Thursday, December 21, 2006

White Magic


An English/Spanish/Computer teacher with some of her students.
The "teacher" is the one in the red hat! Posted by Picasa

Well, it's finally starting to feel like Christmas. I'm glad it's hit me late in the game though. Today really felt like it 'cause it started snowing for real. I woke up this morning, and white flakes were falling to an already white-crusted earth. In reality, it began snowing as we were having our show yesterday, but nothing stuck until this morning.
Our show went well - except for the fact that we couldn't light the stove, and so we were all running around in our jackets, hats and scarves. The parents complained a little, but I think it was understandable once my colleagues told them what had happened the day before. We had to wait quite some time for everyone to show up. Even then, I was disappointed that so few were able to come. The kids said their parents were at work, and that's probably true in most cases. One of my kids had told me that her mother would come because she was sick and able to take time off work. When I asked her where her mother was, her eyes filled with tears. I have never seen a kid so disappointed that her mother was healthy. Her dad showed up though, so that made me happy. My first (and most eager) student to show up came 45 minutes early. His mom didn't come at the appropriate time, however, and he had to go home and get her. By the time they got there, he had missed his turn with his group. Grrr....
Anyway, so we started our show for the few parents/grandparents/other relatives that were able to come. My youngest kids came up, and I gave them commands to do in front of everyone. "Good night!" I would say, and they would pretend to sleep. "Good morning!" And they would wake up. "Jump, Spin, Clap, Cheer, Sit Down, Stand Up" and they executed each command with precision while the parents laughed. After that, we sang a song called "Hello, How Are You?" And each kid would show how they were hungry, tired, cold, sad, happy, great, good, or OK. I had them say the alphabet. I also had them each answer questions for me: What's your name? Where are from? Nice to meet you. How old are you? How are you? They each answered well, to the delight of the adults - even though they probably couldn't understand what they were saying. Although, one girl said she was "seventy" instead of "seven," and that brought laughter when a boy corrected her in Bulgarian. My next group of older kids then came up to the front, and I gave them names of popular chalga singers and the president of Bulgaria. When they told me their names, the audience cackled in delight. I then had them tell me colors of things and numbers as I wrote them on the board. We also sang the alphabet to the melody of a famous chalga song, and I asked them more questions like: What's your mother's/father's name? When's your birthday? What's your favorite color? What do you like to eat? I then tested a couple of my adults who were there. They were probably the most nervous of the bunch! I included questions like, "What's your brother's name? What are the names of your children?" Everyone did such an excellent job. And then Reneta blew them away with her Spanish. I brought her up and asked her a series of questions which she would answer and then translate for the audience: What's your name? Where are you from? Where do you live? How are you? How old are you? When's your birthday? What's your favorite color? What do you like to eat? What are you parent's names? What's your sister's name? Do you have any pets? Oh, you have a goat. What's your goat's name? What do you have in your house? Oh, you like dolls? How many dolls do you have? What are you wearing? She fired off each question quickly and well - much to the amusement of the audience when things were translated - especially about the goat and her 30+ dolls.
Afterward, we went to the kitchen and enjoyed some treats. I had put up a few Christmas decorations, and the kids just attacked the candy and cookies while the parents generally stayed out of the way. I was really happy with the show. Our audience could have been a little fuller and a little more punctual, but such is life.
Today, I made certificates for all the participants. I went up to the Mahala to try and distribute some of them, but only a couple of my students showed up - and they hadn't even participated in the show. "Oh, I forgot what time it was at." Yeah... right! Anyway, maybe my kids were gone because of other Christmas parties. I ran into one of my students, and she was just getting back from a party at school. Maybe they were detained because of the snow. Whatever the reason, I wasn't too upset. It was too cold to have class anyway - without a working heating system. I just wanted to give them their certificates and tell them we'd be taking the next week off. The ones I told were disappointed. But why!? Because we have some holidays in there, kids. Plus, (and I didn't tell them this) who knows when the heating will be fixed?
So, now I just have to show up for a few things tomorrow, and then I can relax and think about a little vacation here. I hope you all have wonderful holidays! I will be going to a town called Veliko Turnovo on Saturday. I haven't been there yet, and it's a must-see. It's one of the former capitals of Bulgaria. I hear it's quite charming. Anyway, Весела Коледа и Щастлива Нова Година! Or, in English: Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! If you want to learn how to pronounce it in Bulgarian, and use it on your friends and family, it sounds like this with latin letters: Vesela Koleda i Shtastliva Nova Godina! Now, go impress everyone with your holiday Bulgarian skills!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The Day I Tried to Blow Up the Educational Center

The title is kind of self-explanatory, but I guess I'd better explain it. We've been having problems with our stove and heating system for some time. It seems like the guy who did it cut some corners. Plus, we didn't have the money to really buy all the nice things we should have. In the library, one of the radiators doesn't work. And somehow, in my classroom, the radiator leaks water. So anyway, we have this system where we light the stove, it heats the water in the boiler, and then the water travels to all the radiators in the center and heats those, which in turn heat the rooms. Yanko and I were up in the center this morning to ready the stove for lighting. He cleaned the stove, carefully arranged some wood, and then he helped me fill the boiler with water and bring in some coal to put next to the stove.
Filling the boiler is a complicated process. We have to pull out this long, black tube from a cupboard. We then attach one end to the faucet in the sink, and we attach the other end to a pipe under the sink. We then turn a knob on the pipe and turn on the faucet. Ideally, water should flow through the black hose to the piping and then fill the boiler. There is a clear, plastic tube next to the boiler that shows the water level inside. When we entered, the tube was empty. When we left, it was mid-way up.
When I arrived at the center to light the stove and teach my classes, the water in the tube was about a quarter of the way up. I lit the stove, and then I proceeded to try and put more water in. Instead of being able to fill the boiler with water, however, the water somehow started to spill out the other way - into the sink. I started getting worried because I had been told many times that something bad might happen if the stove were lit with no water in the boiler. I was trying to get the water in, when a student of mine showed up. He could see that I was agitated, and he helped me hold the hose on the faucet. Meanwhile, I was able to get it more securely attached to the piping in the cupboard, and we watched the water level rise in the boiler. Relieved, I finished filling the boiler until it was at a level closer to the top, and then we put everything away, and I started my lesson.
About half an hour into the lesson, we started to hear popping noises. I ignored them because I thought it was normal every once in a while for some wood or something to pop in the stove. Soon, the noises were becoming louder and more frequent. My student started to get nervous. He thought there might be a mouse around. The whole area around the pipes, the stove, and the boiler had seemed to take on this life of its own. I swear everything was shaking and popping. He begged me to leave the place. I had no idea what to do. I decided the best thing was to call Yanko, but my phone was dead. I went across the way and barged in on his daughters.
Apryl: "Call your dad. The boiler in the center is making weird noises, and I don't know what's going on."
Maria: "What kind of noises?"
Apryl: "IT DOESN'T MATTER WHAT KIND OF NOISES! CALL YOUR DAD AND GET HIM UP HERE!"
I then rushed out of the house and back to the center. The noise had become louder, and I found my student trying to figure out how to get his phone working to make a call. Meanwhile, there were other characters coming in the center - trying to make my life miserable. I found a boy I knew trying to get into the computer room. "What are you doing?!!" I yelled at him. He smelled of alcohol. I then rushed back into the kitchen to see what was going on with the boiler. Other boys I knew decided to come in because they saw me running around outside like a chicken with my head cut off. "If you can do something to help, do it," I told them. "Otherwise, get out now!" I didn't want to be responsible for death or injury of someone else. It took some pushing, but I was able to get them out.
Brandy showed up in the middle of my meltdown, and she, Reneta, and Maria tried to get me to relax and calm down. The girls told me that they were able to get a hold of their father and that he was coming. Meanwhile, the boiler was at full steam. It was popping and cracking like a shower of firecrackers. Brandy and I went outside for a moment when I decided it was safer to leave the center. We could hear the boiler from several meters away. I was still freaking out.
"Did you get ahold of your dad?!!" I asked the girls.
"No, he didn't answer his phone." There must have been some miscommunication earlier.
"THEN CALL SOMEONE AT THE FOUNDATION! CALL SOMEONE AND TELL THEM WHAT'S GOING ON IN THE CENTER!"
They raced back to their house to do what I had told them. Finally, a thought came to me: What if I put out the fire? When they came back, I told them to go get some water so we could put out the fire. They soon came back carrying a giant soda bottle filled with water. Well, Maria was carrying a soda bottle. Reneta was carrying a 500 ml bottle, and it cracks me up in retrospect.
I threw the water on the fire, and the place filled with smoke. As soon as the fire was out, however. The noise in the boiler seemed to subside. The plastic tube, however, started going crazy. It began to wiggle back and forth, and bubbles rushed through it like they couldn't break out fast enough. I told everyone to stand back, and we watched it until it finally popped out of its joint. Water spilled out of the boiler, down the wall, and onto the kitchen sink. We watched in dumb silence until the boiler relived itself of all its steaming water, and then we just looked at each other - grateful that it was over. I had been the one freaking out the whole time. The others told me to be calm, but once the storm had passed, it was obvious that they had been scared, too. That's the most terrified I have been since coming to Bulgaria. I only had a few thoughts running in my head: "I'm going to blow up the new center, and someone's going to get hurt." I thank God nothing more serious happened. Now comes the investigation as to what went wrong.
This isn't the appropriate time to be having problems with our heating system. Nevermind that it's cold. I have a show with the kids from English, Spanish, and Art classes tomorrow, and the center needs to be warm for our guests.
Yeah, so I've been preparing for this show with my kids for a bit now. We've been trying to think of what we can do to make it interesting. Thing is, I'm extremely proud of my kids. I can't wait to have them show off what they've learned. I'm sure, as parents, they will love what they do no matter what. Thing is, I don't think it's going to be very interesting. It's all going to be in English with Bulgarian translation, but I doubt the parents will really understand a whole lot. It might be a little boring. I'm praying it goes well regardless. I bought some Christmas decorations today, and after being an angel and cleaning up a bit, Brandy prepared some decorations for the center. We set up the chairs in the library, and got some things in order for the show tomorrow. Honestly, I just want it to be over and for Christmas to be here.
In other news, that school was able to find a teacher. I'm really happy for them - and so quickly after I told them I couldn't do it. They told me it was someone who teaches English at another school in Rakitovo. I really hope the kids are able to learn some valuable things from her. They were really disappointed when they found out I couldn't do it, but it's easy to impress kids the first day. It's afterwards that they start playing games and couldn't care less about you.
A representative from the Youth Development program of Peace Corps came out to my site last week. They make the rounds every year - just checking in on the PCV and the organization. Is the relationship working out? Is everything okay? My colleagues were too much. Yanko especially. He just kept going on and on about how I needed to stay another year. They were never going to let me go. They talked about how hard I work, how much I have done for them, and what they have learned from me. I mostly sat there - feeling good and yet feeling uncomfortable. My one flaw: I didn't know how to say "no." I wanted to help everyone - to a fault. I agree that it's a flaw, but I don't think it's my only flaw. I tried to remind them how hard they all work. They just said that the difference between me and them was that I didn't have the support they had back at home. They always had someone to come home to; someone to help out with the household chores. I go home alone.
I tried to remind them how much experience they have on me, how much they do that I just don't understand, and how much I didn't think they really needed a volunteer. Yanko did not agree with that. Ah well, at least my colleagues love me. I can be grateful for that.
Once alone in my apartment with the Peace Corps representative, I confessed what I was really dealing with. Yes, I had a lot to do. Yes, I love my colleagues. Yes, I still very much love my job. I was, however, lacking fulfillment. I just didn't have the desire and energy I came to Rakitovo with. The first nine months of the first year was pretty much awesome. As of that time, however, I've just been feeling like something is missing. I'm not going to get into my psyche here in my blog at the moment (surprise!), but we had a good talk. I was left with a couple questions. Unfortunately, I forgot the first one. The second was, "In what do you find fulfillment?" I've been doing some soul-searching. Actually, I haven't. I'm just hoping the feeling will pass. It infuriates me because I hate how feelings can get the best of a person. I want to tell myself it's all in my head, and therefore I can talk myself out of it. The "newness" of this place has been lost to me, and I think I'm mourning that loss.
The weekend was a good one. I left site and spent time with a volunteer who lives close-by. We went on a hike and generally hung out. It was a nice weekend. I was sorry to see it end.
So, now you are caught up. I hope you're having fun over there - getting ready for the holidays. Other than some pretty amazing decorations in the center, it doesn't feel much like the holidays over here. There's not even snow on the ground! What's up with that? I can't believe Christmas is in six days. That's probably a good thing. If I actually "felt" it, I would probably be depressed. Anyway, I hope you're all well and enjoying multiple blessings in your lives. We've got problems over here (Tsetska is ill, Valia's husband is having an operation on a herniated disc, Maria left for Italy, Fatme has tests and lots of responsibilities at home, Ani is worried about her driver's license, and Yanko has so much going on, he's about to explode. Oh yeah, and I'm trying to find ways to sabotage our new crown-jewel.), but we're holding it together at the moment. Seasons Greetings!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Sluggish

