Tuesday, July 25, 2006


So I feel as though I need to write and update you all on my travels and what I’ve been up to. Thing is, I’m drained, and I have little desire to write. I’m going through a really rough time right now. It’s just the normal phases of living in a foreign country and working like this, I suppose, but it’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel right now. Please pray for me.
I had a really great time in Spain and Prague. We started off our trip in Barcelona – where we went to La Sagrada Familia, Parc G├╝ell, the Picasso Museum, and walked a lot along Las Ramblas. Also, I went up to the Olympic Stadium and up around the Museum of Modern Art to watch a fountain show. I’m going to spare you an explanation of what all these are. You can “Google” them if you’d like. The city had changed quite a bit. There’s a lot of expansion and growth, and July brought in a lot of tourists. I felt like such an outsider, and it frustrated me to feel like “just another tourist.” I love Barcelona though. I think it’s currently my favorite Spanish city. I kept thinking about how I need to arrange to live there – or at least in Spain again. Too bad everything is so expensive now.
After that, we went to Valencia. We stayed with a family that I had known from my studying abroad days. For me, it was so great to see them again as I hadn’t seen them in five years. On Saturday, I went back to the campus I had studied at and attended church service there. I was surprised how many people recognized and remembered me. It’s been five years, and at least ten different groups of Americans have come through there. It was so great to see people again and catch up though. They say that now that I live so close (well, closer), I’ll have to come back again. We’ll have to see about that.
The Pope happened to be in Valencia that weekend for a conference. The city was absolute madness, and I stayed away from it all. The other girls, however, happened to see him riding through the streets in his “pope-mobile.” Brandy got an excellent picture of him waving from his vehicle. In addition to this, one of the girls had her wallet stolen in Valencia. It was disappointing that we had such rough times there, and I had to stay away from a city that had been my home.
It seems like trains were booked wherever we went, so we always had to placate ourselves with riding in buses. Traveling was stressful as we never knew if we were going to find a space somewhere. Between the Pope visiting, the Running of the Bulls, and summer tourist season, we had a hard time getting places. We took an overnight bus to Pamplona to catch a running of the bulls. I got some video of the bulls running – well, mostly people running – and it all happened very quickly. It was hard to see because we had to maintain our distance, and a lot of the “runners” just hopped up on the fences in front of us when the bulls came. I liked the atmosphere in Pamplona though. Everyone was dressed in red and white, and I bought a sash to join in the festivities.
After hanging out in Pamplona for the day, we went up to San Sebastian for a bit. I loved San Sebastian so much when I lived in Spain, and I still find it every bit as charming. It’s a beach town up in the northern part of Spain – near France. I walked around and visited old haunts – even stopping at a bakery we liked to frequent when we were there five years before. The place hadn’t changed much in my mind, and it felt like not much time had passed since I had been there last.
We caught a bus back to Barcelona and then flew to Prague the next morning. I used to consider Prague my favorite European city, but now I just list it as “one of my favorites.” How can one choose? Plus, Barcelona blew me away. It was great to walk around the city again though. I still think it’s absolutely charming and beautiful. I love the Danube River there with all its bridges, and the history is absolutely astounding. I took the time to go to a Communist Museum and just wander around town.
We got back to Bulgaria Friday afternoon, and I went straight to the bus station to try and catch a ride to the Black Sea for camp. Unfortunately, the buses were booked, and my only option was to get to the coast (but not to the town I needed) that night, and then catch another bus in the morning. So I went to Burgas, but the camp was another hour away or so in a place called Tsarevo. I got to Burgas at around 11:30 p.m. and didn’t know what to do. I decided to set off and look for an available place to stay. It was then that I was approached by a Bulgarian and asked to take time to have a drink. I accepted, and it was a big mistake. I’m keeping this description short, so I’ll tell you that I was really fortunate that nothing happened. He basically started following and harassing me. Then, he started to try to get in my purse and tell me that I needed to give him money. I escaped him by getting in a taxi and having the driver take me to a hotel he knew of, but then the taxi driver tried to take advantage of me by overcharging me for the “favor.” It was an awful night, and it was an awful way to start the week. I had called the people at camp, and they mentioned coming to get me, but I didn’t want them to do that. They were really sweet about it, and I appreciated their concern.
