Thursday, December 21, 2006

White Magic


An English/Spanish/Computer teacher with some of her students.
The "teacher" is the one in the red hat! Posted by Picasa

Well, it's finally starting to feel like Christmas. I'm glad it's hit me late in the game though. Today really felt like it 'cause it started snowing for real. I woke up this morning, and white flakes were falling to an already white-crusted earth. In reality, it began snowing as we were having our show yesterday, but nothing stuck until this morning.
Our show went well - except for the fact that we couldn't light the stove, and so we were all running around in our jackets, hats and scarves. The parents complained a little, but I think it was understandable once my colleagues told them what had happened the day before. We had to wait quite some time for everyone to show up. Even then, I was disappointed that so few were able to come. The kids said their parents were at work, and that's probably true in most cases. One of my kids had told me that her mother would come because she was sick and able to take time off work. When I asked her where her mother was, her eyes filled with tears. I have never seen a kid so disappointed that her mother was healthy. Her dad showed up though, so that made me happy. My first (and most eager) student to show up came 45 minutes early. His mom didn't come at the appropriate time, however, and he had to go home and get her. By the time they got there, he had missed his turn with his group. Grrr....
Anyway, so we started our show for the few parents/grandparents/other relatives that were able to come. My youngest kids came up, and I gave them commands to do in front of everyone. "Good night!" I would say, and they would pretend to sleep. "Good morning!" And they would wake up. "Jump, Spin, Clap, Cheer, Sit Down, Stand Up" and they executed each command with precision while the parents laughed. After that, we sang a song called "Hello, How Are You?" And each kid would show how they were hungry, tired, cold, sad, happy, great, good, or OK. I had them say the alphabet. I also had them each answer questions for me: What's your name? Where are from? Nice to meet you. How old are you? How are you? They each answered well, to the delight of the adults - even though they probably couldn't understand what they were saying. Although, one girl said she was "seventy" instead of "seven," and that brought laughter when a boy corrected her in Bulgarian. My next group of older kids then came up to the front, and I gave them names of popular chalga singers and the president of Bulgaria. When they told me their names, the audience cackled in delight. I then had them tell me colors of things and numbers as I wrote them on the board. We also sang the alphabet to the melody of a famous chalga song, and I asked them more questions like: What's your mother's/father's name? When's your birthday? What's your favorite color? What do you like to eat? I then tested a couple of my adults who were there. They were probably the most nervous of the bunch! I included questions like, "What's your brother's name? What are the names of your children?" Everyone did such an excellent job. And then Reneta blew them away with her Spanish. I brought her up and asked her a series of questions which she would answer and then translate for the audience: What's your name? Where are you from? Where do you live? How are you? How old are you? When's your birthday? What's your favorite color? What do you like to eat? What are you parent's names? What's your sister's name? Do you have any pets? Oh, you have a goat. What's your goat's name? What do you have in your house? Oh, you like dolls? How many dolls do you have? What are you wearing? She fired off each question quickly and well - much to the amusement of the audience when things were translated - especially about the goat and her 30+ dolls.
Afterward, we went to the kitchen and enjoyed some treats. I had put up a few Christmas decorations, and the kids just attacked the candy and cookies while the parents generally stayed out of the way. I was really happy with the show. Our audience could have been a little fuller and a little more punctual, but such is life.
Today, I made certificates for all the participants. I went up to the Mahala to try and distribute some of them, but only a couple of my students showed up - and they hadn't even participated in the show. "Oh, I forgot what time it was at." Yeah... right! Anyway, maybe my kids were gone because of other Christmas parties. I ran into one of my students, and she was just getting back from a party at school. Maybe they were detained because of the snow. Whatever the reason, I wasn't too upset. It was too cold to have class anyway - without a working heating system. I just wanted to give them their certificates and tell them we'd be taking the next week off. The ones I told were disappointed. But why!? Because we have some holidays in there, kids. Plus, (and I didn't tell them this) who knows when the heating will be fixed?
