I clearly remember the moment I stepped out of the airport in Skopje, September 28th 2015, the fresh breeze at 10:00 pm made my lungs take in the air with urge, after hours stuck in the plane in Istanbul because of the heavy rain, it was a blessing breathing in the chilly air. The police in the airport stopped me to check if my visa was not fake (as usual), all the other passengers who were mostly Turkish or Macedonian took their baggage and left, to be honest I felt insulted and I sensed the power of racism, it was not their fault but anyway that was the reality…
So there she was, a lonely girl with Iranian origin back to discover Skopje after many years, the city she was born in, on a rainy morning in March 1992, she was only 6 when she left Macedonia.
My friend was waiting to pick me up at the airport and take me to their house, where I was supposed to stay. I was extremely tired yet highly excited at the same time for the new life that lay before me. I was warmly received at the bequest of my friend. It was heartwarming! The next morning, I woke up at 7 am and I started unpacking and sorting out my stuff very quickly.
Soon I registered in a Macedonian language class. I was happy to learn a new language; I knew the alphabet before and a few words before hand. Macedonian was nothing similar to the languages I was familiar with so I was keen to learn it, I had a very enthusiastic teacher and a few classmates, and I was the youngest in my class as usual!
I was enjoying Skopje, the weather was nice so were the people, I didn’t feel like a stranger, I walked through the city, through main square and City park (Gradski park), it gave me a feeling of my childhood, being back where I had spent time with my family. Sometimes it made me cry when I walked along the river Vardar reminiscing old blur memories.. Taste of yogurt with kiflicki with krem banana was like a hard punch to my face, awakening a strong feeling and taste of a forgotten childhood. In any case it’s sweetness brought tears to my eyes.
Unfortunately things began to change, I was not progressing in Macedonian; I found it too difficult to learn in the beginning. It was very frustrating not understanding what other people are saying or what to ask for! I felt so dissociable. At the same time I realized I cannot stay longer in Macedonia with the visa I had and it was only the second month I was there. I hadn’t discovered enough yet and soon I had to leave. I was extremely disappointed and angry. I had been told that I would have to apply for another visa in Istanbul and be required to leave Macedonia to wait for a while. (I would like to mention that in the mean time, I met a young tireless woman in a workshop which I participated in early November, she was working in VCS. I got her business card and hoped to get back to her since I would love to participate in their activities of providing for young people while exploring Macedonia).
So there I was, at the airport (my favorite place), a place where adventures begin. But this time I was leaving with tears, Skopje was so beautiful in autumn. The thought of flying back to Istanbul, one of the best places I have ever been to get the visa made me feel a bit better; the city that never sleeps, full of cultural diversity, which I am crazy for.
I thought I would probably get my visa and be back to Skopje in 4 days! BUT I was so wrong; I spent everyday looking at my phone waiting for a call to inform me the visa was ready for collection. I waited almost 4 weeks instead of 4 days! With each day passing, I was more disappointed. I wondered” what if I never get the visa again?”… I was not done in Skopje! And I was not mentally prepared to go back to my country; I had not completed my mission yet! Suddenly, on a beautiful day, a couple of days before the new year, I got informed that my visa is ready and I could pick it up from the Macedonian consulate in Istanbul. I flew there with a big smile. I tried so hard to make a conversation and express myself in Macedonian; it makes me laugh when I remember that. I was back again, with joy, I had more intentions on learning the language this time around, and I felt I had been given another chance. I started learning it by myself, by trying to speak to people even though wrong, was the least of my worries.
It got into my head to call that young lady I had met from VCS, however it was still New Years holidays. I later called and fixed an appointment to meet up to see what opportunities were available. I tried to be clever that day by finding by means of a bus to the office, safe to say I got lost and I got there almost 2 hours late which left me quite embarrassed. Nevertheless, I was welcomed very fondly. l later found out that it was brutally easy to get there by foot!! I can hereby say that day was a turning point in my life; I got introduced to a daily care centre which provided activities and some basic facilities to the children who were not fortunate by well to do families or convenient living conditions. My friends and I tried our best to be helpful. It was for us to help them discover their potentials, teach them basics and guide them to be creative, each of them deserve a beautiful childhood like every other kid in the world. I hope I can visit them again and see them progress.
Little by little I made more friends, in time I was able to express myself more fluently in Macedonian, I was more integrated in the society and everything was going so well. In addition, I helped out at the border with the refugees flow in the Balkan route, speaking Farsi proved to be useful, I can say that was the strangest feeling I had ever experienced. Seeing the people running for their lives to survive was very painful, while we were sitting in our warm cozy houses drinking tea with our families. Some days my heart was squeezed by seeing and hearing tragic stories, sometimes during the interviews I wanted to stop the conversation, hold the person tight and cry together. They were real life stories and not imaginary Hollywood movies. Seeing people, including very young babies, new born, old, paralyzed, sick, pregnant and so on leaving everything behind, looking for a shelter was irritating enough but seeing the people from the country where I come from in that miserable situation was worse, people who were my neighbors, living in the same city for years, they were not running away from war but for a better life which they deserve. In every regard I was happy to be in the right place in the right time to be able to help in this crisis.
Months passed, I was efficiently busy that sometimes I could not talk to my family in Iran. Things in Macedonia were not strange to me, we have many cultural phenomenon in common so I adapted very quickly. Everything was so pleasant that I would not want to think of going back to Iran, things were better than perfect and much better than what I had planned but time was flying and my visa was about to expire, due to some reasons I could not extend my visa to stay longer. If I could I would do it without wasting a single moment. The closer I got to the date of my departure, time passed faster. But that was it, everything comes to an end one day. I must mention I was the happiest girl to have so many friends to say goodbye to.
In the end I want to send my great appreciation to Volunteers Center Skopje, which gave me this opportunity to be a part of their activities also to all the members and my dear friends who made my stay even more joyful.
First I thought I would name my piece “goodbye Macedonia” but I am thinking it’s a “see you soon Macedonia”, so see you all soon again. 😉
By Afra Fekri