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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Last week was one of the more emotionally trying weeks I've had since I've been back in country. Although the work is easier this go around (but only because during my time at home I found my passion and drive for where God has called me), the reality of the situation here and the nature of my job is on the draining side. It's funny, in the grand scheme of things, I spend very little time with my kids. In fact, today was the first day in more than three weeks I even SAW them. When you combine the swine flu that knocked out about two and a half weeks of work with last week's "incident," its been a little slow in these parts.

Last weekend I was invited to the in-service training for the newest group of volunteers to give a brief choice session on working with Roma. Since I am one of the few volunteers who works solely with the Roma population (more on that later), I was asked to go over my experiences and plans, and share the struggles I have encountered along the way. Because of the timing, I missed the kid's first day back to school after two weeks of official swine flu "vacation" (we also lost kid's attendence in the days leading up to the mandated closure). On Wednesday, I headed over to the office to prep for the day's game with the kids, and encountered a HUGE crowd of seemingly angry people, and an entire fleet of police cars (well... 6... but thats more than I have ever seen here!) at the Tourism magnet school directly across the street from my school.

As soon as I got to the office, I called my counterpart to see if she knew what was going on, because there were no kids in site. From the little I understood, I gathered that there was a stabbing, and one of the students from our school was hurt, but I didn't get any more details (my ability to understand Bulgarian on the phone without visual cues is limited). Later, I asked a couple Bulgarians at the basketball game what had happened, and got so many conflicting reports. One person said a man stabbed a young child, another said that a teenage Bulgarian boy stabbed a young Roma student and he was dead (???), and still another person gave a different story. Nothing lined up, so I vowed to remain indifferent until I got real details.

Before I go further, read this:

This was the article I got in the morning. The "school across the street" is where I work. Samokov is known for these "alleged" racial issues... in 2007 a Roma teenager was beaten to death in the town center while people essentially watched it happen. Roma all over the country protested and rallied, so when this incident happened, even though it was a group of Bulgarian students fighting a group of Roma students, people were angry.

They immediately closed my school and the kids were sent home. The boy who was stabbed (9th grader who used to be in our program... i met him last year a couple of times but don't work with him now) suffered a fairly extensive abdominal wound and immediately went into surgery (as far as I know he is still at the hospital), but is going to be ok. The mayor and police chief were called out to the school to try and calm the maddening crowds, and the next day parents came to the school without their kids to demand answers, and a Ministry representative from Sofia was called in to try and "diffuse" the situation.

Later on, this article was written:

Needless to say, its a hard reality to deal with. Regardless of whether racial issues are "artificially" created or not, there are HERE. Parents already don't understand the value of their kids education, since 9th grade is the last stop for most of them anyway (if they get that far). So now I am tasked with trying to find a way to reach the parents, and MORE kids than just the ones who are already a part of our program. It's tiring. And emotionally draining, and many days I'm not sure what direction to head in...

I was asked the other day if I regret coming back, the answer is still NO. I'm just thankful to know what I'm fighting for, even though I don't know how to quite yet.

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