January 15, 2002
Back in Bulgaria. A lot has happened since we last wrote on this online journal. We made a last-minute surprise trip home and then spent a week in Italy. We decided about a few weeks before our Christmas break that we really needed to go home and see our families. We had planned to go to Italy for the entirety of the Christmas break but we realized that we needed time with our families. Another Christmas away would be really tough. We were really happy to be able to make it home and also get to Italy to take in a few sites. It’s amazing to be able to find your way from one part of the globe to another. When we returned to our apartment here, I thought about all the miles and ways of transportation that we took to get from the doors of our homes in Ohio to the door of our home in Bulgaria. Somehow it always comes together and we eventually find our way home.
After being here for so long and returning we didn’t know exactly what to expect when we got back to the States. I’m sure it was different than what it will be like when we really return to the States for good in about six months, but we still wondered if we’d perceive things differently or what. In reality, it seemed incredibly easy for us to slip back into America and enjoy our family and friends. The thing that I did notice a lot of was the overwhelming amount of choices Americans have. Most of the choices have to do with buying or consuming. I got a little nervous in the local “American Eagle” with all the bright lights, thumping music and the baggy clothes that I don’t like anymore. I also noticed just how ordered most of America is. All those left-turn signals, big signs every ten feet to direct you through the airports and public buildings, and clearly marked everything made to warn, direct, and get you to buy. On the other hand, it felt so comfortable to be able to stand in line and understand fully what the person ahead of you was saying. When we went to the post office, it was great to know that if the clerk didn’t understand us it was probably because we were speaking too softly or she wasn’t listening – not because of an unexpected accent. I still somewhat expected the person behind the counter to speak in Bulgarian to me. The sign “Welcome to the United States” at Newark felt so warm as we passed under it. And as we lined up to go through customs, an American football game was playing on the TV with some familiar commentators’ voices. It brought another warm smile to my face. We darted to the pizza counter to have a real piece of pizza with mozzarella cheese. As we sat eating our pizza, I felt like such an outsider watching all the other Americans go about their business of eating, talking, and waiting for their flights. Everything seemed so typical for them. Since I’ve been in Bulgaria, I always take notice of Americans (we seem them especially in Sofia) and I’m always amazed by their confidence and easy-going attitude. I especially remember watching two servicemen at a restaurant in Sofia. They seemed so optimistic and self-assured. Usually the baggy jeans, tennis shoes, and button-down shirt give it away, if not that, then it’s the well-fed and bright face that was hard for us to see until after about eight months of living here.
Kate and I also realized how we need to watch our language as Americans. In our generation, it’s really easy to speak with “like’s”, “whatever’s”, “you know’s”, and “you guys’.” When we hear Americans here and at home speak with those few words with limited other words to clue in the listener, it sounds, well, pretty ignorant. So now we’re holding each other in check when we hear the other use those words. We’re amazed at how often we actually use them. And it’s a hard habit to break!! Being home also brought words to thoughts that I wasn’t sure how to explain before. What bugs me most about America and what I think bothers many people in the world about Americans, is the naiveté that many Americans carry with them. I think this naiveté and illusion of innocence has since been put through the ringer since 9/11, but old habits don’t die easily. So much of the world is in state of crisis and Americans don’t understand how much they are looked to from those countries of crises. America is still where people come to make their dreams reality (and it’s still the place where people dream of making their dreams a reality), but having such riches and freedoms requires incredible responsibility to those who do not. We still believe it’s our right to consume 25% of the world’s resources and politely ignore many of the people who do not have the same lifestyle as we do. After being home, I soon realized that I love the idea of America more than the actual place. The good thing is that ideas don’t have borders.
Now we’re back to teaching English and life continues in Silistra as it has for a long time. There’s about two inches of packed snow on our sidewalks – which has since turned into ice. It’s dangerous to walk to school. Kate and I warn each other of any really slick ice between our block and the school. Teams of workers are outside with pickaxes, hoes, and shovels, cracking away at the ice. There’s snow on the ground that will probably be here until late February at the earliest and mid-March at the latest. It’s cold and gray – just the way winter should be. The smell of burning coal is always in the air and I’ve come to really dislike it. Thankfully, the days are getting longer. I was glad to see my students’ familiar faces and hear their groans and laughs when I asked them if they were happy to be back to school. Most of them are a lot of fun.
Copyright 2000/01/02, Josh and Kate Miller.