So What Happened?

A year and four months later, here I am. I virtually disappeared from this blog, and in a moment I’ll explain the many reasons why. The last time I wrote a post on silverymoonlight, I was getting ready to depart on the most eventful and meaningful journey of my life thus far. When I came home, I was forever changed. The year that followed afterward was filled with loss, sadness, heartache, longing, bad luck, and confusion. I lost myself in 2017. I lost who I was. My core identity. And I grew up. Now that so much time has passed, I can see how it was for the better, but some things I’ll never fully understand. That’s just life, I guess.

I never even wrote while I was living in Macedonia, which is a shame. However, I was living my best life. I was incredibly happy; the happiest I’ve ever been. I could see my best friend (who also happens to be my cousin) whenever I wanted. I fell in love and had a whirlwind romance. I was working with the Peace Corps and making lifelong friends and connections. I advanced my Macedonian skills with the help of my tutor and dear friend. I didn’t have time to write, to be honest. When I wasn’t working or at my Macedonian lessons, I was with my cousin or my ex. I took advantage of every moment, and lived life to the fullest. I have absolutely no regrets. I’d do it again in a heartbeat. That’s the plan one day, anyway. My time spent living in Macedonia in reality deserves an entire post on its own, but I think now that I’ve had much time to reflect, I’d rather keep it short and sweet. To put it simply- I lived. I learned. I loved. I laughed. I cried. I grew. For the rest of my existence I will be grateful for what I experienced between February 2017-April 2017. Always.

I came home. I got dumped. I started a new job, and spent my summer lost and very sad. Then, August came with hope on the horizon. Ah, college. What I had been preparing for my entire life. Finally. Parties, degrees, adulting, new friends, new town, new life. A new start! What could be better, right? Wrong. I moved in with all the hope and naivety of a young adult. Man, if I had known all the things I’d have to deal with, I would definitely have warned myself. I would have told myself to keep my head up and stay strong and not deal with things I didn’t have to.

The first couple months were eh. Adjusting to a new life and setting was very difficult for me, which was ironic because just a couple months before I was living on my own in a foreign country. I don’t know quite what the problem was, but eventually I got through it. I settled in. Having a room to myself starting in October was great. I’m a social person, but at the end of the day I need my space and really value my alone time. I think if I hadn’t had that first semester, things would have been much worse. I started to have a string of bad luck. I was dating someone else, and got dumped again. My car broke down and had to be towed three times. My camera, my prized possession, broke. I had health issues that would later result in surgery. Two surgeries, actually. And then, someone who I never thought I would lose, I lost very unexpectedly in December. I was devastated. I came home early, excused from my exams, to the comfort of home and family. I spiraled into depression. I had lost my way completely. I didn’t feel like myself anymore. I didn’t feel like Aia. I still had hope, though, when 2018 came. I was determined to feel better and to have better luck. Life had other ideas, however.

2018 began. I was recovering from surgery, recovering from my friend’s death, back at school, wanting life to feel normal again. I started therapy. I realized a huge part of my struggle fall semester was that I stayed in my room a lot and didn’t take part in social events at school. I had a few good friends, but mostly kept to myself. Should have stayed that way, ha-ha. I did more things, I met more people, I put myself out there. Well, basically, people can suck. Big time. Spring semester I dealt with a lot of toxic relationships. I was so focused on everyone liking me and being on good terms with everybody that I lost myself even more. My heart hurts for how I let people walk all over me. Never again. I went into “survival mode” and only focused on myself and exams until I could come home to South Carolina. There was some positivity in me getting out more. I found my people, despite the toxic ones. It took me all year but I’m really glad to have them. If y’all are reading this, you know who you are and I love you.

