Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Sleepy Time

Angel asks if I’m writing a novel. Why apologize for long posts? I’m verbose. Deal with it. As you may recall from the last update, I was gone all last week for In-Service Training with Peace Corps. Most of the volunteers were there with their counterparts. It was really great to get away from Rakitovo as it was FREEEEEEEZING here! Angel was going to miss school because he was scheduled to come with me, but fortunately for him, school was cancelled all last week due to the cold. For Brandy, who is a teacher, this meant that she had the whole week to play hookey, and I think she went skiing with the volunteer in Velingrad. I had to go to workshops, but at least I wasn’t spending the week shivering in my apartment.
It was -20° C or something close. Angel and I were hurting as we walked around Velingrad – waiting for a bus to Sofia. We couldn’t stay outside for long, and soon went to a cafe to wait for our bus. Well, then the diesel or something froze, so the bus couldn’t start. We had to wait another 3.5 hours for the next bus. We went from cafe to cafe... looking for shelter and warm drinks.
We finally made it to Sofia, and I headed straight for the Radisson Hotel – where I heard that one could get free wireless internet access. I had my laptop with me and it was awesome! And fast! I’m going to have to take it back there with me another time just for the novelty of it all. After that, Angel and I went to Bankya for IST.
I had a good time there. It was nice to catch up with other volunteers, to speak lots of English, and have other people understand why I do the things I do without long, broken, Bulgarian explanations. Angel and I picked up some ideas from the meetings, but the best day was after Angel had already left – when we spent the whole day studying Bulgarian. There’s something about the PC language trainers. They’re awesome! They just explain things so well and in a way I understand. I felt like I learned so much in an 8 hour period. I can now use unreal structures, and “future in the past.” Super! Anyway, like I said, I had a good time catching up with the volunteers and hearing how things are going in their sites. I feel very fortunate with my circumstances, and it’s good to have other experiences to compare it to. In my excitement for seeing other volunteers, I didn’t go to bed earlier than 2:30 a.m. on any night.
On Saturday, I left Bankya and headed to Plovdiv for my host brother’s wedding. It lasted over twelve hours and took place in five locations! If I told you all the interesting traditions, it’d take all night, and I didn’t understand a lot of them anyway. I was told to come to the house in Trud, and when I showed up, there were people outside – dancing the horo in the street. The groom was there with a bunch of other people. Once I showed up, they told us all to get in a car. We raced to the bride’s house, where there were more people dancing and celebrating. They gave us candy as we entered, and there was tons of food around. Kiro, my brother, raced up the stairs to get Vesi. It’s tradition that the groom has to ram the door to try and get at his bride. After pushing his weight against the door a few times, the door was opened to him, and the Bulgarians lamented that it had been an “easy” attempt. I wasn’t sure what to do with myself, so I just watched as people wandered around, took pictures, listened to the band play (accordion, clarinet, and drums), watched people eat, drink, and dance, etc. Then, we went to something like a courthouse where quick wedding vows took place. It was sorta like in the states, but things were all out of order. “The Wedding March” was played as they rushed in, and “Here Comes the Bride” as they left. They exchanged vows, kissed, a short ceremony followed, and then they signed a document saying they formed a new family. She was first to step on his foot, which means she’ll be calling the shots in the marriage. After that, people lined up to wish them well and take sweets. Another wedding party was rushing in after us to use the hall. After that, we went to a church where a priest and choir sang and added the religious aspect to the ceremony. I didn’t understand most of what they sang, but the priest had them kiss crowns which he put on their heads at one point. That was probably the most interesting thing. For the most-part, everyone seemed amused by the whole thing – including the bride and groom. After that ceremony, we went to a hotel for the reception. The gifts were personally given to the couple as we entered and found seats. We had a five-course meal, and there was a DJ and a live band. They had a bouquet and garter toss, a cake-cutting/feeding ceremony, and the couple had their first dance. That wasn’t new to me, but they also had them drink some champagne and toss the glasses. The DJ said that the number of broken shards represented the number of children their household would be “blessed” with. There was lots of dancing the horo and such. And there was a dance that involved a chicken and a cake and people trying to steal these items from those dancing with them. Don’t ask what it means, ‘cause I don’t know.