I'm sick. I caught a cold (probably from one of my kids) sometime last week, and I have been feeling lazy as of late. I haven't done any Peace Corps-related work the past couple of days, and it's really good for the morale. Bleh. (That was sarcasm in case you hadn't noted it.)
So, after that HUGE update about my new "job," I had to turn it down. Yep, that was the shortest job ever. After talking to Peace Corps and the school again, it turned out that I couldn't work there because of a technicality. So, I can't get paid. And I can't donate money because, technically, I don't have any money to donate. So, the school would have to pay my foundation directly for my work. For legal documents, the school has to pay an actual person. They can't pay a foundation. Well, my name can't go on any documents.
It's really too bad, because there's no one. Yanko tried to get ahold of someone he knew, but she recently accepted work somewhere else. I was relieved that I had to decline the job until I saw some of my students faces as I told them today. Their disappointment made me wish I could change things. They had had a free period before that, and a teacher teased these boys that they were coming back just to have English with me. I wanted to crawl away and hide. I have to go back tomorrow and tell some more students. It probably would have been better if I hadn't even come last Thursday to teach. I'm really glad I got to meet them though.
This weekend was a good one again. I went to Sofia to help out with a charity event. The International Women's Club of Sofia held a holiday bazaar to sponsor their philanthropy work. It was a HUGE event - with tons of diplomats and big-wigs from the ex-pat community. English was being spoken everywhere, and it was an environment of the likes I haven't been in for quite some time.
The booths were country-themed, and many embassies came out to strut their stuff. I helped out at the Irish stall - selling authentic merchandise and gladly taking people's money. We also sold Irish coffees (with real Irish whiskey), which were a big hit. I had a great time speaking English and getting to know some of the eccentric characters that had left various countries to come and work in Bulgaria. I ate some good food, bought some presents, and even had my picture taken with Santa! It was fun times. Now, I need to get about the work of convincing them that they need to fund our work here in Rakitovo.
Okay, well, there's not much else to update you with. I have been a slug hiding out in her home. I did put together some pictures for you, however. Here's the trip to Athens for the marathon and the disordered latest from Bulgaria. Enjoy!

