Sunday, August 06, 2006

Empty Nest

Have I ever mentioned that Bulgaria has some of the best tomatoes in the world? They really are flavorful and delicious. If you love tomatoes, you’re missing out. If you hate tomatoes, that’s a shame. I just came back from a lunch with my landlords where they fed me fish (one of the few things with a mother that I’ll eat with them – much to their delight), tomato, onion, and dill salad, and french fries. I think one of the only reasons they’ve invited me is ‘cause their son and his girlfriend are staying in my place again. I wonder if they know how much it bugs me, so they “bribe” me with these lunches. It’s so frustrating that they’re such nice people. I would love to bar them from staying at my place, but I find myself powerless to tell them “no.” It’s such an invasion of privacy, and I feel like my apartment is “American territory.” It’s one of the few places I can relax and be my neurotic self. Now that they’re showing up almost every weekend that I’ve been here recently (which hasn’t been many), I’m resenting it more and more. I know they live in Plovdiv (where it’s hot as hell), and they want to escape to the mountains for a weekend, but what right do they have to stay in my apartment?
I returned on Friday from a 10-day camp in a mountain paradise about 45 min. from Rakitovo. Some of my colleagues, some kids, and I were up at an elevation of about 1,800 km (about a kilometer up from where we live now), and it was absolutely gorgeous up there. We stayed at this charming mountain lodge where we were pretty much the only guests for the time we were there, although others came in and out. The workers and permanent figures at the hotel became a fairly close cast of characters for us, and would sometimes interact with us during our activities at the lodge.
Every morning, we would get up a little before seven and then I would lead “gymnastics” (as it’s called in Bulgarian) at seven-thirty. It mostly consisted of doing some stretching, aerobic exercises, and some games. This would be followed by breakfast at eight. Afterwards, we would take off on a walk along the roads and trails that surrounded the hija (Bulgarian for “lodge” – I’ll probably throw it in here a few times without realizing it, so I thought I’d better clue you in now). We would gather herbs and plants for teas and seasoning (I got some lavender, thyme, and some other flower for some natural teas this winter) and we would sing songs, play games, or find other ways to try and entertain each other. After a few hours of this, we would return to the hija for lunch and then have free time to watch tv, sleep, play cards, read, hang out, etc. In the late afternoon, we would either go outside and play or do some kind of craft. I took the opportunity to teach the kids a little origami, share coloring pages and pens with them, help them create masks and other crafts, and teach them a few of the fun games I know. I also taught several of them how to shuffle cards – which they took great pleasure in showing me once they got down the shuffle and the “bridge.” It was fun to pass on to them the “knowledge” I contain. I find it so trivial, but they were impressed by it and were anxious to imitate. After dinner, we would usually have some type of show followed by more games or an improvisational discotheque in the café. The kids really got into the “shows.” They usually presented a skit extolling the virtues of education or the dangers of early marriage. They would follow this up by skits from “The Slavi Show” (a Bulgarian Leno or Letterman) and make each other laugh with their multiple impressions. I was flattered because I was asked to join a group and be involved with their skits, and I was also surprised to be invited to take part in an impromptu dance competition (where I took second place)! Then, the next day we would start it all over again. In the beginning, we were only slated to stay for seven days, but then my boss offered us the possibility of staying three extra days. I think some of the kids could have stayed even longer, but they were excited to come back to Rakitovo when it was all said and done.
I had a wonderful time up there. I don’t know if I would call it “relaxing,” but it was a nice break from everything I had been doing – especially since I’d kind of had it with camps. The kids were completely loving and absolutely wonderful. Of course, we had a few, minor behavioral problems, but they could be traced back to something we had been egging them on to do and they took it too far. They also fell in love with the most “ginormous” and adorable rottweiler while up there… another constant character at the hija. This charming “puppy” came with a wealthy, handsome boxer who seemed to take an interest in me. We spent a few afternoons together, and he took me up to a nearby international sporting complex to see the facilities and came on one of my runs with me.
My runs were some of my favorite parts of my whole time there. I think the kids were intrigued by my runs as well. I hope it will encourage them to get involved in more physical activities. It was refreshing and invigorating to run up there – even though it took me a while to acclimate to the hills and the elevation change. I would regularly come across springs and stop for a drink, or I would come across wild strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries and stop to munch. Yeah, the natural beauty of the place was a distraction, but it was so fulfilling in other ways. The random people we would come across were so simple and sweet. I think I could live a life in the middle of nowhere for a while – although there would have to be a few more surprises.
