Everything has turned into a countdown. I have 5 pages left in my Serbian composition book, 4 meetings at work during which the matters at hand happen after we leave, 3 classes teaching each age group, 2 Serbian lessons, 1 week until my bus pass expires.
When we left Novi Sad it didn't feel like an end, it felt like a new beginning. New families, new work, new city. We said goodbye but it wasn't a departure. It divided our 9 months in two, it was merely a continuation.
When we moved to Nis it didn't feel like a half-way point, it felt like a new nine months. New discoveries, new growth, new understandings. Now we're saying goodbye and it is a departure this time.
In two and a half weeks we leave Serbia. Returns will no doubt be in our future –- Serbia is a home, it witnessed transformations -- but we won't ever return as a group or return extensively or with the same purpose. It's not as though I'd like to repeat everything that happened this year; I'm so grateful with what I've learned and how I got to learn it in fact I'd more than adamantly recommend the 'gap year' to everyone, but I don't fancy the idea of being away from friends and family for nine months straight any time soon and frankly I'm really excited for Princeton. But leaving is scary. Moving back is daunting. Saying goodbye is inconceivable.
And yet it must be conceived, in just two and a half weeks. At least our first set of goodbyes.
The Bridge Year Program isn't over in 18 days, it continues until May 31st. We leave Nis in 18 days, on May 8th. The following 15 days we will live in camps, repairing roads, trails, and houses on a mountain and by the sea in Montenegro. And for our absolute final 8 days we will be reflecting, remembering, musing, and relaxing in Split, Croatia.
Those twenty-some days sound absolutely wonderful. We get to be together as a group all the time, we get to explore two more countries, we get to physically challenge ourselves, and we get to reflect. But in just two and a half weeks I'm leaving my students, my work, my host family, my friends, Nis, Serbian language class, Ceasar palacinke, the taxi drivers who bet on driving the Hawaii girl, the 1-3-4-10-13 buses, the sweet woman who sells me fruit, so much more, and Serbia. That last one's the kicker, I'm leaving this country that in just seven months changed from a place I could barely locate to my home.
But May 8th is looming over us. It is no longer a cursory answer to feed the curiosity of the questioner. No, May 8th is a reality, a deadline, a real goodbye. May 8th is less than three weeks away.
I don't have a grand list of to-dos that are hanging over this departure. With the weather continuing to cooperate I'd like to spend as much time enjoying the Nisava river, the fortress, the city center, the hill above my homestay. I'd like to bake with my neighbor, laugh often with my host sister, have a few more teas and hot chocolates with friends, eat uncountable numbers of palacinke and kukuruzna sapica sa sirom (a cheese pastry that makes my taste buds dance), and stop by Pekara Brankovic (my favorite bakery) as much as possible. But really it's a matter of appreciating the two and a half weeks we have and I'll be sure to do that the best I can.