We left the hotel at 2:30 a.m. and by the time we got home at 3, I was “hecha polvo.” I was so tired, I couldn’t keep my eyes open for more than a few minutes, and I had a difficult time processing information. I can’t believe the bride and groom stuck around that long. Were it my wedding, I’d ditch my guests as soon as possible to be alone with my new spouse. I went to bed and stayed there until 12 pm the following day. The previous nights of getting 5 or less hours of sleep had caught up with me.
After eating lunch, I decided to take a walk around Trud. I went to the park we had renovated during training, and I was pleasantly surprised to find the equipment still in good condition, the ground fairly trash-free, and a rope still hanging from the tree. A grandfather was pulling his granddaughter around in a sled on the scant snow on the ground. “They use that as a swing,” he told me as I admired the fact that the rope was still there. I just smiled, talked to them a bit, and asked if I could take their picture. Being there again and seeing how good it still looked was inspiring. Look at what we had done during training! Look how far we came and how much we were able to give to this small community! How much more can I give to my current home? I hope at least ten times that. Even the scrawny, flea-ridden cat that had loved all over us - begging for food during the project - was still there and looking fatter.
After my nostalgia walk, I went home, and the family started making plans for dinner. “But, I’m leaving in a few hours.” “What?! We thought you were at least staying until tomorrow. You didn’t tell us anything!” “I thought it was normal. It’s Sunday, and tomorrow morning I have work.” My “mom” looked visibly disappointed, and my “dad” said he thought I was staying all week. My “sister” said I couldn’t leave. My “brother” was hanging out with his new wife and couldn’t care less.
When I got back home, Enyo and Milka were waiting for me. Milka said, “We knew you’d be getting home this evening and that you’d be hungry.” She cooked some fish and potatoes for me. Enyo was getting worried about me and was about to call when he heard me walk in. I’m so fortunate to have people who care about me and give me a place to hang out while my heaters try to rescue my apartment from the next ice age. They offered to let me stay there for the night (as they always do when it’s cold), and I refused as always. It was 2° C in my room when I got back there, but that just gives me reason to try out my new, expensive sleeping bag that I got before leaving the states.
Ah, and here’s a newsflash: I’m planning on running my first marathon in Greece come November. We’re doing it for personal glory, obviously, but we’re also doing it “for the kids.” There’s a worldwide scout jamboree in England the summer of 2007, and we want to send some Bulgarian kids. Be prepared. I’m going to ask for sponsors, and I expect you, my dear reader, to get out your checkbook.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Crazy Frogs

Warning: Long post ahead.
I’m looking out my window at the beautiful orange and purple hues that are setting majestically onto the snow-covered mountains. It’s a tranquil setting, but it doesn’t match my mood. I’m a bit restless. I should have written on Wednesday. I was on a high… very happy, motivated, and feeling productive. As my mood changes by the hour here, you never know what you’re going to get. I’m kidding. I would say that, as a rule, my mood is at an overall level of content with minor fluctuations of sporadic exuberance and mild discouragement. I’m happy here, and while I’ve had my rough days, I can’t say that I’ve ever felt truly unhappy – maybe bewildered and alien, but never unhappy. And anytime I’ve felt lonely and “outcast-ish,” God has sent someone my way to invite me to “na gosti.” Plus, people are always so generous with compliments… it’s a great ego-boost. I need the hard times to keep me in check. With some people, however, I wish the novelty would wear off already. I’ve been living here for three months and still feel like a guest in some circumstances. It can’t be helped, I suppose, and I guess I’d rather be fussed over once in a while than ignored completely.
