Friday, March 19, 2010

Чао Скопје... Merhaba Istanbul!

Just wanted to quickly take a break from my reflective postings to give a more practical update.

I'm sitting in the Skopje airport right now, waiting for my flight to Istanbul in about 45 minutes. I never would have thought two and a half months ago that I would have been sad to leave Macedonia, or that I would have made the kind of friendships I have. Who knows how sustainable they will prove to be, but I feel that I have a solid group of friends and acquaintances now in the Balkans. My office was so sweet this morning and all gathered together for a send off, complete with cake and even the presentation of a few very nice pens (I guess these are the kind of gifts I should be expecting now that I'm out in the real world- I would have settled with food). They each wished me well, kissed me twice, and sent me on my way...

In two short hours I'll be landing in Istanbul- How crazy is that? My friend and fellow Sullivan Lauren is meant to pick me up at the airport, but I'm a bit nervous since as a city with 15 million people, finding one another does not sound easy. Very excited for everything there though.. I've got the Rick Steve's Istanbul City Guide downloaded to my iphone for some light plane listening. :)

Hope all is well with you all. I'm thinking about everyone at home-- very excited to be there in a week!

Love love love,

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Importance of Mindfulness//Humility

These past few months, I've reflected very little on my own personal growth in this blog. Certainly much less than I did while in Berlin, where my stable, slow life was scattered with understated lessons- the importance of home cooking, lazy days, conversations- I shared snapshots of my life that touched me, that taught me something.

Part of my hesitancy here has been the variety of my readers. Although I've enjoyed sharing my blog with co workers and new friends in Skopje, their presence in my audience has definitely impacted the depth in which I go into experiences here. Not to say that I have been dishonest in my feelings or untrue to the purpose of my blog, but both have been affected by potential interpretations of my observations.

I needed to write that for my own peace of mind and although this next part is related, it may not seem to be. Bare with me, it's late. Besides, blame my upbringing as the daughter of a therapist, type A personality, or identity as a Sullivan, I'm in a sharing mood...

I think my mother/our buddhist gathering growing up had it right. Mediation, reflection, and breathing truly are the keys to a good life. Not only a good life, but also a productive and fulfilling one.

In the past few years, I have become incredibly self-critical. At times, its manifestation is negative-- sending me into an overly anal state of self-deprecation about most of my physical, emotional, mental capacities. I become sloth like and withdrawn- blaming myself and others for uncontrollable circumstances. During a good time, however, my intensity allows me to be self aware of my positive qualities and identify areas of strength and of needed improvement. It is in this latter state that I find myself now: intentionally in a state of reflection and re-evaluation as I enter a new chapter of my life (or multiple new chapters- seattle/alaska/post-grad). Perhaps the fact that I am now able to slow down and talk about these emotional experiences comes from a new found maturity or the simple opportunity when removed from my native environment, or a blog audience to virtually bounce ideas off of. In any case, it has improved the way I interact and the way I evaluate situations. As I shared last week, I can now see different perspectives and put myself in others' shoes- obviously not always crossing ethnic barriers, rather dropping my own self-righteousness for the sake of friendship or peace or communication in general. Even when others aren't willing to do so. I cannot say that I always act like this or that I don't lash out at times and become defensive, but I now understand the lack of validity or productiveness in those confrontations. I see that true confidence is found not through falsified ego-inflation (attainable short term through staunchly defending ones opinion and self-affirmation), but through long term reflection, discernment... and therapy.

It is also through the invaluable quality of admitting when one is wrong. The more experiences I have in life, the more I recognize the importance of being humble. This goes along with mindfulness, as I think it is very difficult to be a thoughtful arrogant individual. And obviously, humbleness (is this even a word?)... humility is a sign of true confidence and stability, as it suggests a lack of need for material recognition, but rather internal affirmation.

Ok. I'm going in circles. Mindfulness=good. Humility=good. Self-reflection=gooooood.

