Thursday, March 30, 2006

Always get it in writing....

*No disclaimers or fake apologies about length. Just read it. It’s why you’re here, right?
I learned a valuable lesson this last week. We’ll get to that. First of all, spring is here!!! It officially on the 20th of March, and I swear it’s authentic or something. It actually started to get sunny and warm around here. People are strolling around outside and taking their coffee on outdoor patios in the center. Birds are singing everywhere at high volume. I told my mom that they remind me of the birds at the Sacramento Airport that like to chirp into the speakers to hear themselves live and in concert. It’s absolutely awesome. It’s even warmed up enough to loosen the death grip I’ve had on my heater. I’m looking forward to smaller electric bills and everyone is looking forward to shedding a few pounds of clothing. And I haven’t been plagued by allergies yet. I love spring!
To celebrate the occasion of the tilting of the earth toward the sun (we even had a partial solar eclipse yesterday!), the school up in the Roma neighborhood had a spring concert. A bunch of my English students participated, and they were so cute in their get-ups – reciting poetry, re-enacting plays, singing, and strutting their stuff in a Miss Spring 2006 competition. It was absolutely entertaining, and I’ll be posting pictures sometime in the future.
Right after this, my world darkened for a couple days. I’ll try and be as brief through this explanation as possible, but it’s not going to be short. So I told you all that we were successful in attracting funding for our Educational Center through a program called SPA (Small Projects Assistance) that works hand in hand with Peace Corps. Well, Peace Corps called me a while back and told me that I wasn’t following the project guidelines as related to our bank account. Basically, we didn’t have enough money in the bank on our end to uphold our contribution. We had two options: throw more money into the bank, or get a letter from our other large donor (C.E.G.A. – Creating Effective Grassroots Alternatives) outlining that they are indeed supporting us through material means as outlined in the budget. Easy enough. So I talked to my colleagues about it, and they called C.E.G.A. We decided to go with option #2. Yanko and I looked at all the things we had put in the budget as coming from C.E.G.A., and then asked them to type up a document saying they had given/were going to give us these things. A week later, a C.E.G.A. representative showed up with a brief list of the things they were providing, and I faxed it to Peace Corps. After faxing the letter, I took a good look at it, and that’s where the problems started.
In the budget for SPA, we had said that C.E.G.A. was giving us 50% of the necessary money to buy twelve second-hand, refurbished computers from England. The letter made no mention of computers. That was the first, obvious detail I noticed as it was a rather large contribution to our budget. In our office, we had talked numerous times about what a great deal it was – how C.E.G.A. had agreed to finance half the price of these computers if we were successful in winning the project. So where were they on the letter? I told Yanko and the representative from C.E.G.A. that we needed to sit down and talk about this letter. There had been a huge oversight. It didn’t mention the computers. “Yes,” said the representative, “it doesn’t mention computers.” I knew right then that we had a more serious problem than just someone forgetting to put something in a letter.
So we sat down at coffee with my colleagues, and the representative started in on me. Now, it’s not fair to blast this lady in my blog. She works hard to help coordinate large portions of funding for our organization. C.E.G.A. does good things for our foundation and supports us in a variety of ways. Suffice it to say that she didn’t speak to me very nicely, and I was immediately put on the defensive. She basically said that I had made up a fake budget to say that C.E.G.A. was authorizing money for computers when they weren’t. I looked to my colleagues for help, but they just sat there. Yanko lamely asked me if I remembered who we talked to at C.E.G.A. about these computers. I don’t talk to C.E.G.A. I don’t have a relationship with them. My organization talks to them and me. I talk to my organization and Peace Corps. That’s how this dance works. I felt helpless and attacked – completely unsupported by my colleagues and hung out to dry. Since they weren’t saying anything, I figured they knew something that I didn’t – that this computer deal had never existed, and someone had misspoke along the way. Finally, I tried as politely as I could to stand up for myself and ask this woman if she really thought that I would put something in the budget that I hadn’t heard from my organization. She then backed off.
**As a side-note to this ordeal, I have to share something quite amusing. When the woman was talking to me about these computers, she said something to the effect of, “What computers? These computers you’re going to get shipped from England along with your mom and dad?” I was offended beyond words. I know I have thin skin, but I couldn’t believe this woman was insinuating that I would pad the budget to try and use shipping as an excuse to get my parents over here on someone else’s dime. I wanted to retort in my broken Bulgarian, “Excuse me. But my mom lives in California, and my dad in Hawai’i. It would take a lot more than the purchase of some second-hand computers to pay their way over here.” I just sat there though – stewing. I’m glad I didn’t say anything. Angel wasn’t there for the meeting, but I told him about it afterward, and he totally supported me and said that no one should ever talk to me that way. When I told him about the comment and my thoughts, he laughed. “Apryl,” he explained, “that’s a Bulgarian saying which people use when they think something is very expensive.” So it’s like something costing “an arm and a leg,” and me actually thinking I would have to give an arm and a leg. We laughed for a long time about that. I told my colleagues later on, and we’ve all had many a good laugh. “What do you want, Apryl… your mom and your dad?” Hey, you can say anything you want about me – well, almost anything, but don’t you dare say anything about Mom and Dad. So I’ve learned a Bulgarian idiom about expense in addition to my bewilderment. It’s all good and educational.