Friday, December 08, 2006

Fireworks

I realize that I haven't posted in a while. Did you all miss me? I am entitling this post "Fireworks" for a couple reasons: 1. They've started selling fireworks in town and the kids are wasting no time in buying them up. I suggest you invest in pyrotechnics. 2. A LOT has happened since my last post. Apryl is overwhelmed. Apryl is happy. Apryl is just seriously busy. That's a good thing, right? In fact, I'm writing this post at 1:20 a.m. (the time here now) with a bunch of caffeine and sugar running through my system.
I want to tell you about everything that's been happening. It's good stuff. I'm not going to mention every, absolute detail. Let's pick up where I left off in the last post. So, we had our book opening, and then that weekend (it already feels like forever ago), I went to a small village called Stoikite to have Thanksgiving with some truants and some other volunteers. We cooked a traditional Thanksgiving dinner for the kids at the home (with turkey and cranberry sauce!), and we also had a ping-pong tournament and a discotheque party that night. The ping-pong was awesome. I made it through several rounds until the semi-finals - when I got schooled by one of the kids. The dinner was delicious and absolutely fantastic. And the discotheque was a blast. Some of the girls latched onto me pretty quickly, but it's just because I know the words to the chalga songs and sing along with them. It was hard to leave them. They kept hugging me. Oh, they were so cute. I had a good time with the other volunteers as well. We got back to the house and played Bulgarian Scrabble. The next day, I had to get back to my site. It was a really great weekend.
The following week, I worked on Monday and Tuesday, and then Brandy and I left for "Heaven" - I mean, we went to a Bryan Adams concert in Sofia on Wednesday. Man, can that guy put on a show! It was awesome! He sang pretty much all his hits, and he sounds SO great in concert. It was absolutely fantastic. I'm so glad I went. It was his last show on tour, and he came out for a double-encore. The audience was amazing. They knew all the words to just about every song. Indescribable.
The next day, I made a stop at the Peace Corps office and putzed around - trying to make the most of my visit... just biding my time until I had to hop a bus to Nova Zagora. Nova Zagora is in the middle of the country - about 3.5 hours from Sofia, and I was invited to go there to give a presentation to some of the teachers. My topic was "Extracurricular activities with Roma students and youth, work with parents, and outreach projects at Roma communities." I didn't really feel all that comfortable with talking. My colleagues have more experience than I do - nevermind the fact that they are actually Roma. I'm glad I went though. I gave an interview (in Bulgarian) on the local television station, and then I had my presentation later that Friday. I think the presentation went all right. I started out trying to speak Bulgarian, but I was too nervous. I couldn't think out exactly what I wanted to say and relay it in Bulgarian at the same time. I soon asked for a translator. I don't know how helpful I was, but I hope the teachers got some good things out of it. I showed them the book we recently had published, and they requested copies. I was also able to help them brainstorm about some extracurricular activities they would like to do with the talents they have.
Meanwhile, while I was gone, my organization had a meeting with some initiative groups here in Rakitovo - mostly youth from here and nearby towns that are looking to make some needed changes to where we live. Our volunteer group here has a really great idea for cleaning up the Roma Mahala. They're even looking at incorporating the mayor, the local government, and the media. It's a superb idea. Problem is, they're having a hard time getting everyone to meet together again and really decide how they're going to do it - write the project so as to get funding and all. That's kind of the story here in town, and it just gets played on "repeat" over and over. I wish I had been here to be a part of the initial meeting though.
My weekend was really great. A volunteer friend of mine came to visit, and we just laid low in Rakitovo. It was a really relaxing weekend where I could just forget for a moment where I live.
On Monday and Tuesday, my colleagues were in Sofia, and they had taken the keys to the office. It was a nice "excuse" not to go into work - not that I didn't have other things to do anyway. I still had to prepare for my classes and hold them in the afternoon.
Wednesday was a busy day for a lot of reasons - the main one being that I had invited an organization to come out from Sofia and give a presentation on anti-trafficking. I'd been in contact with Face to Face for a while - hoping they could come out and give a presentation. Peace Corps really encourages its volunteers to do educational sessions on human trafficking. It's not a topic I necessarily feel comfortable talking about because of my own lack of information. That's why I was excited to find an organization in Bulgaria that will come out and give free presentations on the issue. I tried to get them out before the end of the school-year in May, but it just didn't work out. Finally, after several traded e-mails, I was able to have them come give a presentation at Brandy's school on Wednesday. It was an excellent presentation, and the kids were (for the most-part) respectful and interactive. The listened well, and I hope it was useful for them. There were about 70 people in the room, and I think that was one of the largest presentations these two women had ever given. It's always exciting to bring people together with little work. All I had to do was invite the organization and then make sure the school was onboard to set up a room and some hardware for them. Oh yeah, and to make a bunch of copies of some of the handouts. Fun, fun.
And the biggest news that has happened to me is that I was, once again, offered a job. This will be a lengthy explanation. Bear with me. So, last Wednesday, on the way to the Bryan Adams concert, I got a phone call. Someone from Rakitovo was on the other line saying something about "eight hours" and "English." Now, my Bulgarian isn't great over the phone - and especially on a bus. I just agreed to try and find whoever was calling me on Monday and we'd talk. Early Monday afternoon, I got another phone call from this mystery person. Again, something about "English" and "eight hours." Where was I? When could I come in? Well, at the time, I was on my way to Velingrad and said I would come by after I got back. I understood that the director of "Kliment Ohridski" (the school where Brandy works) was calling, and I went there after I got back from Velingrad. I was asked to come back the following day at 1 p.m. to meet with them. So, the next morning I got another phone call from the director, "Where are you? Can you come in at 12?" I thought I was supposed to come in at 1, but I agreed. At 12 o'clock, I went over to Kliment Ohridski and sat down with the director. "What's up, Apryl?" I looked in distress because by that morning I had realized that this person wanted me to come and teach at their school for eight hours a week. I didn't have time nor the desire for this. "What's wrong?" the director asked. "Okay," I started out, "What's the problem, and why do you not have enough teachers for English?" She looked at me like I had two heads. "What?" "Someone called me saying they were the director and needed me to teach English." She hadn't called me. We soon laughed about it. Someone had played a good joke on me. I was relieved, and I was ready to give kudos to the kid who had done it. In the back of my mind, however, I thought, "What if I got the wrong school?"
Sure enough. I had been hanging around Kliment Ohridski for about an hour - staying to give some advice on their SPA project - when I got a call again. "Apryl, this is the director of Hristo Smirnenski (another local school). Where are you? Didn't you say you were coming in?" Doh! I had gotten the wrong school. Again, I had a sinking feeling in my stomach. So, I walked over to Hristo Smirnenski.
Now, I have to be very careful about how I phrase what I want to tell you next. It's very complicated, kind of confusing, and not all that pleasant. Here, in Peace Corps, we volunteers struggle with what we can and cannot post in our blogs. Anything on the internet runs the risk of offending someone - which is definitely the last thing we want to do. However, self-censorship really sucks. One can't convey the ideas they want in the proper light. I want to be honest with you, and the following might not be pretty. Let me take this time to remind you all that I am far from perfect, but I will try to walk the hard line between tact and honesty.
As soon as I walked in the door of the director's office, I was greeted with a pleasant smile from both the director and the assistant director. Once I sat down, I was explained the situation: Their English teacher had recently quit (apparently he wasn't that into the job anyway from what I hear from the kids), and they were at a loss to find someone. They heard about me, and they wanted to hire me as soon as possible. The way they talked to me, it was like I had already accepted the position. I realized they were in a bind. The kids were currently taking a free period when they were supposed to be having English. It was only eight hours, and I would be paid. Wait a second, as a Peace Corps Volunteer, I can't get paid. Well, I could donate my salary back to the school if I wanted. I thought of my foundation and how I could donate it to the activities in the center. This was an answer to prayer that I didn't want. It was good for all parties involved - the school would get a teacher, the foundation would get money - except for me. I didn't want to teach at the school. Kids here in Rakitovo - well, they're kids. They're awesome people, but sometimes they like to disrupt class or ditch and go get coffee or something. I don't really understand it because it's not really something I remember happening at my school. Maybe I have a faulty memory of school, but let's just say that my disposition is not strong enough to be a teacher in Bulgaria... unless God helps me. Plus, a lot of the kids already know me - maybe already have a certain rapport with me. Then there's my youth and inexperience. It's awkward in a way - probably for both me and them. If kids ditch my class, I might be tempted to take it personally. I almost was a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) Volunteer, and I thank God everyday that I'm not. I have immense respect for TEFLs. I don't know if I could do their job. More and more, it seems like I'm turning into a TEFL volunteer. I teach a lot of English.
Anyway, back to the subject at hand. I tried to convince them that it was silly to hire me as I have no English teaching experience. I was a Spanish major in college, and I've never taught English formally. I just speak it. They weren't listening because they were desperate. "How hard can it be?" they asked me. "You open this book, and you teach. You get a dictionary, and you write words down on the board." That's not my idea of teaching, and I'm skeptical about kids buying books. I've heard many of them just don't bother. Besides, they're almost already halfway through the year. I told them I would talk to Peace Corps and my colleagues at Future Foundation, and then I would let them know. "If you want, you can come start tomorrow," they told me.
Peace Corps was cool with it as long as there was complete transparency. Peace Corps' name couldn't appear anywhere, and my name had to be in a limited number of places. I couldn't get paid directly. Any money would have to go directly to my Foundation. Fine with me. My colleagues were skeptical. Yanko said, "Think hard, Apryl. You're already busy with the center. Are you sure you want to do this? Do you want to drive yourself crazy? You're not thinking properly. You're thinking of the school and the center. I wish more people were like you, but you're not making a wise decision." To be honest, I was also thinking about my role as a volunteer. I mentioned before that the desire to be a "good" volunteer is like a double-edged sword. You risk cutting yourself. My desire to say "yes" to pretty much everyone who asks me for help is not necessarily healthy. When Yanko started talking to me, I began to cry. I had already made my decision, but I knew he was right. I would be asking for heartache and frustration. "Six years," he told me, "I have worked without a vacation. Sometimes, I sit there and try and think, and nothing breaks through. I've become like a machine. I think I must be crazy."
Before you feel sorry for me, don't. It's a vicious circle to gain your pity and then cast it aside because I'm trying to be a martyr or something. I don't deserve your admiration or your condolensces. Doing something for someone that doesn't come from the heart is tantamount to nothing. It's what I do because it's who I am, and who I am is not always healthy. An inability to say "no" is a problem.
So, I accepted the position - with the understanding that I would only stay until the end of January. If they found someone to replace me before then, excellent. If not, they'd be back in the same position. I am not a solution to their problem. I was offering myself as a band-aid. The assistant director was happy with that. The director was put-off. "But, there's no one! How will we find someone?" I had been told that they had already put up notices. "Yeah, but we're still not going to be able to find anyone." Well, that was the deal I was offering her. She could either take it or leave it. "Well, at least you'll be helping us finish out the second term of the school year." She seemed grateful for that.
She then said something that highly offended me at the time, but now I'm laughing about it. I will explain with a caveat that the director does not really know me. She is not familiar with my work in Bulgaria, and what she said is a common thing to say and do around the region. She said something to the effect of, "Well, this will be good for all involved. We will have an English teacher, your foundation will get some extra money, and you'll have something to do other than sleeping late and going to cafes to drink coffee and smoke cigarettes." I sputtered. I was at a loss for words. All I could get out was, "I'm actually quite busy." She just blinked at me. Again, it's probably just due to a complete misunderstanding of what I do in Rakitovo. She doesn't work much with Future Foundation, and I don't think she's at all familiar with Peace Corps.
So, what documentation did I have to fill out some forms for them? None, actually. I could give them basic personal information. I wasn't an English teacher. I wasn't a teacher at all. I didn't have any type of certification. "Well, at least give us your diploma." I understood their need for some info on me, but they were asking someone to teach classes based entirely on the ability to speak English. Plus, they were asking someone who was wrapped up in an organization that needs to maintain a certain image: Peace Corps. There has to be some leeway. I'm sure PC has a special process for their TEFL volunteers. And those who just teach classes in their spare time do it free of charge. Of course, to capitalize on this opportunity for the sake of Future Foundation had really sweetened the deal. I am human, after all.
After a huge discussion about what documentation was needed, they had me write a request to work at the school. I made sure to put down that it was only until the end of January - even though they insisted that it was unnecessary, and I could leave whenever I wanted. I was then shown where I would be teaching my first class.
There were three boys in my first class. I knew all of them, and they were fairly pleasant. I'm sure there will be more students when they figure out there's English again, but for now we just talked a bit and went through introductions in English. My second class was with five charming girls. They seemed eager to learn and interacted well. My third class was with 11 boys. That's probably going to be the most difficult. They already seemed distracted, and it's the first day - when people are nice and feeling you out. My final class (I have four classes on Thursdays) was with two girls and two boys. They seemed pretty into learning as well. First impressions are not everything, however. Their English is pretty limited. Some appear to pick it up pretty quickly, but the question is: do they want to put in the effort?
My classes ended, and I had just enough time to change and go up to the center for more English classes. A teacher I had met earlier at the school said, "Priatna puchivka," which basically means, "Have a nice break." I nodded. I was off to work again, but at the center I could be more relaxed. I told my kids they needed to prepare a talent night for their parents - where they would show off their language skills. They really know quite a bit for the first month-and-a-half if you ask me. Of course, my opinion can't be trusted. I'm just a proud teacher.
After my language classes, I hung out with the volunteers that were meeting to talk about their initiative. I had to excuse myself early because Brandy and her colleagues had been nice enough to invite me to their holiday party at a restaurant in Velingrad. It was a fun evening of good food and dancing.
So, I don't know what's going to happen with this teaching thing. I hate to start with the kids and just end now, but the school wrote out a labor contract for me that Peace Corps isn't jiving with. Plus, they've asked me to give the kids grades at the end of the quarter - not just for this quarter, but to make up something for last quarter as well - based on this quarter. At least, this is what I understood because the previous teacher hadn't given them grades or something. These kids deserve so much better. I wonder which is worse: to have a free period or an unqualified teacher.
Also, the director apparently made another interesting comment to a colleague of mine. This is third-hand information, but I was told that she said, "Your foundation should do more for our school - especially now that that one girl is working for us and donating the money to you." Again, whether it was actually said like that or not and what she meant by it, I can't tell you. I can only believe that she is just lacking information.
So, I'm a busy girl! Here's my schedule for now:

