Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Snezhanka

How many times can I whine and complain about melting snow creating rivers and puddles everywhere I want to walk? And how many times can I lament and moan about how no one shows up to my English classes!!?!?!?!? Okay. I'm done... for now. I did run into a couple kids from my Monday class on my way up, and they were wondering if we were going to have a lesson today. I should have told them "yes" since I missed out on their session. I suppose it is vacation time, and as no one is in school... and apparently we're not in the office either? I showed up today, and no one was there. I hiked up to the Mahala to talk to my colleagues, and I was told that we wouldn't be working until after the New Year. Oh, okay. You see, I have this very special gift. It's called "selective hearing." As my Bulgarian skills are quite limited, I tend to zone out if no one is talking directly to me. If I'm involved in the conversation, I'm good. If not, I'm lost. Then, when something happens, I'm constantly asking, "Wait, what's going on again? Why are we doing this?" Yeah. I'm sure my colleagues are slightly confused by my "dim-wittedness." During training, my family would notice my spaced-out look and say, "Where are you, Apryl? In America?" And my sister asked me many times where I was during the holiday. It's just too hard to pay attention when I don't know what's going on.
My Christmas was a good one. I got to talk to my mom on Christmas Eve and my dad on Christmas Day, so that made the holiday special. Plus, I was in Trud with my family. As I haven't seen them since I moved to Rakitovo, it was really great to go back. My mom started crying when I walked in, and my sister kept hugging me. It felt really good to be missed. And, if I couldn't be with my family in the states, at least I was with my family in Bulgaria - although I think there are other Bulgarians here who would like to think of themselves as my family. So, Christmas was fairly quiet. We watched a lot of cheesy Christmas movies on the Hallmark Channel, and we went to "The Station." For those of you who remember from training, "Station" was the prime hangout. Nothing has changed, and I was there on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
My family gave me a pair of giant slippers in the shape of monkey-heads. How cute is that?!?! I also got a rather large chocolate Santa from my cousin. We had a nice dinner on Christmas Eve where we tried our luck at finding the stotinki in a dry cake (if you find it, you have good luck all year), and we each received traditional fortunes in the banitza (pastry dish). Mine said that I would soon be going on an "attractive excursion abroad." We'll see about that. I also received a fortune from Maria that said I'd be going to the states. Hmmm.... Anyway, I had a very nice Christmas with my family, and I didn't want to leave. I was so excited to be hanging out in Plovdiv again that I almost missed my bus back!
Yesterday my organization handed out bags of goodies to children. They waited for me to get back in order to distribute the gifts, and I was grateful for that. We gave the kids things like croissants, bananas, oranges, chocolate bars, chocolate Santas, pretzels, gum, and all sorts of other things good for rotting teeth. I suggested we also hand out toothbrushes, but they thought I was joking. It was so much fun to see the kids all happy and spoiled. Plus, it was neat to see Yanko really excited about arranging the whole thing. Ah, and I got to be "Snezhanka." Snezhanka is Santa's special helper. In traditions back in the states, we have Mrs. Claus, who I guess waits for Santa to return to the North Pole or something. Here we have Snezhanka... who's like, Santa's mistress. Nah, I'm kidding... but I still get the impression that Snezhanka is this nymph-like chalga singer. Plus, she gives out presents! What's not to like? Anyway, I was introduced as "Snezhanka" and the kids started clapping and cheering. It made me blush.
Later that evening we had a dinner party with our entire team and some of our supporters. After some good food and a few drinks, some of us got up and danced the "hora." It was a nice, relaxing evening, and I really appreciate my colleagues. Yanko always does his best to accomodate my vegetarianism in these situations, and it was great to have Valia back as she's been in the hospital with Jeanette. Apparently Jeanette's temperature spiked last night and they had to leave for a while, but I guess it was because her teeth are coming in. When it was explained to me, I thought they were saying that her teeth were falling out. I was trying to tell them that I thought it was a little early for this (she's about two), and they were saying, "No. No, it's not." I was confused for a while, and then the light came on and I'm like, "OHHH!!!" And they laugh at the silly American and we all drink some more and they talk about how they're going to teach me a Roma language. All I can do is smile and wonder if I'll ever get the hang of Bulgarian. If you knew how many different tenses this language has.... I thought Spanish was bad! Oh, and Yanko gave me a statue of this silver girl rising upward like a phoenix or something with the wind swirling behind her. Angel said it was me, and I gave him a look. Angel got the "Gentleman of the Year" award, and he also received a statue of a horse, which he said he's going to name "Aprylcho." He likes to compare me to the horses his dad raises because he tells me I'm wild, stubborn, and unable to stand still. And while he's telling me this, I space out....

Friday, December 23, 2005

Весела Коледа!

"Vecela Koleda!" a.k.a Merry Christmas!
I've posted pictures again. Check out my Bulgarian album, part 2. I've included some winter pictures in there, pictures of my office, and pictures from a play I went to yesterday. Some kids from my organization put on a dramatization of "The Emperor's New Clothes." And then others got up and sang. It was fantastic! Today we were goofing off in the office, so I've also posted pictures of that. I took some great video of Reneta, Angel, and me dancing "kuchek," but I don't know how to share video with you. My apologies. By the by, I got my first package today: Candy from Grandma and Grandpa! Yay! See's Molasses Chips, Fudge, and Frosted Pecans. I'd brought in peanut-butter cookies earlier that morning, but they were gone all too soon and paled in comparison anyway. Mmmm.... My colleagues went crazy for them, and I know they love me more because of it. Hehe. Thanks, Grandma and Grandpa. I'm going to share them with my family when I go to Trud tomorrow. Happy Holidays, everyone! I hope you have a warm holiday wherever you celebrate.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Cold Sparkling White Labyrinths

It’s snowing again. My beautiful town has once more become a perilous place to walk because of a thick white blanket that has smothered it. It has also become a very limited place to walk due to the paths people have had to carve out to get from point A to point B. I haven’t fallen yet, but I’ve slipped more than a few times. I don’t want a reenactment of the scene where my head met the pavement, so I walk around like a crazy rat in a padded maze.
It snowed hard over a couple days this past weekend, and temperatures have dropped dramatically. My room is no longer a haven for heat. It’s warmer than other rooms in my house, but not by much. I’ve had to put on more layers to sleep, and my landlords keep trying to persuade me to sleep downstairs. My boss is also trying to convince me to stay at his house with his family, but I just want to sleep in my own space. Others have suggested I find someone to keep me warm. No offers as of yet, though. I’d like to buy another heater, but I’m already having various electrical problems that I won’t go into right now. I’ll probably break down and buy another one. I’m still sleeping all right though. It hasn’t gotten to the point of desperation, and I have even further measures I can employ if the temperature continues to drop. I just don’t want to have guests over because they’ll take pity on me as they shiver in my home. Hehe. It’s not quite THAT bad. In the meantime, I’m counting the days until March.
On Saturday night, I had a slumber party with Maria and Reneta up at their house in the Mahala. I had an English lesson before that, and Maria was texting me every five minutes on my cell phone to ask me where I was. I know they were excited that I was coming, and were simultaneously worrying that I wouldn’t show up. They’re super cute. They always want me to come over for one reason or another, and Reneta has gone as far as to say that she wishes I lived with them. She can’t figure out why her father, my boss, just didn’t arrange for me to stay at their place for the next two years. She cracks me up.
So anyway, we had a girlie slumber party. We watched “Big Brother” on TV, and then we went up into their room and told scary stories followed by a makeover session. I’ll have to post pictures. I slept in late the next day and woke up to them watching Cartoon Network. They learn so much slang from that channel, and they remember! It’s amazing. “Apryl, what does ‘doofus’ mean? Ani, their mom and my colleague, came in to ask why we were lazing around so late. I fill this really weird role, and I can’t put my finger on it exactly, but it’s kinda awkward for me: I’m a colleague here. I work as an equal in an office with these girls’ parents. At the same time, when I visit their house, it’s like I’m another kid and my colleagues become my surrogate parents. It sorta gives me the heebie-jeebies and makes me giggle.
On Sunday, the girls, Ani, and I went to visit Valia and Janette in the hospital in Velingrad. Poor little Janette has bronchitis. It was so sad just to be there. Janette was sleeping like a little angel, but she was sharing a room with at least two other restless, whimpering children and their mothers who were trying to comfort them. Upon entering the room, I was hit with a horrendous smell, and it felt dirty just being in there. Ani tells me that kids who go there usually end up even sicker, or they’ll come home with other infections like lice or something. It’s better, if one can help it, to just stay home. I wanted to badly to snap my fingers and make the place better. There are many times in Bulgaria when I’ve wanted to do that. If anyone has a magic wand, please send it over via airmail. Janette is home now, but Valia tells me she’s starting to cough more, so they might have to go back. How hard it must be to be the mother of a sick child.
My English class on Monday was great. I teach younger kids and a couple of adults, and the kiddies get into it. They’re so cute! We learned the names of some fruits and vegetables this last time, and they were adorable shouting out words like “mushroom!” “potatoes!” and “strawberry!” They’re really eager to learn, and it makes it fun. It makes up for my Wednesday class with teenagers who don’t even bother to show up, or who have the audacity to walk by and not even come in. I’ve had it with them, and hiking uphill, barefoot, both ways in the snow just to teach a class no one’s going to come to. I enjoyed the wood stove though, and my second Wednesday class (with the truly motivated teenagers) was good times as usual.
I had my weekly Bulgarian lesson on Tuesday, and Katya, my teacher, told me, “Oh, some of my students told me that they have English lessons with you on Fridays.” I responded, “Well, tell them they’re liars ‘cause they haven’t shown up for a lesson yet.” Bleh. I’m bitter. She was funny. Before I entered the house, she gave me a piece of wood to carry up the stairs. “Here. You have to carry this. You’re the first person in our house on this special day (I guess it’s the first day of Virgin Mary’s labor pains or something?), and you’re supposed to bring a gift with you. If you’re a good person, we’ll have good luck all year through. Depending on how the year goes, we’ll find out if you’re good-hearted or not.” I felt badly for not bringing an actual gift, but how am I supposed to know the varying nuances of all these Bulgarian traditions? (sigh) I have a lot to learn.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Imperialism & not understanding any of it... at all

