Friday, November 24, 2006

Blessed

So I gave thanks yestereday... Bulgarian style. I woke up yesterday and began to cook. Mr. Rooster was crowing as usual, and I was tempted to put him on the menu. Instead, I started out by making deviled eggs. I had already made peanut butter Snicker® cookies, and I was sampling on them. After making the deviled eggs (too salty!), I moved onto an apple crisp. After throwing the apple crisp in the oven, I started peeling potatoes. Mashing potatoes without a mixer is extra-fun, let me tell you. After the mashed potatoes, I started to make macaroni and cheese. I shouldn't have. It was not yummy. Regardless of the fact that I don't really cook all that well to begin with, the ingredients we have here are kind of sub-standard... as far as mac and cheese goes. Everything else I was pretty happy with. The previous day, I made a trip to a large supermarket in Pazardjik and picked up some cranberry preserves and some corn. These were the surprises of the evening. I was so excited about the cranberries, you have no idea. I also picked up some carrots and cauliflower in my town, and I got some flavored cream cheese.
I saw my colleagues briefly yesterday, when I stopped in the office. Yanko hugged me, "What are you up to? Are you cooking?" "Yes," I said, "I've been cooking all day." "From morning 'til now you've been cooking?" Ani asked me. "Yep." Her jaw dropped. I was happy. A big part of Thanksgiving is the preparation, and I couldn't wait to surprise my colleagues. Yanko was getting excited just trying to guess what was on the menu. I went back home and prepared a few more things, and then Brandy came over with a few of her students to help me carry all the madness. Brandy had also made really delicious goodies: fried chicken, stuffing, dumplings, and carrot cake. So, I loaded her girls down with a bunch of dishes and bags, and we hiked up to the Mahala. It was slow-going, and a lot of people stared at us, but we finally made it to the educational center.
I had plans to take over the kitchen and the meeting salon, but young people were meeting in there. Brandy and her girls decided to start setting up in the kitchen. I went over to get some wood for the stove. Maria was kind enough to chop some wood for me. I was scared she would hurt herself, but she insisted. I dutifully toted the wood over to the center. Maria got a fire started. My colleagues showed up. I wondered where my adult English class was. I had been telling my English classes about Thanksgiving and making them tell me what they were thankful for, but I actually invited my adult class to come and participate. Finally, three of them showed up. I was pacing around nervously and started getting frustrated. The kids were still yammering in the hall where I wanted us to eat, and my guests were anxious to start things going. Plus, the food was cold and only getting stone colder.
I decided to go into the meeting hall, and they all looked up, "Oh, Apryl! Happy Holiday!" Veska said to me. Yanko asked them, "Do you know what day is today?" "Oh yeah, I forgot that today's Thanksgiving," Angel said. "Do you want to tell them about Thanksgiving, Apryl?" I really just wanted the room. So I explained a bit about what we do... mostly that we just eat until we can no longer breathe. "If you want to stay and find out, you are more than welcome to join us. I just need this room." So a bunch of them decided to stay and find out what was going on... and get some food.
I was finally able to throw some tablecloths on the tables and put Brandy's charming centerpieces (jars filled with leaves, nuts and pine branches) here and there. I also put some candles in the room for mood lighting and aroma. Glade® had been expensive, but worth it. I then gave everyone markers and pens and told them to anonymously write something they were thankful for. Some were quite verbose, but most were able to keep their comments to one side of the paper. Once they had made their comments, I finally let them eat. I was proud of them for trying new things and eating quite a bit - but there were still too many leftovers if you ask me. The macaroni was barely touched. That was probably a good call. It wasn't very delicious - especially cold.
I loved the atmosphere in there... talking quietly and eating by candlelight. When the meal was winding to its end, however, I turned on the lights and made everyone come together for a brief history of Thanksgiving (courtesy of the internet). Then, I had them pick up the papers on the table at random and read aloud what others were thankful for. A lot of them said they were thankful to be alive, "I'm thankful to God for creating me." In the end, we realized that we had a lot to be thankful for. Sappy, I know, but I liked it, and they liked it.
