Friday, April 28, 2006

I Stan Bull – Not Con Stan Tin Opal Pictures!

So I took almost 500 pictures in Istanbul. Don’t worry though – I’ve cut out all the good ones and left you with 213 sub-par offerings. You know the drill. Click here. See my pictures. Waste time. Consider going to Turkey for five seconds. Talk yourself out of it. Return to your normal routine. By the way, I’m way behind on the plain old Rakitovo happenin’s pictures I’d like to share with you. So much to do…. This will have to suffice for now.
While I have you here, I thought I’d give you some random information. Did you know that Big Red gum is not red here in Bulgaria? First of all, it’s strange to even have Big Red gum here in my opinion. So, you have it. Why make it white? Why leave out the dye? Why do I care? I have nothing else to occupy my time at the moment. I’m sitting in my living room staring at a pack of Big Red. I’m not complaining. I’m glad it’s here in my living room. I have good childhood memories of Big Red. It’s my favorite gum by far. It loses flavor way too fast though. Wrigley’s should do something about that. Maybe if it were red….
My landlords’ grandson has started calling me “Kakata O.K.” First of all, “kaka” means “older sister.” Yeah. Weird. And “brat” means “brother.” But I digress…. So, I’m “kaka” to pretty much every kid here… as I’m now officially quarter-century crisis age. And their grandson likes to say “okay.” I’m not sure exactly where he picked that up, but they thought it was great, so they kept telling him, “Say ‘okay’ to the older sister.” In Bulgarian, that translates as, “Kazhi na kakata ‘okay.’” So now, when he sees me, he calls me “Kakata O.K.” It’s gotta be easier than “Kaka Eypril.” But he refers to me in the third person when he sees me. “This is Kakata O.K.!” “Kakata O.K. is doing this… Kakata O.K. is doing that.” It’s cute, and it’s definitely better than “Kazhi na baba ‘thank you,’” which I’m not even going to go into I’m so tired of hearing. Basically it’s from a commercial, and if the entire English language could just be recited in thirty-second snippets over and over again, I’d have a lot of English speakers on my hands.
Oh, and apparently I can’t get sick anymore… EVER AGAIN! I got lectured yesterday. Ani got all over me about how I’m not eating enough and that’s why I’m sick. Um, I’m no expert, but I think I stood too close to someone who had some nasty germs, and that’s why I’m sick. It’s a cold. It happens to the best of us. I’m fortunate that I made it all winter without getting a bug, but maybe germs get too weak to infect you when they’re in sub-zero temperatures. Yanko wanted to check in on me the other day. He even offered to send someone over to help me. Help me? With what? Moral support when I need to just roam around in my pajamas half the day? He told me, “When you feel bad, we feel bad.” Angel started telling me to dress warmer and drink tea. I know it’s just because they care about me, and I’m grateful for that. It’s just too much pressure to stay healthy. Girl can’t take a mental health day. For the record, I’m even worse now. And now they’re trying to get me to stay home, but I’m being stubborn, and they’re calling me on it. Girl can’t win. A lot of people are blaming it on the Turkish bath, and I almost like the idea. Not only did the baba rearrange my bones, but she gave me an icky cold on top of it.
Condoleezza Rice was in town today. I like to affectionately call her “Condi,” but she’s told me it’s not appropriate when she’s abroad and meeting dignitaries and all. She’s here to sign a NATO treaty thing to build three military bases here in Bulgaria or something. I’m not really on the up and up about these things, but I know that a fairly vocal minority is not happy about it and has been protesting at the embassy. They’re called ATACA and they believe in Bulgaria for the Bulgarians – meaning if you ain’t got Bulgarian heritage, get out. They’re anti-American, anti-Roma, pretty much anti-everything that’s not like them. They’re a small group right now, but they get a lot of attention, and their influence is growing. I think things got violent at the embassy, and my colleagues told me that some retirees got knocked down by the police. It’s sad really. So, Ms. Rice was having a meet and greet for PCVs today, and we were all invited. As much as the idea of standing outside for two hours, going through tons of security, and maybe getting to look at the Secretary of State for fifteen minutes (candid pictures only, but she might shake your hand) thrills me, I decided I’d better not miss work for it. She’s too busy for our usual heart-to-hearts this time around anyway. Hopefully she’ll be back another time and I can touch her jacket or something. Plus, today is my counterpart’s birthday. I haven’t even gotten him a present or anything. I’m such a horrible volunteer.
Okay. I think that’s enough randomness for you today. More later. Be sure to tune in for that. Or, you know, look at my pictures, come to Bulgaria, we’ll go to Istanbul and create randomness together! Don’t refuse these offers, people. You only have another year and a half to crash at someone’s pad in the Balkans. It’ll cost about $1000 to come and stay at my place, but the plane ticket is free! These deals don’t come around everyday, you know.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Not Constantinople

