The Life He Wouldn’t Have Known

By Kembry McNeil-Thompson

Peter Karapetkov, like billions of others, had built his life outside of the United States. Peter Karapetkov, like millions of others, was forced to leave that life behind when political turmoil in his country spiked. He had to seek asylum outside of his country which eventually lead him to his present life in the states.

Peter, an established theater director from Plovdiv, Bulgaria, was in his late twenties when he was living in the country of Georgia. As fate would have it, the country of Georgia was was under the rule of communist Russia, then the Soviet Union, during Peter’s living there in the late 80’s. Peter went about his life day-to-day life as an accomplished director despite the substantial amount of political tensions in his new home country and the neighboring countries as well. Peter had a loyal theater troupe and a production of “The Dragon’s Wedding” to be put on, so he would tend to his business and continue on about his life without making a show of sticking his nose where it didn’t belong.

All was fine in Peter’s life until the lead actor of his play went to a protest with the intent to make his voice heard about the Georgia’s tense political atmosphere. He chose to forgo living by Peter’s example of keeping to himself and instead stuck his nose exactly where he thought it belonged. Although the protesters and the protest itself was peaceful, the reactions to its goings on were not. Peter’s lead actor, along with 21 others, were mowed down and killed by Russians– the Soviet Union that was in charge– which put an abrupt, violent, and bloody end to the protesters’ noise.

When Peter heard the news about the deaths, of course he decided to go to the vigil that was to be held for the victims. What Peter didn’t know was that this vigil was more than just that; it was a rally. Nearly two dozen people were senselessly and violently killed during the protests, and the Georgian community was not happy about it. Before Peter could even take in the scene of the supposed vigil that was happening around him, he was being handed a bullhorn. His words at the rally, about the unjust killings of his friend and others by communist Russia, and no more than that, were enough to land him in a holding cell that very same night.

Luckily, Peter’s friends would bail him out after he was questioned, but unfortunately for Peter, he had “spoken out” against the government, and for this, he was now a wanted man in Georgia. Peter knew he was in trouble; his only option was to flee the country or stay, only to be sent to prison…or worse. Peter was able to seek political asylum in nearby Traiskirchen. It was here that he spoke with the American embassy in order to see what his options were. Th embassy told him that he was a wanted man, so they gave him the choice of relocation or returning to his home country to face his unknown fate. Peter, rightly, chose the former and ended up living in Vienna for eleven months. Here, he continued on with his passion for directing, but it was also here where directing would soon have to be put on a long pause.

Peter was getting relocated to the United States.

On June 11, 1990, at the ripe age of 31, Peter landed in New York with $13 to his name and not a lick of English to be spoken. From that point on, Peter’s life forever changed…but it was changed for the better. Peter told me stories, with a smile and constant laughs, of his mischief and adventures during his early years in the U.S. He told me how he went to a party on his first night in the states, I heard the story of how he learned English from the locals in a bar that he frequented, and he told me about how he hitchhiked across the U.S. from New York to Seattle over the course of the week. Peter barely had a dime to his name upon his abrupt arrival into the U.S., but he prospered, nonetheless. He made a ton of friends, met many interesting people, worked odd jobs, lived in rundown neighborhoods– the only kind that he could afford– and had a hell of a time while he was at it.

Peter Karapetkov’s life in his previous country may have ended under grim circumstances, but he rolled with each of the punches he was given and made the best of every situation that he was thrown into. He went from working for $3.75 an hour at McDonald’s to a roofing job. He went from touring the U.S. on his many funny adventures to meeting his wife, travelling with her, having kids, and settling down. Peter’s halt on his directing career was well worth the wait as he got to resume his work while abroad with his wife and graces the community with his directing talents in his current home of Northern Virginia. Peter defended a friend, was forced to flee his country, took to the states in less than desirable conditions, had adventures all across the country and throughout the world, and made a new life for himself. He may have left a lot behind in Georgia and Bulgaria, but he seems to have gained even more. His flee as a refugee introduced him to the life he wouldn’t have known.

Feras Nabulsi