Sunday, January 20, 2008

Girl in a Bubble

I had a visitor from the states this week. I was put in touch with a girl who's doing a college project on discrimination and the Roma. She was doing some traveling around Albania and Bulgaria, and I invited her to come stay with me. She was able to sit down and talk to my colleagues for a morning, and then I started dragging her around. I made her come to an English class and talk to my students. Later that evening, I had her come out for coffee/English conversation with a couple of teenage girls and me. That night, we went to have her meet Maria and Reneta. She seemed particularly impressed with the young people she met. I can't blame her. They're pretty amazing.
It was nice having a guest, and I think we had a pretty good time over the day and a half we spent together. I'm still trying to recover from getting back/moving, though, and my place is a little scattered even now. I moved down into my guest room because it has two beds and we could share the heaters. I think it's honestly warmer in here, and I have a little nook set up, so I'm still sleeping here. It's nice. It feels so good to know that this place is honestly mine. If anyone comes to stay, they will be my guest(s), and I can truly retreat to "America-land."
That's what I did this weekend. I had some stuff to do here around the house. Plus, now I have the internet. So, I basically hid out this weekend. I went out on some errands a couple times, coffee once, and church.
Friday night, I stayed with Maria and Reneta. Their parents were gone celebrating the hospital release of Yanko's new granddaughter (his eldest daughter lives in Velingrad and now has two kids), and the girls were home alone. I happened to be there for Spanish class and dinner when Valia came and asked if I'd be going home. I could tell she was worried about the girls staying alone, and I offered to stay. I honestly don't like situations like that though. My bed is a few blocks away, and I find myself just wanting to go there. Plus, I didn't have pajamas or a toothbrush. I slept restlessly.
I had my first week of English and Spanish classes, and I'm so impressed with all my students. I know they haven't studied at all since I've been gone, but it's not taking them long to get with the program again. They haven't lost much, and I'm really grateful. In the meantime, others are starting to ask me to start other classes. I get frustrated because I really want to help them, but I've been offering these classes a long time. I already teach more than I want to. Apryl, learn this lesson: You will never make everyone happy. Right. As a funny sidenote, I was asked to teach someone Bulgarian. I'm acquainted with a couple of people who had an Irishman marry into their family. They thought it might be good if I teach him Bulgarian. "What? You want me to teach him 'razvalen bulgarski' (broken Bulgarian)?" "What do you mean 'razvalen bulgarski?' You speak Bulgarian very well." I find it funny and flattering. I never thought I'd ever be asked to teach anyone Bulgarian.
As part of a project for our new, informal women's group, I went up into the Roma neighborhood with another member of the group and started taking surveys of women there. Is this a good time to confess that I rarely go very deep into the Roma mahala? My work rarely takes me further from the main street, and the environment changes the deeper in you get. It was an interesting experience in the sense that I felt like I was being scrutinized and harshly judged. I tried to be upbeat, but the sense of "otherness" was overwhelming. I imagined, "This must be how it feels to be judged." I hated it! I almost always feel a bit "other" in general even in my own town, but this was an oppressive feeling that made me want to go running for familiarity. It reminded me just how much I take for granted - being a white girl.
Talking to those women, I realized just how differently the pathways in my brain are wired. For example, there are a couple of questions on the survey (What do you dream of achieving as a woman? What would you change about yourself?) that I can think of a hundred answers to. I asked these questions, and a few women just looked at me blankly and shrugged their shoulders. I wasn't sure if they didn't know what we wanted, if they didn't really want to share their deepest desires, or if they had just never thought about it before. I have an inkling it was the latter, but maybe not. It makes me wonder, "Is it better not to have dreams? That way you never suffer disappointment. Is it better not to want to change? That way you accept yourself for who you are and avoid insecurity." I don't know, but I'm not convinced. I'd rather have dreams to spur me on and suffer the occasional failure. I'd rather take self-assessments that make me want to be a better person. I asked Maria and Reneta those questions the same night, and they easily came up with answers to them.
One of the women I interviewed was on her way to get some water at a local spring as she didn't have running water in her place. Not only was I delaying her from her task, but I was asking her to think of things she just wasn't contemplating at the moment. Sometimes we at Future Foundation think, "How is it that we want people to think about things like education and a better future for their children, when they don't even have basics like paved roads and running water?" It reminds me how incredibly blessed I am for the sheer, dumb luck of being born where I was. It's humbling, and I don't feel like it's fair. It reminds me that I really live in my own, naïve little bubble.
Onto a lighter topic, Krum is back! He found me the other night. "Apryl! They told me you went home to the states for good!" He then started walking alongside me; telling me all his troubles. He tried to walk me home, but I wouldn't let him as I don't want him knowing where I live. He keeps insisting that we have to get together. Hurrying along and saying, "Another time," is always a good rememdy for that one. He's mostly harmless and always good for a smile. And the boy who "throws" English words at me hoping they will stick is back as well! His English is getting better (despite my best efforts), but he's still missing a lot of the important sentence connectors like verbs! He's taken to endlessly asking me the translation of words and then writing them in his cell phone. I admire his tenacity. He insists I'm a "good teacher" even though I grit my teeth in frustration a lot. Ah, the characters that populate my world.... I'm not worthy of them.
I was asked this week how it is that I'm always so happy in a foreign country - far from home. Wow. Well, it was postured by someone who rarely sees me and always gives me a smile when she does, so that's probably how that works out. Still, it's a credit to God.

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