Tuesday, May 23, 2006

1...2...3...12! Class of 2006

My counterpart, Angel, finished high school this week at 21 years of age. His sister, Veska, also finished. I’m extremely proud of them. So the saying goes, “better late than never.” Plus, not many Roma around here continue on to high school – let alone finish. Angel invited me to come to his Senior Ball. It was a glamorous affair, so I had to go into Pazardjik to buy a formal gown, shoes, and all the glitz and glitter. It was a fun evening – although it’s been 7 years since I finished high school (gasp!), and I’ve kind of forgotten what it was like. Those kids are crazy, and they would go around shouting off numbers, from one to twelve, to signify their accomplishment. Snidely, I would think to myself, “Oh, great. You can count. That’s what twelve years of schooling got you.” But they’re high school kids having fun and celebrating their achievement. I’m just getting cantankerous and crotchety in my old age. It really was a lot of fun.
There was a short ceremony at the school to start things off. I’m sure tons of people were surprised and scandalized to see me there at all, especially with a Roma boy. I’m just trying to shake things up and become even more notorious in my tiny town. Some of the teachers I’m acquainted with kidded around with me and asked if I was a graduate, too. Apparently, one teacher asked Angel if we were engaged. Scandalous! Maybe I can get them to print in the local paper that I’m having his two-headed, alien baby, and I’m going back to the states to have it delivered.
After the school ceremony, we went to the banquet hall of a restaurant in Velingrad. There was live music, good food, and tons of people. There was the horo, slow-dancing, and kuchek. There were tons of people dressed to the hilt. My dress was actually pretty plain in comparison to everyone else’s. I’ll post more pictures later.
After hanging out there for several hours, we went to a local discotheque. Finally, at about 4 a.m., we returned to Rakitovo. Upon arriving home, I found the gate locked and the key in an unreachable spot. After cursing my situation for a few minutes, I decided I had little alternative but to hop the gate – in my pretty dress. So that’s what I did. It would have been great to get a picture of that.
Yesterday, Angel and Veska had a party in the Mahala to celebrate their accomplishment. It looked a lot like the weddings they have up there every so often. A live band came to play, and people danced around in circles (the horo) for a few hours. After that, the party continued in their house and front yard. The colleagues from our organization were given special guest privileges. We were able to go into the house and eat a meal. Veska and Angel both thanked the people at our organization for the support and encouragement they’ve received over the years to continue with their education. Both got teary-eyed and started crying. My colleagues shed tears as well.
Not long after, a group of Angel’s high school friends stopped by and were shuttled off into another room. I wanted to join them, as I’d spent time with them at the ball and thought they were fun kids, but I didn’t want to interrupt. Angel soon came up and said, “Apryl, they want you to come over and say hello.” Yes! I’ve been accepted by high school kids. It’s a tough crowd, man, especially when you’re doing the “adult thing.” So I spent the rest of the evening with them. Crazy nuts. Lots of singing, dancing, and laughing. Oh, and lots of taking pictures. Toward