Two months came and went.
I knew it would pass by fast, as travel always does, but I didn’t expect it to be quite at this velocity.
I don’t know what seems to be longer; 2 months or 60 days.
Well, I guess in the long run, (in the span of a lifetime), both are equally short.
When I arrived in Macedonia my time seemed endless, infinite. I also arrived on a holiday weekend and we didn’t have any work. So, I went hiking every day, experienced Kolede (the pre-Christmas fire festival), and went to (my now favorite) live music scene called Rakijada.
My house had a hula hoop, and it had a yoga mat. I had housemates from Turkey and Romania and they had just as much of a sweet tooth as me.
The days and weeks went by and I began teaching Italian and Spanish lessons, as well as hosting a weekly language exchange.
The volunteers and I created upcycling projects for our house and for elementary schools. We organized a painting night called Art Attack and movie nights every Thursday.
Claudia, the Romanian volunteer, and I like to think we changed the community’s perspective with our final project, an interactive question display in the center of Sirok Sokak. We had people answer the question “What is your goal for 2018” and “What would you do if Sirok Sokak didn’t exist?”
I found my favorite place to eat lunch (Bagetto) and red peppers stuffed with cheese was my new craving every day at 13:00.
I gained public speaking and presentation-creating skills with our various events. From a presentation on how travel cheaply, to a discussion on globalization, to a panel on youth rights, to an interactive workshop on positive psychology, to my language courses, I developed love for teaching, for sharing information.
And the crazy part, looking back on this, is how much I enjoyed every moment. Work didn’t feel like work, not when speaking with an audience, nor staying late in the office to finalize plans and poster designs.
“Time goes by when you’re having fun” is absolutely correct. And for one of the first times in my life, every moment of my time I was absorbed and fascinated with and at work.
But all of this aside, there is one unforgettable thing.
The Macedonian people.
The warmth, the curiosity, the intelligence, and the generosity of this small country left me speechless in many situations. Kindness to strangers isn’t foreign to me, I’m always experiencing this when traveling alone, hitchhiking, couchsurfing, etc., but in Macedonia it was a new level.
In Bitola, I remarked at how intrigued people are in what is beyond their country and culture, and in learning via informal education. Our SFERA events were always filled with participants.
Even the days when I traveled alone, I never felt alone, I was never lonely. People made conversation everywhere.
When hiking in around Pelister park, in the neighboring villages people showed me their dogs, their tobacco crops, and asked as always, where I’m coming from, with a smile following at whatever answer I decided upon, Romania or USA.
In Ohrid, I was going the wrong direction towards the bus, and when I asked a man on a bicycle where I was, he not only told me the direction, but rode his bicycle alongside me running, TO the actual station. Having been 4 kilometers in the wrong direction I inevitably missed my bus, albeit the 15 minutes run, but I tried to hitchhike, and in less than TWO minutes, a car stopped and picked me up for the drive to Bitola.
Another day, my friends and I were hiking near the village of Krstoar, and I asked a little old lady if I was going the right way. She emphatically responded yes, laughing and taking my cold hands in her warm ones asking “where did you come from?!”
In February, I was traveling from Kavadarci to Strumica with 3 friends for carnival. All four of us made it together, having hitchhiked with rides from four different cars.
When I visited Prilep and couch surfed with a guy named Aleksandar, I never imagined his family would cook something different from what they ate for dinner, when I told them I was a vegetarian, nor that his sister would let me borrow her velvet red boots to go clubbing.
Aleksandar and I visited the highest city in the Balkans (Krushevo) the following week, and despite a heavy snowfall, he insisted on driving because it was the one destination I wanted to visit before leaving Macedonia. On the way home, we stopped at his friend’s house, where his mother brought out finger-foods and sweets of all kinds, asking me often if I needed anything else.
In my final days, hiking to Bukovo village, I feared some dogs in the fields nearby, and decided to wait for a woman walking uphill, until I could walk beside her. We chatted the whole 15 minutes and she invited me in for a cup of coffee, laughing hysterically when we took a selfie.
In the end, yes, my EVS project was amazing. I developed my passions, crafted new ones, and discovered ways to incorporate them into a potential future.
But it was the Macedonian people that captured my heart and left me with a warm glow as I headed to the airport.
For this, I say not only ciao, but “se gledame” to Macedonia, and vow to pass the curious spirit & love I experienced onwards, sharing with other people my memories of this beautiful place.