If you’re even remotely considering visiting me in Macedonia, please buy your ticket immediately.
Don’t visit because the people are warm and welcoming. Don’t visit because the mountains are beautiful. Don’t visit because we can eat burek and baklava all day, every day. Just visit because I’m selfish.
I had my first visitors last week and it was everything I dreamed of and more.
(They brought hot sauce.)
My amazing cousins Bianca and Kyle are living in Turkey right now on Fulbright scholarships. (What are the odds of that, right?) We’ve been plotting to have a mini family reunion (three people counts, right?) since we realized we would be sort of neighbors on the other side of the world.
They’re teaching at universities in Turkey right now, so winter break allowed some time to explore the Balkans. The trip was very free form, so we planned the one-day detour in Macedonia whenever wifi was available.
I’m normally a planner, but I’m letting that go a little while I’m here. A popular phrase in Macedonia is, “има време.” (Pronounced eema vreme.) It means there is time.
I’m working on that, but I’m still me, so I hunted down all the possible routes and bus times from Skopje to me and all possible routes, bus times, and combis from me to their next destination in Sofia, Bulgaria. In the end, we spent the entire day together Tuesday and I tracked down a 10 euro combi that picked them up in my village the next morning.
I can’t even begin to describe how great it was to spend time with family and share my new world. I love my Peace Corps family, but there is nothing like hugging someone who has loved you since you wore nothing but overalls and tie-dye Disney princess T-shirts.
We had some traditional dishes at a restaurant in Kocani, then some traditional desserts at a bakery, where we did some traditional people watching.
Our last five months have run parallel in a lot of ways. We moved to new countries, where we teach English and are working to integrate into new cultures. We also take pictures of all the delicious new foods and are planning to start running a little more because of the new weight we’ve gained. (Whoops. We don’t like to say no to dessert.)
The highlight for me was walking home from a quick hike in the hills that look over my village. We ran into the French teacher who just retired from my school. (We’re neighbors.) Naturally, she paused on her way to wherever she was going to talk with us on the side of the road for 15 minutes. It was a perfect example of the friendly, hospitable people here and the culture I’d been trying to explain to my visitors.
It was also a beautiful moment of cultural exchange.
I spoke with my cousins in English. I spoke with the French teacher in Macedonian, and my cousins spoke to her in French.
I was beaming for the rest of our walk home.
We had the same situation all over again at home, where my host sister (visiting from Germany) spoke with them in a bit of German and a bit of Turkish. My host mom also knows some Turkish, so we bounced in and out of half a dozen languages over coffee. It was a blast.
The visit really highlighted for me how much my village has become home and how far I’ve come since I stepped off a plane five months ago, when I barely knew how to say hello.
It was also special to be able to call our grandparents together. Bianca and I cringed when they told us that it had been a little chilly in Florida lately, but we both smiled when they told us how proud they are of our adventures, even though they can’t wait to get us home. (I told them to set aside several days just for the welcome home hugs.) Hanging up the phone, we heard our grandpa saying, “Well that was certainly nice.” (They’re pretty adorable.)
We also got to Face Time with my other cousin, Bianca’s sister, Bethany. (You may know her as my most dedicated commenter. She’s wonderful.) I grew up with two brothers and have always felt like my cousins were my sister substitutes.
The day went way too fast, but it was refreshing to laugh together, sing Disney songs, cozy up on the couch, and just enjoy the comfort and familiarity and family.
So pretty please, buy your ticket and plan a visit. I’ll make you dinner. I’ll buy you everything at the bakery. I’ll take you hiking and sing Disney songs to you. (Just bring hot sauce when you come, please.)