Seven Days of Spelling Bees Down

Seven Days of Spelling Bees Down

What I didn’t mention when I wrote about the spelling bee in Zirovnica were the expectations it gave us for the remainder of our spelling bees. See, in this project I’m working on (a regional spelling bee in the D. – M. – Z. municipalities) almost all of the spelling bees are taking place in villages. It’s only three days that are in here in D; – in my school, and in the town’s other primary school B.E. – and coming out of our thirty-minute spelling bee day in Zirovnica, we thought that with the exception of those three days our spelling bees would be quick and easy.

It feels like about a year ago now, but I am pretty sure that this is about what we were saying when we walked out of my school last Monday, having just completed eight hours of spelling bees. The other bees we had last week were in Gorno Kosovrasti, Mogorche and Zupa, all villages and thus all schools with far fewer students than mine. We expected to be heading into a kifli-filled week (kifli are breads you can buy for 10 denars) but not one that would require a great output of energy on our part.

But if this project has underscored anything, it’s that there’s no use in having expectations. Things have been going about as well as they can, with friendly and helpful teachers and excited students, but our vision of having lots of reading time in afternoons, or that I would have time for Macedonian and Albanian lessons and to work on my school’s library, were as off as could be.

Three of the four bees we ran last week took place in villages thirty minutes from my town, which had us waking up at six am (or earlier) to get to the center in time to catch our kombis. We first went to Gorno Kosovrasti, a village I didn’t even know existed before this bee, where we went to classes with one of the English teachers, F., who was a huge help in preparing his students and then in allowing us to hijack a day of his English classes. (Gorno Kosovrasti is “High Kosovrasti,” a village about 4 kilometers up a mountain from the village I have for the past year been calling simply Kosovrasti – actually Dolno Kosovrasti, or “Low Kosovrasti.”)

On Thursday we went to Mogorche, a village that’s also thirty minutes from D. Another village I didn’t know existed before we started this regional bee, but my baba’s family comes from Mogorche and as A. has told me, she went there one day and ate some kifli. (This is, really, the only way she describes the village. I told her we went to Mogorche and she looked at me blankly until I said, “Remember, you told me you went there and ate kifli?” After that she knew what I was talking about.) In Mogorche we went to classes with U., another helpful English teacher with a class of sixth graders that will prove a major challenge to my students at the final. (One of the “problems” of running a regional spelling bee being that I am, kind of, a little bit, rooting for my own students to win.)

Our day in Mogorche lasted from our 7am combi to about 6:30pm, when we got home. We spent the full day in Mogorche, running spelling bees in the morning and then shifting over to “practice bees” in the afternoon with the younger students, who won’t actually be coming to the final bee in D. After we got back to Debar we had to go to the copy shop to print two hundred more participation certificates and about seventy-five first-, second- and third-place certificates, a task that proved exhausting to me (as I was looking forward to collapsing on my sofa, where I would go on to write a string of incomprehensible emails to people back home in an effort to not fall asleep at 7:30pm) but of interest to the awesome women in the library store, since some of their own kids are competing in the semi-final we’re running in D.’s other primary school.

On Friday we hit Zupa. This is yet another village located about thirty minutes from D. (that seems to be the only kind), that just a week ago got its own Peace Corps Volunteer. After a week of surprises that included eleven-hour days, doubled fifth-grade classes (leaving us little option but to bring a whole ton of fifth-graders to the final on the eighteenth), being unable to reconcile our schedules with the surprisingly long day in Gorno Kosovrasti (which means I’ll be headed back there next week to finish the bees with the third through fifth grades), and other unpleasantries like very, very early combis and monsoon-like weather, we were bracing ourselves for Zupa. The teacher I’m in touch with there, N., told us to arrive around 10:30am, but we wound up at the school closer to 10. The teachers brought the students together and, man, was it a well-oiled machine. As we finished with one grade’s bee the next was coming in, printing their names on the sign-up list while we made the winners’ certificates. The students were amazing and had clearly practiced a lot, and we finished up with all six grades at about 12:30. It was a good way to end our long week.

This is, now that I look back on it, probably a pretty dull post for anyone not intimately involved with these spelling bees. But I want to keep track of the whole thing in some way, and I imagine that I will feel as exhausted every day this week as I did last, so my only option is to sum the whole past week up in a post like this, rather than waiting for inspiration to strike.

When this is all over I’ll have spent ten days doing spelling bees in schools in or around D. and Rostuse. We’ll be bringing the best students from each school together on December 18th for the final competition, and before then I have to head out with my counterpart and buy prizes for the students, make emergency word lists and line up our Albanian translators, while finishing the semi-finals and working on a grant due just after the final. It’s been over a week since I’ve been to classes in my school, and I’m dying to get back to run English Clubs and see my students again.

For a project that, at conception, Mere and I didn’t think would be any big thing (we were planning originally, I think, to do bees just in Rostuse, Trebiste, Zupa, Kosovrasti and the two primary schools in D.; Gorno Kosvrasti, Mogorche and Zirovnica were added later) this has turned into a huge and sometimes overwhelming project that I’m eager to finish with. But hey! At least when I write to Peace Corps Washington come time for my next report I can claim to have carried off a major project; and I’ve also had the pleasure of high-fiving students in three municipalities in Western Macedonia.

To end this post in a sloppy fashion: in time I’ll get up photos that are better. Neither Mere nor I have been doing major photographer duties at any of our spelling bees (and I’ve left most of the photos to Mere), so I don’t have great ones; those will probably come after the final bee.

I’m also now under the one-year mark on my service. I’d been anticipating this date for a while, but it slipped by without me noticing. It’s only these past couple days that I’ve been thinking about it. A.’s taken to every day asking how much longer I am going to be here; and my baba’s been telling me that A. cannot live without me, bringing me to the unsettling thought that I don’t know if I can live without A., either. Le le.


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