It was hard to sleep my last night in Orizari. My mind was trying to process too many things at once, and I was certain I had forgotten a half a dozen things I needed to do or pack.
My last morning, I woke up early for a whispered coffee with my host parents while my nephew slept. He’s only four, so my leaving hadn’t quite made sense to him, but my host mom said he’d made a fuss about me never leaving Macedonia after I went to bed. “Never Auntie Beka! Never!”
I promised we could have ruchek (lunch) over video once in a while.
My host mom went overboard preparing me for my ride to Skopje for my last appointments. She made fresh juice, and heated up the remaining zelnik pastry we made the day before, wrapping it in foil so it would stay warm.
When it was finally time to get in the car and head to the bus station, neither of us succeeded at conveying many words. Many hugs, hand squeezes, and the traditional three cheek kisses. She whispered well wishes and I promised to come back to visit. We both wiped away many tears.
Just one more hug and then I was sitting in the car with my host dad, letting him do all the talking as I brushed at my eyes. He isn’t such a talkative guy, but he’s always been very kind in his few words. He said I will always be their daughter.
And then we waited. In classic Macedonian fashion, compounded by the steady assault of snow and cold that week (-30 C!), the bus was late. The delay gave me time to say goodbye to all my favorite ladies at the bus station, who have been patient, kind, and repeated bus schedules hundreds of times. After an hour, the next bus on the schedule pulled in, and I took that one.
The quiet small talk I had with my host dad for the hour was perfect, and when he walked me to the door of the bus, there were tears in his eyes. (Obviously, you all realize by now that I was a mess.)
My sweet sitemate Iris was already on the bus gave me a big squeeze before we shared our goodbye stories. We weren’t prepared for how difficult it was to leave.
And then our bus broke down. (Macedonia was not even subtle about her desire to keep us a bit longer.)
It was later than we planned, but we made it to Skopje, went through our final few signatures, meetings, and hugs, and then that was it. Bank account closed, all packed, and my mailbox in the office already relabeled for a new PCV.
The staff gathered around our bell, a new tradition for Peace Corps Volunteers in Macedonia. Iris and I rang the bell, and then signed the wall with our Close of Service (COS) date and group (#MAK19, you’ve probably heard of us).
And then we all just stood there, as the moment washed over us. Was that it? Two and a half years ends with a bell and a sharpie?
I remembered that I had written a thank you to the staff, partially in English and Macedonian, but I decided only to read the Macedonian part, as most of the group gathered were the wonderful Macedonians who have cheered us on, hugged us, encouraged us, and hugged us again, all through service.
I only made it a few lines before I needed to stop every few words. And then they all hugged us again.
That evening and the next day were full of more beautiful, horrible goodbyes. My dear friends from GLOW, who are some of the best people I know. My host sister who drove across the city to meet for just a few minutes before my bus and sent me a text that made me cry in the taxi on the way to the station.
Then finally, another sweet friend who waited in front of the bus with Iris, waving until we were out of the station.
I took an extra moment getting on the bus, just before my feet left the ground in Macedonia, and then glanced over at my friends once more and we all laughed. It was the last time my feet will be on Macedonian ground for a while.
Then, the adventure of COS and the long journey to my home in America started with an overnight bus to Istanbul.