Zdravo from Macedonia!
After a long (LONG!) day of travel, we made our way from Philadelphia to JFK airport (by bus), from JFK to Vienna (by plane), from Vienna to Skopje, Macedonia (again, by plane), and then from Skopje to Tetevo (by bus).
In all, it was about 26 hours from the time I woke up in Philly to the sweet serenade of my Beyoncé alarm to when I collapsed in my bed in Macedonia.
And oh what a day it has been.
By the time we got on our flight at JFK around 5:30 p.m. EST, I was already bubbling with anticipation. I made note of the moment the wheels left the ground, my last connection to American soil for a while.
There have been a lot of lasts in recent days and they’ll be easily eclipsed by all the firsts I’m about to experience.
On that note, I want to let you know there will be more frequent posts at first, but I’ll settle in and scale back to hopefully one or two a week. Please don’t let the initial barrage of email notifications discourage you from following along.
Oh! Remember that post on packing? I almost got it right. One of my bags was overweight, but a lovely, fellow PCV (Peace Corps volunteer) let me stash my winter boots in her bag to just squeak under the limit.
In the air, I thought I would be able to sleep my way to Vienna, but no such luck. Instead it was X-Men: Days of Future Past and Chef. (Did you know Peace Corps founding president JFK was a mutant? #stuffIlearnedontheplane)
It was weird to hear, “Dinner will be served, followed by breakfast before we land.” I was pumped about all the eating, but knew it was going to be a long flight.
That wasn’t the weirdest thing though. About 5 ½ hours into our flight, a few of us giggled when we caught an older couple exiting one of the restrooms together. Judging by his sheepish grin, her delayed departure, and our 38001 feet cruising altitude, he’s crossing something off his bucket list.
I had my own connection at the restrooms, albeit less risqué. I was checking names with a few PCVs also waiting and I jokingly apologized to the other man waiting, for not being able to include his name. He was on his way to Vienna to continue work on a non-profit group he founded called Envision Kindness. The focus is to create a database of photos and videos of acts of kindness, which include captions to provide context. He said it’s really a social experiment to spread positive images in a world often dominated by negative stories in the media. (My former reporter ears perked up at that.)
I’m looking forward to seeing how it all pans out and maybe even contributing some kindness from Macedonia.
He told me that I radiated joy, which was encouraging. He also said that he believes everything happens for a reason. Me too.
It certainly reinforced that networking happens everywhere, even in line for the restroom, on a jet, somewhere over the Atlantic.
After a comfy layover in Vienna (complete with lounge seating and free Wi-Fi!), we departed for our new home.
The flight was only long enough for one chapter of my book, The Blue Sweater. Once we started our descent, I was too distracted to read much more.
My first view of Macedonia was rolling, intense, green mountains shrouded in wispy fog. It’s beautiful.
The lush countryside peeked through the clouds, and before long, pockets of red, terracotta rooftops came into view. Many skirted the mountains. Now that the sun has set, there is just a twinkling band of lights from the homes along the base.
Once we bounded off the plane, the customs process took seconds and then we were gathering luggage and on our way to meet the country staff.
They were hard to miss.
We rolled through the double doors to cheers, signs, cameras flashing and a long line of smiles. Welcome home.
I resisted the urge to frolic through the grass just outside the airport, but it was tough. Sensory overload continued on the bus to Tetevo.
My seatmate said she was torn between taking in the sights or taking a nap. Moments later, she was asleep next to me. Her body decided.
I stayed awake, devouring the scenery, noting watermelon, corn and grape fields. Stands of red and white grapes sat on the shoulder of the two-lane highway, inches from the cars whizzing past. I enjoyed the few spots of graffiti, tagged in the Cyrillic alphabet. I also enjoyed that when we missed our exit, the bus driver simply braked, backed up, and corrected course.
I made it through lunch and a quick tour of the Woodrow Wilson School, where we’re staying for the next week, before my body decided 26 hours awake had been quite enough.