Back to the contents
read in Macedonian


July 15 is this coming Sunday.  And July 15 is my 16th anniversary of, essentially, being Macedonian.

On July 15, 1996, I came to Macedonia on a three month leave of absence from the public relations firm I was working for in Washington, DC, to take a three month temporary job with Mercy Corps, an American humanitarian firm.  I told myself, and my employer, that I would live and work in Macedonia for three months, and then return to live and work in Washington, DC again.  It was to be a short “little adventure” as I told myself.  I did not come to Macedonia out of a burning desire to see and be involved with Macedonia or because I had any fondness for the country and people but because of my own desires to go overseas and have some fun.

But on the way to that “little adventure” and at the end of three months, I decided I liked Macedonia – and more importantly, the Macedonians.  Something about Macedonia and the Macedonians piqued my interest to know more which would require spending a little more time there.  So I told my employer “I quit.” But I also told myself that I would do this for one year – and then return to Washington, DC.

I did neither.

I ended up living and working in Macedonia full-time for seven years.  And while, in 2003, I bought my home in Tucson, Arizona, I still kept going back and forth between Tucson, Washington, DC and Macedonia (as well as Bulgaria and Ukraine) working on various gigs. I did that for seven years as well, often living and working in Macedonia for many months at a time.

Even now, though I live and work in Tucson, more or less full time, I’m still involved in Macedonia in a variety of ways, wearing a variety of hats.  Which is why I wrote above that this is the 16th anniversary of my being Macedonian.

You see, Macedonia is a part of my DNA now.  Ethnically, I’m Hungarian, Transylvanian, more to the point (and yes, I do realize the image that conjures up).  By citizenship, I’m a proud American and a proud Arizonan.  But because of my living in and working with Macedonia, I feel part Macedonian.  More importantly, because of the Macedonians who have become friends – and family – I self-identify as a Macedonian in many ways.  I have definitely acquired the title “Uncle Jason” for numerous Macedonian children.  And though I will never be an ethnic Macedonian, Macedonia is a part of my identity now.  I think about Macedonia every day of my life.

Macedonia was almost five years young as a modern-day nation-state when I first arrived.  There were (I recall), exactly four cash ATM machines in Skopje.  There was no Vero, no Jumbo, no Holiday Inn, no Aleksandar Palace, no, well, so many places that are there today.  There were exactly eight private wineries.  No large 1.5 liter bottles of Skopsko or anything else.  So much of the economic development of Macedonia that you see today simply did not exist 16 years ago.

But it has been to my delight – in fact, I might even say I’ve been humbled – by the progress I have seen made in Macedonia in those 16 years.  Macedonia has progressed – I know it may not always feel like it – economically, politically, culturally (think music as one example – Macedonia is recognized around the world because of its musical exports).  So many people outside of Macedonia said (believing it themselves or not) that Macedonia would not make it – that it would collapse, that it was too small, that ethnic issues would tear it apart, that outside forces would do it in, etc.

But Macedonians have defied the odds.  Macedonia has proved to the world that obstacles are not insurmountable.  That – despite their differences – ethnic groups can live and work and play and laugh together.  That different cultures and different faiths can practice alongside each other.

It’s been my privilege to see Macedonia grow, and succeed, not simply survive.  While I’ve seen plenty of bad things happen in and to Macedonia, name me one country or people who do not have bad things happen to them.  The key is the response – how you address those issues and deal with them.  And I have seen Macedonians respond, usually, with courage, strength and fortitude.

Sixteen years in Macedonia has taught me many things.  I’ve learned the need to, at times, slow down the pace of my life.  Spend more time with family and friends.  Enjoy more, the food and drink and times with family and friends at mealtime.  Not rush through life.  Enjoy the natural beauty around me more.  Enjoy my culture more.  I’ve learned to do a better job of prioritizing the things in life that matter most – people and their needs, not mine.

So thank you Macedonia.  Thank you for teaching me.  Thank you for allowing me to be a part of your life.  Hopefully, I’ve been able to contribute in some small way to some of your successes – collectively as a country and individually as friends and family.  That is a real privilege to be able to do so – to be involved in the life of a nation and the lives of the people of that nation.

May God Bless Macedonia.  And long live Macedonia!

Copyright ©
Jason Miko
Designed & hosted by
Jurak OT Petrof Studio