So, now I just have to show up for a few things tomorrow, and then I can relax and think about a little vacation here. I hope you all have wonderful holidays! I will be going to a town called Veliko Turnovo on Saturday. I haven't been there yet, and it's a must-see. It's one of the former capitals of Bulgaria. I hear it's quite charming. Anyway, Весела Коледа и Щастлива Нова Година! Or, in English: Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! If you want to learn how to pronounce it in Bulgarian, and use it on your friends and family, it sounds like this with latin letters: Vesela Koleda i Shtastliva Nova Godina! Now, go impress everyone with your holiday Bulgarian skills!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The Day I Tried to Blow Up the Educational Center

The title is kind of self-explanatory, but I guess I'd better explain it. We've been having problems with our stove and heating system for some time. It seems like the guy who did it cut some corners. Plus, we didn't have the money to really buy all the nice things we should have. In the library, one of the radiators doesn't work. And somehow, in my classroom, the radiator leaks water. So anyway, we have this system where we light the stove, it heats the water in the boiler, and then the water travels to all the radiators in the center and heats those, which in turn heat the rooms. Yanko and I were up in the center this morning to ready the stove for lighting. He cleaned the stove, carefully arranged some wood, and then he helped me fill the boiler with water and bring in some coal to put next to the stove.
Filling the boiler is a complicated process. We have to pull out this long, black tube from a cupboard. We then attach one end to the faucet in the sink, and we attach the other end to a pipe under the sink. We then turn a knob on the pipe and turn on the faucet. Ideally, water should flow through the black hose to the piping and then fill the boiler. There is a clear, plastic tube next to the boiler that shows the water level inside. When we entered, the tube was empty. When we left, it was mid-way up.
When I arrived at the center to light the stove and teach my classes, the water in the tube was about a quarter of the way up. I lit the stove, and then I proceeded to try and put more water in. Instead of being able to fill the boiler with water, however, the water somehow started to spill out the other way - into the sink. I started getting worried because I had been told many times that something bad might happen if the stove were lit with no water in the boiler. I was trying to get the water in, when a student of mine showed up. He could see that I was agitated, and he helped me hold the hose on the faucet. Meanwhile, I was able to get it more securely attached to the piping in the cupboard, and we watched the water level rise in the boiler. Relieved, I finished filling the boiler until it was at a level closer to the top, and then we put everything away, and I started my lesson.
About half an hour into the lesson, we started to hear popping noises. I ignored them because I thought it was normal every once in a while for some wood or something to pop in the stove. Soon, the noises were becoming louder and more frequent. My student started to get nervous. He thought there might be a mouse around. The whole area around the pipes, the stove, and the boiler had seemed to take on this life of its own. I swear everything was shaking and popping. He begged me to leave the place. I had no idea what to do. I decided the best thing was to call Yanko, but my phone was dead. I went across the way and barged in on his daughters.
Apryl: "Call your dad. The boiler in the center is making weird noises, and I don't know what's going on."
Maria: "What kind of noises?"
Apryl: "IT DOESN'T MATTER WHAT KIND OF NOISES! CALL YOUR DAD AND GET HIM UP HERE!"
I then rushed out of the house and back to the center. The noise had become louder, and I found my student trying to figure out how to get his phone working to make a call. Meanwhile, there were other characters coming in the center - trying to make my life miserable. I found a boy I knew trying to get into the computer room. "What are you doing?!!" I yelled at him. He smelled of alcohol. I then rushed back into the kitchen to see what was going on with the boiler. Other boys I knew decided to come in because they saw me running around outside like a chicken with my head cut off. "If you can do something to help, do it," I told them. "Otherwise, get out now!" I didn't want to be responsible for death or injury of someone else. It took some pushing, but I was able to get them out.