Afterward, we played "Pin the Feathers on the Turkey" - courtesy of Brandy. She had done a really great job of drawing a turkey and cutting out construction feathers. She didn't think people would get into it and debated whether to actually play or not, but my colleagues loved it! Pretty much everyone there participated, and they were still talking about it today.
Finally, the evening came to an end. Brandy went home to talk with her family, and I stuck around the center to hang with my "other family." I talked with Yanko a bit (he always asks the most provocative questions), and I was able to joke around with Maria and Reneta for a while. I was wearing a beautiful scarf my dad had given me, and they kept trying to wander off with it. Then, they decided they would use me as their giant doll and put the scarf back on me. "Now, stand like this, and make this face. Beautiful!" And then I dressed them up, and they begged me to stay the night. I love those girls. They are so funny.
And they kept eating. Yanko came in and pointed out how his stomach was hanging over his pants. I was proud of them and told them so, "That's how you do Thanksgiving right." Yanko said, "This holiday is only for us Roma. It's perfect for us."
At nine o'clock, I gathered up half of the stuff I had brought, and Angel helped me home. I was happy with the evening. I thought we had done a good job sharing our culture, and our guests seemed to have a really nice time. I was just glad that it had all come together. I had really wanted to celebrate one of America's traditional holidays with them... something new for those that were there. And I was really glad to have both Bulgarians and Roma present there. Nevermind that we all sat separately. A bunch of Roma there, a few Bulgarians there, and then the two Americans over here, but it was still fantastic.
Today, my colleagues presented a book they had published with the help of our major donor. It's called "Folktales from the Mahala," and it's a collection of stories from the oldest representatives of the Roma community that we could find. Our volunteers had gone around Rakitovo and the neighboring towns - asking their elders to share stories with them. I went on one excursion this past February. It was pretty interesting.
The ceremony was great. They had story-tellers and story-"gatherers" present to talk about the experience. We had several guests, and they each got a book. We have TONS of books. If you would like one, I'm sure I could get you one. It's in Bulgarian though. Hehehe. Even the illustrator was there. She was great, and her illustrations are awesome. Makes me want to write a book and see if anyone will publish it for me. Anyone interested in publishing this blog?
Anyway, I spent the day cleaning up (with help from a couple of my cutie kids: Mitko and Metodi) from the evening before and telling my cute, little students that we wouldn't be having English today. They were so adorable, and I was the proud teacher in front of our guests - even though I had to disappoint them. They're so CUTE when they're disappointed. Hehe.
After eating some appetizers, I had English class with a few of my adults. They're great, and they're so smart. We talked about fruits and vegetables today, and I had them play a version of Memory® with their new knowledge. (Like how I'm throwing in all registered trademark signs everywhere?) I'm so proud of how much they know already. They seem pretty proud, too. They just need to keep coming.
Afterward, I went to the kitchen to join some people again, drink a little, and dance "kuchek." Today was Ani's birthday, and we were celebrating a bit. I love Ani. She's like a surrogate mom to me. I like my colleagues so much more when they're not yelling at each other. I love how they say my name a lot when they talk to me. Okay, now I'm rambling. I had to cut out early 'cause I'm SUPPOSED to be making cookies for another celebration tomorrow. I'd better get going. Oh! And I got to talk to some members of my actual blood family today. I'm a happy girl. I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving wherever it may have found you. We all have a lot of blessings to be thankful for.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Thankful

