On Taking the GRE in the Peace Corps


Yesterday I finally, finally took the literature GRE. I spent months making flashcards and reading poems for this exam, gaining an appreciation for Carl Sandburg, Gerard Manley Hopkins and Matthew Arnold. My most significant preparation, though, was probably either sharpening 10 pencils and buying a new pencil case, or training myself to get up at 5 am so I could wake up chipper and ready for my combi ride to Skopje.

Only, this being Macedonia, things didn’t really work out, and I wound up waking up at 6:30 on test day, and being kind of pissed at myself for having worked so hard on waking up really, really early and not taking any naps for two weeks. Because I was in Rostuse to help run the first two semi-final spelling bees in the regional competition I’m doing with Mere, I had to travel to Skopje from Rostuse on Saturday morning. Neither of us thought to question that on a Saturday there would be a 5:45 am combi, and on Friday we did the spelling bee in the morning, then about five hours of na gostis, and then I headed back to her place to study while she went on one last visit.

And, thank god, she went to visit the family that runs the combi to Skopje, and found out that there wasn’t an early combi on Saturday. She ran back down to her place, I threw my stuff in my bags and started frantically calling people to find a place where I could spend the night, and then we speed walked down her mountain to wait on the road for the last combi out of D., the 5:30 to Gostivar.

At 9:30 I was in Skopje, and got a cab to another volunteer’s apartment, but spent something like 25 minutes driving around making panicked phone calls to said volunteer saying, like, “I don’t know where I am! I think I should just go to a hotel!” until I spotted a familiar muddy street, yelled, “Stop! Stop! Stop!” and stumbled out of the cab with all my bags and 200 fewer denars and tried to calm down from my night of total, unadulterated panic enough to go to sleep.

I paid about twice as much as I should have for another cab ride in the morning, to the city library (this is why it pays to know something about Skopje, I guess, since my cab directions all go, “Yeah, this is the right way” until I realize it isn’t and direct the cabbie to head in whatever direction he thinks might be more suitable), where I was the only person taking the exam. Or, let me rephrase this: I was the only person taking a subject GRE, period, which meant that for the first time in my life I was able to take a test in total silence, without wanting to claw out the eyes of the person kicking the back of my chair or tapping their pencil or flipping pages too loudly. I guess there are some benefits to taking the GRE in Macedonia.

After finishing my exam at 12:13 I ran down the stairs and out to the street to see – yes! – a baby combi with the Hisari logo on its hood. I waved it down, it turned out to be heading to D. (they sometimes use this van when they run out of space on the regular combi) and after being chastised by the driver for not calling and telling him I would be waiting, I was on my way home. And since then I’ve been laying on my sofa recovering by reading The Hunger Games and making masks with A.

I’m sure I’ve learned some important lessons from this experience (like, don’t count on the combi schedule being what you think it is, ever, and don’t think you can find your way around Skopje at 10 pm when you’ve been in the city eight times your whole life) and unfortunately I am probably going to use them when I’m taking the general GRE and redoing the lit one.

In other news, Bajram is on Tuesday, which means a lot of sheep and ram slaughterings at my house. When I came back yesterday I got dropped in the center so I could buy an envelope and a couple groceries, and my host dad picked me up in the combi on my walk home. I looked behind me and the combi was full of sheep. Good to be back.


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