Thursday, June 29, 2006

Text me!

Hey! Did you know you can send free text messages to my phone? And that I can send messages back to your online account? Probably not because I haven't told you about it. If this "once-in-a-lifetime" offer is something that interests you, shoot me an e-mail or something, and I'll tell you how to sign up for free!

Man, did we ever have the craziest flash, summer storm last night. I woke up to lightning and huge crashes of thunder. It was quite a show. I risked my life by stepping out onto my balcony to collect my laundry, but I got a front-row seat as I ducked in and out gathering clothes. I like living on the edge.
Yesterday, a couple girls rode bikes past my house and call out my name. It's been a really long time since someone called me from the street to ask me to play. I almost felt like I needed to find my mom and ask her for permission. I was cooking dinner, and I wasn't going to get out there fast enough for them, so I invited them in. We played card games, then we went outside and played volleyball, then one of them treated me to ice cream. Maybe we'll get together again and hang out tonight. Ain't summer great? God's still looking out for me....

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Painting the Roses Red

I have a feeling this is going to be one of those long, rambling, confessional posts. One I should be wearing black for, lighting candles, and listening to Sarah McLachlan. One of those ones that, were I Angelina Jolie confessing every nuance of my blossoming romance with Mr. Pitt, would be an amazing best-seller. Instead, I’m just some random Peace Corps volunteer in some Eastern European country most people have heard of “once-anup-a-time.” And I have this sinking feeling that this blog is going quietly unnoticed these days – like a character in that book in “The Never-Ending Story” who dies if no one reads about them. I could use an Atreyu on a white horse to come and rescue me.
Does anyone remember “Alice in Wonderland?” I have titled this post as such to describe the seemingly fruitlessness of my endeavors (or lack of endeavors as of late). Also because I’ve been doing some painting recently. Makes sense, right? Well, as long as my logic is logical to me… said the padded man in the crazy room.
Two-hundred-and-fifty dollars a month should be enough to change the world, right? Maybe I should consult Bill Gates. I read he’ll be cutting back time at Microsoft to devote more to his $29 billion organization to help 4 billion of the world’s poor. Maybe he should just give them all $7.25. They could see a matinee and get some popcorn – which I wish I were doing right now. “Mission: Impossible III” has finally made its way to the Balkans. Sorry, Tom, maybe I’ll catch you another time. I can’t get anyone to go with me at the moment.
Anyway, back to Bill. I was being facetious. Think about that: 4 billion of the world’s poor. Two-thirds of the world needs something or other than the other one-third of us (I’m guessing I’m in the “lucky” one-third and you are, too) probably takes for granted. So, back to my point (yes, I believe I had one)… $250 a month in salary should be incentive enough to change the world, right? A country? A town? A group? An outlook? I’m prefacing to prepare myself for where I’ll probably be going in this edition. I’m trying to convince myself that I’m being too demanding of myself ‘cause this is going to be one of those self-flagellating posts.
Let’s start with an update of what I’ve been doing. I haven’t been in site much. June hasn’t been a great month for instilling the good ole’ “I love Rakitovo” feeling. I’ve been out of site for pretty much half the month doing side-projects. July will be even worse. I was gone at the beginning of last week for VSN duties. The Volunteer Support Network was designed to provide mental and emotional support to volunteers that want to talk to someone confidentially if they’re having a tough time with site and something service-related, or otherwise. I’m a VSN member. I’ll hold your hand and keep your deep, dark secrets. My deep, dark secrets go directly to my blog. Kidding. Personally, I’ve never utilized VSN. I can usually find support in my site (lucky me!) or with sympathetic volunteers. Usually, I just swallow it down and wait to get over it in my passive-aggressive way. It’s like Wheaties®. I’m sure the built-up bitterness will help me run the marathon. Haha. I wonder how many people will want to utilize ME for encouragement!
