The last two weeks have left me bereft of words. Saying goodbye to all the people I love so dearly, who have shared their lives with me for two years, and with no knowledge of when we’ll see each other again has been perhaps the hardest part of my Peace Corps service.
It started with my amazing students. The last day before break, I spent the morning watching Home Alone with my English Club. What an incredible group. Earlier in the week, we finished reading Number the Stars (in English!!) and I could not be more proud of them. It was the first book they’d ever read in English. They have been a joy to work with; always up for my silly games and activities. I’m crossing my fingers that the clubs continue with the resources I left behind.
I walked out of the classroom where we watched the movie and was immediately blindfolded by my fifth graders, who walked me to their room where I was showered in confetti, hugs, a beautiful framed picture of us and lots of sweet wishes.
The rest of the day was a blur of hugs, cards, and sweet words from all my kiddos. Some of the students asked if I would come back and be their English teacher next year. When I shook my head ‘no’ they simply said, “okay, then the year after that.” They all wished me safe travels and invited me back as soon as I can make it.
One student wrote a card that wished me luck, health, and love, and that all my future students would always listen when I was teaching. (From the mouths of babes, right?)
Some other sweet ones simply told me they loved me and about sent me over the edge with tears.
My counterparts and colleagues were all kind. I wrote them a thank you card in Macedonian and made a little lunch for everyone. (The tradition here is that when you celebrate, you treat everyone.) More hugs and well wishes, though theirs were focused more on coming back to visit with a husband and children. Ke vidame, I said. We will see.
I did one final presentation at the American Corner, where I’ve done cooking sessions for two years. We drank hot chocolate and decorated cookies. (Because eating your feelings helps.)
Every goodbye has gotten harder. Saying final goodbyes to dear friends – just one more hug, one more see you soon – have been impossible to do without tears.
I said goodbye to my first family, from training, after the New Year’s holiday and I was okay until my host mom hugged me. We both pulled back with tear stained cheeks and no words.
It’s always the mamas that get you.
I sat with my family all day today, our last day together in Orizari. We made a traditional baked pastry stuffed with leeks and cheese this morning, one of my favorite meals. It was the first thing I ate with my host family when I arrived and the symmetry was beautiful.
After dinner, my host mom poured a glass of wine and turned to me and said, “We’re not going to cry, right? No tears.” I told her I couldn’t promise anything.
We took one more family photo and then I brought out my gifts, just a few small things, and a thank you note that I carefully wrote in Macedonian, telling them how much I have loved being their American daughter and how special my time here has been.
My host mom started to read it aloud, but halfway through stopped and looked up at me with wet eyes. She read the rest to herself and then we sat on the couch for a while, holding hands, not talking; just letting the tears fall. She said she’ll keep the card with her always, keeping it as safe as her passport.
So now I’m sitting here in my empty room, wondering how the time has gone by so quickly. When I get up tomorrow and leave Orizari, I’m not sure when my next visit will be. I do know for sure though, that Macedonia is my second home for always and I’m already missing it.