So, as you know, Thanksgiving is coming. Too quickly if you ask me, and yet not soon enough. I want to get this dinner over with. I have too much going on, and I have a lot of cooking to do. I can't even cook! But I did already make some peanut-butter Snicker® cookies. Now I can't stop eating them! Bad Apryl! They're supposed to be for the kids!
I've been explaining to my kids what Thanksgiving is about. They don't have Thanksgiving here (some of the kids swear they do, they just can't remember the date), and it's fascinating to them that we gorge ourselves with food - especially turkey. I told them to expect me to show up fat and bloated on Friday.
I've also been asking them what they are thankful for. In addition to the family and school, they've been including me and my English classes. Awww... they're such suck-ups! Like I'm going to give them a better grade or something.
I'm finding more and more reasons to be thankful... slowly but surely. There are definitely mornings when I have to convince myself to get out of bed. I don't know why it has to be that way. Today turned out to be a good day. My classes were fairly full of students, and Brandy was able to get her art classes underway with some interest from the kids. I'm thinking that she'll be able to get that class full in a short amount of time. Parents are coming and telling me that they want to sign their kids up for computer classes. One parent has actually paid. I know it's a lot of money for them, and I'm proud (and a little nervous) of them for making the investment. So I have my first computer class with one student (maybe two or three)... tomorrow!
Meanwhile, I have a new sidekick. His name is Toshko. I've mentioned him before. He's a nice boy, but he's a little "cheeky." These are his words. (laugh) I have never heard anyone describe themselves as cheeky. He's been showing up at the end of my classes to try and glean some English and then walk me home. This used to be my counterpart, Angel's, role. Not necessarily to be "cheeky," but he used to always be by my side and constantly walk me home. It's weird how life progresses and people assume different roles. I think I'm at a point where I can walk myself home, but I shouldn't complain about having the company. It's dark when I go home.
My colleagues are still pretty tightly-wound. I'm no longer the golden volunteer I once was. It's not like I get yelled at or anything. I don't know how to describe it. The tone still changes a little when I'm addressed, but it's definitely not like it was before. You would think it's good because they're used to me, and now they're giving me more responsibilities to do within the foundation. This is a good thing, right? Unfortunately, in my insecurity, I'm a little worried that this is soon going to open me up for some barbs myself. I honestly can't believe how they talk to each other sometimes. I hope it's just stress. I hope we all get over it quickly. I just don't enjoy going to the office as much as I used to, and I sometimes try to find something else to occupy my time so I don't have to go. What I find to do is, most of the time, valuable to my work, but it's no good to want to avoid the office.
Maybe I just have a habit of burning out at whatever I'm doing after a year of doing it. It was certainly that way at my last job. I never really loved working there, but I definitely felt the pull of getting away after fulfilling a year there. Maybe it's a mental thing with me, but I'm wanting to say that it's not necessarily true. My experience here is definitely different from what it was a year ago. I almost feel like I'm in a new place doing new things. Only the characters haven't changed - but they have in a lot of ways. Whatever. I'm just going to keep praying.
Oh, and they turned off my internet for a while. I guess that's what happens when you don't pay your bill. Hahaha. I'm still impressed by how proactive they were about it. I thought it would take a while - both to shut me down and bring me back up again, but I got the internet back pretty much as soon as I paid the bill. Impressive.
Okay, I'm going to go get some more food made. If I'm not back on here before Thursday, I hope you all have a very warm and happy Thanksgiving. If you think of it, please say a prayer for us over in Rakitovo. We could use the warm wishes. Much love to you all.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Tiramisu Weekend

