I am back in south Florida enjoying beautiful blue skies, warm temperatures and the cozy glow of being around family and old friends.
My two-month long stay in Macedonia, land of my Peace Corps service from 2006-2009, seems like “just” yesterday and also a distant memory. Being back in Macedonia felt exactly the same way, moments of complete awe at standing on the Balkan Peninsula were sandwiched with feelings that I had never left it.
I must admit, I love traveling in general. I find it relaxing and exciting all at the same time. It usually takes me about ten minutes to feel comfortable in a new place. The only discomfort I feel when traveling is during the luggage-weighing-in process – I am a serious over-packer – but when my luggage is gone, I bid my cares and worries goodbye, knowing that what happens next has little to do with me.
Will my luggage arrive? I don’t know, and since there is nothing I can do to ensure that process, I let it go.
Will the plane arrive or take off on time? If not, will I make my transfer? I don’t know, and since there is nothing I can do to ensure that process, I let it go.
When I first started flying, I was terrified, now I just think, hmmmm is there anything I can do to ensure a safe flight? Nope, so I let it go.
But for me, Macedonia is very hard to let go of. I had been happily readjusting to my life in the USA, my re-entry had been wonderful, and yet I knew I needed to return. (Re-entry sounds very spacecraft like, but is what Peace Corps calls your return. They even do workshops about what it will feel like and give us tips to prepare us to go back where we came from! Odd? Yes, but more necessary than one might think.)
So why did I “need” to return to Macedonia?
Because I left part of me there. Macedonia is to me what Taos, New Mexico was to Georgia O’Keeffe. “As soon as I saw it that was my country, I had never seen anything like it before, but it fitted to me exactly.” O’Keeffe, 1977, documentary
Odd analogy, yes. Who am I to compare myself to such an accomplished artist? I don’t know, so I will let it go.
O’Keeffe is quoted as having said, “I know I cannot paint a flower. I cannot paint the sun on the desert on a bright summer morning, but maybe in terms of paint color I can convey to you my experience of the flower or the experience that makes the flower of significance to me at that particular time.”
I realize that I may never be able to fully explain my feelings for Macedonia. I really am not sure why this little land-locked country seems home to me. Why when I walk the old and winding roads of the village of Dihovo, I feel like someone has stolen a piece of my heart and placed it gently between the stone houses? Why buying fruit and vegetables in the market seems like an epic and yet so simple and satisfying event?
I don’t know, so I let it go and just enjoy every minute while I am there.
But like O’Keeffe, I not only love the place that seems native to me, I somehow want to share that feeling and my experiences with others.
And, since I have no artistic skills – I do not paint, or create great music, vocal sounds or really good photographs – I decided to simply share Macedonia first-hand, up-front and personal with others. Miraculously that seemed to work. Not only did my American guests understand some of my feelings, they too found it hard to leave and want to return having created rich and colorful experiences of their own.
I will be sharing more of our experiences, memories and photos with you later this week and next.
Until then, I would like to give a shout-out to all the Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs), who are ending their service this and next month in Macedonia. Some of the MAK 13s have already headed home, others are packing to go, and still others are trying to schedule final “na gostis” (visits) with friends and host families.
Seeing some of the PCVs during my visit and reading their comments on Facebook reminded me that the re-entry process can be both sad and wonderful, scary and exciting, especially when it occurs so close to the holiday season. Special thoughts go out to the extending PCVs, who are staying behind and watching as members of their groups head home.
I mentioned the other day, that service to one’s country – in any fashion – is worth noting, and so I would like to acknowledge the efforts of all of the 200,000+ Returned PCVs and currently serving PCVS, who joined the Peace Corps and knowingly or unknowingly responded to John Kennedy’s 1961 inaugural address directive to “Ask not what your country can do for you, but rather what you can do for your country.”
Peace Corps changes you, and in some small and personal way, PCVs change the world. Check it out, in 2011 Peace Corps turns 50!
Patrice Koerper is a certified life coach and motivational speaker. She has created the life she really wants by combining coaching and speaking with travel and projects in Macedonia. From 2006-2009, Patrice lived in Macedonia as one of only 425 volunteers over the age of 50 serving worldwide in the United States Peace Corps.
In 2010 she returned to Macedonia with American guests for a special cultural tourism program she developed, “Experience Macedonian: Enjoy Europe as it used to be”. The “Experience Macedonian” posts reflect their travels.
Patrice is returning to Macedonia in 2011 for six weeks – September through October. She is offering her unique 2 to 4 weeks cultural tours to a small group of friendly, flexible, adventurous travelers. In 2012 Patrice is planning life coaching retreats in Macedonia and Greece. For more information on these exciting travel and life-changing opportunities, please email her at email@example.com