Brandy showed up in the middle of my meltdown, and she, Reneta, and Maria tried to get me to relax and calm down. The girls told me that they were able to get a hold of their father and that he was coming. Meanwhile, the boiler was at full steam. It was popping and cracking like a shower of firecrackers. Brandy and I went outside for a moment when I decided it was safer to leave the center. We could hear the boiler from several meters away. I was still freaking out.
"Did you get ahold of your dad?!!" I asked the girls.
"No, he didn't answer his phone." There must have been some miscommunication earlier.
"THEN CALL SOMEONE AT THE FOUNDATION! CALL SOMEONE AND TELL THEM WHAT'S GOING ON IN THE CENTER!"
They raced back to their house to do what I had told them. Finally, a thought came to me: What if I put out the fire? When they came back, I told them to go get some water so we could put out the fire. They soon came back carrying a giant soda bottle filled with water. Well, Maria was carrying a soda bottle. Reneta was carrying a 500 ml bottle, and it cracks me up in retrospect.
I threw the water on the fire, and the place filled with smoke. As soon as the fire was out, however. The noise in the boiler seemed to subside. The plastic tube, however, started going crazy. It began to wiggle back and forth, and bubbles rushed through it like they couldn't break out fast enough. I told everyone to stand back, and we watched it until it finally popped out of its joint. Water spilled out of the boiler, down the wall, and onto the kitchen sink. We watched in dumb silence until the boiler relived itself of all its steaming water, and then we just looked at each other - grateful that it was over. I had been the one freaking out the whole time. The others told me to be calm, but once the storm had passed, it was obvious that they had been scared, too. That's the most terrified I have been since coming to Bulgaria. I only had a few thoughts running in my head: "I'm going to blow up the new center, and someone's going to get hurt." I thank God nothing more serious happened. Now comes the investigation as to what went wrong.
This isn't the appropriate time to be having problems with our heating system. Nevermind that it's cold. I have a show with the kids from English, Spanish, and Art classes tomorrow, and the center needs to be warm for our guests.
Yeah, so I've been preparing for this show with my kids for a bit now. We've been trying to think of what we can do to make it interesting. Thing is, I'm extremely proud of my kids. I can't wait to have them show off what they've learned. I'm sure, as parents, they will love what they do no matter what. Thing is, I don't think it's going to be very interesting. It's all going to be in English with Bulgarian translation, but I doubt the parents will really understand a whole lot. It might be a little boring. I'm praying it goes well regardless. I bought some Christmas decorations today, and after being an angel and cleaning up a bit, Brandy prepared some decorations for the center. We set up the chairs in the library, and got some things in order for the show tomorrow. Honestly, I just want it to be over and for Christmas to be here.
In other news, that school was able to find a teacher. I'm really happy for them - and so quickly after I told them I couldn't do it. They told me it was someone who teaches English at another school in Rakitovo. I really hope the kids are able to learn some valuable things from her. They were really disappointed when they found out I couldn't do it, but it's easy to impress kids the first day. It's afterwards that they start playing games and couldn't care less about you.
A representative from the Youth Development program of Peace Corps came out to my site last week. They make the rounds every year - just checking in on the PCV and the organization. Is the relationship working out? Is everything okay? My colleagues were too much. Yanko especially. He just kept going on and on about how I needed to stay another year. They were never going to let me go. They talked about how hard I work, how much I have done for them, and what they have learned from me. I mostly sat there - feeling good and yet feeling uncomfortable. My one flaw: I didn't know how to say "no." I wanted to help everyone - to a fault. I agree that it's a flaw, but I don't think it's my only flaw. I tried to remind them how hard they all work. They just said that the difference between me and them was that I didn't have the support they had back at home. They always had someone to come home to; someone to help out with the household chores. I go home alone.
I tried to remind them how much experience they have on me, how much they do that I just don't understand, and how much I didn't think they really needed a volunteer. Yanko did not agree with that. Ah well, at least my colleagues love me. I can be grateful for that.