I'm going to apologize right now. This entry is going to be a bunch of rambling nonsense that probably won't even make sense to me after I'm done. Maybe I should reserve these entries for my personal journal, but this is my attempt to be open and honest - and mostly just with myself. So, here it is.
I'm human, and I'm trapped in my own way of thinking. I will never be Bulgarian. I will never fully know the trials and tribulations of living here. Peace Corps is a great organization, but it keeps me in a protective bubble. Even if it didn't, I still wouldn't know. I already have my ideas and I'm set in my ways. Realizing that, how can I fault others for thinking the way they do? And should I try to change it? Is that just imperialism?
This is coming after a round of realizing just how opinionated and vocal I really am. I always thought I was timid about my personal beliefs and I never wanted to create waves. Ever. With anyone. But maybe that's not who I am anymore. I mean, see the last entry on my opinions of teachers on strike... and looking at it through the eyes of my background and my loyalty to my organization over here. Yeah, do I really understand what's going on? Do I know the reasons behind everything people do? No. Do I have the right to be "preachy?" Probably not.
This is also coming after a night of feeling like I had to defend my organization and the people I work with. I was at a party last night with a bunch of teachers who work with the TEFL volunteer in Velingrad. There were a few moments of awkwardness when they learned who I work with. I'm not going to relate everything that happened. I'll save that for my personal journal. Plus, maybe people shouldn't be accountable for things said under the influence of alcohol. I'll only share my own short-comings - which can be easily found without alcoholic beverages. I'm fiercely loyal to the people I work with. I'm too sensitive - I know this. And I need to be more open-minded and see things from other people's perspective. Can people always be accountable for the way they think - for the way they were raised? Can they be accountable for lamenting the problems here in Bulgaria and trying to find a scapegoat for them? Am I any better than them? To the last question, I can definitely say, "Of course not!" I just think I have a better way of thinking (which could be called "imperialism"), and I have the luxury of that because of the way I was programmed, because of the blessings I have that I easily take for granted, and because of my own natural self-centeredness. I'm not being hard on myself. I'm just trying to think some things through - and this is my rambling outlet.
And then after all that - of maybe going too far and reacting to them in a way the might offend, the Bulgarians were still hospitable to me. They still wanted to invite me to their next party and plan some type of cooperative activity. For this I am amazed and grateful. I can only hope I will obtain that level of maturity one day.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Stachka! (Strike!)

"Аз стачкувам" read the tags of many of the teachers as they rushed all around me. There's been a strike going on in many of the schools around the country, and one of the schools in my town (the one up in the Mahala that's comprised of Roma students) is on strike as well. The other schools in town are still in session as far as I know. The Bulgarian teachers up at Hristo Botev (in the Mahala) want more money. They show up at the school, but they hang out in the teacher's lounge - refusing to work. Meanwhile, the kids are running around like wild in the hallways, or they're wandering around in the street, or they're standing around in the school wondering what to do. When asked if they want to study, they say "yes." When asked what's going on, they say, "I don't know." They only know their teachers are on strike and they don't know what to do or where to go.
Yanko and I were there because we want to take some of the kids to Pazardjik for a Roma Festival tomorrow. A bunch of people from around the region are getting together to put on a special Christmas celebration, and some of the kids have been practicing for the show. Well, in order for them to go on a school day, we have to get special permission from the school. When we went to talk to the director, she said we needed to talk to another man. When he came out of the teacher's lounge, I saw that he was wearing a tag to indicate that he was on strike. He refused to sign a declaration allowing the kids to go because he's on strike, and that would be "work (i.e. doing his job)." So, now Yanko is at a loss for what to do. A lot of planning has gone into this event, and now we can't legally take the kids to Pazardjik. I can tell you that my organization is frustrated, but this blog is reserved for personal opinion, so please allow me to go into one of my wordy, preachy, opinionated diatribes.
Teachers should never go on strike. I don't care what problems you have with money, and I definitely think teachers are underpaid in the state. Maybe they're underpaid here, but I think the teachers up at the Mahala make more than the parents of the kids they teach. I cannot think of many more important jobs than those that deal with the education of a child. For this reason, teachers should be paid well, and they should never dare to go on strike. Remember, this is my personal opinion. The education of a child is too important to support your own agenda to the detriment of your students. I have the utmost respect for teachers. I think it takes a special person to work in the field of education, and I think this person should be willing to put the needs of their students before their own - within reason, of course. If you're a teacher, and you're having problems with the system, find some other way to resolve it. Don't refuse to teach and deny children their education - not to mention a place to go during the day. To me it says that you don't care enough about your students, and that's not the proper message to send to a child. Again, I only have the utmost respect for teachers. I don't think I could do their job 'cause I think I lack the self-confidence, stamina, and patience. Teachers (and parents - you're teachers, too), you are beyond value. Never refuse to do your job. It's too important.
I saw a man wearing the "I'm on strike" nametag push a student down the stairs - telling him to get out of the school. I was furious. Argh!!! Stop me. Otherwise I'll go into another rant about how wrong it is to push someone who wants to learn out of an institution for learning. Plus, if you're not going to teach the kids, you might as well let them go on a field trip.
So we're not going to Pazardjik tomorrow. The kids don't get to strut their stuff, and who knows, maybe gain some self-confidence. Instead, they get to run around in the hallways or the streets - wondering what's going on. Or hey, if the problem's resolved, they'll get to attend class - which would be a good thing. I don't know if, as a child, I could trust someone who basically said they didn't get paid enough money to put up with me. Yikes. Here I go again. I can't be stopped.
So Angel, Yanko, and I are going to Sofia tomorrow. C.E.G.A., which means "now" in Bulgarian, is having its 10-year anniversary. From what I understand, C.E.G.A. is sort of like a mother NGO that provides support to other NGOs. We'll go to a party in the evening and then spend the night. It'll be fun, but I rather wish we were going to Pazardjik.
Last week, the teachers who Brandy works with (at a school that's not on strike) invited me to their annual holiday banquet. We were at a restaurant in Velingrad for five hours! We had a huge meal - which the Bulgarians ate slow as molasses. From the way I ate, I probably looked like a half-starved, street urchin. I soon learned to slow down. So between eating and drinking, they would get up and dance the hora - on the dance floor, around the tables, blocking the waiters from getting me my Coca-Cola, holding the hands of strangers. It was an interesting cultural experience to say the least. The cops would be called if other patrons started dancing around your table and interfering with your server at a restaurant in the states.
Speaking of things they do here that they'd never do in the states... they're selling fireworks to minors. Eight-year-old boys are setting off near bombs in front of my house at all hours of the morning and night. This afternoon I passed the firework shop, and two little boys asked me if they could use my telephone to call the proprietor. "Why?" "We want to tell him to come and open up the shop." I looked at the posted working hours; looked at my watch. "Wait five minutes. He'll come." I swear that stand must be raking in the dough. There's always someone buying something there when I go by. Brandy wants to buy a bunch of fireworks from the guy, find out where he lives, and then set them all off out in front of his house at midnight some night. I'm sure there are many boys already doing that for her without meaning to.
My English classes went all right today. Only one boy who was scheduled to come to the first class showed up. Fortunately, Angel and Ani were there to help play Bingo and carry on an introductory conversation with the boy. It was still frustrating though, in that one girl told me earlier in the day that she would come, and he didn't show up. What can I do? I can only show up and see what they do. I'm not a teacher. I'm not sure how to impose rules. I don't want to be strict about formalities and handicap them. I'm not giving out grades. I have to be available if they want to study. I don't want to limit their options. Grr... I just don't want to prepare for a class no one will show up for. Fortunately, I had another class at my home after that. This lesson was attended by more serious students. They stayed for two-and-a-half hours! They so badly wanted to speak English, and they already speak English better than most of the others that "say" they want to study with me. I held the class in my house, and their pleasant personalities also gave the lesson a more "homey" feel. They want to come twice a week to study. This boy and girl make it a pleasure to teach, and as long as I have their lessons to look forward to, I think I can handle this "teaching English" thing.
Angel has also finally come outright and told me that he wants to learn English. I knew he did, but I was waiting for him to ask, and I told him so. He even wrote an "official" declaration saying that he wants to learn. He cracks me up.
Today Peace Corps sent out one of their medical officers to do an informal check-up on me. It was basically an informal conversation to see how I'm adjusting to my site. It's always great when the medical officers come around though, 'cause they bring out their drugs with them and you can peruse the merchandise. Haha! When she hopped out of the car, she said, "Apryl, come over here and do some shopping." So I picked out some choice over-the-counter goodies (free of charge, of course) and praised the Peace Corps for its glorious health plan. I swear I would pledge my life to the Corps if only for the free medical care and OTC drugs. What can I say? I'm easily bought.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

What if the "Hokey-Pokey" really IS what it's all about?