I headed out the next morning to Multi-Ethnic camp, where we had group meetings, ethnic skits, awful food (I lost a lot of weight), and free-time at the beach. The kids were amazing, and the camp seemed to go really well. I’m glad for their sake. Speaking personally, however, I had a really rough time. My saving grace (besides the kids) was a roommate that empathized with my feelings and a fulfilling connection with the other Americans there. God gives you the things you need to survive. Had it not been for these things, I might have left. It would have been much harder without them, for sure. Again, the camp is not about me – it’s about the kids and the friendships they make there. It seemed to go really well for them. I think they learned a lot about each other and themselves. Five ethnic groups were represented: Ethnic Bulgarian, Jewish, Bulgarian-Muslim, Roma, and Turkish. It was definitely an interesting experience.
After finishing up at camp, I went to another beach town for a VSN event. My roommate from camp was also at this event, and I found her to be of tremendous support here as well. Plus, it was nice to just hang out with Americans. As of late, I have been wary of hanging out with them. I usually just want to hide out in my town and hang with Bulgarians, but this weekend was good for me. I got to spend time with people I appreciate and take a break.
I came back early Sunday morning to find guests in my apartment. I was so frustrated. I keep saying I’ll talk to my landlords about it, but I keep hoping that it will just stop happening or I’ll just get over it. The last few days have been tough. Talking to people about my trip (although they want to hear about it) is unfulfilling because we’re all just reminded that these are things these people I care about cannot afford to do. I’ve practically decided to forgo all trips abroad until my close of service. Going on these vacations just isn’t worth it. While I know that people have missed me, and I love the smiles and “welcome back” reception I’ve received from many, the last few days have been really trying.
I came back to find that we now have some whiteboards for our center, the doors are painted, and they re-painted the kitchen (it’s no longer Pepto-Bismol pink). Plus, a donation of books arrived. They’re fascinating and great for kids, but they are unfortunately all in English. There are a few in French, but just to have the donation is nice. Free books are always a plus, and maybe it will encourage kids to learn other languages.
My organization and I are pretty much just preparing to leave for camp for a week. Four of us leave tomorrow. I really hope it will go well. Pray that God helps me rise above my mood to get an important job done. I’m tired of camps, but I want to look forward to this one. Otherwise, I’d probably just be moping in Rakitovo.
Emotions are crazy things. They frustrate me by how much power they have over me. I don’t want to be sad. I don’t want to feel useless in site. I don’t want to question my self-worth because I’ve been down as of late. But here I am. This job really is difficult. I loved everything and everyone just a few months ago, but how quickly it all changes. I talk to other volunteers, and I realize it’s normal. While I appreciate feeling supported, I just want to climb out of this pit. One good thing has come of all this though: I talk to God a LOT.
Oh, and I have more photos to share with you now. Here are some of Spain, Prague, and the latest happenings in Bulgaria. The link should lead you to two albums. If not, let me know. You'll be impressed with me. Being bummed out has really caused me to cut down on the amount of photos I subject you poor people to. For instance, I took around five hundred photos on my trip, but you'll only see 10% of them. And I cut out a lot of the others I could have shared with you, too. I know you'll be pleased. I still put in a lot of pictures with me in them though. Can't get away from sharing my charming face with you all. I know you'll be pleased once again. Haha. Some things never change....