Also cataloged in some of my favorite moments are the sudden rains that would unexpectedly keep us in the hija. We would take to playing cards or I would read a book while everyone else took a nap. We did get caught in the rain once, however. We had walked far from the hija to visit a reservoir. We hadn’t been there ten minutes when water started falling from the sky. After walking miserably in it for a few kilometers, we found someone who agreed to drive us back to our lodge for a small fee. Ah well, just another one of those camp memories, right? I have great memories playing with the kids, too, but is it sad that topping the list are pretty much moments spent alone? I guess that’s just how I recharge sometimes, and I have to be okay with who I am.
I know I have been pretty down and negative in my blog recently. Emotionally and psychologically I have been having a really hard time. It’s one of those normal stages in life, and while I’m still dealing with it all (my recent feelings of frustration, sadness, loneliness, inadequacy, insecurity, and purposelessness have a habit of appearing at any given moment), I found this site to be a place of healing. Well, at least it’s hopefully a start. Being close to God’s beauty can have a way of doing that. And even though I don’t always feel Him nearby in a tangible way, I have this comforting feeling that He refuses to abandon me and will eventually lead me out of this tunnel – ‘cause He knows how dark and scary it is to be here. I just hope I come out smarter and stronger.
Ah! Also included in favorite memories: getting to talk to my wonderful and understanding mom on the phone for over an hour while I walked around in the mountains! I love you, Mom!
I don’t have much travel coming up, and that’s a comforting thing. Being away from site so much has left me feeling very disconnected from Rakitovo and its residents. My social circle has definitely shrunk due to my absence and people just generally getting over the novelty of my presence here (something I remember complaining about in earlier posts). It’s time to make a renewed effort to get out and interact with the people in my community. I will have to grab on with a stranglehold to any passing invitation to hang out – instead of declining as I’ve recently taken to doing.
Of course, there will be Peace Corps-related reasons to be leaving site soon enough. A new round of volunteers from the Youth Development program will be coming in (tomorrow?), and that means that we’ve been in country for about a year (whoa!) and are about to complete a year of service here in October (double whoa!). Along with this comes various activities that bring us into contact with the new trainees, mid-service conference meetings, mid-service medical/dental check-ups, and I’ve been asked by Peace Corps to come and talk to the new trainees about Project Development and Application. It’s almost ironic. Here I am feeling like the most useless volunteer that ever set foot in Bulgaria (I know it’s irrational and silly, but when have feelings ever been rational?), and Peace Corps keeps asking me to come and inspire new recruits.
This weekend has been pretty nice and relaxing. I wish I were getting more done, but I tell myself that I need the mental break and alone time for the moment. I can’t get into the habit of doing that though, but it’s been nice for a couple days. I went to church yesterday and just couldn’t bring myself to accept a lunch invitation. After eating lunch at home and dozing off for a bit, I took a long hike up into the nearby hills. Upon arriving back home, my neighbors asked me why I didn’t stop in for a bit and say hello. It’s about time I did. Sheesh. I don’t even know my own neighbors. So I met the people who live next door, and they introduced me to their granddaughter – who lives in Spain and speaks the same three languages I speak. She’s a beautiful, sweet girl. We have a friend in common, so hopefully that will translate into all of us hanging out. Jon, the Velingrad volunteer, and Leslie came by to visit Brandy, and we had homemade Mexican food together and went out to a local café afterwards. We had one of those flash summer storms that seem to punctuate life here recently, and it finally gave up around midnight so we could go home.
I came home on Friday to find my storks MIA. The little ones weren’t gone for long, but it looks as though they have found their wings and have taken to going on sporadic jaunts around town. I feel such a connection to them ‘cause I’ve been watching them grow up on that church bell tower since early spring. I know it’s silly and a little tacky to be said, but I truly hope I can find my “wings” again sometime soon, too. Isaiah 40:31

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wow...sounds like your having a rough time lately. Life does that to you sometime. I am glad to see your still trying to be positive about it. =) 1 yeah huh...woo hoo! Hopefully your next year will give you the challenges you want and some rest that you need. After that you come HOME! Just remember 1/2 way there! and in February your 3/4 the way there. Time flys so try to have fun! I love you and miss you!
PS It is cute that you watch the storks...not tacky or corny. =)