Next Friday I’m going to be a kombi on my way to Tirana, only I’m going to be a Fulbright student instead of a Peace Corps Volunteer and I’m going to be calling the kombi a “furgon,” since that’s how things go in the Shqipëri. I’ve been trying and failing for about a week to sum up how I feel about this; everything decent I manage to write gets lost in my word vomit about how I’m going to miss my host sister. She is an invaluable baking assistant (actually, I may be her assistant now; my job is to stand by her side handing her ingredients as needed), has learned the complete lyrics to “Always” by Erasure by playing Robot Attack Unicorn, but also cries for a full day every time I leave Debar.
Compounding the weirdness of leaving my home for two years, last Friday I traveled to Kumanovo to speak on a panel at a hub day for the MAK16s, the new group of trainees. There are four or five hub days during training. Every other week the trainees meet at a hotel in Kumanovo for a day of meetings and lectures and, as I remember it, struggling to stay awake until being let loose for beer and dinner. (Admirably, only two trainees fell asleep during my panel.) I went to a hub day last year, too, but walking into the hotel on Friday was weird; suddenly it hit me that I had two weeks left and that, especially in the eyes of someone who arrived in Macedonia a month ago, I’m out of here.
In some sense, I feel like I’m not in such a different position than the trainees. In a couple weeks I’ll be starting at a new job, settling into a new apartment, trying to set up internet and phone plans, and I don’t know what any of these things are going to look like. Although there are certain things I’m ready to leave behind, like waking up in the middle of the night because a mouse has run over a glue trap and I need to finish the job so it will quit its squealing, I don’t want to leave all my kombi drivers or my “impressive” mental map of Macedonia* or skilled juggling of three languages.** It took me a while to figure my way out around Macedonia, and the Fulbright is looking awfully short to me – only nine months to ingratiate myself to a new set of
kombi furgon drivers and local prodav dyqan owners? How’s that gonna work?
* On this map: my house, the Peace Corps office, the falafel restaurant in Skopje, the Mexican restaurant in Skopje, the good grocery store in Skopje, most bus stations west of Skopje.
** To wit, I don’t know English, Macedonian, or Albanian very well at this point, and will speak a garbled mashup of the three whenever given the opportunity: “A mundët të stop kaj студенски дома? Ej, фала!”