Last Day in Skopje

Goodbye, Skopje! I love you!

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School for the Blind

Mrs. Wagner and I visited the Skopje School for the Blind with our friend Marga, an art teacher, who took us on a tour. It is a boarding school, which means the students live at the school most of the year, but go home for summer and winter break. There are about 50 students from ages 6-21.

The students there come from diverse backgrounds. Some of the students have families, but others were orphans. Some were rescued from hospitals or orphanages, and some were even abandoned at the school. I heard some very sad stories, but I’m so glad these kids have such a great school family. In fact, many of the teachers went to school there as children and they also have some visual impairment, so they really understand these kids and their struggles.

“School for the Blind” might be a little misleading because although some students are completely blind, many are visually impaired, which means they can see but not very well and it is not something that glasses can correct. Most students were completely normal other than their vision impairment, but others had mental or physical disabilities. I met one teenage boy who can see perfectly now, but he knows he has a medical condition that will make him go blind soon, so he attends this school so he will know braille and have the skills he needs when that happens.

They teach many things at this school. Of course they teach the usual subjects like math, reading, writing, science, and history, but they also teach the kids many specific skills that they need to function in the world without sight. They learn braille, which are bumps on a page that you slide your finger across to read. They have special classes on balance and navigation so the kids can learn to walk around safely and comfortably. There were also TONS of music classes! This was an amazing school and the kids helped and cared for each other. They would guide each other in the hallway and older students acted like older brothers and sisters to younger students.

As I talked with some of the teachers, they asked me if we have schools for the blind in America, and I was a little embarrassed that I didn’t know the answer. I know we have deaf schools because my little brother Seth attended one when he was little, and I also know that we try to keep kids of all abilities in regular classrooms as much as possible, but I need to do some research on what services are available to children with vision impairment.

This girl was working on math using a board with braille pieces.
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These two best friends were so sweet! The boy on the left was an AMAZING musician and was very excited to play the piano for us.
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Music at this school was very important. The kids sang and played many instruments. We got to watch a rehearsal for a performance they were going to do for their parents and teachers.
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This group of kids won a national music competition!

Canyon Matka

Ana, Eliza, Emmanuel, Janice, and I visited a beautiful canyon called Matka just outside Skopje. We hiked about an hour in (which was easy because it was a paved path) and also visited a small old church that was built on the side of the river. A caterpillar tried to hitch a ride on my bag, which startled me!

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Nom nom nom

So have you been wondering what I’ve been eating? The answer is tons of delicious things. I don’t think I’ve tried anything here that I have not liked.

I want to specifically mention my favorite thing ever, Shopska Salad! It’s so simple and so delicious; I ate it almost every day. It’s fresh chopped tomato and cucumber with a tiny bit of oil and oregano topped with shredded feta cheese. I can see how you might think it sounds like a bland, boring dish, but the key is the tomatoes. Tomatoes in Macedonia so flavorful! A few weeks ago, I wouldn’t even say that I really like tomatoes, but that’s because we don’t have delicious tomatoes like this at home. Yummy!

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Here are some totally new foods that I tried:
Chicken Heart
Chicken Liver
Goat meat
Okra
Pork Knuckle
Plasnica (whole, tiny fish)

New drinks (for grown ups only):
Homemade red wine (tasty)
Homemade whiskey called Rakja (STRONG.This, did not love.)

Eliza’s Primary School

A few days ago, Mrs. Wagner and I spent the day at Eliza’s school. It’s just up the street from Ana and Zeno’s apartment. Eliza has been so excited for me to come, so this was an extra special day for me. We started and ended the day in her 1st grade class, but were also in one 2nd grade, two 3rd grade, and one 4th grade classroom. Some classes we were in were working on English with their English teacher, and some were in Macedonian with their regular teacher.

Remember how I told you that in primary school each class has 2 teachers, one in the morning and another in the afternoon? Well, another interesting fact is that you have those same 2 teachers from 1st to 5th grade, they just move up each year with you. The classes don’t ever get mixed up either, so you are with the same kids and the same teachers for 5 years. Isn’t that interesting? You can tell that kids and teachers love each other so much because they know each other so well!

Here is a quick video of Eliza in her classroom, then a bit about the Macedonian flag, and then some dancing during a “rhythmic” lesson. It was kind of like PE and music smushed together.

This is Eliza being adorable. She is in first grade, which is the youngest grade in primary school. Kindergartens are their own schools, and kids ages 1 to 5 go there. Kindergarten is optional (you don’t have to go) so it’s more like our preschool.

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They have a room with a SmartBoard that the school shares like our computer lab. We got to see a lesson in there and the kids were so excited to come up and touch the board, just like you!

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The kids did LOTS of performances for us. At the end of the year, they have a big assembly where the parents come and watch plays, songs, and dances, so they practiced for us. They were so funny!

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The kids at this school work hard and are very respectful. They were so sweet and excited to show us what they have learned this year. They also smothered us with gifts all day! They painted pottery, made paper flowers, and drew pictures for us. I could barely carry it all home!

