Time flew by here in Skopje, and it’s hard for me to believe that I’m typing this on my last full day! Because this blog entry would be far too long if I discussed everything about Macedonia that I want to, I’ll limit myself to reflecting on a few things.
Last weekend, Subversive Front had a 2-day Strategic Planning Summit, where the entire design of the organization was assessed and modified. We went through 4 “phases” to do so: analysis, development, planning, and implementation. It was insightful to see the behind-the-scenes details of how a NGO maintains itself and functions.
Working with Subversive Front was productive not only because of the tasks we completed in the office, but also because there were long-term actions taken to protect human rights in Macedonia. Recently, I wrapped up developing physician guidelines for sensitivity towards LGBTI+ patients, and now Subversive Front is working to implement them into healthcare institutions! And this is only the project that I was working on; the staff is working hard to take all sorts of measures to protect marginalized groups. I feel lucky to have played even a small role in making positive social change in this country.
Living in Skopje
Charmed by the Uncharming
Macedonia is less developed than other European countries, but it’s definitely on the rise. When I tell people that Skopje is charming to me, this isn’t typically what they expect:
But, this more run down looking city is charming in that it captures the country’s ongoing development and shows remarkable progress in its re-building! I bet in 10 years Skopje will be a lot more popular and renovated.
One of the first things that happened when I landed in Skopje was that I headed to a coffee shop, went up to the counter, ordered, and pulled out my money. I was told that I should sit, wait for someone to take my order, and then wait for them to come back and pay then. Eventually I learned that was the case for every coffee shop; they’re not in a rush like we are in the states! It was odd to me because I was so used to grabbing my coffee and darting whenever I needed to. I have to admit that at first, it threw me off a lot, and I sat impatiently wanting to leave as quickly as possible. But over time, I began wondering why I was in such a hurry with nowhere to be, and learned to slow down. This is just one small example of this cultural difference – I also learned to sit down for dinner with Macedonians and expect to stay for 3-4 hours!
My friend, who I mentioned in an earlier blog, is a major reason I was able to feel comfortable and immerse well into Skopje. She was the first of many kind, hospitable Macedonians I met. We met her on my very first day (she was my waitress at a coffee shop), and we’ve come far since then – she brought me to the movies, to restaurant downtown for a holiday, and to her house for a dinner with her family and friends. Our friendship makes saying goodbye to Skopje even harder, but I know I’ll be back someday – especially since she said that when I come back to Skopje, I’ll already have a place to stay and a travel buddy 🙂
Leaving immersion definitely pulls at your heart strings because you have to leave what feels like an established home. It’s a bittersweet goodbye, though, because I’m excited to take everything I learned back to the states with me!