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"Mike Returns to the Classroom in Prilep"


 

Right after I successfully completed grade eight in the village of Besiste, Mariovo, Macedonia my family and I moved to Toronto, Canada for a better life and the opportunities it presented. I am very thankful to my parents as they saw the value in higher education. Adjusting to life in a large and modern city in a new country and also learning a new language was not easy. With hard work and perseverance I graduated from college with a diploma in Information Technology and landed a great job with one of the big banks. Shortly after, I got married and became a father with two boys. Like my parents, my wife and I also believed in giving our children every possible opportunity including post-secondary education. I recall my wife reading stories to our children at bedtime so they could dream in their sleep. I would be lying beside them, thinking back to my school days and going to bed in fear because I lost the mule or didn’t complete the tobacco work.

 

In 2006, after 35 years in Canada, I returned to my birth place for the first time. The school in the village where I was a student was vacant and in very rough shape. A tour of the rooms brought back many memories, some happy and some sad. On the happy side, I recall my eagerness to learn to read and write and on the sad side were flashbacks to the beatings with sticks if you didn’t complete your homework or came to school with dirty feet. In my self-published book “Life in the Village – Childhood Memories” I dedicated a chapter about attending school in a village where the teachers were instructed by our parents to do whatever it took for their kids to learn how to read and write. I wondered what the village would have been like if most of the families did not move away. But, there was only silence except for the odd elderly person coughing or attending their livestock. I also wondered what my life would have been like if instead of emigrating to Canada we had moved to one of cities in Macedonia. What would my life have been like during my high school years and has the education system changed since we lived here. These were questions that I kept asking myself during my entire adult life. For many years I have wanted to visit a school in Macedonia and experience life in a classroom full of students.

 

During my trip in the fall of 2016 just in time to celebrate the village religious holiday “Petkovden” I met many wonderful people that I had not seen since my school days from the 1960’s. I was very sad to see that the roof of the school had collapsed. After the celebration I visited many families who now live in the city but still own a house in the village. At Trajko Elenin house I met a wonderful woman by the name of Menka Makreva who happens to work as a secretary at Koco Racin Public School in the city of Prilep. Immediately, we connected and had something in common; we made the necessary arrangements for me to visit her at the school before I left Macedonia. I was ecstatic!

 

Early in the morning on November 3rd, I arrived at the front entrance of the school. I admit I was a bit nervous not knowing what to expect. After getting clearance from the security guard I was taken to the third floor where Menka’s office was located. I was introduced to her colleague who was very polite and happy to see a foreigner was interested in the school. Menka was also very happy that I was there and interested in her school and we also shared the same last name with her father. She was very proud to demonstrate how technology on her desktop computer loaded with Windows XP made her job easier. Behind her on the wall there was a class schedule posted for all the grades. Due to limited school space they have two shifts to accommodate all the students. After a few phone calls we walked down to Mrs. Natasa Mirceska classroom who was teaching grade one students. Students in the hall were very curious and kept staring at me and all my camera equipment with their favourite secretary. We also met the school principal and he was also curious and excited about all the cameras. Menka explained why I was there and I was welcomed with open arms. After meeting a few of the school staff I was more relaxed and looked forward to meeting Mrs. Mirceska

 

We knocked at the classroom door and Mrs Mirceska introduced herself and after a handshake I knew I had come to the right place. Glancing over her shoulder I could see over dozen students looking at me and wondering who the stranger was. Mrs. Mirceska introduced me to the class. I was over the moon to be there, looking at this beautiful and innocent grade one student wearing the same uniform as I used to and who’s native tongue is Makedonski . I had another flashback to the classroom of my school days. The teacher with her soft spoken voice asked the students what they could show or demonstrate to their guest that came all the way from Canada. They screamed very loudly that they wanted to play a game that involves counting using the floor. Within minutes all the desks were pushed aside so there was enough room for the game. Then the teacher announced before they started the game that I wanted to take a group photo. It was lot of fun getting all the kids to pose for the photo, I felt like a kid again. The photo below says it all.

 

I setup the movie camera on a tripod and started filming the kids playing their favorite game with music blasting from the teacher’s laptop. All I could think at that time was what a wonderful moment this is. In the middle of the room Mrs. Mirceska was helping the kid’s on their next move, and Menka and I were looking at each other with a big smile and I kept thanking her on making this happen. According to my movie clip, the entire game lasted over 45 minutes but for me it felt like five minutes of amazing quality time with kids and two professional educators who were very happy to welcome me and embrace my excitement of being there. After the game the room was returned to its original state and all the kids were sitting at their desk with a big smile. Mrs Mirceska wrote her contact information on a piece of paper for me and I stood in front of the class and thanked everyone for their warm hospitality. I told them that I would never forget this day and they were very lucky to have Mrs Mirceska as their math teacher.

 

In conclusion, this was the highlight of the trip and hopefully one day in the near future I can return to take another picture. Also, from the bottom of my heart I want to thank Mrs. Natasa Mirceska for her kindness, her warm hospitality and for taking the time to fulfill one of the item from my bucket list. Lastly, thanks to my good friend Menka for making it happen. You are truly a person of integrity.

 

Written by: Mike Vrgleski mvrgleski@gmail.com
Translated by: Neda Ilievska

 

 

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Last Update: September 16, 2017