A couple other volunteers recently visited me at my site. One of the first questions they asked was, “What do your kids call you?”
I hadn’t really thought about it before then, but I quickly processed the information and told them, “Most kids just call me Brian, but some kids call me Чичо (Chicho).”
Чичо is Bulgarian for uncle. As in English with the word “uncle,” чичо is used not only for the brother of one’s father or mother and the husband of one’s aunt, but also as a form of address for an elderly man. So, when the kids call me “Чичо,” they are more or less mocking me for being an old man. I’m OK with that because I am an old man and there are far worse things they could call me. And I’ve come to think of it as a term of endearment more than anything else.
Very few of the kids I teach come from anything even remotely resembling a nuclear family. Some of kids have seen their families torn apart by alcoholism, drug abuse, domestic violence, and/or adultery. Others have had one or both parents leave to live and work abroad. Still others have had parents pass away. While the situations differ from household to household, these “families” can’t be called anything other than dysfunctional.
As an example, we have a tenth grader who lives in an apartment by himself. For a variety of reasons, he can’t live with his mother. He used to live with his father, but supposedly his father’s live-in girlfriend hates him. The solution was to throw him out of the house and put him up in an apartment of his own.
The principal at our school has made it clear she would like me to extend my service and stay at least one more year. I hadn’t seriously considered it until recently. But knowing how my nephew had been hurt when I left him in Belgium, and knowing the rejection and pain that the kids here are subjected to by the people closest to them, I can’t help but thinking maybe I should stay. If I leave as scheduled, I'll be just another person who put in the bare minimum and then abandoned them. One more person who got out as soon as a "better" opportunity presented itself. Is that the message I want to send? Or is it better to send the opposite message? Maybe for once what some of these kids need is for someone to say to them, “I don’t care if I can make more money somewhere else. I don’t care if my life will be easier if I leave Bulgaria. I don't care about a career or trying to start my own family. I don’t care about any of those things. I care about you, and I want to stay to try to help you.” Maybe what they need is a чичо.
Then again ... to be continued.
Me and one of my students. His mom works as a cleaning woman in Western Europe.