Getting in the Groove

The past month has been spent getting into the groove of teaching. I am beginning to build strong relationships with my students even though we sometimes struggle to understand each other. The kids are eager to learn and catch on very fast. In addition to teaching, I also bring a basketball to school each day. During breaks, I play basketball with the students, and we have a ton of fun. Frisbee is a big hit too. I just got a football in the mail, and the students are stunned by it (many have heard of the sport, but has been their first time holding one). Soccer is the big sport here. I routinely get schooled by 1st and 2nd graders in soccer. 😀 If teaching English isn’t my calling, maybe being a PE teacher is. I have begun to work on after-school clubs for my schools. Because I teach at five different schools and can only walk or bike to the closest ones, I am focusing on the clubs at those schools. I am in the early works of applying for a grant project to benefit my school system. Lastly, I have been working hard with a tutor from the area to learn the local dialect of the Macedonian language. Macedonian is a tough language to master, and the many different dialects in the country make it more challenging to learn.

Life has not been all work. I have had some adventures. At the invitation of one of the villages where I teach, I attended a festival in honor of Saint Tryphon’s Day. Tryphon is the saint of gardeners and wine and is celebrated on Valentine’s Day – except here – the focus is on the WINE! I was never a fan of Valentine’s Day in America and always thought it was a bit corny; Saint Tryphon’s Day is far superior! The villagers do a lot of dancing. The “Oro” is a classical Balkan dance that ranges from easy to difficult. At one point, over 100 people were dancing the Oro. I made my way into the circle for a small portion of time; however, next year I hope to know a little bit more about the dance moves!

I have built friendships with some of my fellow Americans in North Macedonia who are Fulbright Scholars. One lives in a nearby city, and we went on a day trip to the Popova Šapka Ski Resort. Luckily, he can rent a car (one of the rules of the Peace Corps bans us from driving in our host country). It was an exhilarating day, especially being able to do something I loved doing in college. The conditions were good, but the ski rentals left something to be desired. The view from the top of the mountain was remarkable. You could easily see into Kosovo and Albania.

On another weekend, my Fulbright scholar friends came to pick me up and explore the area around my town. My wonderful host family supplied a delicious breakfast of Pitulici. It was great to have some other Americans in my town, and I was able to help translate most of my host family’s conversations. 😂After breakfast, we traveled to Strumica for a carnival. The Strumica Carnival celebrates fertility and cleansing. This celebration is held every year at the beginning of Lent. Groups from around Europe dress up in elaborate costumes and masks and participate in group dances in front of a panel of judges. As you can see from the pictures, it resembles a Mardi Gras in New Orleans!

I enjoyed my first overnight weekend trip with several Peace Corps volunteers and Fulbright Scholars this past weekend. Initially, we planned to go to Mavrovo National Park (a ski resort near the border of Albania) to go skiing for two days. Unfortunately, the ski resort was closed when we arrived, even though the website said the lifts were open. 😣 Nevertheless, we made the most of it and went for a solid 11-mile hike around Mavrovo Lake on Saturday! The area was gorgeous, and I hope to return during the summer. On our hike, we came across two sets of fresh bear tracks. I had heard of bears in this country but was stunned to see proof. 😂 We spent the rest of the day eating great food, having drinks, and playing card games into the night. The next day, a few of us decided to go to Popova Šapka for a full day of skiing. Luckily the lifts were open, and it was the last day of skiing! We got excellent ski rentals. There was not much snow left, but nevertheless, we had a GREAT time. After skiing, we headed into the city of Tetevo. The majority of the population in Tetevo are Albanians. It felt like a completely different country since Albanian is the spoken language. No way I am going to try to learn Albanian too. On the way home, we visited the famous Painted Mosque. The frescos inside and out were magnificent and were painted in the Italian Baroque style in the 15th century. 

As of last week, I have officially served six months in North Macedonia. It doesn’t seem like that long. I can’t wait to see what I can accomplish in the classroom and community in the next 21 months! Also, I added a lot of new photos that I couldn’t fit into this post. Мир Надвор! (Peace out).

4 responses to “Getting in the Groove”

  1. Joe, I am so proud of what you are doing, immersing yourself in the culture there. Your adventures are so interesting. Keep it up. Granddaddy


    1. Thank you! Looking forward to seeing you in July!


  2. Wow! Another wonderful post. Your descriptive writing brings the towns, the customs, the adventures to life!! You are doing a fabulous job there! I’m happy to know you are getting out with scholarly friends and sharing fun times. Your teaching sounds great…and your extra P.E. talents are admirable. I enjoyed hearing the children’s reaction to a football!😊 Keep up the good work! Stay safe! God bless you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Joe, your grandmother Louise has been a good friend for many years. It’s wonderful to be able to follow you on your exciting journey! Thanking you for doing so much to promote understanding among various cultures!

      Liked by 1 person

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