the end of the night, I was getting annoyed because anytime someone would talk to me, it would usually be to tell me to take their picture. “Apryl! Look what I’m doing! Take my picture!” Just because I have a nice camera doesn’t mean that I’m the designated photographer, and I’m here to cater to your whims. I was burned out, and I felt exploited. Aside from that, it was a really great evening. Veska and Angel got all sorts of presents, and they were perfect hosts to all their guests. Now, Angel is taking a well-deserved break with some of his classmates over on the coast at Sunny Beach.
As for the pictures, I was probably more sensitive because I was the designated photographer for our organization earlier in the day. We were taking part in a “healthy teeth” campaign at the Roma school that morning. I had been assigned to take pictures with the org’s new digital. The kids went nuts. “Gospozho, snimay mi,” (Miss, take my picture) over and over again. Kids would get their pictures taken and then come back a few minutes later demanding that I take another of them with a different group of friends. “When are you going to develop them? Can I have one? How much does it cost?” I even started running around to mix things up and act like I was trying to get away from them, and I have pictures of kids chasing me. It’s funny. Apparently I win in the end though. The campaign was filmed, and Brandy texted me to say that she had seen me on T.V.
The weather in Rakitovo has been rather odd lately. We would have a really sunny day, and then all the sudden, in the evening, we’d get a thunder storm. It was kind of cool – except when it happened the night of the ball, and we couldn’t have the school ceremony outside. It stopped soon enough. Now it’s just been pretty hot the past couple days. So much for spring.
I ran to the next town and back this morning. I don’t know how far it was, but it was an hour run. I’m a really slow runner, though, so it probably doesn’t mean much of anything. I’m feeling good though.
I ran into Milka, my landlady, today. She was passing out candy because she’s a proud Grandma – again. Her daughter had another baby yesterday, and apparently he’s healthy and happy. Milka was beaming when I saw her. She was passing out candy, and I happened to get the last piece. I’m now “Kakata O.K.” to Emil’s new brother, Kolyan.
Tomorrow is a holiday, and I found out that I actually do get the day off. That’s pretty sweet considering the fact that I’m taking vacation right after that. Jerramy and Amy have invited me to meet them (and Amy’s parents) in Kavala, Greece on Thursday, so I’ll be taking a bus down there. Wow. Greece. Yay! I haven’t been there yet. That should be a blast. We’ll come back on Saturday and then probably go to the Rila Monastery (probably the most famous monastery in the country). Then, it’s back to site, but I won’t stay long. Because of my work with a minority organization, I’m taking part in a minority panel in Dupnitsa for new trainees this next week. Right after that, it’s off to the other side of the country for a meeting with another volunteer’s girls’ group. That weekend, there will be an annual rose festival in the “Rose Valley” (middle) of Bulgaria. There’s also some fire-walking festival down by Turkey. Then, I’ll be in Plovdiv for a week with a day camp, and the following weekend I’ll go back to the coast for the Sting concert. June madness. July will be even busier. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Friday, May 19, 2006


