COS – Close of Service. We had our COS conference this past week and it evoked many memories and caused a lot of tears. We are a very big happy family when we get together and this was probably the last time we would all be together. We have been told that Corey, our original Country Director wants to come back and visit with us before we all go home. We are truly looking forward to that. It will, of course, mean that many more tears. But they will be tears of love and probably one more opportunity to be with our PC MAK 19 family one more time.
Before the conference can begin, we must travel from all over the country to arrive at our destination–Aurora Resort and Spa in Berovo–almost on the Bulgarian Border.
It is very isolated but absolutely gorgeous as these shots show.
In order to get here, I had to catch the 0600 bus out of the village which just so happened to have nothing but male passengers–none of whom was willing to give up a seat for the crazy American. I traveled to the main bus terminal and went in to get my ticket for Berovo: Departure time 0730. We need to arrive for lunch which is 1230 -1400 and it is at least a four hour bus ride. Within minutes of my arrival, six more of my fellow volunteers arrive. Good! I’ll have plenty of company on the trip. So we board and start down the road for our four hour bus ride. First stop Veles. There we pick up two more volunteers. Now we head to Kochani anticipating about half a dozen more volunteers. We pulled in next to a Combie and saw the other volunteers pulling out of the station. We waved frantically and placed a few inter-vehicle phone calls hoping we would beat them to Berovo. Sadly, it was not to be. About five miles out of Kochani, our bus made a very funny noise and the driver pulled over to the side of the road. He did an examination, moved the bus about 100 metres and parked it. We were then all told to get off the bus. Fortunately it was a nice shady spot next to the river so it wasn’t a bad place to be stranded if you had to be stranded. Apparently the drive belt went kaput! So now what? Well, first off, we better call PC and let them know the situation. The bus driver informed us that there would be another bus for us in about an hour. So what do you do when you are stranded on the side of the road in Macedonia? You drink! Goce has always told us to travel prepared and we were. I had chocolate and the corkscrew, Bill had the wine and Sydney had the camera to document our level of preparedness. Stacie and Bonnie had their swimsuits handy so they quickly changed into them and went for a dip in the river. Peace Corps volunteers are always ready to make the best of a difficult situation. And sure enough at the one hour mark here came another bus so we all climbed on and headed to Berovo. In the mean time, we have picked up two more volunteers who were on our rescue bus and we then had to pick up Jared and Andrea in Delchevo. We hit Berevo and headed straight for the store to replenish our wine and chocolate supply. And of course, there were no taxis available at the moment so by the time we got to the resort it was 1400 and we still had to eat–which we did! All of us were starving!
As the first couple of hours of the conference progressed, it became evident to all of us that we would not be walking out of the conference with information on when we would be coming home. As you can imagine, people were not pleased with that fact. We have a choice when we return from service. We can either have Peace Corps purchase our ticket, give us cash for extra bags, taxi and food and plan our itinerary or take a cash in lieu payment of $1300 and you become responsible for planning your own itinerary and covering any extra costs that may arise–like taxi, extra bags, meals. I have opted to let PC plan my itinerary because I have to fly into a rinky dinky airport on the end of my trip. I could probably get a flight to Istanbul then to Chicago then to MBS, however, we have been advised to not transit through Istanbul. And while I will no longer be a PCV but rather an RPCV (Returned Peace Corps Volunteer–never a former PCV), I will still heed the advice of my safety and security manager and the State Department. However, the country director relented and told us that all would be separated by the 19th of November so that we could avoid Thanksgiving travel. So people who have opted for the cash are frantically trying to book their flights now. I will simply wait for PC to tell me where and when to be. Much less stress that way.
Then we found out about all the work we have to do before we can leave–an official Description of Service(written in third person) and Site evaluation(written in first person). These need to be done by 15 September. We also need to have a physical, get our medical referrals, get our flue shots, turn in all of our Peace Corps issued equipment –flashlight, radio, smoke detector, fire extinguisher, medical kit. We have a lot to do to get out of here while still working at our sites.
Being a PCV also gives you two years of non-competitive eligibility in Civil Service. Additionally your time in service counts towards career status with the federal government. So with my prior work for the feds, I should be at about 7 years now. However, the most I might do when I return is be a Wal Mart Greeter or a Barrista at a coffee shop. Maybe I could be a sommelier! We did have a mini career fair concerning jobs in Peace Corps, Foreign Service, Civil Service and international development. Not interested at the moment. Neither was Susie so we took a nap during that session.
All in all it was a wonderful conference with lots of tears. I should have more info on my return to the states fairly soon and will let the world know when I’m coming back. Some numbers from our course: We started with 44 volunteers and we are finishing with 33 a 25% drop out rate. Our dual language group started out with 9, we finished with 8, an 11% drop out rate. We had the best retention rate of all four groups. We had one wedding occur during our time in service. Four of the people who left service left for medical reasons. Ten members of the group have extended their tours of duty. All in all an incredibly awesome group.
However, there is still plenty to do and experience before I say Ditën e mirë and I’m sure there are still plenty of tears to be shed.