Sunday, June 18, 2017

Peace Corps Macedonia: It's Finished.

"We're so engaged in doing things to achieve purposes of outer value that we forget the inner value, the rapture that is associated with being alive, is what it is all about." Joseph Campbell

          It's over, it's all said and done. After nearly three years, countless slava's, na gosti's and "Teacher Logan!" my Peace Corps service is complete. It's still a bit of a shock as it came and went so quickly. However it didn't end quietly but with many heartfelt moments of "This isn't goodbye only see you later." I'll share those goodbye's and the process of leaving with my final thoughts on Peace Corps, Macedonia and returning to America. 
          First, leaving Peace Corps is a process. You must close your bank account, submit your final grant/project/reporting forms, have a final medical check and have your closing interviews with Peace Corps staff. Plus, cleaning up your home, organizing your work and mailing all of your clothes, gifts and keepsakes back home. On top of all that are the many goodbye coffee's with friends, neighbors, coworkers and other volunteers. Hectic is an understatement. 

Hanging out with my PST family. We watched Game 1 of the NHL Finals. 
Straight from the garden cherries and strawberries for breakfast. 
They might not like to smile in pictures but it's all they do when there isn't a camera around. 

Morning milk with the pride. (Puma always watched me). 
Doing the necessary sunset at Kaneo pics.
They never got old. 
Sunset chats. 
After nine wonderful months together, this was my last meeting as YMLP Struga's mentor. It was an absolute pleasure creating YMLP Struga, working with and slowly mentoring these young men. They've all grown, developed and matured during our time together and I couldn't be prouder of them. I will miss them and our many comic book/movie talks. 
I found out after this that all three of there were accepted to YMLP 2017! I'm pumped for them they earned it! 
The ladies at the American Corner Struga gave me these personalized gifts. They know me well! I was deeply touched by their generosity and spirit. 
I really enjoyed our chats Bill, see you stateside.
Cheers to the man and his family who I lived with for 2.5 years.  
Petar was the only person I spoke Southern with. We spent a lot of time together watching Planet Earth, Star Wars and National Geographic. We also ate a ton of sweet together. Haha.

          Following the first round of goodbyes I was off to join my Ninth graders for their half-prom or полуматура. Since most of them won't be going to the same high school it was their last time together as a class. As I was very close with them it was great hanging out and just seeing them enjoy themselves. We oro'd, they danced on chairs and received their school superlatives. It was fun. 

Selfies, selfies. 

And more selfies. 

Final class photo.
All of the Peace Corps Macedonia staff. It's a new tradition that we sign the wall and ring the Closing Service Bell. So I spoke a few words and then we had a final picture together. 
I will miss the Moonrises. 
The last of the Mak19 men. PST, YMLP x2, extending our services we've done it all. We're quite different from one another and I'm a better man because of them. See you stateside boys.
No filter, no flash just pure and natural. I will miss those bright, warm summer nights. 
          On top of all that I was completely surprised by the going away party my students threw for me. It, like my service, was not what I expected but was very humbling. I was deeply touched. 
First they were lined up from the doorway throwing confetti and greeting me inside. Then we had some snacks and took lots of pictures. 
Naym and Antanas. We've chatted a lot the past 2.5 years while I hung out outside my house and they rode their bikes around.
I will miss them just as much. 

Boshko and I were the only male teachers who lived in the village. There were many, many days we just sat around and talked while the ladies had their conversations. 
Dimitar and I.

Marija and Kristina. 

Goofy time.

