In Other Words, I Have Mixed Feelings on Everything

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I am well known for my sparkling personality, which is one reason it’s such a shock to me that I’m so often in a foul mood here in Macedonia. I mean, some days nothing can make me happy – not my “work,” not my personal life (this mostly consists of me looking into a mirror while making small talk), not my host family, not other volunteers.

One day this will be followed up with a post about all the shit I love about all the above, but let’s forget that for now.

I think I’ve referenced the fact that I’m doing nothing at work, but really, the extent to which I Do Nothing is often unbelievable. I only worked – really worked, like for six hours instead of one class or coffee – one day last week. I don’t really know what I’m doing when it comes to the vaguely described secondary projects I’m supposed to be working on, with my lack of knowledge/ability being one of many things that makes me question what the point of Peace Corps in this country, or my being part of it, even is.

I’m pretty separate from the Peace Corps bureaucracy in Macedonia, being located an impressive three-hour ride outside the capital (that in most countries this would be one of the more accessible sites should tell you something about the stylish life I lead in Macedonia), but most of my interactions with Peace Corps serve only to reinforce my relief that I’m so rarely visited or contacted. There’s a definite air of being patted on the back at all times, even when you’ve done shit to deserve it. Most communications end with a reassurance of the great job I’m doing, but, let’s face it – I’m not really DOING a job. Although I get out and do shit every day, after over four months in site I have yet to do anything of real worth and have not worked a full week for months. For all anyone in the Skopje office knows, I spend all day sitting around in my pajamas watching videos and eating chocolate chip cookies, but I am constantly being congratulated for the positive impact I am having on my community. The longer I am in Peace Corps the more I suspect that I’m far from a good volunteer. I am a lot better at thinking than doing, and I think the ideal volunteer would be someone capable of getting into the community and meeting people, doing shit, without so much internal debate.

Part of my frustration with Peace Corps staff is that many of the people working for it – and I’m not talking about the Macedonians, who have the benefit of being from this country and often of working with volunteers for years – don’t evidence a great understanding of the culture. Maybe they know a lot about Macedonian culture and I’ve just missed out on that because I live in a predominantly Muslim community; but it is difficult and frustrating to attempt to explain your family’s and co-workers’ culture to someone you think should know more.

This is, I think, what’s ultimately most frustrating about Peace Corps, after not being able to fit in any of clothes or doing anything of real worth. You can’t explain your experience to people back home, to people in the Peace Corps office, or even to other volunteers. I feel like my experience here in Debar is so different from that in other communities that I usually don’t want to talk about it. (I only want to blog about it. You’re welcome, world.) I’m one of only six volunteers in my group to have learned two languages or live in a mixed community, and the only volunteer in the Whole Country to live with a family. When I have to listen to other volunteers bitch about the hardships of choosing between brands of whole grain flour or types of hot sauce, or choosing which of the three enviable supermarkets in their city to shop at, the part of me that isn’t trying to block them out by thinking, “I do not want whole grain flour, I do not want whole grain flour,” dies.

I am pretty sure that I have the same effect on others when I talk about my site or my living situation, and I am also aware of thinking some of the “this place is awesome/beautiful/so clean” bullshit that has pisses me off when people visit me (this never happens, fortunately). It’s easy to ride through someone else’s site on a bus or to spend a couple hours or a day there and to see just the surface – that it is a pretty town, that it is, as opposed to your site, an Actual City, that you don’t see any garbage littering the streets. But I’m pretty sure that if you were to stay there, if you were actually to live there, you would start to realize that your initial impressions weren’t accurate and that you probably pissed off its previous volunteer inhabitant by espousing those early views, loudly and often.

I am pretty sure that I piss off a lot of my fellow volunteers by never shutting up about my host family and how awesome it is to have a family here. And it is awesome, and I do think that I have a far more meaningful and valuable experience here because I have a family, and that every volunteer in Macedonia should be placed with a family. (I’m being obnoxious again.) But some days, like today, even when on the surface it went really well – my little sister told me to come over for lunch, I did, and then unwittingly went off to my mom’s mother’s for an eight-hour na gosti – I just want to live anonymously in an apartment building.

Like, I wish that I hadn’t been woken up at 8:30 this morning by my doorbell ringing, and hadn’t had to crawl back under my covers and hide in case someone looked through my window and saw that my eyes were open, that I was technically awake. I wish that on days when I feel like shit or am tired or am sick I didn’t have to answer the door four or five times and reject coffee or playdate invitations. I wish that my mother wasn’t going to be coming over, starting tomorrow, to begin cleaning my house in preparation for my sister’s wedding in August, when it is such a disaster in here that I just want another week on my own to clean up before I begin to help her with the no doubt more harrowing task of cleaning the Whole House to (very high) Macedonian standards. I wish that I didn’t have to hide all my things – my oil and spices in the kitchen, my photos on the wall, my computer, my shoes, my books – in preparation for said wedding.

I mean, many of these are things that I love when I’m having a good day. Sometimes, most days, it is really awesome to have someone ringing your bell four times a day, or someone telling you to come back in time for dinner because it’s tavche gravche. It’s nice to be walking down the street, like I was yesterday, and have your uncle pick you up when he drives by. But weirdly, after a weekend of telling everyone that it is not stifling to have a host family, that it is just awesome, I feel stifled by having a family. It’s the best thing I have going for me here in D., and usually they are what help me to recover from an otherwise shitty day, but every once in a while I wish they didn’t all know how often I shower, or when I cook, or what I bought at the store.

It is probably more entertaining for me to reread old blogs than anyone else, because I always write dumb things that I only recognize as dumb things about two months later, like when I thought my first host mom’s name was “Gruaja” (that’s “wife” in Albanian), or when I thought I’d be living with an Albanian family in D. I am pretty sure I’ve said before, maybe in the past few weeks, that I’m not lonely in D. I’m not sure what to qualify my current feelings as. It’s not exactly loneliness, because I’m surrounded by people and can go on a coffee or walk with someone every day, but it is an inability to fully or accurately share my experience with anyone – with the Macedonians or Albanians I live and work with, with my family back home, with the staff or volunteers here.

In other news, my mouse has died somewhere (somewhere…) in my house, and I got to briefly see Negotino and Demir Kapija this weekend. I was awed by their beauty and cleanliness.

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