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Foreign Encounters

Updated: Sep 10, 2022

For most of my adult life, my passion for writing was absorbed by academic papers and producing professional materials. For pure pleasure I wrote about my travel adventures and shared these Foreign Encounters in writing groups. I decided on a four-book series: Breaking Free, Becoming Educated, Moving Abroad, and Returning Home. A friend designed a cover for Book 1 so long ago, he has since passed away.

Here is a new design by another friend. She's still alive. I like the cropped photo, but the increased size of "Free" in the other is appealing. Which do you prefer?

When I read the stories aloud, people enjoy them, but they can see me, hear my voice. Would people who have never met me, who can't hear my intonation or ask questions be interested? 

Here's an anecdote taken from my tour of the Eastern European Capitals when Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia were part of the communist bloc.

Caught in the Cyrillic Act Bulgaria: Sofia August 1981

The policeman called out to me from the other end of the block. I thought about ignoring him. I could pick up my pace, perhaps outrun him. But I didn’t dare. He had a machine gun, and for all I knew, he would use it. I turned around and retraced my steps. The officer and the man who told on me for taking his photo—suspicious behavior where neighbors are encouraged to spy on each other—strode toward me.

Coming together in the middle of the block, we three couldn’t find a common language. I could say hello and goodbye in Bulgarian. I shook my head no to Russian, which they both spoke, and no to German, which the man knew. The policeman made it clear I was to stay put, then stalked off, disappearing around the corner.

The man’s little boy was riding his tricycle in circles around us as we stood waiting. Here was my opportunity to talk myself out of the situation. I reached into my bag and pulled out games and books I bought earlier in the day. I pointed to the fencing beside us that was covered in colorful posters advertising a circus. Smiling all the while, I encouraged the man to make the connection between the blazoned Cyrillic—not Roman—letters on the posters and similar script on my purchases. I wanted him to believe my interest was only in photographing the posters. I remained relaxed and talked non-stop, knowing he probably didn’t understand a word.

Part of my explanation was true—the novelty of the letters made me get out my camera. But the picture was successful because I captured people in motion with the circus posters as backdrop. The left two-thirds of the photo consists of posters. Then the eye is drawn to the tall, bulky man walking with his arm outstretched toward the child riding a trike. At the end of the block, a younger man in mid-stride wears a red shirt, which picks up the main color of the posters.

I felt guilty convincing the man the picture was only of posters. When the officer returned, the man explained my “innocence.” Though the officer seemed to understand, he insisted I follow him. We walked to a multi-storied building. He motioned for me to wait outside. I wish he had taken me into the police station—that would have added to the drama of my story. I guessed after being told to bring me in, he didn’t have the authority for independent judgment. It wasn’t two minutes before he returned and waved me away.

More than fifteen years later, the photograph received honorable mention in an art competition. Along with five others from my travels, it hangs just inside the front door of my home.

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