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Thursday, September 11, 2008

Site Visit Update: SAMOKOV!!!

I have been back in my training village for about a week, and I after that much time to process, I can officially express how excited I am!!

The first two days I was in Samokov last week I sat with my boss or whoever drinking beer or coffee and basically watching the world go by. "Going to Cafe" is the lifestyle here, but as I visual person, I was majorly struggling with the purpose God had for me there. I was hearing about the youth I would be working with, but I was mentally missing the connection.

Then, on Friday, we went into the Roma (one of the top 2 minority groups in Bulgaria) neighborhood ("Mahala" in Bulgaria) and I was blown away. Samokov is a major tourist destination because it lays at the foothills of Borovets, the international ski resort. I will be living in one of the coldest regions in Bulgaria, and none of the houses in the Mahala were insulated. There is no drainage system, so the sewage just runs down the streets already filled with trash. In the Roma culture girls get married very young (as young as 12 sometimes...), and start families immediately. The school in Samokov doesn't even offer grades past the 9th. Most of the Roma community doesn't even leave the neighborhood...

My first year in college I wrote a paper that turned some heads in my Global class... The topic was female circumcision, and in many ways, I defended the practice. No, I do NOT think it is morally correct or even justifiable, but what right do we have as Americans to walk into a culture that is not our own and demand they change their religious practices of hundreds of years? I proposed that we supported cultures that chose to engage in such practices by offering them health knowledge and resources to keep things safe. If people aren't open to change, they will resist EVERY motion of improvement. If you offer doctors and sterile environments, you allow them to still practice their traditions, while promoting health and safety.

I feel very similar about my future role in Samokov. I am not there to cause drastic change or force anyone to deviate from a lifestyle they believe to be true and appropriate. I am however, there to encourage them to think forwardly and to strive for advancement. I can't wait to encourage young girls to stay in school a little longer, but not by belitting the traditions of starting a young family. I thrive on the idea of encouraging the mixing of races and tearing down ethnic walls...

But I am NOT going to Samokov to force change. I am going as a change agent to broaden horizons and encourage the betterment of their lives using resources and knowledge they already have.

And THAT folks, is why I chose Peace Corps.... :)

God knows I'm not strong enough with this, but I am so excited (and honestly? Terrified) to know I don't need to be. I always seem to acquire the strength I need, and I know this is no different situation.

Its going to be a long, hard, emotional two years, but I can't wait to see God work through me and teach me things I never thought I would know.

Samokov as a whole is a BEAUTIFUL city (the international ski resort of Borovets is right up the road), and if you didn't know the Roma community was there, you would have no clue any of this was going on. Most Roma don't even leave the neighborhood... Those are the things that drew me to New York this past year - seeing the drastic juxtaposition between the richest of the rich and the poorest of the poor, and yet again I will be driven by that here in Bulgaria.

I won't be moving to Samokov for another month, but I can't wait to share my experiences and the fruit of so many thoughts/prayers from my family and friends back home!!


Chadd said...

It sounds absolutely amazing Katie!! I love reading your posts! I don't know your new email addy since you've graduated. Can you send me your email to --Beth

abby said...

Wow Katie that is seriously awesome! I am so excited for you, sounds like your placement is just going to rock. I am officially leaving for staging in 12 days!!! I am getting really excited. 2 weeks from today I fly to T-STAN!!!

Christine said...

I remember writing that same paper and feeling simliarly.. I'm really glad that you see your role as an "agent" of change if it's going to happen. I am so glad you are glad where you are!! ~ Christine