Thursday, September 8, 2011

One More Year in Bulgaria

The past several months have been an emotional roller coaster. First came the exciting news that my application for an extension of service through August of 2012 had been granted. Shortly thereafter came our B25 close of service conference, which I was required to attend even though I’m extending my service. In all likelihood, the conference was the last time all of the B25s will ever be together again, making for a very emotional few days, especially the last night and the following morning. One by one, those volunteers who I did get to see after the conference began heading back to America or onto new adventures (for example, check out this and this). Deleting their numbers from my phone, I’ve felt a true sense of loss and sadness. Sadder still, one of the kids I had taught for the past two years died of an apparent heart attack just a few days after school let out for the summer. He was just eighteen.

Making sense of all this hasn’t been easy, but I know continuing my service is the best thing for me at this time. The people who wanted me here in the first place still want me here. Some people who didn’t want me here when I first arrived do now. And I’m continuing to discover new and interesting things about Bulgaria, its people, its culture, and its history. My life is good here. Beyond that, somewhere along the line during the twenty three months I’ve lived in Bulgaria, Bulgaria became my home – more of a home than some of the other places I’ve lived, less of a home than others, but a home. Eventually, it will be time for me to move on and find a new home. For now, however, I’d like to continue working to make this one better.

Going back to our close of service conference, beyond the emotional aspect of the conference, what struck me is how different all of us will emerge from the experience of serving as Peace Corps volunteers. For example, when asked what we had learned during our service, one volunteer shared that she had come to the realization that, given the cultural differences and conflicting beliefs among people of different backgrounds, it is extremely difficult to ever attain world peace. I didn’t say anything at the time, but my perception is exactly the opposite.

Two years ago, Bulgaria was nothing more than a place on a map to me. Today, it’s much, much more. I’m not Bulgarian. I’ll never be Bulgarian. And, I’ll never understand or agree with certain things about Bulgarian society and culture. But that doesn’t mean I can’t love a country and a people who have by and large welcomed me, respected me, and cared for me.

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