**
So anyway, apparently we never had this deal with C.E.G.A. regarding computers. I had to go to my English class, and there wasn’t much we could do at this point, so I took off. There were other things missing from the letter, also. Amounts for some of the materials that were supported were cut to a fraction of what I had put in the budget. This is not to say that C.E.G.A. was no longer giving us a sizeable contribution. They’re being quite generous. The problem is that it wasn’t as generous as we had put in the budget for SPA. I had to go to Pazardjik the next day, so I couldn’t talk to my colleagues about what had happened and what they were thinking.
While in Pazardjik on Thursday for a meeting regarding upcoming ethnic camps this summer (I’ll be working at a multi-ethnic camp for a week in July), Peace Corps called. Basically, C.E.G.A. had not indicated enough monetary support in this letter to meet what we had outlined in the budget and to sustain a successful project with an adequate community/third-party contribution. We had until Tuesday to figure something out, otherwise SPA would rescind funding. I was a little surprised to say the least, but I couldn’t say that I blamed them. We now had a fake budget – built on agreements that were never nailed down in writing, and how could a sponsor support that? I was grateful Peace Corps was giving us a time-limit instead of just saying “sorry” and pulling funding. Frantically, I called my organization. Yanko said he would talk to Peace Corps and try to work something out. He called me three times after that to figure out what we had actually put in the budget – as everything was in English. His main strategy to calm me was just to say “spokoino.” That did nothing. I need to be appeased with solutions, not with someone telling me to relax. He didn’t mention anything about C.E.G.A. Did this mean that he wasn’t surprised about what had happened the day before? Did he know something about their relationship that I didn’t? Had he expected this? I was beside myself. I didn’t know who or what to believe. We were going to lose our project, and there was little I could do about it.
I had some good support in Pazardjik. Other Peace Corps Volunteers were there, and my friends listened to me and supported me as I freaked out. Well, they didn’t support my freaking out, but they were there for me, and I appreciated that. I spent some time talking to them, and I calmed down little by little. I thought about just getting up the next day and going back to Rakitovo. One of them prayed with me, and it helped me realize that going back at that point would be senseless. I talked to my dad that evening, and he had some really good words of wisdom for me that put everything back into perspective. God told him exactly what I needed to hear. So I decided to just stay and enjoy the rest of the weekend. I’m so glad I did. By the next morning, I was actually relaxed. I enjoyed the rest of the planning session and the company of other volunteers in Pazardjik, then I went and bought some Sting tickets (he’s going to be over on the coast come June, and I already have the tickets in my hot little hands – I’m so excited!!), and then I took off for Hissar to visit with some other volunteers.
I was able to spend the evening with some fun people, and I got to talk to my mom, so it was a good evening. I got up early the next morning and went to Plovdiv. An Adventist that I had met here randomly (he happens to work with a volunteer) had asked me to come and speak at his church. So I went and talked about how I thought people could change the world. I was supposed to be a living example as I work for the Peace Corps. FYI Peace Corps: Don’t worry. The congregants know you’re a non-religious organization. No proselytizing going on there. Anyway, I don’t know how much of an example I am, but I tried to leave them with some good thoughts. I was so nervous, and I was praying hard, but people warmed up to me as soon as I was introduced as a Californian working in Bulgaria. I said a few sentences in Bulgarian (which they seemed to respond well to) and then left the rest to the translator. Afterwards, a few people came up to me to talk more about Peace Corps, possible projects, or practice their English. A couple cute boys stopped by and chatted for a bit. I say this country needs a few more cute, Christian males who speak English. Now where’s THAT project? I’m all for that. I’ll even volunteer to converse with them. I’m bad. I know.
After church, I had a good lunch and nice conversation with my hosts, and then we took a hike up one of the hills of Plovdiv. As a side-note, I’m starting to think I really have been invited here to “Bulimia” to help the Bulimics. My hostess let me borrow one of her skirts, and while I was trying to squeeze into it (I swear it was a size 2!), she was telling me how much weight she’s gained, how fat she is, and how she’s started a diet. I wanted to shake her and say, “You’re too sweet, bright, beautiful, and WAY too skinny to think you’re fat.” And then force-feed her after that or something.