Monday: One morning class at the school. Three English classes in the afternoon/evening. These are concrete things. Add in preparation for these classes and any other work I might have with the foundation, Peace Corps, or random things, and it can fill up a day.
Tuesday: Two morning classes with school. Two English class in the afternoon/evening. Fill with random preparation and other work. If the volunteers meet, I'm hanging around 'til late.
Wednesday: Two morning classes with school. One English class, one computer class, and one Spanish class in the evening. I still have SPA-related things to do with the center.
Thursday: Four classes from morning to afternoon with the school. Two English classes in the afternoon/evening. Volunteers might meet again. Schedule time for eating.
Friday: No classes at the school, but might have to go in for other reasons. One computer class, and three English classes in the afternoon.
This surely won't last for long. Either things will work out where I'm at the school 'til January 30th, or things won't work out, and I'll have to reneg. They say God only gives you what you can handle. I'm questioning Him at the moment. I'm thankful He allows me to do that. Maybe He's teaching me to be careful what I ask for and the ability to say "no."
I am very happy at the moment. I'm scared at what I may have gotten myself into, but I'm happy on the whole. Please remember that. I am fortunate to be who I am and to have come from the place where I come from. I'm learning more everyday. Plus, it's freezing cold, but there's no snow on the ground yet! (Knock on wood.) That's probably not exactly a good thing, but I'll take it!

Friday, November 24, 2006

Blessed

So I gave thanks yestereday... Bulgarian style. I woke up yesterday and began to cook. Mr. Rooster was crowing as usual, and I was tempted to put him on the menu. Instead, I started out by making deviled eggs. I had already made peanut butter Snicker® cookies, and I was sampling on them. After making the deviled eggs (too salty!), I moved onto an apple crisp. After throwing the apple crisp in the oven, I started peeling potatoes. Mashing potatoes without a mixer is extra-fun, let me tell you. After the mashed potatoes, I started to make macaroni and cheese. I shouldn't have. It was not yummy. Regardless of the fact that I don't really cook all that well to begin with, the ingredients we have here are kind of sub-standard... as far as mac and cheese goes. Everything else I was pretty happy with. The previous day, I made a trip to a large supermarket in Pazardjik and picked up some cranberry preserves and some corn. These were the surprises of the evening. I was so excited about the cranberries, you have no idea. I also picked up some carrots and cauliflower in my town, and I got some flavored cream cheese.
I saw my colleagues briefly yesterday, when I stopped in the office. Yanko hugged me, "What are you up to? Are you cooking?" "Yes," I said, "I've been cooking all day." "From morning 'til now you've been cooking?" Ani asked me. "Yep." Her jaw dropped. I was happy. A big part of Thanksgiving is the preparation, and I couldn't wait to surprise my colleagues. Yanko was getting excited just trying to guess what was on the menu. I went back home and prepared a few more things, and then Brandy came over with a few of her students to help me carry all the madness. Brandy had also made really delicious goodies: fried chicken, stuffing, dumplings, and carrot cake. So, I loaded her girls down with a bunch of dishes and bags, and we hiked up to the Mahala. It was slow-going, and a lot of people stared at us, but we finally made it to the educational center.
I had plans to take over the kitchen and the meeting salon, but young people were meeting in there. Brandy and her girls decided to start setting up in the kitchen. I went over to get some wood for the stove. Maria was kind enough to chop some wood for me. I was scared she would hurt herself, but she insisted. I dutifully toted the wood over to the center. Maria got a fire started. My colleagues showed up. I wondered where my adult English class was. I had been telling my English classes about Thanksgiving and making them tell me what they were thankful for, but I actually invited my adult class to come and participate. Finally, three of them showed up. I was pacing around nervously and started getting frustrated. The kids were still yammering in the hall where I wanted us to eat, and my guests were anxious to start things going. Plus, the food was cold and only getting stone colder.
I decided to go into the meeting hall, and they all looked up, "Oh, Apryl! Happy Holiday!" Veska said to me. Yanko asked them, "Do you know what day is today?" "Oh yeah, I forgot that today's Thanksgiving," Angel said. "Do you want to tell them about Thanksgiving, Apryl?" I really just wanted the room. So I explained a bit about what we do... mostly that we just eat until we can no longer breathe. "If you want to stay and find out, you are more than welcome to join us. I just need this room." So a bunch of them decided to stay and find out what was going on... and get some food.
I was finally able to throw some tablecloths on the tables and put Brandy's charming centerpieces (jars filled with leaves, nuts and pine branches) here and there. I also put some candles in the room for mood lighting and aroma. Glade® had been expensive, but worth it. I then gave everyone markers and pens and told them to anonymously write something they were thankful for. Some were quite verbose, but most were able to keep their comments to one side of the paper. Once they had made their comments, I finally let them eat. I was proud of them for trying new things and eating quite a bit - but there were still too many leftovers if you ask me. The macaroni was barely touched. That was probably a good call. It wasn't very delicious - especially cold.
I loved the atmosphere in there... talking quietly and eating by candlelight. When the meal was winding to its end, however, I turned on the lights and made everyone come together for a brief history of Thanksgiving (courtesy of the internet). Then, I had them pick up the papers on the table at random and read aloud what others were thankful for. A lot of them said they were thankful to be alive, "I'm thankful to God for creating me." In the end, we realized that we had a lot to be thankful for. Sappy, I know, but I liked it, and they liked it.
Afterward, we played "Pin the Feathers on the Turkey" - courtesy of Brandy. She had done a really great job of drawing a turkey and cutting out construction feathers. She didn't think people would get into it and debated whether to actually play or not, but my colleagues loved it! Pretty much everyone there participated, and they were still talking about it today.
Finally, the evening came to an end. Brandy went home to talk with her family, and I stuck around the center to hang with my "other family." I talked with Yanko a bit (he always asks the most provocative questions), and I was able to joke around with Maria and Reneta for a while. I was wearing a beautiful scarf my dad had given me, and they kept trying to wander off with it. Then, they decided they would use me as their giant doll and put the scarf back on me. "Now, stand like this, and make this face. Beautiful!" And then I dressed them up, and they begged me to stay the night. I love those girls. They are so funny.
And they kept eating. Yanko came in and pointed out how his stomach was hanging over his pants. I was proud of them and told them so, "That's how you do Thanksgiving right." Yanko said, "This holiday is only for us Roma. It's perfect for us."
At nine o'clock, I gathered up half of the stuff I had brought, and Angel helped me home. I was happy with the evening. I thought we had done a good job sharing our culture, and our guests seemed to have a really nice time. I was just glad that it had all come together. I had really wanted to celebrate one of America's traditional holidays with them... something new for those that were there. And I was really glad to have both Bulgarians and Roma present there. Nevermind that we all sat separately. A bunch of Roma there, a few Bulgarians there, and then the two Americans over here, but it was still fantastic.
Today, my colleagues presented a book they had published with the help of our major donor. It's called "Folktales from the Mahala," and it's a collection of stories from the oldest representatives of the Roma community that we could find. Our volunteers had gone around Rakitovo and the neighboring towns - asking their elders to share stories with them. I went on one excursion this past February. It was pretty interesting.
The ceremony was great. They had story-tellers and story-"gatherers" present to talk about the experience. We had several guests, and they each got a book. We have TONS of books. If you would like one, I'm sure I could get you one. It's in Bulgarian though. Hehehe. Even the illustrator was there. She was great, and her illustrations are awesome. Makes me want to write a book and see if anyone will publish it for me. Anyone interested in publishing this blog?
Anyway, I spent the day cleaning up (with help from a couple of my cutie kids: Mitko and Metodi) from the evening before and telling my cute, little students that we wouldn't be having English today. They were so adorable, and I was the proud teacher in front of our guests - even though I had to disappoint them. They're so CUTE when they're disappointed. Hehe.
After eating some appetizers, I had English class with a few of my adults. They're great, and they're so smart. We talked about fruits and vegetables today, and I had them play a version of Memory® with their new knowledge. (Like how I'm throwing in all registered trademark signs everywhere?) I'm so proud of how much they know already. They seem pretty proud, too. They just need to keep coming.
Afterward, I went to the kitchen to join some people again, drink a little, and dance "kuchek." Today was Ani's birthday, and we were celebrating a bit. I love Ani. She's like a surrogate mom to me. I like my colleagues so much more when they're not yelling at each other. I love how they say my name a lot when they talk to me. Okay, now I'm rambling. I had to cut out early 'cause I'm SUPPOSED to be making cookies for another celebration tomorrow. I'd better get going. Oh! And I got to talk to some members of my actual blood family today. I'm a happy girl. I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving wherever it may have found you. We all have a lot of blessings to be thankful for.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Thankful

