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.

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