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.

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