No one came to the two other English classes I held last week. I actually don't care much. It's their decision if they want to come and learn English, and they haven't been able to prioritize accordingly. One girl said that she was in Velingrad. Sorry. Others had work to do. Understandable. But I saw one guy right before he was scheduled to show up for class! He asked me if I would translate something for him, and then he decided to hang out with his friends instead. Can I understand this mentality? No. I'm not going to even try. I just wish I hadn't been up the night before preparing. This last time, I decided to go ahead and play "Bingo" with the people who were in the clubhouse - even though they weren't signed up for English. I think they enjoyed it. Valia won, so I gave her a Snickers bar. Now they're talking about having me teach to younger kids because they keep coming up and asking my colleagues if they can join in on the lessons. I can only hope they have more motivation than the people I work with.
Brandy has been teaching her fifth-grade class the "Hokey-Pokey." Reneta told me she had learned it, but she wasn't sure how to sing it. Another day, Sashko (Valia's son) came into the office and asked me if I knew it. Angel and his mom had no clue what it was, so I asked if he wanted to show them. "Okay, but you sing." So I sang, and we did all the gestures... twice. The kids are very good at it. They just need to learn how to sing the song. The following day we were in the clubhouse, and I told everyone there that Sashko dances the "Hokey-Pokey" very well. "What's the Hokey-Pokey?" So, I told them that Sashko and I would show them later. On our way out the door, they reminded us that they wanted to see the "Hokey-Pokey," so I told them they had to get in a circle and do it with us 'cause it's easier than the "kuchek." It was so hilarious - seeing these teenage boys "shaking all about." We were all in stitches by the time it was over. I can't believe I still remember the "Hokey-Pokey." I guess it's just one of those universal things that stick with you into adulthood.
I had a visitor this weekend. Leslie, a B-18 volunteer in Hissar, came over. It was a nice and relaxing time for me. We came into Velingrad yesterday, got some lunch, and then went and hung out in a cafe in a gorgeous 5-star hotel in town. It started snowing, so we went back home after that. Brandy came out with us to a cafe in Rakitovo a couple times, and I enjoyed hanging out with other girls, speaking English, and just relaxing. It seems like my organization always has something going on during the weekends, and I try my best to show up to anything they invite me to. It was nice to just have a weekend to relax and not think about how frustrating it can get here - or at least to have someone to identify with your frustration. Brandy's going to be going home for Christmas here in a week or so, and I think I'm going to miss her. At first I didn't want to be placed in a site that already had a volunteer, but now I'm glad that I have someone I can vent to, bounce ideas off of, etc.
Dearest Readers: I hope you're all doing well. I hope you're not currently stressing out during the holiday season. It's too wonderful a time of year to let that kind of stuff get the best of you.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Wandering the streets of "Rakia"

“Nyama internet,” is what I was told last night when I entered the internet café. It wasn’t working since the afternoon, so the guy who takes my lev every time I go in there was sitting around with his friends – drinking and smoking. Of course! Why should we go out and fix the problem when we could sit here and smoke and drink like we do when the connection is working just fine? Hey. What do I know? Maybe they have someone on the job right now. I choose to believe that they’re sitting around hoping it will fix itself though – which it probably will somehow because that’s just how things work here. The other day, Angel and I came across a group of people standing around talking while looking at a hole in the ground. “That’s how work gets done here in Bulgaria,” Angel explained. As we walked away, someone put the lid on the manhole and everyone dispersed. “Guess the problem was solved,” I said. Anyway, I love Bulgaria. It just gives me more opportunities for bonding time with my laptop. Moving on….
Every calendar day is assigned to a saint. For example, let’s imagine that there’s a Saint Rori. In this imagined scenario, July 11th is Saint Rori Day. Anyone named Rori would be expected to show up on that day with sweets for colleagues, friends, etc. Just about everyone in Bulgaria has a name day. Of course, you’re expected to bring in sweets on your birthday as well. Yeah, you treat on your birthday. Interesting, huh? Of course, you still get presents from loved ones, but you’re supposed to reciprocate with candies or something. Anyway, back to name days. Yesterday was Nicolai’s name day. Apparently St. Nicolai is the patron saint of all sea creatures. So, in his honor, Bulgarians eat fish on December 6th. It’s strange, because some people (don’t ask me what religion this pertains to or if it’s just a cultural thing) have decided to abstain from meat and other animal products for forty days before Christmas. But, they get to eat fish one day during this meat-fast. On Christmas Eve, a lovely feast is prepared – sans meat. It’s left out overnight for the spirits (or maybe just hungry dogs… I really can’t pin this down) and then they come back on Christmas Day and eat again – adding meat this time. Please check it out for yourselves. It's quite interesting, I'm sure.
Well, my landlords invited me over for lunch yesterday. Milka fried up some fish, and Enyo was all excited about this because it meant that the vegetarian would eat meat. He has been trying to save me from vegetarianism ever since he learned that I (90% of the time) don’t eat anything with a face. (But hey, what else is a chicken good for – besides eggs – if not for eating? I ask you. And those turkeys are just asking for it on Thanksgiving and Christmas.) We go back and forth. Milka, who doesn’t care much for meat either, sticks up for my preferences once in a while. I ask Enyo why it’s so important to him that I eat meat, and Milka says it’s because he wants a partner-in-crime. Enyo says it’s because he wants me to be strong. “Yeah, yeah. You may have been a vegetarian in America, but now that you’re in Bulgaria….” So we’ll see how long I can hold out. And then there’s the alcohol….
Enyo, like many Bulgarians, makes his own wine and rakia (national drink much like brandy). He’s constantly trying to get me to drink his “domashno” (homemade) beverages. So yesterday, we started with some rakia. Fortunately, he had watered it down a bit. It’s really potent stuff. Then he asked me if I wanted wine or beer. What? The rakia isn’t enough? Wine. So Milka goes out to get some wine, and she returns with white wine, which she pours for me. Enyo is put out, because it’s not the red wine he makes. So he goes out to get the red wine, and he starts pouring it into a glass sitting in front of me. When I insist that I don’t want more wine, he says that it’s not for me; it’s for him. Just try it and tell which is better: the red or the white. “I like both,” I tell him. Okay… so it’s not for me. Why is he pouring another tall glass in front of his plate and drinking from that one? So, I’m sitting there eating (I think it’s cod?) and I have three drinks in front of me. They didn’t listen to me the first time I said I didn’t want more fish. So, I had seconds. The second time I was offered more, I actually had to touch the fish fillet with the palm of my hand to keep Enyo from putting it on my plate. Fortunately, Milka stuck up for me this time saying, “Leave the girl alone. She doesn’t want to get fat.” Yeah. Sure. That’s it. Enyo smiles and tells me, “Bulgarians like their women a bit plumper.” Yeah, tell that to all the slender, surgically-enhanced chalga singers who strut around on TV and all the girls (not to mention males) who watch them wiggle their assets hour after hour.
Fortunately for me, someone called on Enyo to take them to Velingrad (he runs a taxi service), and I was able to get away with only drinking the rakia and the half-glass of white wine Milka had poured for me. When asked if I wanted more wine, I was able to wave it off easily by saying I was already a little light-headed. It’s true. I’m a light-weight. So there I am though - heading back to work after lunch, and I’m slightly tipsy. I thought, “How silly it is that I’m wandering the streets of Rakia.” I meant to think “Rakitovo.” Now it’s bad if you say it, but how bad is it if you think it?
My landlords are great. Milka does her best to make sure I’m not lonely – that I’m well-fed and taken care of. She says she’s going to teach me to sew. Enyo likes to joke around with me and ask me what words are in English – trying to see if they relate in any way to German. (I don’t think he’s forgiven me yet for not speaking German, too.) He’s so well-liked, that people show up at all hours to ask him to drive them somewhere. He keeps asking when we’re going to play chess. I’ve played chess a couple times with Sashko, Valia’s cute little boy, but he nearly beats me! How can I compete with a good-natured, German-speaking Bulgarian? Anyway, the point is: I like my landlords, but do you think that I can stave off invitations for the next two years? I’d like to protect my dignity – however much is left. I’d like to keep from wandering the streets of “Rakia.” In other news, we’ve had some problems at the office. We’ve lost one of our workers due to ill-feelings and possible negligence. The jury is still out on the negligence part, but the worker is gone. The thing that’s interesting about Bulgarian office etiquette is that it’s entirely different from anything I’ve ever experienced. Case in point: If the boss has a problem with you, he tells you in front of all your colleagues. Everyone gets to sit there and listen as your faults and inadequacies are laid out on the table. I don’t know if this goes for every office in Bulgaria, but it certainly goes for ours since we’re more or less six people in a tiny room.
If you want to disagree with someone, you just talk over them – and louder. Pretty soon, everyone’s speaking at an elevated volume, and I’m not sure if they’re actually having an argument or if they’re just conversing. I’ve learned enough Bulgarian to know generally what’s going on most of the time, but usually I just trust the tone of the room. My first day there, they had a disagreement about something. I had no clue what was going on, but they were having something out. In my discomfort, I spaced out. We lost a worker soon after that, and now we’ve lost another one. I believe that, so far, I’ve been the token child of the group. They’ve worked really hard to get an American volunteer from the Peace Corps there. If anyone has a problem with me, they don’t say. They’re more concerned with whether or not I have a problem. The tone changes with me, and since I’m pretty much useless in the office anyway, I don’t have many – make that any – responsibilities.
Maybe this isn’t so different from the states, but nepotism is popular in Bulgaria. In a place where unemployment is rampant, it’s important that you look out for those closest to you. In my office, Yanko is the boss. Ani, his wife, is the Children’s Coordinator. Valia, Ani’s sister, is the Youth Coordinator/Office Manager. Then there’s Angel and me – the volunteers.
Work schedules are fairly lax. Actually, the people in my office work incredibly hard, but it’s a little more sporadic than in the states. We show up at the office at 9 o’clock. If there’s no pressing work to be done, we’ll leave for lunch at noon. The office opens again at two, and I’m usually there. The previous office manager would open the place, but now that he’s gone, I don’t know how the schedule is going to be. Angel is supposed to have school in the mornings and part of the afternoon, but if a teacher is sick or something, he’s free to come in the office at that time. Otherwise, he generally shows up around 3 o’clock. We hang out until around 4:30 or 5. Yanko is usually off on business in Velingrad or some other place. Just about everyday, Ani and Valia have work with the kids up at the clubhouse after lunch. Then, three evenings a week, Angel, Valia, and I have meetings with the youth. Ani usually shows up for a while, and so does Yanko. In addition to this, Yanko and Ani have two kids: Maria and Reneta. Valia also has two kids: Sashko and Janette. I have no idea how they work all day long and still prepare food/take care of their kids. It’s a recipe for burn-out. I don’t even think they know how they do it. I’m tired at the end of the day, and I don’t even do that much. Plus, I just have me to worry about.
Dear Readers, if you’re a child, go hug your parents. If you’re a husband, go hug your wife. If you’re a wife, go hug your husband. If you’re a parent, go hug your child. If you’re a hermit, go hug a tree. Hug someone who gives you reason to work to the point of insanity – and yet keeps you from falling over the edge. As for me, I’m going to go hug my heater… or a bottle of rakia to keep me warm. Ciao!