Check out this injustice that's been going on for some time, but I thought I'd just share now:

It must be nice to work in the office for Peace Corps Bulgaria. They get both Bulgarian and American holidays off. The 24th is "St. Cyril and St. Methodius Day" (the creators of the cyrillic alphabet) and the 29th is "Memorial Day" in the states. So the office is closed on those days. I wonder if other PC posts abroad get this perk. Meanwhile, I'm pretty sure I'm working the 24th, and I know I'm working the 29th. I wonder how I can transfer my assignment to the Sofia office....

P.P.S. If anyone at Peace Corps Headquarters is reading this, please don't get me wrong. I don't think you should give up these holidays. I just like to point out these interesting insights to my family and friends back home.

Green Hills, Blue Mountains, and 3rd Party Dates

Rakitovo is so gorgeous. I didn't realize it until everything turned green, and I started going places around my town. It all started when the other volunteers were here and commented on how pretty it was. Then, a couple days ago, I took a run up into the hills that I look at everyday. It was so beautiful - the pine trees, the streams, the green grass, the wildflowers, the clearings with the blossoming fruit trees. I'm falling in love with this place even more. I am enjoying living in a town surrounded by mountains - where I can walk up into them just about anytime I please.
The educational center is coming along even further. We've laid beautiful tiles down in half the main hall. I'll be posting a bunch of pictures when it's over. I think it's easier that way - for me - to just do it in one shot. The next move is to finish the flooring, put up the walls, and then we we will install the heaters and the electrical equipment. It's becoming a reality! We're excited over here.
I went on the strangest "date last night. Enyo, for the longest time, has been insisting that I meet a Bulgarian and settle down here. Between us, it's always a joke, and I mostly just laugh. Another volunteer, however, told him that she wouldn't mind being set-up with a Bulgarian, but she has certain standards. She told him her criteria, and recently Enyo found a man that more-or-less fits them. He informed me that I needed to go meet this guy and screen him. Plus, if I liked him, I should keep him, and we'll find someone else for the other volunteer.
We randomly showed up at his house one day. I could tell the poor guy had no idea what was going on. Enyo introduced me to him, and as he was working and unprepared for any type of visit, they arranged to talk later. So, last night Enyo decided to call him up. He came into my apartment to announce that he was going to make the arrangement to meet. The guy agreed to stop by after work. I waited, and waited, and waited. I was getting pretty impatient and frustrated. It's sad enough to be stood-up on your own dates. I really don't need the inconvenience and "pathetic-ness" of being stood-up on a date for someone else. I had other things to do.
Finally, he showed up, and we went to coffee. He apologized for being late. He's a pleasant but quiet guy. He talks so softly and mumbles a bit. It wasn't always easy for me to understand him. He admitted that he was worried that I didn't speak Bulgarian because I hadn't really said anything the other day. He seemed relieved that I could understand him. We had some pleasant conversation punctuated by a few, silent pauses. He cracked a few jokes. He started to talk about possible things to do if I didn't have any other plans for the weekend. Ah-ha! (and uh-oh) This guy really has NO idea what this is about. I started by apologizing. I knew Enyo had been random and unforthcoming with this guy. He told me that his brother-in-law had talked to Enyo and had vaguely mentioned something about meeting someone, but he was really sweet about it and said that he didn't mind. I had nothing to apologize for. "Wait," I said, "you still don't know entirely what this is about." I told him that Enyo constantly jokes with me about finding a Bulgarian man, and that he's also taken to joking with a friend of mine. I told him that I was there for my friend, and that it would be good for the two of them to meet. He was still really understanding and said it was no problem. Maybe we could all get together - the three of us.
He paid for the coffee, and then we took a quick walk around the center. Since there was still daylight out, he invited me to go to Tsigov Chark. Tsigov Chark is a small locale 7 km. from Rakitovo. There is a large reservoir there, and it's a popular site for camping and vacationing. Several people around here talk about taking me there, but no one has actually made good on that. Hence, I accepted the invitation and finally went to this fabled place with a stranger. It really is quite pretty up there - although some of the buildings are pretty run down. The water was beautiful, and the surrounding hills were gorgeous. I love how the mountains take on a blue color as the sun sets here. We were probably up there for about an hour and then turned around and came back down.
So, that was my "third-party date." It was interesting playing the "middle woman." It's great to have another acquaintance in Rakitovo, and it's a HUGE plus that he has a car. He said that it was nice to have the company and that if I ever wanted to go anywhere again, to just let him know. I could really exploit this....