Once alone in my apartment with the Peace Corps representative, I confessed what I was really dealing with. Yes, I had a lot to do. Yes, I love my colleagues. Yes, I still very much love my job. I was, however, lacking fulfillment. I just didn't have the desire and energy I came to Rakitovo with. The first nine months of the first year was pretty much awesome. As of that time, however, I've just been feeling like something is missing. I'm not going to get into my psyche here in my blog at the moment (surprise!), but we had a good talk. I was left with a couple questions. Unfortunately, I forgot the first one. The second was, "In what do you find fulfillment?" I've been doing some soul-searching. Actually, I haven't. I'm just hoping the feeling will pass. It infuriates me because I hate how feelings can get the best of a person. I want to tell myself it's all in my head, and therefore I can talk myself out of it. The "newness" of this place has been lost to me, and I think I'm mourning that loss.
The weekend was a good one. I left site and spent time with a volunteer who lives close-by. We went on a hike and generally hung out. It was a nice weekend. I was sorry to see it end.
So, now you are caught up. I hope you're having fun over there - getting ready for the holidays. Other than some pretty amazing decorations in the center, it doesn't feel much like the holidays over here. There's not even snow on the ground! What's up with that? I can't believe Christmas is in six days. That's probably a good thing. If I actually "felt" it, I would probably be depressed. Anyway, I hope you're all well and enjoying multiple blessings in your lives. We've got problems over here (Tsetska is ill, Valia's husband is having an operation on a herniated disc, Maria left for Italy, Fatme has tests and lots of responsibilities at home, Ani is worried about her driver's license, and Yanko has so much going on, he's about to explode. Oh yeah, and I'm trying to find ways to sabotage our new crown-jewel.), but we're holding it together at the moment. Seasons Greetings!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Sluggish

I'm sick. I caught a cold (probably from one of my kids) sometime last week, and I have been feeling lazy as of late. I haven't done any Peace Corps-related work the past couple of days, and it's really good for the morale. Bleh. (That was sarcasm in case you hadn't noted it.)
So, after that HUGE update about my new "job," I had to turn it down. Yep, that was the shortest job ever. After talking to Peace Corps and the school again, it turned out that I couldn't work there because of a technicality. So, I can't get paid. And I can't donate money because, technically, I don't have any money to donate. So, the school would have to pay my foundation directly for my work. For legal documents, the school has to pay an actual person. They can't pay a foundation. Well, my name can't go on any documents.
It's really too bad, because there's no one. Yanko tried to get ahold of someone he knew, but she recently accepted work somewhere else. I was relieved that I had to decline the job until I saw some of my students faces as I told them today. Their disappointment made me wish I could change things. They had had a free period before that, and a teacher teased these boys that they were coming back just to have English with me. I wanted to crawl away and hide. I have to go back tomorrow and tell some more students. It probably would have been better if I hadn't even come last Thursday to teach. I'm really glad I got to meet them though.
This weekend was a good one again. I went to Sofia to help out with a charity event. The International Women's Club of Sofia held a holiday bazaar to sponsor their philanthropy work. It was a HUGE event - with tons of diplomats and big-wigs from the ex-pat community. English was being spoken everywhere, and it was an environment of the likes I haven't been in for quite some time.
The booths were country-themed, and many embassies came out to strut their stuff. I helped out at the Irish stall - selling authentic merchandise and gladly taking people's money. We also sold Irish coffees (with real Irish whiskey), which were a big hit. I had a great time speaking English and getting to know some of the eccentric characters that had left various countries to come and work in Bulgaria. I ate some good food, bought some presents, and even had my picture taken with Santa! It was fun times. Now, I need to get about the work of convincing them that they need to fund our work here in Rakitovo.
Okay, well, there's not much else to update you with. I have been a slug hiding out in her home. I did put together some pictures for you, however. Here's the trip to Athens for the marathon and the disordered latest from Bulgaria. Enjoy!