A couple Peace Corps Youth Development Program reps came to visit yesterday. I shared with them my frustration with the youth group here – about the goldmine of potential here and lack of desire to unearth it – and they seemed surprised by that. They gave me a couple ideas, but I think they were just as baffled by it as I am. “Every site truly is different,” they commented. After a quick chat in my apartment, we went over to my office to talk to my colleagues – who were gracious to the point of embarrassment. Yanko waxed on and on about how much they like me. Of course I’m flattered. Why do you think I’m sharing it with you? If I were truly embarrassed, I’d omit this, but here I am to pat myself on the back. He said that I’m hard-working, and they’d like to learn that from me (they already work like crazy). He said that I help them out by informing them about other programs and opportunities (most of these come from the PC network). Ani said that she likes the way I teach English with visuals and how I try to make it interesting for the kids. She said the kids really like me. The most flattering thing though, was that Yanko said he was amazed at how quickly I’ve integrated here... not just in the Bulgarian culture, but also with the Roma culture - balancing between the two. He thought it would take about a year to get me incorporated into the team, but here we are at three months and they’re used to me already. He said they’re going to miss me when I go to a PC session in another city most of next week, and they’re already counting the days until I get back. Yanko mentioned that I’ve started calling them “crazy frogs” (it would take too long to explain why I do that, and it probably wouldn’t make sense anyway). I call the kids in my youth group that, too. Anyway, he said he was happy Peace Corps gave them another “crazy frog” on the team, i.e. me. Basically, people are attached, and I’m glad because I’m attached, too. Some have already talked to me about how hard it’s going to be when I go. I have another year and nine months! A lot of this is due to the openness of the people here. It’s quite astounding how trusting, inviting, and generous people are.
Anyway, after the “stroking the volunteer’s ego” session, we launched into a discussion about our education center and the grant we’re trying to formulate to get money for it. One of the reps who was there is also the coordinator for the SPA (Small Projects Assistance) program (who we’re looking to for partial funding) and the other has extensive experience with SPA. They gave us a lot of good ideas and got my colleagues to launch into overdrive. Anytime I’ve tried to get my colleagues to get busy helping me with this grant proposal, I’ve gotten a “spokoino” from Yanko, which means “relax.” It’s not that they’re not concerned with it. They’ve just had other things on their plate and I guess I haven’t been effective at communicating to them just how involved it is. After these women came and talked to us though, they realized just how much we have to do. We jumped into high gear talking about the project and we’re going to meet on Sunday (it’ll be today by the time I post this) to work on it. I think they’re starting to stress a little, so now they know how I’ve been feeling. A pre-deadline is later this week and the actual deadline is February 3rd, but since I’m going to be gone most of this coming week, we need to get this done now. So yeah, I’m slightly feeling pressure to write a “knock your socks off” proposal. Both reps said that it sounds like a great project. Whether or not we get the funding will come down to the way we word the application.
We’ve already gotten other donors on board. Our current donor organization, C.E.G.A. is already helping us out financially with the educational activities we currently host. The mayor is practically giving us the building at a ridiculously low rent, and he’s also going to pay workers to help construct this center. We have a charity from England looking to send us refurbished computers at a great deal. And even though it’s at an excellent discount, it’s still a lot of money.
There are all these little factors we haven’t ironed out. We also have to state in our proposal who’s going to be the supervisor for each task. It’d be fantastic if we could get our youth involved as this center is catered to them. When we showed them the list of activities and asked them to take responsibility for some of them, we got pretty much no response. I was so frustrated with them that night. They say they want the center, and they’ve envisioned some awesome ideas for it. Yeah, well it’s one thing to say you want something….
I did hear back from the embassy on the donated materials I mentioned in the last post. It turns out that, as an NGO, we can’t apply for them. They have to go to a governmental organization. So, we asked the mayor to apply for us. The plan is for him to get the materials and then turn them over to us while reporters are standing by. I haven’t heard what’s happened with that, however. So we’re poised and on the verge in so many directions, and yet nothing is nailed down for sure. It seems like everything is fragilely linked together in this delicate tapestry where if one thing unravels, it all could come undone. It’s an aggravating place to be. I am learning a lot though. That’s the upside I suppose.
