February 08, 2009

Don't Blink

Situated in the center of Skopje, on a small street between two of the city's largest boulevards and adjacent to the Russian Embassy, is the Hotel Ambassador. It rises seven stories and from its balconies guests have a nice view of Saint Kliment Ohrid Church and lots and lots of concrete. The Ambassador's exterior is adorned with statues--all sorts of classical statues which, according to the hotel's website, "symbolize the MACEDONIAN PEOPLE'S past, present and future" (emphasis theirs, not mine). But that doesn't explain the presence of what is a very clear likeness of the Statue of Liberty on the roof. Is Macedonia applying for admission to the European Union, or is becoming the 51st state in the cards? Give me your tired, your poor, your geographically confused.

I mention the Hotel Ambassador because it was the site of last week's mid-service conference for all PCVs in our group. Actually, we have about ten months to go, so I guess that whole "mid-service" thing is the weight before cooking. Jillian and I had a room on the fourth floor and every time we climbed the stairs to our room we passed a white plaster statue of some long-forgotten Communist, posing in that classic I'm-rotund-while-my-fellow-citizens-struggle-to-feed-their-families kind of stance. His suit just screams "politburo." 

I don't mean to sound harsh on the Ambassador; aside from some comical decor, it was a very pleasant place to stay--clean and roomy with fairly good meals. And its central location made it an ideal place for our conference which, let's be honest, was a really great social event bracketed by some official sessions and meetings. The point of the conference was to take stock of where we stand, to count our successes, assess our shortcomings and prepare for the homestretch. 

With everything we're involved with--planning summer camps, the Roma center, adult English classes, the Great College Quest with Tina and Bube--it's a bit difficult to think about the end. Jillian and I are planning our departure in mid-November and yet that doesn't feel like enough time to finish everything. This is especially true at the Roma center, where we're only now shifting things into the next gear and preparing the grant application (much more on the situation there soon). Everything else should be wrapped up by the end of August, which means an ultra-busy spring and summer, followed by a few months of tying up loose ends and preparing for departure.

During our conference we were lead in an activity meant to highlight our accomplishments, insights, plans and the many people we've met during our stay in Macedonia. Owing to this activity's artistic bent (lots of drawing and plotting) I've almost entirely blocked it from my memory, repressed it, banished it to the trauma ward of my brain. But Jillian, whose product looked like something that might be hung in the Smithsonian, ensures me that the activity was a really brilliant way to not only recognize our own efforts, but also those of our peers, many of whom we really don't keep tabs on. Our group--down to 32 volunteers from an initial 43--is a really solid collection doing some really great things around Macedonia in the schools, NGOs and municipalities.

But the closing credits are still some time off. We may be past the mid-service point, but it just feels now like we're hitting our stride, something we were warned about over a year ago. "No sooner will you find yourself busy," volunteers told us, "than it'll be time to go home." Well then, as some else said: Hi ho, hi ho, it's off to work we go. 

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