Anyway, I was up in the mountains for a session designed to introduce VSN to the next round of volunteers. Right now we’re turning ourselves into “cruise-directors” to give people “Get Out of Site Free” cards. Travel policy has become prohibitive and new volunteers can only leave site once a month for the first three months. The rest of us can get out of site twice a month, but if you stand on your head for an hour, I hear they’ll give you a couple margaritas and an extra weekend just to see you try. What? It’s complicated. You don’t care. Basically, you don’t get docked for a VSN weekend, so there’s this huge incentive for us to plan something for everyone. And who knows? Maybe they’ll adore us enough to remember those good bonding times at the beach and give us a call when they’re freezing and depressed in winter… instead of strangling their counterparts or something. So, I spent a few days up in the middle-of-beautiful-nowhere so I could eat dinner and play baseball with the new volunteers – which was fun. The rest of the time, however, I was hanging out with the 17s (the group that came before me) at their Mid-Service Conference getting strange “why-are-you-here?” looks and questions – which turned out to be fun, too.
On my way back to site, I stopped in Sofia to glean through tolerance-building materials for a “Tolerance Kit” some of us are hoping to put together. I found a lot of good stuff, but can I really just throw some random, already-published materials and rebind them into a manual? If it theoretically makes PCV life easier, one can do just about anything. That’s what we’re hoping for at least.
This last Friday, I went to Pazardjik for a couple days to help choose campers for the Roma and Multi-ethnic camps that will be hosted in the middle of July. I’m glad I went, and I enjoyed my time there - even though culling through applications in Bulgarian is known to cause instant “glazing-of-the-eyes” syndrome. And I got to see “Lucky Number Slevin.” I’ve seen two movies this June (saw “The Da Vinci Code” in Plovdiv). I think that’s a record for me since I came to Bulgaria. I could make it three if I could get my act together and go to Velingrad to see Tom. Three would be unprecedented.
While in Pazardjik, my landlady called, “Apryl, we have guests over this weekend. Can we use that spare room in your apartment?” What could I say? I told her my apartment was dirty, but she said it was okay because they were just going to use that room. Yeah, and the bathroom. Some might say I’m “too nice,” but is it really “nice” if you’re cursing about it the whole time and are dealing with it in a passive-aggressive way. I’m an only child, and I like my space. I particularly don’t like having strangers coming in and out of my messy apartment. One might think that I should bring it up with Peace Corps, but I actually don’t want it to bother me. This is only the second time it’s ever happened, and I want to help my landlords out. They invited me down for lunch on Sunday right before a gaggle of people left, and they really did have a full house. It was madness. The least I could do was let the guests use my spare room. It just sucks, you know. I only wish I could be a better sport about it.
I once prefaced a presentation during training by stating, “I like to call this ‘The Day I Didn’t Care Very Much for Bulgarians.’” I had a volunteer repeat that statement back to me recently. He said that he liked it in the fact that it reminded him that he didn’t have to always like the way things are here even though he’s generally happy with his service – and that it’s normal to get frustrated with the people or the system here. I’m glad it resonated with him. For me, June has been the “Month I Haven’t Cared Very Much for Apryl.” July looks like it might be a sequel. Here’s why:
Well, first of all, I am too hard on myself. I hope I’m too hard on myself. Otherwise, the alternative is that I really am as pathetic as I make myself out to be. That can’t be it. I must be too hard on myself – said the hammer under the nail. Secondly, I haven’t done anything for my community this month – other than paint a door and a window up in the center. Oh yeah, and cull through grants and funding that have led to nowhere. When did I decide I needed to pressure myself to get more funding for our organization? Maybe, somewhere along the way, I justified my “privilege” of knowing English as a method for accumulating material wealth. I am so fortunate to have an organization that doesn’t look to me to get them money. Other volunteers aren’t so lucky. Having things is nice though.