So, as you know, Thanksgiving is coming. Too quickly if you ask me, and yet not soon enough. I want to get this dinner over with. I have too much going on, and I have a lot of cooking to do. I can't even cook! But I did already make some peanut-butter Snicker® cookies. Now I can't stop eating them! Bad Apryl! They're supposed to be for the kids!
I've been explaining to my kids what Thanksgiving is about. They don't have Thanksgiving here (some of the kids swear they do, they just can't remember the date), and it's fascinating to them that we gorge ourselves with food - especially turkey. I told them to expect me to show up fat and bloated on Friday.
I've also been asking them what they are thankful for. In addition to the family and school, they've been including me and my English classes. Awww... they're such suck-ups! Like I'm going to give them a better grade or something.
I'm finding more and more reasons to be thankful... slowly but surely. There are definitely mornings when I have to convince myself to get out of bed. I don't know why it has to be that way. Today turned out to be a good day. My classes were fairly full of students, and Brandy was able to get her art classes underway with some interest from the kids. I'm thinking that she'll be able to get that class full in a short amount of time. Parents are coming and telling me that they want to sign their kids up for computer classes. One parent has actually paid. I know it's a lot of money for them, and I'm proud (and a little nervous) of them for making the investment. So I have my first computer class with one student (maybe two or three)... tomorrow!
Meanwhile, I have a new sidekick. His name is Toshko. I've mentioned him before. He's a nice boy, but he's a little "cheeky." These are his words. (laugh) I have never heard anyone describe themselves as cheeky. He's been showing up at the end of my classes to try and glean some English and then walk me home. This used to be my counterpart, Angel's, role. Not necessarily to be "cheeky," but he used to always be by my side and constantly walk me home. It's weird how life progresses and people assume different roles. I think I'm at a point where I can walk myself home, but I shouldn't complain about having the company. It's dark when I go home.
My colleagues are still pretty tightly-wound. I'm no longer the golden volunteer I once was. It's not like I get yelled at or anything. I don't know how to describe it. The tone still changes a little when I'm addressed, but it's definitely not like it was before. You would think it's good because they're used to me, and now they're giving me more responsibilities to do within the foundation. This is a good thing, right? Unfortunately, in my insecurity, I'm a little worried that this is soon going to open me up for some barbs myself. I honestly can't believe how they talk to each other sometimes. I hope it's just stress. I hope we all get over it quickly. I just don't enjoy going to the office as much as I used to, and I sometimes try to find something else to occupy my time so I don't have to go. What I find to do is, most of the time, valuable to my work, but it's no good to want to avoid the office.
Maybe I just have a habit of burning out at whatever I'm doing after a year of doing it. It was certainly that way at my last job. I never really loved working there, but I definitely felt the pull of getting away after fulfilling a year there. Maybe it's a mental thing with me, but I'm wanting to say that it's not necessarily true. My experience here is definitely different from what it was a year ago. I almost feel like I'm in a new place doing new things. Only the characters haven't changed - but they have in a lot of ways. Whatever. I'm just going to keep praying.
Oh, and they turned off my internet for a while. I guess that's what happens when you don't pay your bill. Hahaha. I'm still impressed by how proactive they were about it. I thought it would take a while - both to shut me down and bring me back up again, but I got the internet back pretty much as soon as I paid the bill. Impressive.
Okay, I'm going to go get some more food made. If I'm not back on here before Thursday, I hope you all have a very warm and happy Thanksgiving. If you think of it, please say a prayer for us over in Rakitovo. We could use the warm wishes. Much love to you all.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Tiramisu Weekend

I thought I would just write and let you know that I'm back from my weekend jaunt to Plovdiv. I had a great time. I got to see my "sister," make tiramisu, and pick up Bryan Adams tickets! That's right. I'm going to go see Bryan Adams in concert. I saw Sting earlier this year, and now it's time for Bryan. Any doubts that I'm a sentimental girl?
So yeah, I went to Plovdiv this weekend because I was invited by an ex-pat Italian to learn how to make tiramisu. It was an interesting experience as I can't remember ever actually meeting someone I've met on the internet. And now I know how to make tiramisu. Nevermind that half the needed ingredients are things I can't get in my town.... It was a nice evening. Good food (he made pasta for me as well) and good conversation. It's nice to meet another "outsider" who's not a PCV. Highlight of the evening: Him waiting expectantly to see what I thought of the tiramisu - immediately followed by me accidentally inhaling a mountain of cocoa powder and choking.
I stayed at a hostel this time around in Plovdiv. I usually stay with my "family," but I just didn't want to put them out this time around. I met some cool people at the hostel. It's been a long time since I've fallen in with the "constant travel" crowd. I stayed and chatted with them... enjoying the view of hazy, old Plovdiv from the windows. I really love that city. It feels like a small town.
So that's it. Tomorrow is back to work. Thursday is Thanksgiving. Next weekend will find me celebrating with other PCVs. I'll update you all again later. In the meantime! Chestit den na blagodarnosta! aka Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 17, 2006

Sunny Days = Bliss

I have to tell you about the good days, too, right? Today was a good day. The past few days have been pretty good, but today was pretty fantastic. And there's not really a special reason behind it. I'm just happy today. Well, it's been sunny recently. Still chilly, but it's not snowing and there's still this brilliant sun that allows me to shed my coat every so often.
My English classes were a blast today. Thirteen kids showed up for my first class. They filled up the room, and there weren't enough chairs for all of them. We had a blast singing, yelling, and playing - all in English, of course. My second class was fun, too. I don't know. I was just feeling good today, and have been feeling so ever since after my last post. I just thought I'd share.
And I might be able to start computer classes soon. We've been explaining to parents why we have to raise the rates for them, and they seem disposed to pay the significant hike. We'll see if anything comes of it. They weren't so into it at first. Now, maybe there'll be some change. Maybe we can pay our electric bills now.
Brandy's going to start an art class next week. I guess it's just the realization that the center might get some more traffic other than just for my English classes that has me jazzed. And we're planning on combining forces and having Thanksgiving dinner for some people at the center. I really hope that works out.
We've got some other projects in the works, and I'm feeling optomistic. I'm gone from morning to evening with my work, but I'm feeling energized by it so far. I go through these quick mood-swings from feeling inspired to defeated and back again. I'd like to stay on a high for the time-being. These mood-swings are exhausting.
And I have a date tomorrow in Plovdiv. I'm going to meet an Italian who lives in Bulgaria and learn to make tiramisu. It's been a while since I've gone on a first date, and this is the first time I'm meeting someone that I've "met" online. If you don't hear from me soon, contact someone. I may have been trafficked.
Okay, that's not funny. It's just that I've been watching all these horrible people-trafficking videos recently, and I'm suspicious of everyone now because it just looks so easy to fall into a trap. I'm probably too old to be trafficked. Seriously, I hope I just learn how to make some delicious Italian cake.
I'm going to go now. I just figured I should be randomly happy and hit you with that instead of the random sadness I sometimes weigh you down with.
Here's a random slogan for you from "the advertising slogan generator:" "Central Heating for Gibson" Yeah, wouldn't THAT be nice for this winter? I'll hang onto the sun as long as I can though.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Tear Drops

Life has been unfair to me. I've had a really good life... better than that of many others... probably too good. Things have been easy for me. Now, if you know my background, my childhood and such, you might disagree. But somehow I feel like I've been living in this bubble where things just floated along so well for me. It's strange, I know... but this is my perception of things right now. And then I came to Bulgaria and started to enter my second year of service, and it's like I slammed into this wall. Maybe it's because it's the first time I feel like I have control and yet no control. Like it's my fault my life feels so chaotic. The weight of the world is oppressing me. Maybe I'm still used to having my parents worry about my problems. Life is amazing, but it's not easy.
This is just a quick post to share some deep feelings that might not make sense, but I'd like to share them. I'll try not to have too much of a pity party.
1. We don't have the money to maintain this wonderful center we just built. We don't have money for wood, so the kids and I sit in the classroom and shiver. The parents won't like this. Maybe they won't like it enough to the point that they'll give us some wood. We don't have money for electricity, but we use it anyway. We don't have money for internet, so the computers are just sitting there at the moment. We don't have money for other activities, so I'm teaching English, and that's it. I might not even be doing that for long. Shhh... don't tell Peace Corps!
This puts my colleagues on edge and makes me want to cry. The school will report us for obstructing the educational process if we start before 4 pm, so now I have even more limited time for my classes. The kids have to therefore stay later, and they tell me they're scared to go home in the dark. It's normal. And more kids and adults fall off the English wagon while more want to be added.
2. Supposedly every Roma kid is in school during the day. Not true. I had a kid sign up for English who doesn't study. I saw one - not dressed nearly well enough - getting yelled at while trying to take some scrap wire tied around a pole. Everything is useful.
3. Supposedly we don't have dumpster divers. Not true. I have seen Roma pick through trash while I cook dinner in my lovely kitchen. Again, everything is useful.
4. I read Newsweek, and it depresses me.
5. Angel asked me today, "What is it that weighs on you most heavily?" My answer: "That I'm not better than what I am."
"I'm selfish," I told Angel. I'm selfish because I want things for people's lives that they don't even want themselves. And is what I want really better for them? And why do I want it? What are my motives? I'd like to think that I really do want people to live more comfortably. But is it just because I want to "make a difference?" Do I have a savior-complex? I hope not.
Something positive: I still have quite a few kids for English and some adults. They're wild and crazy, but they're intensely smart. Pretty much all of them have learned whatever I've thrown at them. I know they like me, too. They tell me they wish I could stay forever. Kids are the best. And I'm still meeting people who've heard good things about me and ask for help with something. Even being able to talk and make contacts is a good thing. Like I just found out that the P.E. teacher at the Roma school has worked in Madrid and speaks Spanish. Who knew?
The weekend was quiet. I wanted to make a couple trips, but buses aren't so regular during the weekend, so that was that. I stayed home. I plotted with Brandy about some projects that I hope come to fruition. I had Maria and Reneta over to watch a movie. The internet guys came out on Sunday to get my internet back up and running. How's that for service? I did some cleaning. I had "guests" again that weren't my guests. I don't want to talk about it. I made chocolate chip banana bread for the first time, and Milka said she liked it. I did some preparation for my classes. I know it sounds like a lot... or maybe not.
Why is it that I mismanage time so much? I feel like time slips through my fingers like running water and yet I accomplish so little it feels like nothing. We had some young visitors this week, and they asked what I do for Future Foundation. What do I do? I hang out! I don't feel like I do anything. Yanko was like, "Are you kidding me? You've done so much!" I just don't feel like I've really done anything that matters. Maybe someone would disagree, but it's how I feel. Feelings are weird.
So I've been praying. I ask God not to let my own shortcomings interfere with a wonderful future for the people of Rakitovo. I ask God to push me aside and do amazing things. I ask God to make me super-human. I ask God to make me better than I am. And I cry sometimes.
P.S. I've received $520 in donations so far for the marathon! That's it! You're all getting a hug from me! It might be a teary-eyed hug, but anyway....

