Swimming in the Deep End of Hospitality

Meat, meat, and more meat.

The Roma hospitality we experienced in Bulgaria was not just a dip-your-toe-in-the-shallow-end type of endeavor.  No, it was a get-thrown-into-the-deep-end-with-all-your-clothes-on experience.

When we arranged with a few different pastors that we would be coming to visit them in Bulgaria, we had no idea that they would take it upon themselves to ensure our safety, health, and happiness on our trip over the hills and dales of Bulgaria.

Somewhere along the way, I realized that this all-important value of hospitality is shown through two primary avenues: make sure your guests have plenty to eat at all times (and meat is the at the top of the food pyramid), and as it is a communal culture,  be with your guests as much as possible.

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This was actually a “meat-lite” meal. Delicious.

I think I probably ate more meat in a week than I have in a month.

I would try to take small portions so my system did not collapse, and just when I thought I succeeded, someone would bring another plate of meat.

“Eat, eat!” they would urge.

We were treated like two unlikely queens—especially since I know January and February are the tough months for many poor Roma communities.  Jobs are slim, firewood is running out, and the winter is still hoarding many weeks.  I knew they did not eat like this all the time—but it was to honor us.

After we left one community in the morning, I started to feel very sick, and I realized I had gotten a flu bug of some sort. 200 km  and several meetings later, we were having a meal with a pastor and his wife after a church service. The pastor of the community we left that morning called in to the other pastor.

“He wants to talk to you,” the pastor said, handing the phone to my friend. DSC03572

Apparently, he wanted to make sure that we had arrived safe, that our needs were being met, and by some extraordinary ability, he had heard that I wasn’t feeling well.

“Take care of little Melody!” he urged my friend.

This was the first of a few “check-in” calls from this pastor who has a big heart and an even bigger sense of humor.

Two women traveling alone is a little bit of a novelty for the Roma culture in this part of the world, which is why they gently handed us off one from another like two delicate eggs.

At one point, we underestimated how serious their concern to be.  After we left one community,  on a whim, we took an hour diversion, hiking up to see an old monastery.

It was a bad decision to not take our phones.

When we got back to the car, there were 10 missed calls.  Apparently, our failure to show up on schedule caused a panic between three parties in three locations.  One of our friends living south from us immediately started driving north, and another pastor started on the road heading towards where he should have intercepted us.

Needless to say, we felt horrible.

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Enjoying a kind of “pseudo” ice cream with one pastor.

In general, hospitality in Eastern Europe has completely changed my own practice of hospitality—its inviting warmth and generosity have effectively challenged my over-individualistic values as an American.

But I have to say that this experience has brought the challenge to a whole new level.

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5 responses to “Swimming in the Deep End of Hospitality

  1. Ah, yes. Its good to hear your adventures. I must admit your plate looked a little more apetizing than much of the meat I’ve been asked to down! But, what!? this is not a game of one-up. I should be empathizing with your belly. Sorry ;)) Not to give the wrong idea, I’ve enjoyed some rather delicious food, too. Just joking with you. I do constantly feel the challenge of hospitality and wonder about that all out sacrifice thing. How often do I really do hospitality where it pinches me, eh?

  2. “…they gently handed us off one from another like two delicate eggs…”

    Best.

    I love this piece, Mel.

  3. We are so independent as Americans that it takes us a while to get used to the level of involvement that is understood, in more communal cultures, as a necessary part of friendship and hospitality. We consider our independence to be a strength, but it is a weakness as well.

  4. So true. Brings back memories.

    We were visiting a Bulgarian Roma believer family in 1986. An American friend asked if there was milk when asked what we wanted to drink. The next night, there was milk with all the massive amounts of food. The daughter told us she saw her father standing in one of the ever-present long lines of those days for some milk to fulfill that offhand request. That made me weep, especially when we came back to the U.S. and I stood in a Giant supermarket in an aisle loaded with food and choices.

  5. Pingback: A disappearing city | Balkan Voices

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