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I really really really liked all the teachers at this school. They went above and beyond to make us feel welcome and comfortable. You can tell how much the kids love their teachers!

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Being at this great school made me miss all of you and reminded me that I have the best job on the planet!

Xoxo,
Ms. W

Lake Ohrid

Lake Ohrid, one of the oldest lakes in Europe, is located in southwestern Macedonia about 3 hours from Skopje. It’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been! Pretty much everyone I talked to here asked, “Have you been to Ohrid yet?” I now understand why.

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Everything is Possible

There’s a saying in Macedonia that Mrs. Wagner’s host teacher Tanja uses a lot. She says, “In Macedonia, EVERYTHING is possible.” In my short time here, I’ve come to realize the meaning in those words.

Spend 4 days on the sunny beach in Greece because the weather is bad in Skopje? Possible.
Meet with the Mayor and have an article written about you on the city website? Possible.
Have coffee with the President in his big white house? Possible.

What is possible for the rest of our adventure here in Macedonia? Everything, I guess!

Today’s story:

I met President Ivanov when he was in Tempe in April. He was there to give a lecture at ASU and Tempe Sister Cities held a reception for him, which is why I was invited. It was a big, loud, busy event and I wasn’t able to say much to him other than to tell him who I was and why I would be traveling to Macedonia. We took a quick picture with him and he told us we should visit him when we got to Skopje.

You should know that a lot of times grown ups invite other grown ups to things when they don’t really mean it. Everyone smiles and says, “That’s a great idea! Let’s do it!” but the imaginary event never happens and everyone gets on with their lives. I thought this would be one of those things- he only invited us to be nice and he doesn’t really have time to meet with a dorky little teacher from Tempe.

Wrong.

So yesterday, when I got a email saying that a meeting with the president had been set up for me, Sarah, and Mrs. Wagner, I gotta admit, I was very surprised and excited!

We arrived at the gate to the President’s big white house (do all presidents live in white houses?) and went through a security station. They were expecting us and the officer checked our passports. As I walked through the metal detector and up the stone path to the house, I wondered what this meeting would be like. I imagined it would be brief and formal. He would probably talk at us for a few minutes though a translator and send us on our way.

Wrong again.

President Ivanov meet us at the door to his huge office to greet us and shook our hands. He smiled at me and said, “So nice to see you again.” We were also introduced to his english translator and one of his advisors, and the 6 of us sat down in oversized red leather chairs around a low table. Tiny cups of coffee were delivered to us, and we started talking about the usual polite things. “How has your trip to Macedonia been so far?” and “Did you enjoy your visit to Tempe?”

Then we started talking about more interesting things. We told him about some of the great things we’ve seen in the schools, and he told us some of the struggles Macedonia has had becoming a democracy. (Remember, the Macedonian people have existed and lived in this area of the world for centuries, but they have only been independent and had their own country and government for 20 years.) He used English when he talked and just asked his translator for help a few times. He spoke to us as equals; Not at all like he runs a whole country and we just run a classroom of 8 year olds.

He used an interesting metaphor to describe his hopes for his country’s future. He said, “Macedonia is like a car and we, the Macedonian people, need to be good drivers. A rear view mirror is important because you need to see what’s behind you. But if your mirror is too big, it will block your view of the road and cause accidents. It is also important to have a clear view of what’s ahead.”

Do you understand what he means? The rear view mirror represents the past, and it’s important to see and honor your past, but the most important thing is to look ahead to the future.

We continued chatting for close to an hour and he told us more interesting stories. Eventually we heard a knock at the door and his secretary came in. He shooed her away because we were still talking, but when she knocked again a few minutes later, he apologized that he had some other work to do. He insisted we take a picture and then bid us farewell.

It was a warm and special meeting that I’m sure I will remember forever!

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Hanioti, Greece

Hello from Greece!

Well, not really. I just got back to Skopje, but I spent the last 4 gorgeous days in Hanioti, Greece! Many Macedonians vacation there because the beaches are beautiful and it is only a 4 hour drive. I have never seen such crystal clear, calm water!

Traveling with me on this adventure were Mrs. Wagner and Sarah, my two sidekicks.

Here is a taste of what we were up to…

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Kind of a big deal

I love and miss you all so much! I’m so tired and it’s very late and I need to get up very early because I’m leaving for a 4 day excursion to Greece tomorrow, so I will leave you with this:

Click-me-click-me-click-me

Did you click? Did you see me meeting with the Mayor of Skopje?! Our picture is actually on the front page of the Skopje city website today, but I linked you directly to the article. I know you cant read it, but they should have it translated to their English site by Monday.

Anyway, I guess I’m kind of a big deal if I’ve met the president and the mayor! He was very kind and talked with us for about 45 minutes. He told us some facts about the history of Macedonia and the important things he is trying to do in the Skopje. He asked what we thought of the city and asked what we had seen so far. He even asked me what I thought he could be doing better as the mayor! I said I would need to spend more time with him before I submit an evaluation of his work. He thought that was funny and said it was a very diplomatic answer.