Friday, November 10, 2006

Conquer Yourself

I recently got back from Athens and am recovering from running “The Best Marathon Ever!!!” It was such an amazing experience, and I’m so thankful and excited that I actually did it. There were definitely times over previous months when I questioned why I was doing it and was I even ready. Well, now I can say that I have run a marathon. It’s no easy feat, but it was easier than I thought it was going to be. Well, I also had a wonderful group of other volunteer runners who made the experience that much more memorable. They were so supportive and encouraging, and all 15 of us finished. I will talk more in-depth about the experience, but I will go through this chronologically.
Last Friday, I had my landlord, Enyo, drive me to Sofia so I could catch a plane to Athens. A few other volunteers came along on the flight with me (one missed the flight and had to catch a train), and it was a quick trip to the mythical city. Once in Athens, we went straight to our studio apartments and checked in. They were nice, new, and clean. It was a comfortable atmosphere in which to mentally prepare for a marathon. That evening, we just went to grab a bite to eat and then stopped at a supermarket to stock up on carbs and healthy options for the next couple of days. The Acropolis was really close by, so I decided to take a solo trip to see it at night. You can’t get very close, but it’s absolutely beautiful. The city pays (high utility bills, I’m sure) to keep the Parthenon and other monuments lit into the night. I couldn’t get very close, but I did see some ruins, and they were beautiful at night. I was surprised that there weren’t very many tourists around. The views of the city at night were spectacular from those hills. I wandered for quite a while, and I soon found myself among the maze of sidewalks that separated people’s compact homes. They were built right into the wall next to the Acropolis. It was an odd experience.
The next day, I went ahead and wandered around the Acropolis, the Parthenon, various temples, an ancient agora, and some museums that were open during the day time. Honestly, I probably walked a little too much for the day before a marathon. I wore myself out, but that just meant that I slept well that night. I had been waiting so long to see the wonders of ancient Greece, so it was worth it. When it came to the marathon, I was strangely calm. I definitely wasn’t going for a certain time in which to finish. The goal was just to finish. I think God helped me quite a lot not to think about it too much and psyche myself out. It was just another thing that needed to be done. And even though I’m not always well-prepared for such pursuits (I honestly should have trained more and gone on longer runs), I think God has given me the ability to just “pound it out,” as someone commented to me. I don’t give up on such things easily. But then, none of us did.
That night, our marathon hosts had an opening ceremony had an excellent pasta feed for all of us. It was delicious, and it was just the food we needed for the next day. We also got to meet and interact with a few other people who were planning on running, and we saw our names on the registration sheets. There we were… under USA – Peace Corps Bulgaria. We were actually doing this! We already had our goodie bags with our numbers, timing chips, and other memorabilia. Additionally, we saw from a distance the really serious marathoners (those who finish in insane times of less than 2.5 hours) from countries around the world. The most elite of marathoners come from countries like Kenya, Ethiopia, and other republics of Africa, but there are many from other nations as well. I watched in awe. They were beautiful and looked so disciplined. Their bodies were well-oiled machines.
The cool thing about this marathon is that they claim it’s pretty much the same route run by the mythical Phidippides from Marathonas to Athens to proclaim, “Nenikekamen! We were victorious!” Supposedly, he then fell over dead. We did some backtracking though, so I find that hard to believe. Plus, apparently it’s the original course of the first Olympics and the most recent (2004) Olympics. They were marketing it as, “Be a part of history.” Yeah, well, sure. It was kind of a rough course though. You imagine marathon courses as being nice and flat. This one was hilly. Joy! It was a challenge.
Anyway, I slept fairly well the night before the marathon. There was one point, in the middle of the night, when I awoke with my heart pounding and a knot in my stomach. It soon subsided, and I was able to go back to sleep. In the early hours of the morning, I awoke to a munching sound. The serious marathoner in our group, a great guy who we’ve turned to quite a few times for encouragement and advice, was getting some fuel into his body before the big race. Not long after, at 5:00 a.m., we were all getting up, eating, and dressing for the marathon.
At about quarter to six, we went over to the nearby stadium. This was where we would cross the finish line and board the buses that would take us 26.2 miles away to the start. I took a minute to look at the finish. It was inspiring and beckoning me in the early hours of dawn. I hoped I would see it again later that day.
I can’t tell you how long that bus ride felt. It’s a mind-trick to drive the route you’re going to run. It just feels like it goes on and on forever, and you start doubting whether you can really do it. I tried not to think about how the bus just seemed to keep driving out of the city of Athens, and how it seemed like we were never reaching the town of Marathon. It messes with you. It really was a long bus ride, that took at least 45 minutes, but I was really trying not to pay attention.
The night before had been windy and extremely cold. I feared that I would be unable to run if the next day proved to be the same. Well, it was cold, and we were shivering, but it was nowhere near as bad as the day before. I was quite thankful. I think we all were.
After some stretching and standing around, we were told to get our stuff together to hand over to volunteers who would have it waiting for us at the finish line. Whatever you didn’t want to run with, you’d better put in a bag and hand over.
Soon after this, we gathered at the starting line and waited for 8:30 to come. The gun went off, and the race started, but it was all very anti-climactic. We were in the back with thousands of other runners. We had to wait another minute or so to inch our way to the starting line and cross. After that, we were off like a herd of turtles! I ran the first ten kilometers with three other volunteers from our group. Then, I was just with Amy (runner extraordinaire) for the next ten. At the halfway point, she and another volunteer left me in the dust. I was running pretty much alone the second half of the race, and I was getting passed… a LOT. Hehe. I didn’t mind though. It didn’t really mess with my psyche either way. I didn’t get discouraged when I was passed, nor was I encouraged those rare moments when I passed someone. It was just a course that I needed to keep chugging along at until I crossed the finish line. At about 30 km, I started to wear down. At 35 km, I was really feeling it. I so badly wanted to continue to run until the end, but I just wasn’t able to. I soon stopped and began to walk. I knew that, as soon as I did that, it would be hard to start running again. And so it was. Mentally, I was having a tough time. I couldn’t keep running for long distances, and I stopped a lot those last 7 km. Even though I knew I was close and running would make it go by quicker, I just couldn’t keep it up. There was a point along the way where they gave us Coca-Cola and power drinks to get our bodies going. That was a nice jolt, but it didn’t last long enough. The stops along the way were awesome. They would have water, sports drinks, Gu®, health bars, and sponges for us every five km or so. You'd use these things and then just fling them to the side of the road. It felt wasteful, and yet kind of cool at the same time to just throw water on the ground... followed by the bottle, and to throw sports drinks away like they don't cost $3 a pop. The people around me were great, too. Anytime someone would see me stop, they would encourage me. “C’mon! Keep going.” I was already elated ‘cause I knew I would finish. I just wanted to get there ASAP. It hurt to run, but it almost hurt even more to walk. The first time I stopped, I couldn’t feel the bottom half of my body. I was in shock. Well, finally, the last kilometer, I saw a large crowd. I figured it must be the finish, and I was able to run. It was kind of a cruel way they laid out the final few moments, however. We had to run past the stadium and then wrap around and come back. Fortunately, I wasn’t too surprised or disappointed by it. It figured… like Murphy’s Law or something. I just wondered how long it would be before I could turn back and come into the stadium. I saw those ahead of me turning, and I was relieved. Upon entering the sidewalk leading to the stadium, I heard people shouting my name, and I turned to see a crowd of supporters. After waving to “the fans,” I was able to break into a sprint. I don’t know how I did it, but I full out ran those last hundred meters or so. Who knows where I got the energy. I dodged and passed a bunch of people, and I wanted to collapse upon crossing the finish line. Instead, I got a medal and continued on around where they were handing out drinks and snack foods. I returned my timing chip, collected my bag, and made my way over to those in my group who were either cheering or had already finished. I was jealous of them for the sheer fact that they had been resting longer than I had. It took me another half hour or so before I was actually able to sit down. Once I did, it was hard to get up again. Walking was painful, and I had little control over my legs. I hobbled and leaned on the shoulders of kind volunteers. I probably walked the funniest out of all of us. We slowly made our way back to the studio, and then we went out to Hard Rock Café for some comforting food and drinks. We didn’t look at the fat content or the prices. We just ate what we wanted. It was so nice to have a veggie burger and a frozen strawberry margarita. I can’t remember the last time I’ve had either of those. Afterwards, I went back and watched a couple episodes of “The Wonder Years” and then crashed. I slept so well. I was also really grateful that I was just extremely sore but had no injuries to speak of. But I did run a marathon. I still have the blisters to prove it!
The next day, we took a trip to Delphi – that wonderful place where warriors would consult the mysterious “oracle” to divine whether or not their exploits would be successful. Maybe we should have gone there before the marathon. It was absolutely beautiful up there among ruins in perilous mountains. My foot either stepped down wrong on a rock or was just strained to the limit. I found myself having a hard time walking on it. Great. That night, however, I went out with some other volunteers (including some Armenia PCVs that we met who were also running the marathon), danced, and had a drink. It was fun, and a great way to celebrate finishing a marathon. I don't know how I danced though. I probably didn't move my feet much.
The following day, a few of us went to visit the archaeological museum. It was huge, and extremely repetitive. Anytime anyone wants to build something in Greece, they have to excavate first. There are so many ancient treasures in the country. It got a little overwhelming looking at all the stuff. Plus, I was tired, and my foot hurt. I was skating around the exhibits to try and give my foot a rest.
Afterward, we went to the mall. It’s been a while since I’ve been to a mall. And we saw a movie. It’s been a while since I saw a movie. And I spent too much money. And I got ice cream. When I saw the ice cream, it was like my foot no longer hurt. Weird, huh?
On our final day in Athens, I went with another volunteer over to the humungous temple of Zeus. It’s not really intact, but the columns that are there are pretty grand. After a quick trip back to the stadium to remember the glory and get some more pictures, we caught our plane back to Sofia. I had such a good time, I almost didn’t want to come back.
I ran a marathon! Like I said, I have the blisters to prove it. Plus, my foot still hurts if I walk on it too much. I’m hoping that will go away soon though. If not, it’s time for a visit to the Peace Corps Medical Officer. Pain is momentary. Glory is forever. Right? Well, at least you can go here if you want to check out my time of 4:27:20 in pretty lights on an official webpage. I'm on page 42 of 60 on the website, and I'm number 1804. That's pretty good, right? I was just hoping to finish in less than six hours, so there you go. Some volunteer made the comment that he thought he could walk a marathon and finish it in my time. No comment.
And if you want to see super hot pics of me sprinting to the finish line, go here. Click on a link to the Athens Marathon, and then enter bib number 3272. That was my number. I can't seem to get the page to open right now, but hopefully you will be able to figure it out. If not, lemme know.
There are some other pictures of me in Athens out there that are already up. I will have to post more in the near future. For now, picture #1 and picture #2 . Picture #2 is cute, but my purse looks like a feedbag! I was carbo-loading. Yeah, that's it. I was carrying around massive quantities of bread and water in that stylish little purse.
Pic 3 & pic 4 are of me and Andy pretending we're in good enough post-marathon shape to dance.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

