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.

1 comment:

Rebecca said...

maybe this book might help
http://search.barnesandnoble.com/booksearch/isbnInquiry.asp?userid=ss3Kk8iC1D&isbn=9549119718&itm=1
For my French class I got this book
http://search.barnesandnoble.com/booksearch/isbnInquiry.asp?userid=ss3Kk8iC1D&isbn=0071419330&itm=2
and it was real helpful beacuse my teacher tried to use English grammer to explain the french, but I don't know my grammer very well. But I didn't see one by the same company for Bulgarian.