Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Audacity of Hope

Hope deferred makes the heart sick; but when dreams come true at last, there is life and joy - Proverbs 13:12


Many are the plan's in a man's heart, but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails - Proverbs 19:21

Caveat: I just realized that my blog title matches that of a recent book by Barack Obama. I must have seen it somewhere, and the title worked itself into my brain. This post is in no way a reflection on Mr. Obama, his book, or his campaign. I just like the title. It matches well with this post, and I'm not changing it... unless, of course, Mr. Obama asks me to....

I am feeling happy, hopeful, and fulfilled at the moment. I am grateful for these feelings - even if they are fleeting and are just chemical reactions in the brain. These feelings are based on recent events, and I'm ecstatic.
For the longest time, I've heard how boring Rakitovo is - how people here are apathetic and no one ever wants to do anything but spend their time in cafes. My experience has largely been the same with young people in town. I haven't had much success trying to get youth to take on a cause or a small project, but maybe that's because I've been feeling defeated before I even tried. Maybe it's because of the youth I've been trying to inspire thus far.
Another comment I hear often is, "Apryl, you know I'd love to do something, but you know people here...." There's this idea that the people in Rakitovo are "special" in their desire to bog down in the mire. The supposition of that statement is that the speaker is different, and would love to take on the world if only others weren't holding them back. I want to say that I don't buy it, but I think I've begun to accept it too easily as true of the situation here. It's an easy cop-out. I've heard the same comment from a bunch of different people, and I think, "If only I could get them all in the same room."
Something has happened to rip open the status quo, and I'm bursting with hope. This past Wednesday, in the office, we had started planning our programs for the rest of this year. We had all these ideas for young people that included work with student councils, employment shadowing, fundraising, extracurricular activities, workshops, etc. Of course, we loved our ideas, but would the young people go for them? Unfortunately, we don't have much contact with youth at the moment to bounce ideas off of them. One of my colleagues was particularly negative, "Maybe kids do that in other towns, but they would never do that in Rakitovo."
Later that evening, I was talking to a couple girls I've started meeting with for coffee. The purpose of our meetings is to speak English, talk about current events, share ideas, and see if they can participate in any European programs. I had to ask these girls what they thought about our ideas. Many people will tell you what they think you want to hear, but I felt like I could trust them. "Be brutally honest," I told them. "If this is something that doesn't interest you, you have to tell me. You won't hurt my feelings. You'll be saving us a lot of frustration in the end." I shared our ideas with them, and they got more and more excited with each one. Before I knew it, the three of us were planning a fundraising campaign for a couple of sick children in our town.
I told them that we needed more than just the three of us. Their job over the next couple days would be to mobilize the students at their school to see if we could generate interest and human resources. They talked to a bunch of students and teachers - getting positive reactions from everyone. Like I said before, however, many will tell you what they think you want to hear. However, I sat at a table with nine youth last night. They were all taking the project seriously, and said they wanted to help. I don't want to give too much away and jinx it. We still have two huge tests coming up over the next couple of days: talking with the parents of the children and getting permission from the mayor, but if we get past that all right, I have no doubt these kids can pull it off. It's a matter of willpower - a person's strongest resource. Them showing up last night said a lot. Did I mention that I'm excited?
I also learned that these girls I meet with are part of a tourism club in Rakitovo. I didn't even know there was such a club in my town. I love learning new things about my town. It shows me, little by little, that this place can't be as inactive as many proclaim. I was supposed to go to their meeting yesterday, but no one wanted to come because of the cold. Some things still don't change....
I have more exciting news. I received word that one of our donors has decided to continue funding the Educational Center. They have given us more than enough to fix our radiators. I think we're going to get a deal from the guy who'll repair them, so there are plenty of reasons to feel grateful. We are told to praise God in every season, but I must admit it's easier to praise Him when you think things are going your way. I suppose it's a part of being human.
The resilience of the human spirit is something amazing. Many times, I feel like I'm continually spiraling into a pit. You carve a hole for yourself. No one comes to a meeting you're hosting, and the hole gets a little deeper. You realize that the organization you work for could be sinking slowly in front of your eyes, and your hole opens a little more. It doesn't take much, however, to get you inspired again. It could be project planning with your colleagues. It could be a meeting where you define a new vision for the coming year. You suddenly remember your purpose, you feel solidarity with your colleagues, and you think you can conquer the world again. No matter that you've tried many times and failed. This time people will listen to you. This time people will buy into your product. This time people will care. The road is paved with nay-sayers, but nay-sayers should know that they don't deter the determined. They just spur them on to try and prove the nay-sayers wrong.
This week, we had a dinner with our informal women's group. This was followed by a two-day consultation session in Velingrad. Yesterday, we had a meeting with initiative groups in the region. All these things have conspired to change my mood and give me hope.
I now have even more English classes - which is actually quite frustrating 'cause it's not what I want. It seems to be what other people want though, and I have a hard time saying "no" and sticking to my guns. I feel like my time is precious. I have a lot of other things that I need to be doing, and teaching English is... meh.
I met my landlord's youngest daughter and her husband. They seem like very nice, hospitable people, and they've already helped me out with minor, household repairs. I'm reminded that she was initially against my living here, but now she seems to have warmed to the idea. She even said that she was happy her mother wasn't alone in this big house. We all had a very lovely conversation.
I played cards with the regulars here again, and the bright spot was a new acquaintance insisting I show him how I shuffle. I had to listen to yet another, very nice men bug me about why I like the Roma and why I've been living in Bulgaria for so long. One minute, I'm listening to someone tell me that I'm foolish for living here. The next, I'm listening to someone else tell me about how it's the greatest country on Earth, and I should never leave.
That's the paradox that is Bulgaria, and I don't envy its citizens. You have a beautiful, amazing country with a rich history, but very little seems to work. You're torn between frustration and disgust, and intense, national pride. If you could snap your fingers and leave, you would, but your heart can't seem to let you go. It's a bit like cheering for the Sacramento Kings. There's a little jab at my beloved, scrappy, home team.
This week, I'm helping out Peace Corps with their PDM (Project Design and Management) Workshop for the new TEFL/COD/YD Volunteers. I'm a little daunted, but I feel like I'll be working with a good team of people. I'll be facilitating some sessions, and I'll even be translating some others. It should be interesting. I hope it goes well, and the new volunteers and their colleagues feel like it's a useful exercise.
I found out that a friend of mine will be coming to visit me in Bulgaria. This will be the second time that I've had a guest from the states. I'm excited to say the least, and I really hope she has a good time over in this part of the world. See? All sorts of reasons to hope!

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