Friday, December 08, 2006

Fireworks

I realize that I haven't posted in a while. Did you all miss me? I am entitling this post "Fireworks" for a couple reasons: 1. They've started selling fireworks in town and the kids are wasting no time in buying them up. I suggest you invest in pyrotechnics. 2. A LOT has happened since my last post. Apryl is overwhelmed. Apryl is happy. Apryl is just seriously busy. That's a good thing, right? In fact, I'm writing this post at 1:20 a.m. (the time here now) with a bunch of caffeine and sugar running through my system.
I want to tell you about everything that's been happening. It's good stuff. I'm not going to mention every, absolute detail. Let's pick up where I left off in the last post. So, we had our book opening, and then that weekend (it already feels like forever ago), I went to a small village called Stoikite to have Thanksgiving with some truants and some other volunteers. We cooked a traditional Thanksgiving dinner for the kids at the home (with turkey and cranberry sauce!), and we also had a ping-pong tournament and a discotheque party that night. The ping-pong was awesome. I made it through several rounds until the semi-finals - when I got schooled by one of the kids. The dinner was delicious and absolutely fantastic. And the discotheque was a blast. Some of the girls latched onto me pretty quickly, but it's just because I know the words to the chalga songs and sing along with them. It was hard to leave them. They kept hugging me. Oh, they were so cute. I had a good time with the other volunteers as well. We got back to the house and played Bulgarian Scrabble. The next day, I had to get back to my site. It was a really great weekend.
The following week, I worked on Monday and Tuesday, and then Brandy and I left for "Heaven" - I mean, we went to a Bryan Adams concert in Sofia on Wednesday. Man, can that guy put on a show! It was awesome! He sang pretty much all his hits, and he sounds SO great in concert. It was absolutely fantastic. I'm so glad I went. It was his last show on tour, and he came out for a double-encore. The audience was amazing. They knew all the words to just about every song. Indescribable.
The next day, I made a stop at the Peace Corps office and putzed around - trying to make the most of my visit... just biding my time until I had to hop a bus to Nova Zagora. Nova Zagora is in the middle of the country - about 3.5 hours from Sofia, and I was invited to go there to give a presentation to some of the teachers. My topic was "Extracurricular activities with Roma students and youth, work with parents, and outreach projects at Roma communities." I didn't really feel all that comfortable with talking. My colleagues have more experience than I do - nevermind the fact that they are actually Roma. I'm glad I went though. I gave an interview (in Bulgarian) on the local television station, and then I had my presentation later that Friday. I think the presentation went all right. I started out trying to speak Bulgarian, but I was too nervous. I couldn't think out exactly what I wanted to say and relay it in Bulgarian at the same time. I soon asked for a translator. I don't know how helpful I was, but I hope the teachers got some good things out of it. I showed them the book we recently had published, and they requested copies. I was also able to help them brainstorm about some extracurricular activities they would like to do with the talents they have.
Meanwhile, while I was gone, my organization had a meeting with some initiative groups here in Rakitovo - mostly youth from here and nearby towns that are looking to make some needed changes to where we live. Our volunteer group here has a really great idea for cleaning up the Roma Mahala. They're even looking at incorporating the mayor, the local government, and the media. It's a superb idea. Problem is, they're having a hard time getting everyone to meet together again and really decide how they're going to do it - write the project so as to get funding and all. That's kind of the story here in town, and it just gets played on "repeat" over and over. I wish I had been here to be a part of the initial meeting though.
My weekend was really great. A volunteer friend of mine came to visit, and we just laid low in Rakitovo. It was a really relaxing weekend where I could just forget for a moment where I live.
On Monday and Tuesday, my colleagues were in Sofia, and they had taken the keys to the office. It was a nice "excuse" not to go into work - not that I didn't have other things to do anyway. I still had to prepare for my classes and hold them in the afternoon.