They were planning on having an evening of karaoke that night, but I couldn’t stay. I returned to Hissar, where I went to dinner and hung out late with a bunch of other volunteers. The next morning, we got up early and visited a Roman tomb. Hissar has a lot of Roman ruins like that – and various “miraculous” springs. I visited this place during training – and mentioned it in an earlier post. I came home early on Sunday and relaxed.
On Monday, I was feeling nervous about seeing my colleagues again and talking to them. I wasn’t sure what would happen, and I hated feeling like maybe I couldn’t trust them. They had never betrayed my trust before, and they have so much project experience, I didn’t want to believe that they had misled me, but then why didn’t they say anything? I soon found out that they were just as surprised at the news as I was, and that some of them didn’t say anything because they were afraid. Apparently they show surprise and fear by staring straight ahead and keeping their mouths shut. Makes sense. I don’t claim to be good at reading people as I don’t have a “poker face” myself. By the end of the day, Yanko had gotten documentation from the municipality showing that they would contribute a large portion to our project. We also provided personal inventory showing which items we had already purchased for the project. Peace Corps wrote the next day to say that it was sufficient, and we still have financial support from SPA. I’m so relieved. I can’t believe how many awesome concessions have been made for our project. They must really like it. So thank God for that.
People think I must get bored here – as I don’t have a TV and I live alone, but they don’t know how busy things are for me. My landlords have some inkling. They rarely see me. I find all sorts of things to occupy my time. Just because I’m busy doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m productive, however. For example, I made spinach soup last night. It was absolutely awful! Angel tried helping, but it was a lost cause. He brought over a Bruce Lee film the other night, but it was in French. Neither of us understood anything, but I guess that’s irrelevant for Mr. Lee’s films. Someone inevitably ends up insulting Bruce and his friends, and then they apologize when they meet his flying limbs and his awe-inspiring num-chucks. It’s good, wholesome entertainment for all. Who needs subtitles?
Honestly, I’ve been feeling pretty useless lately. I sit in the office with no idea what to do that will actually be of any meaning to anyone. My colleagues keep me entertained – when they speak Bulgarian. I have wonderful female colleagues who love to share gossip and joke around, but sometimes they revert to their native, Roma language, and I feel completely isolated – even if I’m working on my own thing. I have no opportunities to jump in and interact. Once in a great while, I’ll ask them to speak in Bulgarian, and they’re good about it. I don’t want to keep reminding them over and over though, ‘cause I feel they should be comfortable in their environment. I came in yesterday morning feeling cut-off though, and they noticed it. They give me a hard time until I come around though. Yanko came in later and asked me how I was doing – as he always does. I said “dobre,” but Ani said that I was lying. She says I have “cat eyes” that “laugh.” When they’re not “laughing,” you know something isn’t quite right. Yeah, I’m transparent. I’m an only child and I crave attention. Notice me! Pay attention to me! Talk to me! I’ve just never been described like that before. It’s kinda cool.
We finally have a new office manager. I don’t think she’s comfortable with us yet, but I hope she stays. We’ve gone through about 12 girls, I’m sure. They’d show up for an interview, or they’d work for a few days, and then we’d never see them again. Many of them seemed to have problems with the travel aspect of the job. Others seemed deathly afraid of the computer. A few couldn’t be bothered to get out of bed. Some may have been uncomfortable with the idea of working with Roma – and a wacky American. (Random fact: My colleagues have put up this huge poster in the office with an in-depth anti-discrimination law on it. Then, they put up my picture next to it to remind themselves not to discriminate against me – as I’m a minority here. Yeah. We’re crazy. We take some getting used to.) They’d come once or a couple times, say they’d see us the next day or a couple days later, and then just never show up. Sometimes we’d sit in the office – waiting for them. I told my colleagues that I couldn’t believe the interview process we were going through. As the ones holding the job offers, why were we holding our breath for the candidates? They should be catering to us. My colleagues agreed. It all strikes me as quite odd – as everyone here likes to comment often about how there’s no work and no money.
Well, anyway, things are about to get super-busy for me, and then I’ll be out of the office more often. At this point, I think I’ll only be in Rakitovo for 10 days in July. Crazy, huh? And Yanko says that we get a month vacation. He started asking us which coming month we would like to take off. I was stunned and had no answer for him. A month off? To do what? Wander Bulgaria (fun!) and feel even more ineffective? (lame!) I already get 24 days a year from Peace Corps. If I take another month, that’s 55 days, or 15% of my yearly service. No, thank you. It’s nice to know that’s there to fall back on though. Or I can just go for the “Least Effective Volunteer” award. How’s that for world change? If I could change the world for the better just by writing mini blog-novels, hunger would have been eradicated back in August of last year.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