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Caught in the Hail

It hailed yesterday. I was on my way up to the Mahala to work on our building project when a sudden thunderstorm decided to make an appearance. It was such a beautiful day yesterday, and then it clouded up and rained off and on for a good few hours. Then it went back to being sunny and beautiful. I saw a few little drops on the ground when I left my apartment, but I decided it wasn’t worth turning around and going back to get my umbrella. By the time I got up to the building, I was soaked. Tiny balls of ice fell from the heavens for about half a minute, but I was outside and got to witness it. My colleagues were appalled by my “drowned-rat” look and insisted I wear Yanko’s clothes. I was a funny site to see for sure.
So we’ve gotten some more work done on the building. We had a disappointment on Sunday when the guy who agreed to show up and pave the floor of our building reneged. I’ve actually almost gotten used to that happening – it’s occurred so many times with people I’ve learned not to count on here. As we were sitting outside, cursing this guy for letting us down, another guy showed up. Yanko showed him the work and explained that we were on a tight budget. He said we would do it, but we weren’t ready to believe such promises until we saw them completed. He did show up yesterday, but then he disappeared for long stretches at a time. We weren’t sure what this guy’s deal was and if he was really going to fulfill the obligation. When he came back, he worked like a horse, and we got a lot done. My colleagues are happy and relieved. I’m feeling good, too. It’s going to get done – little by little.
I mentioned in my last post that I was hosting a dance workshop with a few other volunteers. David, Jerramy, and Amy came out on Wednesday, and it was really nice to have them here. On Thursday, we started from four o’clock and went until eight: one hour of foxtrot, followed by an hour of waltz, then swing, and finally salsa to wrap it up. Brandy hosted us for dinner that night, and she impressed them with her cooking skills and HBO. The next day, we went running up into the hills and park of Rakitovo. They totally left me in the dust. I really need to work on my distance and up-hill running. Man! We followed that up with lunch and then had another four hours of dancing: again foxtrot, waltz, swing, and then cha-cha. Leslie also came that day to visit. Jerramy and Amy had to leave early Saturday morning to get back home (all the way on the other side of the country), and then David and I hosted a tango class. In the afternoon, we had a review/party of all the dances. Then Brandy and Leslie hosted us for dinner.
The workshops were a lot of fun, and I was sad when the weekend ended. I’m not used to having guests, and I felt lonely when they left. They’re really low-maintenance guests, and I felt comfortable and relaxed pretty much the whole time. They brought a lot of amusement to Rakitovo, and they helped me to see how really beautiful it is here. I guess when you live in a place, you don’t realize how great it can be until someone else comes and brightens it for you by offering another pair of eyes to look through. The dancing was great, too. I got to interact with some new kids this way and get a little more exposure in the town. Plus, I learned some dances myself. The kids were so fun, and they adored the other volunteers. They still ask me where they are and why they’re not here. Plus, many of them thought we were going to get up on stage for some festival and show people what we had learned. When I tried my best to explain that it was just for a few days to have a little bit of fun, they looked at me like I had just killed their mother.
I got to know some of the volunteers a little better, too. Jerramy stayed with me during most of our run, and I got to talk to him a little about his and Amy’s life in site. One night, David and I hung out on my balcony until about three a.m. He’s probably cursing me in his blog for keeping him up that late, but I enjoyed the opportunity to get to know him a little better.
So, the extended weekend was a good one. There were some hard times with trying to explain dances in Bulgarian, but the kids were more respectful and attentive than I expected. There were times when we worried that we weren’t going to have many kids, but a bunch would eventually come in. We had some regulars, too, who were there for almost every dance. Plus, the other volunteers were able to laugh through the language barrier, and the kids tried their best to understand and follow along. It really was a fun experience that I’m not doing justice here because I’m all over the place and my writing is not up to the task at the moment. Suffice it to say that I had a good time, and I think the kids and other volunteers did, too.
I was worn out when it was all over though. On Sunday, I was feeling deflated (and a little defeated from where things stood with the building project) and wasn’t a good hostess to Leslie. She was supposed to go to Velingrad with Brandy, and when Brandy got sick and couldn’t go, I wasn’t able to step up to the plate. I just wanted to stay close to home and deal with my own thoughts.
And I totally forgot it was Mother’s Day! Brandy reminded us that morning, but when my mom called to talk and say that I had made her blueberry pancakes, I just wasn’t getting it. Bulgaria doesn’t really have a Mother’s Day anymore. They have the eighth of March, which used to be like a Mother’s Day (and still is to some extent), but now it’s been changed to an International Woman’s Day to celebrate all females. I’m so glad my mom called. It made my evening.
I’m starting to feel a little overwhelmed – not that I have a bunch of stuff to do. It’s hard to explain. It’s like, I’ve got a lot of little things on my plate that I just keep forgetting to deal with or have to get pushed aside for other things. Tiny little things like people here asking me to print pictures out for them – which should theoretically be easy, but it means a trip to Velingrad to do it. Tiny little things like, because I speak English, I’ve been asked to get in contact with the Canadian government for a Death Certificate, but it’s difficult to get things done because the requester doesn’t have all the information Canada wants. And I don’t even know why Canada needs certain things, and I’m having a hard time explaining them in Bulgarian when I can’t see the reason behind them. Tiny little things like e-mails and keeping contacts up for side projects, but I don’t have as much internet access as I used to because I have to share with six other colleagues one computer with internet. I don’t do much in the office and would love to take off to do other things, but I feel like it’s not fair to my organization. They show up in the office whether or not they have things to do. Why not me, too? Tiny little things like wanting to help in the building, but not being in shape to cart around heavy buckets of cement. Whine, whine, whine. It takes much longer to do things here than it should, and I’m thinking I need internet in my apartment. It’s apparently difficult to find a cable for my laptop though. I don’t know. Hopefully I can have it soon and get more done. In the meantime, I’ll whine on my blog.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Gainful Employment

