June 28, 2009

8 Days a Week

We're early-to-bed, early-to-rise sort of folk, which means we generally don't make too many appearances in Kriva Palanka's night life. When we do, though, two things always strike me as funny: the number of people drinking coffee at 11 o'clock at night and the fact that beer costs the same as Coke or mineral water. It's as if the cost of getting menus printed rises exponentially with each unique character used, so the cafes settled on a flat 60-denar price for all beverages.

Last night we just had to make an exception to our stay-in routine. The counselors from Healthy Kids Day Camp invited us out for some celebratory drinks and laughs about the week. The camp ended in the afternoon and we were all thoroughly exhausted, but the euphoria from such a satisfying week carried us along...though it most definitely did not carry Jillian and I to the disco with the teenagers. That's one bridge too far for us. We called it an "early" night and walked home in the chilly night air.

That chill was courtesy of the cold front that's been hanging over the Balkans since Sunday afternoon. Like I wrote in the previous post, it caused us some serious organizational headaches. The cool air and rain derailed our plans for fun in the hot sun, i.e. water balloon games out on the town's soccer field. Instead, we spent Monday scrambling, wondering if this thing was actually going to happen...where could we squeeze 100 kids, 25 counselors, content classes, an art session, and games? Luckily our only legitimate option, the primary school, was available and with some ingenuity and creative use of space we made it work.

I wonder what Oppenheimer and his team envisioned before they test-detonated the first atomic bomb. I mean, there was no precedent for the experiment, so there must have been all kinds of crazy scenarios running through their minds right before the big blast...would it be a dud? Would it wipe New Mexico off the map? I mention this because I felt this vague, floating sensation of unknowing apprehension right before the children showed up on the first day of camp. I looked around at the counselors in their team t-shirts. They all showed up, that was a good sign. But how would they react when 100 children appeared in the lot behind the school? Would a bomb of panic go off or would they rise to the occasion? Would camp run smoothly or would it be the running of the bulls?

Well, they did great. Not only did the counselors handle the pressure and chaos that came with balancing the limited space we had to work with (which slightly changed everyday), they also thrived in the team-oriented environment and helped to foster a climate of cooperation and fun. We could hardly have been more impressed with their dedication and enthusiasm. Two counselors were assigned to each of the ten teams of campers, who rotated throughout the day between five stations: two content classes about health (which the counselors taught), two physical exercise stations, and an art station. Highlights included a very persuasive anti-smoking lesson, tie dyeing white t-shirts, capture the flag, and rapid-fire team games that ended each day.

A camper shows off his tie dye

Tina, Jillian and the campers attempt a "Circle Sit"

Counselor Dani helps a camper through a posture activity

Team games

The whole thing felt like a well though-out and prepared high wire act: when it was working, it felt amazing, but disaster could always be lurking around the next corner. Jillian and I, with some huge help from fellow PCVs Carolyn and Erin and a young Macedonian woman, Marija, spent the large chunk of the week keeping the ship on course and preventing the seams from bursting. The campers were an absolute joy to be around and we never had difficulty finding a laugh or a smile. All the campers wore their team shirts for the entire week, adding to the atmosphere of comaraderie (and, tangentially, it made keeping track of them SO much easier).

We wrapped up the five-day camp with a closing ceremony. All campers received a certificate and a team-picture and we received a huge sigh of relief and some rest. Including our staff training it had been eight full days of Healthy Kids. Eight satisfying days in which we saw some real growth on the part of our teenage staff while they worked hard to provide these 100 children with some much-needed structured summer fun. While most of their friends continued with the same ol' routine of 60-denar Fantas at the cafe bar, they proved themselves to be great role models for the kids and community leaders in the making.

Now, if you'll excuse me, Jillian and I have a decidedly un-campy thing scheduled for today...season 4 of "Sex and the City." More pictures from camp can be found by clicking on "Our Photos" on the right sidebar.

Healthy Kids 2009

Thank you to all of you who donated through PCPP to make this camp possible. We could not have done it without your generous contributions. I know that the children and counselors thank you as well.

June 23, 2009

Beating the Rain

It was a clap of thunder at 5:30 in the morning that officially told me all the work we'd done was about to be tossed aside. And the pouring rain that followed? Well, that just rubbed it in. While the rain echoed off the tin roof of the carport below our bedroom window, Jillian and I laid in bed cursing Mother Nature, that bearer of perfect weather for two weeks and now, the week of Healthy Kids 2009, the bringer of low 60s, wind, lightening, thunder, and rain.