"Slorntche" for St. Patty's Day

So Brandy and I decided to go out to one of the local bars last night to do a little celebrating for St. Patrick's Day. Of course, we were speaking English to each other and we noticed another man at the bar speaking English. He soon started looking over at us, I knew that he noticed it as well. Pretty soon, he came over and said, "Sorry to interrupt, but I heard you speaking English. I'm an Irishman." What?!! Yeah. There was an Irishman in our tiny little bar in Rakitovo on St. Patty's Day. It was like being in an alternate universe. I was drinking some green stuff in honor of the day and Brandy was having some beer (unfortunately not green), so the Irishman just kept sending more over. And "Slorntche" is like Cheers in Gaelic. Yeah. Weird. Nice guy. Cool accent. By the way, I think my Bulgarian gets better with a little alcohol in the system. I had a fairly interesting conversation with some Bulgarians around me, and I think I've made some new acquaintances. It's all about integration, right? Brandy had a good time, too. And all we could talk about was how we couldn't wait to tell people about our awesome, coincidental evening.
This week has been a pretty quiet one. Ever since we received notification on our SPA grant, I haven't really been doing much - just tying up loose ends with that application and preparing for my English and Spanish classes. I'm not feeling too bad about not doing much at the moment. I know that, with the warmer weather, will come more things to keep me involved. The Educational Center project itself will probably keep me pretty busy. Yanko says he would like me to focus on that while the others worry about meetings with parents, teachers, etc. Still, I feel like I should be doing more.
My English class on Monday was pretty disappointing, and I lost my cool. I've mentioned before my frustrations with that class. I walked in and there were about 25 kids in the clubhouse. I couldn't believe it. That's the most I've ever had at one time, and I could barely step by them to get to the front of the room. I knew right off that bat that it wasn't going to be a good hour. I shouldn't think like that though - the whole self-fulfilling prophecy thing has truth to it, and it'll bite you if you're not careful. Yeah. So I started teaching the class (on adjectives) by having them repeat the words after me. They were pretty good for that part, but then they lost interest. It's really hard for Bulgarians to read English. Not only is the alphabet different, but then there's the crazy way we spell. So yeah, I'm pretty sure they couldn't understand how to say the words after we repeated them a few times (there were about thirty) and most of them just gave up and decided to talk to each other. I had some pictures I was trying to get them to describe in English, but that wasn't working, so I decided to bring up some of the noisier students to have the others describe them. They liked that, but it wasn't fulfilling the point because they were still talking about them in Bulgarian. I finally said that I didn't want to hear Bulgarian. One girl kept going on in Bulgarian (although she wasn't the only one), and I finally said I wanted her to say it in English. "Oh, I don't know." She said - in Bulgarian. "Then don't say anything," I told her pretty harshly. Finally, after a few more minutes of kids answering me in Bulgarian and saying they didn't know how to say the words I'd just taught them in English - plus some basically just ignoring me and talking amongst themselves, I told them "Ciao" - ten minutes before the end of class. I know the frustration was apparent in my voice as I just said, "Bye" over and over again. They could tell I'd had enough and I wanted them to get out. I could go on and on about all the little things that happened during that period that made me mad, but I'm sure you don't want to hear it, and I shouldn't dwell on it. Fortunately, I have people here to vent to. I'm not sure what I'm going to do now. I think I have to have someone else in there disciplining that class, or I need to tell them they have to come another day to cut down the size. My grandma just sent me an e-mail suggesting I have them make up their own rules for English class and their own punishments if they don't follow their rules. I think that's an excellent idea, and I may try that on Monday. My other classes were pretty great. They're small enough to discourage distractions. Plus, I re-wrote the adjectives using Bulgarian pronunciations, and they were able to be a little more interactive by using the English words I was hoping for. I had them describe me, and the girl I'd spoken to harshly before said, "Sometimes, you are angry." I could only laugh and agree that she was right. I can't say I mind too much what you say about me, little girl, as long as you say it to my face and in English. This "teaching English trial" is a good experience for me though. It just reassures me that I don't have the patience, the talent, or the desire to be a teacher.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Travel Schemes and Shopping Carts