Today is an absolutely gorgeous day here in the Rhadope Mountains, and I’m excited that I’m feeling a bit under the weather so I can stay home and enjoy it. I caught a cold on my way back from Turkey. My colleagues joke that it’s the “Bulgarian Flu.” Yeah, having to come back to my beautiful, peaceful home is making me come down with something. It really is such a genuinely great day. I’m sitting in my apartment, listening to some quiet music, the birds chirping, and the rush of the river outside. The occasional car, motorcycle, or barking dog breaks the stillness every once in a while. Plus, here’s my new favorite thing about my apartment: storks and bell towers. I can sit at my living room table (like I’m doing right now), look out the door that opens to my balcony, and see the church tower directly across the way. There’s a giant nest there with a couple of storks. I watch and listen to them chat with one another. The baby pokes its head up every once in a while. Other storks have been lazily swooping around the tower. It’s a cool sight. And I had to bust out my new camera.
Speaking of my new camera… I’m so excited. It’s so awesome. I typed a whole paragraph about this, but have decided to delete it because it’s fairly irrelevant to my poor readers. I bought a new camera. I have no money now, but I’m happy. The end.
So yeah, Turkey. Or more appropriately, Istanbul. I only saw one city, and going to a bustling, tourist hub does NOT make me a source of information on the rest of the country. Just like we PCVs get exasperated by tourists who talk about seeing Bulgaria when they’ve only been to Sofia. “Yeah? Well, come visit my little town of a few thousand if you want to see something real. And stay for two years. And even then you won’t get what it’s all about… just like me. Anyway, I digress. Back to Istanbul.
It’s an absolutely astounding city – spread out along the Bosporus Strait which links the Black Sea to the Aegean, I believe. It also separates what we’ve designated as Europe and Asia. But then the Middle East is over there, too. So don’t ask me. Ask the Turkish people, however, and most will probably tell you that they’re European. As many of you probably know, they’re petitioning entrance into the European Union.
On Thursday, after buying a camera and walking around Plovdiv for a bit, I met up with another volunteer. Matt and I had dinner, and then we caught the night train to Istanbul. It was almost two hours late, and when we finally got on, the guy who took our tickets got snippy with us in Bulgarian. Apparently, each sleeping compartment has three beds, and each already had someone in them. Even a compartment with only one person in it wouldn’t want us because, thinking we were a couple, they would feel awkward or something. So? How is this our fault? We’re not a couple. Split us up if you have to. Exasperated, the man started talking to a woman alone in her room. I couldn’t understand everything that was going on, but she was not happy. She didn’t want us in her room. The guy told Matt to follow him down the hall, explaining that he didn’t think he had a place for him. Fortunately, Andrea and Boudreaux, two other volunteers who had caught the train in Sofia, heard Matt’s voice and invited him into their room. I was placed with the upset woman – who soon grabbed her stuff and left. I think she got off the train or something. Isn’t that crazy? How awful must the thought of sharing a room with me be? You have to get off the train? Haha. So I ended up having a room to myself all the way to Istanbul and it was awesome! The man even turned sweet, offering me extra blankets and going out of his way to take care of me and help me feel secure. I didn’t sleep that much – between forking over my passport to migration a couple times, having them check my room, and getting off the train in the middle of the night to purchase a $20 visa to Turkey, there wasn’t a whole lot of quality time for shut-eye… not until we actually crossed the Turkish border and chugged to Istanbul.
Istanbul is a bustling city of millions, and it’s HUGE. We only limited ourselves to one tiny (and probably the most touristy) area. The first thing that hit me was all the tulips. Thousands upon thousands of tulips were planted everywhere – in the gardens in front of breathtaking mosques, in the flower beds along the sides of shops, even in the street dividers. Other colorful flowers were strewn about everywhere as well, and they were absolutely enchanting. I’ll share pictures with you guys, but pictures aren’t going to do the flowers justice – the smells, the atmosphere they created along with the mosques… wow.
So, after dropping off our stuff at the hostel and grabbing some lunch, we started with the Blue Mosque. I’ll try not to get too involved with explanations of what things are and what they mean… not like I know or remember anyway! You can always “Google” something if you want. We went into the inner courtyard and saw people congregating for Friday prayers. During lunch we had heard the calls to prayer amplified from speakers placed on the minarets of the mosques. It was absolutely beautiful and haunting. It was also kinda weird to have religion blasted so publicly like that. Storekeepers closed their shops and hurried to the mosque. After witnessing prayers, we went across the way to the Hagia Sophia. It’s a Christian church built in 532 A.D. (previous versions had been destroyed by fire), conquered by a sultan and converted into a mosque in 1453, and then changed to a museum in the 1935. So you walk in and see all sorts of Islamic and Christian iconography. Elaborate religious mosaics showing Jesus, Mary, and various disciples peek out from plaster that had once covered them for so many years. A mihrab points the way to Mecca. And the entire edifice is massive.