Ahhh my soccer guys. 
The 7th grade girls. (I later found out Marija on the left organized the school party). 
A few of the 8th grade girls. It took them over a year to warm up to me but eventually they did. 
He and I would have the funniest morning conversations. His mom would send him off to get groceries and I'd be half asleep and he'd just chat away telling me what he was buying while I fed the pets. Reminded me of how I was when I was that age. 
A few of the little ones I'd see on my bike rides to the city. I'd always stop and chat with them especially for my bud on the right. 
Ana and I had many chats while walking around the village. At first I used to walk to be alone and collect my thoughts but she took my walks as the perfect time for one on one conversations. I'll miss those chats. 
The girl in the middle would practice her German with me. I had to learn some German as I knew none. Kids are funny. 
Darko and Antonio. Complete goofballs but they really worked to improve their English.  Antonio had the funniest laugh. Once he started laughing everyone else would too. 
Ahhh Victor a young man cut from a very similar cloth as me. I throughly enjoyed watching him enjoy learning English. We also talked about being competitive AND a leader.
There wasn't an hour that past where the four of us didn't talk about wrestling, the Rock, girls and muscles. 
The Lakocerej wolfpack.

Jana lived in a tiny village on the way to Ohrid. She spoke extremely well in English and would do her homework in chalk on the metal shed beside her house. 
Ane. We helped one another improve in English and Macedonian and she helped a great deal with telling me how to make my project ideas become reality. An absolute sweetheart who's an excellent painter. 
Marija and I spent every Friday chatting about life, her family and translating dirty Macedonian jokes for me. She takes no bs and is also a good painter. 
More snacks and hanging out. 

Path of Rose petals. 

Milena was the boss of the school and incredibly kind.  Many, many times I watched her find ways to discretely give students clothes that she'd collected for them. 
Little Sarah, in the middle, always found ways to chat with me and play with the pets.  (Which means I caught her trying to sneak off with them. Eventually, she stopped and just came by to pet them. A lot). 
A younger Lakocerej wolfpack.
Julia, Milena and I.
Ohhh Blagica. She never passed up a moment to find ways to poke fun at me. Many times she was just too witty for me in Macedonian and I wouldn't get the joke until much later. Haha. 
Prepared for us by a grandmother in the village. 
Not two seconds after I took this Ane would say, "Give me your phone let me see the picture." Only then after she inspected it was it approved. Every.Time.For.Two+.Years. haha. 
Betti was the math teacher and the logistics/money organizer for the school. She also had a hilariously sharp sense of humor. 
Our final meal together. 
          Just like that three wonderful school years came to a close. Without the support, openness, humor and patience of the staff at Lakocerej I wouldn't have enjoyed working and living there. I will deeply miss them. 

Koco Racin Lakocerej staff 2014-2015.
Koco Racin Lakocerej staff 2015-2016.
Koco Racin Lakocerej staff 2016-2017. (A few teachers missed picture day).
          On that note I must also thank all of my Macedonian and Albanian neighbors, coworkers, friends, host families, Peace Corp staff, YMLP campers and students. Without y'all's support, patience, generosity, honesty, laughter and sincere interest in my life I would never have been able to call Macedonia home. Би благодарам and faleminderit. 
          Additionally, I have to thank my counterpart Julia. She never failed to answer my questions, patiently explaining what was going on or what was to come. Many volunteers have terrible experiences with their counterparts but I did not. Her class, composure, intelligence and dry humor always kept me on my toes. She is an Eastern European Steel Magnolia, I will miss her.
          Also, my host family deserves my deep appreciation. We're quite different from one another but we found ways to get along and enjoy joking around about our different ways of doing things. 
          To my fellow PCV's there were many times I was completely baffled by you all. Yet over time we came to understand our individual origins, our strengths and weaknesses. I'm a more rounded person from our conversations, interactions and time spent together. I have also come away with a great appreciation for the passion many of you put into your causes and projects. Due to y'all I can't wait to visit our American West and Coast. I'm looking forward to when y'all visit the South so either way we'll be seeing one another again. 
          Last but not least I want to thank all of you that mailed care packages, letters, postcards, sent random messages, video chatted and visited me. Spells of loneliness were broken by your thoughts and jokes. Thank you. 
          Moving on, Peace Corps as a whole is a challenge no matter where you serve. The challenges vary not only from country to country but from the towns, cities and villages within each country. The challenges for me were multi-layered. I lived in a village with few resources, no restaurants and with people accumsted to people taking things from them not giving them their time and skills without asking anything in return. However, I lived three miles/five kilometers from a city that was a UNESCO Heritage site, a tourist mecca and was beside one of the best lakes in the Balkans. I was told numerous times that because I had running water, access to grocery stores and Ohrid Lake that I was in "Posh Corps". To you all I say come here and say that to my neighbors, friends, students and coworkers faces. 
          No picture, no social media post can truly capture the crushing corruption and patronage which  causes the social decay Macedonia is experiencing. Yes part of that is due to 1,500 years of Byzantine, Ottoman and socialist rule. None of those governments encouraged innovation and promotion by merit. It's why so many people choose to leave and seek opportunities elsewhere. There is no simple solution other than Macedonian's desiring to change it themselves. 
          As for returning to America it was something I was worried about but no longer am. I'll just take it day by day and rediscover it for myself. I'm very much looking forward to eating ribs, going on road trips, playing sports and being with family. Watching college football either in-person or at a decent hour on an HD TV make the list too. 

