Thursday, September 14, 2006


There is an expression here in Bulgaria that some people use when they want to talk about a job that's half-finished, or a task that isn't done very well, or something that's corrupt. You get the picture. They'll call it "Българска работа" (Bulgarska rabota). It's really a shame 'cause it's defeating to stamp an ethnic name on something like that. There's also the phrase "tsiganska rabota" when one wants to talk about the same kinds of things. This is degrading to the Roma. It just depends on who's saying it and where it's coming from.
I share this with you to tell you how degrading language can be sometimes and to preface something that I will just call corruption - regardless of who does it to whom. I got into a cab in Sofia this weekend to get to the bus station. It's my own fault 'cause I'm usually smart and ask about how much it's going to be beforehand. This time, I just hopped in and asked the guy to take me there. I guess I was wearing my, "I'm not from here, please take advantage of me" sign 'cause he took the longest route with the greatest amount of traffic. We were in the middle of who knows where when the meter jumped up to 20 leva. Since the ride is usually 5 leva or less, I was appalled. He had previously suggested he just drive me all the way back home for 70 Euro. I balked. "Do you really think I can afford that? Just take me to the bus station." As soon as it got up to 20 leva and we were just sitting in traffic watching the meter run, I shoved the money at him and got out of his cab. I was upset.
I got on a bus and tried to figure out how to get to where I needed to go, but there was really no direct way, and I soon found myself going the opposite direction of where I needed to be. I got out and thought to myself, "Am I going to distrust another cabbie because of what this guy did to me?" I knew I was really close, and a cab ride could only cost another couple lev. Again, I made the mistake of getting in without asking... looking... taking in my surroundings. When we got to the station, I asked how much. The guy wouldn't even tell me. He just pointed to the meter which showed almost another 20 leva and rising fast. WHAT!?!? I sunk in the back seat. How could this happen twice in one day? I said, "That's not possible." "I'm more expensive," he said, and he pointed to the window where it showed his price per kilometer. He was more expensive, but I still hadn't traveled that far. Not knowing what to do and being the person that I am, I gave him 20 leva. I demanded change. He didn't give me the correct amount back. I was livid and got out... wishing him "nice work."
This is discrimination! I'm smarter than this! I've lived here for a year now! I wish I had asked for a basic price beforehand, but I really wish I had known what to do at the point I was being exploited. What if I hadn't been carrying 40 leva on me? That's a lot of money! I thought about not paying them, but that was the only idea that came to my head, and I knew it wasn't exactly feasible. I should have written down their license numbers or some other form of identification. Now, all I can do is stew in the injustice of it all and ask God to deflate their tires or something... which I suppose is not the Christian thing to do.
Bulgaria faces a lot of corruption. It's one of the many struggles Bulgarians are dealing with in their ascension to the European Union. It's a tough problem that is not easily solved. I have talked to a few people that "purchased" their college diplomas. I have talked to others who figure they can pay off a policeman if they get stopped along the way. And then there's the whole mess with the schools here. Yesterday, Yanko pointed out to me teachers from the "special needs" school in town. They were going up to the Roma neighborhood to sign up normal, healthy kids to fill their school. Parents oblige because they think the easy cirriculum is what's best for their children. It's heartbreaking.
At the bus station in Velingrad, there are a string of cafes surrounded by bricks and bars. To get to them, one has to either walk several meters down the way, past the barrier, and then walk back to the cafes. Or, you take the "easy" way and duck under railings leading to the train tracks, and then squeeze between the walls to get to the cafes. The architectural feat of this place is mind-boggling and symbolic. Where is the entrance? Why would anyone build cafes and then wall them off? Why do things not make sense sometimes?
I was visiting a training site earlier this week to help out with a Project Design and Management session. My language teacher from training days in Trud, Ani, was there. Ani's the greatest, by the way. I love her. Anyway, she pointed out a cross in town. "See that cross? That marks the site for a second church in town. We already have a church here that isn't in use because it doesn't have a priest. So why would the mayor want to build a second church when we still have no priest? Well, the mayor's husband is a contractor you see...."
My colleague, Ani, says, "But Apryl, you're lucky. After this, you can just go home. What will we do? We can't leave this environment." It's true, and I almost feel guilty for it.
Anyway, I was in Dupnitsa for a few days helping out with a training session. I mentioned in my last post that I wasn't looking forward to it. It turns out that I actually enjoyed it quite a bit. Other than getting to stay in a nice hotel courtesy of PC, and getting to do some kick-butt Tae-Bo for the second time in my life, I was able to meet some friendly, new Youth Development trainees, and I enjoyed sharing my limited project experience and insight with them. The topics covered in PDM (Project Design and Management) are pretty dry, so we (three other presenters and myself) were delighted that the trainees seemed to be engaged in the session and gave us positive feedback when it was all over. In a way, I'm a little jealous of the new trainees. They had just gotten back from "permanent site visit" where they visit their two-year post for the first time. For me, of course, it was a time of trepidation, but I miss the "newness" of coming to Bulgaria and learning about my site. It was an exciting time, and I liked seeing it again through their eyes. In a way, I wish I could go back and do it over again just to have that "fresh" idealistic feeling. I almost can't wait to see the trainees again this next week when I help out with a couple minority/tolerance-related presentations. I say "almost" 'cause I'd still probably rather just stay here and work on the center.
Speaking of my favorite project, we're trying to push back the opening date. Since the first is a Sunday, my colleagues don't think that's a good day to open - still not sure why. They wanted to push it back to the fourth, but I'll be hanging out with Peace Corps again for our B-18 Mid-Service Conference that day. Gotta get together and "celebrate" our year in country. Plus, we'll get to "impart wisdom" to the new trainees once again. So now we're shooting for the 11th. My half-birthday. Like that should matter when you're 25. Ha!
We cleaned up the kiddie desks and the chairs we bought and put them in the classroom. Ani was so excited to see how it all come together. That room is pretty much done - and crowded! We just have to put up the whiteboard now. "Malko po malko." (Bit by bit.) They've also put some tiny glass windows between the doors and the ceiling, and they've thrown some more storage furniture in some of the rooms. On Saturday, we're supposed to get together and paint the roof. Crazy, huh? We've put up flyers around the Mahala (Roma neighborhood) and invited parents to come and help out. We really hope someone comes. We don't want to be the only ones doing daring, circus stunts on the roof of our center.

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