Welcome, one and all, to Apryl's blog - where there's a new post everyday! You must be tired of me by now, but here I am again to post a myriad of thoughts. First of all, I was back in Plovdiv today. I love that city. It was rainy this morning, but then the sun came out and everyone was strolling along the beautiful promenade. Leslie and I were there to check out travel deals. We met a bunch of nice agents, even practically befriended one, and ran into a long-lost contact from Trud, but in the end decided to stick with the internet, where we found a good July price for a week in Spain and a couple days in Prague. Can you say "comma splice?" Please don't show any English teachers that last sentence. Anyway, after five years, I'm finally going to go back to my second home (Spain). This time, I'm going to get to see "San Fermin" - also known as "The Running of the Bulls." Don't worry. I don't plan on running... just watching the madness. I also finally get to go back to Prague! I think that's my favorite city in Europe. I was only there about 24 hours last time, but it was enough to fall in love. This time it will be for 48 hours, so it's enough to fall in love twice! Er, something....
I was also in "Billa" today. Billa's like your local supermarket. This was a "trip" for me because we don't have supermarkets - with aisles, where you can pick out your own food - in Rakitovo (or much of Bulgaria for that matter). I got to push a shopping cart. It was almost on par with operating a motorized vehicle. I kid, but it's these little things that you become accustomed to not doing that eventually freak you out later. So yeah. Even the parking lot reminded me of Costco, and I had a reality check for a few moments today. I think my head is still swimming. I'm going to go lie down.
Oh! And by the by, just in case you think I'm some altruist joining the Peace Corps - check out what my cousin's doing while I'm bragging about Spain and Prague:

Hello Family and Friends -

As you may know, I am approaching my final quarter of college in a matter of
weeks! My spring break is just around the quarter, March 16-25th. This year I want
to do something meaningful with my time off, something to better the world.
This past year, Hurricane Katrina swept across the south and destroyed hundreds of
miles of lands with homes, businesses, schools and much more. Homes were
completely destroyed, and people's lives were rudely disrupted. This year, I want
to spend my spring break helping to rebuild the community of New Orleans in
Louisiana. My school has organized a trip, but we must pay for our own
transportation. Unfortunately, at this point I can not afford to pay my ticket,
but my heart is telling me to find a way there anyways. I am sending out this
letter to ask for any support that you would be willing to give. And if you are
unable to help me financially, I ask for your prayers and thoughts to be with me
and my peers in these upcoming weeks and especially to be with those people that
have lost everything.
I know this is extremely short notice and I apologize, but I just recently heard
about this trip. We plan on leaving March 18th and returning the 25th. We are
going there with hopes of beginning to re-build amidst the destruction or to
simply help out wherever is needed. For me, this would be the most fulfilling way
to spend my break and it would be an honor to be able to go and help these
devastated people.
Thank you and God Bless-

Yeah. That's my cousin. She's supercute too, so any boys interested in the whole selfless thing better hurry up and get in line to get your hearts broken.

Friday, March 10, 2006

More Shameless Requests for Money

You'll get used to these things coming from me every once in a while. The good news is that there's tons of things going on over here in PC Bulgaria, but these things need money. You'll see below a brief summary of the wonder that is Camp "GLOW" (Girls Leading Our World). Please go to and consider making a donation.

Camp GLOW Bulgaria
"Perfect week for a girl."
-GLOW Camper

The incredible week-long experience for young women around the world, known as Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World), began in Romania in 1995. Due to the success of the first camp, and the worldwide need for programs that support the specific educational and emotional needs of young women, the camp has continued to grow and develop. Through the efforts of Peace Corps Volunteers and their communities, Camp GLOW has expanded everywhere from Uzbekistan to Namibia, and also to Bulgaria, where the first Camp GLOW was held in 2000.

This year 70 young women will participate in Camp GLOW Bulgaria. The activities at Camp GLOW are aimed at fostering self-esteem; developing leadership, teamwork, communication, decision-making, and goal-setting skills; encouraging civic responsibility and volunteerism; nurturing tolerance and promoting appreciation of culture and diversity; and expanding knowledge of current issues facing young Bulgarian women, such as HIV prevention and eating disorders. Camp GLOW is conducted in English and includes:

