Life Updates: Meh to Good

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It’s been a long time, again, since I’ve posted. It’s fully spring here, and this year I learned to do things like take allergy medicine so I don’t spend the entire season laying in bed all day apart from work. My family’s put up a gate to keep dogs out of our compound, which I’m psyched about. I’ve been playing football and basketball with A. and she yells at me every time I steal the ball from her. She’s pretty good. Her English is getting fantastic, too – every time we great each other now we say “Hello” and I ask her what’s up and she tells me, “Nothing!” She can answer questions like “Do you like cats? Do you like dogs? Do you like your mother? Do you like me?” and sometimes I’ll throw some other sort of question at her – like “Do you want to play?” – and she’ll answer correctly. I am amazed at how quickly kids pick up on languages. She’s even writing in English some. A couple weekends ago she came over and drew toys and animals while I made cookies, then I told her how to write their names.

I’m still working mostly with my co-worker L., and things are going well there. I have to be honest: I’ve given up on a lot of the “big and important” goals of my service. Early on I expected to do a lot of things like improve classroom management and cut out cheating on tests and homework, but I’ve settled into just having fun with the kids. There are plenty of reasons for this, some better than others. The big ones are that there’s not a lot of interest from my co-workers in making significant changes in the way they manage their classrooms, and that I’ve come to accept I’m not a natural teacher, I don’t have a history of teaching, and my own experience and skills are so limited that I don’t know where to begin implementing those types of major changes. With L., though, we’ve made some small and fun changes. At the beginning of every class teachers in Macedonia write their lessons down in “the big red book”, as I think of it. This can take anywhere from a minute to ten minutes – okay, usually not one minute – and it’s wasted time that the kids use to either sit around or copy each other’s homework. Since I started working with L., I’ve been doing small warm-up games with the kids while she goes through the book and prepares for the lesson, like Hangman or Simon Says. The students go nuts for these games. Every time I walk into a room I’m greeted with, “Oh, teacher! Teacher! Simon says, please, Simon says!” and I even hear this refrain while I’m walking around town, and sometimes walk into a room to find the students playing their own games of Hangman. Because I pretend not to understand when they pronounce the letters as they would in Albanian, they have also gotten really, really good with the English alphabet.

I’m still running English Club for the sixth-graders every week, and last week did the first session with the fifth-graders. It’s near the end of the year so it’s all games now: sometimes ones like Jeopardy to review lessons, but also ones like Simon Says and Heads Up Seven Up. Again, I don’t know that this is necessarily what I was sent halfway around the world to do, but I got tired of feeling frustrated and useless by not implementing major changes; I am trying now to just relax and enjoy the time I have with my students.

What else? We’re supposed to be doing this library project at my school, but I’ll leave writing about that for another day – when I know whether the project is going to happen or not. We won a grant in February but after a couple months of trying to get something going on this (trying even to get my school to contact the organization with the school’s banking information – the one part of the project I cannot do myself, the one part of the project they need to take some initiative on) I’m trying to chill out and let it be what it is, which may be nothing. I am all negative about this project now, and I don’t want to be, but… well, I think my life would have been a little better if I’d never mentioned this grant application to my school.

The national spelling bee is coming up. I’m going to helping another volunteer with the semi-final in her village. Today I visited a village about thirty minutes from D. to talk to the director and English teachers about running a semi-final in their school. They participated in our regional spelling bee and did a fantastic job preparing their students, although it came with a bit of attitude. I was reminded of this today when they started asking me what the certificates would look like – if they would be “quality”, unlike the ones we spent 2000 denars (about $50) printing up for our regional semi-finals in November – but I’ve learned how to smile through things I would have flipped out over in the states, so I sat there, smiled, scheduled a date for the semi-final bee, then raced outside to wait for the kombi home. We’ll also be running a semi-final in my school (of course) and hopefully in the other primary school in my town.

And…that’s about it. I’m fairly content with what things are now, but there are occasional unsettling reminders that I’m not here for that much longer. My host mom S. started talking to me last week about whether they would be putting another volunteer in our town – because she doesn’t want to host another one, though her husband does. I think she meant this in a good way for me, that I’ve worked out pretty well and get along well with them and let them do their thing, and that made me happy in a weird sort of way. They’re good people and every once in a while I’m reminded of how lucky I am to be living with them. Unlike so many other people I know around here, they never bug me about how I should go out at night and not read so much and marry a local; they just let me be who I am and sometimes make requests for my near-weekly baking sessions with A. It made me really happy when S. said about the same thing about me – that I accept them for who they are, and that she doesn’t want to get another volunteer who might not be that way. It’d be hard to overstate how excited I am to be home in eight months, but some days I still can’t bring myself to think of my first day without A. yelling at me to come outside and play.

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