I’m starting to look forward to my English classes. I’m getting new students (kids and adults) all the time. In fact, a woman came into our office this week asking about English lessons. I don’t know where she heard about me, but now she wants to come three times a week. My organization even chunked out some donor cash for my program. We went and bought a bunch of paper, markers, pens, folders, notebooks, a dictionary, and other miscellany. So I’d say I’m teaching about 35-40 people between my four various groups that meet five times a week. It’s not a record by any means, but it’s enough to make you feel satisfied and nervous simultaneously. I’m excited at the response, but I’m also starting to feel overwhelmed. I wanted different groups for different levels and interests, but as I don’t want to turn anyone away from coming when they want, it’s turning into alphabet soup. I need to incorporate the new learners, move ahead for the others, and try and make sure everyone’s getting it. Plus, there’s the fact that I’m not actually an English teacher. Sure, I speak it, but it’s a whole other thing to teach it so a Bulgarian-speaker can understand. I’ve tried to be creative, but I wish I had more creativity, and I wish I knew more about English linguistics. I haven’t even started on grammar. It’s basically been vocab lessons and games so far. I need to start in with the “I am… You are… She is… etc.” I’m honestly not putting too much pressure on myself though. I know most are not going to walk out of here speaking English after I leave. My sessions would have to be more frequent and intense for that. I can’t offer that with so many students. Maybe the groups will get smaller after the newness wears off, and I can work on being more effective for those who truly want to dedicate the time it takes to learn a language. I am stressing over Angel though. I want him to know English so badly, but I don’t know where to find the time or even the method to teach him. Bleh. Where’s a Vulcan mind-meld when you need it?
After church today, I went over to an 80-something-year-old’s house for lunch. She’s this amazing, spry sort with red hair and an ability to talk fairly incessantly. I see her riding around town on her bicycle, and she’s always got some thought-provoking thing to say in church. I looked through a bunch of her pictures, all black-and-white, and it was fascinating to see all the places she and her husband had visited: Italy, Austria, Germany, etc. It was cool to see some of the locations and monuments I visited myself five years before, but these were moments captured over thirty years ago. Her grandson came down and played for a while. He’s fun, but he’s also a typically moody four-year-old. I was there most of the afternoon, and she sent me home with a bunch of the yummy food she had made. She also has a penchant for sweets, so she’s my type of girl.
Anyway, there’s the rundown of my week. It’s been a busy one, but it’s good to be busy. Next week will be no less busy, but it will be different. I’ll be spending time again with fellow volunteers – most of whom I haven’t seen in three months. After that, I’ll be going to my “brother’s” wedding in Plovdiv. It’ll be good to see the family again. Then I’ll be back with another overly-informative post, I’m sure.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Friday the 13th

My boss called me this morning as I was getting ready for work.
Yanko: "Do you know that today is Friday the 13th?"
Apryl: "Yeah...."
Yanko: "Don't come into work today. Take a break."
Apryl: "Um, okay...."
Yes! It's not like I do a whole lot in the office, but at least I can have a day to do what I want to do. Actually, right now I'm in the office though 'cause I actually do have work. I'm waiting to hear back from an embassy representative as to whether we can get some excess property donations from our military bases here. We may have the opportunity to get some fitness equipment, books, maps, and other educational materials. All we would have to pay for would be the shipping from Sofia. As today is the deadline for this opportunity, I'm playing the waiting game in the office. So we'll see just how fortunate this unlucky day turns out for us.
My English classes have been better so far this week. Monday was fantastic. I actually showed up late because I got confused about the times, but inside were about 14 students - waiting for me to show up and teach. When I walked in, they were all sitting at tables and most of them were ready with pens and notebooks. Their eager little faces were beaming as they greeted my arrival, and many of them call me "Gospojo" like they're used to doing with their teachers (even though I tell them to call me "Apryl" or "Miss Gibson"). We went over greetings, numbers, and the alphabet - and they enthusiastically (sometimes almost a little too enthusiastically) repeated the answers. It was great!