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Shot down - w/o a blaze of glory

Here's a quick update for you:
Well, I had my first English session. I think it went more or less okay. The first girl showed up about twenty minutes late. She's really sweet though, and said she just lost track of the time. Two smaller children came in ten minutes after that. So, we went over the alphabet and the numbers through twelve.
A few hours later, we had our youth meeting. They'd like to have a Christmas party on the 23rd. At first they thought about going to a discoteque in Velingrad, but when Yanko reminded them how much it was going to cost, they changed their minds. I tried to offer a few fundraising suggestions. I thought of things I did in high school, that probably wouldn't necessarily work here, but I was hoping to spur them to think of their own ideas that might work. I suggested selling food, and they started laughing. Yanko asked them why they were laughing and said that his daughters did that once. And he gave other examples of selling things. I suggested washing cars (even though I know there's probably not much interest here in that), and I suggested a "Parent's Nite" where we watch kids and the parents could go out. I was politely told that it wouldn't work. Okay, no problem. Yanko understood where I was trying to go though. He tried to spur them on, too, but they weren't having it. They decided (after more discussion) to have the party at the clubhouse where we already meet because it's the cheapest option. Then there was another hour-and-a-half discussion after that about the budget and what to buy. I decided, at the end of the meeting, to try one more time. Here was my idea:
You approach the owner of a cafe nearby. You offer to stage a "Big Brother" production at the cafe. (Big Brother is HUGE here! Everyone and their brother watches it (haha!)) So the kids take on roles of the people who are living in the house in Sofia. You promote it, charge everyone a lev to get in, and then tell the owner of the cafe that you want a percentage of the profits for the night because you brought him extra business. At first, there was silence. Angel and Yanko started talking about how great the idea was. Then, one boy spoke up and pretty much trashed the idea. The others just sat there in silence. I have to go to a language lesson now. Ciao.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Caramel Macchiato Dreams Made Reality

Sofia, the capitol of Bulgaria, is a completely different world from my town, let me tell you. I saw an ad a few weeks back on the internet for red holiday cups at Starbucks. I don't know why that made me nostalgic and sad (a good sad-if you know what I mean), but it did. It's probably because I know a lot of Starbucks addicts, and some happen to be very good friends of mine. Well, I had a caramel macchiato today! I went to some overpriced, French-type cafe (so charming - with a Christmas tree!) in Sofia and ordered the "classic" size, which is about an equivalent to a "tall," I suppose. I just had to share. I haven't really had specialty coffee for a while, (coffee comes in shot sizes, usually) and it was goooood. That was for those of you who walk around with caffeine IVs connected directly to your veins. Imagine my pain! And delight! I started chewing on the lid when it was gone, and Angel just looked at me sideways.
So yeah, we were in Sofia today. My organization planned an excursion for some kids (and adult supervision) to the zoological gardens. It was so cold, and the animals looked so sad. We saw all the good stuff - lions, tigers, bears, and monkeys! The kids were especially taken by the monkeys. It's cool to watch them jump around endlessly, plus they're scandalous little creatures, so it's always cause for amusement.
Reneta was cracking me up. Last night, Angel and I found out from her mom that she and Maria were talking about beating Angel up. "Why is he always with Apryl? He's a boy. He has no reason to be with her." "Well," their mom explained, "he's her counterpart." "Why can't we be her counterparts?" Today at the zoo, Reneta was giving Angel dirty looks and saying, "You can't have her. She's mine," to him in English. She would come hold my hand and say "You're mine!" It cracked Angel and me up. I told him he'd better watch his back, and we would joke about how little girls are going to be waiting to take him down one day. Everyone needs to be someone else's property once in a while, right? Even if it's the property of a 12-year-old girl. I'm kidding! It's funny.
After the zoo, we went to a Natural Science Museum. We saw all sorts of stuffed animals, beautiful butterflies stuck to pins, wiggly things preserved in jars, and sparkly minerals. The best part is that Angel is afraid of snakes. He's so afraid, in fact, that he will not even look at them in their glass cages. He won't look at them trapped in formaldehyde. Everytime we went by one, he would shiver, cry out, grab my arm, and then beg me to tell him when we were onto the next thing - and whether or not it was another snake. Talk about a scaredy-cat. Plus, look at the possible blackmail value... or just annoyance value. This is like, finding kryptonite. I can't wait to find some way to use it to my advantage.
It was fun being with the kids today though. Now I have more little cuties to say "hello" to. And hopefully this will spark their imaginations and encourage them to study more about their natural environments. That's what the organization is hoping at least.
I had my first English meeting on Thursday. I didn't actually teach anything. I just had individual interviews with each one so I could figure out why they want to study English, if they've studied it before, what they already know (apparently not much), and when they're free for lessons. I have never seen so many scared teenage boys. They acted like I was going to eat them for breakfast or something. But hey, when you're 15, older foreign girls are scary, I'm sure.
So I have three groups signed up for different days next week. There are more people that want to sign up for English lessons though, so I may be about to get in over my head. We'll see how serious they all are though. I may end up with only a few people showing up. And then when they realize that everyone else has stopped showing, they might stop as well. Hahaha! Note the pessimism. I'm becoming more Bulgarian by the day! Note the unfair categorization. =P I'm just nervous is all. I've never taught English before, and I certainly don't know how. I fear they'll all hate it and just say, "Screw that." I need a healthy dose of self-confidence, but teenagers are a tough audience. I'm just as scared of them as they are of me.
I'm going over to Maria and Reneta's tomorrow. They invited me over, so now their mom has to cook for me. Haha. Ani's great though; I don't think she minds. She's been telling me to feel free to come over anytime I want. Plus, Valia, has promised to come, too and teach me how to make "mequitsi." If you missed an earlier blog description of mequitsi, it's basically like a fried slab of dough that you can put sugar or jams on. It's super-yummy, and a favorite of mine. (Here I am, talking about food... AGAIN.) I had some the other night that my landlady gave to me. We don't have it in Rakitovo though, so she got it from Velingrad. I was actually kinda sick that night, but I had to eat it anyway. I'm sure it cut a day off my life. Sinful stuff. And I'm going to have it again tomorrow. Yay! I'll learn how to make it, so when I come back to the states, I can poison you all with fried dough and sugar. Forget donuts. This is where it's at.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Discrimination, cont.

To be fair, I have to tell you about what my supervisor said this morning. I was complaining about how my new heater isn't working out so well. There's not much confidence in the opportunity to just take it back and demand my money in return. My colleagues got into it though, when they found out where I bought it. They were talking about how shady the people who work there are. My supervisor even said that the woman there "lies like a Bulgarian." So, it's not just one-way discrimination. He's also honest about how the Roma as a people usually auto-segregate themselves. They live in their own neighborhood, use their own schools, are patrons of their own businesses. I can understand why they do it, but I think that just perpetuates discrimination.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Discrimination

The sun has decided to shine again, and my world is quickly turning into a muddy slush. I'm not complaining. It's nice to have sun.
I went to church on Saturday and was invited to three people's houses for lunch. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately for diplomacy's sake), I already had plans to go into Velingrad with Angel and buy a heater and a few other valuables (peanut butter! - we're out in Rakitovo, ramen!, and I found Reisen® chocolates!) Well, we found a heater, but they forgot to include one of the parts in the box. It's not doing such a bang-up job of heating my living room anyway, so I think I'm going to just take it back. I paid about $50 for it. It's nice and shiny, but I think it's a piece of junk. What do Bulgarians know about electric heaters anyway? They use woodburning stoves to make everything cozy. Peace Corps won't let us invest in anything that burns wood, or gas for that matter.
Last night, my organization hosted a parent's meeting. They wanted to talk about education and Roma integration in Bulgarian schools. About 15 said they would show. Only about four did. My organization even hosted a dinner afterwards at a restaurant here in town and footed the bill. I'm not exactly sure why the other parents didn't show. Maybe it was because there was a wedding in their neighboorhood (a 13-year-old girl married a 15/16-year-old boy), maybe it's because they were too busy doing other things, maybe they just don't want to hear what the organization has to say. I don't know how you turn down free dinner, but that's just me. Seeing as there was extra food, I ate three salads, some french fries, some cooked vegetables, and some bread. I drank a couple sodas on top of it. No reason to let good food go to waste. All the more for me, I say. And I taught Angel how to play Poker according to Apryl.
Today I pretty much laid low. Maria and Reneta (my supervisor's daughters who speak excellent English) came over today to hang out for a bit. I gave them each a doll yesterday because they both had a birthday this month. They have both decided to name their doll "Apryl." How cute is that?!?!?! So they came to my house with their dolls, and we watched "The Emperor's New Groove." If you haven't seen it, I recommend it highly. It's a classic. For those of you who have seen it, think of all the great lines I could quote to you right now! The girls brought me soda, cookies, and gummy worms 'cause you never show up for a "na gosti" empty-handed. After they left, I spent a few hours reading up on how to obtain grants and put together some other ideas for my service here. I'm starting to get idealistic again. I have my first English class on Thursday. Several people say they are going to show up. I hope I can live up to the hype and keep it going. Please pray for me. After getting all wound up about how much stuff I can probably never feasibly accomplish here, I decided to make pizza. It would have been super-fantabulous had my oven actually decided to COOK it!!! (sigh) After two hours, it wasn't the crunchy consistency I desired, but at least the dough was cooked through. Whatever. I talk about food so much on this blog, you must think I'm obsessed with eating. Well, it is one of my favorite pastimes.
Now, onto the title of this blog. I wanted to tell you all a little more about what it means to be Roma, and maybe a little about what it means to be Roma in the context of Bulgaria. I will start by sharing a couple things that happened to Angel and me yesterday:
I was sitting at the bus stop waiting for Angel to show up when I was approached by Brandy's landlady. The conversation went more or less like this:
Brandy's Landlady: Hi! What are you doing?
Apryl G.: Hi. I'm waiting for the bus to Velingrad.
BL: You're early.
AG: I know, but I'm waiting for a friend.
BL: Oh, is Brandy going with you?
AG: No, I'm going with another friend.
****Here I diverge to tell you a little about Bulgarian grammar. The word "friend" has masculine and feminine cognates: priatel - means a male friend. priatelka - means a female friend. In addition to this, these words can also mean boyfriend or girlfriend. I used "priatel," and this woman assumed I meant boyfriend.*********
BL: Oh, is he Bulgarian?
AG: Yes.
BL: Oooohh!!! That's great! What's his name? (and the conversation continues while she asks me all manner of questions about him... trying to figure out who he is - she thinks she knows him because everyone knows everyone in Rakitovo... except me, I know about 10 people). After this line of questioning, she goes on to ask about my salary.
BL: Who pays you for your work here?
AG: Peace Corps?
BL: And how much money do you make?
AG: (squirming) About 100 leva (I lie).
BL: But how do you live? I would think it'd be more than that.
So this conversation continues until Angel shows up.
AG: Ah, there's Angel
BL to Angel: Ooohh!! So you're Angel.
Angel is thrown for a minute. There's an interesting tone in her voice and she's looked him up and down, apparently surprised that he has dark skin that indicates he's Roma.
Angel: Yes, I'm Angel.
She then begins to question him about who he is, what his family does, and what he does for a living.
BL: Are you going to go to America with Apryl?
A: If I were a suitcase, she would take me, but I'm not, so no.
She talks to us for a few more minutes, and then takes her leave. She runs into someone she knows a few feet away, and they talk to each other with strange looks on their faces all the while looking at Angel and me. Angel and I laughed about it. She wasn't rude, per se. She was pretty pleasant, actually, in spite of the line of questioning. She was just transparent is all.