So I feel as though I’ve done zilch in my site as of late. Why? We’ll say it’s because I’ve been helping other volunteers get things done at their sites – which is good times, but it’s not nearly as personally satisfying, and it leads to something everyone tells you not to do: comparing yourself to other volunteers. Everyone’s got a summer project: whether it’s a camp, a sport team to teach kids baseball, an English club, etc. And then you want to have a project in your site that everyone will sign up to come to and you can go to sleep at night telling yourself that you are a “good” volunteer… maybe even a “super-volunteer” as some call them… which can lead to vain-glory. What a horrible, double-edged sword it is to want to be a “good” volunteer… to get recognition and a pat on the back for what you do in site. And yet it’s there.
I want to do something in Rakitovo for my kids. It’s what I’m supposed to be doing. But I don’t even interact with kids anymore. Ever since I went MIA for other projects, my kids stopped showing up for English. I haven’t been able to have a Spanish class in about a month. I finally had a fun one on Monday. I’ve had kids stop me and ask if we’re going to have English. I tell them we’re going to take a break. I’m going to be gone pretty much all of July anyway. Besides, I’m bitter about English. I’m trying to think up ways to make it fun for the kids (and me!) again. When I ask them if they want to have English, they always say yes, but I never know if they say that because they think that’s what I want to hear. Or, maybe the fact that they’re bringing it up means that they’re incredibly bored and just want to DO SOMETHING this summer. And I’d just love to goof off with kids. I’ve been invited to the pool a couple of times this summer, but I’ve had to decline because I’m “working.” It’s not fair for me to bail out on my colleagues because I want to hang out at the pool, but I almost feel like my efforts would be more justified there. I’d be making contacts with kids. And, crazy as it sounds, I do make $250 a month of your tax-payer money to play with kids. Bleh.
My mood is starting to get worrisome. I don’t even like to travel anymore. I can’t believe that I’m bummed I’m going to Spain. I should be enthusiastic and psyched that I get to go back to what’s probably my favorite country. Instead, I feel guilty for not sticking around and trying to do something at site. By the way, I leave in a week. Right after that, I go directly to a Multi-ethnic camp on the Black Sea. I will be in my site for probably less than 10 days in July. I love traveling! What’s wrong with me? Next summer, I’m going nowhere, and I’m signing up for nothing. Right. I’m going to sit in my site and probably lament about how much I was doing the previous summer. Whiney, personal crisis are always such fun, aren’t they?
I had my colleagues over last night for dinner. They were supposed to come on Sunday, but they never showed up. I had cleaned and cooked all day, so I informed them on Monday that they had to come and eat left-over Chinese food. They were half-an-hour late, and I was worried that they would stand me up. It was a nice evening though. They told me they enjoyed the food even though I really thought it wasn’t very good – not nearly as good as the first time I made it and was inspired to invite them over. You know how you feel (well, if you’re me) when you’ve done something that you feel isn’t your best and everyone tells you it’s great, and you feel like they’re just being nice because they don’t want to hurt your feelings, but you find it patronizing? (giant gasp for breath) Yeah. I could be known for my neurosis. Well, this is how I feel as of late with my colleagues. These amazing people adore me. You know how I know? Because they tell me. Because they’ve taken out their little “what-we-know-of-rating-a-PCV rating system” and rated me close to the top. And I adore my colleagues. The problem with them adoring me, however, is that I feel like I get away with too much. They’re self-sufficient (I’ve always wondered why they applied for a volunteer), and they’re content to let me work on whatever I find pressing at the moment – and go wherever I want for secondary projects. Which is absolutely fantastic! Except that I’m a little kid bumping into walls who needs direction and wish they’d give me something to DO! I’ve run out of creativity for the sheer fact that my self-doubt has told me I shouldn’t attempt anything. Though I haven’t come upon any major failures to justify to the self-doubt I’ve mired myself in, the voices in my head are telling me I’ll fail, so why try. Where have I heard that before? Oh right, Bulgaria. That’s the mentality we’re trying to get these wonderful people away from. Instead I’ve fallen into it. And anytime I think of an activity to do, I’ll tell myself, “Well, I’m leaving in a week anyway, so what’s the point?” So now I’m just hanging out until vacation comes along? Slacker.
