Saturday, August 27, 2005

I think I have fleas...

Yep. There's this cute little "cotka" (kitten) that lives outside the house. It has a gimp leg, and it's the sweetest thing ever. So, like an idiot, I was letting it climb all over me and ta-da! I think I have fleas. We were warned about this. In fact, there's this really cute little "cooche" (puppy) that hangs out at "Station." Jennifer (another trainee) and I really want to pet it, but we refuse because they told us about this at training. I never thought about the cats, and it serves me right. Bleh. I am willing to hear any suggestions on how to get rid of the infestation. The only alternative I can think of at the moment is calling my PCMO (Peace Corps Medical Officer) and having them send someone to bomb my room. That's not a happy plan. I'm wondering if I can survive here between tons of flea bites and mosquito (kumar) bites. Anyway, enough whining. Oh wait, one more thing to whine about... perpetual onion breath. They really like to put onions on the salad here, and I like onions, but it's a little overboard. And I have salad just about everyday. Between the fleas and the onion breath, I don't think you'll have to worry about me finding a Bulgarian and settling down over here, Mom.
Other than this, life is still fantastic. We went to Krichim with the kids from the cheer team/band yesterday. Krichim is another satellite site for trainees from our group, so we were able to run into some other PC trainees we hadn't seen in a week. That was nice. We were able to show off our kids. You cannot imagine how unbelievably cute they are. They were all wearing uniforms, and they did such an excellent job. The cutest little girl (the only girl in the band), Nellie, insisted that I sit by her on the bus, and I was thrilled. The other trainees here, Holly, Tim, and Jennifer, are so great with the kids. We had a really good time with them on the bus, laughing, singing, dancing, playing games. It was crazy on that bus, and we loved every minute of it. Unfortunately, I left the camera at home, but Jennifer got some good shots, and I'm hoping to steal some from her.
This morning my family let me sleep in. I got up, had some breakfast with them - which was like fried donut holes with sugar and jam - and then they insisted I go back to my room and relax. They spoil me here. I wash a few dishes every once in a while, but I really don't have any other responsibilities around the house. I'm honestly hoping that changes soon, 'cause I will have to learn how to live on my own in Bulgaria, plus I want to help out my family and learn how to cook some of the amazing dishes they give me. I mean, if I could make my own fried donut holes, I'd be set! After my "break" from the terribly hard work of eating breakfast, we went to a town called "Sishmansee" to spend time with their family. I couldn't really interact with the rest of the family, but I like hanging out with Nellie and Villi. We went into town to get some sodas and visit their local version of a mini-carnival. Villi won a necklace for me, which I immediately broke and I felt terribly, but it only cost a lev (about 80 cents), so she told me not to feel too bad. Communication is still a struggle, but it's getting better. They're patient with me, and that's good. I'd better get going. I think Villi and I might be going out for ice cream. Ciao! Ah, side note: My mom calls me her "second daughter." Success!!!

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Meeting Youth

Life in Trood continues. Did you know that "Trood" means labor? And "troodno" is the word for difficult? Life here is far from difficult, however. It's actually pretty quiet. My family is as great as ever. Their daughter, Villi, came home last night. She and Nellie are taking me out to dinner in Plovdiv tonight. I really enjoy spending time with my "family" even though I have no idea what they're saying 90% of the time.
The language lessons are going well. It's too early to get frustrated, but I really wish I could express myself better. I have noticed some improvement though, and that's always nice. We've been meeting some of the youth and youth workers in the community. Yesterday we went to the library and talked to four girls about their interests, expectations, and normal activities. They invited us to come back today to the "chitalishte," which is the cultural center (every town has one). We watched as the cheer team and orchestra rehearsed. It was a lot of fun. We had a great time interacting with the kids, and they seem amused by us for the most part. They have a performance on Friday, and we have been invited to go with them. They're going to another trainee satellite site, so we might get to see other Peace Corps trainees from our larger group (B18) while we're there.
Bulgarian behavior is quite interesting when it comes to the acceptance of food offerings and the like. I shall explain: Today we were given some grapes. Tim, one of the PC trainees here, offered the grapes to some of the children asking if they wanted any. "Iskash li?" The kids responded in various ways - always indicating the negative. "I'm not hungry." "I just ate." "No, thank you." Tim insisted over and over again, knowing that Bulgarians are raised to say no at first. Our teacher, Ani, took the grapes from him and said, "You're not doing it right. Watch this." She said, "Ze pooviya dey tey" which is something like, "Help yourself. Here you go." I haven't figured out the exact translation, but I've heard it often. Immediately the kids eagerly reached in the bag for a grape. Tim tried again saying, "Ze pooviya dey tey" and they reached for more responding, "Blagodaria (Thank you)." I'm anxious to learn more about these kinds of customs.
Other than that, my life could be considered pretty dull. I don't consider it dull though, and that's what's important. We have language training from 9-12 or a bit after. I go home for lunch for about an hour and a half, then I go back to "Station" (the cafe that is my second home) for technical training and project coordination with the three other trainees. We have various projects we have to coordinate and implement. Right now it's just a map of the important sites in our town along with the daily schedule of youth. At this very moment, in fact, I'm surrounded by boys playing "Diablo II." I'll probably include that in my daily activity analysis. After spending some hours planning and working, I go back home and have dinner. If I have time before dinner, I go for a run. The past four nights or so, after dinner, I have gone to "Station" with Nellie and we meet another sweet Bulgarian, Dida, there. We stay there a few hours and then it's back home to bed. Pretty soon I'm going to have to figure out how to fit some homework time into there. Well, now that you know my life story, I shall take my leave. To those of you who leave comments, forgive me if I'm not great about taking the time to write you back, but I LOVE the comments. They make my day 'cause I'm so glad that someone is out there reading and is interested in my exciting, yet mundane, life in Bulgaria. Ciao!