First off, I’ve posted lots of pictures from the last four months in Rakitovo. Click here if you want to see them.
I was offered a job last week; a real job where I’d be making real money. Not that Peace Corps gives us Monopoly money, but PC is kind of like a parent giving a child an allowance. In fact, they call what they give us “living allowances.” Anyway, I was offered a job at a bar that an English couple is opening in Rakitovo. They live in a nearby town, and I randomly met them in Pazardjik last year when we were getting our legal documents in order. It’s a shame I can’t take the job. It’s a huge conflict with my current employer (I’m sure I’d be let go from PC), and I don’t have the time anyway. It’d be cool to make some extra money for my organization. Actually, I’d probably take a large percentage for traveling. And then there’s the whole “working at a bar in Bulgaria” thing. That’s just random. How many Americans can put that on their resume? I guess I’ll just have to be content with all the prestige that comes from being a Peace Corps Volunteer. Wait, what? Oh right, there’s really no prestige in that. Why am I doing this again?
This update is fairly pointless. There’s nothing new and exciting going on here. But that doesn’t stop me from posting! Aren’t you lucky? Brandy and I did have to go into Pazardjik for an overnight trip last week because Peace Corps had to go over some new policies they’re implementing for us volunteers. Basically, it’s limiting our travel. We’ve been able to pretty much pick up and go wherever (in-country) we want whenever we have free time. Now, PC is trying to limit our weekend travel so we’ll stay in site a little more often… along with a few other new rules it’s enacting. This is supposed to be helping with our integration into the community. It really doesn’t matter to a volunteer like me – who’s a bore and rarely goes anywhere. Leaving site just isn’t as appealing to me as I thought it would be. I like it here, and leaving is a hassle anyway. It really sucks for those who live in tiny little towns, have significant others in other sites, or just feel they need to get out every weekend. The new policy isn’t really that restrictive. It’s just going to be very different for new volunteers and for us who are used to quite a bit of freedom. I doubt it will affect my life much. But if it does… guess who gets to hear me whine about it? Uh-huh. That’s if you’re still reading, I suppose.
I’m hosting a dance workshop this week. We have some talented and educated dancers in the Peace Corps: David, Jerramy, and Amy. I’m sure I’ve mentioned them before. They’re great kids. I went to Istanbul with them, and we’ve had some other good times together. Well, David agreed way back during training to come out and put on a dance workshop in my town. He’s in charge, and Jerramy and Amy will be helping out. It should be fun! My colleagues put up posters I’d made last week (one’s already been torn down – jerks!), and about 50 kids (96% girls) have signed up so far. We’ll be learning foxtrot, waltz, swing, salsa, tango, and cha-cha. Plus, I’ll get to play hostess! Leslie’s coming out that weekend, too. I’m not used to having visitors. While this will be Leslie’s third visit, I haven’t hosted anyone else. It should be interesting. I just hope it goes well.
More random reasons to talk about why David is cool: he mailed me a Sting mix CD this week in preparation for the June concert. I’m listening to it as I write this. It’s pretty good stuff.
The remodeling of the building for our educational center is going along slowly and surely. Yanko continues to chunk old tiles out of the kitchen sink, and we’ve gotten white tiles to take their place. We also received a donation of sand this last week, which we’ll use to mix with cement we’ve just been delivered. We’ve cleaned up the inside (there used to be a bunch of trash everywhere), and we’ve spruced up the outside as well by putting in plants and flowers. Yanko has asked that I write to the U.S. Embassy again for more materials. We’ll see if that leads to anything.
Saturday was “St. George’s Day.” Anyone who has the name “Georgi” or “Gergana” got to celebrate their name day, plus it’s traditional to eat lamb. My landlords’ children said they would have invited me over if I ate lamb (Enyo continues to work on his campaign to get me to eat meat), and Ani and Yanko actually did invite me over and fed me salad and beans – with no pressure to eat the lamb. Historically, their ancestors would go into the forest on this day and begin their work (which would keep them away from their home all summer). They would celebrate by eating lamb and having a party. Also, it’s a national day for the Bulgarian Army or something. I really don’t know. It seems like there’s always an excuse to celebrate something. The lunch was nice though. Afterwards, I watched a clever and amusing film Maria and Reneta had made featuring their numerous dolls as a Spanish monarchy. I also saw some video Yanko has taken of events the organization has held in recent months… including the April 8th celebration where I got on the stage in the “chitalishte” and tried to dance “kuchek” in front of hundreds of people. Bleh. Watching video of myself (especially when I’m making a fool of myself) isn’t high on my list of favorite things to do, but I wasn’t all that bad if I do say so.
After lunch at my boss’ place, I went over to Brandy’s – who had made Mexican food to celebrate cinco de mayo. Good stuff. I’ve now officially had Mexican food twice since coming to Bulgaria – and it’s been within the last month with one time in Istanbul. Both times have been yummy experiences, but it hasn’t measured up to the stuff I’m used to in California. There’s not much one can do about that. This isn’t California.
Yeah. Don’t worry. There are times when I miss home for sure (and not just when I’m thinking about Mexican food). I’m pretty far-removed from life there. Living in Bulgaria has become a weird sort of “normal” that I’ve adapted to, and my life in the states seems so far away, but I still miss it sometimes. Almost nine months of living abroad will do that to you, I suppose. I’m trying to remember how I felt about this time in Spain. It was really different five years ago though. I was getting ready to go home at this point, and I was surrounded by Americans there. Well, this is neither the time nor the place to host an identity crisis and voice my early fears about “reverse culture-shock.” Ciao!