Mayor and Ambassador Praise WITS Writers of Bitola

Posted July 24, 2009 & filed under Notebook.

bitola art of wordsYesterday the United States Ambassador to Macedonia came, with the mayor of Bitola, to give out the awards to the children who are completing the Creative Writing Camp.  Today we did a new assignment that basically uses chopsticks to create a proclamation of the rights of children. We glue the chopsticks to a paper that has been turned sideways once the child has written about the rights of children all over the world.  We talked about the Emancipation Proclamation in the United States and what it meant.  Then we played (thanks to YouTube) a song by Tose called “This World.”  It is an amazing song about the rights of children that seems to both owe a debt to Michael Jackson’s songs about children and move away from concepts of Neverland.  If you have time, you should take a look at the musical poem.


After they read their proclamations and tied the proclamation with ribbon we began working on the plays.  All agreed on the rights of children to have kind families, to have enough clean food and water, to have access to education, books, and information, to be treated with dignity, to have health care. The debate was over whether or not a child had the right to have a dog. So you can see how things are going here.  Things that great men are still debating, are easy to solve here, but the right to have a dog, now that is an issue. Perhaps this battle is fresh in the minds and hearts of some of the children at the camp.  I remember this battle with my own child, Meredith Cunningham, who bought a dog and walked the dog four miles home and simply dared me to take that dog (Buster) back.  Of course, I did not.

Today, the play is the thing.  This afternoon the students will present 6 plays as writer/actors.  They are busy memorizing their lines.  That is right.  I said memorizing.  Some of these plays are long, but Macedonia has a great bardic tradition.  I discovered this last year when I listened with wonder and amazement to my students, who memorized their play in 48 hours.  I did not ask them to memorize their lines. I told them this was “Reader’s Theatre”; that we are a Creative Writing Camp, not a group of roving players.

It didn’t matter. They were sure that I needed saving from myself and the best way to do it was simply present me with the Macedonian reality that you don’t bring paper with your lines on it into a threatre in Macedonia.  I had read about the great 20th century bardic tradition in Macedonia, about a man who could simply speak poems for 33 hours at a time, but I had no idea that I would be looking at the bardic tradition with my on eyes and hearing it with my own ears.  It reminded me that Mnemosyne (memory) is the mother of the muses. (We will get into their paternity another time). I will let you know how the plays work out in the next blog post.

Until then farewell from the World Capital of Memory, Bitola and the Macedonian Express,

Merrilee Cunningham, Writers in the Schools

On to Bitola

Posted June 30, 2008 & filed under Notebook.

Yesterday morning I found presents for my trip away from Tetova waiting at my hotel. I can hardly say enough about how kind these follks were to me.  I left Tetova and took a wonderful three hour ride passing close enough to Lake Ohrid (German archeologists have determined that it is one of the three oldest lakes in the world — over 50,000 years and that it has a small lake under it) and leaving the mountains and headed for Bitola with my driver. It was a good thing that Robert was a great driver because the road was narrow, two-way, and around mountains.  After all, we are still in the Balkans.

I am now just 4 miles or so from Greece. Bitola is amazingly beautiful, and I am thrilled to be here. I am listening to Macedonia’s greatest rock star, Tose, who was killed in a car crash at the age of 26 this past spring. Much of Macedonia’s youth is mourning for him, and we are playing his music when they do their ‘life clock’ exercise, which is my invention, though so many of the other writing initiatives that they are doing come from Amy Lin, Leslie Gauna, and other WITS Writers. Thank you.

Today is the first day of the program with the children of Bitola, and we are ready.  The staff here has made amazing preparations, and the American Corner looks beautiful. Juices are out. Tortes are in their little pink and green cups, cookies abound and there is cold water for the afternoon. The art images of their city are ready to be printed for the Ekphrasis exercise. The words for “found words” are up on the walls. Their portfolios are fluttering in the breeze of the air conditioning.

I have not seen Herculea yet, though I believe that Herculea was founded in honor of Hera, not Hercules. I will research more when I go there, and you blog readers will be the second to know.  It is a beautiful sunny day in Bitola. The buildings are classical architecture and so grand.   The children will be here in fifteen minutes so I must go.

From the Macedonian Express, this is Merrilee Cunningham in beautiful downtown Bitola on the border between Greece and Southern Macedonia