After walking around there for a bit, I went to the Blue Mosque again to take a peak inside. It is called such because it looks bluish-gray from the outside, but it’s also filled with blue tiles and stained glass on the inside. I took off my shoes, put a blue scarf on my head, and sat down on the carpet to take it all in. A sweet girl sat next to me, smiled, and looked at me curiously. “Are you alone? Are you lonely?” No on both accounts. “I want to give you something.” So I walked out with a Qu’ran or a commentary on it in English. I’m not sure.
She was the only Turkish woman to talk to me. Anyone else who talked to me were men, and they only bothered when I was alone. “Where are you from? Where are you going? What are you doing? Are you alone? Let me show you Istanbul. Can you stay for a minute and talk to me? Can you stay and have tea with me?” They weren’t rude, just persistent, and that was annoying. It’s expected, and I didn’t even get anywhere near the worst of what I’ve heard has happened to other women. Probably the worst thing was when I was asked by a Turkish man now living in Florida if I was 31 (which is not old, I’m just not that close to 31). “Oh, well are you Irish? Yeah, okay, makes sense. The Irish get premature wrinkles around their eyes from the sun.” I wanted to deck him. “That’s how you know I’m not hitting on you. I would have asked you if you were 21 otherwise.” Okay, good, you’re not hitting on me. Can I still deck you? The only reason I was still talking to this guy was because he was standing next to a shy Canadian guy. I didn’t want to offend Canada. “So you’re working in Bulgaria? For the Peace Corps? Oh yeah, I know all about that. You have no money.” Seriously. Can I hit you now? “So you’re going to the mosque, huh? To pray? I’m being sarcastic with you. You don’t like sarcasm, do you. Joke around with me here.” I lamely offered that I had been on a night train all night and was too tired to be witty. I wish I could have said something to the effect of, “Look. You stopped me. You kind of insulted me. You’re still talking to me while I’ve been trying to leave. I’m tired. Don’t tell me how to be. My wit is saved for special people who don’t make snap judgments about me in thirty seconds. Go back to Florida and let me talk to your Canadian friend who at least has the decency to keep his mouth shut, hang out, and smile.” But this guy got the job done. He merited a place in my blog. Sad.
After that, I ran into another man who chatted me up. I explained that I had to get back to my friends. The worst thing was that he saw me again a couple days later, and once again I happened to be by myself. “So, where are your friends?”
The women, in comparison, were totally demure. A few did have the black burkas that covered from head to toe. Many wore a colorful scarf over their head along with an ankle-length skirt. Most women were simply dressed, with a quiet elegance. Skin was nowhere in site. David, another PCV, pointed out how refreshing that was. Yeah, and quite a contrast from their Bulgarian neighbors. I wonder what their pop stars wear.
So there were eleven of us that took the trip together – 10 volunteers and an English woman who was a riot. We had a good time giving each other a hard time. After spending the day sightseeing, we went up to Tikrim, a boulevard with tons of shops and restaurants. There’s a Starbucks there (gasp!) and even a couple Gloria Jean’s for you So. Cal people. There’s also an El Torito’s up there somewhere. I never found it, but I know it’s there because other PCVs have eaten there and their website talks about an Istanbul location. Yeah. Apparently they have locations in Japan as well – along with some western states in the U.S. How random can you get?
The next day, we took a ferry to the Asian side. Yay! I’ve been to Asia now! Scratch another continent off the list! It’s kinda pathetic in a way. Like going to Tijuana for an afternoon and being in Mexico. Like going into Morocco for a day and being in Africa. Which I’ve all done by the way. Yeah, I’ve traveled quite a bit, but I have been a shortcut traveler as well. Hey, it counts! We got some good eats and then headed back to the European side and then some of us headed to a cistern under the city. After a quick cup of expensive Turkish coffee, we went to the Grand Bazaar, which was a labyrinth of sights, smells, and merchandise. There was so much stuff in a variety of colors, shapes, and smells that I was at a loss to buy much of anything (which is probably good). We then went up again to Tikrim, walked around, and got dinner.
The following day, we had an interesting experience. A bunch of us decided to get a Turkish bath. It was basically getting scrubbed down and thrown around on a marble slab by an old Turkish woman. I’m being trite, and it’s not fair. I’m just looking at it from the comic side at the moment. Yeah, you get washed and massaged, you sit in the sauna for a while…. It’s an elaborate bath. I’m glad I went because it was a fun experience with some of the other women in the group, but it’s not something I would do again. Some people are really into that stuff and come out feeling even more relaxed. I was aching. She was a good scrubber, but a horrible masseuse in my opinion. I felt like she was massaging my bones and she pinched my already tense shoulders. It made me long for the last massage I had – a relaxing one in Hawai’i. Yeah, I’m a weakling and a princess. I got slapped around by an old Turkish baba that I could probably outrun, but apparently not take in a fight. Still glad I did it to say I’ve had the experience, and the marble room was awesome with the light filtering into the dome. Almost takes away the pain… hehe. Wish I’d gone to Ephesus that day. No! Wait, I did say I’m glad I had the experience, right?