I came home in early May, and immediately felt relief. I cut off the toxic people that were bringing me down. Life got better. I returned to work. All year long, the one thing that kept me going was the hope that I would get to go to Macedonia and see my cousin. The days and nights I spent crying over everything I went through, that was the one thought that kept my spirit alive. So naturally, as soon as I came home, I didn’t waste any time preparing my trip. My mom was already planning on going to Ireland, and last minute I decided I would go with her. Out of curiousity, I looked up how much tickets from Dublin to Skopje were. I snagged tickets roundtrip for $317. When I realized I was actually going to see my loved ones again, after waiting all year, I couldn’t contain my tears of joy. So, in five days, I will get on a plane and land in Dublin. I’m looking forward to connecting with my heritage and roots there on my mom’s side. I’m excited to go somewhere new, too. Then, after nine days in Ireland, I will go see my family and friends in Macedonia. I know once I step off that plane in Skopje I will finally be able to take a deep breath and feel even more at peace.

So what did I have to learn again this year? To protect myself. To always put myself and my mental health first, and that is never selfish. Never. To take care of myself. To listen to my body and my needs. To not let others tear me down. To make fun of me. To talk down to me. To use me. I’m done. I truly am amazed, looking back on how I let others treat me. That’s not happening this year when I return to Brevard in August. I’ll be damned if I put up with the insanity I did freshman year. No more. Finally, after a long year and four months, I feel like I have my identity back. I’m back, but I’m renewed and better than ever. And it feels amazing.

Posts on Ireland and Macedonia to come soon. 😉 xoxo

 

 

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The Countdown

I’m ready. I’m ready to take on the world with my camera by my side. My aunt tonight at dinner said, “And so the countdown begins.” I’ve been counting down the days since July 3rd, 2016 when I flew back home by myself. When I left Skopje in the wee hours of the morning, I had the pleasure of witnessing a brilliant red sunrise from my window on the plane. (which of course is symbolic, because the Macedonian flag features a beautiful sun) As tears streamed down my face, I promised myself I would be back soon.

I know this is sappy, but life is truly beautiful and every moment should be appreciated. I can’t wait to be reuinuted with my loved ones. I’m going to cry like a baby when I see my cousin Dea and her boyfriend Teo again.

Why do I love Macedonia so much? Where to even begin? The people. The nature. The culture. My heritage. The food. The ancient history. I like to refer to Macedonia as a hidden gem. The landscape there is incredible. Macedonia’s mountains don’t look like the ones back home. It’s a different look, but beautiful. The lakes in the south are breathtaking.
I’m excited for this time because I haven’t seen Macedonia in winter yet. Snow is a rare occurence where I live, and being the southern girl I am, I get excited easily over the mention of winter weather.

I encourage you to get in touch with your roots. Explore your ancestry. Find out where you come from. It’s extremely important to know these things.

Whether you’re religious or not, everyone can admit that in life you come across people that you feel a strong soul connection with. That’s what I have in Macedonia with several people. The amount of love I feel for these people is so immense that I can’t even begin to put it into words. I feel it with every inch of my being, and it’s something that I can’t really describe to someone unless they have that connection with a person in their life. Then they might understand.

When I traveled to Macedonia for the first time, I was eight years old. I had a journal that I wrote in back then, and recently I found it. One entry said, “I love Macedonia. I want to come back next year, and the next and the next and the next!”

To eight year old Aia:

You are doing it. You are living out your dreams. You are doing this for yourself. And you are going to be so incredibly happy. You deserve this. Never give up on your dreams.

One week to go.

Hello 2017

I think we can all agree 2016 was a whirlwind of a year. A lot of changes took place. Not only were there many things going on in the world, I think a lot of people had stuff going on in their personal lives. I definitely did. However, instead of dwelling on the bad memories, I choose to be positive and learn from the lessons I was given in 2016.