Goals for these next months as I get back to Seattle:
1. Be Mindful. Take time to reflect. Take time to evaluate. Keep values/goals in mind.
2. Be Humble. Listen without ulterior motives/ waiting for the chance to speak.
3. Be Simple. Clear unneeded clutter.

I would love to hear your feedback. Shoot me an email, or make a coffee date when I arrive where ever it is you live. I thrive in conversation and dialogue, and, as you can see, reflection on ones' own is only productive for the length of a circle...

Thanks for listening.
In love and in peace,

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Empowerment and Perspective

Dear Friends,

I only have one week [+ 3 days] left in Skopje and am entering into a time of reflection as I prepare to return to Seattle and the craziness that is Spring Quarter.

As I begin the transition back to Seattle and into the academic sphere, I wanted to share a small personal reflection with you, specifically about the words empowerment and perspective.

These are two terms that I thought I understood- I am empowered because I am a woman who can vote, I am educated, I am respected in certain circles. I understand different perspectives because I have worked with minority populations, listened to their stories and respect foreign cultures. But empowered does just mean having power and being "culturally sensitive" doesn't just mean avoiding racial slurs or offensive lingo.

I am beginning to believe that empowerment is less about the state of having power and more about the "EM" part. This prefix implies a process-- putting something into something. For example, I already am in power. I was born into my right to vote, to cut my hair, to speak my mind. I was born into a family whose values I respect and share. It is easy, therefore, for me to step into a culture like Macedonia and say, oh, it's easy to break down ethnic boundaries, it's very simply to make a school green. I do it, I recycle. But I forget that it was not I who took those first steps and fought against the basic, accepted status quo. And I don't know if I would have had the courage to do so. I do not mean to negate or put down our culture where we often take things for granted, simply to say that I have learned so much from these students and people here who are struggling to feel empowered. People who believe in things their parents and communities don't understand or validate.

I think in any country we grow up believing that the history we learned is unbiased and true. Perhaps this is my own bias, but I think American history prides itself especially on representing both sides -- although the mass genocide of Native Americans is by no means flashed about throughout history books, we have learned it. Wait, I take that back. If we were to have a true American History, it wouldn't start with the country's foundation, rather any course would include all tribes and battles that were fought before the arrival of the white man... I can't even name one fight.

The same situation is everywhere, I suppose, but especially exaggerated in Macedonia. With two large communities divided by language, religion, and ethnicity in many sectors of society including education, the histories they learn have been separated as well. In Macedonian language classrooms they learn Macedonian history--- the history of the ethnic Macedonians. In Albanian language classrooms, they learn the history of ethnic Albanians. But they don't learn each other's history.

How could this not do harm?

In this social analysis paper I am writing right now, I am doing my best at presenting a fair and unbiased version of events that have happened in the Former Yugoslavia and the Republic of Macedonia.. But when is one a separatist and when is that same person fighting for independence. When does a terrorist become a freedom fighter? When do you start the chain of events that triggers mass murder.. Maybe histories about Yugoslavia portray Serbia as the main perpetrator [i am not disagreeing with this assertion], but mention nothing of the Croatian genocide of Serbs during the Second World War...

I know both these issues are neither new nor simple. I know it's easier to say all of this being an outsider and not understanding the complexities of the situation. I know my desire to be unbiased comes from my American P.C. culture where we think that what we say/do/think is not offensive to anyone. I suppose all I can do is write about it.. hopefully provides some food for thought for others.


Monday, March 8, 2010

JUMP if you like Serbia!... or just stand and smile

My friend Beth has a tradition of taking a jumping photo in each country she goes to. I just may start doing that as well. :)


The Whole Gang...

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Local Color

A felt like a semi local today... I walked around downtown a bit after mailing a box of things home and then stopped by the green market on my way home. While there, I ran into the Green Club director from one the Green School, Drita, in the small Albanian village on the outskirts of Skopje. He was working at one of the vegetable/fruit stands and we chatted a bit- all in Macedonian! Then after buying bananas and lemons, I was walking home and ran into the husband who lives below us-- the landlord-- and we spoke a bit as well. It was nice to feel like Skopje was a small enough town where I would know people.