I thought I would just write and let you know that I'm back from my weekend jaunt to Plovdiv. I had a great time. I got to see my "sister," make tiramisu, and pick up Bryan Adams tickets! That's right. I'm going to go see Bryan Adams in concert. I saw Sting earlier this year, and now it's time for Bryan. Any doubts that I'm a sentimental girl?
So yeah, I went to Plovdiv this weekend because I was invited by an ex-pat Italian to learn how to make tiramisu. It was an interesting experience as I can't remember ever actually meeting someone I've met on the internet. And now I know how to make tiramisu. Nevermind that half the needed ingredients are things I can't get in my town.... It was a nice evening. Good food (he made pasta for me as well) and good conversation. It's nice to meet another "outsider" who's not a PCV. Highlight of the evening: Him waiting expectantly to see what I thought of the tiramisu - immediately followed by me accidentally inhaling a mountain of cocoa powder and choking.
I stayed at a hostel this time around in Plovdiv. I usually stay with my "family," but I just didn't want to put them out this time around. I met some cool people at the hostel. It's been a long time since I've fallen in with the "constant travel" crowd. I stayed and chatted with them... enjoying the view of hazy, old Plovdiv from the windows. I really love that city. It feels like a small town.
So that's it. Tomorrow is back to work. Thursday is Thanksgiving. Next weekend will find me celebrating with other PCVs. I'll update you all again later. In the meantime! Chestit den na blagodarnosta! aka Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 17, 2006