One of the biggest lessons I learned in 2016 was using my voice and taking care of myself. For me, last year started off with me learning to use my new camera I got for Christmas. In February I began going to the mountains often with my mom, and that’s when I realized they are my home and where I want to be. In June I went on the best trip of my life. I went to Macedonia and felt at home with my family and heritage. Something shifted while I was there. I knew that I had to go back (before I had even gone home) and stay for a longer amount of time. Even though I was there for roughly a month, it wasn’t enough.

When I came home, something negative happened in my personal life. My mood went downhill. For months I was depressed over what had happened. I also had an intense longing to be back in Macedonia. Things finally started to look up when I realized I would go back to Macedonia and that I would be happy again. I’ve struggled a lot in 2016 with communication. Not on my part, but on others. I’ve had a few failed relationships because I’m very open and honest about my feelings and I’ve had to learn the hard way that not everyone can handle that kind of maturity, especially at my age. I started to think there was something wrong with me, but I shut those thoughts down quickly because I know that one day someone is going to appreciate me just the way I am because I am beautiful.

In August I decided that I was going to focus on myself. I wanted to invest more time in learning more about who I am as a person. I still consider myself to be on this personal journey, as I go into 2017. I’ve realized that I’m okay with standing on my own two feet and that I don’t need to be supported by another. I am powerful just on my own. I’m in such a good space now. I’m at the point where I’ve realized that I don’t need anyone who doesn’t need me. If someone wants to come along for the ride, that’s great. If they decide that they don’t want to, then that’s okay too. It’s a great place to be. I’ve really mastered the art of letting go. I also think that putting yourself first isn’t selfish. Taking care of yourself and loving yourself is healthy.

This year I choose happiness. I choose love. I choose joy. It’s going to be a good one.

 

Spreading Positivity and Good Vibes

Alright, for the past two weeks I’ve been down. Really down. Normally I don’t get like this. For the most part I’m a cheerful person. It’s not just one thing that has me down in the dumps. It’s several things all at once. I’m exhausted emotionally. Last night, however, is the best I’ve slept in a long time. I felt okay today, and I know it’ll only get better from here. To help myself remain positive, I decided to make a list of things about myself that I love and appreciate. I’m trying to not focus on the negativity that’s been surrounding me for the last two weeks. So here goes nothing.

  • I skipped a grade in middle school and I’ve been advanced ever since.
  • At 16 I got myself a job on a whim and didn’t even tell my mom about it at first.
  • At 17 I got a car (with the help of some family members) that I had saved up for with my money.
  • Photography has become one of my passions of late and I started an account on Instagram to post the pictures I take. (it’s silverymoonlight, if you’re wondering)
  • I read, a lot. (Love Harry Potter and Outlander) The bookshelf in my room is almost as tall as my ceiling. I needed one big enough to fit all my books.
  • I got into my #1 college and was awarded a lot, like A LOT of scholarship money.
  • In 5th grade I won a writing competition against people who were older than me.
  • Traveling is also one of my passions. I appreciate other cultures and I LOVE to learn about them.
  • I also love anything that is strange- ghosts, vampires, werewolves, folklore, mythology, etc. Most of the books on my shelf or series I watch are about the supernatural.
  • When I was younger it was really hard for me to use my voice, but as I’ve gotten older that’s changed. I’ve grown a lot as a person and now I’m very vocal, something I’m proud of.
  • I have a close knit circle of friends and I really believe in quality over quantity. (shoutout to Kaila, Erin, Hannah, and Aidan)
  • In the past three years I’ve changed in the sense that I don’t hide who I am anymore. I used to hold back because I was afraid of being judged. However, now, I don’t care. Your vibe attracts your tribe.
  • I consider myself very lucky to be half Macedonian and have amazing friends and family that live in Macedonia. ❤ I’m proud of my heritage.
  • Speaking of being Macedonian, my name is a big deal to me. My first and last name are both unique. I’m the only Aia I know of, and not many Americans have a last name like me. I feel so connected to my name that when I get married, I’m probably not going to change my last name, because it’s a big part of who I am.
  • I adore history and I can’t get enough of it. A lot of the books on my shelf are also historical fiction or non-fiction. I love visiting historical sites and learning about the past.
  • Also touching on the subject of history, I love my state and the history that is within South Carolina. The food, history, people, and atmosphere in the low country makes me a happy girl.
  • I like cooking and gardening. Good food makes me happy. Especially anything made from scratch. I make homemade pies when I’m in the mountains with friends, it’s kind of a tradition.
  • I’m fascinated with the universe and stars. I have a Pinterest board dedicated to just astronomy.
  • I enjoy home decor. I know that sounds weird, but if my room/house has a good vibe and feels nice/looks good it makes me happy.
  • And to finish this list, I’d like to reiterate that I’m proud of myself and how far I’ve come. I’m proud of my journey and how I’ve grown a lot the past couple years. I can only go one way from here. Up.