First Snow


Rila Monastery in Autumn Posted by Picasa
"Happy First Snow!" That's what one of my beginning students said to me (in English!) tonight as we looked out the window and saw little flakes fall to the ground and turn to slush. I certainly wasn't happy.
And the world turns around. Time marches on. Snow falls. Bleh. I hate it. I'm not ready for the winter wonderland to come back. My mom cut out of here yesterday - just in time to miss the first snowfall. Lucky girl. I wish she had packed me back to sunny California with her.
We had a good time together. This last week, we went to the Rila Monastery - probably the most famous and beautiful monastery in the country. We detoured a little bit to get there, but it ended up working out and everything went great. We decided to stay at the monastery, and were fortunate enough to get the last room (with a bunch of other empty beds - which was weird to say the least, but a good experience nonetheless). The scenery was absolutely spectacular. As you have probably noticed, it's fall over here in Bulgaria (with winter quickly nipping at its heels) and the trees are gorgeous. Rila Monastery is up in a breathtaking, isolated part of the country, and it's surrounded by hills, trees, and rushing streams. It's an idyllic location to say the least. We spent a couple days up there, roaming around and eating good pastries made by the monks.
This week has been pretty good. I just show up at the center in the afternoon to have some English classes. The kids seem to really enjoy it - which is important. The also adored having my mom around. They would go out and play football with her, and sometimes I would get out there too and try to explain to them how to play. They loved saying "hike" and taking turns being quarterback, blocking, and rushing. Nothing says autumn like falling into a bunch of colored leaves with a football in your hands. One girl was cute in particular. After the other team would score a goal, she would ask me, "Did we win?" I laughed, "No." Then she would proceed to yell and gesture at the other team. It was awesome.
I biasedly believe all my students are all so smart. They already know "What's your name? Where are you from? Nice to meet you." and then numbers 1-10. We play a lot of games, and I think that maintains their interest. They miss my mom though. Many have asked me where she went and one even told me he missed her. Maybe she should have stayed and I could have gone home. Hehehe. Anyway, we've got a long way to go, but that's a really good start for about the first week. Now I'm going to have to leave them for a bit, and I hope they retain what we've learned. Also, I'm staying until about 7 o'clock (or later) every evening, trying to accomodate everyone. That's not going to happen anymore. People are getting dropped. Those who haven't bothered to show up so far will find themselves out of a place. This will mean that I can fill those spots with computer classes! Joy! The computer guy finally showed up - all apologetic. He's not a bad guy. I guess he's just overwhelmed. Well, anyway, he finally came, and now our computers are ready for the internet, etc. The kids keep asking me if they're ready, and hopefully soon I'll be able to tell them, "Yes!"
Yes, people, it's that time. I'm finally leaving for this illustrious marathon I've mentioned a few times on this blog. I went for my last run this morning. I love jogging and looking at the hills that surround me. They're lit up with dazzling colors from dying leaves and an eerie fog. I wish I could share it with all of you. I'm going to Athens tomorrow to try and run 42.2 km (26.2 miles) on Sunday. I don't know if I'm going to make it. I swear I have to be the lasiest marathon trainee ever! But I'm going to try. If I drag my weary body across that finish line, it'll mean I'll never have to do anything like this again! Speaking of which, yes, this is a fundraiser. Here is another draft of a letter I've put together to ask for your money:

Dear friends & family,

This Sunday, I am running a marathon. Why? For glory, prestige, and just to see if I can do it. So one day, I can be sitting somewhere, and I can turn to the handsome guy next to me and say, "You know, I once ran a marathon." And then he will say, "Oh, my stars! You are the most amazing girl I have ever met. I am wealthy and need someone to spend my money. Marry me this instant!" And we will live happily ever after.

Delusions aside, I really am running a marathon... this Sunday! I leave tomorrow for Athens, Greece. Yipee! Other than just seeing if I can drag my body a staggering 26.2 miles, I am also doing this with some other Peace Corps Volunteers to support Bulgarian Scouts. Scouts. You know, those cute, little munchkins that learn to tie knots and read compasses - the ones that learn discipline and skills to help them lead a better life. Yeah. I'm running for the kids. Some of them are dying to attend an International Scouting Jamboree in the summer of 2007, but they're poor, and need outside monetary support. They would be unable to go otherwise. So, besides personal glory, this marathon is a fundraiser for them.

This is where you come in! Please support my efforts! Donate $1 (or more - if you have the spare change) and, while supporting me in a once-in-a-lifetime experience (believe me, I don't plan on running another marathon... ever!), help the scouts go to a once-in-a-lifetime experience!
How do you donate? Simple. First, go to this website:

http://www.scout.org/en/about_scouting/fundraising/donate/donate_now

After that, in the first drop down box, select "Scouting in the European Region." Then, select the currency you would like to donate in. Afterwards, in the message section, message something like this:

This donation is going to support Bulgarian Scouts who will be attending the World Scout Jamboree 2007. It has been given in connection to the fundraiser sponsored by Peace Corps Bulgaria Volunteers who are running a marathon in Athens, Greece. This donation is given by (insert your name here) on behalf of Apryl Gibson.

You can say whatever you like, but it's important that you mention the World Scout Jamboree 2007 and that it's going for Bulgarian scouts supported by the Athens Marathon.

A marathon is a really long way to go - and your donation will mean SO much to these kids. I would really really really appreciate it if you would find it in your heart to donate any change you can spare.

Thank you!

Apryl

Run or Die!

P.S. It's snowing here for heaven's sake! Send me some love as I escape this freezing wasteland for some self-sacrifice in Athens.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Milestones and Rushing Water