The educational center is coming along beautifully – no thanks to me. Did I mention in my last post that I came back to find that they had put walls up? They’re transforming this empty space into something really neat, and they’re amazing me with their can-do attitude. We have doors to each of the rooms now. And we’ve been painting the old doors, the window-frames, and the shutters white. It’s this pristine white that makes you feel pure just looking at it. Plus, I swear the reflection of the sun in it has turned my pale skin a nice pink color. I love the center. It’s hard to explain how beautiful it is in its resourcefulness – meaning we haven’t had enough money to make it “professional-looking.” And it does look a little “ghetto-ish” in some ways, but it’s so beautiful and professional in surprising other ways. And, thanks to my colleagues’ “amazing, wow, knock-your-socks off capabilities,” (that’s the technical term) we’re getting a high-tech $700 heater with a water-pump that should be able to heat our entire center. Basically, they impressed some foreign investors (of course while I was away) and we’re getting more money because of it.
I took an interesting trip with Yanko to Velingrad the other day to hunt down the doors. It was a sweltering day, and we ended up walking quite a distance to some lumber mills before finding what we needed – at the price we needed. But we found them. And Yanko was happy. Afterwards, he took me up to “Kleptuza,” which is a sort of relaxation park with a giant man-made waterfall/lake, paddle-boats, and ducks on the outskirts of Velingrad. It was peaceful and pretty up there. I had always wanted to go. That can be said about a lot of places in Bulgaria. I’ve always wanted to go…. But now I don’t want to leave site, so what is a girl like me supposed to do with her conflicting personalities? Maybe I should name them and dress them up in pretty clothes. Anyway, Yanko and I took another trip today – this time up to a beautiful reservoir with a couple guys to try and nail down a place to hold a workshop and a camp this summer. I’ll probably miss the workshop, but Yanko is going to try and arrange the camp so that I can come. I’m so lucky to have such great colleagues who try to include me in as much as possible.
Here’s the part where I stop my pity-party and “me, me, me” talk and tell you anecdotal “facts” of varying consequence.
Speaking of colleagues, one of them is losing a son to the army on Friday. He’s going to fulfill his “service obligation” to his country. I believe it’s a three-month post. I know the mom is beside herself about this. She can’t even bring herself to eat, and she’s stressing out. She’s got a lot going on right now. A bunch of my other colleagues are remodeling their places in addition to the center, and I know that she wishes she had the money to do some remodeling herself. She also wishes she could get out of the country and find work abroad. You know you’re really integrating when you start thinking, “Maybe things were better here during communist times….” Yeah. A lot of things sucked, but at least you could make a living. I don’t know. I’m lucky to be a citizen of a country where democracy and capitalism “work” for the most-part. And I can count myself in the one-third that I mentioned above. Even my colleague is probably blessed, but when you go back to the fact that it’s normal for people to compare themselves to those they actually interact with… my colleague isn’t “keeping-up-with-the-Jones’” so to speak.
And here’s a random rant for you: I despise “pomoshtni uchilishtes.” There’s some “Bulgarish” for you. Literally, it’s a “helping school.” It’s supposed to be like a “special needs” school, but it’s not. I’ll explain, but – while we’re at it – let’s just talk about how screwed-up the educational system is anyway. So, about these “special needs” schools… they’re mostly filled with healthy, potentially-bright Roma children.