My Wednesday class was comprised of new students. None of the ones who were actually scheduled to show up came, so we might as well open it up to others. I had six students in that class, and again we went over greetings, numbers, and the alphabet. I have some slightly more advanced learners in there though, (like my colleague Ani who already knows some English and absorbs everything the minute you tell her) so hopefully we'll move along fairly quickly. It's a more subdued group, but still a lot of fun. My two serious learners didn't bother to show up for the Wednesday evening class - which was kind of disappointing, but I made cookies instead.
We'll see how my class goes today. Last night, when I reminded the volunteers about their session today, some of them complained about the time. (It's been scheduled at that time for the past month and a half, and they haven't complained. They just haven't shown up. That's the only time when the club's free. There's a drama club that uses it before us.) They said they'd show up, but I'm used to them saying that because they think that's what I want to hear. I'd actually rather hear the truth - then I can plan or not plan accordingly - or I can give the class away to people who actually want to come. There's a sweet girl who confirms with me everytime I see her that we have class on Wednesday, yet without fail, she's always MIA, and she always has an excuse the next day. I like her, but I'm not about to depend on her for other things as well. She can show up if she likes, but I'm no longer going to save her a spot or make concessions for her.
I'm really not sure why our boss gave us the day off. I'm thinking something else must be up and maybe this is just an easy out - or maybe the others have been doing so much work around here recently (we're really tight on some deadlines and we've had to revamp our budget for January and February) that he thought we all needed a break. Now it's the volunteer's turn to stress. I'm still waiting to hear back from the embassy, and we have to get our SPA proposal for our educational center in soon. I'm going to go bite my nails now. Hope you all have a very lucky Friday the 13th.
***********************An hour later**********************
My boss is in the office now, and he doesn't seem surprised that I'm here. He told me that Valia and Ani are in Pazardjik now with poor little Janette - who has been battling bronchitis or asthma or some other lung condition for what feels like a month now. And I was in the middle of a long e-mail written in Spanish when the electricity went out. And we still haven't heard from the embassy. When we called, the woman wasn't in the office, but hopefully now she'll call us. How much longer can you listen to me whine? I'm content. A little frazzled, but content. I'm starting to believe in this whole unlucky day though. Maybe I should go home and go to sleep before I hurt myself or something.
Hey - and check out some more pictures of me and other volunteers/Bulgarians on another blog because I'm so full of myself. And you can see how much snow fell in Velingrad. Now isn't that fun?

Sunday, January 08, 2006


Hello again. I admit my blogs are wordy. I'll try and keep it short. I've felt busy since the New Year, but I can't say I feel like I'm actually accomplishing much of anything. I guess I'm still in the phase where I'm trying not to turn down invitations, so I go to birthday parties, I go out and play ping-pong or pool, I go out for coffee, and I go to people's houses for lunch. Most of the time, it's pleasurable. Sometimes, when I realize just how differently I view the world, it feels like work.
When it comes to actual work, I'm still having my language lessons, and I'm banging my head up against the wall at the clubhouse - that makes it all feel better, trust me. I've been thinking a lot about the "Educational Center" that my organization is drooling to create. I'm right there with them. I'll probably be talking a lot about this project. We have this fairly large space that we would like to divide up into rooms for computer usage, meetings, classes, and maybe a library or something. We're still figuring out exactly what this "Educational Center" will contain. That's where the community comes in. And we've turned to the young people who volunteer in the club for ideas. Problem is, many of them say they'll show up and they don't. Getting ideas out of them is sometimes like pulling teeth. Transitioning ideas into acts is seemingly insurmountable. One of the boys said it'd be great to have an English club, and all I could do was look at Angel for a long moment and then laugh. What?!?! He's one who says that he wants to learn English with me, but he doesn't come to the classes. He's a bright boy with so much potential. They all are. Problem is: many of them want things handed to them on a silver platter. They don't see how much work goes into these things, or, when they do see it, they decide they really don't want to bother after all. "Oh yeah, yeah. I'll do that. Wait, you mean I actually have to DO something? Oh, nevermind." So here's my question: Where is that cosmic leap between wanting something and actually taking the necessary steps to acheive that something? Can someone help me with that? Where does motivation come in so strong that you actually get up, figure out what needs to be done, and do it? The last time I remember putting plans into action was when I was applying to Peace Corps - and what a process that was. It took me two years+ to get here, but here I am... banging my head up against the wall. I applied for this? Yes. Believe it or not, I'm still living my current dream... even though that dream currently frustrates me every other day - but still I'm here because of motivation - because this is just another step I'm taking to get to a place I want to be... and I'm not even sure where that is. I'm going to go bang my head against a wall now. Ciao.