For the past two months we've been preparing for this with our trusty sidekicks, Tina and Bube. The fabulous colored t-shirts were hung by the coffee pot with care, with hopes that bright, hot weather would soon be there. [About those colored t-shirts, the printer didn't have purple, so we manually dyed them ourselves--which is to say Bube's 80-year old grandma pushed aside our Rit Dye directions, grabbed the 15 white shirts and dye packets, and went to town over an enormous metal pot and wood fire. Well, that was easy.]

Instead we got rain, which was a real bummer, especially considering we'd just held two solid days of counselor training in the hot sun. Since we decided to throw caution way into the wind and invite 110 campers (slightly more than the 25 we hosted last year), we figured some prep classes for our 30 teenage counselors was in order. We reviewed lessons, played all the team games, tried on our team t-shirts, and generally wondered just what we'd committed ourselves to.

With the counselors after training for the big week

Then Central Europe sent us a package, special delivery--a week-long storm and we suddenly became Healthy and Improvisational Kids. The sports field we had worked so hard to secure for the camp now resembles an alligator habitat and postponing the camp wasn't an option, since Jillian and the girls head off to Camp GLOW next week. So we talked to the director of the local primary school and got permission to use her gym and a few classrooms...all this after Tina spent almost two hours (beginning at 7am) calling parents to tell them about the rainout on Monday.

So with some slight alterations, the show goes on. Updates to follow...

June 09, 2009

This happened today. It didn't bother me at all.

I guess no good deed goes uncriticized.

This morning Jillian and I were cleaning a rug and the old woman next door just had to get involved. It's this enormous rug that's adorned the hardwood floors in the house since we moved in 18 months ago. Thick, with a floral pattern that's bled red over the white background (or maybe the previous tenants just spilt a lot of wine), the rug is a magnet for cat hair, Jillian hair, crumbs, and dirt. The moment we rolled it up out of the way, we looked at each other and exclaimed, "Why didn't we do this a year ago?"

Before storing it away we figured it would be good form to wash it. Typically the women of the neighborhood wash their rugs--often, this exact same one--in the parking lot beside our house. But across that lot is a six-story apartment building and the thought of being watched over, literally, by a couple dozen (inevitably) disapproving "experts" was not what we had in mind. I've seen these women wash rugs. It takes them several hours to clean ten square feet. We wanted a (relatively) clean rug, not a lesson on how Macedonian women since time infinitium have preserved their carpets.

So we went to work out in our front yard with a few buckets, some laundry detergent, and a brush cannibalized from an old vacuum cleaner:

We were in the home stretch when our neighbor emerged from her front door. Our yards are basically one yard divided by a metal fence. That and their yard is beautifully manicured and has an umbrella-protected patio set; ours, on the other hand, contains a dilapidated wooden staircase (some drunk guys pushed it over a few months ago, but that's another story) and a collection of weeds which is occasionally trimmed by a guy wielding a scythe. Really, no matter what else happens, I'll always have the memory of the guy mowing our lawn with a scythe.

So our neighbor came out, arms folded, and gave us what I believe to be the same look that I give the local butcher when he scoops up a handful of raw chicken, drops it on the scale, and then uses those same unwashed hands to grab a lump of ground pork. Her expression suggested that we Americans should stick to things we know, like baseball, and leave the rug cleaning to others.

I had a hard time conveying this to her, so I'll write it here for posterity's sake: I DON'T CARE ABOUT CLEANING RUGS. IT'S NOT A SKILL I WISH TO ACQUIRE.

Then she pulled the ultimate: our neighbor tattled on us to our landlords. No sooner had we finished "cleaning" the rug, then the owner of the house appeared with a taxi and a few men in trail. They came to take the rug! To clean it right, I suppose. Watching them struggle with that rolled-up mass of wet fabric, I felt like the repo man had just paid a visit to reclaim something I couldn't afford.

Fine, Macedonia, rug-cleaning is all yours. Now we're going to a cafe bar to drink a beer and think of something that we, Dan and Jillian, could teach you. Wait, I already thought of one: how to pour a beer without producing a half-glass of foam! Ha-ha! And that's just the beginning.