Monday, August 22, 2005

I will live in "Trood" for the next three months.

Okay, so it's pronounced "Trood," but I wish I could turn on the cyrillic option here on this keyboard so you could see how unlike this phonetic spelling it truly is. Anyway, I will refer to it as "Trood." Trood is about 5 km from Plovdiv, which is the second-largest city in Bulgaria. We went there briefly today to visit the police station and get some documents in order. I think I'm really going to like living so close to a city worth exploring.
My family is really sweet. My "mom" started crying when she met me. It actually helped me relax. I felt kinda like that runt-like puppy at the pound and I thought, "They really want me!" The dad thinks it's funny that I have the same family name as "Mel Gibson," but that's usually amusing to people who don't speak English. A light turns on and they love having a way to identify me.
Their niece, Nellie, is staying with them. She's about my age, and she's a real sweetheart. She speaks a little more English than I do Bulgarian, and she's great to repeat words for me over and over again. "Grape, peach, pig, chicken, yellow, dog, cat." Could you imagine wanting to be friends with someone who just said these words to you over and over again? Like I said, she's a sweetheart. We have our laughs.
The family has already put me on a scale and weighed me. I think they're going to try and fatten me up. Nellie is slightly taller than I and even more svelte. I hope they're pulling the "Hansel and Gretel" routine on her as well.
The house is fairly nice. It's a two-story space and Kostadin's (my "dad") parents live on the bottom floor. I have my own room. It's pretty spacious and it has two beds and a T.V. Is this "Peace Corps" you say? Yes, I was wondering that myself, but I'm not complaining. The bathroom across the way is kind of a novelty. It's designed for squatting. There's basically two footrests and a hole in the floor where you do your business. I don't mind this so much except for the fact that the shower is located in the very same space. They have shower shoes, and they keep the area clean, but I'm psychologically still having issues with it. There's a more conventional lavatory (toilet, shower and tub separate) downstairs, but I'd like to get used to this way in case my apartments sets the facilities up as such. I don't know if I'll ever truly get used to it though. As a side-note, we have a garden and domestic animals.
The weekend was quiet. I spent most of the day at the house and the evenings at the cafe called "Station." It's the place to be. Now that the week has started, we have language/program training. I study with three other volunteers. We're a small group, but I'm hoping that will facilitate and expedite language-learning. I feel very safe here, but I know I am something of an oddity. I went running last night, and people like to stare. Children, especially, seem to have no problem staring me down. Men stare. I'd like to think it's 'cause I'm pretty, but it's more likely that they're just interested in looking at the American. I'm not sure how many truly know that I'm a foreigner, but my teacher has told me that everyone knows. My family has promised their neighbors that they will get a proper introduction. Who knows how long it will be before they have "Na Gosti" (long party) and it turns into an "American-girl-debut-party?" Ah well. Good times.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Made it to Bulgaria two days ago....

