Water Flowing

Stormy and I joined the Peace Corps, not because our own country didn’t need anything (it did) but because it would be an adventure to work in another place and learn about a different part of our great big world. That turned out pretty well.

When we went there in 2002 one of the driving factors for Bulgaria wanting the assistance of the U.S. Peace Corps in the first place was to complete its alignment with the West. The goal was to join the European Union and step into the world of modern commerce and democratic states, after the big change from the former system of government in 1989. That happened. Bulgaria was accepted into the EU in 2007.

It was a few years after that, in July 2013,1 when the Peace Corps mission in Bulgaria ended. There was some unrest and dissatisfaction in the air around that time, with people demonstrating against cronyism and corruption. They were demanding the kind of good and honest government they deserved. (Well, no one ever said it wasn’t a work in progress.) The people were clearly oriented toward that very Peace-Corps-like goal of attaining a fully functioning modern society. At that point the Peace Corps said, in effect, “OK, ’bye. Good luck!” 

I enjoy finding things in the news about Bulgaria, even though it’s been a while now since we were there. The other day I found an article with a disturbing headline, “Welcome to Bulgaria, the world’s fastest shrinking nation.” 2 There were signs of that danger when we were there, and there was some effort in academic circles to encourage bright young minds to stay and “make Bulgaria better” with their talents and skills, rather than taking it all abroad. True, we saw Bulgaria as having a relatively low standard of living compared with Western Europe and the US, but with thrift and ingenuity most people lived very well, requiring little and wasting nothing.

So what’s wrong with that? The EU, that’s what. Ever notice, when you want something for so long and then get it, it comes out way differently than you thought it would? So now it seems that no one thought about the long-term effects of having open borders between an economically depressed area and a prosperous, busy one with chronic worker shortages. People move, like water flowing.

Song Khon Waterfall, Loei Province, Amphoe Dan Sai, Foto: Martin Püschel 14:23, 29 December 2006

Photo from Wikimedia Commons, Martin Püschel

Reminds me of the news lately, closer to home (and getting closer every day). I wonder what will happen with those thousands of people flowing through Mexico from Guatemala and points south. Of course it’s a different situation but there are parallels. Coming from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador, the people in that desperate, flowing stream — many of them at least — are escaping deadly gang and government violence. Others are just trying to escape hopeless (really, really hopeless, probably like you can’t imagine) grinding poverty by coming to the Land of Opportunity. In an article from CBS News,3 most of the travelers said they were fleeing extreme poverty. As the article noted, though, that is not a condition for asylum or refugee status in the U.S.

A similar caravan, though smaller, was in the news earlier this year (remember that?) Only 300-some made it through the journey and the process, and were admitted for asylum. That process, and the outcome to date, is described in an informative article in USA Today, here.

I’m no dreamer, in the John Lennon sense. I don’t Imagine there are no countries, no borders. In the same way I don’t imagine there are no dams, reservoirs, or channels. We need water, and it has to flow.

Does anyone who reads this believe we shouldn’t have asylum and refugee programs? There are so many who need, and deserve by virtue of humanity, to be saved from the devastation of war and violence. Can we help them? All of them? Do they want to kill us? Do they want our jobs? Are these hard questions?


  1. Endings, July 24, 2013
  2. The Irish Times, October 13, 2018
  3. Migrant caravan of 7,200 people believed to be largest on record, CBS News, accessed October 23, 2018

16 thoughts on “Water Flowing

  1. There’s a lot to think about here. I guess my conflicted thoughts are, yes, we should accept those who need asylum, including from Syria; but how many, and how do we determine our limits? Thanks for the food for thought, Bruce.

    • Good question. There is not a legal limit on asylees who are admitted, and it has run about 20,000 a year. The limit on refugees is set by the President and this year’s number is 30,000. Last year it was 45,000 and for the several years before that it had been 70,000. All the numbers are here. One of the difficulties we have is with the other part of the question: how many empty seats do we have in the lifeboat?

