Last Friday was maturant (high school graduation) in town, which signals the beginning of summer. I was in Skopje for a Peace Corps training, and was rushing to catch the last bus home to see my host sister in the traditional maturant parade. I know most of the bus drivers by now, and decided to put my language skills to the test and request the bus driver pick me up by the Peace Corps office rather than the bus station. I was fortunate and was scooped up – the bus driver indicated that I should sit in the fold-up exit seat. I interpreted this as a sign of favor (the bus drivers usually have those that they like sit closer to the front), but also was wondered how this would work logistically, since I would have to get up anytime anyone would need to get off the bus or on the bus during the three hour trek home. At the earliest opportunity, I covertly switched seats and ended up making a new friend with my fellow passenger – a freshly graduated university student who had traveled around the U.S. quite a bit. He ensured that I got off at the correct place, and I dashed home to meet up with my host family.
Maturant itself was much like watching the Oscars, including the fashion commentary, but rather than watching it on the TV, you are just a foot or so away from the stars. The entire town comes out to watch the graduates and their partners (dates) parade down the main street. I had never seen so many people in town before. The graduates looked very glamorous – the families spend a tremendous amount of money on designer clothes, jewelry, shoes, etc. to make sure that their son or daughter is beautifully outfitted. Each pair is carefully evaluated by the crowd. I could here hushed conversations in admiration of one graduate’s beauty, or in criticism of another’s hair. My host sister was absolutely beautiful – I tried to imagine how I would feel in her shoes, and I knew that I would have been a ball of anxiety if I had to walk in front of the entire town, and to hear them critique my appearance.
Once the parade ends, the graduates all go to a large restaurant for their celebration; they stay out all night, returning home in the early morning to change and to pick up their luggage. They all take a bus together to Durres,a beach town in Albania, for a three day vacation – which sounds like a good way to wind down from stress of tests and maturant itself!