Wednesday was a busy day for a lot of reasons - the main one being that I had invited an organization to come out from Sofia and give a presentation on anti-trafficking. I'd been in contact with Face to Face for a while - hoping they could come out and give a presentation. Peace Corps really encourages its volunteers to do educational sessions on human trafficking. It's not a topic I necessarily feel comfortable talking about because of my own lack of information. That's why I was excited to find an organization in Bulgaria that will come out and give free presentations on the issue. I tried to get them out before the end of the school-year in May, but it just didn't work out. Finally, after several traded e-mails, I was able to have them come give a presentation at Brandy's school on Wednesday. It was an excellent presentation, and the kids were (for the most-part) respectful and interactive. The listened well, and I hope it was useful for them. There were about 70 people in the room, and I think that was one of the largest presentations these two women had ever given. It's always exciting to bring people together with little work. All I had to do was invite the organization and then make sure the school was onboard to set up a room and some hardware for them. Oh yeah, and to make a bunch of copies of some of the handouts. Fun, fun.
And the biggest news that has happened to me is that I was, once again, offered a job. This will be a lengthy explanation. Bear with me. So, last Wednesday, on the way to the Bryan Adams concert, I got a phone call. Someone from Rakitovo was on the other line saying something about "eight hours" and "English." Now, my Bulgarian isn't great over the phone - and especially on a bus. I just agreed to try and find whoever was calling me on Monday and we'd talk. Early Monday afternoon, I got another phone call from this mystery person. Again, something about "English" and "eight hours." Where was I? When could I come in? Well, at the time, I was on my way to Velingrad and said I would come by after I got back. I understood that the director of "Kliment Ohridski" (the school where Brandy works) was calling, and I went there after I got back from Velingrad. I was asked to come back the following day at 1 p.m. to meet with them. So, the next morning I got another phone call from the director, "Where are you? Can you come in at 12?" I thought I was supposed to come in at 1, but I agreed. At 12 o'clock, I went over to Kliment Ohridski and sat down with the director. "What's up, Apryl?" I looked in distress because by that morning I had realized that this person wanted me to come and teach at their school for eight hours a week. I didn't have time nor the desire for this. "What's wrong?" the director asked. "Okay," I started out, "What's the problem, and why do you not have enough teachers for English?" She looked at me like I had two heads. "What?" "Someone called me saying they were the director and needed me to teach English." She hadn't called me. We soon laughed about it. Someone had played a good joke on me. I was relieved, and I was ready to give kudos to the kid who had done it. In the back of my mind, however, I thought, "What if I got the wrong school?"
Sure enough. I had been hanging around Kliment Ohridski for about an hour - staying to give some advice on their SPA project - when I got a call again. "Apryl, this is the director of Hristo Smirnenski (another local school). Where are you? Didn't you say you were coming in?" Doh! I had gotten the wrong school. Again, I had a sinking feeling in my stomach. So, I walked over to Hristo Smirnenski.
Now, I have to be very careful about how I phrase what I want to tell you next. It's very complicated, kind of confusing, and not all that pleasant. Here, in Peace Corps, we volunteers struggle with what we can and cannot post in our blogs. Anything on the internet runs the risk of offending someone - which is definitely the last thing we want to do. However, self-censorship really sucks. One can't convey the ideas they want in the proper light. I want to be honest with you, and the following might not be pretty. Let me take this time to remind you all that I am far from perfect, but I will try to walk the hard line between tact and honesty.