**We interrupt this post for basketball. I bought a ball in Velingrad - hoping that it would get me out with kids and playing again. Well, I just came in from playing. I was by myself for the longest time while the other kids either looked at me strangely or ignored me. High school. What can you do? I even asked a guy if he wanted to play, but he said he was tired. Whatever. You’re not tired if you’re attempting half-court shots. You just don’t want to play with me ‘cause you’re too cool for me. Or you’re scared I’ll school you. Understandable. Finally, a guy I met the other day who wants to practice his English came up, and we played a quick game, and then a girl I know came up, and all three of us played until dark. I miss being a kid. Mostly, I miss being cool.**
So, let’s get back to the “bribe-a-doctor-and-you’ll-get-in” schools. There are two in Rakitovo, and we don’t work with either of them. I’m not sure why, but it might be because they already get a bunch of aid from the state. Guess what other random fact I learned about these “special needs” schools. If you finish eighth grade there, you are permanently barred from obtaining a driver’s license. Why? Because you are “mentally incompetent,” of course, and obviously you will never be capable of driving. It would at least kinda make sense if the school actually was what it was designed for. Everyone knows how it is, but nothing changes. There are few jobs, and people need to maintain the status quo.
We do work with a school that was originally designed for kids with asthma. The curriculum is slightly easier, but I doubt any of those kids have difficulties breathing. The other day, a teacher rushed out to ask Yanko to campaign for more students. I don’t know if this was the reason she was asking, but I do know that the teachers need students to keep their jobs. That’s understandable. My alma mater is going through that right now. They need more students to justify the teachers they have on staff. The difference, however, is I don’t know if the teachers at my alma mater would pass failing students just so the next teacher could have another student in their class. That’s not fair to anyone – especially to the student. The kids just slip right through the cracks.
And there’s a hierarchy of schools in Rakitovo. Honestly, there might be only one school that is worth sending kids to. Even then, some could argue that one would get a better education if they went to Velingrad. It’s a shame.
Maybe I’m ranting about schools because Angel is about to get his diploma, and it’s not going to be pretty. He’s upset about it, and I’m upset because he’s upset. Apparently some of the teachers don’t like him and have given him low grades because of their personal feelings toward him. Unfortunately, I doubt there’s a system of challenging your grades in Rakitovo. It would be nice if they had a straight-forward system like many of my teachers did. These are the questions. These are the answers. If you answered a question incorrectly, you knew why. You got your score. You saw how it was weighted. You knew your grade was your grade because that’s what the computer calculated… not because you were pals with the teacher. Although, I do wish a few of my teachers had bumped up my grade because I attended class every time or they saw me trying really hard or something. Anyway, I honestly believe Angel’s grades suffered because he’s Roma. Maybe some of the teachers didn’t even do it consciously, but it still bites. We could all use some “extra credit” these days… a miracle would be nice, too.
P.S. Oh yeah, now I’m listening to “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey. Now there’s a good pick-me up. “Just a small-town girl living in a lonely world….” I hope my next post will be more positive. I have a lot of blessings to be grateful for. Sometimes, I have to let the passive-agressiveness out.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Circumnavigating the Country

My dear readers, as you can see it’s been a while since my last update. I’m sure you’re all going through severe withdrawals… as I am. Haha. Some people don’t update their blogs for months! Think how lucky you all are that you get to hear from me about every week (sometimes more)!
So here’s what’s been going on: I left my beautiful Rakitovo a couple weeks ago and headed to Sofia so I could catch an overnight train to the other side of the country. Before I left, a beautiful gray kitten with watery blue eyes managed to break my heart. It was mewling outside my house as I was getting ready to go. As it sounded so pitiful, and it was raining, I decided to take it some milk. I had to coax it out from under some scrap metal. I held it for a bit, and it seemed to really like that. It started crying again as soon as I set it down. It’s a good thing I had to go, otherwise I probably would have kept it.
I spent some good quality time with my laptop in the Radisson at Sofia. I know I’ve extolled the glory of this place before. Free wireless internet is too hard to resist. I’m going to have to find a way to get set-up here.
