This is the second in a five-part series, On Bulgaria: Life Beyond the Wall. Need to catch up? Read part one.
Fear and Wondering at The Wall
To say I was “terrified” of discovering what would be mine to do on the build site, is definitely an exaggeration. Curious, yes. Terrified, no. Granted, I’m not a regular shopper at Home Depot or Lowe’s. Trips to my local Restore (a residential building supply thrift store operated by Habitat for Humanity) are usually for the purpose of donating items rather than purchasing them. I enjoy refinishing the occasional piece of furniture. However, I leave all but the smallest household repairs and all remodeling projects to the experts.
As Ken and Chad discovered, I
do did have an irrational fear of climbing down ladders. A fear that I was quickly forced to face (and eventually conquer) each time necessity compelled me to descend the narrow wooden ladder that rested at a sharp angle through the attic’s only opening. If I wanted to pee, eat, or go home I had to descend that ladder; all three of these proved to be pretty good motivators for overcoming fear.
My otherwise fearless participation was interrupted only by a bout of nausea and vomiting one afternoon on the way back to our hotel after a full day’s work. I had repeatedly eaten street food in China without any side effect. I’d done nothing of the kind in Bulgaria, and I had no idea what overcame me. I had been pushing through my tasks for the better part of the workday while trying to ignore a deep sense of tiredness and nausea. In hindsight, I think by the time we got on the bus my body decided it was going to force me to slow down and take stock one way or another. Thank goodness our bus driver had rapid reflexes enabling him to quickly pull curbside upon request. Puking into a unemptied, galvanized metal trash can (thankfully present on the sidewalk of that residential street) was not an example of my finest hour. Once we made it back to the hotel I took myself straight to bed while everyone else went out for a sushi dinner. From five o’clock that evening until the next morning, I vacillated between a fitful sleep and short periods of semi-wakefulness.
I probably sound like a wimp. In comparison to other volunteer service and humanitarian aid trips I’ve made in and outside the United States, the Global Village trip to Bulgaria with Habitat was by far the easiest. Mind you, it was physically strenuous but our accommodations were the best I’ve ever had for a service travel engagement. We had no need to expend any effort thinking about meals, transportation, or safety of any kind. All we had to do was show up.
Be that as it may, that night I knew I had hit a very different kind of wall. A wall I had probably been building for several months. The short explanation is that I thought I could hide myself from grief while hiding my exhaustion from everyone else. Most foolishly, I thought throwing myself into a project doing good for others would cure me of both.
Only nine weeks prior to departing for Bulgaria, my mom had finally been overtaken by dementia and leukemia. She died the first night of the full moon in July. I am now in the habit of watching for it to appear each month, and I remember noticing that it was present over Sofia several evenings as I looked out the window of my hotel. I may never look at a full moon again without thinking of her.
In those few weeks between her funeral and the start of our trip to Bulgaria I had traveled to Spain and back giving a presentation to international educators. I had only eleven days to unpack and repack my bags before meeting up with the Global Village team in Omaha. As if that weren’t enough, with only nine short days to go before our trip I had received the second of two epidurals in my cervical spine to alleviate chronic neck and shoulder pain that had been nearly debilitating me for the seven months it had taken doctors to determine the cause. When I left Kansas City to meet up with my Global Village teammates, I thought no trip could have been more ill-timed than this one. But I’d made a commitment, and I was bound and determined to keep it.
Underscoring this sense of poor timing was a phone call taken in my Omaha hotel room from a school expressing interest in an application I’d submitted for my dream job. The opening was immediate and their need for a teacher was pressing. Knowing I couldn’t respond to their requests for additional documents while on the trip, I had no choice but to hope they would determine I was worth waiting for. I was having trouble sorting out how much of my angst was a result of the delays imposed by the trip versus my fears about taking a thirty percent pay cut to teach the specific population of students I longed to work with.
In the words of Pico Ilyer, I had “surrendered myself to chance” when I applied for the trip. I had surrendered to chance when I accepted the invitation. I was now surrendering on faith that whatever happened next was meant to be. It was in that state of surrender that I now stood in wonder at The Wall.
This concludes part 2 of a 5 part series of On Bulgaria: Life Beyond The Wall. Read what happens next in part 3: Encountering My Self at The Wall.
Thanks for reading.