Thursday, July 2, 2020

Panagyurishte - Панагюрище

After my first year in the Peace Corps, I helped train the new group of volunteers in a small town called Panagyurishte (Roughly pronounced Pan-uh-G’YER-eesh-tay) which is a gorgeous town in central Bulgaria. These are a few thoughts I put down at the time.

My first impressions - Summer, 2001

In a country where people still cut the grass with a scythe, still milk their own cows, wash their laundry by hand, and tend their own animals, one can’t balk at tradition - one can only appreciate the resilience of the people and the depths of culture to which their lives are engrained. The simple clarity that is found while sitting on the steps leading up to the Apriltsi monument overlooking the town below is something to be treasured. A single moment in time. Surrounded am I by nature sounds and beauty. 

Before me lies the sleepy town of Panagyurishte. I can pick out the tree-lined canal in the center. Down the hill a bit on the other side of the canal are two churches. Beyond the houses of the city are the foothills of the Stara Planina (Balkan Mountains) brightened by a blurred orange, late evening setting sun. Finally around me, all around me, are the sounds of the crickets, the birds, an occasional goat, and a dog or two.

From time to time, a pair of friends will pass me by walking up the stairs next to where I site. I don’t want to return to my hotel. Not yet. I think I’ll breathе all this in.

Once more.

Written shortly thereafter: 

In retrospect - these were my first impressions of the town that, the following week, welcomed in 53 Americans from all walks of life. These Americans of different ages, gender, races, and religions, plan to spend their next two years serving in the Peace Corps Bulgaria. I, myself, am in the middle of that service having already served as an English teacher in the beautiful town of Smolyan, located in the Rhodope mountains in southern Bulgaria. 

For the last two weeks, I’ve been acting as a resource volunteer, helping the training staff teach the trainees everything from language to how to teach to what to expect once they get to their sites. The energy, enthusiasm, and curiosity of these people are refreshing and invigorating. I feel recharged and ready to face my second year with the same readiness as my first. I’ve enjoyed these two weeks working at PST (Pre-service training) and have made a lot of friends. I hope that some of these will become great friends over the course of this next year - something I’m looking forward to.

Today, I head back to Smolyan, where the farm animals are as welcome on the streets and sidewalks as the people are. Life is slower. Simpler. More relaxing, yet uneventful in a way. I welcome the opportunity, however, to enjoy it. Likewise, I’m sure the new volunteers will enjoy it as well. And I’m sure that after a year, they’ll have learned to appreciate it as I have. 

Peace Corps Volunteers were all pulled from their sites and recalled back due to the the COVID-19 pandemic as of March 15, 2020. All volunteer activities were suspended until further notice. This is the first time since its inception that there are no currently-serving Peace Corps volunteers in the world. 

Please take some time to learn more about this beautiful town in Bulgaria by clicking here

Thanks for reading! 

        - Heather

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