Friday, July 21, 2006

Back in Country

Okay, so I'm no longer in Prague. I got back last week, but I've been at camp all week at the Black Sea. And now I'm at a different town along the coast for a VSN event. I can't stay and update you right now on the madness caused by persistent traveling, but I thought I'd let you know what I'm doing. And I'll be back soon with a post - hopefully before I take up and leave again to go camping with my organization next Wednesday. Otherwise it'll probably be another two weeks before you hear from me again.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006


I just got into Prague from Spain today. No access to phone. Just letting you know. Gotta go.

Monday, July 03, 2006

"I'm Only Happy When It Rains"

The weather has been so strange lately. Just about every night for the past few days, I’ve woken up to lightning flashing and thunder crashing. It’ll last about 45 minutes or so – just long enough to disrupt my sleep (I love watching it ‘cause I think it’s cool) and soak the ground for the next morning. Then, the sun will come out and it will be a blazing hot day. Not today though (Sunday, as I’m writing this). I woke up around 9 am to teeth-rattling thunder, and it’s been thundering and raining off and on all day. Regardless of whether it’s raining or not, the sky insists on being a murky gray. It’s been a good excuse to sit in all day and hang out with the laptop for some quality time.
I’ve been working on a grant to get some more money for our educational center, and I’ve been getting some things together for a tolerance manual that will hopefully go into the Minority Kit that we’re planning to do. I’ve also been trying to get some stats together to give Peace Corps a tri-annual report of the work we’ve been doing in Rakitovo. I have no clue what to tell them, honestly. These forms and statistics are always so confusing. I know it’s important to see the outcomes of our work, but I honestly can’t figure out what it is they want me to report.
It’s been a day of typing and getting thoughts down into electronic print. I’m glad the weather’s been the way it is so as to give me an excuse with feeling “okay” for being inside all day. Sunny days tell me I should be outside looking for someone to hang out with or taking a walk in the mountains.
Yesterday was sunny and warm, and I took a couple hours in the afternoon to go up to Tsigov Chark and the reservoir nearby. A guy in town has an interview in Sofia on Monday. The job is at a hotel in Cyprus for a concierge position, and he’s going to have to give the interview in English. His English is basic, but surprisingly good considering he hasn’t practiced for ten years. Plus, he’s a quick study. We’ve been meeting for about an hour and half everyday for the past few days so that we can work on possible questions and good answers to them. I have no idea what these people will ask, but I racked my brain to think of the pattern interviews normally follow in the states. He came up with some thoughtful questions himself. Anyway, so he invited me to go to Tsigov Chark yesterday with his wife and sister-in-law. It was a relaxing afternoon, and hopefully he’s ready for his interview on Monday.
It’s common here to look for jobs abroad. Unemployment is high in Bulgaria, and there is this huge exodus to other countries to try and find work. The sad thing, however, is that I know a few children and spouses who have been left behind so that food can go on the table. Sometimes both “Mom” and “Dad” are working abroad, and the kid lives with “Grandma,” a sibling, or basically alone. It’s heartbreaking. I can’t imagine being in that situation. It’s pretty common here, but I don’t think the kids really get used to it.
I’ve been out playing basketball a few nights this week. There’s this game called “King/Queen” that I first learned in Trud. You basically have one “ruler” in the prime spot and a bunch of other people lined up in rank, trying to move up and eventually take the spot from the “ruler” by making shots. If they miss, and the “ruler” retrieves the ball within a certain range and makes a shot, they move down in rank and give someone else the opportunity to move up. Anyway, we got about nine kids to come out and fill all the spots to play this game, and I had a really good time interacting with kids I normally don’t interact with. The following day, we had some of the same kids show up to play again, and my ball developed a goose egg and popped. It was a cheap ball from the lev store in Velingrad, so no surprise, but it was still disappointing. I only had that ball for five days! I’d only played with it maybe three times! Fortunately, to distract me from my mourning, I was invited to go to the discotheque.
I had never been to the discotheque in Rakitovo (how long have I been here?), and I decided to jump on the opportunity. Brandy rarely wants to go because she knows she’ll run into her students there, and whenever she does go, I’m not in town, and the people I hang out with don’t go there. It’s an interesting place – underground and frequented in the early evening by kids as young as ten. So you’ve got tiny little girls dressed in short skirts in there and pre-pubescent boys dressed like thugs along with their adolescent counterparts dressed in much the same way. And sure enough, people asked me where Brandy was. Yes, we Americans like to travel in twos. I suppose it’s a normal question. Fortunately, they played other genres of music in addition to chalga, but I didn’t stay long. It was way to hot and suffocating in that underground lair.
