Roma Travel Journal - Day 8
It’s after midnight. It’s been a long day, but we’re left feeling much more positive than yesterday’s interaction on our way to Varna. We realize as we work through our interpreter, Tsetso, that even though he’s very good, there are still times when we think we understand something, yet realize later we misunderstood. It’s a constant reminder of how difficult it is to come in to a different culture and understand more than just the surface of what’s going on around us – especially with a topic as complex as the Roma situation.
This morning we did a little site-seeing up the coast at Cape Kaliakra. Interesting and peaceful. After lunch we drove to Tsetso’s hometown. Local pastor, Mehmed, has done some amazing work with the Roma in Dobrich. He and his wife, Leilya, hosted us with sweets and drinks in their home before taking us to the Roma ghetto. Everyone’s very clear that the Roma value system includes stealing and begging, and considering it perfectly all right. It’s hard to say whether their culture/value system is the problem or abject poverty. Mehmed’s eldest daughter worked with the children singing songs, praying, inviting individual children to pray aloud, reading the Bible, and memorizing a scripture verse. It was strange to have her tell them a story of a needy boy in Mexico and the American missionary who came and helped him – and to see the large colored poster in the front of the class depicting the holy family with a blond Mary and a blond angel hovering nearby.
Our time with the purple bird puppet Ishmael went smoothly, but both Amy (working the puppet) and I (conversing with Ishmael) realized we needed to practice our body language – at least our head language. In this country, shaking the head side-to-side means yes; nodding up and down signifies no. The bird and I were saying one thing with our words, and indicating something else with our heads. We did have time to think and consider our words and actions as this was a double translation. The pastor speaks to the children in Turkish. These are Turkish Roma. So the conversation between Ishmael and me was first translated into Bulgarian by Tsetso, then into Turkish by Mehmed.
Our craft also went well. We’ve learned to involve older youth to help us so that pipe cleaner antennae can be quickly twisted on the clothespin body a child has decorated – and a candy filled snack bag can be clipped into the clothes pin to make the wings. The message: when God comes into your heart, you become a transformed human being, beautiful inside and outside. We’re going to need to replenish our supplies tomorrow. 50 kids pretty much wiped us out today.
The hour with the small children was followed by an hour and a half with the youth. The pastor worked with nearly 20 teen-agers and a couple 20-somethings – nearly equal with girls and boys. He began by asking the youth to turn off their cell phones. Praying by individual youth was followed by singing. Some of the youth had a Turkish songbook to follow, but it was obvious that many of them could not read – even their primary language. Of course, all their classes in school are in Bulgarian, so their primary language is spoken, not read. More singing and praying, then a sermon lesson from the pastor. At one point they prayed the Lord’s prayer – repeating after the pastor, lie by line. The same with the reading of the 23rd Psalm by one of the girls. Each line was repeated by the listeners. Singing, prayer, lesson, was followed by games which they thoroughly enjoyed. We were the final act, introducing ourselves and each of us asking a question – ex. How many of you are still in school; how’s life; why do you come here?
After all was done, a rash of pictures was taken, and our good-byes were given, we invited two pastors and their wives to join us for a late supper. Now everybody else is sleeping peacefully and I’m about to.