My Evs, a smile that I’ll bring with me – A final reflection before coming back home

On Monday morning I came back in Prilep after some weeks abroad for a training course and a job interview.
I took the bus from Skopje at 6 am and I saw the tired face of the driver I met several times in these months: it’s the bus of a Macedonian company which leaves Belgrade at 9.30 pm and arrives the day after in Ohrid. I remember that man because he was kind with me on a evening at the end of May, in Belgrade, when I asked him if that bus was the right one to come back in Prilep.
I was clearly a foreigner. He smiled at me saying yes and put my luggage in the boot.
Only one month and half had passed since the beginning of my European Voluntary Service in Macedonia. I was coming back from a training course for all the Evs volunteers in the Balkans.

On Monday morning, when I got off from the bus, I decided to cross the main square of Prilep. Usually from the bus station I shorten the road to my home going behind the station and walking through the narrow streets of the centre, but on Monday I wanted to see the main square. I missed it. And when I was there, looking in front of me the old bazaar and the top of the tower clock beyond, covered by a thin chill spread in the air like white smoke condensed, I thought: “I feel at home”.

Everything was weird for me, on those first days of April, when I arrived here to start my nine months Evs project The missing ingredient with the youth association Info Front.
The things I noticed more in my first steps in the city were the huge and ugly building and the high and big Macedonian flag, both in the main square (I would have understood only some weeks later why in Macedonia, a small country looking for a stronger identity, there are national flags everywhere).

Prilep_panorama

I needed time to really appreciate Prilep, and I begun when I went to the Marko’s towers (picture above).  When I arrived there, I felt a strong emotion, thinking of those 700 years old stones and of that king who was conquered by the Turkish empire and then died for it, fighting as a vassal in a battle in Romania.

The early days, it was the people to make me feel like at home, while the environment around me continued to be weird, in a positive way I mean, full of images attracting my eyes.
The guys of the association were very helpful since the beginning, and the people I met on the streets or at the market were kind and happy to talk with a foreigner. Well, they talked, and I tried to understand! I’ve been improving a lot my skill to understand and make me understand with gestures and looks, in these months.

I came here because since a long time I wanted to be involved in a project of volunteering, and I found a good opportunity when I was told about the European Voluntary Service and I read one year and half ago the project of Info Front, which was very interesting for me because it gave me the possibility to work with young people using my journalistic skills.
In Italy, after my studies, I didn’t find a good job, so for me it was also a possibility to do something useful in my field and to feel to be useful to other people.

I was very curious to come in Macedonia, a country that is almost unknown in West Europe, and now that I have only ten days left to spend here, I feel that Macedonian people taught me a lot of things that are difficult to explain.

Macedonian people smile, even if their life is hard, because the common salary is 150-200 euro per month (working 6 days per week) and the country (like so many other countries in the world, even in Western Europe!) is run by a politics which doesn’t really seem to be democratic and which prefers to spend money in appearance (the huge and many neo-classical style statues in Skopje for example, cost hundreds of thousands of euro) than in resolving citizens’ problems.

A part from the activities with the association (for instance it’s a big satisfaction to have in your hands the magazine you worked for), the most important thing I believe to have learnt is that in life it is needed to smile.
Also at the people who tried to tease you. Who smiles, is the winner
.

This is why I was happy to meet, for the last time I suppose, the driver who gave me a smile on that evening of May in Belgrade. He was one of my teachers.

Daniele Ferro

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Creative writing, not only an exercise of style

Writing is something that always fascinated me, since I flied with my fantasy in the Italian homework during primary school. For me, writing is the easiest way to communicate my feelings.
Some years ago I read a poem which shocked me, and I realized that it’s not necessary to follow rhymes and rules to write something meaningful. So I started to write, when something hurt me, good or bad it was, and I noticed that after have written I was more calm, a problem was more clear, or I was happy because I had fixed on a paper a feeling or a moment of my life which would have never come back. I realized that writing makes me feel good.

This is why the last November I participated in the Grundtvig workshop “Improving adult literacy – using successful creative writing approaches with disadvantaged learners”, organised in Huddersfield, England, by the no profit organization Let’s Go (Yorkshire).
If writing makes me feel good – I thought – it can happen also with other people, and maybe I have some skills to develop that I can use to organize some activities by myself in the future.
The aim of the training was to offer concrete practises to use writing as a tool of learning, with adults people but not only, and for any kind of purpose of learning.

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In Huddersfield, a 140 thousands inhabitants city between Manchester and Leeds, with a fifty years history of strong immigration (in particular from India and Pakistan), we were in twelve participants – mainly teachers – coming from Italy, Spain, Greece, Romania and Turkey. It was an heterogeneous group, made of young and less young people, with different backgrounds and personal skills. This was one of the most interesting things.

In two weeks we made a lot of activities. I only talk about two of them.
The first is the “Poem from two apples”. Our trainer, Adam Strickson (playwright, poet, professor at the Leeds university) gave us two apples, one red, the other one yellow, and asked us to look at them and to tell what they let us think about, while we passed each other the apples hand by hand, in circle. It seemed to be something stupid, at the beginning. But person after person, feelings from the apples – looking at them, touching them, smelling them – took life.
Adam wrote what we said about the apples on the blackboard and he asked us to write some lines making a riddle, taking some words said by the group. Then we read our writings, and from all of them, he wrote a new one.

Inside my circle
is hidden a star
dressed in the colour
of different seasons
the autumn gives it to us
like a present
the origin of our tears
a healthy snack

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But the most interesting activity for me was a visit to the Headfield Junior School in Dewsbury, near Huddersfield, a city with a strong immigration too.
The school is in a neighbourhood mostly inhabited by Indian and Pakistani people, who settled there three generations ago, and in fact the 99,5 % of the pupils are of Pakistani and Indian origins. In secondary school, these pupils will have as schoolmates children of any origin, because they will go to study in another place.

Children with British, Asian, African, Caribbean, East European origins will stay together in class, and if they don’t meet in a kind of way before they are preteens, there could be problems of bullying, as it already happened in the past.
To reduce this risk, the Kirklees Metropolitan Council developed a project called Transforming Thornhill Lees, involving two schools in the area, with children of different origins. The pupils, with the help of their teachers and families, had to discover stories of the neighbourhood in which they live, and then they exchanged them with the children of the other school, meeting them and working together.
When we visited the Headfield school, the pupils were practicing on performing plays based on the stories of people they collected, to prepare an exhibition.
It was touching to see children keeping alive the stories of common people, relatives of the children of the other school.

The training was important for my personal growth. I discovered the Yorkshire region, finding out that the people there are very welcoming, I met interesting people improving my intercultural knowledge, and thanks to the course now I have some ideas that I’d like to develop in the future. Because creative writing can be not only a personal artistic exercise, but also a social activity.

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Text and photos by Daniele Ferro, Evs volunteer