Second incident.
After coming back from Velingrad with the dolls for Maria and Reneta, Angel suggested we go to a shop here in town to get them gift-wrapped. Here's what happened at the first store we went to.
Lady with an unpleasant look on her face: What do you want?
Angel: We'd like to have some presents gift-wrapped.
Lady: We don't have any giftwrap here.
Meanwhile, we can both see through the window that there's giftwrap inside the shop.
Whatever. So we go to the second shop. Same thing happens. The lady at the counter says there's none available, but as we walk out Angel tells me he saw some.
I'm muttering under my breath, and Angel's asking me why I think they've turned us away in spite of having wrapping paper. We both know the reason, but I don't say anything.
At the third shop, Angel suggests that I ask. And I get my presents wrapped. Now, that's not to say that the third shop would have turned us away had Angel asked, but I find (as a fairly consistent pattern) that people are colder towards me when Angel is by my side. When I'm alone, people are generally more friendly. Then there's my Bulgarian language tutor who told me: "I like the Roma you work with. They're a special kind of Roma. They like to work. Do you understand what I'm saying?" To those of you who have experienced discrimination, I almost feel as though I should apologize for my naïvity. Thanks to a genetic inability to tan, I have never dealt with this before - unless it was "reverse discrimination" where I didn't get a scholarship because I wasn't a minority. Anyway, I'm not going to stop going places with Angel, so I'm trying to think of ways to "Rosa Parks" the town.

As I believe I've mentioned before, the Roma marry young as a general rule. It's a bit of a scandal if you're still single at 18 - and more so for girls than for boys. If you're around 16 and you're still single, people point to the examples of "old maids" in town and ask you if you want to turn out like them.
Women are supposed to remain virgins until marriage. Actually, there are two weddings. The first takes place shortly after the couple decides to marry. There may be no money for a wedding right away, but they will live together in the meantime. After their first night together, the groom takes blood (a symbol of his bride's purity) to his mother. If he does this, there is celebration in the town. Musicians and people gather in the street. They drink and do the "hora." The rakia runs red and just about everyone gets tipsy. I haven't seen what happens if there's no blood, but I know it's a huge scandal, and no one turns the rakia red. If the girl is not a virgin, but the boy still loves her very much, he may cut his finger to trick his mother. As there's no visible indication to show whether a male is a virgin or not, it's really not a concern of the town. When asked if they would like to marry a virgin, many boys say that it's not important to them, but their mother would flip out (i.e. cut him out of the family or something) if the girl weren't "clean." When asked if they would like to marry a virgin, girls usually respond that they'd rather find a boy with "opit," meaning "experience." I will spare you my diatribe about how unfair it is and how silly it is that young people who might not be able to control their passions must opt for marriage. What does a thirteen-year-old know about providing for a family and raising children? I didn't know which way was up when I was thirteen! Good gravy. Moving on.

Education isn't generally community-supported. There is a Roma school in the Mahala (Roma neighborhood) that goes up until the 8th grade. My colleagues, Ani and Valia, have described it to me in this way: At the Bulgarian school, if you don't know where the Mississippi River is, you get a "2" - meaning you fail. At the Roma school, they'll give you a "6" - which means excellent. There is a serious dicotomy between educational standards. The Roma people have reasons that genuinely make sense to them as to why they don't send their kids to the Bulgarian school. I happen to disagree with these reasons, but I must remember that I'm not Roma and I didn't grow up in that environment. Here are some possible reasons:
1. It's too far away. (I don't think it's really that far away, but by the time you get the kid dressed, fed, and ready to go, you might be late for work, and it's just easier to take him to the school that's close-by.)
2. The Bulgarian kids will beat up my kid. (Bullying does take place, and there was an incident where kids from a school in the next town came and beat up a Roma boy - it was awful, inexcusable, and I'm not downplaying it, but the school still insists that it's a safe place to be, and there are some Roma that attend there and can look out for each other. Angel tells me that violence against Roma is nowhere near what it was several years ago.)
3. My kid needs to help with my business, or look after other kids. (This is a reality in the Mahala. There are grandmothers who watch after their grandkids because parents ahve to work or who knows where the parents are? A lot of the children learn to be self-sufficient at an early age. Maybe that's why they can marry young.)
So, there isn't a whole lot of community support for education. Many kids (including our own volunteers at the club) ditch out on school and don't ask for help realizing their dreams because they can't fathom how anyone could possibly help them. At least this is what I think.
So now you know a little more about what I'm battling against. On that depressing note, I take my leave. Count your blessings, people. Count your blessings. Be thankful for all the times someone told you (with or without words) that you were worth something - that your education was important - that you were a capable human being worth waiting for - that you mattered and your existence makes a difference. I believe that, as a child and a teenager you don't know this, and you need someone else to show/tell you until you're able to know it for yourself.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Честит Ден на Благодарността!

Happy Thanksgiving! Best wishes from over here in Rakitovo, Bulgaria!

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Trudging across the tundra....

So the white blanket that's put its stranglehold around my town has gotten thicker overnight. My dad called me from Hawai'i this morning, and I got to tell him about how I was lying in my bed watching snow fall outside my window. Fun times. I also get to think about my mom and grandma who are sailing around somewhere in the Caribbean probably drinking mai-tais. Well, I got to build a snowman with some boys and freeze my fingers off. How do you beat that? Huh?
So in my last post, I left off with Kyustendil. Oh! Wait, after I left you all at the internet cafe, I went to pay and talk to the guy who owns the place. He asked me why I don't get internet where I live and said something else that indicated he knows where I hang my hat. Wide-eyed, I asked, "You know where I live?!" He looked at me as if to say, "Please, you silly girl," and then he said, "Of course." I'm just not used to that - coming from a large town. Crazy small town life is freaking me out a little. I need to get used to people asking and knowing exactly where I live. Maybe I can start a secondary project with a stalker coalition, er neighborhood watch.
So Kyustendil was interesting. We went there to see how Roma children integrate in largely Bulgarian schools. I didn't understand a lot that was going on, but I took advantage of drinking tea and eating cakes that every school offered us. Whenever you go somewhere - whether it be an organization that's expecting you or someone's house - there's always coffee, tea, mini-cakes, or cookies. I have to learn how to become a better hostess. I now know to always have tea on hand and some kind of sweet snack. So, we were in Kyustendil to learn how they promote integration and see if we can bring that here to Rakitovo. Some Roma kids study at the Bulgarian school, but there's not many. The Roma school in the Mahala (segregated part of town where Roma live) only goes up until the 8th grade, and the education is sub-standard. Well, we had a hard time integrating just within our groups. As I mentioned in the last post, we were there with another organization from Velingrad. It was mostly comprised of Bulgarian teachers who work in strictly Roma schools. We ended up staying in different hotels (we were supposed to be in one hotel, and I'm not sure why we split up), and I know there was some ill-feeling among the groups. I'm not going to get into here - but I just want to share how I was feeling about it: If we can't integrate among organizations that are working toward the same goal, what hope does Bulgaria, as a country, have of promoting Roma integration? So yeah, I got a little discouraged.
My language teacher from Trud lives in Kyustendil, so I got to meet up with her for dinner and coffee one night. That was nice, except that she wouldn't let me pay for anything! We ate at an excellent Italian restaurant though. They don't have such things here in Rakitovo, so I was feeling spoiled.
Life here in Rakitovo is moving along slowly. I almost wanted to title this post "Idealistic Yet Useless." Maybe we'll reserve that for another time. I spend a lot of my time making contacts, but not getting anything done that's really concrete. I try and remind myself that cultural exchange is two-thirds of my job here, but that doesn't help so much. I've asked my youth group who wants English lessons, and they all want them. We'll see how serious they are about it when we start up next week though. There's also a building near the clubhouse in the Mahala that's been donated to my organization. They want to paint it and turn part of it into a computer information salon. Through Peace Corps contacts, I've found an English NGO that refurbishes computers and gives them to organizations where they can be used for education or community development. We need to find donors to give us the money to pay for the testing and get them over here. Maybe we can do that next week. I'll feel more valuable if I can have a part in applying for money and getting the goods over here in our tiny town. So please pray that this works out for our organization. In the meantime, my organization is combating a largely unhealthy mentality in the Roma community - a disregard for education and a propensity to encourage young marriage. If you're an 18-year-old Roma girl, and you're not married, you're an old maid. More on that in another post. My supervisor looks at me though, and asks, "What are we doing wrong? Why are our volunteers still marrying young? Why are they skipping school?" I can only blink at him and shrug my shoulders. How do you combat a community? How do you tell kids that what their parents tell them is really not in their best interest? If you have any ideas, please! send them over. I wish I could find something they could get involved in - take pride in - see for themselves how smart and capable they are - how much potential they have, but I can't think of what that might be right now. I wish I were smarter. I've been thinking a lot about that lately - about how I wish I had more knowledge in general, but especially about marketing, economics, and how to get youth involved in life-changing projects. I wish I had more charisma and powers of pursuasion. But I'm here with what I have, and I pray that God gives me all I need to do what I can.
I've met some really great people though. Again, a lot of it is about cultural exchange. I go to their houses, eat their food, listen to them tell me how they worry about me because I'm living alone - because I don't dress warm enough ("We know you don't know what winter is in California. You need to learn here in Rakitovo"). There are definitely a few motherly-figures here in my town. A few times, they have said "I thought you were coming over for dinner" when no plan was made to do such beforehand. A couple of them fuss over me to the point of aggrevation. I need to learn to "spokoino" (relax). My landlord came in the other day. His wife had brewed some tea from an herb for good luck. I wasn't sure what it was all about, but I watched as he went into each room in my flat and sprinkled some on the floor. Then, he put some on my head. I'm grateful to be seen as part of the community - someone who needs good bestowed on her just as much as everyone else. Who knows? Maybe it'll ward off evil winter depression. He then told me to come down and check out the internet they have in the house, so I showed them how to search for webpages and gave them some of an apple crisp dessert that I had made. It's all about cultural exchange.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