Monday, January 02, 2006

ЧНГ – Честита Нова Година!

Chestita Nova Godina! Happy New Year, everyone! And welcome to the first blog rambling of 2006. May you all be “jivi, sdravi, vcichko hubavo” and may you have health, love, and good-fortune all year long. If you have a decorated branch near you, have someone hit you with it. At least that’s what the kids do here in Bulgaria (but only on the first of January – so if you’re in a lagging time zone and still awake, here’s your chance!)… and then you should compensate them for the beating (with food or money – your choice). I exaggerate… as usual. I’ll get to the tradition of the “survachka” in a bit.
Kids are still firing wannabe missiles around the neighborhood. I can only hope the madness will end soon, but for now I duck under my table for cover. Again, I exaggerate, but my heart has nearly stopped a few times.
My past few days of “vacation” have been nice. Friday was absolutely glorious for an introvert like me. I stayed home all day (except for a quick field trip to the store) next to the heater. The weather has been finicky recently. It’s been warmer as of late, and we’ve actually had some sunshine. On Friday it was pouring rain. There was no other place that I wanted to be than cozy in my home all alone – drinking tea, listening to music, reading, writing, and cooking – listening to the nearby river rush with intensity. It was fabulous. Later in the afternoon the sun came out and lightened the mood a bit. I was walking back from the store and looking at the mountains on all sides of me. I realized that I love being surrounded by mountains. Yes, I complain about the cold, but people tell me that this winter really hasn’t been as bad as previous years. Maybe it’s those greenhouse gases and melting polar icecaps. It honestly hasn’t been as glacial as I expected. I just whine on my blog for your sympathy. I have to live up to my California girl (who likes to vacation in Hawai’i) reputation.
So, for those of you who may have slept through it, Saturday was the last day of 2005. It was a busy day for me. I got up, went to the local gift store, and spent tons of Peace Corps’ money, and then high-tailed it over to Ani and Yanko’s for the day. Maria and Reneta made me my own “survachka.” I posted pictures of this phenomenon in my last album. Kids make (or buy) these visually-interesting branches. They bind the twigs to the main branch and then weave popcorn, streamers, flowers, ribbons, and anything else that might look good through it. Mine was an interesting combination of purple and blue shimmery Christmas tinsel and a salty snack that resembles Cheetos puffs without the orange. I’ll be posting pictures sometime within the next year. While the girls occupied themselves with various diversions, I helped Ani make “sarmi.” Sarmi is sour cabbage leaves (or sometimes grape leaves) stuffed with seasoned rice and meat. I got to stuff some of my own sans meat. They turned out quite well if I say so myself, and my hands had that nice, pruney, puckered feeling after handling sour cabbage leaves. You can’t beat that! After lunch, I spent the rest of the afternoon alternating between watching Cartoon Network and dozing off. I take my late-night festivities very seriously, and you can’t just go into these things without the proper nap for preparation.
In the early evening, I went home because I thought that my more serious students might show up for an English class, but they were probably enjoying time with family, so I ended up getting caught by Enyo and Milka for a quick glass of wine. Their two-year-old grandson was over and apparently he’s been saying “O.K.” over and over again as of late, so they wanted me to hear. “Tell ‘Kaka’ Apryl ‘O.K.!” (Kaka means “older sister”) Of course, he wouldn’t say it. He would just give me this charming, dimpled smile and bury his head in a pillow or look away.
After that, Angel came over for a while, and I got a call from Reneta, “Where are you?!?!” So Angel and I walked back up to the Mahala and he dropped me off again at Ani and Yanko’s. Ani told me that Reneta had been crying. She thought something horrible had happened to me. Being with these girls has reminded me so much of how I was when I was younger. It’s kind of a trip. I remember how I used to let irrational fears consume me until I was reduced to tears.
