The last EVS-volunteer

From May 2019 to February 2020 I did my nine-month EVS at Volunteers Centre Skopje in the Macedonian capital Skopje – being the last of this kind, since the EVS program is now being replaced by the ESC (European Solidarity Corps). Already after a study-visit with the Young European Federalists (JEF) in 2017, I decided that I would one day return to this beautiful country with its open-hearted and incredibly welcoming people.

That it would go that quick and that it would be a long-term stay, I could not foresee at that time…what I also could not know back then was that the hostel where my travel-group and I stayed is only 5 minutes walking from what would later be my flat in Skopje’s district Kisela Voda.

When I read the call for this EVS-project, I thought to myself “Hey, they’re looking for me!” and immediately applied. After a bureaucratic procedure, that was less stressful than expected, I finally – and just in time – I had my visa in my passport at the 13th of May and began my journey on the very same day, since I was supposed to start my EVS on the 15th of May. The whole thing worked fine without any more delay because I was traveling by car and hence was very flexible. Like this, various Camping-trips on hot weekends or general exploration-trips through this beautiful small country which, due to its many mountains appear so huge, weren’t a problem as well (I really miss the mountains! Here in the northern half of Germany everything is so flat…)

Ljubojno_02

Dečko od Germanija

The people at VCS welcomed me with open arms and I was part of an international team of a volunteer with great young people from Macedonia, Finland, Poland, France, and Turkey. From the moment I entered the apartment and met all my new flatmates, I knew that I came to the right place. Even though we are all from different countries and backgrounds, I could relate very quickly with my new friends and soon we went through a whole lot of smaller and bigger adventures like open-air camping on Lake Ohrid or just hiking up Vodno to discover some abandoned hotel and an old bunker…which reminds me that there are still so many things and places to discover only in Skopje, so I fell I have to get back there pretty soon.

There are a lot of things that I miss about Skopje (actually the only thing I don’t miss at all is the thick air in wintertime). For example, I really enjoyed to just go downstairs to the green market for shopping: In Germany, big super-market chains and overcrowded shopping malls are the standards and while here fresh vegetables are pretty pricy and the junk-food is extremely cheap, in Macedonia it’s pretty much the opposite. Grocery shopping in Macedonia seems way less stressful than in Germany.

I also miss the fact, that there is always something going on and it’s pretty hard to get bored. Especially when there’s a pretty nice pub just a few hundred meters away. Beertija pub became our second living room and I guess I haven’t been to any other place that frequently… a place like heaven for a pub-person like me, where the waiter, after some time, took my order just by eye-contact through the crowd. I remember well how we went there for the first few times and every waiter – before we made friends with them – was just “dečko” to us. In return, I became “dečko od Germanija” to them. I really like how people in Macedonia are very open and sociable and it’s really easy to make new friends. In Germany it can be extremely tough even for Germans to connect with people when moving to a new city.

VCS_office_geburtstag

Work and progress

But of course, I didn’t just hang out in the pub all day! I guess I can say that I have been pretty productive during my stay and I learned a lot. Writing calls, selecting participants for international projects, and of course: filling excel-tables for travel-cost reimbursements (don’t ever make me do that again!) was just the “office-work”-topics. More lively it became when we held school-workshops or when I was part of an amazing international Erasmus+ training course in Struga as a co-trainer. Due to high motivation, I even wrote my own Erasmus+ project later on.

Our local events were another highlight. I remember the first karaoke-party in Studio Pub, that I attended: people were dancing on the tables! I myself was responsible for our VCS Pub-Quiz that we held in Beertija-Pub (where else?) which was probably one of the reasons for my other nickname “Saschapedia”.

Well, last but not least: of course the journalistic work with VOICES magazine was the main part of my job. I’m pretty good with words and enjoy creative writing, so there was just the designing-part of it that I had to learn – but thanks to some critical eyes and helping hands I got into it pretty easily and quickly.

Prophetic Voices

Regarding “VOICES”, there is another – almost prophetical – link to my first trip to Skopje: back then, in the frame of our study-visit (which, by the way, was about the perspective of Macedonia’s EU-membership), we produced a short video named “Voices from Skopje”. Well, nobody of us, back then, had ever heard about VOICES magazine, though. I’m not superstitious, but some things in life just add up to make sense (a whole lot of sense) suddenly. To me it has been these random decisions based on some spontaneous mood and gut-feelings, that brought the biggest advances in my life. I’m not superstitious, as I said, but I am indeed fatalistic and this odd coincidence, for me, is a sign that I took the right step.

The “Skopje-slow motion”-effect

Taking steps and seeing if they right required time. And time is one crazy thing for itself! I don’t know where this comes from, but in my perception, the time seems to run differently in Skopje… I had that feeling already back in 2017 when I spent only five days in Skopje, but in a weird way, it felt like two weeks (and even my mother said “something is strange with the time here” when she came to visit me for a weekend). Even though it felt like time was going by quickly (which is pretty normal if you’re having fun) it also felt like there’s still infinite time ahead. Back in Germany I sometimes barely notice the weeks passing by, especially when I’m working, and suddenly: oops, it’s already October again! Whereas in Skopje even my last two weeks seemed to never end. It just felt – with the end of my EVS insight – that with every day that passed, there were two more days to come until suddenly I was sitting in my car heading towards the Serbian border to go home…

I can definitely say that I do not regret a single minute of my time in Macedonia and I hope to return soon (despite Corona-pandemic) to the “best country in the world” (Andrej). Се гледаме наскоро.

Sascha Schlüter

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