This month we crossed the Danube River by ferry and spent a weekend in beautiful Sofia, Bulgaria. February is still technically winter, but most Europeans will attest that this winter has been extremely mild. February ushered in an early spring. When we visited Bulgaria, the snow was gone and the breeze was warm. But we weren’t there just to enjoy the weather. Here are a two take-aways – what we learned, if you will – from our trip plus a couple other tidbits.
1. For portions of our trip, we were immersed in European trucker culture. We chose to cross into Bulgaria on the ferry. On the return trip, it was just us, our little Opel station wagon, and thirteen semi-trucks on a ferry bed half the size of a football field. Yep, just us and the truckers. They lined up their vehicles in the truck line, which stretched down the street all the way to the customs office. We pulled up to the barrier, the sole passenger vehicle in the passenger queue.
There’s the fun, lighthearted side of truck culture. “Look kids at all the license plates from different countries. Look how they decorate the interior of their cabs. Fun!” And there’s the grim reality, which we didn’t point out to the children, but discussed between just the two of us – young women dressed to attract customers at a truck stop, decorated women standing on the edge of the forest near a truck-sized dirt road shoulder. There is no attempt to hide in the shadows. This activity is out in the open on major truck routes in Eastern Europe. It makes me scream inside at the injustice. We never saw it so glaringly obvious as we did in northern Bulgaria.
2. As I’ve written about before, when we are away from home for a weekend we usually try to find a local church to visit. In Sofia we visited a Bulgarian church with some American friends who live in Sofia. Six-year-old Lil’ P is our shy kid. When I took her to the Sunday School class I assumed she would be her normal self, cling to my skirt and ask to stay with me in the service. To my most pleasant surprise, she hesitated momentarily and joined her younger sister and the class of mostly non-English speakers on the carpet. She rose to the occasion. I continue to be amazed at how flexible and changeable children can be if continually given the opportunity to do so. I don’t give my children enough credit. They are growing and maturing and changing. I need to remember to keep giving them opportunities to move outside their comfort zone, a catalyst for developing those positive attributes and, most importantly, an the opportunity for them to see how they can trust God to do a good work through that discomfort.
3. In case you haven’t lived cross-culturally before, let me share a secret – cross-cultural living is an exercise in humility. I dropped the kids off for school this week and the teacher mentioned it was school picture day. What?!? As usual, they had dressed themselves and I had run a brush through Peanut’s long, straight blond hair. Lil’ P has curly hair, which I usually quickly spritz and scrunch. Good to go. Good enough for a normal day, but for school pictures?
For two minutes I was totally embarrassed and frustrated. What kind of mom must I look like, not dressing up my children and doing their hair for school pictures? Why didn’t they tell me? The girl’s outfits were the typical mishmash of pattern, texture and color, great for a vintage quilt, but not exactly the look one would pick for a professional photo sitting. I saw other children dressed in coordinated outfits from Zara and a little boy with a bow tie. So cute.
My children will look their normal sweet selves, in outfits they picked themselves with hair that looks like it does every other day of the year. I’m okay with that.
4. This coming year we will be traversing three continents and visiting over 15 countries. Yes, our three children will be with us for the whole ride. This month I’m learning to integrate their education into real life in a whole new. We’re studying ancient history in our slow-methodical-kindergarten-way, so next month when we visit England we will visit the Putney Vale Cemetery near London. Ring a bell? Probably not. It’s where Howard Carter, the famed archeologist best known for discovering King Tut’s tomb is buried. We’ve seen mummies in museums, read books, watched documentaries, but I’m excited about visiting the cemetery to emphasize the point that it’s not just history that’s important, but the people who facilitate discovering and understanding it. Seeing King Tut’s mask in Cairo (which I did in 2006) or the artifacts in the British Museum is fantastic, but it’s equally inspiring for me (and I hope my children learn this too) to understand the people who had the knowledge and the drive to pursue these discoveries.