Honestly, I have no idea what to include in this post. So much has happened since we first came here. We are currently staying in a hotel at a ski resort called Borovetz. We have already started language lessons. I now know how to introduce myself, say where I'm from, and count to ten. I'm sure that's going to duly impress my host family - I meet them on Friday. I find out tomorrow where I'll be training for the next three months and which trainees I will spend time with. We're not considered volunteers until after the training, and about five-six of us will be training together for those three months.
We have been learning a bit about our own programs as well. In case you don't know, I am in a program called Youth Development. I'm only now getting a taste of what that might mean. Amazingly, my trainers seem to think that I have all this experience working with kids. I have no idea how they got that impression. I really think I'm lacking in experience.
A few of us had an adventure last night. We were walking back to the hotel last night and decided to stop in a restaurant/bar. A Bulgarian invited us in, and we soon realized we were the only ones there though. He spoke broken English, but he offered us Fanta and peanuts, and we all had a good laugh at our own limited Bulgarian and the awkwardness of the situation. He had a friend come over and the "dialogue" continued. It was interesting, but at least we already have a Bulgarian friend here in Borovetz. He invited us back in winter - we'll probably know more Bulgarian by then. Ran back to the hotel in driving rain. These are the adventures that make the trip memorable.
This part of Bulgaria is gorgeous. There are beautiful pine trees and streams everywhere. The town is so quaint and European. It just reminds me so much of my tour around Europe during Christmas break 2000. I'm loving being back in Europe again - although we haven't had the opportunity to get out and see much.
The weather has been cold, misty, rainy. Apparently it hailed a bit today. It's a nice change from Washington D.C. however, which was humid. I'm nervous about the Bulgarian winters, but I'm sure I will adapt. What else can you do?
More later... when I meet my host family and start the adventure of Pre-Service Training (PST)

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Staging accomplished!

Well, the first part of my Peace Corps experience has officially come to an end. After a couple days of meetings, we will be getting on an airplane tomorrow to go to Bulgaria. I have so many mixed emotions. We've been playing ice breaker/cultural learning games, and it's been pretty great. I'm stoked to be working with such passionate, fun, and adventurous people. We actually had a pow-wow at the end where we stood in a circle and expressed what we were feeling now that the staging has ended and we're actually on our way. I joked that I wanted to go back to Sacramento. Only a few people laughed. Most responded with gasps or stunned silence. Bad joke.
I could ramble on and on about the games, my fellow volunteers, and how excited I am about going to Bulgaria tomorrow, but I'll spare the readers of this blog. Ambivalence is my word of the day.
Side note: Saw the National Mall all from the outside - Washington Monument (actually visible from hotel window), Lincoln Memorial, WWII Memorial, Vietnam Veteran's Memorial, White House, various federal buildings. It was really too hot to stay out for long, but nice to see. Also nice to walk around with a friend from college who lives in D.C. I had no idea she was here. A happy surprise to say the least.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Muggy evening in D.C.

So, it's only been a day, but here I am again with another update. After a long day of flying (Sac to Phoenix, Phoenix to D.C.), I am here in our nation's capitol. I have already decided that I've brought too much stuff. Kudos to my mom for helping me pack and not saying that I really was overdoing it, but I really was. I struggle with bags until the point of near-collapse until someone takes pity on me and comes over to help. And, I was over the weight limit (big surprise) so there goes extra money down the drain. I think a lot of people were over their limit though. We'll see.
Good-bye at the airport was a little teary. That's to be expected, considering the fact I might not see my mom and life in Sacramento for 27 months. Mostly alternated in and out of sleep on the planes. Washington D.C., although hazy, was gorgeous to fly into. I saw the National Mall from my window - Lincoln Memorial, Jefferson Memorial, Washington Monument, White House.... My taxi driver pointed out the Pentagon, Arlington Cemetery, and a few other sites to me.
Arrival at the hotel has been a relief. My roommate is nice. She was generous enough to share her pizza with me. We've been determined to get an internet connection all evening. Now I'm in what looks like the hotel basement, in a desperate attempt to hijack some wireless. I was going to try and go see some sites tonight, but now it just seems like a futile effort. It's already 9:45 here on the east coast.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Tomorrow I Leave for D.C.

So, it's my last day in Sacramento before I head on over to Washington. I arrive tomorrow evening, and then pre-training orientation starts Friday afternoon. I have no desire to pack, so I'm sitting here writing in a blog when I should be doing so many other things. The phone isn't ringing - which is actually surprising to me. Maybe people are trying to give me my space. Ah, well, I'd better suck it up and get to packing. I guess I just want to be there. It's the whole, "preparing for the inevitable" that's really getting me down.