An afternoon in Ohrid

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Shihemi me vone; ќе се видаме наскеро

This will probably be my final posting to CandyinMacedonia.  On Dec. 4th I shall join the legions of returned Peace Corps volunteers.  Since it is difficult to really explain to others what this experience has been like, RPCV's often hang out together.  They understand the challenges, rewards, joys and frustrations that accompany being a volunteer.  They understand the language, abbreviations, and jokes.  It is an experience like no other, and I thank all of you who have gone through this with me, either here in Macedonia or by reading my blog.  If you see me shortly after I return, know that I will be going through culture shock, even though I am returning to my home country.  I know that suddenly everything will feel too big, too impersonal, too overwhelming, and it will take some time to readjust to the immensity that is the United States.

Spike's passport picture
I'm busy cleaning and packing, trying to fit into one suitcase and two carry-ons all the detritus that I have accumulated over 3+ years.  I'll be returning with Spike, my Macedonian Muskrat Terrier (just found out MK doesn't have muskrats - probably because there are so many Spikey's around).  But more important than the things will be the memories of the people, country and experiences that I have been privileged to have.  A little over 3 years ago I arrived in Macedonia with the other MAK -14's, nervous, excited and in shock.  For the first week - heck, for the first year, I kept waiting for Peace Corps to say they'd made a mistake and I had to go home.  But they didn't, and they even let me stay an additional year beyond my initial commitment!

I've been thinking of all the things I will miss about Macedonia and have made a partial list.
Luli, Elona, kids and extended family
1.  My family here.  Luli and Elona have welcomed me into their family and have been so loving.  I will miss having Lule run and jump into my arms when she sees me, and Lindi growing up so quickly and becoming a little man.  I will miss their extended family - parents, siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins - all of whom have been so gracious and loving to me.  People may not have a lot here, but what they have they share.  They take care of each other and guests with such graciousness.  I've felt surround by a blanket of caring.

Gordana, her parents and Goran
Vjosa's Mom (Halide) and Dad (Billy)
2.  My friends.  I've had the privilege to be part of both Macedonian and Albanian friends and family.  They've fed me, pampered me, put up with my halting and underdeveloped Macedonian and Albanian, and taken me into their homes and their hearts and left an indelible impression in mine.  They've showered me with rakija, ajvar, fruits and vegetables from the garden, and, of course, delicious baklava and other treats.  If I have ever needed anything, all I've had to do is ask!

3.  The smell of chestnuts roasting.  I remember the smell of chestnuts roasting when I lived in New York City right after college, but by the time Kacy moved to New York they had disappeared.  Here, in the fall and winter, the chestnut vendors stand outside my door and on the main square selling cones of chestnuts for about 50 cents.  (In the summer they sell corn on the cob).  I will miss these street side vendors who add to the ambiance of Gostivar.

4.  Being spoiled.  Everyone, i mean everyone, spoils me rotten here.  I am 'the American'.  I am given the best of everything, whether it's the best seat by the fire or the best cut of meat at a meal.  I am greeted with enthusiasm on the street by lots of people, even though I may have trouble remembering them.  It is heady stuff, being special, and when I return I'll just be another LOL (little old lady).

A sheepbreeders meeting
5.  Conversations over coffee.  In the evening, I often wander over to Luli's coffee shop, the Etno Kaffe.  Sometimes I sit and talk with Luli, sometimes others in the shop.  I might meet Shkodran there, to talk about school in America or other things.  Or I might sit with my dear friend Ilmi and chat about everything - I have so appreciated our coffees together where we talked about everything under the sun.  When I was curious about something, I always knew I could ask him and get an unbiased response.  No coffees to go here - it would be an insult not to sit and talk - why else would you get coffee?  In fact, nothing would get done here without sitting done for coffee.  Some days I had to moderate my coffee intake with other beverages so I didn't end up over-caffeinated!