It snowed last night, but it's beautiful and sunny this morning.
I'll be back in Seattle in just over three weeks. How crazy is that?
Love love love.


les fleurs


his man did agree to have his photo taken... i promise


no need to watch food,inc.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Belgrade Photos

I've become lazy and senile in my old age and now have neither the energy nor memory to write a full blog entry about belgrade. Suffice it to say that I went to Belgrade last weekend with six friends: Nive, Beth, Igor (+ his boyfriend Igor who we met there), Gordona, Jordan, and Amanda. We saw cool things including churches and synagogues and ate good food and drank good wine. It was a lovely weekend and I drove my first rental car. No photos of that, because I'm not actually sure I was supposed to be doing that.. whoops.

There are some good photos still to come on Beth's camera. JUMPING PHOTOS in the works.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Rabbit Rabbit

I guess I'm three days late to greet the new month. Oh well-- things go slower in Macedonia.
This is a good post to read if you haven't been keeping up with my blog [which is totally understandable], as it is the reflection/update that I submitted for J.Quill to be posted on the IDIP website. If you missed my first reflection or feel the need to see a cute photo of me as a platinum blonde, here is it:

Reflection #2

So here I am. My winter wear that I resented upon arrival is long packed away, my Macedonian language exceeding any and all personal expectations and I was told last week by a local, “You know enough about our country to get a Macedonian passport”. I’m not quite sure that’s true, but I accept the compliment with pride as I look back at the wealth of knowledge, personally, academically, and professionally I have acquired over the past few months here in Skopje.

I mentioned in my first reflection that I was working with Green Schools. My involvement with the environmental friendly skole ending up scrapping my idea of a qualitative evaluation system as many of the schools were unable to provide data or figures from which one could properly and fairly asses schools, and instead resigning their website and creating “project profiles” for the four pilot schools that are in their second year old Green Clubs now. I figure that since a main part of the evaluation system was for having concrete ways to show improvements done, the profiles will do that same this in a more holistic and qualitative approach. They look not only at decreases in expenditures, but also at changes in students’ behavior and attitudes, teacher-student communication, and student empowerment. Although my role in the Green Clubs has been almost exclusively one of observation, I was moved and inspired by the students involved and am incredibly proud of each of them for the passion and enthusiasm they display.

As I am still not yet done with my internship, I cannot comment on the completion of the second half of my work here, but I have become involved with peer-mediation clubs and organizations working with inter-ethnic dialogue and non-violent communication through the Forum ZFD. It is with this focus where I have discovered a passion. In high school back in Alaska, I worked in this area as a member of the Student for Social Responsibility and Mediation, but have not revisited or connected this interest with my recent world traveling until now. Here, I have discovered the value of education and youth work in social change, especially in the realm of multi-culturalism and inter-ethnic dialogue. In contrast to adults, the students I have observed and met feel passionate and empowered to change the status quo in the way they see their nation being ripped apart. As young as I am, I realize how easily jaded one becomes by society constantly rejecting social change from below, and am even personally inspired by them. And again, very very proud. These kids are amazing.

I’ve begun writing my social analysis paper due at the end of spring quarter. Reason number one for starting so early is my own fantastic forethought that I will probably not want to spend multiple hours in front of a computer during my senior spring quarter, but reason number two that has become much more important since I’ve begun the process has been the perspectives and assistance I have received from friends and colleges. Being so diverse and with ethnicity such a touchy subject, having differing backgrounds and cultures of my proof-readers has made a world of difference.

I will be sad to leave Skopje. I’ve made good friends, started pilates, and now will only eat French fries with sirenja (amazing Macedonian cheese) on them. I’ve established a life. Although I’m excited to go back and join my Seattle U and Alaska communities in the next few months, I look forward to coming back to Macedonia [next time I’m skipping the winter]!

Again, if you want to read more about my experience, please feel free to check out my blog:

In peace (and non-violent communication),