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As religion and revolution have intertwined in Bulgarian monasteries (read my previous post), so have religion and politics fueled one of the biggest social issues of the day in the States.
Oriana, a high school teacher near Boston, told me that one of the gravest issues she encounters in her work is teenage pregnancy (no wonder why Oriana couldn’t stop watching European music TV channels – the American MTV has replaced music clips for reality shows called 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom). She said that every year, there are pregnant girls going to classes or pregnant girls who drop out of school. I was very surprised because at my high-school there has never, as far as I know, been such a case. So don’t your students use any protection, I asked? No, said Oriana, they don’t use any protection and some of them don’t even know how to use condoms. That’s when I found out that Americans don’t have sex education!
In all Bulgarian high-schools, teenagers have a few sex education classes where they teach you the basics of the reproductive system, sex, STDs, etc (if you draw the short straw you might even get to put a condom on a banana in front of your giggling classmates). The classes are usually given either by a teacher or by the school psychologist.
Apparently, on the other hand, the States not only forbid sex ed, but in fact forbid teachers from even talking about sex or “even worse” – about abortion! (Which again confirms my belief that in America, sex is a taboo and violence is acceptable while in Europe, sex is art, and violence is hidden).
Why, I asked, is sex ed forbidden if teenage pregnancy is such a big problem? The explanation according to Oriana, lies somewhere in the relationship between the American voters, the Church, and lawmakers.
The anti-sex ed laws together with the anti-abortion laws, were established by the Republican party, whose electorate is to a great extent comprised of strongly religious people (of whom America has many) who belong to the middle or lower strata of society. These extremely religious voters do not necessarily agree with or benefit from everything the Republicans stand for (especially in terms of the fiscal policy), but they still vote Republican because of their coinciding belief in the doctrines of the Bible: that there should be no sex before marriage and absolutely no “killing of the innocent unborn child”.
Therefore, Oriana concluded, having sex education at school and explaining how to use condoms would be as if approving sex before marriage or sex with a non-reproductive aim. Thus, everybody who is against abortion votes Republican and gets sex-talk-free schools. This system, however, proves to be corrupt because even though some might be pious, many teenagers in schools like Oriana’s are obviously not abstainers.
So it’s not enough that American parents stand against sex ed; to top it all, teenagers have very strong opinions on abortion (dictated by their parents and their churches, of course). Once they get pregnant, the vast majority of Oriana’s students keep their babies. Actually, there is even peer pressure to keep the baby! I could hardly imagine this: it’s not enough that you are teenage and pregnant, that your parents’ Republican representatives frown upon abortion on TV, that you hear about pro-life choices during Sunday mass, but on top of everything, your schoolmates discuss another classmate who made the right decision and became a mother.. for the second time!
An unfortunate vicious cycle, right? Your religion forbids you to have sex before marriage, your country forbids you to learn about pregnancy prevention in school, your socio-religio-political convictions prevent you from getting an abortion, and in the end you find yourself pushing a baby cart to prom.
Today we went to the Preobrazhen monastery near Veliko Turnovo. It is a secluded male Orthodox monastery situated on one side of a deep gorge; on the other side of the abyss, we could see a convent. Years ago, an earthquake had broken off three huge rocks from the cliffs just above the monastery, but miraculously none of them had damaged the bell tower or the church itself.
The brightly colored paintings on the façade of the cloister represent floral ornaments together with scenes from the Bible. The most famous mural, however, is that of the great Bulgarian icon painter Zahari Zograf, the Wheel of Life.
The composition portrays the months, the seasons, and the cycles of life with its many meanings and symbolical layers. The outer layer shows the material possessions one aims for: the man on top of the wheel is holding a scepter and a bag of golden coins, but drops them as he moves closer to death. The inner layer represents the true virtues that one should aim for in life: to educate oneself and to work hard, so that in the end, one can gladly sit down and enjoy the old age. What do you think the woman in the middle represents? What about the two figures on both sides of the wheels?
The significance of monasteries, I explained to Oriana, is more than religious. During the liberation movement against the Ottoman Empire, these were safety havens where monk-revolutionaries hid the rebels and pointed them to secret passages leading to the mountains. The monks also preserved the Bulgarian literary and cultural heritage and helped spread it during the time when the Ottomans were suppressing it. Lastly, monasteries are holy places with special energy to which even earthquakes bow down.
- Day Four: Shipka and Veliko Turnovo (zikata.wordpress.com)
- Oriana’s Epic Journey in Bulgaria (zikata.wordpress.com)
- Day Four-2: Always Accept When a Guy Invites You to a Dance (zikata.wordpress.com)