        • Yes, that’s true. That’s part of the problem that Germany was trying to solve in admitting so many refugees, to get much-needed workers. They overdid it by just opening the floodgates though, and got overwhelmed, and are having unrest and friction (though I haven’t heard much lately; maybe it’s settled down). Our admittance numbers as a percentage of population, even at their highest levels (average 103,300 1980-1995) are minuscule in comparison. But still, as you noted, it’s hard to know what’s the right number. It’s probably a matter of having the right people admitted and treating them right. Refugees go through a years-long vetting process to assure the former (less than 1% of refugee applicants are admitted to the US) and relief agencies such as the one I volunteer for try to do the latter.

  2. we agree! How can we, in the United States of America, go along with our current President on immigration. Taking children away from their parents and placing them in cages…what has this Union come to?I want to know how many illegals were used in construction of the Presidents hotels, casinos, homes, golf courses, maintenace of said property plus the people who clean and repair his properties.How much does he pay his workers? Every day brings more grief with the thought, “what have we become”? Lastly, after years of religous education and life, I no longer believe that Heaven in on earth as in many ways, it is now hell.

    • One does what one can, right? Working for good can be in the form of working for change, or working to keep what’s good. Advocacy, action, even talking with friends is all part of the big busy vital picture. I don’t believe in hell though, here or elsewhere. But even if it’s here, your gentle and generous spirit will insulate you from the flames as you go about doing good.

  3. It’s a shame, but understandable that so many Bulgarians are leaving to seek more comfortable lives elsewhere. Many of our friends have left the country. Still, Bulgaria has something special about it. I look forward to going back one day soon.

    • Yes, such a beautiful place! That article in the Irish Times presented a stark portrait didn’t it, making everything there seem so hopeless. The beauty of the country and the warm and generous friendships we found there — you and we alike — make it hard to realize just how severely the economy is damaged and headed toward a cliff. Stormy and I have only been back once since working there (twice counting “The Ball”), and of course we too want to go back more.

  4. Bruce, Very thought provoking. I don’t think our president has the right answer. Yet, I see people sleeping on the sidewalks here, and I do wonder, with you, how big is the lifeboat?

    Love you, Brother!

    • Thank you for reading, dear sister! I’m looking forward to seeing you at the Brunswick Stew. Thanks for the compliment (though Mom was always telling me to stop provoking you!) I don’t think our president is alone in not having the right answer; I sure don’t have it. Good point about using our resources to help our homeless and destitute. We do a lot of that as a nation, and you know some needs are endless but we still put a lot into it. Complicated, isn’t it? I have noticed, though, that many of those who do good charity and social work are open to helping refugees, asylees and others in need, and many who say we shouldn’t help immigrants at all until all our homeless are taken care of aren’t involved in doing that. On that issue of the size of the lifeboat (and the number and categories of people wanting in that we can consider; I don’t know anyone who wants to just let everybody in) I guess there are all kinds of numbers that people use to come to their conclusions. No wonder policy deadlocks result, and people are so bitterly divided.

  5. Great post, Bruce, I enjoyed reading it. I don’t have the answer. My heart says we should welcome anyone who needs a hand up (I wouldn’t be here if the U.S. hadn’t done that for my own family, after all), but after living on the U.S.-Mexico border for our first State Department tour and seeing this situation up close with my own eyes, I don’t know how it’s possible to have so many people enter the country at once. I believe that as a nation, we have the resources to support them; however, they are not evenly distributed, and that of course is why we have our own terrible situation with poverty and hunger, especially among children. It is a mess- a true crisis- and I have no idea how we can fix it. To answer some of your questions, no, they don’t want to kill us, and no, they don’t want to take ‘our’ jobs… they only want a peaceful existence, food, water, shelter, and safety… the most basic things every being on this planet deserves, and it breaks my heart that they don’t have that.

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