A year in

I’m a bit late with this. Actually, I’m pretty late. On the 18th of October last year, I was sworn in as a Peace Corps Volunteer and moved to Chirpan, Bulgaria.

Time has flown by so fast. I can’t believe that I now have less than a year in my service. As I look back on the last year, I can see how far I’ve come and how much I’ve grown. Looking forward, I see how far I have to go and how much I will still change. As far as changes go, I’ve noticed that I am more comfortable with ambiguity, carry myself more confidently and look at the world in a far more “human” perspective. A more human perspective? you say. Well, living and working in the poorest country in Europe where the hope that a single person can make a difference is like a candle in the rain, you see who people truly are, not masked by “stuff”. This isn’t to say that there aren’t materialistic people, just a lot less.

What I’ve learned (in easy to read list form):

  • Being poor is only an economic condition. Having had the incredible fortune of growing up in middle class America (an upbringing I appreciate more and more every day), I’ve had very little daily contact with people struggling to survive. In my experiences here, these seem to be the happiest and most content people I’ve come across.

More after the jump–

  • I’m going to steal this point from super PCV Eddie: “People are people. People are not colors, labels, last names, or their bank accounts. People are PEOPLE.”
  • When you cut the crap out of your life (ie stuff), you gain a new perspective. You see what’s really important. And the small things can mean the world. When I first moved to Chirpan, I knew no one. One day the baba across my street gave me a tomato. It made my day! She, her husband and I have a strong friendship now.
  • Stray cats will always scare the crap out of you when throwing out the trash.
  • I have a much greater appreciation for food. More specifically, food tied closely to the agrarian schedule. I don’t think I will ever have a better tomato. One of the things that makes me appreciate the tomatoes here is they aren’t consistently good year round. Eating food in season makes you relish them even more. I was talking to another volunteer about this. I was walking by my baba’s stand one day and I saw she had mushrooms. Mushrooms! Fresh mushrooms! They were had to come by at that point and it completely changed my evening plans. I was going to make spaghetti for dinner. Like mentioned above, it’s the small things in life. Now if I could find some walnuts…
  • Roosters don’t care what time it is.
  • Meetings are scheduled 15 minutes before they happen and always happen 15 minutes late.
  • Peace Corps in nothing if not ambiguous. (the awkwardness is a given). Point in case: I’m still not sure of my roles and responsibilities as a COD volunteer. I’m still figuring it out and it can be a bit of a downer filling out bi-annual reports and most work accomplished isn’t amongst COD core goals.

  • The Office of External Resources hard at work with their PCV doing…something

    These number look convincing

  • Central air/heating is God’s gift to man and must be cherished as such.
  • I am constantly amazed at the reliance and determination of people. In this case, since I live here, Bulgarians. Bulgarian history is one of violence and hardship. They endured 500 years of Ottoman rule, which can also be described as enslavement. Communism was also brutal. They ran concentration camps up to November of 1989. The slightest infraction could get you sent there: listening to Jazz, wearing pants too tight (ie Western) or speaking a Western language. With this in mind, I have met several people who survived Communism who taught themselves English. I’m always blown away. For instance when I met Mr. Wasson’s friend:
    [W]e had a six hour na gosti with one of Tyler’s friends. He is a retired anesthesiologist and we originally went to his house to help is daughter with her English homework. He is a very sharp man and knows an impressive amount of current events and world affairs. What’s even more impressive is his English. He speaks very well, perhaps the best Bulgarian English speaker I’ve met. Incredibly, he taught himself, just by listening to Radio Free Europe and jazz. (He showed his contraband jazz collection. Owning jazz tapes, or anything Western for that matter, was illegal during communism). He has a hungry mind and actually prepared a list of questions ranging from the roles and responsibilities of the FBI, DEA and ATF to the differences between “below”, “beneath” and “under”. He told us he loves America (and calls himself the biggest fan we’ll ever meet) but also feels let down and abandoned with the way they were treated by the West after the fall of communism. Our conversation would jump from word pronouncation of words to a heated debate on wither or not Americans care about our work (and by extension, Bulgaria), and American foreign policy. He raised very logical questions and we both challenged each other’s positions. It was a great evening and we all had a great time.
  • If you drink more than your host father, you’re going to have problems
  • Even if you don’t drink much, by the end of training, you’ll still give an Irish dockworker a run for his money in a drinking contest.
  • This is a tough, but very rewarding job. I’m not going to lie; I have thought about throwing in the towel and going home. But I’ve soldiered on and have become a stronger person because of it. And now when I walk into that kindergarten class and get bombarded by a dozen five and six year olds…I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

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One Response to “A year in”

  1. Elena Says:

    What a nice self-review! It was refreshing to come upon your blog, especially at a moment when you’re being retrospective. I am going to be coming back to read more.

    Excluding Peace Corps factors, these are all things that I, as a Bulgarian, have realized during my years in the USA. It’s so nice to see that the flip side of the coin is more or less the same.

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