“Halfway” Home

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This week saw my mid-service conference, getting together in Skopje with most of the other volunteers to, I don’t know, get energized for the second half of our service. It’s not going to be the second year of my service though; we’ve been here almost a year and a half and will be ending our service in November 2011. Really, it was more like a 2/3 Service Conference.

The idea is a good one, but being around a bunch of volunteers who seem to be in the same (not particularly energetic) place as I am made it even harder not to think about What’s Coming in ten months, and about the frustrations of working here after a year and a half.

When I started Peace Corps, and probably through my first year at site, I was convinced that there would be a turning point eventually. I’d hit it and things would become easier, implementing projects would be a simple matter of finding the right person to get things done, and I’d be so busy I wouldn’t know what to do with myself. But since the spelling bee (which I’m now labeling my “big project” mostly because I’m not sure if I’ll have anything like it again during my service) I’ve felt exhausted by everything about life in Macedonia: working in classes, running after-school clubs, dealing with the library grant, going on na gostis, even sliding across the sheet of ice covering my town so I can go to the prodav for a PopKek.

A big part of this is probably just circumstances – the spelling bee was a bigger project than I expected and took a lot out of me and apparently my immune system, judging by the month of illness that followed it – but it’s hard not to judge where I am in my service kind of negatively. After over a year of trying I’ve pretty much given up on making significant changes in the classroom, and comfort myself by smiling, a lot, at my students. It’s been a long time since I’ve been able to do my English Clubs or after-school activities because of the spelling bee/vacation/back-to-school hectic schedules, and those were probably the most fun thing I did at my school. One of the programs I’ve been doing all year, English Stars, has come to a halt because the bag of prizes disappeared from a locked cabinet at my school.

All of this is compounded by it being winter (again, see: having to slide everywhere instead of walking, being cold) and the realization that I have only four or five “real” months of school left. March, April, May, October, up to five if we count the last weeks of February and the first of June. September is a fake month of school – we didn’t do anything last year until weeks into the schoolyear – and before I’ve had a chance to do anything in the fall I’ll be on my way out of the country. I probably feel, now, a lot like I will when I hit 80 and think, “Oh shit, I didn’t do everything I meant to do – and now there’s no more time.”

Still, there are things: for the 50th anniversary of Peace Corps, there’s a national essay contest in Macedonia which I’m hoping to work on with my students as well as with students from some of the schools I did the regional spelling bee in. This weekend I’m heading to Tetovo to help with a GLOW training event, which is a happy reminder that this summer I get to go back to Camp GLOW as an instructor. (I think. I hope.) And the biggest thing of all is that my school just won a grant to improve its library; for the next ten months I’ll be working to help my school catalog its books and implement a reading program.

So, mid-service: not a real useful conference, but an unnerving reminder that time is going a lot faster than I think it is. I guess I better go on a coffee visit now, while I still have the chance.

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2 responses »

  1. I came across your blog while searching for information about serving in the Peace Corps.
    I identified with your comment about not wanting to become 80 years old and finding yourself not having done everything that you had wanted to do in your life. Yep, that is one of the reasons I applied to the Peace Corps a year ago. I just recently received my invitation and am at last going to achieve my long-standing desire to serve in the Peace Corps. You see, I originally wanted to serve in the Peace Corps during my freshman year at Penn State, when I heard that President Kennedy had created the Peace Corps. I will celebrate my 68th birthday during training in Macedonia this fall.
    Keep posting, as I and other invitees will surely benefit from reading about your experiences.

    • hey lew, thanks for writing. it’s hard for me to believe that the next group of volunteers is already coming together – i feel like it was a week or two ago that i was getting my own invite. I really admire all the volunteers who come into Peace Corps in their 60s, 70s, even 80s – you are leaving so much more behind in the states than someone like me is. Look forward to meeting you in September!

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