World of White

My beautiful Rakitovo has transformed into an even more enchanting place to live. It has covered itself in a sparkling blanket of white. It's also turned a little dangerous. I actually just fell and hit my head about an hour ago, but it was due to a combination of stupidity and clumsiness. I was walking to a cafe with some of my friends and we came upon some youth sliding down one of the various grades in the center of town. Wanting to show that I'm still a brave and young myself, I decided to slide down too. *Crash!* And about half-way down I fell on my head and my wrist got in the way too. Poor Angel felt terrible. "I knew it was going to happen," he said. "Then why did you offer to hold my bag?" I retorted, smiling.
I played Bulgarian Poker tonight. Nines and up are separated out of the deck. Everyone gets three cards and that's it. Runs in any suit is good. Runs in one suit is better. Three-of-a-kind is good, too. If you have a good hand from the get-go, you're golden. If not, tough luck. There's no point in bluffing 'cause all you're betting on is how many times the other person can slap you on the hand if they have a better hand. Strange, but amusing to play with a bunch of teenage boys. I tried making a largely improvised version of "Cowboy Cookies" - a Laura Bush recipe my Aunt Cathy sent me. I threw a bunch of crazy stuff in there to make up for everything the recipe called for that I was missing. I didn't get the consistency right though, and they turned into something more like puddles than cookies. I broke them into bits and brought them to the club 'cause I thought they were still yummy. They must have been, 'cause they're gone now. Again, they asked for the recipe, but I don't know if I'd want to duplicate that even if I could! Tomorrow I'm inviting Brandy over for dinner. I'm going to try out a lentil & potato soup and a cornbread recipe my grandpa sent me. That'll take some improvisation as well, and I'm sure it'll never be good as he makes it, but I'm still going to try. I'm turning into a little Betty Crocker! For those of you who know about my lack of cooking skills, you will understand why I'm bragging about such minutiae. For the rest of you, I know I'm rambling. I'll move on.
A lot has happened since I posted about my "SOS Adventures." There has been an Adventist series in Velingrad. A pastor from Wisconsin and a translator from Andrews were giving seminars nearby, and I was able to go to a couple of them. It was great to hear English translated into Bulgarian, plus I got to talk to the speaker and the translator a bit. It's just such a small world - when you can interact with that sub-culture of English speakers over here. Of course, Adventists here talk a lot about Loma Linda (for those of you who know, you understand), and I feel as though the world really is a tiny place. For those of you who don't know, Loma Linda is a fairly prestigious Adventist medical school about twenty minutes from where I attended college. In fact, they were featured in a Bulgarian edition of "National Geographic" that my tutor gave me. Just about anyone who knows me in town knows that I come from an Adventist background. It's just that small. Pretty much everyone knows my business. Ah well, being part of an Adventist community is good for making contacts. I met a lot of young people and actually met the counterpart of another PCV in Plovdiv. And being part of a Christian community is good for my faith.
I was in Kyustendil on Thursday and Friday of this last week because my organization (along with another NGO, "Every Child," in Velingrad) was part of a cultural exchange to learn how Roma children integrate into largely Bulgarian schools over there. I need to dedicate a post to what I understand about the Roma situation in Bulgaria. Look for that to come sometime later. Kyustendil was fun. Oops. I think they're closing the cafe. I'll add more to this post tomorrow. Ciao!

Monday, November 21, 2005

Shameless Advertising

I do this to support fellow volunteers. Please just read the letter I received and at least look at the site. You might find some unique Christmas gifts!

To: All PCVs and Staff in Bulgaria
From: Larry Gemmell, COD Stara Zagora
Re: Please Help

I would be very grateful if you would pass along this web address to your friends and relatives in the States:

www.handknitcrafts.com

For the past year I’ve been working with a group of disabled women living in the Home for the Handicapped in Stara Zagora. The women are craft knitters and, as a part of a SPA Project, we have created a web site to sell their products online.

Each woman’s short biography is posted along with our catalog of offered products. Our intent is to personalize the buying experience as much as possible. Upon receipt of an order, the customer will receive a confirmation letter (email) telling them which woman will knit their product and when it will be shipped. The customer can ask for modifications to the product and can correspond with the knitter by email. We accept all major credit cards.

Shipping to America is free via BulPost and we have an overnight service available, at the customer’s expense, with lower rates than DHL, UPS or FedEx.

Again, our web address is:

www.handknitcrafts.com

Also, any feedback about this site that you might care to pass along to me will be appreciated.

Thanks,
Larry

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Pictures!

Okay, so you begged, you pleaded, you even threatened. Well, maybe you didn't do any of those things, but some people have been saying my blog needs more pictures. Well, my blog doesn't have many pictures, but there is a place you can go to see a bunch of pics (234 to be exact, so pace yourself) that are all out-of-order and topsy-turvy (it was proving too time-consuming to try and organize them), so you'll probably end up really confused. Ah, and something else you should know. You have to sign up for Snapfish to view them. I think it's a relatively harmless thing to do. I, for example, have been signed up with them for years and they've pretty much left me alone. It's only now that I've started using them and my account was still there... just hanging out. And now, for the link. Drumroll please... click here! and then click on the link on the above right if you don't have a Snapfish account. Again, I'm really sorry about the forced registration, but I think they're fairly harmless... maybe one unwanted e-mail you can unsubscribe from. And in a few seconds you can see a bunch of my photos... if you want... so no more complaining!
If you have problems, drop me an e-mail.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Pounding out SOS's

Hey all,
I had to share with you what happened to me early this morning. I woke up thirsty around 4:30 a.m. Upon trying to exit my room, I found that my door was stuck. I had shoved it pretty hard last night because it doesn't close all the way, and I wanted to preserve as much heat as I could. Well, I started tugging for the next 12 minutes or so, but it wouldn't budge. My hands hurt, so I figured I'd look for my cell phone and call someone in a couple hours. I realized my cell phone was out in the living room. Smart. So I thought about climbing out the window, but I decided against it 'cause it was pretty dark... and freezing, but hey! gorgeous stars!! It's a good thing I didn't because it's higher than it looks. Of course my bladder decides that I have to pee. I waited until about 6:30 a.m. - and then I thought I heard my landlords moving around downstairs (I can sometimes hear Enyo snoring from my room! Hehe.) I looked outside again and realized that there was no way I was making it out the window, so I crouched down on my floor and started pounding out SOS's. I don't know if Bulgaria has SOS, but I figured it's universal. The Bulgarian alphabet doesn't even have an S, but Bulgarians know our latin alphabet. Besides, weird pounding coming from the upstairs portion of your house should give you a clue that something is wrong. I heard my landlords rustling around downstairs, and it sounded like they were coming, but no one showed up. I opened my window and started shouting Milka's name. After a couple minutes of that, I started pounding on my floor again. Well, finally they came and rescued me.
Then, this morning in the shower the water suddenly stopped for about 10 seconds. When it came on again, after scalding me, the water decided to go cold. Bleh. I wonder what the rest of the day has in store.... I ate some Honey Nut Cheerios with a banana this morning and had some sense of "normalcy." No soy milk here though (sniffle). Christi, if you read this, have a glass of chocolate Silk for me.
So that was my morning. Milka came in and said, "Oh, we thought something terrible had happened to you. Maybe you were sick, or maybe you drank too much last night and needed help." Do I seem like the type that would get wasted alone in her apartment? Maybe my landlady has that impression. I don't know why. And they took the handle off my door completely, so now there are holes where the heat can escape. That's a shame, 'cause I'm in the midst of a torrid love affair with my heater that's only going to intensify as the winter progresses.
I had to share that with you, 'cause I think it's hilarious, and I thought you might be amused as well. I could tell you about all the good times I'm having - how I went out for coffee last night with some people from my youth group and it was fun times, how I sit in my apartment and attempt to cook, how I look forward to little things like tea and cookies when I get home... but who wants to hear about that? That's not entertainment! So you just sit there and wait, and I'll see what other crazy hi-jinks (highjinx?) I can get myself into over here in Bulgaria.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

