#17 Universal Language

When I would get a crush on someone, I would go to great lengths to be in close geographical proximity to them. I wouldn't stalk them, mind you... I just wanted to be near those I loved. So when I fell in love with a brooding Macedonian waiter, it didn't matter that I had never even heard of his homeland or that I knew absolutely nothing about this tarnished little jewel of Eastern Europe. I did what was easiest to accomplish my proximity desires and I just moved to Macedonia. 

When I landed in Skopje (the capital city of this tiny, land-locked, former Yugoslav nation) I learned that my luggage had been lost in transit. I was so excited to be off the plane and starting my new life that I didn't even mind! It was New Year's Eve, so the likelihood of my bags being located and returned to me was slim to none. In fact, it ended up taking almost 2 weeks for me to get my suitcase back. People talk about "island time" ...well I'm convinced there's also a "Macedonian time," where things just move a little bit slower and nothing is ever urgent. I'd had to head to the Roma markets across the river to find myself a few inexpensive duds to wear in the interim. Macedonian women tend to be much smaller than Americans, though. So there I was, standing out like a sore thumb: The foreign girl in the ill-fitting jeans and skin-tight pleather jacket. But I was in my new home and I was eager to adjust.

My first order of business was to find a job. I'd heard about a meeting of ex-pats that was happening down the street, so I decided to show up and try to do some networking. For those of you who know me well, you know that I would rather do just about anything than "network." I'm socially awkward, have trouble looking people in the eye, and tend to feel like I have a severe communication defect whenever I get into any large social situation. But I put on my big girl pants (literally) and I did my best to rub elbows with the Ambassadors and the rich wives of dignitaries & diplomats. I ended up getting a job lead and finding a running partner- a girl from Chicago who had also just arrived in the country to be with her Macedonian boyfriend. This was a person whom I wouldn't normally hand select as being a buddy (for reasons I won't get into) but I think we both knew we were desperate for companionship and familiarity, so we made it work. We ended up running together every day and even spent a long weekend in Greece, but once I left Macedonia, we never spoke again. 

My job lead was at a school. The general rule was that Americans were good for two things: spending money and teaching English. So my sights were set on teaching. I arrived to find that this school was a series of shipping containers turned into classrooms. Students from all over the world were holed up in those containers, speaking a flurry of languages and sharing a multitude of cultural experiences. The school's director came out to meet me and actually sat down to inquire about my interests over a cup of coffee. I described my life back home and how music played a large part and I watched as a smile came across his face. He lit up and said that I needed to meet the music director of the school.

Chris was a vibrant, German genius. He played every instrument, was fluent in 5 languages, and was a vegan hippie (which is a feat in its self in meat-loving Macedonia.) He had a beautiful, musical family, who became like my own while I was there. He was so excited to hear that I was a songwriter and had been in rock bands. He asked me to sit in on the drums while his students played through something they'd been working on. Luckily, I was the drummer in a surf-rock band back home so I was able to grant his request. After that, he asked me to play one of my own songs. He and his students listened politely. When I finished, he enthusiastically hired me on the spot to teach his students to write & perform. It was a dream job.

Our students played gigs all over the city. We did a weekly open mic at the school to keep them practiced (and to keep the teachers practiced as well) and we watched as these young people gained confidence, musical chops, and a special camaraderie with one another. Music of course is the universal language, and even though these kids came from differing backgrounds, they could communicate as one through song. Before I went back home for the summer, the kids had a chance to perform for the Ambassador to the United States. It was an incredibly impactful time for me- and to be honest, I didn't even miss playing gigs. I was playing them vicariously through the kids. I hadn't written a song or performed in 2 years, yet I was completely fulfilled.

Eventually, my Macedonian man and I went our separate ways, but the experience of being involved at that school with Chris is a highlight of my life. I'm hopeful that one day I'll get to introduce my husband to he and his family. I can imagine us gathered around the table, eating a vegan feast, laughing, singing, and discussing music- & the way it has changed all of our lives for the better... 

3 comments

  • Cindy

    Cindy Ep

    Cool story. Not gonna lie, I had to look up where Macedonia is.

    Cool story. Not gonna lie, I had to look up where Macedonia is.

  • Carolyn

    Carolyn Sioux Falls

    love reading your stories and learning more about you my friend. You had some pretty awesome experiences!

    love reading your stories and learning more about you my friend. You had some pretty awesome experiences!

  • Hot Pink Hangover

    Hot Pink Hangover

    Yeah, Cindy- I didn’t know a thing about Macedonia either... I took a nose dive into the waters of the unknown! Carolyn, thanks so much for your kind words and for tuning in again! Until next week... -Mercy D.

    Yeah, Cindy- I didn’t know a thing about Macedonia either... I took a nose dive into the waters of the unknown! Carolyn, thanks so much for your kind words and for tuning in again! Until next week...
    -Mercy D.

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