Sunny Days = Bliss

I have to tell you about the good days, too, right? Today was a good day. The past few days have been pretty good, but today was pretty fantastic. And there's not really a special reason behind it. I'm just happy today. Well, it's been sunny recently. Still chilly, but it's not snowing and there's still this brilliant sun that allows me to shed my coat every so often.
My English classes were a blast today. Thirteen kids showed up for my first class. They filled up the room, and there weren't enough chairs for all of them. We had a blast singing, yelling, and playing - all in English, of course. My second class was fun, too. I don't know. I was just feeling good today, and have been feeling so ever since after my last post. I just thought I'd share.
And I might be able to start computer classes soon. We've been explaining to parents why we have to raise the rates for them, and they seem disposed to pay the significant hike. We'll see if anything comes of it. They weren't so into it at first. Now, maybe there'll be some change. Maybe we can pay our electric bills now.
Brandy's going to start an art class next week. I guess it's just the realization that the center might get some more traffic other than just for my English classes that has me jazzed. And we're planning on combining forces and having Thanksgiving dinner for some people at the center. I really hope that works out.
We've got some other projects in the works, and I'm feeling optomistic. I'm gone from morning to evening with my work, but I'm feeling energized by it so far. I go through these quick mood-swings from feeling inspired to defeated and back again. I'd like to stay on a high for the time-being. These mood-swings are exhausting.
And I have a date tomorrow in Plovdiv. I'm going to meet an Italian who lives in Bulgaria and learn to make tiramisu. It's been a while since I've gone on a first date, and this is the first time I'm meeting someone that I've "met" online. If you don't hear from me soon, contact someone. I may have been trafficked.
Okay, that's not funny. It's just that I've been watching all these horrible people-trafficking videos recently, and I'm suspicious of everyone now because it just looks so easy to fall into a trap. I'm probably too old to be trafficked. Seriously, I hope I just learn how to make some delicious Italian cake.
I'm going to go now. I just figured I should be randomly happy and hit you with that instead of the random sadness I sometimes weigh you down with.
Here's a random slogan for you from "the advertising slogan generator:" "Central Heating for Gibson" Yeah, wouldn't THAT be nice for this winter? I'll hang onto the sun as long as I can though.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Tear Drops

Life has been unfair to me. I've had a really good life... better than that of many others... probably too good. Things have been easy for me. Now, if you know my background, my childhood and such, you might disagree. But somehow I feel like I've been living in this bubble where things just floated along so well for me. It's strange, I know... but this is my perception of things right now. And then I came to Bulgaria and started to enter my second year of service, and it's like I slammed into this wall. Maybe it's because it's the first time I feel like I have control and yet no control. Like it's my fault my life feels so chaotic. The weight of the world is oppressing me. Maybe I'm still used to having my parents worry about my problems. Life is amazing, but it's not easy.
This is just a quick post to share some deep feelings that might not make sense, but I'd like to share them. I'll try not to have too much of a pity party.
1. We don't have the money to maintain this wonderful center we just built. We don't have money for wood, so the kids and I sit in the classroom and shiver. The parents won't like this. Maybe they won't like it enough to the point that they'll give us some wood. We don't have money for electricity, but we use it anyway. We don't have money for internet, so the computers are just sitting there at the moment. We don't have money for other activities, so I'm teaching English, and that's it. I might not even be doing that for long. Shhh... don't tell Peace Corps!
This puts my colleagues on edge and makes me want to cry. The school will report us for obstructing the educational process if we start before 4 pm, so now I have even more limited time for my classes. The kids have to therefore stay later, and they tell me they're scared to go home in the dark. It's normal. And more kids and adults fall off the English wagon while more want to be added.
2. Supposedly every Roma kid is in school during the day. Not true. I had a kid sign up for English who doesn't study. I saw one - not dressed nearly well enough - getting yelled at while trying to take some scrap wire tied around a pole. Everything is useful.
3. Supposedly we don't have dumpster divers. Not true. I have seen Roma pick through trash while I cook dinner in my lovely kitchen. Again, everything is useful.
4. I read Newsweek, and it depresses me.
5. Angel asked me today, "What is it that weighs on you most heavily?" My answer: "That I'm not better than what I am."
"I'm selfish," I told Angel. I'm selfish because I want things for people's lives that they don't even want themselves. And is what I want really better for them? And why do I want it? What are my motives? I'd like to think that I really do want people to live more comfortably. But is it just because I want to "make a difference?" Do I have a savior-complex? I hope not.
Something positive: I still have quite a few kids for English and some adults. They're wild and crazy, but they're intensely smart. Pretty much all of them have learned whatever I've thrown at them. I know they like me, too. They tell me they wish I could stay forever. Kids are the best. And I'm still meeting people who've heard good things about me and ask for help with something. Even being able to talk and make contacts is a good thing. Like I just found out that the P.E. teacher at the Roma school has worked in Madrid and speaks Spanish. Who knew?
The weekend was quiet. I wanted to make a couple trips, but buses aren't so regular during the weekend, so that was that. I stayed home. I plotted with Brandy about some projects that I hope come to fruition. I had Maria and Reneta over to watch a movie. The internet guys came out on Sunday to get my internet back up and running. How's that for service? I did some cleaning. I had "guests" again that weren't my guests. I don't want to talk about it. I made chocolate chip banana bread for the first time, and Milka said she liked it. I did some preparation for my classes. I know it sounds like a lot... or maybe not.
Why is it that I mismanage time so much? I feel like time slips through my fingers like running water and yet I accomplish so little it feels like nothing. We had some young visitors this week, and they asked what I do for Future Foundation. What do I do? I hang out! I don't feel like I do anything. Yanko was like, "Are you kidding me? You've done so much!" I just don't feel like I've really done anything that matters. Maybe someone would disagree, but it's how I feel. Feelings are weird.
So I've been praying. I ask God not to let my own shortcomings interfere with a wonderful future for the people of Rakitovo. I ask God to push me aside and do amazing things. I ask God to make me super-human. I ask God to make me better than I am. And I cry sometimes.
P.S. I've received $520 in donations so far for the marathon! That's it! You're all getting a hug from me! It might be a teary-eyed hug, but anyway....