• Morning outside meetings, led by counselors and junior counselors.
• Daily games, such as the “Tower of Straw” team-building and problem solving activity.
• Medium-sized workshops, where a team of one counselor and one junior counselor work with a group of 10 campers to provide information about topics such as Human Rights. The same three workshops are offered during morning sessions and afternoon sessions—campers choose which workshops they want to attend.
• Small discussion groups, where a team of one counselor and one junior counselor meet with five campers to debrief various topics related to the larger workshops held that day. For the entire camp, the same counselor and junior counselor are assigned to a specific group of five campers, in order to facilitate bonding and to establish a comfortable discussion setting.
• Guest speakers who lecture about particularly relevant topics in Bulgaria, such as Bulgarian Women in Business; the trafficking of women and children in Eastern European countries; and the culture, history, and present situation of Roma women in Bulgaria.
• Afternoon activities, such as meditation, yoga, Tae Bo, self-defense, or ultimate Frisbee.
• Themed nighttime activities, such as a Hawaiian Luau, Talent Show, Cultural Gallery Walk, Bonfire Night, or Pajama Party.
• An environmental awareness activity, such as hiking on an eco-trail and visiting a monastery in the mountains.
• A community service day, such as visiting a retirement home, bringing flowers and talking one-on-one with local residents.

Each year, young women ages 14 to 18 throughout Bulgaria apply to Camp GLOW. This year, Camp GLOW anticipates receiving 250 applications for 50 camper spots. The applicants send in an application form, reference letters, as well an essay on a topic such as, “What does the Camp GLOW motto, ‘Be a woman, be yourself,’ mean to you?” All counselors and junior counselors have participated as campers or junior counselors in the previous year’s Camp GLOW, and have been selected to be counselors based on having proved themselves outstanding, amongst a group of already outstanding young women. Prior to camper arrival, these 20 counselors undergo an intensive three-day training session on peer counseling, mediation, communication, and workshop facilitation. Their role is not only to assist with camp logistics, lead medium-sized workshops and small group discussions, but also to provide encouragement and support to all campers during Camp GLOW. They act as inspirational role-models, and are the tireless life, energy, and spirit of GLOW for the entire week.

This is the third year that Camp GLOW will be help in Bulgaria’s former capital, Veliko Turnovo. Every year, Peace Corps Volunteers continue to transfer skills to the GLOW NGO and its parent NGO, the Open Door Resource Center. Through Camp GLOW’s partnership with Open Door Resource Center, GLOW has been able to grow and expand in a way that was not possible in the previous years. This year Camp GLOW is again co-directed by a Peace Corps Volunteer and the director of the GLOW NGO. Peace Corps Volunteers and the Open Door Resource Center work throughout the year to make Camp GLOW happen--organizing all camp logistics, and most importantly, by fundraising through community grassroots activities and the assistance of Camp GLOW supporters in America.

GLOW Girls’ Voices:

"I am an ordinary girl from Bulgaria, but that doesn’t mean that girls from Bulgaria just go to school and learn their lessons. Every girl in Bulgaria is at least a little ambitious and has goals for her future. So, in fact, ordinary in this sentence means ambitious! We are trying to be the best in everything and to show that even a girl from a small country like Bulgaria has something to give to the world. It is very important for us to be leaders. But, in Bulgaria, if young women don’t work to make ourselves leaders, no one will help us. Fortunately, a couple of years ago, some nice people decided to organize Camp GLOW and they saw what talented young women we are! Since 2000, the camp has been organized every year. I was lucky enough to have been chosen to participate in last year’s camp in Veliko Turnovo. Camp GLOW was a great experience for me. I recently went back and read my journal entries from camp and they brought me such nice memories. I remember wanting the feeling that GLOW gave me to last as long as possible. I met so many girls during camp, each special and different in her own way. All of them ambitious and born leaders! Many of us became friends, and even though we live in different parts of Bulgaria, we keep in touch.
“When I look back on my experience at GLOW, I realize how helpful it has been to me. Not only did I have fun, but the entertainment was combined with helpful talks, and exercises that taught me to be myself no matter what is going on. GLOW taught me to be more self confidant, to have higher self-esteem, and to be more open to other people and to the world. GLOW opened my eyes to the real world."
-GLOW Camper
“As a very emotional person, I could say that every single detail impressed me a lot at Camp GLOW--from the genius way that all the sessions and events proceeded, to the magnificent behavior of all the wonderful girls. From the entire experience I’ve achieved the most awesome friends I have found. I think more camps like GLOW are needed, because everybody has the right to experience the most exciting, and at the same time the most beneficial week, of her life. Only those who have tasted the magic of a camp like this could say what the sentiment is! Since Camp GLOW 2005 I have become better-organized. I make my decisions much easier than before, I am a more self-confident leader, which is very important and useful for my post as a club President.”