So I caught the overnight train to Varna, on the coast. Once there, I took a van up to Kavarna, where Tim lives. If you may remember from posts way back during training, Tim and I were in Trud together. He has a group of girls that he works with out there, and he’s been inviting female guest speakers to meet with them on Fridays and discuss more feminine topics. I came out to help lead a discussion about body image, self-esteem, and eating disorders. One of his girls, Valia, had done most of the work and preparation, and the talk went well. I enjoyed speaking in English to teenage, Bulgarian girls about how they view such issues. Eastern European girls seem to be naturally thin, and it’s hard to tell who might be taking part in some unhealthy dieting, but it seems to be that many girls here have an unhealthy attitude toward eating. It was cool to meet them, and I enjoyed seeing the coast and what Tim has been up to in his town.
The next day, I went to Kazanlak for a Rose Festival. Good-smelling roses grow well in the middle of Bulgaria, and they are pretty successful at harvesting the roses and marketing them in soaps, perfumes, and oils. The festival celebrates this, and I should have bought some rose oil. They had folklore groups from various countries and performances from chalga singers. I missed most of it, but I was there for the parade. This was where I saw the president – as I told you about in my last post. Any Peace Corps Volunteers who were available were invited to take part in the parade. Jennifer, the volunteer in Kazanluk and also another Trud trainee, had agreed to take part and get anyone she could to march in the parade. Only three of us were able to stay: Jennifer, Alex, and myself. We stood around in the sun for hours, and then we finally walked the few blocks that was the parade route. There were tons of participants, and the Japanese volunteers from JICA that marched in front of us in kimono-type dress got much more attention as they were more amusing that three PCVs walking around. The crowd warmed up to us more as we approached the center though. As we walked along, we were announced over a loudspeaker. The speaker went on to talk about Peace Corps and how it was created in 1961 by JFK. That was when I saw the president. He was looking at our group and clapping. I turned and excitedly said to Jennifer and Alex, “There’s the president!” He saw me gesturing at them and, realizing that I recognized him, he waved at me and smiled. I waved back effusively. He kept waving and smiling, so I grabbed my camera to take a picture. In a “Murphy’s Law” moment, my camera battery died just as I was about to snap a picture of the president waving at me. How pathetic is that? Alex, Jennifer, and I finished the parade and then ran around to try and get a picture of him. I had to use super-zoom, and he’s leaning over, but I got a pic of him. It’s a shame, but it’s something. What’s funny is that the story got more elaborate each time Alex told it to other volunteers: “Did you know that the president smiled and waved at Apryl?” **Five minutes later with new listeners** “The coolest thing happened to Apryl: the president smiled, waved, and blew kisses at her.” **Ten minutes later** “You have to hear the story about how the president smiled, waved, blew kisses, and gave Apryl his phone number.” Good times.
After the festival, Jennifer, Alex, and I headed to Plovdiv to help out with another volunteer’s day camp. I was there the whole week, and it was so great to establish relationships with new kids. Kate, the Plovdiv volunteer, had set up the event with a Roma school she works at, and we had about 35-40 kids everyday. We played a bunch of variations of tag, red-light/green-light, steal the bacon, twister, musical chairs, and anything else we could come up with at the last minute. The kids taught me a bunch of clapping games, and we even took them to a stadium one day to play baseball with an organized team from Sofia. As for arts and crafts, we had them make bracelets, necklaces, tie-die t-shirts, and masks. For the last day, we had bingo, water balloons, and an impromptu discotheque. I had a lot of fun with those kids, and they really took to us. Some of them really clung to us. It was hard to let go. I learned a lot about myself too – about how to relax and just have fun with the kids. I found myself yelling a little too much, and I found that to be counterproductive. I’m not sure how to walk the fine line between being bossy to get things done and just playing with kids, but I hope this will help me learn just to let things go a little more. If anything, it’s inspired me to do a day camp in my town. I don’t know if that’s going to happen, but I’m inspired none-the-less.