After being folded like “Gumby,” we got some yummy lunch and Amy and I went walking around to some archaeological museums and a nearby park. It was beautiful, and I enjoyed just spending some time talking to Amy. We went to the rooftop of a nearby restaurant and got some great views of the city and the water. Again, a bunch of us went up to Tikrim for dinner.
Our last day in Istanbul, Jerramy, Amy, and I went to a huge palace where so many sultans had ruled. We saw tons of artifacts – probably the most interesting being the skull and forearm of John the Baptist, a gazillion-carat diamond (yeah, I forgot the carat size, but it was “ginormous”), a preserved footprint of Muhammad, a box apparently containing his hair, some of his swords, one of his letters, and we also went into the harem.
Amy and Jerramy, along with some of the other volunteers in our group, went back to Bulgaria after that. I took some time to myself and walked around the Spice Bazaar, went up to one of the highest points in the city to snap some pictures, and generally walked around enjoying the time to myself. I was getting ready to go home though. It’s hard leaving at night ‘cause the last day you’re just kinda hanging out waiting for the time to pass. It was nice taking some time to myself and walking around. I was exhausted afterwards, and my feet hurt, but it was worth it.
I met up with Matt, Andrea, and Boudreaux and then we met up with another group of volunteers that happened to be in Istanbul that weekend. It was just a Bulgarian Peace Corps party in Istanbul this last weekend. So we had some traditional food, watched a bit of whirling dervish, and then headed to the train to take us home. After a long, overnight trip with the usual interruptions, Matt and I were finally back in Plovdiv. I came straight to Rakitovo, and was finally home after over fourteen hours of traveling.
Istanbul was gorgeous and I would definitely go back. I even got to speak Spanish randomly – twice on the same day! Once when I heard some Spanish ladies talking in line and once when I needed to translate for a couple at the hostel. My Bulgarian was messing me up though, and other volunteers were laughing at me. I would say “da” and they would say “si.” Ugh! Bulgarian! It was funny. So cool.
There are some things I categorically didn’t like. The biggest one was price-gouging. While nice people, the locals seemed ready to take you for all they could. Taxis would charge different prices depending on who you asked, and when you mentioned the meter, they would purposely take the long route. One guy gouged us on water when we were dying of thirst – charging four times the actual amount. Restaurant servers would make mistakes on the bill, forget how much something cost, and then say, “Oh, sorry. Let’s fix that,” and it was hard to believe it hadn’t been purposeful. Istanbul wasn’t as cheap as I had hoped. The market was competitive out there and salesman (while clever and witty with their approaches) would do their best to corner you… except in my experience when I would actually walk up to their stand and show interest in something – then they seemed to ignore me. Strange. And then there were just so many people everywhere. I’ve grown accustomed to my tiny little town, and I can’t take much of people rushing around me. Another thing not so high on the list: Aussies and Anzac Day. Now don’t get me wrong. Australians are awesome people with accents to die for. I haven’t met an Australian I didn’t like. The ones I’ve met, mostly in hostels, have all seemed laid back with a great outlook on life. The problem was that the entire continent (massive exaggeration) was in for Anzac Day. And “hostelers” in general, not just Aussies, like to party. Every night was a constant party on the street outside and in the hostel. I slept better than I expected and was able to get up at a reasonable hour and be okay for the day, but nightly block parties are not a funfest when you’ve been out all day and just want to relax. Well, it was our fault for coming in during that time of the year and not being in a partying mood. It was interesting being asked all the time if we were Australian though. So anyway, four days were enough. I was so happy to be coming home, and that was a good feeling. It’s great to be so happy in my site that I miss people and look forward to returning. Not every volunteer can say that, and I got lucky for sure.
So, work. It’s been slow, but there are some good things that have been happening. We got some free second-hand materials from an army base in Germany: sleeping bags, backpacks, desks, cupboards, carton paper, and English books. I received an e-mail that we’re going to get a donation of books shipped to us from the states. Should be able to celebrate that in about 2-6 months…. Plus, Yanko and Ani went out and bought a bunch of tiles for the floor of our educational center. We were worried that the money wasn’t going to stretch far enough to fill the space (we measured incorrectly when preparing the proposal), but apparently they found a good deal, and these tiles will cover the whole place. They’re beautiful, and we’re excited. Now we’ve just gotta find someone to put them in at a fraction of the salary they usually charge. It’s about to get crazy, but I’ll save future events for future posts. If you’re still reading, and you love to travel, I hope I’ve put the bug in you to check out Istanbul. If you’re still reading, and your eyes hurt, you have my most humble apologies. Think how long it takes to write these things!

