Mon, May 20 2013
THOREAU once said: "Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you've imagined!". With his life here in Sofia, John Tennant exemplifies this theory.
Although born in Maryland, John said he "didn't really have any roots anywhere," due to his father's job in the armed forces. And for a time when young, he thought it his path also to join the armed forces, and applied to the Naval Academy. But, said John, in those days, one had to have perfect vision to be accepted: his wasn't up to par.
"I decided that fate was leading me elsewhere. And I joined the Peace Corps," he said.
This was in the late 1960s, "when Vietnam was hot," said Tennant, "and I was getting these letters that when I got out of the Peace Corps, I'd be drafted. So I got a job with the government instead, out in California, near my parents".
While working out West, awaiting the draft letter, the US state department contacted John and said that it was looking for people to work in the development sector of Vietnam.
He determined that it was better to go there as a civilian than as military personnel.
"So I ran off to Vietnam and escaped the draft," said John, "and that's what started me on an international career".
There, he worked with USAID. Enjoying the grass roots aspect, he applied to its internship programme, and got accepted. This was in 1974, six months before Vietnam fell.
He went to Washington, DC., and for the next 30 years, worked with USAID in locations around the world - including in Jamaica, Pakistan, the Philippines, Thailand, and at the US headquarters in DC.
"I really liked USAID. The trouble is that you get hooked on it," he said.
His last assignment overseas was here in Bulgaria, from 1994 to 1998, when he worked as the USAID mission director. After that, he returned to DC and retired in 2000.
"Then I had to decide what to do with the rest of my life," said Tennant. Luckily for him, the government is "very generous" with its retirements, and his pension allowed him many freedoms.
"You can't just do nothing," he said. "So I decided to follow my dream. I had the luxury of being able to do it. My dream is overseas, not in the US. It's too structured, predictable, not very challenging there."
At this time, a friend from his time in Bulgaria invited him to come and experience Italy, which he did for a couple of years. When the friend returned to her homeland, John's love for Bulgaria incited him to move, also.
He came back in autumn 2003.
"Most of the phrases [to describe what I love about Bulgaria] are trite," he said, "and I don't know what I could say that is different - but the country is a gem. It has a different rhythm that we lack in the States. Here, there is an appreciation of life. In the States, you don't drive time; it drives you. Here, life is more in harmony with the spirit of people than with a clock".
He finds life to be much more human here.
John will not forego his American roots completely, however. He carved a pumpkin for Halloween, and is searching for a pleasantly-edible turkey and cranberries for a Thanksgiving celebration with Bulgarian friends.
Another aspect of Bulgaria he lauds is its great location in Europe, citing Rome, Istanbul, Greece and Madrid as being only a few hours away.
He also relishes the country's history.
"I'm an amateur archaeologist," he said. "My house looks like a Roman ruin: it's decorated with items from all the places I've been."
Tennant does regret, however, that Bulgaria does not seem to care about remnants of its past.
"There is such a great historical and archaeological wealth, and they don't exploit it at all," he said.
He also loves the people, and the chance to continue his consulting work.
When he returned to the country in 2003, he founded his own consulting firm, Dreamco Ltd. Its name appropriately describes exactly what John feels is most important in life: following one's dreams.
As its president, he develops, puts together, manages and helps finance projects for both Bulgarian and American companies.
"It's fun," he said. "I'm a facilitator of projects. Basically, I do anything that looks interesting. I've more freedom in my life now than ever."
While the bureaucracy here is "generally terrible," he said, the things that he counts as most important he doesn't have trouble with: the cultural life, the ambiance and being with people he really likes.
He also likes the traditional springtime dish of Saint George's lamb, and the said-hangover cure, shkembe chorba (made from cow's instentines).
He advises other non-native Bulgarians to not loose the opportunity to get thoroughly involved in the country.
"Get out and appreciate Bulgaria and make Bulgarian friends," Tennant said. "Get out of the expat community. Don't miss the opportunity to really experience, appreciate the culture."
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