Like the main character in THE MAKING OF
JUNE, I arrived in the Balkans in the summer of 1996-in the midst of a
decade of regional wars. I looked around and thought to myself; "Not
only do I want to leave this place immediately, but I want to forget it
completely and never ever set foot in it again."
My first nine months in Bulgaria were the
most difficult of my life. I went there to be with my husband, who had
volunteered to help Eastern Block countries with the transformation from
Socialism to a market economy. I'd left behind my career, family and friends
for a life in a place where the sky seemed stubbornly gray, the people
resolutely depressed, and the city almost unbearably devoid of culture
and beauty. It didn't take long, even as an outsider, to realize that
the Mafia ruled the country, the people were victimized, the economy was
stagnant, and everyone seemed too tired and disappointed to hope for anything
different. I resigned myself to a year in hell.
there was a revolution.
Having been painfully frustrated by the
inertia and boredom of my Midwestern youth, my reaction to the uprising
against the corrupt government in Bulgaria was akin to that of an adolescent
discovering sex. I was enthralled, stimulated, obsessed. I felt suddenly,
and for the first time, as if I were living through something monumental.
I had never seen a riot. I had never seen apathy turn to outrage.
In the winter of 1997, I snapped out of
my Balkan depression. I attended the rallies in front of the Sofia Parliament,
and felt as if I were actually a part of the movement to topple the regime
that had stolen so much from the outwardly stoic yet deeply feeling Balkan
people whom I had slowly come to admire. I made local friends. I learned
the language. I realized that what I really needed was to write about
what I was experiencing: the bread lines, the protests, the foreigners
and their fancy parties, the Bulgarian pensioners with nothing who were
begging barefoot in the snow. The writing was therapy as well as documentation.
I could not stop.
America was involved in Bosnia-Herzegovina,
Albania was falling apart, Serbia was a bomb ready to explode, and I was
next door, holed up with my computer, getting it all down. There is a
saying, "Once you understand something, you lose the urge to describe
it." I did not understand the Balkans, not the passionate and proud
people, the many confusing layers of the complex culture, the dominance
of the Mafia, nor the ambiguous and conflicting accounts of ethnic strife
between Christians and Muslims. I needed to describe it because I had
become obsessed with understanding it. To understand it, I had to become
part of it. I immersed myself and, ultimately, I took refuge in the creation
of my own Balkan drama. I lived it, I wrote about it, and in the end,
I knew it.
As the situation in the Balkans worsened,
my parents insisted that I come home. As much as I had wanted to leave
upon arriving, there was suddenly nothing that could tear me away. Even
when my husband returned to the States, I stayed in Sofia, a city that
had once seemed to me like the bleakest place on earth. I was caught up
in a morbid, painful, yet powerful love affair with the underdog of the
western world. I can't say that the affair has ended.
It's now January 2002. I live in New York
and am free to forget the concrete towers, packs of wild dogs, hellish
fog, gray sky, and heart-breaking poverty of the Balkans-if that were
possible. Instead, I am just back from a ten-day visit to Macedonia and
Kosovo to see old friends. Before September 11th, these places were considered
terrorism strongholds, political and religious hotbeds of continuing unrest-where
Milosevich, the demon who came before Bin Laden, carried out the horrific
crimes of genocide that stunned the world and brought American troops
to Balkan soil. It is not exactly a place most people choose to visit.
It's not that I choose to go there. The
truth is that I have no choice. I am powerlessly drawn back by the ghosts
of the wars, the fight against the vestiges of Mafia tyranny, the students
I taught who are struggling for visas and opportunities, and the friends
I made who, for the first time in a decade, believe that there just may
be hope for Bulgaria, and the Balkans as a whole.
THE MAKING OF JUNE is drama and fiction,
but it is based in truth. I wanted to tell the story of an American woman
encountering everything that I had encountered: the epiphany of understanding
the wake of Communism, the sensitive nature of the Christian-Muslim conflict,
the omnipresent and all powerful evil of organized crime and terror, and
the sadness of losing American innocence by losing an innocent and naïve
American love. June is part me, but she is not just me. She is every American
who questions his or her role in the world and resolves to make it a more