In other news, I’m finally excited about Spain. Well, I go back and forth, but there was a moment there when I was definitely psyched about my up-coming trip. Part of me is just anxious for July to be over so I can go back to my regularly-scheduled programming. I need to subdue that part of me, however, because it’s a month full of all these good possibilities and potential, and I want to enjoy it.
Plus, there’s not this guarantee that I’ll be returning back to regularly-scheduled programming at site anytime soon. I’ve been asked to be a Resource Volunteer for Pre-Service Training (PST) for the next round of Youth Development Volunteers. What this means is that I’ll be expected to attend a dinner with them one night during their first week in the country, and then I’ll have to visit a training group (think Trud) three times during their training to help out with assignments and debriefs.
There are many reasons I’d like to do this:
1. I’m really not good at saying “no.”
2. Peace Corps asked me. It’s like one of those proverbial “pats-on-the-back” that I was alluding to in an earlier entry. It’s like getting a gold-star from PC saying, “we value your outlook as a volunteer and want you to influence others.” Yes, PC asks because they value a volunteer’s work. They also ask those who live in close-proximity to the training site. I’m not downplaying the invitation, but it’s also based on region. I happen not to live “too far east” of the established HUB site.
3. It’d be good to meet the new volunteers and start establishing some good contacts. I have good memories of our Resource Volunteers while we were in Trud. They were fun people with helpful insights, and we all had a good time hanging out with them.
These are also basically the same reasons I should be declining the invitation:
1. I’m really not good at saying “no.” It’d be good to start for the sake of my site.
2. Peace Corps asked me. While I believe in Peace Corps’ mission, I already do a lot of work for them. I’m already doing VSN (Volunteer Support Network) for them, Minority Committee, and I did a brief PST Committee input thing for them. I’m a volunteer for my community, and I feel this huge pull to be there. Plus, I need to avoid the trap of “I’m a good volunteer because Peace Corps asks me to do things for them.”
3. Other volunteers are great. I respect them a great deal and even enjoy hanging out with them on occasion, but I’m really not here to try and make friends with Americans. I like hiding out in my town and being incognito to other PCVs.
4. It’s not just four occasions that I’m going to be out of my site for this training. It’s going to be at least six with this, plus a minority panel I may be asked to do (and I want to do!) and VSN introduction to this group as well.
5. The HUB and training sites aren’t close enough for me to turn around and get back in a day. Any trip will be an overnight and put me out of site for at least two days. Six events x two days = Two weeks and two days of work. (Weekends don’t count.)
So, that’s what, three pros that I’ve turned into cons and added two to round it out? I still really want to do it. I’ve been asked by people and an organization I really respect. Yes, Peace Corps can drive me mad with their rules and directives, but I generally like the staff. They have been nothing but helpful to me when I’ve asked for it, and they generally leave me to do my work, which makes me happy. I respect its mission a great deal, and it’s tempting to want to try and help empower other volunteers. How about empowering people in my community? Huh? When am I gonna do that? So, I’ve decided that I’m going to talk to my colleagues about it and let them make a decision. They’ll probably say that I should do it. On second thought, I think I won't ask them. I'll just decline.
That’s enough of that. Dusk is settling, and the sky is still the same shade of gloomy as ever. It’s decided to start raining again. I love this weather, ‘cause I’m still sitting barefoot in my living room in a t-shirt and yoga pants, and I’m cozy. And I’m trying out a recipe for “red beans and rice” from another volunteer. I don’t have all the ingredients for it because I was too lazy to go out in the rain and get them, but what I do have is cooking on a pot as I write. We’ll see how it goes. Oh yeah, and I think the vegetable guy has a crush on me, so I’m trying to avoid him. He’s a harmless, sweet, lonely, old man who keeps inviting me to coffee, and I just don’t want to deal with that today. I don’t really want to deal with that most days….
So people, seriously no takers on sending free texts from your computer to my phone, huh? But it's so easy! You sign up at www.mtel.bg, you go to their main page, switch to English since I'm assuming you don't read Bulgarian. The icon is up at the top. Then, in two seconds, you can register and ask me for my phone number and send free text messages to my phone. We do it all the time over here in the sticks.