Life has a lot of milestones, and there are a lot of milestones here in Peace Corps Bulgaria. I guess it depends on how you measure time and count what's important to you. I've seen PCVs keep online countdowns of how many years, months, weeks, days, hours, minutes, and seconds it will take until they finally close out their service. Time is a lovely phenomenon. It's astounding, really. It can heal wounds, change tides, bring pain, cause unexpected moments. The only thing it cannot do is be wound backwards. What's done is done. That can be especially painful. But anyway, today marks a year ago that I swore in and moved to Rakitovo. Yes, officially as of today, I have been a volunteer for a year - living in my tiny mountain town. Wow.
My mom and I went to visit "the family" this last weekend. I really wanted my mom to be able to meet the host family that I adore so much, and so we were able to stay with them for a couple days. Before going to the house, we decided to stop in Plovdiv and hang out for a while. My mom suggested that we get something to eat because she thought it rude to show up hungry at my "family's" doorstep. We had a very nice early lunch and then went on over to Trud. My family was so excited to see me and meet my mom. My host mom gave me a hug that almost broke my neck, and then they rushed us off to my old room to settle in... announcing that they had made my favorite traditional dish (red peppers stuffed with rice) and we'd better be hungry. My mom went out in the living room with them, and they immediately started to try and talk to her. "Oh wait, we need Apryl." I came in, and we had a fairly nice chat to catch up on what's been going on. I felt badly for my mom. I could translate for her, but she was still pretty much out-of-the-loop as to what was going on. She didn't seem to mind though. I remember being that way and just kinda letting the family do whatever they wanted with me. Sure enough, in no time we were eating again. My host mother was very upset to learn that we had eaten before we arrived. I tried to tell her that I knew the protocol: Show up hungry. My mom was to blame. Hehehe. We were stuffed to the brim the whole time we were there. Mom and I wouldn't have time to digest a meal before they were trying to get us to eat again. It was crazy! I think they wish we had eaten more. We never gorged ourselves enough to satisfy my host mom.
The first evening, they took us out to the old city in Plovdiv. I've been there many times, but I never get tired of it. It's a beautiful place, and it was especially gorgeous with the colored and changing leaves falling from the trees. My mom, Donka - my host mother, my "sister" Vili, my "cousin" Nellie, and I did quite a bit of walking that evening just taking in the sites of Plovdiv. The next day, after a lazy morning of homemade craps with homemade jams, we went up to the Bachkov Monastery - a little less than an hour away. It was beautiful up there... leading up to the Rhodope mountains and a beautiful waterfall. The monastery itself was ornate and beautiful with light cutting at sharp angles through the windows. We didn't spend long there, and then came back to Trud from lunch at the famous "Station" cafe (where I used to go just about every day during training) and some quick time at "home" again for a haircut and some picture swapping. Then my mom and I caught a bus back to Velingrad and home. It was a nice trip, and I'm really glad they got to meet.
This week has been pretty insane. I've started my English classes, and on paper I have sixty students. These include both children and adults. This was just the first week of sign-ups, and I still get kids asking every day if they can join. There are also kids that keep coming and asking when computer classes are going to start. Unfortunately, the computers aren't ready yet. We're still waiting on that guy to come and finish the job. Don't even get me started on that.... But, it's kind of a blessing in disguise because I'm supposed to be teaching computer classes, and I have no time at this point. I have seven English groups that meet twice a week and one more advanced student who really needs to meet with me everyday if he wants to progress. So, I'm at the center from 2-7 and have classes everyday for an hour at a time from 3-7. Four groups - every day for an hour. What have I gotten myself into? I can't keep up this pace. I don't even LIKE teaching English.
I'm having fun for now though. The kids are great. They're into it for the moment and are catching on pretty quickly. The adults are pretty good, too. I even taught some kids a bit of American football yesterday. It felt great playing out in the sunshine and the autumn leaves. My mom seems to like it, too. The kids have taken to her and she does a good job making sure they don't pester my classes or get too out of control in the center. She's an invaluable resource up there for the time-being. I don't know what I'm going to do when she's not there.
Okay, well, anyway, this isn't going to keep up like this. The water is gathering around, and it's not going to swallow me whole. A lot of the kids that originally signed up aren't even showing up anyway. So they have another week. After that, I'm crossing names off the list and combining groups. I refuse to teach English every day from 3-7. There's a reason I'm not a TEFL volunteer. And even if I'm busy from these hours in the center, I'm going to have to cut back my hours in the office. Something's going to have to give. I just hope my colleagues are all right with that. They've been acting kind of weird lately. It just seems like everyone's all tense and ready to go at each other's throats. More on that some other time. Right now, I'm going to go hang out with my mom.
Oh yeah! And the surprise party we had for her was great! She had no clue anything was up, and she got a lot of flowers and even some lipstick and perfume from my favorite kids. The food was excellent also. Plus, the kids immediately latched onto her like she was a shiny gem. It was a great night.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Visitor

I didn’t tell you all about my visit to the U.S. Embassy! I can’t believe I forgot! First of all, it’s really close to the dentist’s office – whom I was visiting for my mid-service cleaning. Peace Corps sends us to a Swedish dentist who has a practice in a ritzy hotel in Sofia. The woman who cleaned my teeth was of Norwegian decent. That was an experience all in itself, let me tell you. My teeth felt polished, gritty, and lemony afterwards. And the cleaning was so out of control, I practically got a face-cleaning as well… free of charge! It was good though. After about a year and a half of not having my teeth cleaned, it was nice to have them scrubbed.
After having the bicuspids hosed down, I decided to take a little trip to find “America-Land,” a.k.a. the Embassy of the United States of America. The streets weren’t really well marked, and it was a little off the beaten path in my opinion, but I finally found it. It truly does look like a federal building. The grounds are pristinely manicured, the edifice itself is “ginormous,” the font that explains that it’s the embassy is distinctly governmental (I don’t know if you know what I mean by that, but I swear federal buildings have a certain font), there were eagle emblems in a few places, the checkpoints were imposing, there was a nice wrought-iron fence out front, and there were black, Washingtonian posts on the other side of the sidewalk. I truly felt in a familiar setting – although it was fairly cold, distant, and imposing.
I walked up to the entrance. I had grand delusions of wandering in, checking to see if the Ambassador was free for coffee, and telling him about my Peace Corps exploits. Okay, not really. But I was actually expecting there to be a visitor’s center or something. I don’t know why…. So, I started my way up the entrance, and a guard who was chatting with another guard asked me in Bulgarian, “Do you have business here?” “No. I just wanted to see what’s here.” He continued speaking to me in Bulgarian, “Are you an American citizen?” I shook my head, (which means “yes” in Bulgarian) and he kind of mocked me by imitating my gesture. “Yes or no?” “Da,” I said, and shook my head again. “Can I just go up and look through the entrance windows?” He nodded (which means “no.”) “If you don’t have business here….” And the impression was that I needed to step off.
I decided to wander up the sidewalk along the fence a ways – all the while being eyed by guards. There were guard posts every several meters, and the sidewalk dead-ended into a guard post. I stopped to look over at people out on a patio. I imagined them sipping Starbucks lattes under giant umbrellas. Either the guard in the ending post decided it was time to stretch his legs and take a little stroll, or he didn’t like me loitering there. He wandered out with his firearm slung over his shoulder. I soon wandered back to Bulgarian territory. Feel the love from the United States.
Has anyone seen “The Saint” with Val Kilmer and Elizabeth Shue? There’s a scene where she’s running to the Embassy in Russia to escape the mafia, and she screams, “Open up! I’m an American!” And they open this huge gate to let her come through and then close the gate on the bad guy. I had visions of trying that, too, and seeing what would happen. Too bad there weren’t any Soviet mobsters nearby to help me out.
This week has been a pretty good one. I’ve been up in the center every afternoon – giving kids tours and signing them up for English and computer classes. I’m overwhelmed. There are a lot of kids that want to come. That’s great, but… yeah. There has to be a limit. Plus, I think a lot just want to come and play on the computers. That’s normal. Well, they’ll have to pay! There will be a nominal fee for classes and computer time to subsidize utilities and materials. The kids are fun though, and I like having them around. I’m just constantly worrying that they’ll destroy something. As I like to say, “Kids - cute, little, walking advertisements for birth control.”
And here’s some great news for me: My mom is visiting! Yay! I’m going to bore her to death in Rakitovo. Yipee! I went to the airport yesterday afternoon to pick her up – which was an interesting experience in itself. All those who are expectantly awaiting passengers from far-away lands gather in front of three automatic doors (it looks like Star Trek in a way) and just wait – hoping they’ll spit out their loved one. It’s like this magical process. “Just wait behind these doors, people, and your daughter – who’s currently living in Paris – will suddenly appear.” When the doors open, the people who are more toward the back will pop up on tip-toe to look over the heads of those in front of them. “Is my brother here? Is my friend here?” And then they’ll stand down again. It’s like watching gophers or a “Whack-a-mole” game. I laugh because I was doing that too in order to try and see over their heads.
So, everyone around me was finding a loved one, claiming them, covering them in affection, and then wandering off. All except me…. (sniff, sniff)
No phone calls. No explanations. No Mom. Three hours, no Mom. I rudely awakened my grandparents and my father in the wee hours to try and ask if they had heard from her. No. I couldn’t help it. Tears. Enyo, who kindly drove me there and waited with me, finally went over to the airline and asked if they knew anything about her. Sure enough, she had missed her connecting flight and was still in Germany. She was on the next flight – at 11:00 that night. I wondered why she didn’t get a message to me. I wanted to try and call more people, but had no more money on my phone and that explanation sufficed for the moment.
Enyo and I went to McDonald’s to get some food and wait. On the way there, he made an illegal maneuver and was stopped by the police. “Here’s my license, officer. Oh, and here’s 5 leva to forget the whole thing happened.” Yeah. If it works and saves you trouble, you take the easy way out. I suspected it would happen that way, and I would probably do the same in his position. Unfortunately, this is not appropriate behavior for a country that laments the existence of corruption and is about to enter the European Union.
So, we went to McDonald’s – which is another “America-land” all in itself. Ronald McDonald was there, but he spoke Bulgarian. He was nice and gave me a balloon, but it was still surreal. And the food tastes the same as it would in your local Anytown Mickey D’s down the street. “I’m lovin’ it!”® There’s even yellow “cheese” on the cheeseburgers – which doesn’t technically exist in Bulgaria. That’s the beauty of consolidation and uniformity. McDonald’s is a symbol of American capitalism, but it’s almost communist in this way. Okay, maybe just I’m amused by that. As you can maybe tell, I don’t care much for McDonald’s, but being in a familiar atmosphere was nice – listening to non-Chalga music. Brandy, I heard “Nothing Else Matters” and “Unforgiven” a couple times while I was there, and I thought of you. I was going to send you a text, but I didn’t have any money on my phone. Yeah. And the 37 stotinki I had left was for “emergencies.” Hahahaha. That’s good enough to make your phone ring twice.
Anyway, after hanging out about 5 hours in the Golden Arch Kingdom (wondering multiple times if it’s prestigious in Bulgaria to work there), we went back to the airport to try and find my mom. It took her forever to come out, and I was starting to get worried. I still hadn’t talked to her or anyone who had heard from her. Would she just decide to come the next day? Finally, she wandered through the magical, Star Trek doors and this huge look of relief crossed her face when she saw me. I breathed a sigh and a prayer of thanks as well.
Unfortunately, we had to return to Rakitovo in the dark, and my mom missed seeing some beautiful countryside, but the stars were pretty, and we chatted a lot.
Now, she’s relaxing at home while I’m “working.” My colleagues and I are planning a surprise party later for her tonight. But shhh! Don’t tell her! I’ll update you all on how that turns out in the next post. Ciao for now. Yay! It’s been over a year and my mommy’s here! That’s a little rhyme for you to sing to yourself throughout the day.