The moment I looked at my planner on my last day of school in June, I knew this would happen.
I’d been telling my host mom all year that I would have more free time in the summer when school was out and I didn’t have classes every day. Somehow, two months have blinked by and I’m now staring down my second school year.
I love to relax and nap and have a good Netflix binge like anyone else, but I also like to be busy. I like to be doing things and working on projects and feeling like I’m accomplishing things. I’m always working on a to-do list. It’s just who I am.
So this summer, I filled in the spaces on my calendar that weren’t already penciled in with camps and GLOW preparations and grant work with fun. I’ve been able to visit three new countries for less money than it would take me to fly across the country in America once. I’ve visited new cities and other volunteers, baked (duh), read good books, and hiked.
My favorite hike so far was with a group from a neighboring city. (By neighboring, I mean the bus ride was only an hour.) We joined this group of Macedonians, Bulgarians, Serbians, and even a stray Russian, on an annual hike to the top of Mount Golak, where there is a cultural festival every year.
The hike took most of the day, because every time the group of about 35 people stretched a bit too far, we waited for everyone to catch up. We also had a very Macedonian lunch break, with a big pot of stew and hunks and bread and a leisurely meal time with spontaneous bursts of song.
My big success for the day was climbing over a stone fence and tearing a hole in my yoga pants. You guess it: right over the butt cheek. (Safety pins have been permanently added to my future hiking provisions.)
At the top, we found hundreds, if not thousands, of people across the mountainside. There were cars everywhere, tents everywhere, and little fires starting up. A stage was already ready and waiting for the traditional dancers later in the night and the smell of grilled meet was just beginning to waft from a few vendors’ stands.
The American contingent of hikers included my friends Gwen, and Andreya and Jarred. (They’re married, well except Gwen.) The hiking group is from Andreya and Jarred’s town, so they were basically celebrities the whole time. (I think that makes Gwen and I groupies, but I’m okay with that.)
Most people had tents or some sort of shelter, but we figured we’d just sleep under the stars. It’s August, and hot. When we laid out our sleeping bags though, our Macedonian friends worried we’d be too cold. They insisted on building us a fire, and then insisted that Jarred help them collect firewood. Andreya, Gwen, and I insisted on stretching out and watching the sunset.
It was a much bigger event than I anticipated when we set out that morning, but it was a lot of fun to see the traditional dancers and interact with so many people who loved being active and being outdoors.
I even saw one of my campers from GLOW. She somehow spotted me in the waning daylight in my grubby hiking clothes and safety pinned yoga pants and just wanted to say hi. It made my night.
We called it a night sometime around midnight, but the party didn’t stop all night. I know because every time I woke up, the turbo folk music was still blasting. It was still going when we got up at 6 a.m. (I think as long as there is rakija to drink, the party continues, and in Macedonia, there is always rakija.)
As encouraging as it was to see a group loving nature and hiking, it was disappointing the next morning to see all the trash they left behind. Environmental awareness is definitely an area of need in this country.
One teenager walked by our camp as we were setting up and tossed his soda bottle into the grass. That was until I called him out and instructed him to take it with him, throwing my shadiest teacher stare his way. (Fellow teachers you know what I’m talking about.) So at least the trash pile the next day was one bottle less.
Either way, it was a great weekend adventure, and that’s what summer is all about.