As soon as I walked in the door of the director's office, I was greeted with a pleasant smile from both the director and the assistant director. Once I sat down, I was explained the situation: Their English teacher had recently quit (apparently he wasn't that into the job anyway from what I hear from the kids), and they were at a loss to find someone. They heard about me, and they wanted to hire me as soon as possible. The way they talked to me, it was like I had already accepted the position. I realized they were in a bind. The kids were currently taking a free period when they were supposed to be having English. It was only eight hours, and I would be paid. Wait a second, as a Peace Corps Volunteer, I can't get paid. Well, I could donate my salary back to the school if I wanted. I thought of my foundation and how I could donate it to the activities in the center. This was an answer to prayer that I didn't want. It was good for all parties involved - the school would get a teacher, the foundation would get money - except for me. I didn't want to teach at the school. Kids here in Rakitovo - well, they're kids. They're awesome people, but sometimes they like to disrupt class or ditch and go get coffee or something. I don't really understand it because it's not really something I remember happening at my school. Maybe I have a faulty memory of school, but let's just say that my disposition is not strong enough to be a teacher in Bulgaria... unless God helps me. Plus, a lot of the kids already know me - maybe already have a certain rapport with me. Then there's my youth and inexperience. It's awkward in a way - probably for both me and them. If kids ditch my class, I might be tempted to take it personally. I almost was a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) Volunteer, and I thank God everyday that I'm not. I have immense respect for TEFLs. I don't know if I could do their job. More and more, it seems like I'm turning into a TEFL volunteer. I teach a lot of English.
Anyway, back to the subject at hand. I tried to convince them that it was silly to hire me as I have no English teaching experience. I was a Spanish major in college, and I've never taught English formally. I just speak it. They weren't listening because they were desperate. "How hard can it be?" they asked me. "You open this book, and you teach. You get a dictionary, and you write words down on the board." That's not my idea of teaching, and I'm skeptical about kids buying books. I've heard many of them just don't bother. Besides, they're almost already halfway through the year. I told them I would talk to Peace Corps and my colleagues at Future Foundation, and then I would let them know. "If you want, you can come start tomorrow," they told me.
Peace Corps was cool with it as long as there was complete transparency. Peace Corps' name couldn't appear anywhere, and my name had to be in a limited number of places. I couldn't get paid directly. Any money would have to go directly to my Foundation. Fine with me. My colleagues were skeptical. Yanko said, "Think hard, Apryl. You're already busy with the center. Are you sure you want to do this? Do you want to drive yourself crazy? You're not thinking properly. You're thinking of the school and the center. I wish more people were like you, but you're not making a wise decision." To be honest, I was also thinking about my role as a volunteer. I mentioned before that the desire to be a "good" volunteer is like a double-edged sword. You risk cutting yourself. My desire to say "yes" to pretty much everyone who asks me for help is not necessarily healthy. When Yanko started talking to me, I began to cry. I had already made my decision, but I knew he was right. I would be asking for heartache and frustration. "Six years," he told me, "I have worked without a vacation. Sometimes, I sit there and try and think, and nothing breaks through. I've become like a machine. I think I must be crazy."
Before you feel sorry for me, don't. It's a vicious circle to gain your pity and then cast it aside because I'm trying to be a martyr or something. I don't deserve your admiration or your condolensces. Doing something for someone that doesn't come from the heart is tantamount to nothing. It's what I do because it's who I am, and who I am is not always healthy. An inability to say "no" is a problem.
So, I accepted the position - with the understanding that I would only stay until the end of January. If they found someone to replace me before then, excellent. If not, they'd be back in the same position. I am not a solution to their problem. I was offering myself as a band-aid. The assistant director was happy with that. The director was put-off. "But, there's no one! How will we find someone?" I had been told that they had already put up notices. "Yeah, but we're still not going to be able to find anyone." Well, that was the deal I was offering her. She could either take it or leave it. "Well, at least you'll be helping us finish out the second term of the school year." She seemed grateful for that.
She then said something that highly offended me at the time, but now I'm laughing about it. I will explain with a caveat that the director does not really know me. She is not familiar with my work in Bulgaria, and what she said is a common thing to say and do around the region. She said something to the effect of, "Well, this will be good for all involved. We will have an English teacher, your foundation will get some extra money, and you'll have something to do other than sleeping late and going to cafes to drink coffee and smoke cigarettes." I sputtered. I was at a loss for words. All I could get out was, "I'm actually quite busy." She just blinked at me. Again, it's probably just due to a complete misunderstanding of what I do in Rakitovo. She doesn't work much with Future Foundation, and I don't think she's at all familiar with Peace Corps.