Friday, November 10, 2006

Conquer Yourself

I recently got back from Athens and am recovering from running “The Best Marathon Ever!!!” It was such an amazing experience, and I’m so thankful and excited that I actually did it. There were definitely times over previous months when I questioned why I was doing it and was I even ready. Well, now I can say that I have run a marathon. It’s no easy feat, but it was easier than I thought it was going to be. Well, I also had a wonderful group of other volunteer runners who made the experience that much more memorable. They were so supportive and encouraging, and all 15 of us finished. I will talk more in-depth about the experience, but I will go through this chronologically.
Last Friday, I had my landlord, Enyo, drive me to Sofia so I could catch a plane to Athens. A few other volunteers came along on the flight with me (one missed the flight and had to catch a train), and it was a quick trip to the mythical city. Once in Athens, we went straight to our studio apartments and checked in. They were nice, new, and clean. It was a comfortable atmosphere in which to mentally prepare for a marathon. That evening, we just went to grab a bite to eat and then stopped at a supermarket to stock up on carbs and healthy options for the next couple of days. The Acropolis was really close by, so I decided to take a solo trip to see it at night. You can’t get very close, but it’s absolutely beautiful. The city pays (high utility bills, I’m sure) to keep the Parthenon and other monuments lit into the night. I couldn’t get very close, but I did see some ruins, and they were beautiful at night. I was surprised that there weren’t very many tourists around. The views of the city at night were spectacular from those hills. I wandered for quite a while, and I soon found myself among the maze of sidewalks that separated people’s compact homes. They were built right into the wall next to the Acropolis. It was an odd experience.
The next day, I went ahead and wandered around the Acropolis, the Parthenon, various temples, an ancient agora, and some museums that were open during the day time. Honestly, I probably walked a little too much for the day before a marathon. I wore myself out, but that just meant that I slept well that night. I had been waiting so long to see the wonders of ancient Greece, so it was worth it. When it came to the marathon, I was strangely calm. I definitely wasn’t going for a certain time in which to finish. The goal was just to finish. I think God helped me quite a lot not to think about it too much and psyche myself out. It was just another thing that needed to be done. And even though I’m not always well-prepared for such pursuits (I honestly should have trained more and gone on longer runs), I think God has given me the ability to just “pound it out,” as someone commented to me. I don’t give up on such things easily. But then, none of us did.
That night, our marathon hosts had an opening ceremony had an excellent pasta feed for all of us. It was delicious, and it was just the food we needed for the next day. We also got to meet and interact with a few other people who were planning on running, and we saw our names on the registration sheets. There we were… under USA – Peace Corps Bulgaria. We were actually doing this! We already had our goodie bags with our numbers, timing chips, and other memorabilia. Additionally, we saw from a distance the really serious marathoners (those who finish in insane times of less than 2.5 hours) from countries around the world. The most elite of marathoners come from countries like Kenya, Ethiopia, and other republics of Africa, but there are many from other nations as well. I watched in awe. They were beautiful and looked so disciplined. Their bodies were well-oiled machines.
The cool thing about this marathon is that they claim it’s pretty much the same route run by the mythical Phidippides from Marathonas to Athens to proclaim, “Nenikekamen! We were victorious!” Supposedly, he then fell over dead. We did some backtracking though, so I find that hard to believe. Plus, apparently it’s the original course of the first Olympics and the most recent (2004) Olympics. They were marketing it as, “Be a part of history.” Yeah, well, sure. It was kind of a rough course though. You imagine marathon courses as being nice and flat. This one was hilly. Joy! It was a challenge.
Anyway, I slept fairly well the night before the marathon. There was one point, in the middle of the night, when I awoke with my heart pounding and a knot in my stomach. It soon subsided, and I was able to go back to sleep. In the early hours of the morning, I awoke to a munching sound. The serious marathoner in our group, a great guy who we’ve turned to quite a few times for encouragement and advice, was getting some fuel into his body before the big race. Not long after, at 5:00 a.m., we were all getting up, eating, and dressing for the marathon.
At about quarter to six, we went over to the nearby stadium. This was where we would cross the finish line and board the buses that would take us 26.2 miles away to the start. I took a minute to look at the finish. It was inspiring and beckoning me in the early hours of dawn. I hoped I would see it again later that day.
I can’t tell you how long that bus ride felt. It’s a mind-trick to drive the route you’re going to run. It just feels like it goes on and on forever, and you start doubting whether you can really do it. I tried not to think about how the bus just seemed to keep driving out of the city of Athens, and how it seemed like we were never reaching the town of Marathon. It messes with you. It really was a long bus ride, that took at least 45 minutes, but I was really trying not to pay attention.
The night before had been windy and extremely cold. I feared that I would be unable to run if the next day proved to be the same. Well, it was cold, and we were shivering, but it was nowhere near as bad as the day before. I was quite thankful. I think we all were.
After some stretching and standing around, we were told to get our stuff together to hand over to volunteers who would have it waiting for us at the finish line. Whatever you didn’t want to run with, you’d better put in a bag and hand over.
