I just read a short text, titled “Here – there” and written by Yana Buhrer Tavanier, a friend, journalist and passionate activist, who will surely change the world (and not just according to me). [To top it all off, she even has a thing for taking pictures of her feet (see here, here, here and here), so that makes her extra great in my eyes.] The full text [in Bulgarian] is here. Although an entire translation into English would surely be useful, it suffices to say that this wonderful and at the same time extremely unsettling text addresses the difficult and dramatic choice of many Bulgarians to live, stay and work in their (our) own country – a choice that they are forced to constantly re-examine, question and doubt by the circumstances they face every day; a choice made with the best intentions, but one that is rendered absurd, almost to the point of lunacy, on a regular basis. Some Bulgarians tough it out and stick to this decision. Others eventually give up and leave. Many (of us) are in a constant limbo that lasts years and – possibly – doesn’t end.
In her text, Yana references an older article [also in Bulgarian, here] by Yovko Lambrev, in which he writes:
“And if the first wave [of emigrants] were those pushed by circumstance and the adventurers, then the second one will be painfully frightening, because those are the people who stayed behind to change things, the believers, the dreamers, the brave, the people who are not followers but creators. Because it isn’t frightening to hit rock bottom, but it will be frightening if it turned out that the entire impulse and energy, concentrated in pushing ourselves off the bottom, turned out to be insufficient because of too many people who ride without paying, an overload of baggage or gas that’s been diluted with water. It is demotivating and disappointing if your calling was to create, to change or to be good at something that isn’t needed here. Human life is too short to be dedicated only to pushing yourself off the bottom.”
Based on this, Yana considers the constant and unyielding dilemma faced by those who have chosen to stay and live in Bulgaria; the difficult and dramatic wavering between ‘here’ and ‘there’. For most people around her, she writes, staying ‘here’ is a deliberate choice, motivated not by the comfortable proximity of family and friends or the conviction that “Bulgaria is the best,” but by such considerations as civil duty, the feeling that one can be useful and is needed here. Added to them are the reasons presented by ad-agency creative director Yordan Zhechev , who argues that the reasons not to stay can, in fact, be rationalized into reasons for staying: while a complete mess and utter chaos reign in Bulgaria, this makes it possible to experiment and improvise; the lack of continuity and people to learn from allows you to skip over generations entirely and get ahead far and quickly; all is grey and downtrodden, but this makes it easy to stand out and shine.
The issues addressed by the two articles and the talk tugged – violently – at some very sensitive strings in my own heart. These are things that I have personally felt, dealt with, thought and written about for almost a decade now – ever since I came back to Bulgaria after spending exactly half of my life up to that point abroad. Although I made the conscious choice to come back and live here, this difficult decision was – and continues to be, shaken, challenged and questioned on an almost daily basis.
“‘Here’,” Yana writes, “is a choice made some time ago, in which many things have not changed: the mafia guys, the insolent politicians, the absurd outrages (as much as you might fight against them), the sell-out media, the apathy, the baseness, the envy, the hate, the ocean of fools and losers that splashes right under your window.”
I couldn’t have said it more eloquently.
The last sentence in Yana’s text deals me the final blow: “Here – there. If you look more closely, you’ll see a bunch of people crowded on top of the dash.”
***Note: Incidentally, the photo above was taken at the Frankfurt Airport – my usual gateway when traveling from Sofia to pretty much anywhere in the world, and vice versa, and a place where I’ve spent dozens and dozens of hours between flights, pondering about where I’m coming from and/or where I’m going back to. Fitting, I know.