 

Macedonia 2016

In my last blog post I mentioned how I feel like I still haven’t processed my trip to Macedonia over the summer. Then it hit me, I should write about it! So, without further adieu, here are my feelings/thoughts about my trip.

The flight from Vienna to Skopje is always a short one, but it never ceases to amaze me how quickly it goes by. I remember looking out the window, sleep deprived, and below me I saw mountains. I thought to myself, “I’m back. There’s my Macedonia. My second home.” Tears rolled down my cheeks. I couldn’t help but be emotional. It’s hard to believe I’ve only been to Macedonia three times in my life, yet I feel very connected to the country where my ancestors come from.

This trip was different from 2014, because my mother came along this time. It was my favorite trip yet. I met a lot of people this time. My mom introduced me to both of her host families. We hung out with her Bulgarian host family and spent a night at a lake with them. I’ll never forget the frogs that sang outside our window all night long or how full the moon was that evening. (if Dragomir, Vladimir, or Ina are reading this, I love you guys) We shared a delicious meal while listening to traditional Serbian and Bulgarian music.

Mom’s Macedonian host family were just as wonderful. They had us over for ruechek (lunch) one day. Mom’s host mother, Fance, is an excellent cook. Let me tell you, if Fance ever makes ruechek for you, you don’t ever have to worry about going hungry. My glass was never empty, and my belly was so full by the time I finished eating. The entire table was covered with dishes like pork in a mushroom sauce, roasted chicken, shopska salata, seasoned potatoes, and rice. It was a feast fit for a king. (if Fance, Moataz, or Slavica are reading this, I also love you guys)

We also spent the trip visiting places like Lake Ohrid, which personally, is my favorite place to go to in Macedonia. There is no place in the world like it. It was formed by an earthquake in ancient times, and as a result the water is crystal clear and blue like the Caribbean. We also visited Lake Prespa, which is Ohrid’s sister. Some experts speculate the lakes are connected underground. Both lakes are surrounded by picturesque views of Macedonian mountains. While we were there, we drove through Galicia National Park, which goes high up into the mountains. There are several stops along the way that make stunning pictures with the countryside, mountains, and Lake Ohrid. We also visited Sv. Naum (St. Naum) which is a a monastery that dates to the 10th century. It was founded by Saint Naum and is located along Lake Ohrid. It’s a popular tourist destination in Macedonia, and it’s no surprise, because the views are breathtaking.

I also grew closer to my cousin, Dea, during this trip. We walked around Skopje taking pictures of each other. We both have cameras and are into photography. She took me to the city park, an amusement park, the mall, the bazaar, to cafes, etc. We had such a good time together and I miss her like crazy now that I’m home. I can’t wait to go back and spend time with her next year.

Once my sister and mother went back to the states, I had some one on one time with my dad, which is something I’m grateful for, since he doesn’t live in the country anymore. He took me to Greece for a couple of days. I wasn’t too excited at first, because the last time I went to Greece I visited Athens and I wasn’t a huge fan of the city. However, my excitment grew once he told me we’d be staying at a place with a private beach right on the Aegean Sea. The days I spent in Greece were paradise. The Aegean is also blue like the Caribbean. I spent my days floating in the sun, swimming, and snorkeling. I have some pretty rocks and shells to remember the days I spent there. It was the best way to relax. I got to glimpse what European summer vacations look like, and I have to say it’s 100x better than going to any American beach.

