Here I am, exactly one month closer to 25, and I figured there would be no better way to celebrate than sharing 24 moments of love I had in my twenty-fourth journey around the sun.
1. Celebrating my twenty-third journey around the sun.
Food, cake, hand made sweater vests, and both of my amazing host families. The day couldn’t have been filled with more love.
2. Sledding in the village.
Imagine an old wooden sled, an 11 year-old, and a foot of snow. My nose was froze, but my heart was warm.
3. My first time being majorly sick in country
Maybe I didn’t feel the love in the moment, but man Tetka Blagica really took care of me.
4. Being nicknamed.
Kiki, Kendallche, Kenny, Popeye, and my personal favorite: Dade Kikiriki (Big Sister Peanut).
5. The kombe driver taking me all the way to my door
The public transportation from the nearest city to my village is a van called a kombe. Through the winter there are only three that drive all the way through my village; the last one is at 4 pm. One snowy winter day, I missed my last kombe and had to take a 7:30 that stopped at the beginning of my road. The sun had already set and the driver didn’t want me to walk the 40 minutes to my house on the dark, frozen roads, so he drove me all the way to my door.
6. Check ins and hang outs with my pseudo site mates
From shoulders to cry on, to adventure buddies. From giving me a bed to crash on when I really miss my last kombe, to hosting social gatherings. Nothing makes service as nice as great kind-of site mates. Though no volunteers live in my village, the volunteers in the nearest city took me in as their own.
7. Friends supporting my bangs – this one is for you Margaret
“Should I get bangs?” The staple question of a mental breakdown / quarter life crisis / any major or minor life change that throws you off a little. Surrounded by the encouragement of other volunteers and a couple glasses of wine, I decided to cut my bangs. Thanks for the unconditional support guys!
8. Visiting my training family
I am forever grateful for my weekly calls from my training host mom, and the invitation to stay an extra night whenever I visit.
9. Learning the Macedonian word for hug
“Може да те гушнам?” (Can I hug you?) – one of my seventh graders
“Гушна?” (Hug?) – me
*giggles and looks at my counterpart*
“She wants to hug you.” – my counterpart
“Ohhh! Може! Може!” (Oh! Sure! Sure!) – me
*entire seventh grade stands up and bear hugs me*
10. Being dressed up as the ~mafia~
The kids at the boarding school dressed me up with a faux Gucci watch and some real sleek sunglasses, rolled me a paper cigar, told me to talk on the phone like it was important, and called me the mafia boss. They then presented me with flowers. We laughed a lot that day.
11. Bee keeping
Just talking about my interests in bees with my host mom and her brother lead to them introducing me to a friend of theirs who kept bees. All summer he called me when he was tending to his farm in our village to ask if I could come help him. Now whenever I see him, it is such a treat. We talk honey, bees, America, family, and life.
Sting came to Skopje, so naturally the Kumanovo crew had to go. It was nothing short of an adventure getting there. Long story short, I was caught outside in a rain and hail storm with no rain jacket for around an hour. Dave and Susan brought me nice warm, dry layers to ensure I didn’t freeze in the outside venue.
13. Savannah’s visit
Camp friends are forever friends. I hadn’t seen Savannah in nearly two years. She was studying in Austria and decided to pay me a visit. It was three days of way too much food, so many belly laughs, and lots of love.
14. Travel Camps
A week of hanging with a bunch of little kids, introducing them to camp activities, and new cultures. What’s not to love?
15. Camp GLOW
There are hundreds of moments of love from this week, but to name a few: dancing to K-pop in the cabin, singing lullabies to the campers with my amazing CIT, Roberta learning Rocky Raccoon on the guitar so we could preform it at campfire, watching my girls grow, and opening all my notes when the week was over. I will cherish the connections I made there for the rest of my life.
16. Dad’s visit
There’s nothing quite like getting to share my life here with people from back home.
17. Being tackled on the way to the boarding school
Every week when I visit, I am met by screaming kids running after me to see who can hug me first… maybe they are trying to see who can knock me over? Unsure really.
18. My trip to Kosovo
In the midst of my mid service low, Margaret, Malin, Eunice and I decided to take a day trip to Kosovo, but make a weekend out of it in Skopje. It was just what the doctor ordered. Incredibly thankful for them for always checking on me.
19. Meeting my soul sister
It’s see you later.
20. Halloween at the school
For a holiday not celebrated here, my kids sure did get into Halloween! It was extraordinarily fun dressing up with my counterpart, seeing the kids in their costumes, and throwing a party at the school.
21. Meeting Ilka’s baby
I have been blessed to have TWO amazing counterparts to work with here in my school. Ilka, my first counterpart had a beautiful baby boy in the summer. Spending the day with her and her little family was incredible
22. Mushroom hunting with my host family
One cold, rainy day Tetka Blagica came to me very excited and told me to grab a bag because there were mushrooms! She taught me which ones were good, which ones were bad, and where it was best to find them. We got rained on, and my fingers were froze, but we got so many delicious mushrooms.
23. A breakthrough with a student
In one semester he went from constantly yelling at me to wearing matching gold chains with me. Any time I’m not wearing it, he thinks I’ve thrown it away. I guess I wear gold chains now!
24. Christmas and my 24th birthday
Filled with surprises galore, I couldn’t get away from the love on these two days. It was party after celebration after party all week long.
If you’ve made it here, congratulations, and thank you for reading. It was incredibly difficult to come up with just 24 moments. My time here has been filled with so many great experiences and moments of love. I know some of these were vague, some you had to be there, and some undoubtedly didn’t make any sense at all, but I hope that you can feel the love too.
Other moments of love that didn't make it to the list: Watching soap operas with my host mom Learning how to plant and harvest so many veggies Dijana's wedding Zac always coming to the city to meet me Visits from other volunteers Visits to other volunteers Late night stories via facetime to help me fall asleep Facetiming my niece back home My host mom yelling, "Hellen!!" when I facetime my mom (my mom's name is Ellen) Cooking with Dijana Photo shoots with the kids from the internat Face touches and hand holds from my host mom and so many more