A Mountain on My Back

A sunset in Velingara

A sunset in Velingara

A little over two years ago, I set off on an adventure to live and work in Senegal. It’s hard to believe that my time here is almost finished, but, as I look forward, I wish I had more time to be in this place that’s become home.

At this point in many a PCV’s service, he or she is more than ready to return home to America. After living in Senegal for two years, we miss family and friends, are exhausted from navigating a different culture and language, and are simply ready to move onto the next stage of life.

Although I feel all of those things, I’m also not prepared to pack up and leave in less than two months.

My little sisters, who I miss miss dearly

My little sisters, who I miss miss dearly

When a child is having a rough day – crying all the time, falling down, or not getting along with others – people will say that she is trying to carry a mountain on her back… “O waawa bambugol pelle.” The child is attempting to take on the world, but failing.

As I look forward to the future – being reunited with family and friends, eating hamburgers, speaking English, searching for a job, and driving in a fully-functioning automobile – I feel like I’m carrying a mountain on my back. No one could argue that any of those are bad things, but I’m overwhelmed by the thought of tackling the challenges that will come with those opportunities.

Being a privileged American, I don’t want to complain about these first world prospects. There are so many job openings that I don’t know which ones to apply to. I’m free to move to any city in the world, if it fits my fancy. Everyone I know speaks English so I don’t have to learn a new language to get ahead. The money I earn from being employed allows me to buy good food, nice clothes, and even a car.

But, yet, the mountain on my back seems so heavy.

Most of my work was enjoyable

Most of my work was enjoyable

Transitions are never easy. It wasn’t easy coming here and it won’t be easy to leave. I’ve invested two years in learning the local language, building relationships, and becoming a trusted member of the community. In just a couple months, I’ll leave most of that behind. My family and friends will only be a Skype call away, but it’s not the same as spending time together every day.

The literal translation of the phrase, “O waawa bambugol pelle,” is “She can’t carry a mountain on her back.” Mountains aren’t to be carrying around. Mountains aren’t to be moved. Mountains are to be enjoyed for their beauty, explored for recreational thrills, traversed when needed, but otherwise left alone.

Biking in Senegal has been one of my favorite activities

Biking in Senegal has been one of my favorite activities

If you’re trying to carry a mountain on your back, you’re doing something wrong.

The future is exciting, but it’s also terrifying. Just like climbing a mountain peak, it’s not without its struggles. But, like reaching the summit, it’s always worth the sweat and tears shed along the way.

As I prepare to leave Senegal and return to America, I hope the mountain on my back turns to a molehill; allowing me to straighten my bent back and enjoy the views.

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On Top of the Balkans

(a view of three of the seven Rila Lakes)

Week four in Bulgaria has been just as awesome, eventful, and crazy as weeks one through three. Next Tuesday will be the one month mark of my stay in Blagoevgrad; leading me to believe that the next three months after will fly by just as fast. Each day zooms by; filled with running, classes, walking, shopping, walking, eating, walking, hanging out with friends, and a minimal amount of studying. I have not set foot (or butt) in any four-wheeled vehicle since my arrival from the Sofia airport in a taxi. Walking everywhere is definitely a facet of life I will miss when I return home to the States!

While away from America, I attempt to remain up-to-date with life across the pond; remembering the 3,000 men, women, and children who were affected by terrorist attacks ten years ago. Watching footage of the planes crashing into the World Trade Center on Bulgarian TV reminds me of the effect that day had on the entire world. Every international student I talked to recalls the moment in time when they learned of the attacks just as vividly as any American. Although I wish I could have been in the U.S. on the tenth anniversary of 9/11, it was very interesting to hear the perspectives of other students concerning this tragic day. Thinking of the men and women who lost their lives on that day reminded me to thank the four military men who are also studying at AUBG for their service to our country!

In remembrance of 9/11, a Bulgarian friend (Kris) and I climbed Musala, the highest peak in Bulgaria and the entire Balkan Peninsula, on Sunday. Standing at 2,925 meters (9,596 feet), all major mountain ranges in Bulgaria are visible from the top. After waking up at 5:30AM, Kris and I boarded a bus to Borovets Ski Resort where we rode a gondola up part of the mountain to the trail head. We hiked (or should I say climbed) the summit in two hours; alternating between walking on trails and scrambling over large boulders. As we neared the top, the switchbacks became very steep; angled at 50 degrees as we continued to climb. When we reached the top, we were rewarded with a stunning view of Bulgaria; enjoyed with sandwiches and chocolate. We lay down on the soft grass and enjoyed the perfect combination of the warm sun and the cool mountain breeze. Aside from receiving my second sunburn since coming to Bulgaria and almost missing the bus back to Blagoevgrad, the day was a huge success!

Four weeks in Europe has taught me that Bulgarians know how to work hard and play hard. Everyone studies and goes to class during the day, but as soon as the sun sets everyone begins to party. In America, staying up until 4AM is very late, but in Europe, 5AM is the normal bedtime. Us Americans are beginning to look like grandparents because we are usually tired by one or two in the morning. In fact, when I woke up at 5:30AM on Sunday, my Russian roommate was just climbing into bed. All stereotypes of crazy Americans that I was warned about have flown out of the window after spending time with Irish, German, and Dutch friends!