The faint smell of smoke and body odor filled the air, but for the most part I didn’t mind. The electricity of the live music was running through me and we were dancing our hearts out. Laughing together and encouraging the host country nationals to dance with us we were having way too much fun at Plaza. The stuffiness started to get to me so I stepped out with Margaret for some air. The crisp air felt nice on my face and in my lungs when Margaret looked at me and said, “You know, I used to hate you.”
The beginning of a magnificent friendship.
Pre-Service Training (PST) is a two to three month language, cultural, technical, medical, and safety and security training that all Peace Corps volunteers go through at the beginning of their service in country. For ten weeks, I spent my PST in Sveti Nikole with ten other rock star Peace Corps Trainees (PCTs), two incredible Language and Cultural Facilitators (LCFs), and the most wonderful host family.
Our days in PST were jam packed and seemingly planned down to the minute. Nearly every day that we were in Sveti Nikole (including Saturdays…) we would have language classes, once or twice a week we would travel to the capital for technical, medical, or safety and security trainings, and once a week we would go to Lozovo, a neighboring village, to meet with another group of PCTs for miscellaneous trainings (usually cultural).
Take that swamped schedule, add to it the fact that we were learning all of this while we were experiencing it, and you get a group of really exhausted humans who were strangers just a mere few weeks prior.
Constant introductions and the stress of first impressions filled those ten weeks. The days were draining. After hours of language learning and training, I would come home to relax or be dragged out to meet more people, but even down time wasn’t really down time. The constant struggle to understand and be understood was mentally taxing even when doing something as simple as eating a meal or sitting on the couch and watching TV.
Through the exhaustion though, came the most wonderful experiences and friendships. Early language classes were fun and filled with games and laughter. Time spent with my host family came with the funniest language mistakes and so much love, and free time spent with the LCFs and other PCTs in Sveti Nikole, whether it be at Plaza, movie night, taco night, or karaokeing, was always a hoot.
My host family took care of me like I was their own. I was fed like I was starving, and my host mom was constantly making sure I had everything I needed. With many visits from my host parents’ children and grandchildren, I really felt (and feel) a part of their family.
I talked to my parents and family in the states frequently, but my friends in Sveti Nikole quickly became the extra support that I desperately needed.
My fellow PCTs and my LCFs were there for me when I needed absolutely anything. When I wasn’t aware that we didn’t have water and accidentally used the bathroom anyways, Tomica was there to laugh at me and talk me through what I needed to do. When I was feeling homesick and needed a distraction, I could call anyone and we would go get drinks. When I had a decision to make that would affect the rest of my service, Margaret was there…then Eunice was there…then Malin was there to talk me through it. And when I wanted to karaoke, by golly, we karaoked.
It is astounding to me that these humans who I love so dearly were just strangers in September.
And not to worry, Margaret and I visited Plaza many times after that night, and those ten weeks brought a group of complete strangers together and made us a family.