For those of you that missed it, here’s a picture of me, Mrs. Wagner, and President Ivanov when he visited Tempe in April:

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Primary School in Skopje

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As I’m sure you remember from Kendyll’s presentation, elementary schools in Macedonia are called primary schools and high schools are called secondary. I’ve been spending a lot of time in secondary schools this week because that’s where Ana teaches. That has been very interesting, and I’m preparing some videos about that.

Today, however, was the BEST day because I went to my first primary school! The kids and teachers were so amazing and fun!

Kids in Macedonian primary schools have 2 teachers, one in the morning and another in the afternoon. Those two teachers teach everything- math, reading, writing, science, history, and even art and PE. All of those lessons are taught in Macedonian language. Then 2 or 3 times a week, a special English teacher comes into their class just to work on English! In most schools you can even choose a 3rd language to learn starting in about 5th grade!

Today we spent a little time in a first grade class while they were working on math in Macedonian. Then we went went with the English teacher, Katerina, to 3 different 3rd grade classes. You would have LOVED these kids!

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Excellent Restaurant Recommendation

I had a VERY busy day! It’s late already and I will tell you more later, but I just want to post one quick story.

This afternoon I met up with Mrs. Wagner (the teacher from Ninos who is traveling with me) and our friend Sarah (who works at ASU and is also in Skopje for a professional exchange) and we decided to have lunch in the main square downtown. Sarah pointed to a restaurant with a beautiful patio right next to the big fountain and said, “I like that place over there.”

We all agreed we would eat there and as we walked up I squinted my eyes so I could finally see the name of the restaurant in English and… GUESS WHAT IT WAS! Pelister! The restaurant Hannah, Olivia L., and Addy recommended I go to in their research project! We scarfed down some tasty pizzas. Thanks for an excellent recommendation, girls!

Check it out:

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My Family

I’d like to tell you a little more about the family I am staying with.

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They are awesome. Here’s why:

Ana teaches 10th grade high school math. She is thoughtful and patient, especially when I’m asking dumb questions or clarifying something she just told me two minutes ago. I can tell that her students love and respect her because when we walked into her school building today, we were swarmed by about 15 students who wanted to tell her about a hard test (like our AIMS) they had to take this morning. They crowded around us in a clump, each one talking faster and more expressively than the last! They wanted to tell her all about the questions on the test. Students also smile and greet her in the hallway.

Ana also knows a lot about the schools here and how they work. She was able to tell me things she thinks are better in Macedonian schools and better in American Schools. For example, in Macedonia, high school students stay in a group for all classes for 2 years. In American high schools you might have completely different kids in your math class than in your science or history class. She likes the Macedonian way because the kids in the class become a family because they are together all day. They know each other well and protect each other. This reminded me of our class and how we have a school family each year. I can see why that would still be a great thing, even in high school.

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Zeno teaches high school math also, but he teaches 11th and 12th graders. He is kind an quiet, but we have something big in common. He has a Mac computer and loves electronic gadgets! He also makes cool videos for his students teaching really hard math things I don’t understand, but they looked neat! He posts them on YouTube for his students to refer to later. He also told me about an ancient observatory (place to view the sky and stars) they have in Skopje. It’s one of the oldest observatories in the world! I like that he is the same kind of nerd as me.

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Eliza is 6 and in 1st grade. She reminds me of my littlest sister, Mary, so obviously I love hanging out with her! I think she understands about half of what I say to her, but she is cheerful and funny and I can see her attitude even when I can’t understand what she’s saying. She is trying to teach me Makadonski (Macedonian) but she is a strict teacher. Ana says my pronunciation is getting better, but Eliza says, “Ne” (no). We will keep working on it!

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Emmanuel is 4 and knows very little English. This does not seem to bother him though, because he constantly says, “Niecy! Niecy! Blahblahblahblah (in Macedonian)!” Then I say something back to him in English that I think might relate to what he is talking about (but probably not) and then he nods his head and says, “Yes!” It’s so cute. Yesterday in the car he kept pointing out the window and telling me there was an animal in the sky. I would say, “Where!?” and look out the window. He thought this was a hilarious game. He also likes to hold my hand and hum songs.

That’s all for now. I miss you guys!

Out and About in Skopje

I went for a beautiful run along the river today (all by myself and I did NOT get lost) and stopped at a bench to record you a video!

This is from the zoo. You can see what I mean about how close the animals are! Also, I recorded the narration while everyone is asleep, so I’m kind of whispery. Sorry. 🙂

This is actually from yesterday, my first day here, when we went to Mt. Vodno on the “people lift”.

Ok. It’s midnight here (3pm for you) so I better get some sleep! Tomorrow I am going with Ana to see her school!

Ms. W in Macedonia

Good morning! It is 10:30am in Macedonia, which means it is 1:30am in Tempe! I hope you’re sleeping well, but I am up and adventuring! I am staying with a wonderful family. Ana and Zeno are both high school math teachers and they have two awesome, spunky kids, Eliza, 6, and Emmanuel, 4.

Here is a picture of us yesterday on Mt. Vodno:

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Here is a quick video of me, Eliza, and Emmanuel: