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?


Anonymous said...

I love you Apes!!

Rebecca said...

Man, your cousin Leah is starting to look more like you, but her hair is super long. So it kinda felt like you, but no where near as cool. She even has your colorful scarf that Leah says your aunt made you guys.

Fuzzmaster said...

Wow, all I have to say is wow...