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Gobble Gobble!

Greetings from Turkey! Istanbul is more amazing than anything I expected. I will send a more detailed post later (hopefully with a link to pictures from my new, ultra-fabulous camera), but I'm having a great time, and I thought I'd just take a moment to rub it in....

Wednesday, April 19, 2006


I haven’t been feeling so happy lately. I’m not exactly sure why. Maybe it’s because there’s not much to do here in the office. My other colleagues have been playing “Spider Solitaire,” and I’ve been at a loss for what to do. Maybe it’s because my camera is broken. Digital cameras are expensive, and mine suddenly decided to stop working. I’m not excited about spending money to buy another one, but I know I will because it’s important to me to have one. Maybe it’s because I find little joy in my English classes anymore. People aren’t showing up as regularly as they used to, and figuring out what to teach them is frustrating. I’d like to start all over just so I don’t have to create new teaching materials every week. Maybe it’s because I’ve been watching medical dramas and I’m convinced I have something. Maybe I’m falling in a low point on the infamous mood graph that charts my Peace Corps service. Whatever it is, it’s most likely all in my head.
It’s almost ironic that it’s coming right after a meeting last week in Sofia where I learned all about how to give support to other volunteers that may be going through tough times. We have a new batch of trainees that showed up Monday – English teachers. Our group is no longer “the newbies.” It feels weird. Anyway, I was feeling pretty good then – hanging out with other volunteers I don’t get to see often, speaking English, feeling like I could be of help to others, eating good food, and I even bought some running shoes. I came back on Saturday and was still feeling pretty good. I went to a colleague’s birthday party that night. The following day, Brandy prepared an Easter meal for a few of her students, John (volunteer in Velingrad), and me. Brandy and I went to a café afterwards and ate some JellyBellys I got in a care package and had a drink. It was a relaxing day.
Monday morning I woke up with the blues. I don’t know what happened, and I couldn’t pull myself out of it. My colleagues saw how strange I was looking, and my boss tried to get me to go home. I wasn’t having any of it. What? Me go home because I’m sad for no reason? There’s a girl over there coughing and sneezing. Tell her to go home! Oh the perks of working somewhere without getting paid. My English class went okay on Monday. I was teaching them about clothes and brought in a bunch of my bigger stuff. I had the kids put them on as they were saying what they were in English. That held their interest for a while, but I really wish I had my camera! They were so cute in my oversized clothes. My Spanish class was also going more or less okay – until the very end. I could see that my Bulgarian teacher (who attends my class) was getting more and more frustrated, and I wasn’t sure why. I figured it was because there was something she didn’t understand, but she didn’t stop me to ask questions. Finally, five minutes before the end of class, she said in Bulgarian, “You know, something about this lesson isn’t good.” I was amazed and hurt that she would say something like that. I dismissed the class right then and there – saying that if they had any questions, they could come to me, otherwise we were done. I packed up and they helped put the room back in place. I was throwing things in a cupboard when she said “Adios,” and I responded the same. “Why aren’t you looking at us?” she asked. So I turned, forced a smile, and said “Adios.” I was crushed. Why do I offer my time and work so hard when people are just going to dismiss it? It’s one thing from the kids, but from an adult? Fortunately, I had supportive people around me to reassure me, but I didn’t sleep well that night.
I woke up the next morning and didn’t want to get out of bed. I know I’m sensitive, but it’s a little weird to not even want to get up and go to work. I usually like going to work here. Plus, I have language lessons with this woman every Tuesday. I knew I would have to talk to her about what she had said. I preferred the idea of calling in sick. Part of me wanted to go and say that the lesson wasn’t good, and that I wouldn’t be coming back. Yeah. I wanted to act that immature. I finally got up and came into work, where my colleagues offered even more support. I was feeling a little bit better by the time I needed to go to my lesson. Right away, she asked if I was mad at her. She said she could tell by the way I had said “goodbye.” I said I wasn’t mad, but disappointed and my feelings were hurt. When I told her why, she went into an explanation about how the statement wasn’t directed toward me. There had been something else going on in the classroom that she hadn’t liked. I still don’t see why she had to make that comment though, and it was still hard to smile. I still couldn’t pull myself out of my funk. I sat in the office, listless and sad. Yanko and Ani tried to get me to come home with them, but I didn’t want to be with people. I accepted an invitation from Enyo to have dinner because I didn’t want to be rude, but fortunately he and Milka had to postpone it. I was able to just make dinner for myself, relax, and watch medical dramas.
Why am I so sensitive? Why do I take to heart so many things that people say to me and how they act toward me? Maybe I was just ultra-sensitive because of the way my day had been going. Maybe I’m just too insecure. It’s frustrating, and it upsets me that I’m that vulnerable. There are other volunteers that deal with so much madness that I don’t even have to deal with – colleagues yelling at them, people accusing them of horrible things, and an unsupportive work environment. What would I do if I had been placed in such a situation? I would like to think that I would be just as resilient as them (no one from our B-18 group has terminated their service since we’ve been sworn in as volunteers – something we’re rather proud of as we’re coming upon our seventh month at site. It’s definitely not due to lack of problems. And the odds are not in our favor. Out of a group of 48, chances are someone will go home early – whether that’s due to familial problems back home, medical problems, displeasure with the job, or not following Peace Corps guidelines). So anyway, I would like to think that I would still find a way to thrive even if I had been placed in one of the more difficult sites, but I don’t know if that’s true. I feel like I was really blessed with a great site. I count my blessings when I get together with other volunteers and hear about what’s going on with them – even when what they’re talking about is good. I really think most volunteers are happy here – or they’re finding inventive ways to get through the day. I realize what a great fit I have here at my organization, and I feel like God’s been watching out for me. So when something hurtful does happen, I’m not sure how to deal with it. Is this experience making me a stronger person, or is it showing just how sensitive I really am?
There’s been a slight mood of frustration and sadness in the office. Besides the fact that there’s really not much to do, Valia has been in the hospital again with Janette. Fortunately, the little cutie seems better now, but she was there for a week – trying to fight off pneumonia. On Monday, the city decided to turn off Yanko and Ani’s electricity. They had paid their bills, but the woman who had been processing them had been putting them under the wrong name. Yeah, crazy, traditional, Bulgarian names make it real easy for someone to have your exact same first, last, and middle name. So they tried to get it resolved with the city and this family. The city was fairly cooperative – suggesting that this family pay Yanko and Ani’s bill or they all go to Velingrad to sort it out. But the family didn’t seem to mind that Yanko and Ani had been paying for their electricity all along and didn’t want to do anything to help correct the problem. People can be so horrible sometimes, and I know it angered Yanko and saddened Ani. I think, at this point, they have paid again for this month to get their power turned back on, and then they have to wait for the city to reimburse what they applied to the other family or just apply it to their bill. I’m not exactly sure how things work here. Take that last sentence and just apply it to my entire life in this place. But, that’s why I’m here: to be exposed to another culture and way of thinking, and maybe be a little grateful for what I was just born into in the states.
Ah well, I’m leaving for Turkey tomorrow night. I’m excited, but part of me just wants to hang out in site. I don’t know if that’s due to feeling down (I’m feeling pretty good today), or just a newfound desire to stay at site. I don’t get as excited about traveling as I used to, and I hope it’s just a phase. It’s a good thing considering my work here. I’m supposed to be in site a lot – integrating and all. I’m just a little thrown by this sudden personality change. Plus, it’s traditional Orthodox Easter this weekend. People are going to paint eggs and then have competitions by cracking them against each other. It’s too bad I’ll miss out on that. But Turkey will be great. I’ll be getting together again with people I don’t see often, and we’ll have fun. This time last year, on April 20th, I left for Bolivia. This year, I’m going to Turkey. I really am a fortunate little girl.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Chestit Rozhden Den to Me!