My Secret Weapon: Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

Augh!!! I almost lost this post due to random internet weirdness. I'm so glad I know the wonders of copy and paste!
One of my many uncles has suggested that I try to turn this blog into a best-seller by staging more dramatic fight scenes -- maybe some Star Wars meets a solitary, wandering Ninja. Here is my attempt:
So yesterday, I was walking down the streets of my village (dodging goats and the nice little remnants they leave behind), when a man approached me and started speaking to me in Bulgarian. Assuming he was insulting my knack for expecting stores to be open when they are scheduled to be, I immediately took offense and whipped out my light-saber. It was a tremendous battle. I won by performing a triple-lutz in the final round. You should have been here to see it. Soon after, I was surround by a bunch of children cheering my name: Ейприл! Ейприл! Other villagers came out, and I thought they were going to have a parade in my honor. It turns out, however, that I had broken one of their many laws and had now jeopardized their entrance into the European Union. They immediately demanded my Litchna Karta (Bulgarian ID). Unable to produce it due to my foreign heritage, they tied me up and took me to Pazardjik (the largest city an hour away). I sat there - bouncing on the bus, bound, frustrated, lamenting my plight and wondering how I was going to escape - when the vehicle broke down and started smoking. While the natives were restless and confused, I took the opportunity to run away into the hills - where I met a goat-herder shouting "Ricola!" Assuming he was insulting my entire family, I immediately produced some numchuks and did away with the squab. Afterwards, I contacted the mothership and made arrangements to return to Tatooine. I will go ahead and live there since I can no longer reside in Bulgaria and there's a price on my head in the states -- international incidents galore.
How was that? I know, I know. No best-selling blogs for me. I must apologize for my mundane life and lack of creativity. But that was for you, uncle, so you know I love you.
Now back to regularly-scheduled programming....
Life has come to a sense of "normalcy," I suppose. My niche here in town has been to try and be the American girl who "shows up." I come into work (even though I spend most of the time on the internet while my colleagues discuss who knows what). I show up for youth meetings (even though I don't understand most of what they're saying while they discuss who knows what). And I try to get invited to as many cultural events and "na gostis" that I can. This last Saturday I went to Plovdiv. I love that city. It's become my Valencia. I would explain what I mean by that, but it would take too long. If you understand, great. If not, that was just for me anyway. So I was really happy to go back for a visit. I texted my "family" on my mobile phone. They want to know when I'm coming back for a visit. And it was hard to know that I was only 5 km away from them, but I just couldn't make the trip. So anyway, I was in my favorite Bulgarian city for a Roma festival. They had a four-day fair celebrating all things Roma, and a group from here in Rakitovo went and put on a performance of singing and drum playing. I have some pictures and some video. I've posted a picture now (see last post), so I don't feel so bad promising I'll share pictures with you. Video is another story. Don't expect more miracles from me. There were other groups from around Bulgaria as well - dancing the kuchek, singing, performing short musicals, and doing free-style dance and amazing acrobatics to hip-hop music. It was fun, and some other volunteers were in the city, but I wasn't able to see them. I was pretty disappointed because I wanted to swap "first-week-in-site" stories. I'm sure there are good ones, but it just didn't work out. When I got back that evening, my landlords had me over for dinner. They're really sweet people. I understand when they speak to me because they're very patient and are willing to repeat things. They seem to understand me for the most-part as well. Some people just have a natural gift for that - like my family in Trud, and I'm feeling fortunate thus far to live under their roof.
The apartment saga continues. On Sunday, I spent the whole day in my apartment - cleaning my kitchen and trying to place some things in order. I cleaned out a bunch of their stuff and have found out the purpose of that off-limits room: Apparently it's Bulgarian custom to reserve a room to store a bunch of your offspring's stuff. Hey, that happens in the states, too. Right now, in fact, there's a room at my mom's place in Sacramento that has a lot of my junk in it. The difference lies in the fact that my mom's not renting out the upper floor where that room happens to be. At least, I haven't heard that she is. So my strategy has been to put all the things I don't want, that came with the apartment, in that room. I'm hoping to develop a different strategy in the near future cause it's more spacious and sunny, but right now it seems to reek of cigarette smoke, so I'm content.
I got my kitchen clean enough to the point that I felt like trying my hand at baking some cookies. Side note: If you have any great vegetarian recipes, please feel free to send them my way. I'll look to see if we have those ingredients here, and then I'll try and learn how to cook. I've already invited my colleagues over to a "na gosti" at my house, but it'll be a "teach Apryl to cook easy Bulgarian dishes na gosti" and they'll cook. I'll let you know how that one goes.... So, back to the cookies. I found a recipe for peanut butter cookies in the Peace Corps cookbook. The thing that's nice about it is that it's a little "Bulgarianized" (how many packets of vanilla - it's in powder form and sold in tiny packets here - and oven temps in Celcius), but it's still missing out on the whole easy-conversion to metric thing (the amounts are still in cups) so it's still some guesswork. I made the batter, cut up a chocolate bar, and decided to try a bit. I must admit, it was pretty yummy, and I was tempted to eat it all in raw form. I turned on my oven and popped them in. Twenty minutes later, they still weren't done! (It's only supposed to take about 8-10 min.) I finally grew impacient and took them out. They were good - a little chewy in the center, but edible. I could only fit about six at a time on the pan, so it took me about three hours to make the whole batch. I was up 'til midnight, but it was worth it. I left the last batch in for a really long time, and they turned a deep dark brown - really hard and crunchy, but not burned. Strange. So I'm learning about patience while making cookies. It's a win-win. And hopefully another win:
I shared them with my youth group last night, and I got some compliments: "What's this? I thought you said you couldn't cook!" "These are delicious! Thank you." "Next time we have a picnic, you can bring these again." "Make more." "Can we have the recipe?"
So I declined to share the recipe with them. You can't give away your secret-brainwashing-people-into-liking-you-weapon. They'd probably make them better than me anyway, and I wouldn't have a "niche" to share with them for cultural events. They can have the recipe in two years.
Well, now I feel a little more "homey" in my apartment, and I'm settling in a little bit more. There's still more to be done, and there are times that I feel this is all just an experiment - and I'll be back in Trud with my "family" in no time. I still haven't comprehended the fact that, yes, I'm living on my own. It's my own space, and I need to personalize it. The only times I feel like I need to do that are when I find other people's stuff inhabiting my drawers! (Like pornographic video tapes. Yes, it happened to me!)
Yesterday, my boss and I were in Pazardjik the entire morning/afternoon - trying to get my documents in order (hopefully that's all straightened out, and I'll have my Litchna Karta by the end of the week so I'll be a legal foreigner working in Bulgaria) and making connections with the Roma organizations in town. I had previously met some of the Roma youth there during training, so it was nice to visit with them again and make connections now that I'm a volunteer. I look forward to running into them for cultural events in the future. On the way back from Pazardjik yesterday, the bus briefly broke down. And our bus from Rakitovo to Plovdiv on Saturday had smoking issues. That part of my previous embellishment was true. These things happen, and I mostly feel sorry for those who are easily carsick. The route between Pazardjik and Velingrad is absolutely gorgeous (natural rock cliffs, autumn trees, and a rushing river below), but terribly windy (not windy as in breeze, windy as in curvy), and we had to make a "special stop" for the kids on Saturday once we got out on the main stretch of highway. And then the route from Pazardjik to Plovdiv is scattered with prostitutes, so that is a scandal. I share this with you not to be scandalized, but so that you will know that there are young girls out in the cold trying to make a living the only way they know how. Someone told me they saw one of the girls crying.
Well, here I am again rambling. I'll give you a break and then hit you with more later. For now: Довиждане!

Miracle of Miracles! Apryl posts her first picture!


David and me at the swearing-in ceremony. He sent it to me, and I've posted it. Now I'm going to have to take time to re-format a bunch of my pictures and see if I can get them on the computer here at work to share with you.
And check back with Jennifer's blog to see more pictures from good times in training.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Extra! Extra!

Read all about it!
Here too!
And can someone tell me what THIS is? Should I be banking mad money?
Hey! And here's a picture of Andy and me at the Seven Lakes! It's amazing what you find when you waste time at work looking for yourself on the internet.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Bizarro World