Soon after this, we gathered at the starting line and waited for 8:30 to come. The gun went off, and the race started, but it was all very anti-climactic. We were in the back with thousands of other runners. We had to wait another minute or so to inch our way to the starting line and cross. After that, we were off like a herd of turtles! I ran the first ten kilometers with three other volunteers from our group. Then, I was just with Amy (runner extraordinaire) for the next ten. At the halfway point, she and another volunteer left me in the dust. I was running pretty much alone the second half of the race, and I was getting passed… a LOT. Hehe. I didn’t mind though. It didn’t really mess with my psyche either way. I didn’t get discouraged when I was passed, nor was I encouraged those rare moments when I passed someone. It was just a course that I needed to keep chugging along at until I crossed the finish line. At about 30 km, I started to wear down. At 35 km, I was really feeling it. I so badly wanted to continue to run until the end, but I just wasn’t able to. I soon stopped and began to walk. I knew that, as soon as I did that, it would be hard to start running again. And so it was. Mentally, I was having a tough time. I couldn’t keep running for long distances, and I stopped a lot those last 7 km. Even though I knew I was close and running would make it go by quicker, I just couldn’t keep it up. There was a point along the way where they gave us Coca-Cola and power drinks to get our bodies going. That was a nice jolt, but it didn’t last long enough. The stops along the way were awesome. They would have water, sports drinks, Gu®, health bars, and sponges for us every five km or so. You'd use these things and then just fling them to the side of the road. It felt wasteful, and yet kind of cool at the same time to just throw water on the ground... followed by the bottle, and to throw sports drinks away like they don't cost $3 a pop. The people around me were great, too. Anytime someone would see me stop, they would encourage me. “C’mon! Keep going.” I was already elated ‘cause I knew I would finish. I just wanted to get there ASAP. It hurt to run, but it almost hurt even more to walk. The first time I stopped, I couldn’t feel the bottom half of my body. I was in shock. Well, finally, the last kilometer, I saw a large crowd. I figured it must be the finish, and I was able to run. It was kind of a cruel way they laid out the final few moments, however. We had to run past the stadium and then wrap around and come back. Fortunately, I wasn’t too surprised or disappointed by it. It figured… like Murphy’s Law or something. I just wondered how long it would be before I could turn back and come into the stadium. I saw those ahead of me turning, and I was relieved. Upon entering the sidewalk leading to the stadium, I heard people shouting my name, and I turned to see a crowd of supporters. After waving to “the fans,” I was able to break into a sprint. I don’t know how I did it, but I full out ran those last hundred meters or so. Who knows where I got the energy. I dodged and passed a bunch of people, and I wanted to collapse upon crossing the finish line. Instead, I got a medal and continued on around where they were handing out drinks and snack foods. I returned my timing chip, collected my bag, and made my way over to those in my group who were either cheering or had already finished. I was jealous of them for the sheer fact that they had been resting longer than I had. It took me another half hour or so before I was actually able to sit down. Once I did, it was hard to get up again. Walking was painful, and I had little control over my legs. I hobbled and leaned on the shoulders of kind volunteers. I probably walked the funniest out of all of us. We slowly made our way back to the studio, and then we went out to Hard Rock CafĂ© for some comforting food and drinks. We didn’t look at the fat content or the prices. We just ate what we wanted. It was so nice to have a veggie burger and a frozen strawberry margarita. I can’t remember the last time I’ve had either of those. Afterwards, I went back and watched a couple episodes of “The Wonder Years” and then crashed. I slept so well. I was also really grateful that I was just extremely sore but had no injuries to speak of. But I did run a marathon. I still have the blisters to prove it!
The next day, we took a trip to Delphi – that wonderful place where warriors would consult the mysterious “oracle” to divine whether or not their exploits would be successful. Maybe we should have gone there before the marathon. It was absolutely beautiful up there among ruins in perilous mountains. My foot either stepped down wrong on a rock or was just strained to the limit. I found myself having a hard time walking on it. Great. That night, however, I went out with some other volunteers (including some Armenia PCVs that we met who were also running the marathon), danced, and had a drink. It was fun, and a great way to celebrate finishing a marathon. I don't know how I danced though. I probably didn't move my feet much.
The following day, a few of us went to visit the archaeological museum. It was huge, and extremely repetitive. Anytime anyone wants to build something in Greece, they have to excavate first. There are so many ancient treasures in the country. It got a little overwhelming looking at all the stuff. Plus, I was tired, and my foot hurt. I was skating around the exhibits to try and give my foot a rest.
Afterward, we went to the mall. It’s been a while since I’ve been to a mall. And we saw a movie. It’s been a while since I saw a movie. And I spent too much money. And I got ice cream. When I saw the ice cream, it was like my foot no longer hurt. Weird, huh?
On our final day in Athens, I went with another volunteer over to the humungous temple of Zeus. It’s not really intact, but the columns that are there are pretty grand. After a quick trip back to the stadium to remember the glory and get some more pictures, we caught our plane back to Sofia. I had such a good time, I almost didn’t want to come back.
I ran a marathon! Like I said, I have the blisters to prove it. Plus, my foot still hurts if I walk on it too much. I’m hoping that will go away soon though. If not, it’s time for a visit to the Peace Corps Medical Officer. Pain is momentary. Glory is forever. Right? Well, at least you can go here if you want to check out my time of 4:27:20 in pretty lights on an official webpage. I'm on page 42 of 60 on the website, and I'm number 1804. That's pretty good, right? I was just hoping to finish in less than six hours, so there you go. Some volunteer made the comment that he thought he could walk a marathon and finish it in my time. No comment.
And if you want to see super hot pics of me sprinting to the finish line, go here. Click on a link to the Athens Marathon, and then enter bib number 3272. That was my number. I can't seem to get the page to open right now, but hopefully you will be able to figure it out. If not, lemme know.
There are some other pictures of me in Athens out there that are already up. I will have to post more in the near future. For now, picture #1 and picture #2 . Picture #2 is cute, but my purse looks like a feedbag! I was carbo-loading. Yeah, that's it. I was carrying around massive quantities of bread and water in that stylish little purse.
Pic 3 & pic 4 are of me and Andy pretending we're in good enough post-marathon shape to dance.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

