As I write this, I have no internet, on a bunk bed in the same pajama pants i've worn for 3 months (not consecutively, hahah), in the middle of a gorgeously peaceful monastery in Croatia... Its starting to sink in exactly how much I've been through this summer.
BUT I WANT TO TELL YOU ABOUT OUR LAST WEEK IN STUBEL - easily the most chaotic week of the summer, yet strangely comfortable & confirming too? Weird how that happens.
So, Stubel has been a favorite of mine ever since the first weekend I was in Bulgaria. There is something about the place... it feels like you've stepped back in time a little bit? But there is also a darkness you can feel in every direction. I can't really explain it... but there is a lot of hurt & depression there. Its not all bad of course, don't worry :)
A W&W team from Salem, Oregon came to Sofia the day before we left, they've been sending money to the church in Stubel all year for the 'winterizing' of the building, and this week 9 people came to paint/clean up the yard/ help us with VBS. It was really nice to hear English all week :) And one of the older men is the grandfather of a girl I know at school! Ah, small Nazarene worlds. We all rode the bus to Stubel together that Sunday, (I was sick all morning for no apparent reason, kinda frustrating but it went away quickly) & and the next morning we began our VBS. Once again, I was in charge of crafts, so we came with piles of supplies.
VBS was total madness. These kids - I'm telling you - I've never seen such chaos. They are all very sweet, and I completely fell in love with them, but put them all together in one place, and every attention span dwindles to 3 second maximum. (I can't exactly go into detail of their home lives, for fear that I could victimize them for you, and thats never the point of these blogs, I don't want to make you think 'oh, pitiful Bulgarian kids, don't we all wish we could American-ize them, but a lot of these kids have been physically or mentally abused... and thats almost the norm in this village. I can think of 5 that i've seen actual evidence of it. If they are lucky enough to have a healthy home life, the Bulgarian culture is still very much 'everyone is out for themselves' so a lot of these kids have grown up constantly having to fight for any attention at all, good or bad. I saw each one of them have moments of total frustration, and they end up taking it out on each other because thats the only way they've ever seen it handled. A generational cycle of violence and abuse is so clearly evident)
We tried to keep them occupied minute by minute, but with only 1 translator, we lost their listening ears pretty quickly - and oh man... they were lively. I'm saying all this with a smile of course now, because after Monday they began to listen to us a bit more, but somehow, I let a bunch of kids hurt my feelings. They pulled my hair, yelled at me, stole markers from me... they did it to all of us. I've nannyed & taken care of kids on & off since I was 14, and i've never had a kid totally disregard every word I said like these did. It was crazy. I sound mad, but really I was just impressed!! Hahah. The main thing that I kept thinking was - 'They have never been taught respect, how in the world can I demand it from them'? It was a hard to place to be in, because as much as I wanted to let them do whatever they wanted, a dose of tough love could do so much for these kids. But you also want to hug them for hours and do nothing but tell them how valuable they are...? A balance was terribly hard to find.
Monday evening, we ended up making 35 kids go home early, simply because we could. not. regain. control. Geroika (the most wonderful Bulgarian lady in the world, she's the pastor of the church, I've talked about her a lot) gave them a very stern talking to, and they were a bit better the rest of the week. I think through all the bible stories & crafts & music time we had, the only thing they learned was that we loved them. BUT in the end, thats all I wanted them to know anyway :)
Unrelated Sidenote - Monday night, we found out that a part of our team (that has been living in Razgrad), was involved in a car accident. 2 of the boys and 3 church members were in the car, 1 church member had a pretty serious head injury, the other 2 were unhurt, while 1 member of the Immerse team dislocated his hip, & the other fractured his hand. The driver of the other car was killed, & the passenger was in critical care. So, needless to say, Monday was a very emotional day. But God brought peace that night. :) We were all very thankful for our safety, I can't believe how little I think of something like a car crash as a possibility. I know it can happen anywhere... just a scary thought.
We spent the rest of the week VBSing like crazy, and had some really good moments. Lots of the kids memorized bible verses, we sang Bulgarian childrens' songs and made friendship bracelets & bean bag balls & had our lunch together. Each day was full of yelling over each other, but I totally fell for some of those kids. They were hard to handle, but you can see the innocence in their eyes still? I memorized names & had silly little conversations in Bulgarian & they laughed at me and I petted stray dogs & told bible stories and drank a lot of coffee & found an accordion & talked with the American team about how stupid it is that flies & mosquitos even exist, and didn't shower or look in a mirror for 4 days straight... good times :)
I really can't sum that week up into words - I'm trying, but I'm totally failing. Some of the most memorable moments were making friends with some of the older kids that were clearly 'too cool' to be my friend, our water balloon fight, where a whole bucket of water got dumped on my head, watching Lauren ride a horse bareback, finding out that one of the kids had been beaten by his father the night before, teaching little girls 3 different braiding techniques for their bracelets, none of which they could successfully do, learning about the home lives about some of the kids, and feeling total disbelief at how someone could think that what Geroika does for those kids is wrong, sleeping in a moldy basement, using the bathroom outside, 100% under the stars - thats an interesting experience -, cooking dinner for the village, taking a donkey ride through the village with a crazy old man.... Stubel represents lots and lots of different emotions for me. I could both cry & laugh about our last week there. All I know is I have to go back eventually.
Now - I'm in Croatia. And I could write a whole other book about how much we went through to get here, (Short version, we took a train at 12:30 from Sofia to Belgrad, Serbia, to catch the 11:30pm train to Zagreb.... NO SUCH THING. We spent the night on the ground in the outdoor train station, complete with a stray dog as our guard. It was hilarious, but also pretty sketchy, & I'm glad there was no way for my mom to know where I was in those 8 hours. Our train for Zagreb left at 5:15 - We got here safe!) Now we're having our debriefing time here in a monastery. I think we're all ready to come home, but so much has to be processed & talked about & prepared for... I think we're all coming home changed for the better. We're headed to the coast tomorrow for 4 days of total rest & beach time - then we catch our flight for America on THURSDAY. woah.
I can't believe how much I've learned in these 4 months.
America better get ready for me... I'm not the same person I was in May.
^^^ that was cheesy, but man... its true.
(I'll tell you more about how i'm feeling about my future later, now I'm gonna read Tina Fey's new book & soak in the quiet of this place)