Last weekend had a lot of wonderful.
We celebrated the birthdays of three other volunteers. The airBnB they booked happened to overlook a Severina concert, making our terrace the VIP zone. (She’s one of our favorite Balkan artists.) We heard our favorite song twice. There was dancing — so much dancing.
But then something less wonderful happened on our walk back to the friend’s house where I was staying. There were four of us. We were talking. I was carrying the burek.
We were nearly home when I felt my purse yanked from my body. He pulled it so hard that the strap snapped. It all happened in moments. We barely saw the guy as he ran.
I turned and immediately gave chase, leaving my friends behind and confused about what happened. They came afterward hearing me yelling. (Everyone was okay. Promise.)
This is probably where our Peace Corps safety and security officer would want me to add that running after this guy was a terrible idea. I was not being vigilant. I know. It was just my (poor) reaction in the moment.
We were all fine, and I found my abandoned purse a few blocks away, but my iPhone, Macedonian phone, and wallet with cash and debit card were all gone. If we’re tallying everything, we also lost the bag of burek I dropped while I chased the guy.
There was a group of Macedonian guys hanging out in that area who spoke English and they told me it was a terrible idea to chase him. I already knew that. They also said if they saw or heard anything around the neighborhood, they’d call our security guy Goce. (Goce = Macedonian super hero.)
We woke Goce up to tell him what happened and he took steps to have my Macedonian bank card blocked and said he would take me to the police station in the morning. Back at my friend’s house, no one had an app that would work to call my mom, so we enlisted Susan’s mom to make the call from America to ask her to cancel my other cards. I gave her a few key phrases to say so my mom wouldn’t freak out. She still did a little. Sorry mom.
I also sent her a ridiculous email. (All of the communications I sent in the immediate aftermath were dramatic and ridiculous. Adrenaline and emotion.) It started like this: “so i love you to the moon and back. i’m totally fine. i have no new weird piercings or tattoos, but someone mugged me a little bit tonight.”
Then I followed up and turned into Billy Badass and told her I would have caught him if I hadn’t been in sandals. (Don’t worry. I promise I’ll never chase anyone again.)
The rest of the night was trying to remember what had been in my wallet, what else had been in my bag, intermittently crying, my friend Iris crying with me, lots of hugging, lots of reliving the sequence of events, and more hugging. (Thank you of all thank yous to Emily, Susan, and Iris for being amazing.)
We all finally fell into bed around 5 a.m. Or maybe it was later? Goce was on the phone what seemed like moments later, with details about making the police report.
And then things started to feel a bit better. The kind cab driver who took Iris and I to the police station only charged us a third of the fare. He said we were just here for a visit and he appreciated that we work as teachers. (This NEVER happens in Skopje.) Making the report was relatively easy. Goce drove me all the way home. (This was especially helpful because my bus ticket had been in my wallet….and I had no money.) He stopped to get us coffee and a sandwich along the way. We all needed it.
He also didn’t give me a lecture about chasing the thief. I sheepishly said I knew I shouldn’t have and he said he knew I knew. There was nothing more to say. I appreciated that.
He and Iris made sure I had what I needed to get through a few days without a phone and a bank card and then he dropped me off at home. Unfortunately, I realized after he pulled away that my house keys had also been in my purse. This meant checking all the windows and crawling through the only open one I found. (It also meant my host mom worrying about the open window. Sorry host mom.)
Then, so much sleeping. It was a long night, and emotionally draining.
But it was also really encouraging. I had several people offer me an old phone to use. (Thanks Gwen for sending yours!) I had friends offer money and other necessities to get me through the week. (Thanks Iris and Rachel!) I had borrowed phones, and rides with friends, and many more hugs.
It was a great reminder of the incredible group of people I’m surrounded by in this country, both in my Macedonian friends and family and the other volunteers.
It’s been a stressful week without my main communication resources, but looking back, the scale definitely tips to the positive side. Two trips to T-mobile later I was able to get Gwen’s phone working, the smart board and other equipment from my grant were delivered to my school, my students performed for Language Day on Friday flawlessly, I read a three page poem in Macedonian for a local event and survived, we celebrated birthdays again, we ate cheesecake, and I ended the weekend today with a visit to my PST host family for my host nephew’s first birthday.
My two little sisters came barreling out the door to hug tackle me when I got out of the car, which made my whole weekend. So there were some less than wonderful things, but overall I’d say the week wasn’t half bad.