Things I Will Miss
  • The Food. 
    • It's the healthiest and freshest I've ever encountered. (Especially the cherries and peaches). 
  • The Night Sky
    • With a tiny amount of light pollution I was able to see the Universe in more clarity and depth than ever before. 
  • The Sunsets
  • The Moonrises. 
  • Walking around the village and chatting with everyone. 
  • Having my students, parents and neighbors stop and chat with me in the city. 
  • Biking to work, to the city. 
  • My students becoming comfortable speaking English with me. 
  • YMLP 
  • My buddy Goce and his family.
  • My pets.
  • The pace of life.
  • The generosity of people.
  • Singing and dancing in restaurants, homes, outside, anywhere really.
  • My school, coworkers, students, teaching and my counterpart.
  • Chopping, stacking wood and starting the fire.
  • Kaneo. 
Things I Won't Miss
  • The damn village dogs. 
  • The blatant abuse of animals. 
  • The damn taxi drivers at the bus stops in Ohrid.
  • Excuses.
  • Ajvar. (No one's perfect). 
  • The consistently inconsistent bus schedules. 
  • People being utterly incapable of walking in a straight line. 
  • Being told I shouldn't exercise too much as it was bad for my health. 
Things I've Learned
  • Always look both ways especially if it's a one way street. 
  • Sidewalks are for parking, roads for walking.
  • Never refuse a coffee.
  • Someone around you knows English.
  • Relationships define the work whereas for us work defines the relationship. 
  • Breath.
  • The front two rows on the bus are for the women or old men. 
  • Чекор по чекор. (Step by step). 
  • Never shoot the rakia.
  • When offered food or a gift refuse twice then accept on the third offer.
  • Listen.
  • Progress isn't automatically linear.
  • Democracy isn't guaranteed. It must be continuously worked on, engaged in and collaborated with for it to not only survive but thrive.
          Finishing up, I'm grateful for what I've been able to do and for the people I've been able to do it with. This wasn't easy but I'm a simply a better person from serving in the Peace Corps. I joined to represent my country abroad to the best of my abilities. I return home with wonderful memories and humility. I hope for y'all this blog has been well rounded enough so that you could have an accurate picture of my experience and what life is like for those who shared their homes, work and feelings with me. Thank you for your encouragement, comments and suggestions. I'm fortunate that I can, and will, return. I'm also fortunate that I will meet people when they visit the States. This isn't goodbye only see you later. God bless. Чао.


Logan Monday
TEFL Peace Corps Volunteer Macedonia 2014-2017


  1. Yes! So wonderful, Logan. When will you be stateside again? Jack and I are up here in Massachusetts for another 6 weeks or so, then we are off to Australia. Come visit and stay with us! <3

    1. Hey I was hoping you'd be around in Boston around Labor Day, will y'all be back from Australia by then or are you moving there for work?