Plus, I was able to spend the week with my host family again. Trud is about 5 km from Plovdiv, so I stayed with them. Unfortunately, I came home exhausted every night and had to get up early every morning, so I didn’t get to spend as much time with them as I would have liked, but they were busy, too, and what I did get to see of them was time well-spent. My “brother’s” wife, Veska, is due any day now. She’s expecting a girl. They were making big changes as “Mom” and “Dad” were vacating their room to let them move in. It’s supposed to be a temporary set-up, but that’s unlikely as it’s hard to afford housing in Bulgaria. Plus, it’s traditional for the kid to set up his/her family on one floor of the house while mom and dad occupy another floor. “Grandma” and “Grandpa” already occupy the bottom floor, and to me it just looks like the natural cycle of life. To me it seems pretty sad, but my “family” seems more than happy to make such sacrifices for their loved ones. They really are such great people. And my “sister” is as beautiful as ever. She made sure than we were able to spend some time together with “cousin” Nellie and our friend Dida. Family reunions are great, aren’t they?
On Saturday, I went out to Aitos to meet up with some other volunteers. David, of the “Rakitovo Dance-Dance Revolution” lives in Aitos, and he had invited us out to see a festival. I got to see some people I don’t see often, and it was cool to hang out and catch up. On Monday, we went over to Nessebar for the Sting concert. We walked around the old part of town and just generally hung out until the show… which was awesome. Well, since he’s my favorite musician, Sting can do no wrong in my eyes, so that’s my biased opinion. He sang a lot of older Police songs and his more well-known hits, which made Brandy happy as she wouldn’t have recognized his newer “adult contemporary” as she calls it. It was a pretty nice, grassy stadium, and we were further from the stage than I wanted to be, but I enjoyed the experience of attending a Sting concert in Bulgaria. There were quite a few foreigners there, and supposedly there were a bunch of other volunteers in attendance, but I only ran into a few. Yesterday, Brandy and I traveled all day to get back to our Rakitovo… only to find that there was no electricity. I went to get some food, and the stores had candles lit. Hehe. Oh well. It came back on soon enough.
This morning, I went running to the next town. It’s a pretty good distance there and back. I’m still planning on doing the marathon, so donate some money people! =) If you need a reminder as to where to donate, look to previous posts. Upon coming into my office, I was met with big smiles. My colleagues said that they missed me and were glad to have me back. I feel the same way.

Monday, June 05, 2006

President of Bulgaria

I was in a parade today, and the President of Bulgaria (Georgi Parvanov) smiled and waved at me. I think I'm in love. Haha. Just kidding, but it was still really cool. More on this later. Just had to share that with you.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

I'm Naming My Fifth-Born "Thassos"

I was in Kavala, Greece over the last weekend. It’s a beautiful place, but it took me 14.5 hours to get there. I had to go up to Sofia first, and then down to Thessaloniki and over to Kavala. It was worth it though. I met up with Jerramy, Amy, and Amy’s parents. We went to the ancient city of Phillipi and the island of Thassos. Kavala is a charming town located next to the Aegean Sea. Our hotel was right next to the water. I could look out our window and see both the town and the sea. The first day, we went to Phillipi – where we saw an ancient amphitheatre, an acropolis, churches, remnants of the public market and forum in broken, marble chunks, and the Apostle Paul’s prison cell. It was amazing how much freedom we were given just to climb around on stuff. We spent most of the day exploring the place and then climbing up to the acropolis as the last hurrah. By the end of the afternoon, we were tired. After a quick swim in the hotel’s dirty, saltwater pool and a shower, we went into the old town for a tour of the castle fortress and some dinner.
The next day, we got up early to catch a ferry to the island of Thassos. The island had some interesting terrain. We went up into the mountains, with their tiny villages and tiny roads, and we drove down by the water as well. The island was filled with quite a bit of dry brush. There were some olive orchards and pine trees. The landscape wasn’t always the prettiest thing, but the water was a beautiful azure color near the coastline, and then it transformed into a deep blue further out. The island was beautiful in its desolation, and there was plenty of activity going on around there. It probably would have taken a couple hours to circumnavigate, but we stopped a few times in villages, once for lunch, and multiple times to snap photos.