First Snow


Rila Monastery in Autumn Posted by Picasa
"Happy First Snow!" That's what one of my beginning students said to me (in English!) tonight as we looked out the window and saw little flakes fall to the ground and turn to slush. I certainly wasn't happy.
And the world turns around. Time marches on. Snow falls. Bleh. I hate it. I'm not ready for the winter wonderland to come back. My mom cut out of here yesterday - just in time to miss the first snowfall. Lucky girl. I wish she had packed me back to sunny California with her.
We had a good time together. This last week, we went to the Rila Monastery - probably the most famous and beautiful monastery in the country. We detoured a little bit to get there, but it ended up working out and everything went great. We decided to stay at the monastery, and were fortunate enough to get the last room (with a bunch of other empty beds - which was weird to say the least, but a good experience nonetheless). The scenery was absolutely spectacular. As you have probably noticed, it's fall over here in Bulgaria (with winter quickly nipping at its heels) and the trees are gorgeous. Rila Monastery is up in a breathtaking, isolated part of the country, and it's surrounded by hills, trees, and rushing streams. It's an idyllic location to say the least. We spent a couple days up there, roaming around and eating good pastries made by the monks.
This week has been pretty good. I just show up at the center in the afternoon to have some English classes. The kids seem to really enjoy it - which is important. The also adored having my mom around. They would go out and play football with her, and sometimes I would get out there too and try to explain to them how to play. They loved saying "hike" and taking turns being quarterback, blocking, and rushing. Nothing says autumn like falling into a bunch of colored leaves with a football in your hands. One girl was cute in particular. After the other team would score a goal, she would ask me, "Did we win?" I laughed, "No." Then she would proceed to yell and gesture at the other team. It was awesome.
I biasedly believe all my students are all so smart. They already know "What's your name? Where are you from? Nice to meet you." and then numbers 1-10. We play a lot of games, and I think that maintains their interest. They miss my mom though. Many have asked me where she went and one even told me he missed her. Maybe she should have stayed and I could have gone home. Hehehe. Anyway, we've got a long way to go, but that's a really good start for about the first week. Now I'm going to have to leave them for a bit, and I hope they retain what we've learned. Also, I'm staying until about 7 o'clock (or later) every evening, trying to accomodate everyone. That's not going to happen anymore. People are getting dropped. Those who haven't bothered to show up so far will find themselves out of a place. This will mean that I can fill those spots with computer classes! Joy! The computer guy finally showed up - all apologetic. He's not a bad guy. I guess he's just overwhelmed. Well, anyway, he finally came, and now our computers are ready for the internet, etc. The kids keep asking me if they're ready, and hopefully soon I'll be able to tell them, "Yes!"
Yes, people, it's that time. I'm finally leaving for this illustrious marathon I've mentioned a few times on this blog. I went for my last run this morning. I love jogging and looking at the hills that surround me. They're lit up with dazzling colors from dying leaves and an eerie fog. I wish I could share it with all of you. I'm going to Athens tomorrow to try and run 42.2 km (26.2 miles) on Sunday. I don't know if I'm going to make it. I swear I have to be the lasiest marathon trainee ever! But I'm going to try. If I drag my weary body across that finish line, it'll mean I'll never have to do anything like this again! Speaking of which, yes, this is a fundraiser. Here is another draft of a letter I've put together to ask for your money:

Dear friends & family,

This Sunday, I am running a marathon. Why? For glory, prestige, and just to see if I can do it. So one day, I can be sitting somewhere, and I can turn to the handsome guy next to me and say, "You know, I once ran a marathon." And then he will say, "Oh, my stars! You are the most amazing girl I have ever met. I am wealthy and need someone to spend my money. Marry me this instant!" And we will live happily ever after.

Delusions aside, I really am running a marathon... this Sunday! I leave tomorrow for Athens, Greece. Yipee! Other than just seeing if I can drag my body a staggering 26.2 miles, I am also doing this with some other Peace Corps Volunteers to support Bulgarian Scouts. Scouts. You know, those cute, little munchkins that learn to tie knots and read compasses - the ones that learn discipline and skills to help them lead a better life. Yeah. I'm running for the kids. Some of them are dying to attend an International Scouting Jamboree in the summer of 2007, but they're poor, and need outside monetary support. They would be unable to go otherwise. So, besides personal glory, this marathon is a fundraiser for them.

This is where you come in! Please support my efforts! Donate $1 (or more - if you have the spare change) and, while supporting me in a once-in-a-lifetime experience (believe me, I don't plan on running another marathon... ever!), help the scouts go to a once-in-a-lifetime experience!
How do you donate? Simple. First, go to this website:

http://www.scout.org/en/about_scouting/fundraising/donate/donate_now

After that, in the first drop down box, select "Scouting in the European Region." Then, select the currency you would like to donate in. Afterwards, in the message section, message something like this:

This donation is going to support Bulgarian Scouts who will be attending the World Scout Jamboree 2007. It has been given in connection to the fundraiser sponsored by Peace Corps Bulgaria Volunteers who are running a marathon in Athens, Greece. This donation is given by (insert your name here) on behalf of Apryl Gibson.

You can say whatever you like, but it's important that you mention the World Scout Jamboree 2007 and that it's going for Bulgarian scouts supported by the Athens Marathon.

A marathon is a really long way to go - and your donation will mean SO much to these kids. I would really really really appreciate it if you would find it in your heart to donate any change you can spare.

Thank you!

Apryl

Run or Die!

P.S. It's snowing here for heaven's sake! Send me some love as I escape this freezing wasteland for some self-sacrifice in Athens.