The Skopje-Kriva Palanka bus
6.  The buses.  Oh, yes, the buses.  Big and small and in-between.  Sometimes they were so packed - seats, aisles, door wells are crammed with people - that I wondered if I'd be able to get to a door when it was time to get off.  Sometimes they were so stifling hot with no one wanting to open windows or roof openings for fear of the dreaded pro maja.  For the first year I was nervous about riding them to new places, worrying that I would miss the town I was headed to.  It is difficult to find out when the bus goes to any one town, since each town has a different bus system and there is nothing centralized or even on line.  But bus drivers are wonderful.  Two friends did what we all feared most and got on wrong buses, but when they discovered they were on the wrong bus, the drivers called the right buses to make sure they would meet and transfer the person.  They helped me get to the right place at the right town.  And this last year, since I rode the bus so often to go to Skopje, the drivers got to know me and always greeted me with a smile or waved when the bus went by me in town.  And I had some wonderful conversations with people on buses - strangers that were wonderful to talk to!

7.  The call to prayer.  When I first came to Macedonia, I stayed with a family that lived right next to the Xhamija (mosque).  I cursed the call to prayer as it boomed into my bedroom at 5:15 from the loudspeaker outside my window.  But I shall miss it when I return.  The call marks time during the day and soothes the soul.  Each xhamija's call is different, but when they blend and float over the city, it is beautiful

Lunch at Hotel Tutto
8.  The food.  There are many foods I am looking forward to when I return, but I shall miss the fresh and delicious food here.  Food has not become big business here, and the small farmers take pride in their produce and meats.  Everything is fresh, tasty and juicy.  I shall miss my butcher shop, where the fresh beef is ground into hamburger as I watch and the pork chop from the pig slaughtered in the preceding 24 hours is cut from the rack.  I will miss by bakery lady, who has always been so sweet to me, and the smell and taste of the wonderful baked goods.  But mostly I will miss the fresh produce.  I had forgotten how good peaches can taste and the piquancy of a good tomato.  It will be hard to go back to the mass produced food that looks good but has no taste.

9.  The challenges.  Living in a different culture with different traditions and languages presented challenges every day.  If I wanted to buy something, hmmm, where might I be able to do that?  How could I make myself understood when I was trying to ask something?  What is the right thing to do in this situation?  Every day was a different challenge.  It kept the adrenaline flowing, and every day I learned new things.  I fear it will be boring to return where things are predictable, where it is easy to find what you want, and where everyone understands what you say but may not listen to you.

10.  The beauty.  Macedonia is a beautiful country.  There were times that it took my breath away, and times that I luxuriated in its beauty.  Every time I came back to the Polog Valley from Skopje, I was filled with a sense of wonderment the minute we crested the hill and the Mali Shar came into view.  I loved being able to see so much of it and constantly be amazed and thrilled by the view.

Harvest Festival
11.  My Peace Corps family.  The ages of volunteers while I was here ranged from 21 to 80, yet we all were in this together and formed tight bonds.  Whenever I needed help or support, I knew that my PC family would answer the call.  I have laughed, cried, played and had adventures with them  Now I have friends that I will always have a special bond with scattered throughout the country.  I can't wait to see you all again and I hope we have the chance to have more adventures together.

12.  Adventure.  Speaking of adventures, Peace Corps has given me the opportunity to have more adventures than I can even begin to recount, both in Macedonia and in places I never thought I would go.  It's taught me how to travel, not impersonally only seeing the sights, but to find out about life and make connections wherever I go.  It's not about being comfortable, it's about experiencing the place and the people, and pushing my own boundaries wherever I am.  I shall be eternally grateful that I have had the opportunity to experience all that I have in these past three plus years.  I consider myself to be the luckiest of people!

And now the sun is setting on this part of my life (is that too corny?  I just love this picture!)  I look forward to returning home and seeing my family and friends there.  I am still trying to figure out what is next for me - for now I shall continue to travel and see those folks that I have missed these last three years.  But Macedonia and Peace Corps will always be in my heart, and soon I shall return for a visit.  If you have stayed with this blog entry to the very end, bless you!  And thanks for letting me share my journey with you.


  1. Aw Candy, you will be missed. I hope to see you before you go!

  2. I will echo Austin's comments and add a few.
    You were the first PCV in Macedonia to help me become prepared after I accepted the invitation and prepared to serve here. You continued to be an amazing support for me as I labored through language classes in PST and you continued to be a terrific resource throughout my first year. Thank you for sharing your experiences, wisdom and encouragement.
    Best wishes in all that lies ahead!