When the day comes and you receive an invitation to serve in the Eastern Block for the next 27 months of your life, part of you knows better, but you still envision something resembling a mud hut, dirt roads, and the third world.
Then you actually get here... and while many of us still deal with the occasional "squatty potty," donkey cart, flea infestation, or exploding appliance; we all rest assured knowing that the closest McDonald's is "reasonable" bus ride away (how badly DO you want that cheeseburger?), internet is accessible (often at home), we can catch a movie or go bowling if and when the need/desire arises, and as far as European travel, the world is our oyster.
It can be distracting as a Peace Corps volunteer to know these luxuries are not just accessible, but often affordable. Not exactly the sacrificial lifestyle we all envision during those days of anticipation.
However "spoiled" we might be with amenities, all of the Big Macs and Bruce Willis movies in the world don't stand a chance against the emotional battle we fight here. If I was posted in the Africa or South America regions, my job as a PCV would be to offer grass roots development, usually by way of offering a skill set to achieve something tangible. When I left after my 2 year tour, I would leave knowing that if I built the well my village needed and transferred those skills to help in the future, I was successful.
Here, though? Reality is that I very well could leave Samokov in April 2011 leaving only a minimal trace of sustainability towards continued development. Sure, I'll have built relationships with some amazing kids, and that can't be taken away from either party. But what about the continued fight on racism and segregation? Soviet "ideals?" Corruption? Educational reform? I may be Pavlov's dog when it comes to that promised Mickey D's cheeseburger when I embark to the capital a mere hour away, but no amount of processed beef-like substances can lessen the emotional battles that can occur here.
Are we fighting a losing battle? Maybe.
Does that make it any less important? Nope.
Is our presence here viable and extremely crucial? Absolutely.
PC Bulgaria isn't any better, worse, easier, or harder than any other post in the Peace Corps. It's just different...
Maybe a developmental presence here is even more important. Because in posts that have never seen development, they don't know what they are missing. But here in the Eastern Block, entire people groups are being left behind in an otherwise developing world. Minority Groups (Roma and people with disabilities specifically come to mind) lack opportunity. It's there, it's just hard or impossible for them to access. Mindsets from former goverments are generations away from entirely being turned over.
The need is here, and after a 9 month "sabbatical" (haha, perfect...) I am so incredibly blessed and thankful to have acquired a new perspective to approach my current task in life: giving a voice to the voiceless, and loving on people who need it the most here in Samokov, Bulgaria while doing my part to help change the way they see the world, and most importantly - change the way the world sees THEM.
"The end of communism is still remote because communism, more than a political ideology or a method of the government, is a state of mind. Political power may change hands overnight, economics and social life may soon follow, but people's personalities, shaped by the communist regimes they lived under, are slower to change. Their characters have so deeply incorporated a particular set of values, a way of thinking and of perceiving the world, that exorcising this way of being will take an unforseeable length of time."
- How We Survived Communism and Even Laughed, by Slavenka Drakulic -