefully at least one takes hold and is something the community, or the school, will want to work on with me. I know there is a previously existing Adult English class that Natty is leaving behind that he wants me to do, but honestly I feel a lot more comfortable working with children and don’t really have a lot of knowledge about working with adults. Though maybe if I take a look at the books, it will be something I can take hold of as well. 

Living with the host family is getting more comfortable as well. The host mother is off work right now as well because she is a teacher in the local village school. Host father works odd hours: sometimes in the afternoon and sometimes in the night. He works security at the forest in town and sits in an office watching video cameras. In the summers he helps build houses. My host brother spend a bit longer here recently since they had Christmas and other family bonding times, but went back to the capital city Skopje a couple days ago. He works animation for a Macedonian tv show, that is basically a political parody. I don’t quite understand it, but maybe over time I will understand why it is funny.

SO what do I do with all of my free time? I spend a lot of it on the computer, talking with my host family, and drinking wine with my sitemates Lizzy and Dan. Otherwise, I tend to just walk around and enjoy my town and talk to all the kids that say hi to me, whether they are my students or not. It is a very interesting concept really, I think my new name is Hello. 

What are some interesting things I have done? Well Christmas here is on the 7th of January, so the day before Christmas eve there is a holiday that is supposedly designed for the men of Macedonia. Lizzy invited me to come over to her apartment and hang out and then maybe go to the event. Basically there is a bonfire and the men drink, dance, and sing songs, and eat. As I was walking to Lizzy’s apartment, I passed about 4 different fires of the sort. People also shoot BB guns in the air and set noisemaker fireworks. So I went to her apartment and we didn’t really know if we wanted to go to this mans event for the fact that it was a little weird to have two American girls and a bunch of drunken men, so we observed from lizzy’s room. Then they saw us. Lizzy’s landlord came and yelled ‘Ide Ide Lizzy’ meaning come come and then came to her door and started knocking. So we ended up going outside, eating, drinking some hot rakija and having fun. There were women there and delicious food, and singing and a great time. It was probably one of the best days I’ve had so far in Macedonia.

Pics thanks to Lizzy

Also, I posted a new address to the left of the blog, if you look. I can now get mail to my house rather than to the Peace Corps office in Skopje. It is much, much, much more convenient and I would love to receive cards/letters. Seriously, they make me ridiculously happy and I read them over and over and over. This being said, I only have maybe three letters and reading those three over and over again at this point I almost have them memorized.