“Ooooh, heaven is a place on earth!”
I FINALLY got a good night sleep last night (first time since landing in Bulgaria. Jet lag – yuck!), and when I came outside around 10am after a shower, one of my host mom’s friends was over for ‘na gosti.’ Bulgarians are amazingly hospitable people, and ‘na gosti’ can mean anything from neighbors socializing to a huge party. People drop by all the time (especially when they are curious about the new American!), and this song was playing on the radio when I joined the table. It’s kind of embarrassing how much here is in English or imported from America… I watched some Gilmore Girls last night dubbed into Bulgarian…
And it’s true! This place does really make heaven look like a place on earth! After a week up in the beautiful Bulgarian mountains going over Peace Corps policies and procedures, expectations, and some basic Bulgarian, I am now living in the most beautiful little Bulgarian town in the South-West part of the country. I’ve never seen anything more gorgeous! I live with my non-English speaking host parents (it’s actually really fun!), a cat, two kittens (one named Harry Potter – go figure), about a dozen chickens, a few ducks, a dog, a bunny, a couple goats (who come down from the mountains at night to sleep) and the biggest pig I’ve ever seen! Everyone in town has an incredible garden, and for the next three months I am going to be spoiled with fresh apples, pears, plums (sort of – what they are doesn’t exactly translate into English), tomatoes (YUM), cucumbers, and cirene (feta-ish type cheese, but sooo much better than US feta!) compliments of my host parents. Each meal is prepared primarily outside with exception of an indoor stove in a building entirely separate from the sleeping area of the house, and eaten under a ceiling of grapes. The sky is gorgeously blue, and the breeze doesn’t make me miss the NOVA humidity at all. Last night, right at 8:30 dozens of village goats strutted down the main town road and walked into their respective yards, where their owners let them in and immediately milked them before returning to the Cafe for na gosti. Haha, I'm not going to get through this alive without milking a goat...
There are five of us from PC B-24 living in my little Bulgarian town at the foot of the mountains; each of us with a different family. On Monday we begin everyday language lessons (can’t wait! This miming thing is only getting me so far, but it’s funny how much I can kind of understand) and our technical assignments for our Youth Development track. Every other week we meet up with the other 25 members of B-24. In about 10 weeks, prayerfully, all 30 of us will travel to Sofia to swear in as official Peace Corps Volunteers, and then jump on buses to move to our permanent sites all around Bulgaria to begin our projects.
I’ve been asked repeatedly since I began this process – “why Peace Corps?” Some want to know why I chose PC over a ministry or mission presented at Urbana ’06 (wow, that was almost 2 years ago?), and others want to know why I would give up the comforts of home to do something in some country I’ve never been to (and had to look up on a map). Others don’t think I’m cut out for hand-washing my clothes (actually, my host mom has a washing machine and I get to dry them on my very own balcony off my room overlooking the mountains) and walking past the neighbor’s donkey (each neighbor has one – tied up to the front yard fence like we would tether a dog back home) every day on my way to work. And, yes, I am [almost entirely] sure that my heart is ultimately back home in urban America. And NO WHERE in Bulgaria looks like NYC or DC, but that’s why I wanted to do this. How do you follow your heart when you’ve boxed yourself into what you think those dreams might be? God is continually surprising me with my hearts desires, and I need to fully explore His will for my life before I surrender to just one dream. I am one of those people that merely desires to serve, and I believe God will use me anywhere, but I also want to see His world. As much of it as humanly possible.
The mission of Peace Corps is three fold – to offer my technical skills in an environment that needs them is the first part of mission, and the assumed one. However, the other two points are equally as important: to share with another culture the real picture of America (not the one they see on VH1 and imported movies), and to bring the Bulgarian culture back to America someday. That’s what I love about Peace Corps – my job is to utilize local resources while working on a sustainable project in some area of Youth Development before I come home, but also to create a reciprocal appreciation of both my culture and the culture of my new home before I return to the states. I recognize that that not all mission’s organizations are the same, but I want to stretch my faith while still reflecting 1 Thess. 2:8, which says: “We were delighted to share not ONLY the Gospel of God, but our LIVES as well.” I want people to see the love of Christ through my actions and words, but not by just fulfilling a need or two and then going on my way. I want to become a part of the Bulgarian culture, and work together with the local community here to help the accomplish redevelopment. When I return to the US, I want to be able to share how God has moved in my life, and stretched me in so many ways, in addition to how I was able to offer my experiences working with kids to the youth here.
For now, that’s all… back to shelling some beans with my host mom! Ciao. J
P.S. I have access to internet in the town center, and if you email me (email@example.com) we can keep in touch that way, or I can give you a mailing address.