-Mirella Karadjova, GLOW 2005 Camper
“Recently, I read Mitch Albom’s Tuesdays with Morrie, in which the dying college professor and mentor of Mitch – Morrie-- was giving Mitch his last lecture about life. In the book, Morrie said that emotions are just like shirts- you should put them on, experience them and then-- let them go. But what about your favorite shirt- the one with the stains and the holes that you love so much! CAMP GLOW IS MY FAVORITE SHIRT. No matter how many years pass I can’t give the camp up. Why?
Because the camp made you more open-minded and tolerant.
Because you improved your team-working and leadership skills.
Because you learned how to face challenges and overcome difficulties.
Because you learned more about the others and about yourself…
Because you learned how to dance Hula and had fun with Tae-Bo
Because the only time when you cried was when you got your friendship bracelet, and when you had to say goodbye to friends.
Because the magic of Glow is in YOU!”
-Elena Genova, GLOW 2005 Junior Counselor
“Before I went to Camp GLOW, I didn't have any idea that it could be so meaningful to me. I am kind of a shy person, but GLOW changed me in a way I like. I learned from GLOW that I am a very meaningful person. But what is more important is that I learned every person is meaningful.”

-Hristina Veleva, GLOW 2005 Camper

"[GLOW is a] breathtaking, unforgettable experience that gives young women the chance to learn more about themselves.”

–GLOW Camper

"I think that this week at Camp GLOW has been a turning point in my life, and that the friendships and memories will stay forever in my heart. Thank you for giving me that chance."

– GLOW Camper

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Well-Intentioned Gifts

I wanted to share with you all the nice things people got for me for International Women's Day. Usually, flowers are the norm, so I got a few flowers. I also got some perfume. One of my cutest, most innocent English students also gave me a present. This ten-year-old boy handed me a pamphlet, which I am just looking at now. Inside, along with a bunch of quotes from Mother Theresa, Emily Dickinson, and Oprah Winfrey, is a "woman's calendar" - to share with my gynecologist (if you know what I mean). How great is that! I thought it couldn't get any better after the maps! I'm going to go laugh again with my colleagues about this.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Int’l Women’s Day & Thanks 4 the maps

It’s snowing again. I made it happen. Yes, I have that much power. All I had to do was wash my clothes… which meant that I had to hang them outside… which means that I made it snow. It’s just like making it rain by washing your car. So yeah, the snow is pretty – all pristine and white – blah blah blah, and this blog was about to be christened “Primavera que no llega” - “Spring that never arrives.” Time is of no consequence. It’s oozed and melted into an indistinguishable, murky puddle. Winter is never leaving. I might as well just accept it. I’ve misread my placement. It’s not “Peace Corps Bulgaria.” It’s “Peace Corps Siberia.”
I’ve been having some good times though. Friday was a holiday (like, Bulgarian Independence Day), so I ditched out and went to visit another volunteer. She lives pretty close to Sofia, so we spent a lot of time there. It was nice to visit and hang out. Plus, being in Sofia meant that I got to eat yummy food. That’s always a plus. I’m a sucker for good food and could easily spend my entire living allowance on nice restaurants if I had the possibility here. It’s a good thing I’m out in the boondocks. So yeah, I had Indian food (mmmmm!) and we also went to a strictly vegetarian restaurant where they had an interesting variety in buffet form. I think you would have liked it, Grandpa. But you make better.
Toni, the other volunteer, and I visited the ruins of an ancient fortress. Then we explored a half-built structure that probably lost funding amidst bureaucratic red tape. It was disappointing to see a structure with such potential that just became a backdrop for graffiti. Later, I went with her to a choir rehearsal. It was interesting. I admire that she’s gotten involved in her community to the point that she’s joined a choir – and singing songs in Russian! We also attended a Latin mass on Sunday. I could kinda understand the order of service. Good ole’ Spanish kickin’ in when I need it. My Bulgarian is no good for my Spanish – nor for my English.
Speaking of Spanish though, I’ve started Spanish lessons with Maria and Reneta. My Bulgarian tutor and her daughter are planning on coming also. We’ll see how that goes. I’m excited, ‘cause it should be fun, but I’m also scared to see how much I’ve stored away in the crevasses of my mind (only to collect dust) – when it used to be on the tip of my tongue. My English classes are going along all right. I’ve missed quite a few due to my recent travels, but some kids are keeping up. Others are starting to view my class as a social hour. They’ll talk the whole time. I’m about to tell them to hightail it over to a cafĂ©. I have more newfound respect for teachers. I apologize for every time you were trying to teach, and I was talking to those around me. It’s so rude!
Ah, and I have more customs to tell you about. Sunday was like, “Forgiveness Day” or something. I saw a bunch of people gathering around a bonfire near my house. I was told later that young people approach their elders and ask for forgiveness for anything they may have done during the year. Then, the elders turn around and ask them. Interesting. Don’t know why they had to make it a pyro event as well, but it probably has something to do with the coming spring (which isn’t coming by the way – see above – but I guess I won’t dash their hopes). Another popular festival is what’s called “kukeri.” You could "google" it to find out more. People dress up in huge, furry costumes, attach bells to their waists, and beat drums. They do this as a tradition to scare away the winter demons and welcome spring. They do other stuff too, but I’ve only seen it briefly as they passed by in Sofia and from the windows of a bus, so I really can’t speak with much knowledge. Toni’s town had a HUGE kukeri festival a few weeks back. Jennifer's blog has some cool pictures of this. It’s so massive, they only do it every two years. I really wanted to go, but that was the weekend I was in Plovdiv for my “brother’s” wedding.
In other news, I got some free maps from the U.S. Census Bureau today. You can’t believe how excited I am. People always ask me where I’m from – where I am in relation to everything else. How come I don’t go to New York City on the weekends? How come I’ve never been to Brandy’s state (Georgia)? How come I can’t speak on the beliefs/views of an entire nation? Coming from a country that’s about the size of Tennessee – with a total population of about the size of New York City, you have to understand why they just don’t “get it.” Well, now I have free maps, thanks to the Department of Commerce. And I can “show” everyone the answers to these “silly” questions. Isn’t that fantabulous? I love free stuff… especially from the government! It’s so awesome. These are your tax dollars at work, people. So thanks for the maps. I have census maps from both 1990 and 2000 to compare population data. And I have a giant map that’s bigger than any map I’ve ever seen. It’s probably as big as the United States – drawn 1:1 scale! How nerdy am I? See people? See how sad my life has become? I’m excited about maps. I’m practically like “Dora the Explorer” with her backpack and her map. For those of you with toddlers, or have friends with small kids, you understand.
Ah, and March 8th is “International Women’s Day.” What have you bought me, people? I am a woman, after all. You’re supposed to get me something. Didn’t you know? I suppose I’ll forgive you this time. After all, you did “give” me maps…. You can do better next year though. I’ll keep my eye out for any “womanly” traditions and let you know what happens. Really, I think it’s just another excuse for a woman to expect her man to spoil her. Fine by me. Ooh! We just got beautiful red roses from Yanko. Sweet. Let's see what else happens.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

