Animal noises and new homes

I woke up last week to a fun game: “Guess the animal making that shrieking noise.”

My money is on a pig, but I never did figure it out.

I spent three days visiting my new village last week, and both mornings, I woke up to Wilbur’s wailing. Thursday morning, I thought they might be slaughtering. (I mean, I’d shriek too.) When I heard it again Friday, I was just confused.

Either way, welcome home.

Well, sort of.

I’ve had a semi-identity crisis (is it too early for that?) since my visit. It’s my two-month anniversary in Macedonia this week. Sveti has come to feel like home, even though I know home is in America, but now home will be in my new village? I did a lot of thinking before I decided that home is where most of my stuff is and for the next three weeks, that’s still Sveti Nikole. (Also, technically my mom’s attic, but let’s not split hairs.)

Meanwhile, my new site, and eventual home, was wonderful.

My host mom said I’m going to be her new daughter, which I loved. (Her two, 30-something daughters no longer live at home.) Then she said she would let me know when my curfew would be, which I was less thrilled about.

I have a nice room, a floor above where she spends most of her time, but still connected. The Peace Corps is moving toward looking for homes with more space for volunteers. We want to integrate, but for two years, we also like to have our own independence and privacy. I’ll have a pull out couch in a room that flows from living room, to dining room to kitchen. Yep, my own kitchen area. I’m eager to cook again.

Possibly with this giant cabbage that grows outside?

I think this is where the cabbage patch dolls are born. In Macedonia this grows bigger than my head.

I think this is where the cabbage patch dolls are born. In Macedonia this grows bigger than my head.

There’s a wood stove in the room and my host mom insisted she will teach me how to build a fire in the fireplace. I told her I’ve built a fire before, but I’d be happy to learn the Macedonian fireplace method.

We didn’t spend a lot of time together because she works in the mornings, but she seems like a great fit for my host mom. (We watched a Macedonian cooking show together. Instant besties.) She is excited to trade Macedonian lessons for English lessons. I’m hoping we can also trade cooking and baking lessons.

My home is only about a five-minute walk from my village school. There are around 250 students and I’ll be working with three excellent English teachers. My primary counterpart works with the older students, so I’ll mostly have sixth through ninth grade. (In Macedonia, primary school is first grade through ninth.)

Sidenote: (Counterpart is the PC term for the main professional we work with, a teacher for TEFL volunteers or an NGO or Municipality employee for Community Development volunteers.)

My only context for Macedonian schools came two weeks ago, when I completed my practicum. (It’s the Peace Corps answer to student teaching; one week of teaching and observing.)

I spent my week in two tiny, village schools outside Sveti Nikole, where class sizes ranged from two students to nine students.

I enjoyed the hum of chainsaws and the soft clucks of chickens grazing outside the school windows on my first day. It was certainly a far cry from my teaching experience in inner city Baltimore.

I also enjoyed the camaraderie among the other teachers. Each morning and each break, they gathered in the teachers’ room and drank coffee or tea, sometimes snacking, sometimes just chatting. This seems to be an important part of school culture. The students know that class will begin when the teacher enters the room.

There were lots of questions for me too.

  • What family are you staying with in Sveti Nikole? Who are they related to?
  • What is the Peace Corps? How do they plan to spread the peace?
  • Are you married? Would you like to be?
  • What is your teaching experience? What do you think of Macedonia so far?
  • What will you be doing? Are you a teacher? How much money do you make?
  • What’s the weather like in America? Do you drive a car in America?
  • Are you married? Would you like to be?

I had answers for most of the questions, and was lucky that my practicum counterpart had enough English skills to help fill in the gaps.

My new school is bigger, but there were chickens roaming the yard when I left Friday. Perhaps a village life universality.

In the teachers’ room in my new village, my future colleagues were warm and welcoming. Some practiced their English. Some just smiled.

I did a lot of smiling and handshaking and did my best to muddle through with the Macedonian I know so far. I even responded correctly a few times before one of the English teachers could translate for me. (I got a high-five for jumping in and answering a teacher who asked my age.)

They had many familiar questions:

  • What’s your name? Where are you from?
  • Are you married? Do you want to be? (One colleague joked that if I wanted trouble, I should find a Macedonian husband.)
  • How old are you? (How old is she. She looks young.)
  • Where are you staying? Where will you live here?
  • What do you think about Macedonia?
  • Are you married? Do you want to be?

It was a great opportunity to get a feel for my colleagues, meet some of the students and see how my main counterpart runs a classroom. I observed several classes Thursday and Friday, taking notes so I can reflect over the next few weeks on how I can support the class. An extra adult in the room will certainly be a huge resource, but the purpose of TEFL volunteers is to assist in sustainable ways, sharing ideas and methods that can be effective after we’re gone.

We’re also tasked with working on secondary projects like after school programs or other endeavors in the community. My head is already swirling with ideas, but I want to wait until I know what the community needs and wants before I jump into anything.

I’m moving to my new village — my new home — in just under three weeks. I have a lot to think about before then.

I should also brush up on my animal noises.

This is what my walk home from school looks like. You can see mountains in the distance, houses start to go up a hill to the left and there's a small river than runs through the village.

This is what my walk home from school looks like. You can see mountains in the distance, houses start to go up a hill to the left and there’s a small river than runs through the village.

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