August 3, 2002
So we’re back. It’s hot here. We’ve been home for about six weeks now and have managed to begin the readjustment back to life in America. People ask us, how are you adjusting? We’re adjusting pretty well, but it’s still strange to return to something, which has been so removed from us for two years. It took us about the first five months in Bulgaria to sort of remove oursleves from the American culture. I remember seeing movies come to Bulgaria, which I saw advertised while we were still in America. Then, around our first November or December, we started to see American movies, music, and news events reach Bulgaria, which we hadn’t heard of previously. I wanted that sort of “cleansing” from the American pop culture that seems to get you no matter where you live. It still got to us in Bulgaria but it was somehow removed and not as potent. Then, unexpectedly, I started finding some comfort in seeing something from American mainstream pop culture. It didn’t require much thinking; while struggling with the language and adjustment to the Bulgarian culture, it was nice to do something mindless.
It feels great to be back. Somewhere around the end of last winter, when we were realizing that our service was truly coming to a close in a matter of months, I realized that I proved something to myself. Peace Corps is a great opportunity to push yourself while serving others. And after pushing ourselves pretty hard, we were both ready to go home to rest. For me, it was a challenge that I needed to face and complete. There was always something telling me to do something like this and I wouldn’t be satisfied with simply “settling down” without first having a great adventure. I’m glad that Kate and I could share it. As we readjust and look to finish our graduate work, we’re looking forward to finding a place in the next few years, which we can call “home.” If we had done that without exploring all the places, which we explored, I think we would always be craving that experience. But now I feel that we have done something that gave us a kind of inner affirmation for which we were both yearning.
I went to a local meat and fish store the other day and the guy behind the counter asked me if I was new to the area because he had never seen me before. I told him that we had just returned from the Peace Corps. He was impressed with us because one of his professors had been a Peace Corps volunteer. His professor always told his students that once you have an experience like the Peace Corps and then return to America, you don’t have any excuses or reasons to complain if you have an American citizenship. I understand what he meant.
People also keep saying to us that they are impressed that we “gave up” two years of our lives. While I understand what they mean by that, I also understand what the premise of that statement. Kate and I never thought that we were “giving up” anything to go into Peace Corps. We wanted to do it and it was a great decision. The premise that bothers both Kate and I is that by saying “gave up”, it somehow means that we dropped out of the race or the real world for a while. As if we went off to play and left the real world, where life is really happening. Since the moment that we got a car and started driving, I’ve begun to feel that race-feeling again. I’m not only talking about driving, but about the race to get more stuff and reach some goal of material comfort. To be successful in America is to be envied because of what you’ve got. In some ways it’s the same in Bulgaria but the difference is that it’s just not as possible there. The undercurrent sweeps us up very easily and it is a powerful force.
Despite that, it’s a fantastic feeling to be home and have the accomplishment and memories of Peace Corps with us. We’re glad to be home where there’s so much great food and to be surrounded by our native language. We have yet to have a tomato here that stands up to the Bulgarian tomato standard. I’m sure that the people in the Silistra bazaar are selling some big, sweet tomatoes this week. The ones that we’ve had here are grainy and tasteless!
We already have an invitation to have dinner with some Bulgarian-Americans in a couple weeks! I told my students that I’m sure we’d hear Bulgarian and meet Bulgarians in Columbus when we return and some of them were a little unsure of it. As many Bulgarians told us, “we’re everywhere but Bulgaria!”
Copyright 2000/01/02, Josh and Kate Miller.