Imagine the following day:
You wake up at 7:00. You think about getting out of bed, but you know your feet will immediately freeze to the floor, so you debate it for a while. You finally get up, take a shower, and put on three layers of clothing - trying to cover every patch of exposed skin that you can without looking like a unibomber. You go out and meet your colleague and your landlord, who have to accompany you to the Police Station so you can register and avoid deportation. You get in the cab, and it says it's zero degrees celcius outside. "Figures," you think. Just when you're getting warm, you get to the station. The policeman there looks at your passport and visa for a very long time - as if expecting them to start talking to him. Finally, he says that you're registered as far as your address goes, but to get legal documentation to stay and work in Bulgaria, you have to go to the largest town an hour away. Your colleague and landlord take you out for coffee. Your landlord insists that you eat some eggs and have some orange soda with your coffee. You politely decline, but then decide to have some orange juice with your coffee and eggs when he won't let up. He then refuses to let you pay. You then go back to your town, where you enter your office to find a picture of you from the internet splashed all over one of the computers. Your colleagues are just joking around with you, but it still makes you a little uncomfortable, and you're not sure how to express that in a polite, yet determined way because they all speak another language you don't know well. You hang out in the office for a few hours - playing on the internet while others work, joke around, and work some more. Suddenly, a woman bursts in saying that she's going to teach you the language everyone speaks. She invites you down for coffee with her colleagues, who are all teachers as well. They don't have school today because it's a cultural holiday for about 30% of their class. Another 60% knew about the holiday and decided not to show up. Who wants to teach 10% of the class? Might as well not have school, go drink coffee, and smoke. Oh, and by the way, might as well take off Thursday and Friday, too. One of the teachers starts talking to you about how she has a son your age at home. You really should come over and spend time at her house. You smile and nod. Your future language teacher half-jokingly asks you if you need to learn how to smoke. Once again, someone pays for you. No one will ever let you pay for anything. You arrange to meet again with your future language teacher sometime next week. You go back to the office, where your colleagues lecture you about proper etiquette and inform you that they worry about you. They're very sweet, and you know they're just looking out for you, so you try to see things from their point of view. One of them seems to have permanently attached himself to your hip. You know he's just looking out for your well-being. You appreciate his company, as you have few friends, so you happily accept his persistent presence whenever you go out in public. You play on the computer some more, and then you go home to try and clean up a messy kitchen that you haven't even really been able to use yet. On the way home, you run into your only American colleague and she shares with you all the Halloween stuff she got from back home - two days late. You rejoice in the opportunity to eat candy corn. After cleaning a bit, you decide to go out for lunch. At the first place you stop at, the following conversation ensues:
You: "May I have a salad?"
Server: "We don't have a cook at the moment, sorry."
You don't speak the language well, so you don't understand at first. You think she's just saying they're out of that type of salad.
You: "Do you have any other salads?"
Server: "Sorry, there's no one to make a salad."
You still don't understand.
You: "How about some french fries?"
Server: "Sorry. There's no one here to cook."
You finally understand and decide to go across the way where the music is so loud you can't hear yourself think, and there are a bunch of men sitting near you... drinking, yelling, and singing along with the music. Another couple sits at a table and they stare at you for a while. Oh, that's another thing: Everywhere you go, everyone stares at you. So you have your french fries and your salad because you suffer from vegetarianism. There's enough oil on the french fries to cause a cardiac arrest, but you still think it's the healthier option... better than ordering chicken and catching the bird flu! After lunch, you decide to go buy some things at the "Everything for a lev" store. You walk in the open door, and the store is empty. You grab a few things and wait for someone to show up and ring up your purchase. You briefly think about just taking the stuff. They're only a lev anyway, but your moral nature prevents you from doing that. You think you recognize the owner as the one whose cooing and making faces at a baby right outside at the local cafe. You go outside and stand for about a minute before she notices you. At first, she brings the baby inside so you can "ooh" and "ahhh" over it too, but then she tells you to wait while she gives it back to its mother. She rings up your purchases (which happen to be more expensive than you anticipated), and then you head off to the next store... which says it's open, but is actually closed. Stores that say they're closed are actually open, clocks all display the wrong hour (and not just an hour ahead), and people are still staring at you and talking to you in some foreign language. You decide the best thing is just to head back home again and maybe venture out tomorrow. Once in your apartment, you clean up more of the mess that was there before you moved in. You put on Sting - "Englishman in New York" and change all the lyrics to fit your situation. You've heard it here a few times. You take the liberty of cleaning out someone's massive tape collection from a large dresser drawer, and then you realize it's time for a youth meeting. You go to the meeting, where everyone is speaking this foreign language and an even more foreign language. They're constantly reminding each other to only speak one foreign language - the one you only know a little bit of. They have their meeting. You observe. They ask you to play games that bring you in close proximity of the people you don't know. Afterwards, they discuss an incident at school. You don't understand everything, but you know enough to realize that racism exists in your new home, and you feel entirely helpless to do anything about it. Afterwards, the guy who's permanently attached to your hip slowly explains to you what happened. Then, he follows you to the internet cafe where you type to your family/friends back home about your day. Welcome to my life. Welcome to Bulgaria.

Sorry about the lengthy entry there. As the day went on, I realized how bizarre it seemed to be. I'm kinda used to it now, but when you actually think about it, you wake up to how different life truly is from a few months ago. I had to share.
Halloween was interesting. Brandy, the TEFL, invited me to her classroom to participate in her "black party." Everyone dressed up in black, and there was tons of food (I'm proud to say the candy I brought was the first to go - in mere seconds). The kids stood around for a long while because they didn't know what to do. Brandy kept insisting they eat and drink punch. She had some carved pumpkins and some spooky music in the background. It was a fun party, and the kids enjoyed playing "wrap your friends in toilet paper like a mummy" games, but they were mostly confused by the whole event. I think they were just happy to have a party. Hey, might as well. Monday will be the only day this week that people actually showed up for school. As I said before, there's a cultural holiday for some and the rest will just take it off because it's only fair, and because they can. After the party, some of the kids went trick-or-treating, but it was such a big event, that it took a long time just to get from one house to the other. The Bulgarians were really sweet to participate and pass out candy. They really have very little concept of the day. We went to the school director's first. She gave us some candy and then we took a bunch of pictures. We walked to the second house (several blocks away), got candy, and then waited while the candy-giver got her coat and joined us. Then, I had to meet my colleagues, so I made it to two houses for Halloween candy.
My landlords are great. They're really sweet and have had me for "na gosti" a couple of times. Other than suddenly walking into my apartment without a courtesy knock, I'm very happy with them. The apartment is another story. Well, it's a great place. It just needs to be a little de-cluttered. I was all excited to buy things and cook the other day, but then I found that I was out of money and the ATM was out-of-service. As there's only one ATM in all of Rakitovo, I had to wait until the next day to get money out. That's better than some towns where there's no ATM. So I haven't felt "homey" yet. I've bought peanut butter (a delicacy in Bulgaria), and I want to make peanut-butter cookies, but I want to get my kitchen all nice, clean, and proper before I try such an undertaking. It's a process. Well, I have more to say, but Angel is here waiting for me, and I've taken up enough of your time for sure. Until next post, enjoy your logical life. Another volunteer has a joke, "If it makes sense, you've gone too far west." Did I remember to remind you all once again that I love it here?

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Welcome to Rakitovo

...and welcome to another Apryl-updates-her-blog-so-often-I-don't-have-time-to-read-the-last-post update. Yeah, I definitely use the internet way too much for a Peace Corps Volunteer. I think about my friend in Bolivia who didn't have hot water or electricity. If she wanted to use the internet, she had to make an overnight trip. And I think, "This isn't Peace Corps. It's 'Posh Corps,'" as many like to call it. But I guess you work with what you're given, and I've been given a site with internet only a few hundred yards from my flat, and I'm going to take the opportunity to make good use of it. I'm still debating on whether or not I'll actually get it in my place. It would probably be much easier if I did.
So yesterday was a lot of fun. My counterpart, Angel, came by and got me at about 1 pm to go get some lunch. We happened to be at a restaurant where celebrated WWII veterans were having a banquet. Angel pointed out to me that just about every one of them was wearing a medal. It was almost surreal to see celebrated war heroes that fought for the other side, and I wondered what their experience must have been like in comparison to our veterans. In my small comprehension, I would imagine it's not much different - except that they "lost." In war, everyone loses, but they lost when it was all said and done, and their history was shaped differently from ours by it. Yet they are still celebrated for their bravery. It's kind of a mind-trip to think about... at least it is to me.
After lunch, we went over to the chitalishte and watch a bunch of Roma kids put on a program of singing, dancing, and acting. It was a lot of fun to watch. I wish I could share it with you all. Afterwards, our organization hosted a lunch for the participants. Those kids are all so talented and cute, so my organization decided to reward them by sugaring them up with Pepsi and cake. Good times. Angel, Brandy, John (another TEFL), and I played some pool, and then Angel and I walked around town. He received a phone call from someone and told them that we were coming. My curiosity wasn't piqued, and I had no clue what was going on until I reached my foundation's clubhouse and saw a big sign on the door: "Welcome Apryl!" Angel had to push me inside because I really didn't want to be faced with whatever was behind that door. It was dark, but I could make out a bunch of kids, my colleagues, and my supervisor - who was filming with a camcorder. One of the boys presented me with a flower and starting speaking rapidly in Bulgarian. Then my supervisor gave me a bag filled with gifts from my organization. I was so overwhelmed, I didn't bother to try and make sense of what anyone was saying. So we had a party. My supervisor gave a speech about how he hoped I would be very happy here... how happy they are to have me... and how, by the time I leave, I will know the kuchek. The kuchek is a traditional, hip-shaking, Roma dance which I will probably never master, but I'd like to try. The party was great. We danced, laughed, ate some snacks, and danced some more. I really like the people who work with my organization. They seem like a lot of fun.
Afterward, I went to Brandy's house and hung out for a while. She has cable, so that means that I don't have to get it. =) I wasn't planning on getting a TV while I was here anyway. She gave me some "welcome to our town" gifts (her kids made me a Halloween card - it's so cute!), and then she fed me good potato soup, croutons, and spinach dip. She says that I'm lucky she likes to cook, and I would have to agree. Depending on how things go tonight, I might get some homemade Chinese food. I think we're going to have lots of fun here together in Rakitovo.
I went to church this morning. Can you believe it? There's an Adventist Church in Rakitovo. It nearly blew my mind. It's the first Adventist Church I've seen, and here it is in my tiny town. I guess there's another one in Velingrad (20 min. away), so maybe they're more common than I had thought. I had no clue what was going on for most of the service, but the congregation was really sweet, and Angel and I have already been invited to "na gosti" with one of the congregants. It's like when someone invites you to lunch after the service in the states, only we'll go some other day. The kids there put on a skit about Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob, and Esau while a woman pulled them around 'cause they were never standing or sitting in the "right" place. She would interrupt them and tell them to slow down, and then to speak louder or softer. It was pretty funny. I had no clue what they were saying, but I knew the story well enough to know what was going on. Afterwards, I decided to go introduce myself to the kids.
We sang some hymns. I fumbled with the Cyrillic. The kids sang "Jesus Loves Me," and we sang a hymn to the tune of "O, Christmas Tree." After the service, I was invited to come up and present myself. They had lots of questions, but fortunately Angel was there to talk for me. I understood most of what they were asking and was able to respond. It was a good experience. I'll probably get to know these people pretty well since I plan on going back on a weekly basis. I planned to be a part of a church community over here in Bulgaria. I just didn't know it would still be an Adventist one.
This afternoon, Angel and I went to a game hall to play some table tennis, but it's been quiet ever since then. I fell asleep on a bench in the sun for a bit while Angel ruminated about how boring Rakitovo is - how he must be the most boring sutrudnik (counterpart) ever. It's not true. I wish I had the Bulgarian to explain to him how it's not true, but I was enjoying the sun. Someday we'll be able to communicate on a more philosophical level, whether that be in English or Bulgarian, and he'll probably astound me with his mental quandaries.
Tonight we're going to a Roma wedding. Angel was telling me that the bride is no more than 15, and the groom is about 17. They already have a child. Crazy, huh? That's what I'm here to combat against a little, hopefully. In the meantime, there's a wedding. It's cause for celebration, and Angel tells me that we'll be out late. Maybe I'll go take another nap.