So we ate some more, searched for the lucky stotinka in the loaf of bread (Yanko got it), and then waited impatiently for midnight. Reneta kept asking about the time and then checking her father’s watch to make sure he was telling the truth. Maria was a little more reserved but still anxious, and again, that reminded me of my youth. About fifteen minutes before the moment, my mom called me! Yay! It was only approaching two o’clock in the afternoon for her, but she was thinking of me. About five minutes beforehand, the president is broadcast on all TVs across the nation. He talked about Bulgaria and the hope of entering the European Union come this time next year. He also waxed eloquent about finding health, love, hope, and happiness among family and friends. Reneta didn’t want to hear it. “Shh!! Stop talking so it’ll be the New Year!” When he finally did sign off, we counted backwards from ten and then toasted in 2006. Then we ran outside to see/hear the local fireworks display. After a few minutes of that, Yanko said, “I think “Dyado Koleda” (Santa Claus) left a few presents under the tree in your room.” The girls raced upstairs like lightening and the rest of us followed behind at a more elderly pace.
Christmas, and the traditional gift-giving I’m accustomed to, isn’t really a norm here. When I would ask people what they’re going to do/get for Christmas, I got many responses saying that they weren’t going to celebrate Christmas because they aren’t Christians. That was interesting to me. Christmas is such a big deal in the states (I know not everyone celebrates, but most people do something special on that day) that I just assumed, and we know what the word “assume” does. The New Year is a bigger deal over here – as far as eating beyond healthy limits and exchanging gifts. It also hails back to Communist days when the celebration of Christmas was forbidden. People just waited the extra week.
So anyway, we got presents. The euphoria in the room was palpable as Maria and Reneta ripped paper into shreds to reveal their new dolls complete with gowns and accessories. Reneta knew exactly what she wanted weeks ago. She tried to play on Santa’s fear of embarrassment by telling him in a letter about the gifts her parents had given her recently. (Both the girls know their dad is “Dyado Koleda”) She saw her doll in the gift shop here and decided it would be hers. Once she saw it was gone from the shelf, she began searching the house, asking her parents where it was, and even going so far as to ask the shopkeeper what happened to it (who astutely told her that her father had bought it).
They were ecstatic about the gift they had gotten me – purchased with their own money. They asked to borrow my ring for a while earlier in the week, and then they kept asking me if I had any idea what it was. Again, reminding me of me. I remember being too excited to keep from being transparent and nearly giving away the secret. So yeah, they got me a ring. It’s beautiful. Ani and Yanko got me this gorgeous blue-knit turtleneck sweater. I gave the girls candies and small jewelry boxes – which they glanced at briefly when they were able to breathe again. I gave Yanko and Ani a set of coffee cups and saucers.
After that, Reneta and Maria were able to pull themselves away for a moment to tap us all with their “survachkas,” and I did my best to try and say the prescribed cantation while lightly smacking people with my own “survachka.” Ani packed up some food (you can’t show up empty-handed as the first guest of the New Year), and she and I went over to Valia’s. Sweet little Janette was drifting in and out of sleep while coughing periodically. We’re all really hoping, obviously, that she’ll continue to get better and they won’t have to take her back to the hospital. I brought Sashko a glass chess set, and he was extremely reserved as he pulled out all the pieces to look at them, but there was this gleam in his eye, and he sincerely thanked me for it. He tapped me with his “survachka.” (That sounds dirty.) He’s such a cute, little man. If you knew the responsibilities and maturity of this boy, you’d gape in amazement. Of course, he’s still a boy. He was lighting a small fortune’s worth of fireworks right before we showed up, but I have friends who do that in the states.
So, are you still reading? Are you still awake? Have you been swallowed up by the minutiae of the last day of 2005? Like I said, you may have slept through it, but here we are in 2006, and I’m looking forward to a year filled with success. After all, I’ve been whipped with sticks that practically guarantee it! If something goes wrong, I’m giving my welts back.