A Day Late and a Leva Short

Chestita Baba Marta! Literally, Happy Grandmother Marta Day! Which was yesterday... but no worries. Go here if you want to learn a bunch more. Otherwise, I'll try to give you a short synopsis as follows:
So, March is the only feminine month in the Bulgarian Calendar. Does this mean I have a masculine name? Hmm.... And the women take advantage of that by having a "Baba Marta" day and a "Day for Women" (March 8th). So, as far as Baba Marta, there is, of course, a legend. (Check the link) And because of this, vendors sell "martenitsis" (red and white decorations) all over the place. Some can be pinned on shirts, but most look like friendship bracelets and are worn around the wrist. You give these to your friends and family, and then they're supposed to wear them until they see a stork (a sign of Spring here) and then they'll hang it on a fruit-bearing tree or hide it under a rock. So yeah, now I have a bunch of "martenitsis" wrapped around my wrist. I can't wait 'til a see a stork. Then I'll probably just take these off and keep them as a souvenir. Hooray for Spring. There wasn't any snow in Stara Zagora (where I've been for the past few days) and it was beautiful. Now I'm back in Rakitovo, where there's still snow on the ground and the thought of going outside discourages me.
Here's some other random news for you: Apparently people from a neighboring town (Batak) is trying to take land from Rakitovo. I hear music going on outside and Yanko told me people from Rakitovo are blocking the routes to Pazardjik. The people in Pazardjik (our regional government) are agreeing with Batak. Interesting. I wonder what would happen if Citrus Heights or Carmichael wanted more land. Nothing like a land dispute to bring out civic pride.
Like I said, I've been in Stara Zagora the past few days. Before that I've been in Velingrad with an orginazation-sponsored training. I haven't been here in a week. Busy times. I went to a Project Design and Management (PDM) workshop with a bunch of other volunteers. Honestly, it wasn't that helpful. I did have a good time seeing other volunteers again though. It will probably be another 8 months before we all see each other again in a big group at mid-service training. I'll start visiting people as soon as the weather gets warmer though. Yeah, and I have to find time to get away from work. These people are SO busy. Fortunately, tomorrow is a holiday. March 3, 1878 - Bulgaria was finally liberated after 500 years under Turkish rule. Think I'll try and skip town again for a bit to celebrate.