I love the smell of burning trash in the morning. It really motivates me to keep running... to get away. Yeah, and running is great for integration. Everyone stares at me anyway. Might as well stare at me while I'm whizzin' by you. As if I weren't strange enough. Now I run around in circles, and it stupifies people. Why would anyone want to do that?
I think I mentioned that April 8th was going to be "International Roma Day." So yeah. It was. My organization hosted this amazing talent show (skits, cultural dancing, singing) in the chitalishte (cultural center), and then they hosted a "Miss Romka" competition up in the Mahala. Anyway, so half of the Roma neighborhood was in the chitalishte for the show, and I got up and tried to dance "kuchek" with another girl. The crowd went wild. I'm semi-famous now in the Mahala. I was already quite the commodity before, but now even more people know about me, stare at me, and say hi to me. I guess that's good for... well, not exactly integration, but you know... getting my name out there and making me seem a little more approachable. Yanko has me dancing on video. Haven't seen it yet. Angel was apparently so amazed he forgot to take pictures. So there's my claim to fame now. I've always been a generally shy, reserved sort of person, but sometimes this crazy side of me comes out. They say it's always the quiet ones....
In other news regarding the 8th of April, I lost a bet with Angel. We had made a bet regarding our volunteers - whether they would really do a skit at the show (like they said they would) or not. They didn't do the skit. Not only was I disappointed at their lack of following through, but I had to cook dinner for Angel. Oh well - he's the one who loses out. I can't cook! Hahaha.
As many of you may have known, this last Tuesday was my birthday (rozhden den). I had a wonderful day. My colleagues spoiled me with flowers and a necklace. A package from a friend in the states happened to show up that day. (Props to Amanda for getting me addicted to a show called "House" by sending the first season in the package. I'd never watched an episode before, but I watched six last night. It was a nice escape. I even forgot where I was. For a moment, I was so disoriented. I thought I was in my living room in Sacramento. It took me a minute to place myself. I haven't had many moments like that. It was a weird, but definitely cool feeling.) Brandy gave me some homemade salsa, tortilla chips, and peanut butter. Maria and Reneta gave me an awesome model of a home that they had made themselves! I got a beautiful coffee mug from my Bulgarian language tutor. And she let me just hang out without having an actual lesson. I really didn't want to study Bulgarian that day. We just chatted and looked over a "Bulgarian National Geographic." There was an article about California earthquakes. Angel organized a surprise party with the volunteers. I suspected something was up, but I can't believe a bunch of youth who can't be motivated to do the simplest projects - nevermind put a Christmas party together - were able to come together and have a party for my birthday. I was so flattered! They had food, drinks, and good music that we danced to for a few hours. They gave me a little pillow that says "I love you" and a bracelet. Sashko also gave me a ceramic elephant. Apparently elephants are an animal symbolizing good luck. I have a lot of things with elephants on them. So yeah. I'm bragging. I know. But if you've ever spent a birthday abroad, you know how important it is that someone make it special when you don't have the usual family and friends to celebrate with. My friends and colleagues here are amazing! It made turning 25 a bit easier.
So now I'm in Sofia. I have meetings with Peace Corps, and then I'm going back to site to celebrate some more. Plus, I got a couple more packages that finally decided to show up in Sofia. Sweet. Next week: Turkey. I'm excited.

P.S. My blog has fallen to #11 on this site. While 11 is my favorite number, this is unacceptable, people. How can I go from #3 to #11? I must be failing as a blog writer - or you people are just tired of me rambling on about how wonderful my site is, my colleagues are, I am.... Ha! I'm going to make up some crazy nonsense to spice this blog up a bit. In the meantime, search out random people on the street and give them my blog address. Talk to your contacts at blogger and tell them to make my blog a blog of note. Everyone should learn about the dangers of Bulimia.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Smart. Beautiful. Gibson.

So I'm back to add some fun into your (I'm sure) otherwise mundane day. And I'm here to assault you with more letters asserting the authenticity of our efforts over here for the scouts. By the way, I've started training. This means getting up earlier than I have been and running around in circles for about half an hour. I'm hoping to get to the point where I can run around in circles for longer periods of time! And just when you thought I couldn't go insane enough over here in Bulgaria....
Before we get to the letters which will convince you to donate your child's college fund to support cute little Bulgarian knot-tying, rope climbing, flag-saluting rug-rats (not to mention my insanity!), I thought I'd hit you with this gem I found on the web. It's called "The Advertising Slogan Generator." Just put in a word (Your name perhaps - see the title of this post) and watch the internet perform it's magic. I know you want to see what I've come up with, and then try your own. Here are some of my favorites:

"Only the Crumbliest Flakiest Gibson."
"If Only Everything in Life was as Reliable as an Apryl."
"Nothin' Says Lovin' Like Lyrps from the Oven"
"When You've Got Apes, Flaunt It."
"Super Apryl is Almost Here."
"We Bring Apryl to Life."
"Apryl - Australian for Beer."
"Semper Apryl."
"A Smooth-Running Apryl is a Relaxing Experience." --- That's good for the marathon!
"I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream for Apryl."

I would hit you with more, but they didn't come out exactly suitable for my PG blog. That's it for the fun. Onto the letters....


April 05, 2006
Dear Sir or Madam:

The National Organization of Bulgarian Scouts (OBS) is an organization which serves the needs of youth who in turn aid their communities through scouting activities. OBS is a volunteer based non-political, non-militaristic, non-governmental organization open to all youth regardless of their race, religion, nationality, ethnicity, creed, gender or sexual preference. Bulgaria currently has 20 scout troops who have had over 2,700 scouts participate in their activities. OBS focuses on the development of youth by creating opportunities which expose them to other cultures, skills and ideas. Scouts also participate in team-building and outdoor activities. By participating in the opportunities offered to them by OBS, the scouts develop an overall sense of self while learning the ideals of peace, understanding, and tolerance.

