Friday, October 20, 2006

Visitor

I didn’t tell you all about my visit to the U.S. Embassy! I can’t believe I forgot! First of all, it’s really close to the dentist’s office – whom I was visiting for my mid-service cleaning. Peace Corps sends us to a Swedish dentist who has a practice in a ritzy hotel in Sofia. The woman who cleaned my teeth was of Norwegian decent. That was an experience all in itself, let me tell you. My teeth felt polished, gritty, and lemony afterwards. And the cleaning was so out of control, I practically got a face-cleaning as well… free of charge! It was good though. After about a year and a half of not having my teeth cleaned, it was nice to have them scrubbed.
After having the bicuspids hosed down, I decided to take a little trip to find “America-Land,” a.k.a. the Embassy of the United States of America. The streets weren’t really well marked, and it was a little off the beaten path in my opinion, but I finally found it. It truly does look like a federal building. The grounds are pristinely manicured, the edifice itself is “ginormous,” the font that explains that it’s the embassy is distinctly governmental (I don’t know if you know what I mean by that, but I swear federal buildings have a certain font), there were eagle emblems in a few places, the checkpoints were imposing, there was a nice wrought-iron fence out front, and there were black, Washingtonian posts on the other side of the sidewalk. I truly felt in a familiar setting – although it was fairly cold, distant, and imposing.
I walked up to the entrance. I had grand delusions of wandering in, checking to see if the Ambassador was free for coffee, and telling him about my Peace Corps exploits. Okay, not really. But I was actually expecting there to be a visitor’s center or something. I don’t know why…. So, I started my way up the entrance, and a guard who was chatting with another guard asked me in Bulgarian, “Do you have business here?” “No. I just wanted to see what’s here.” He continued speaking to me in Bulgarian, “Are you an American citizen?” I shook my head, (which means “yes” in Bulgarian) and he kind of mocked me by imitating my gesture. “Yes or no?” “Da,” I said, and shook my head again. “Can I just go up and look through the entrance windows?” He nodded (which means “no.”) “If you don’t have business here….” And the impression was that I needed to step off.
I decided to wander up the sidewalk along the fence a ways – all the while being eyed by guards. There were guard posts every several meters, and the sidewalk dead-ended into a guard post. I stopped to look over at people out on a patio. I imagined them sipping Starbucks lattes under giant umbrellas. Either the guard in the ending post decided it was time to stretch his legs and take a little stroll, or he didn’t like me loitering there. He wandered out with his firearm slung over his shoulder. I soon wandered back to Bulgarian territory. Feel the love from the United States.
Has anyone seen “The Saint” with Val Kilmer and Elizabeth Shue? There’s a scene where she’s running to the Embassy in Russia to escape the mafia, and she screams, “Open up! I’m an American!” And they open this huge gate to let her come through and then close the gate on the bad guy. I had visions of trying that, too, and seeing what would happen. Too bad there weren’t any Soviet mobsters nearby to help me out.
This week has been a pretty good one. I’ve been up in the center every afternoon – giving kids tours and signing them up for English and computer classes. I’m overwhelmed. There are a lot of kids that want to come. That’s great, but… yeah. There has to be a limit. Plus, I think a lot just want to come and play on the computers. That’s normal. Well, they’ll have to pay! There will be a nominal fee for classes and computer time to subsidize utilities and materials. The kids are fun though, and I like having them around. I’m just constantly worrying that they’ll destroy something. As I like to say, “Kids - cute, little, walking advertisements for birth control.”
And here’s some great news for me: My mom is visiting! Yay! I’m going to bore her to death in Rakitovo. Yipee! I went to the airport yesterday afternoon to pick her up – which was an interesting experience in itself. All those who are expectantly awaiting passengers from far-away lands gather in front of three automatic doors (it looks like Star Trek in a way) and just wait – hoping they’ll spit out their loved one. It’s like this magical process. “Just wait behind these doors, people, and your daughter – who’s currently living in Paris – will suddenly appear.” When the doors open, the people who are more toward the back will pop up on tip-toe to look over the heads of those in front of them. “Is my brother here? Is my friend here?” And then they’ll stand down again. It’s like watching gophers or a “Whack-a-mole” game. I laugh because I was doing that too in order to try and see over their heads.
So, everyone around me was finding a loved one, claiming them, covering them in affection, and then wandering off. All except me…. (sniff, sniff)
No phone calls. No explanations. No Mom. Three hours, no Mom. I rudely awakened my grandparents and my father in the wee hours to try and ask if they had heard from her. No. I couldn’t help it. Tears. Enyo, who kindly drove me there and waited with me, finally went over to the airline and asked if they knew anything about her. Sure enough, she had missed her connecting flight and was still in Germany. She was on the next flight – at 11:00 that night. I wondered why she didn’t get a message to me. I wanted to try and call more people, but had no more money on my phone and that explanation sufficed for the moment.
Enyo and I went to McDonald’s to get some food and wait. On the way there, he made an illegal maneuver and was stopped by the police. “Here’s my license, officer. Oh, and here’s 5 leva to forget the whole thing happened.” Yeah. If it works and saves you trouble, you take the easy way out. I suspected it would happen that way, and I would probably do the same in his position. Unfortunately, this is not appropriate behavior for a country that laments the existence of corruption and is about to enter the European Union.
So, we went to McDonald’s – which is another “America-land” all in itself. Ronald McDonald was there, but he spoke Bulgarian. He was nice and gave me a balloon, but it was still surreal. And the food tastes the same as it would in your local Anytown Mickey D’s down the street. “I’m lovin’ it!”® There’s even yellow “cheese” on the cheeseburgers – which doesn’t technically exist in Bulgaria. That’s the beauty of consolidation and uniformity. McDonald’s is a symbol of American capitalism, but it’s almost communist in this way. Okay, maybe just I’m amused by that. As you can maybe tell, I don’t care much for McDonald’s, but being in a familiar atmosphere was nice – listening to non-Chalga music. Brandy, I heard “Nothing Else Matters” and “Unforgiven” a couple times while I was there, and I thought of you. I was going to send you a text, but I didn’t have any money on my phone. Yeah. And the 37 stotinki I had left was for “emergencies.” Hahahaha. That’s good enough to make your phone ring twice.
Anyway, after hanging out about 5 hours in the Golden Arch Kingdom (wondering multiple times if it’s prestigious in Bulgaria to work there), we went back to the airport to try and find my mom. It took her forever to come out, and I was starting to get worried. I still hadn’t talked to her or anyone who had heard from her. Would she just decide to come the next day? Finally, she wandered through the magical, Star Trek doors and this huge look of relief crossed her face when she saw me. I breathed a sigh and a prayer of thanks as well.
Unfortunately, we had to return to Rakitovo in the dark, and my mom missed seeing some beautiful countryside, but the stars were pretty, and we chatted a lot.
Now, she’s relaxing at home while I’m “working.” My colleagues and I are planning a surprise party later for her tonight. But shhh! Don’t tell her! I’ll update you all on how that turns out in the next post. Ciao for now. Yay! It’s been over a year and my mommy’s here! That’s a little rhyme for you to sing to yourself throughout the day.

2 comments:

Fuzzmaster said...

There better be tons of pictures. I know how your mom likes those. PS: Rick is already having "meetings" and telling tall-tales. She will have to explain quite a bit to the Pathfinders when she gets back... hehehe..

Anonymous said...

Apes! I miss you so much! I just want to let you know that I read your blog faithfully and haven't missed a post. I can't wait for you to come home... in another year and a half.