Thursday, September 15, 2005

Rakitovo!!!

Permanent site: Rakitovo. I would provide a link to some website about the area, but I'm having a hard time doing that here, so please "google" it... or keep reading and listen to me drone on and on about what I've learned over the past couple of days. First of all, I'm going to freeze. Rakitovo is up in the Rhadope Mountains in the southwestern part of the country, and it's already a bit chilly here. They tell me there will be snow up to my thighs, but Angel (my counterpart) says that it's no problem. It's amazing the radical difference in climate though. Pazardjik (my HUB site) is only an hour away, and I was sweltering there on Monday and Tuesday.
So, on Sunday I went to Krichim to help clean up their eco-trails with some of the kids and other trainees in the area. That was fun. It's nice to interact with other trainees and kids in their own environment. Krichim is about an hour away from Trud. I met up with them, hiked up the mountain, and picked up trash. "And this is fun?" you ask. "Yes."
On Monday, I found out that I will live in Rakitovo. The way they tell trainees is pretty fun. They take us to a large gymnasium where they've outlined a map of Bulgaria. Within this map are colored pieces of paper with the names of towns that will be taking volunteers. They draw your name from a hat and tell you where you're going. You go and stand on your "city" and they give you an informational packet. This way you can see where everyone is going, plus you can see where you are in relation to the rest of the country and the other trainees. The rest of the day was filled with questions about sites and future plans for visitation - a fun day to say the least. On Tuesday, we met our counterparts. Counterparts are responsible for introducing us to other colleagues, the organization, and the community as a whole. They're also there to get you a language tutor once you get to site and to help you with any problems that come up. Think of a counterpart as a sidekick who's more connected than you are, and you will have an idea. They can be vital to a volunteer's success in town. My counterpart, as I mentioned above, is named Angel. He's 20 years old, and he's the youth coordinator for the organization I'll be working with: "Fundazia Budiste" (Future Foundation). It's a small NGO that is concerned with the education of Roma and the integration of Bulgarian and Roma youth. If you are interested in the history of Roma peoples in the area, please search the internet. I am neither versed in the subject nor do I have experience. I can only tell you that there is a huge problem with discrimination. I visited the Roma part of town today, and it's basically a shanty town - completely separate from the rest of Rakitovo and totally rundown. I could go on and on. You can't even imagine. Well, you probably could. But I don't think I even know the half of it. I wish I could tell you everything I've experienced so far, but this blog would turn into a novel that only I would read.
My role in this organization is pretty vague. There is a huge interest in my teaching English - with a possibility of teaching Spanish and salsa dancing on the side (but first I have to remember how to salsa). Again, my apologies to conservative Adventists. As I said before, the organization is largely concerned with the education of Roma youth. Many Roma go to school for a while but then marry at the age of 14. They'll have kids by the time they're 15. Angel is a Roma who wants to give back to his community. He's extremely intelligent, thoughtful, and has a good heart. He wants to learn and see everything. I know he's dying to ask me tons of questions, but there is a language barrier and I think he's worried about annoying me. He says his colleagues call him "Mr. Why." He's also funny, cute, and quick to laugh. Obviously, I'm quite happy with my counterpart. I already feel like an older sister in a way. He never leaves my side. He's here even now - waiting for me while I take five hours at the internet cafe.
Yesterday I met with my colleagues. They're all very sweet, and I enjoy being with them. My supervisor and his wife (who also works at the foundation) have two young girls (Maria and Reneta) who speak phenomenal English. They're the best. They eagerly take the role of translator and switch off well between the two of them. They also know how to hold their own and give attitude in both languages. They're so awesome. I wish you all could meet them.
School starts all over Bulgaria on September 15th. Today we went to a couple schools to hand out supplies to the first grade class. First graders get special attention because it's their first year in school, and probably just because they're so adorable. The kids didn't actually have "class" though. They get together at the school, meet their teachers, bring flowers for their teachers, see their classroom, and then they go home. School will actually start next week I believe. I was the designated photographer today. Hopefully, I will get copies because I'm an idiot and didn't bring my digital camera. I don't know what's wrong with me. I need to start taking pictures. We went to the "Bulgarian" school in the morning to hand out supplies. After that, we went to the Roma neighborhood and handed out supplies in their school. I met a LOT of people today - including the mayor. Afterwards, I went to Yanko's house (supervisor of the organization) and talked a bit with Ani (his wife), Angel, Maria, and Reneta.
After lunch, Angel continued giving me a tour of the town. I feel like I know the place pretty well now. We played pool (I won), and then we met up with Brandy and went back to the Roma school. Brandy is a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) Volunteer here in Rakitovo. She's with the Peace Corps as well. She seems very nice, and I think we'll bond out here in isolation. She has a house. I don't know where I'll be living yet, but it probably won't be a house. Therefore, I will probably be spending a lot of time at Brandy's. Anyway, Brandy and I went back to the Roma school to meet with the youth at their club there. It was a good meeting. Some of them came out with us afterward to get some coffee and interact a bit more. Brandy, Angel, and I went to dinner this evening, (I've eaten at the same restaurant three times - there's not much vegetarian fare here in Rakitovo) and now I've caught you up to speed. I apologize about the length of this post. In short, I am happy. I know my permanent site. I think I can manage two years here as long as people keep treating me they way they have been the past couple of days. Tomorrow, I will go to Valingrad (twenty minutes from my site and also the largest spa resort in the country. If anyone would like to come by and bathe in some hot springs or something, let me know.) and look around. Then, it's back home to Trud. I am so blessed here. You cannot believe my good fortune and how happy I am. I couldn't ask for better, and this is "Posh Core" to say the least.
P.S. Please forgive me for complaining last time about the lack of e-mail. The format of the website was changed last week and I didn't realize how to check for new e-mail. I'm an idiot. My apologies. I knew something was wrong, and I'm just glad I figured out what it was.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Apes!! Everytime I read your posts, I want to become a a peace corps volunteer, too. Keep inspiring!

Lyrpa said...

Come on over!!!

Anonymous said...

Oh my goodness, if you apologize once more for being a social hero, sacrificing your life for the cause of humanity, I think I will vomit. If a single "conservative" Adventist finds a problem with your activities tell them to come and see me. I will have plenty to say.

Go on! and quit apologizing for stuff only exceptionally ignorant or mentally handicapped (retarded) people could protest.

- John a.k.a. Fuzzmaster

PS: I read my mail like once every couple months and barely even have spam to appreciate. :( - I would send you a ton of mail but I know your secret fiance would protest. hehehe...

martin said...

Suggest you look up www.rakitovo.co.uk
We should meet!
Martin