We went back to Kavala for dinner that night, and had some HaƤgen Dazs for dessert. I had a Belgian waffle with Belgian chocolate ice cream and chocolate syrup on top. It was SO good! I hadn’t had a waffle in ages! These are things you just don’t find in Bulgaria. In fact, I ran into some other volunteers at my stop in Thessaloniki and they said that they had gotten some coffee at Starbucks, eaten at Applebee’s, and done some shopping at Zara… getting their “western fix.” It’s just too bad it’s so expensive there. It’s still nice to know it’s there as an escape.
Sunday was an all-day travel day as well, but at least I was able to come up in a car with them this time. We got to Sofia in the late afternoon, and then I had to catch a bus back to site. In Sofia, I had a group of taxi drivers refuse to take me to the bus station. They were busy doing nothing or something. I was so irritated. I told them, “Thanks… for nothing,” and walked away to find another cab. They thought that was funny. Jerks. I barely made my bus.
So that was my trip. I had a good time. I like hanging out with Amy and Jerramy, and Amy’s parents were fun, too. I have always wanted to visit Greece – especially Greek islands, and I still do. I’ve been to one now. There are still more to see. I’m excited to go to Athens come November for the marathon. That can wait though. I still have tons to do before then. In the meantime, I've spent way too much time putting together some pics for you. If you don't want your hair to turn grey while looking at them, just glance at the thumbnails or look at a few. Here's the link to photos in Greece. And here's the link to the latest photos on happenings in Rakitovo. We've got the dance workshop, the Senior ball, Angel and Veska's graduation party, and others in there.
Yay! A package from my mom got here! I now have actual RED Big Red gum, a bunch of other goodies, and that ever-persistent mail: credit card applications, alumni invitations, driver’s license renewal, etc. Rockin’ good times. Thanks, Mom!
I had fun with my kids on Monday. They still want to do the dances they learned, and they ask me to dance with them – foxtrot, cha-cha, tango, etc. “Gozpojo, how do you dance cha-cha again?” And then we played tag and hide-and-seek. I love it when I can just play with the kids.
I'm in Sofia now - at the Radisson Hotel using their wireless internet. I love it here. It's fast, it's free, and I can use my own laptop to get things done. Did you know they have wireless in my town!?!?! I just found out yesterday and nearly fainted. The guy was trying to set up a wireless network. It wasn't working, and I was thinking, "Ummm... shouldn't you be pulling out a cable and setting up a landline somehow?" Finally, I noticed that the wireless button on my computer wasn't turned on, so I hit it, and a couple networks popped up. I nearly fell over in astonishment. Of course, the networks don't reach my house, but they're there. I have to get a USB wireless adapter to improve the strength or something. I'm going to look for one in Plovdiv, (the guy says he can't find it in Sofia or Pazardjik) and then, if I can't find it there, I might be sending out an e-mail to people I think who love me the most and might send me one. Or I could just suck it up and order one on Amazon.
The bummer about being in Sofia though is that it means it's just a stopping point on two weeks of being away from my site. I like my town. It's hard to leave. I especially had a hard time leaving this morning because there was the cutest little kitty outside my house - mewling incessantly. It was gray with the prettiest blue eyes. It was shivering (it rained this morning), so I gave it some milk and held it for a while. Then I had to put it down and walk away. I could hear it crying from my house though, and I wanted to bring it inside. I couldn't though. I'm no savior for a cat, and I'll be gone for two weeks anyway. I'll be in touch though and let you know what I'm up to. It's a lot. June and July are busy.
Hey, Uncle Rik, I made some minestrone soup. You’d be proud of me. It’s not as good as yours, but it’s pretty hearty and fairly yummy nonetheless. Love you!
Okay, I’m out of here for now. I’ll catch you readers later.
P.S. Happy Birthday, Grandpa Gibson! (tomorrow) I love you!