The last country I visited during my grand trip was Serbia. I wrote a little bit about this already in a previous post titled, “Humans of History: Branko Popovich.” Serbia looks similar to Macedonia because of her mountains. It’s a pretty country with friendly people. I visited the memorial museum for victims of a massacre that occured during WWII. My great grandfather was amongst those victims. It was an emotional experience but I’m grateful I went through it. I spent quality time with my family. I also got to meet one of my dad’s oldest friends and his daughters, Iva and Nadja. They treated us to a whole roasted pig and other yummy dishes. You don’t ever have to worry about going hungry when you’re a guest in the Balkans. People take care of you and want to make you comfortable.

On the way back to Macedonia, we stopped at a historical site called Stobi. It was the capital of the Roman province Macedonia Salutaris. Before it was a Roman province, it was known as the town of Paeonia, conquered by Macedon. Serbian achaeologists began excavations in the 1920s and found public and private buidings including a theater, churches, and homes. More structures have been found since then and I believe excavations are still going on today. My favorite thing I saw was the ancient amphitheater that still had names carved into the seats.

I feel like time always goes by so quickly when I’m in Macedonia. I spent almost a month there, but I swear it felt like a week. It’s never enough. There is no place in the world like it. As I sat in my seat, flying home alone, there was a brilliant red sunrise outside my window.  Yes, I cried, again. I’ve been home since July 3rd, and almost every day I’m thinking of Macedonia and how I would rather be there than here.

Self-Worth

Ever since I got home from my Macedonia trip I feel like I haven’t had a chance to stop and rest. I haven’t given any time to myself. I’ve been going non-stop with work and seeing friends. I don’t think I’ve even processed my amazing trip.

Take care of yourself. It’s as simple as that. You are worthy. Don’t let anyone tell you that you’re not, and definitely don’t let anyone try to tell you how YOU are or how you’re supposed to be. Only you know who you are and what makes you unique as a person. Someone tried to tell me who I was recently, and as a female Aquarius that didn’t go over too well. Needless to say, I came back guns blazing and defended myself. I know who I am. I know my self worth.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to take care of yourself. It’s completely healthy. I think I’ve entered a point in my life where this has become really prevalent. I need to take care of myself and discover more things about who I am. I need to learn to love myself (which isn’t self-centered, by the way) before anyone else can love me. It’s time to come into my own power. It’s time to discover things about myself I never knew existed. And if people can’t handle that you’re full of light, love, and positivity, well, then they’re not your people.

Oh, and lastly, I AM worth it. I am too full of life to be half loved. I am gold. Solid gold. With a little bit of glitter.

Humans of History: Branko Popovich

This month’s Humans of History post is about something you won’t learn about in the average textbook. It’s about a tragedy that most people aren’t aware of and don’t even know occurred. I, myself, wasn’t aware of how severe and sad it was until today.

Growing up I was always told that my Baba’s father (baba means grandma) was killed by the Nazis  during WWII in Serbia, but I didn’t know all the details. Currently, I am in Europe traveling throughout the Balkans, learning about my heritage and experiencing the culture. My dad told me we would go to Serbia, to visit my Uncle because as of right now he is living there. I am Serbian through my Baba, but I hadn’t been to Serbia until this trip.

We arrived yesterday, exhausted from the car ride, even though it was only 4 hours. I was asked by my dad if I’d like to see the monument dedicated to my great grandfather and the others that were killed during WWII. I didn’t realize there was also a museum dedicated to the victims.

