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.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

HEY..thanks as usual for blogging. Sounds like you have been busy. Sorry I had to laugh when your cameras battery died. I mean that is just typical. =) hehehhe Atleast you got to see him though..you still have that....and he smiled at you...and blew kisses! ;) And so kind of you to give the kitten milk. Thats how I got Jasmine....just too cute with the little MEW MEW and the BIG eyes! Love ya Apryl...keep the blogs coming!