Sunday was Earth Day. Did you know that? Being in Peace Corps and being educators, we are encouraged to teach about the environment. And after receiving lesson plans in the mail from the PC office in Sofia that required little planning on my part, I was more than happy to take advantage of the opportunity. So this week we’ve been talking environment in my classes – problems and solutions. Most of my students were familiar with the big problems – extinction, global warming, the greenhouse effect, litter, etc. Until today, I’ve been teaching and discussing the ideas and themes that I prepared before class. But I ended the lesson a little early today and I decided to ask my students what their reaction is to all of these problems. I was amazed and discouraged to hear my students saying things like, “We can just find another planet”, “Well, the world will end anyway, it’s just a matter of time and how it will happen.” One student commented that the people who are rich and create the most pollution could buy their way out of any law or regulation if they please. Another student commented that many people are concerned about the earth, but to actually reverse the effects of pollution is impossible because no one will take the initiative to clean it up. Such a level of cynicism I thought was impossible with teenagers! Aren’t teenagers supposed to eternally optimistic? They’re supposed to believe that they are immortal! The possibilities are supposed to be endless! I pushed the conversation towards possible solutions and what we could do. But I still felt like I was speaking to a group of hardened cynics. What happened here? Some of the quieter students eventually decided to speak up and voice their more positive opinions after I kept prodding them.
So it comes as no wonder to when my students say that they want to leave Bulgaria and move on to another country, namely the US. It’s pretty difficult to live in an environment where hope and a belief in the humanity’s possibilities aren’t encouraged. And it’s just another assumption that I carried with me to Bulgaria – that all people believe that there are limitless possibilities. Americans are notorious for that and many times come across as naïve because of it. We just keep smiling, don’t we? Annie told us that the sun will come out tomorrow, right? It is assumed that most boys and girls have dreams of what they want to be when they grow up, right? When I ask my students what they want to be when they grow up, they mostly tell me that they’ll decide when they get there. So much for the lesson plan about “your future” . . . (However, one particularly clever girl said she wants to be president of Bulgaria when she grows up.) I’ve had to quickly change my lessons many times because of my mislead assumptions – just as many times as I’ve had to change my lessons because they’ve decided it was useless and decided not to pay attention.
Kate and I are still trying to weave our way through all our assumptions and the reality of the country we’re living in. A few weeks ago, our TV broke and eventually I told the janitor at our school that it was broken and the same day he came over to fix it. He comes over quite often to repair our oven, washing machine, or anything else. Somehow he opens any appliance and makes it work again within about an hour or so. He’s a shorter man, who is in charge of the copier at the school – I have to ask him to make any copies for my classes. If I ask for more than fifteen copies I get a raised eyebrow and a brief sigh. If I ask for more than 30 copies he repeats the number in an exasperated voice. He’s actually a nice man and is open to listening to my imperfect Bulgarian just about any day. Kate was just getting healthy again after being sick for a couple weeks and she was napping. I came home from an early morning of classes and decided to lie down for a little nap also. For some reason, she got up and left the room for a minute and came back in, closed the bedroom door, and laid back down. About twenty minutes later, I awoke to the janitor in the doorway of our bedroom, looking at us both lying in bed. I was stunned and I shot up in bed to try to understand what he was saying and why the heck he was standing in our bedroom while we were napping! After getting my bearings, I realized he was telling us that he was leaving to get a part for the television. Earlier, when Kate got out of bed, she went to answer the door and let the janitor in. I was so tired that I had no idea. The Bulgarian way of entering a room is a quick knock and then entering. There’s no pause for an answer, just a second or two to prepare yourself for the visitor. I guess even for acquaintances’ bedrooms, it’s the same policy. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to that.
One of the things that I enjoy the most about living here in Bulgaria is the constant attack on my assumptions and ideas. I know it may sound odd, and some days I’d love to have a day where I could just sleepwalk through the day with all my assumptions intact. However, that can soon become habit and I might as well be someone with nothing to contribute to the world. It’s sort of a cleansing experience – everything that I hold true never gathers dust here and those beliefs are constantly being refined and renewed in new and exciting ways.
Copyright 2000/01/02, Josh and Kate Miller.