When we got there, outside of the museum there was a concrete wall with quotes in Cyrillic on it. The quotes were the last words of some of the victims murdered. Already I was feeling a bit teary eyed. Even though I can read Cyrillic, I can’t fluently speak Macedonian or Serbian, as well as any of the other Slavic languages. We went inside, and paid the lady at the front desk. As we ascended the stairs, sculptures signifying the struggle between the Serbs and Germans during WWII were around us. There were also plaques with summaries on what happened in Serbia during this time.

Serbia was invaded by the Nazis during the war, and immediately a resistance was organized by the Serbs to fight back against the invaders. In early October of 1941, some Serbs attacked Nazi forces, killing 10 and wounding 26 men. It was ordered that for every German soldier wounded, 50 Serbs would be killed. For every German soldier killed, 100 Serbs would be killed. On October 20 and 21st, all males from Kragujevac, Serbia between the ages of sixteen and sixty were gathered by German troops. They were executed in a field and were buried where they fell. Some children in classrooms were also shot. It is said that between 5,000 and 7,000 Serbs were executed. Scholars later on estimated that the number is more around 2,778. It is not known for sure, but it is definitely known that a brutal and merciless massacre occurred in Kragujevac.

As I walked throughout the museum, taking in all this information, I once again became emotional. My great grandfather was among one of the victims. There were a few walls in the museum with more quotes from the people who died. One quote, from a man named Lazar Perisic, said, “Remember me, my dears, because I don’t exist anymore. Your unfortunate Laze.” He was 25 when he died. Another quote, from a man named Sava Stefanovic, was addressed to his wife and it said, “Kosa and children, I am going away to death pure and innocent as I am. Forgive me if I’ve ever insulted anybody in my life and was cruel. I am writing these words 5 minutes before the shooting. Your daddy, good husband, and son-in-law, and the rest.” These particular words hit me hard. After I finished reading them I began to cry.

I thought to myself, this isn’t human. No human could do this to another person. Then I thought about it, and I disagreed with my first thought. Actually, this was an entirely human thing to do. Throughout the entire existence of humanity we have always been cruel to one another. Always discriminated against a certain race. Always killed one another. That in itself is sad, and I don’t understand it.

We walked to the next room, which held the pictures of the victims. It was a dark room, with circles covering the walls. The circles were illuminated with photographs of all the victims and their names. We found my great grandfather, Branko Popovich. I burst into tears. This was the first time I had ever seen a picture of him. There he was. In the room with us were two ladies. My dad asked them to take our picture with us and the wall. We explained we were related to the man we wanted our picture with. The lady who was taking our picture said to her friend, “That was their grandfather and great-grandfather. Can you imagine?” Her friend crossed herself and there were tears in her eyes. After they took our picture, my dad asked them where they were from. “Austria,” was their answer. We thanked them for taking our picture and left the museum.

To my great grandfather, Branko Popovich:

You were taken from this world in an act of cruelty, hate, and spite. You didn’t deserve to leave this world the way you did. You were only 32. You had a wife. You had a newborn daughter, my baba. From what we’ve heard about you, you had a very sociable character. You even liked to hang out with gypsies. You might have even had gypsy blood yourself. Whatever the facts may be, you were loved and will always be remembered by your family for the years to come. You’ve left a legacy. I am proud to be the living descendant of Branko Popovich.

This is the story of the Kragujevac Massacre that took place in Serbia. Hitler didn’t just despise the Jews. He killed the Slavs, gypsies, and gays as well. Slavs were considered a subspecies in Hitler’s mind. This is a fact that isn’t told enough. Like I said in the beginning of this post, this is something you won’t read about in any textbook.

Today was one of the most emotional days in my entire life. I didn’t realize that when I went on my trip I was going to have the chance to see my great grandfather’s photograph and the place where he was killed. It was moving. It was full of tears, but I’m grateful. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to learn about my great grandfather and my roots. I learned something today, something that we never stop doing throughout our lives.