Monthly Archives: May 2012

Things I Will Do in America That Scare Me


With the realization that in just over ten weeks I will be back! in! America! (after 26 months as a Peace Corps Volunteer and 9 as a Fulbright), a selection of things that most frighten me about returning to my homeland.

  • Go on a date. I have not been on one since August 2009.
  • Go on a job interview. I have not been on one since October 2008.
  • See hipsters.
  • Speak to people who won’t be understanding of the fact that my English is messed up for reasons out of my control, or that “opa!” has become my standard exclamation. (I can’t even remember what it replaced. “Oh”? “Ouch”? A shriek?)
  • Rent an apartment from any landlord whose vetting process is anything more than me taking a walk around the apartment, then taking the keys. No lease required.
  • My suspicion that I will be so excited to see American magazines again that I will end up with subscriptions to People, US Weekly, In Touch, Rolling Stone, and dozens more.
    • Related fear: that I will spend as much money on magazines during my layover at JFK as I did when I was flying back to Macedonia last summer. (See: $40.)
  • Ordering beer in any situation where I have to say more than “I’ll have a dark beer.” (See: how many Yuenglings I drank last summer because it was less confusing for me to ask for a lager than to parse beer lists that are now all but indecipherable to me.)
  • Learn that, apart from Breaking Bad, I missed everything about American culture, 2009 – 2012.
  • Own a “phone” with a touch screen. (I don’t really feel comfortable calling something a phone if it does not have T9 and Snake xenzia.)
  • That being an American will no longer make me the weirdest/most special person in the room.
  • That my host sister will no longer be a four-hour furgon ride away from me.

Travel! Adventure! Montenegro & Croatia


Communist Hotel welcomes you with charming interior decorations.

Now that I’m in the last few months of my Fulbright grant the fact that I am going home soon (July 31st!) is starting to hit me. Ever since I moved to Macedonia I’ve been pretty relaxed about travel; I thought about going to a lot of places around Eastern Europe, but never did because it seemed more important to me to sit around with my host sister, drawing and baking cookies. (I think this was a good choice, still.) But now that I can say I will be home month after next, I feel a new panic about travel. I need to see ALL the places!

I dealt one small blow to my list of Eastern European Countries I Will Probably Not Manage to Visit by going, last week, to Montenegro and Croatia with Albania’s two other Fulbrights. We started the trip in classic Albania style, with a furgon ride up to Shkoder where we spent the night in a former Communist hotel. The next day we took a bus to Ulcinj, in Montenegro, where we were able to indulge in my #1 Favorite Travel Activity (eating food in a bus station) before catching another bus to Bar and then on to the resort town of Sveti Stefan.

Sveti Stefan. So much pretty!

Sveti Stefan is actually a small island connected to the mainland by an isthmus. I think the island is closed – someone mentioned this to us, and wikitravel confirms – but the day sitting on the beach, then looking out over the island while we had dinner, was perfect. I am becoming a big fan of traveling in the off-season, because we had the place mostly to ourselves, with just a few other tourists and locals on the beach in the afternoon.

Kotor – from halfway up the old fortifications.

The next day we caught a couple more buses up to Kotor. Our hostel was located in the Old Town, hundreds of buildings smushed within the city walls – walking around Kotor almost felt like being back in Italy. After a coffee and a few hours spent sitting waterside reading The Help, we laid out a few euros to climb the old city walls. Such a cool thing to do, and since the last time I climbed up a mountainside to look at a town was when I lived in Diber, the hour-long climb was weirdly reminiscent of those Peace Corps days. The waters in the Bay of Kotor are so deep that full-size cruise ships can be brought in, which was unsettling – I am pretty sure the Old City was only a few times larger than those ships.

In Kotor. Ridiculous!

From Kotor, Dubrovnik. More beaches, good food, and lots of gelato – including some from a shop owned by Albanians from Gostivar. This was my first glimpse of the benefits I’ll reap from knowing Albanian, at least if I hit some pizzerias on Staten Island (or, let’s face it, anywhere on the East Coast) – free gelato! free pizza (I hope!)! Plus the pure joy of meeting someone who lived so close to my Peace Corps home.

Dubrovnik! Full of pizza, gelato, and tourists.

Especially when we were in Croatia, I was struck by what a good job people have done building up the tourism industry and making these places accessible to visitors. I couldn’t help comparing Sveti Stefan, Kotor, and Dubrovnik to Macedonia’s main tourist destination, Ohrid, and feeling kind of glum about Macedonia’s development. My parents loved Ohrid when they visited in 2010, but it still doesn’t compare to these other sites in the Balkans – what shot does Macedonia really have at tourism dollars, when its claim to fame is an overcrowded lakeside town?

I’m at risk now of overthinking these things, so back to other subjects…like how my host mother one-rang my phone yesterday, and then did a great job guilt-tripping me into a visit (soon!) when I called her on skype. A trip back to Diber can’t really compare to these other travels, in a touristic sense, but it will still be one of the best.

Collecting thinker stones.