“Is that The Mountain?” asked Bilbo in a solemn voice, looking at it with round eyes. He had never seen a thing that looked so big before.
“Of course not!” said Balin. “That is only the beginning of the Misty Mountains, and we have to get through, or over, or under those somehow, before we can come into Wilderland beyond. And it is a deal of a way even from the other side of them to the Lonely Mountain in the East where Smaug lies on our treasure.”
“O!” said Bilbo, and just at that moment he felt more fared than he ever remembered feeling before. He was thinking once again of his comfortable chair before the fire in his favourite sitting-room in his hobbit-hole, and of the kettle singing. Not for the last time!
It seems like I’ve been here for months and a moment.
Both seem to be true.
I’m writing today from a new home, in a new village, with a new title: Peace Corps Volunteer.
I’m nearly at the end of my third month in Macedonia, but my service is only now beginning. Training is but a moment of my full commitment.
The end of PST renewed my feelings of excitement and anxiousness. While I’m excited about the true start of my service, I’m anxious about leaving what I’ve come to know.
I was comfortable in Sveti Nikole. The waiters at the cafes knew me, as did the ladies who work at the register at the grocery store. I had a regular running route. My host family and I developed our own sub-dialect of Macedonian, based on the words and sentence structures I’ve mastered thus far.
Despite my nerves, peering ahead at the proverbial mountain that will be the next two years, I feel ready for the next step. (And ready to make a hobbit reference at every opportunity.)
The last week in Sveti Nikole was perfect.
We had one last Hub Day, where we premiered our silly, parody music video. (That video has more than 30,000 views between YouTube and several Macedonian websites that featured it. How the heck did that happen?)
I got the results of my language proficiency interview (LPI) and now know that I am speaking Macedonian at the intermediate-mid level. (The levels are: novice high, intermediate low, intermediate mid, intermediate high, advanced low, etc.) I believe officially the Peace Corps wants at least intermediate-low, so I’m happy.
We had our last day of language class as students and then we had our last day overall, where we taught the class.
The class was mostly games, and of course, included an adaptation of Clue based on our favorite Turkish soap opera. (Spoiler: it was Cила.) Because we are the bakers of Sveti, we also ended the day with a funfetti cake.
More importantly, we ended with silly presents and notes for our incredible teachers before we all went out to lunch together.
Proud moment: I was the first one to the restaurant (an accomplishment in and of itself) and I told the waiter I needed a table for 14. He seated me, took my drink order and when the group started to arrive, he asked me if I was the only one who spoke Macedonian. It felt cool.
Weird moment: I accidentally watched someone slaughter a turkey on my way to the restaurant. Bon appétit?
And then there was Thanksgiving.
It was the first of what will be many holidays across the ocean from my comfort zone.
It was wonderful.
The not-quite-yet volunteers all made different traditional sides, with some alterations based on the available ingredients. A few of the families also supplied some traditional Macedonian fare. We had a local restaurant cook the three turkeys the Peace Corps provided. (Not the one I saw beheaded.)
All of the families packed in the dining room of a restaurant in Sveti where I ate until I regretted wearing a belt.
Then, instead of napping and watching football, we danced the oro.
The oro is kind of like the Macedonian version of the Cupid Shuffle.
It’s a line dance. Everyone knows the steps. It’s pretty easy to pick up if you don’t, and the steps repeat until the song ends.
There are different variations depending on the tempo of the song, but it’s usually three steps right, two heel touches, rinse and repeat. Someone leads the group, hands linked, in a circle.
It was a fun way to blend the cultures. I even (accidentally) lead the oro for a song.
And then we became volunteers.
We loaded up buses for our last trip to Skopje for the swearing in ceremony on Friday. Host families joined most volunteers.
It was an intimate venue and there was a string quartet playing when we arrived (#fancy). There was also an incredible wall of emperor penguins near the restroom, which immediately stole my heart.
Wearing the best looks our suitcases had to offer, we lined up to make our entrance. As the 44 of us stood in line, whispering, giggling and snapping pictures, it felt like high school graduation. (Complete with responsible adults shushing us.)
The gravity of the ceremony didn’t really sink in until I walked in.
I felt proud taking my place before PST host families, new host families, the U.S. ambassador, and the president of Macedonia. I also felt the pride of all the Peace Corps staff who have supported us, laughed with us, and been there for each step so far.
Singing both the American and Macedonian national anthems was a special experience. Despite my momentary panic when I didn’t find the lyrics in my program, I put my hand over my heart and suddenly knew every word. (The daily practice sessions in Sveti Nikole paid off.)
Two of my incredible fellow PCVs also gave a beautiful speech in Albanian and Macedonian.
Meanwhile, I sat in the front row and dropped my program three times.
I really enjoyed watching the photogs from the different news outlets circle around. They felt familiar and I tried to match them up with the photogs in my old newsroom in Pennsylvania.
Taking the oath was my “this is really happening” moment.
We all stood, raised our right hands, and repeated the following:
I,____________(name) do solemnly swear, or affirm, that I will support and defend the constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, and that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same, that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion, and that I will well and faithfully discharge my duties in the Peace Corps.
After the ceremony, we took photos upon photos, including all of our esteemed guests. The president was right behind me, so I turned and thanked him before he left. Then there were hugs upon hugs. I may not have hugged everyone, but I put in a heck of an effort.
Friday night, the Sveti crew had one last coffee date, where we recapped some of the highlights, compared gripes about packing again and enjoyed crowding around a table of familiar faces.
Afterward, Rachel and I went to say goodbye to a friend, who lives in Sveti. It was only our second time visiting her home and meeting her mom, but true to Macedonian hospitality, there was coffee, juice, cookies, snacks and even an incredible piece of fig cake.
When we left, her mom sent us to our new destinations with a jar of ajvar. I told her I’ll think of them while I enjoy it.
I spent Saturday morning relaxing with my host family, after I somehow willed my suitcases to zip shut. We sort of watched a movie. We talked about my new village. I ate my last meal with them: spaghetti and ketchup. (It was my first meal when I arrived too.) My sisters each gave me a teddy bear with a little note wishing me luck. My host baba gave me a make-up mirror. (I already have all three displayed in my new room.)
We promised to visit and then my host dad drove me to the bus station. My sisters waved until the car was out of sight.
Boarding the bus was another sweet moment. My host dad and I hugged, but we’re not really the crying type. I ended up riding with three other volunteers who had stops along the way to my village, so I got tear-soaked hugs from all of their host parents.
So now, here I am, settling in with a new family, in a new home, in my new village. And I’m heading to bed. I have school in the morning.