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 stock 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...