Friday, October 05, 2007

In My Place, You Must Put Yourself

In "Yoda Speak," I've decided to write this blog. Okay, not really. I'm alone in the office at the moment. Yanko went to Sofia to deliver our project, and Ani and Valia are having people fill out surveys in Pazardjik for a different project. I'm at "work," and I'm bored, so I'm posting to the infernal blog. November, apparently, is National Novel Writing Month, and I'm just trying to flex my fingers in preparation.
My computer is officially out of commission at the moment. The charger refuses to make a connection to the computer to recharge it. I feel lost without my computer, and I wonder what to do when I get home. I wonder how I lived without internet in my home for a year, and I wonder what I would do if I didn't have a laptop. A lot of different stuff, that's what! I'm pathetic.
I thought I would share with you something I read in C.E.G.A.'s most recent bulletin. It's a commentary with regard to the event we had last week for the European Year of Equal Opportunities for All. C.E.G.A., along with their partners (i.e. us) had a campaign titled "Put Yourself in My Place." The Bulgarian version is linked up above. Note: In the past, I've avoided using the Bulgarian words "tsigani" to describe Roma peoples. Although it's acceptable here (what really matters is the way you say it), I don't use it because, as far as I know, it comes from a word meaning "unclean." Check myths here. Plus, it just sounds harsh to me. My colleauges, however, frequently refer to themselves and others as "tsigani." My boss even prefers the word over "Roma." ("Who decided to come along and call me 'Rom?' I'm a tsiganin!") Anyway, I digress. My point is that I'm going to use that word in this article because it carries so much more meaning and weight - not to you possibly, but to me. Okay, so here's my translation of the article:

Look Through My Eyes; Put Yourself in My Place
I'm writing for you. Yes, for you, sitting in front of the computer; reading this bulletin. For you, who can use a computer - even internet. You can even work with them. You've even installed Adobe. For you - who's completed your schooling, probably even attended university. Even more probable, you work in an office. We're going to talk about you for now.
I've heard you ask where you can sign up to be "Tsiganin." Because they, the "Tsigani," don't pay for electricity, but they use it. They don't work, but they receive money. They sit around and do nothing - they "live the life." They even want a house built for them. And you, no one wants to build you a house. But you've studied, in school and in university, and you work hard.
I will tell you now where you can sign up to be "Tsiganin." It's easy. Go and move into the small neighborhood of "Constantine Velichkov." However, don't take your computer, or your new clothes. Don't take your recent earnings. Leave your debit card behind. Burn up your diploma - both from high school and from university. If you want, you can even cut up your identification card. Live there for a few years (if they don't knock over your house in that time), but don't forget that you no longer have a diploma. So, if you're going to work, it'll have to be manual labor - 5 leva to cut up some wood; to carry something."
Live there for two years, and if you like it, stay. That way you'll truly be "Tsiganin."
If you don't like it, return to your computer and never again dare to ask where you can sign up to be "Tsiganin."
We can all talk - and not just about that. We can well discuss every question under the sun. We can discuss inflation, education, the government, the DPC [Movement for Rights and Freedoms - a well-known political, and sometimes controversial, party in Bulgaria], the elections, the holes [in the roads], and salaries. We all have a plan to integrate the Roma - one suggests a fight, others war, others special schools, and there are a bunch of other ideas - each better than the first. We can spit and taunt well. We can even do that better than we can talk.
We lose more human and valuable abilities, however; like how to understand how others feel. When we talk about how bothersome pensioners are, how they always want to take our seats on the rotten tram - as if we knew how a 60-year-old's legs feel. Of course, we've never been 60 years old, but have we ever thought about that?
When we write in forums or on the wall, "Tsigani for soap!" do we think of the strength of our words? Do we think how these people might feel - the ones we want to turn into soap? Can we, before we start to hate, to insult, or to kill, put ourselves in the place of those we want to kill? Can we understand where they were born, what their childhood was like, how they got along with their parents, what kind of house they lived in, what kind of problems they've had, their joys and sufferings, or how they got to this place? Can we look through the eyes of another... to really put ourselves in their place?
If we could, surely we would know that it isn't easy to live in a country where you don't feel at home, neither do others around you want you to feel that way. And there's no where for you to go to feel "at home." And no one ever asked you if you wanted to be born here - the way you are.
Yes, I am a "Tsiganin." Also, I'm gay. I'm Muslim. I'm handicapped. I'm young, and I smoke. I don't have anywhere to live. I'm from Bulgaria. I'm a little bit different. I'm Jewish; I'm Adventist. But I have a good sense of humor. So, before you shun me, insult me, or hate me, put yourself in my place.
- Vladislav Petkov

So, I'm still hanging out in the office. A few people have stopped by. My former colleague, Tsetska, was here. I wish she worked here still, but I understand her reasons for going. Another man was here who wanted me to help him fill out a declaration. I told him that I'm not a Bulgarian, and I'm not "in-the-know" with such forms, and he scurried out. I was trying to explain that I would help him, but I might not be of much help. He complained that he couldn't read the form. I could at least have helped him do that. What would it like lose your eyesight, or to be illiterate? I admit that I sometimes have a hard time putting myself in the place of others 'cause it's just so hard to imagine. Taking everything, and I mean everything for granted is second nature.
Another guy came in to look for books for his daughter - an acquaintance of mine who's attending university. I ripped apart our library to try and find two books for her. He ended up taking thirteen, no, fourteen because thirteen is an unlucky number. Meanwhile, he asked me how I like Bulgaria, about my family, and about my last place of work. He told me stories about times when he worked in Russia while Bulgaria had strong ties to the Soviet Union. These are stories I've told and heard before with others, but it's a little different each time. Man, is it boring in this office alone.

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