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.

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