One such event which accomplishes these goals is the World Scout Jamboree. The 21st World Scout Jamboree will be held in England from July 24th to August 9th 2007. This jamboree will mark the 100th anniversary of the founding of the first scout camp on Brownsea Island, England. Scouting groups from over 130 countries around the world are expected to participate in this Jamboree.

Unfortunately, the current economic situation in Bulgaria has earned it the title of one of the poorest countries in Europe. Although the desire has long existed to attend the jamboree and represent the Bulgarian scouts, the OBS has previously been unable to raise the funding. The cost of sending one scout is equivalent to six months salary in Bulgaria and thus is prohibitively high. OBS would like to send 10-15 scouts, two leaders and two international service team members (scouts between the ages of 18 and 25). The cost of sending one scout or their leader to this event is 580 EURO and to send a scout as a member of the international service team is 470 EURO. OBS would like to raise at least 8,700 EURO for 15 scouts, 1,160 EURO for 2 leaders and 940 EURO for 2 ITSР staff for a total of 10,800 EURO. Although the jamboree seems distant, the World Scout Organization requires a schedule of payments beginning in March 2006.

To make this dream a reality we have partnered with a group of Peace Corps volunteers in Bulgaria. These volunteers are running the November 2006 Athens Marathon as a fundraiser for our cause.

Please support this cause by sponsoring a volunteer. The attached letter is instructions on how to donate. Again, 100% of the donations will go to aiding the scouts in making their dreams of attending the World Scout Jamboree a reality!


Diana Boteva
OBS International Commissioner
Plovdiv, Bulgaria

Bulgaria, Plovdiv 4004 5 Br Shkorpil str. apt 1

World Scout Bureau Mondial du Scoutisme
European Regional Office
Bureau Régional Européen
P.O. Box 327 CH-1211 Geneva 4 Switzerland
Rue Henri-Christiné 5 CH-1205 Geneva Switzerland
Tel: (+41 22) 705 11 00 Fax: (+41 22) 705 11 09
Geneva, 29 March 2006
Peace Corps’ support to the Scout Organisation of Bulgaria
Dear ,
Referring to our recent exchanges of emails, we would like to thank you very much for the fundraising operation organised by the Peace Corps Volunteers in Bulgaria to support the participation of the Scout Organisation of Bulgaria to the World Scout Jamboree of 2007 (UK).
We happy to help you by providing a mean to channel the funds raised, as follows:
1. Donations
By credit card, donors can pay on:
Select “Scouting in the European Scout Region”,
Select the currency “EUR, USD, ..”,
and mention “World Scout Jamboree 2007, support to Bulgaria and the name of the donor”
2. Acknowledgement for the payment
We would then forward you the automatic email generated by WorldPay (the e-payment system on WOSM web site) for information.
At the end of the fundraising operation a “thank-you letter” will be prepared by the Scout Organisation of Bulgaria and sent to all the donors. NB: we will get the email addresses of the donors via the e-payment system on WOSM web site.
3. Sending the funds to the beneficiaries
Once the funds raised, the European Scout Office would agree, in co-operation with the Bulgarian Scout Organisation, on the number of Bulgarian Scouts who would participate to the 2007 World Scout Jamboree. One part of the amount raised would be paid to the Scout Association in the UK, to cover the participation fees, and the other part to the Bulgarian Scout Organisation to cover the travel cost from Bulgaria to the UK.

Yours sincerely,

Blaise Bachmann
Director, Administration & Finance

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Don't hate me....

So here I am again to ask for money. You hate me, don't you? Well, check the title for this post and realize that you can't hate me 'cause I told you not to. Anyway, back to the subject at hand. I mentioned that I'm planning on running a marathon in Greece come November. And I need to start training. Good gravy. All those sweets from the grandparents for my "name month" are NOT going to help. Have to give them away. Anyway, I also mentioned that we're going to raise money for scouts to go to an International Jamboree in England. Well, we have a website you can go to so as to donate money to the cause. Go here. And select "Scouting in the European Region." Select your currency. Mention the "World Scout Jamboree 2007," support to Bulgaria, Peace Corps Marathon project, social security number, name of your first-born, (not really!), etc. That's all you have to do, and I'll love you forever.

Arrival of the “Shterkil”

