From submission of formal Application to “Returned PCV” status; What an experience!
I remember the moment when, as a freshman at Penn State in 1961, I saw the first recruiting posters displayed by the Peace Corps. I began to think of living and working in a foreign country. In the years after college, I met some people who had served in the Peace Corps during those early years and I was filled with renewed aspirations of serving. Many times, life itself just kept getting in the way, but the desire became a dream.
So, I had gone from college, through a career & marriage, helping to raise children and then I finally retired. I Then decided to act, at last, to fulfill my life-long dream of serving in the Peace Corps and embarked upon a journey that began as a Peace Corps Applicant. After the application and interviewing phase, I was nominated for consideration to serve and I spent several months as a Peace Corps Nominee. When all medical, dental, visual exams and legal paperwork had been completed and approved I became a Peace Corps Invitee. That had been a year-long process and I still faced waiting several months to depart for training. After a Staging meeting of all PCIs who would serve together in South Eastern Europe, we flew to Macedonia to begin 11 weeks of indoctrination and language instruction as Peace Corps Trainees. Upon completion of that process, we were sworn in by the US Ambassador to Macedonia and we became Peace Corps Volunteers.
“MAK16” The entire cohort comprising the 16th group of volunteers to serve in Macedonia. – November 23, 2011
We were formally sworn in by the U.S. Ambassador to Macedonia.
I was assigned to live and work in the Town of Negotino where I would be a Community Development Consultant assigned to a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) with the mission of assisting to get people with intellectual impairments out of Government-run institutions and help them to live within and become integrated into all social spheres of the broader community. I was to assist the NGO to expand its capacity and to develop sustainable service programs to meet its mission.
Last October (10/22/2013), I had a long and emotional day. The staff surprised me by asking me to come to the multi-purpose room.
All of the beneficiaries were there waiting for me.
They started the meeting by asking me what was special about today. When I said I did not know, they announced, in unison that it was my “going home to America party” day.
They had been rehearsed by the staff to each take a turn telling me what they remembered most about me. Some of it was hilarious and all of it was emotional. What I liked most was that almost all of them thanked me for establishing the Sport & Exercise Program for them. They presented me with a beautiful print they had all helped to make.
It was made using finger prints from each of them on which their names were inscribed.
The logo of the NGO (PORAKA NEGOTINO) was encircled with the fingerprints of the beneficiaries.
The inscription on the print reads (using my limited Macedonian language skills):
“The passage of good time is not measured in seconds,
but with the moments that are filled with happiness and joyous smiles!”
They were surprised when I asked them what the next day would be and they said “no work” (holiday)! However, I announced it will be my birthday and I handed out chocolates and other sweets as is the Macedonian tradition. They were pleasantly surprised and sang ‘Happy Birthday” in both Macedonian and English. This was the third birthday I had celebrated in Macedonia and this one was my 70th.
The beneficiaries gathered around me and sang Happy Birthday in both Macedonian and English.
Then, after I thought it was all done, I was informed that the President of the NGO wanted a group photo with me and the beneficiaries.
The beneficiaries assembled in front of the NGO Daily Center and I joined them for a final group photo.
When I went for the group photo, they had prepared a pizza lunch complete with wine from Serbia.
They had prepared a pizza party complete with wine from Serbia.
What a challenge trying to be appreciative and say a small thank you / farewell speech in Macedonian! They presented me with a framed silver butterfly, which is among the treasured national symbols of Macedonia.
Handmade silver and turquoise brooch from the 19th century.
Then, I returned for the evening exercise and sport program after which I stopped at one of my favorite cafes to say goodbye to the wait staff and then I went to one of the group homes at 7PM for a ‘special’ dinner prepared by the beneficiaries.
We gathered in one of the group homes for a family style dinner
For the following few days, I walked all over town saying goodbye to everyone I knew.
I was lucky to have met and been friends with people with all sorts of backgrounds, including one widow who was now living in a nursing home and had no visitors. I had visited her occasionally during my two years of service.
I had a final visit at the only nursing home in Negotino with Renatta, whom I had met the year before. We had fun mixing our Macedonian, German and English in the same sentences.
One of the most poignant goodbyes was with Јован (Jovan), the trash picker in Negotino whom nobody seemed to give the time of day.
Јован (Jovan) was the trash picker in Negotino. I met him because of the two dogs that followed him on his rounds in response to his voice., and they were not his dogs, but seemed attached to him because he was so kind. He always seemed delighted that I greeted and spoke with him.
After I left, I heard from the parents of two of my favorite children in Negotino.
I was told that this was their response after being told that I had returned to the United States.
Now, after two years of living and working in that community, my PC service has come to an end.
What a day!
What a way to wrap up 27 months of Peace Corps service in Macedonia!
My primary life-long dream has been fulfilled and at this point, I am no longer asking myself, “Have I accomplished all that I always wanted to do?” My future has just been significantly reshaped by many wonderful people and countless meaningful experiences.
At our COS (Close of Service) Conference, our last time together as a group. – August 16, 2013
I completed the mountain of reports and PC paperwork to put closure on my service and I also had to bring closure to the myriad friendships and significant working relationships I had developed. I returned to the States for repatriation as a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV). I am, once again, retired.
I am not done, and retirement is no longer appearing to be a void to be filled with hobbies.
Now, at age 70, I am once again eagerly looking toward some more significant uses of my time.