I heart random deep conversations with strangers. I heart life, and the growth process that is internally visible daily. I heart genuine people, and genuine friendships, and the honesty that creates them. I appreciate being proven wrong when you are given a negative first impression, and don’t appreciate being given a good first impression only to be proven wrong later. Especially when it comes to the character of a fellow human. I love all types of relationships and the dynamic that they bring to your self-awareness, and I love being called out on the good and bad aspects of how I convey myself, as that only increases self-awareness, thus benefitting everyone involved. I wish those that needed to adjust their self-awareness the most could actually handle being called out on it and wouldn’t pretend otherwise.
I love finding the conditions that make your soul feel at home, and I love leaving that comfort zone to stretch yourself as well as validate and strengthen your appreciation for the latter. I love music that puts you in a place that you weren’t expecting to go, and what you can sometimes find in that place. Adversely, I love knowing the place you want to go, and the exact music to listen to to get you there. I love getting butterflies in my chest because it’s even better than butterflies in your stomach. I love dreaming and then watching my life unfold into said dream. I love the smell of Thanksgiving, the smell of Christmas, the scent of the air right before the first snow, right before it rains, and in Montana at dusk in the middle of summer.
I love this epically beautiful journey called life and seeing the endless ways that each individual chooses to spend it. Especially when it is for something bigger than themselves. This brings me to today. Today was Thanksgiving, as well as our official Swearing In as Peace Corps Volunteers. We have been through 3 months of training, madness, emotional rollercoaster rides, ups and downs, a million meetings, language classes, interviews, piles of paperwork, na gostis, presentations, skits, panels, briefings, pining for mail and packages, bathroom adventures, and myriad other things depending on the individual. We have gained more than I thought possible in three months; books, weight, paper, new families, new friends, new language skills, information and knowledge, and most importantly individual experience. We have been reminded that: things take time, our way is definitely not the only way, there is always someone with a bigger cross to bear than your own, food=love, you can never have too many families, sometimes stress can make people meaner than whiskey or tequila, and sometimes a freezing cold shower is just what you needed that day.
I actually remember being about 12 years old and hearing about the Peace Corps and instantly knowing that I would do that one day. And then I shoved it to the back of my mind for 13 years as a pipe dream and went about my life, unknowingly setting myself up to be here in this exact moment and place with every step. Now that I’m living it, it doesn’t seem lofty and pipe dream-ish at all, it seems completely natural and obvious… while still being exciting, fantastic and utterly unbelievable. Today, we had our ceremony at a beautiful restaurant in Kumanovo. After a few addresses from the Ambassador, the Minister of Education and our Country Director, we took an oath from the Ambassador, that of which I believe to be the first ‘official oath’ I have ever taken. It was a very surreal moment, yet again was very natural. We were then officially Peace Corps Volunteers. We sang both national anthems, danced, and feasted on the most ridiculously amazing Thanksgiving smorgasbord I have ever seen. We were warned that the buffet line does not exist here, and oh man were they right. Many of our fathers proceeded to pour the rakija and wine as we all enjoyed the 20 turkeys and 100 accompaniments. I must say that I never thought in a million years that I would be spending Thanksgiving being sworn in as a PCV surrounded by 200+ people in Macedonia. After the feast, each training community performed their ‘Thank You’ presentations to our families and communities, and then we proceeded back home to spend our last nights with our families before moving to our sites in the morning. Props to our families, who provided by far the best cheering section during our presentation! The bus ride home also included a bottle of homemade wine being passed around courtesy of my host tatko (dad). We topped the night off at Talisman with some rakija courtesy of Linda, and said bye to our Kratovo friends that we have spent many a chill moment with and who have provided us with a magnificent venue and fabulous music to relax our racing minds.
Last night was spent with my family at my baba’s house celebrating the christening of the newest baby in the family as well as a marriage. The feast and celebration that came along with this could be compared to a combination of Thanksgiving and New Years in the states, yet all crammed into a single dining room. When I arrived I was starving, so proceeded to gorge myself on three (small) plates of the incredible spread laid before us. The family members around me kept slyly putting more food on my plate even though I expressed that if I ate more I may need to head to the bolenitza (hospital). They laughed, I moaned in pain, and then came the topper. Baba sprung from behind me like the fairy godmother, bearing a (large) plate heaping with what was actually dinner. Turns out everything I had just gorged myself on was simply the appetizer (or stretch your stomach in preparation for the real thing) round. I nearly cried. Rice, mushrooms, tomatoes, chicken, beef, pork (yes all three on one plate) lay before me in a mound made for a medieval king. The cousin to my left proceeded to slice all of my meat for me while claiming that his grandfather was a butcher. With his other hand, he managed to magically fill my glass with wine (turns out I’ve consumed a few things that I shouldn’t in the last couple of days… for the sake of new babies, Thanksgiving, PST commencing, and for love of my family. I have not regretted this…)
For my family’s thank you gift, I decided to do a painting of Kratovo as seen from their kitchen window. I don’t feel that any gift I could give them would be able to convey the love and gratitude I have for everything they have shared with me in the past three months. They have opened their home to me, instantly treated me as family, fed me, loved me, worried about me, taken care of me, gifted me, taught me, helped me, and done so with hugs, smiles and joy every day. Today my mama gave me a single setting of dishes and silverware, two jars of precious ajvar, and a bag of fresh apples, oranges and mandarins, knowing that otherwise I may starve to death this weekend while I’m moving into my new apartment. I truly hope that they visit often, so I can try to be a fraction of the host that my amazing host mama is.
On a logistical note, I am moving to Negotino at 10 am tomorrow and don’t know when I’ll have internet going in my apartment. Until then, Happy Thanksgiving…so much love and so much to be thankful for…