There are storks everywhere now. In fact, some have taken up residence in a huge nest on the bell tower of the church across from my house. That means that we can finally take off those red and white martenitzas that we’ve been wearing and hang them on a flowering tree somewhere. You should see the way some trees are littered with them. I saw a stork in a zoo yesterday, and there were martinitzas covering his cage from top to bottom. I think that’s cheating, but whatever. As long as seeing a stork means spring is here and not that I should be expecting a “little bundle of joy,” I’m happy.
I’m hanging out at home as I write this – doing the domestic thing – washing laundry and baking peanut-butter cookies. Yanko asked me when I was going to make cookies again. Plus, since I don’t have an “Inmen den” (name day)…. I figure I have an “Inmen mesets” (name month) considering my name sake is the fourth month of the year. You’re supposed to “cherpa,” as in bring in some goodies to share on your name day, so I asked Yanko how he felt about me bringing something in all month. He readily agreed, and then told me I was already three days late.
We finally started working up at the center on Thursday. We took out all the rotted flooring and swept up a bunch of junk. It already looks so much better in there. I was listening to Valia and Ani talk about their future plans for the center. They’re already talking about making french fries in the kitchen, putting in a couch and a computer, and just hanging out there all afternoon. Forget the office. I was enjoying listening to them. I know they’ve been dreaming about this center for a long time (Yanko says it’s been six years), but it was the first time I was up there with them and “seeing” their vision of the place. We all agree on one thing: it’s going to be awesome. I sure hope it lives up to expectations.
I went and spent the weekend with “the family.” I had to go to Plovdiv to buy some train tickets for a Turkey trip later this month, and I decided to just make a family visit out of it. I surprised my “parents.” I had asked my “sister” if I could come, and she said of course. I guess she forgot to tell the parents though. Even she forgot I was coming. Her mom called a while after I showed up and “surprised” her as well. At least they said it was a “good” surprise. It’s understandable. Villi is rarely home anyway. She came home soon after that though, and my “cousin” Nellie came over, too. I was glad to see them, but it’s hard to interact now. I don’t see them nearly as often as I used to. After I update them about work and what I know about the other volunteers that used to live in Trud, there’s really not much else to say. Well, there probably is, but I’m not really the best conversationalist. My life is so different now from what it was in training, and it can be hard to re-connect – especially with the language barrier. I was uncomfortable for a while, like I was just in the way, but then it got better. I briefly helped the family plant some potatoes, Villi made a crown for us out of flowers, my “parents” made me my favorite meal, Villi gave me a haircut, and I went to coffee with Dida (a friend) and my sister like, ten times in one day. I decided to spend some extra time there, and we went to a part of Plovdiv I had never seen before – a free zoo and a place where they do rowing competitions, and one can walk/jog/play around the man-made lake. This morning found me up at 5:45 though – standing in the rain, getting an expensive cab ride by chance, and then taking a couple buses just to get back to work – where there’s not much to do at the moment.
Well, I have plenty I can do to keep me occupied. Yanko called a couple donor organizations for me and then just went on and on about how he dreams of living in California, how I must be crazy to come to Bulgaria (Rakitovo in particular), and how about we trade places? And, by the way, how far is Ohio from California? Dallas? Is Las Vegas in California? And since Sacramento is the biggest city in the state, what other cities are almost as big as Sacramento? This is why the maps are still hanging out in the office. My colleagues are bouncing off the walls. We have tons of things coming up, but we’re waiting to see if and when we’re going to have the money to do these things. In fact, we have a huge event happening Saturday (International Roma Day), but we haven’t been able to plan much because we’re not sure about the funding for the celebration. Anyway, so it’s all getting put until the last minute, and it’s racking everyone’s nerves.
My English class fell apart again today. I didn’t prepare well, and the kids were pretty much socializing the whole time. I finally said, “You know what? Sorry. It’s my fault. I didn’t prepare, but I just can’t take it anymore. I’m done for today.” I even pulled one girl out and told her I didn’t know why she even bothers showing up. She always comes in late and just sits there and talks – having someone else write down the words for her, so she says. When I told them good-bye, many of them looked shocked and visibly disappointed. Why? You aren’t listening. You have no respect for what I’m trying to do here. Now you can sit and chat to your heart’s content, and I won’t be here glaring at you… hating Mondays. Ah, high school is coming back to me all over again. Anyway, they seem to care what I think about them (I told a girl she was pretty today and should apply for a local pageant, and she just about flipped out), but it’s not enough to get them to shut up. (sigh) I am making some headway with one girl though. She’s finally learned the numbers 1-10, and she knows the verb “I am;” she just can’t keep them straight as to what they mean. She’s another one who adores me though, so I suppose that’s what important. (“You’re a nice teacher. You don’t beat children.” Uh… what?) Why can’t one use these insights for blackmail capabilities? Anyway, all the kids ended up hanging out for a while – probably because it was raining, so I taught them how to play “Heads Up, Seven Up.” They seemed to like it, but they cheated like crazy. Ah, rainy days in grade school are coming back to me all over again.
Ani, another girl, and I have agreed to start having daily English lessons. We were supposed to start today, but neither of them could make it. Oh well. Just gave me more time to brood and wallow in self-pity over my last class. I then had Spanish with Maria and Reneta, and that was fun. They can joke around and still stay on task, so it’s enjoyable. Plus, they pick up words like their gems, so you tell them a word twice and they’ve pretty much got it. They’ve already memorized the numbers from 1 – 1000, and I swear it won’t be long before they’re ahead of the topics I’m covering in my English classes. I stopped by their home briefly after the lesson, and Maria said they were already doing the homework I had given them. These are the kind of girls one always either aspired to be or was intensely jealous of back in school – smart, clever, witty, pretty, involved in everything. These girls are busy. They have additional English lessons, Maria plays the clarinet, Reneta plays the drums, they’re involved in every activity the clubhouse has to offer, they take Spanish lessons with me, plus their normal schoolwork. They don’t seem to be overwhelmed though, as they still find time to watch obscene amounts of Cartoon Network. I’m so proud of them.
Hahaha!! Guess what! Two packages from my grandparents got here today! (day after above post) I swear everytime I make cookies, packages show up from them with all sorts of goodies to show me up. Hahaha. Cool. All this is going to help me get through my whole "name month." People are amused by that, and they all say I have to "cherpa" the whole month. It's a good thing all those goodies got here. Ah, and I have reddish hair now. Tsetska, another colleague, highlighted my hair today. It was a painful process, but now I have red highlights to go with my new haircut. Now I'm just hanging out in the office with my colleagues, and we're joking around. It's worrisome when we don't have money, but it can be fun, too. Oh, we have money from SPA. (Yeah!) But that's for the center. Ah, I see they ate up all the cookies and molasses chips I brought in. Success! Done and done. By the way, Happy Birthday to my Grandma Daugherty. I love you!