So, what documentation did I have to fill out some forms for them? None, actually. I could give them basic personal information. I wasn't an English teacher. I wasn't a teacher at all. I didn't have any type of certification. "Well, at least give us your diploma." I understood their need for some info on me, but they were asking someone to teach classes based entirely on the ability to speak English. Plus, they were asking someone who was wrapped up in an organization that needs to maintain a certain image: Peace Corps. There has to be some leeway. I'm sure PC has a special process for their TEFL volunteers. And those who just teach classes in their spare time do it free of charge. Of course, to capitalize on this opportunity for the sake of Future Foundation had really sweetened the deal. I am human, after all.
After a huge discussion about what documentation was needed, they had me write a request to work at the school. I made sure to put down that it was only until the end of January - even though they insisted that it was unnecessary, and I could leave whenever I wanted. I was then shown where I would be teaching my first class.
There were three boys in my first class. I knew all of them, and they were fairly pleasant. I'm sure there will be more students when they figure out there's English again, but for now we just talked a bit and went through introductions in English. My second class was with five charming girls. They seemed eager to learn and interacted well. My third class was with 11 boys. That's probably going to be the most difficult. They already seemed distracted, and it's the first day - when people are nice and feeling you out. My final class (I have four classes on Thursdays) was with two girls and two boys. They seemed pretty into learning as well. First impressions are not everything, however. Their English is pretty limited. Some appear to pick it up pretty quickly, but the question is: do they want to put in the effort?
My classes ended, and I had just enough time to change and go up to the center for more English classes. A teacher I had met earlier at the school said, "Priatna puchivka," which basically means, "Have a nice break." I nodded. I was off to work again, but at the center I could be more relaxed. I told my kids they needed to prepare a talent night for their parents - where they would show off their language skills. They really know quite a bit for the first month-and-a-half if you ask me. Of course, my opinion can't be trusted. I'm just a proud teacher.
After my language classes, I hung out with the volunteers that were meeting to talk about their initiative. I had to excuse myself early because Brandy and her colleagues had been nice enough to invite me to their holiday party at a restaurant in Velingrad. It was a fun evening of good food and dancing.
So, I don't know what's going to happen with this teaching thing. I hate to start with the kids and just end now, but the school wrote out a labor contract for me that Peace Corps isn't jiving with. Plus, they've asked me to give the kids grades at the end of the quarter - not just for this quarter, but to make up something for last quarter as well - based on this quarter. At least, this is what I understood because the previous teacher hadn't given them grades or something. These kids deserve so much better. I wonder which is worse: to have a free period or an unqualified teacher.
Also, the director apparently made another interesting comment to a colleague of mine. This is third-hand information, but I was told that she said, "Your foundation should do more for our school - especially now that that one girl is working for us and donating the money to you." Again, whether it was actually said like that or not and what she meant by it, I can't tell you. I can only believe that she is just lacking information.
So, I'm a busy girl! Here's my schedule for now:

Monday: One morning class at the school. Three English classes in the afternoon/evening. These are concrete things. Add in preparation for these classes and any other work I might have with the foundation, Peace Corps, or random things, and it can fill up a day.
Tuesday: Two morning classes with school. Two English class in the afternoon/evening. Fill with random preparation and other work. If the volunteers meet, I'm hanging around 'til late.
Wednesday: Two morning classes with school. One English class, one computer class, and one Spanish class in the evening. I still have SPA-related things to do with the center.
Thursday: Four classes from morning to afternoon with the school. Two English classes in the afternoon/evening. Volunteers might meet again. Schedule time for eating.
Friday: No classes at the school, but might have to go in for other reasons. One computer class, and three English classes in the afternoon.
This surely won't last for long. Either things will work out where I'm at the school 'til January 30th, or things won't work out, and I'll have to reneg. They say God only gives you what you can handle. I'm questioning Him at the moment. I'm thankful He allows me to do that. Maybe He's teaching me to be careful what I ask for and the ability to say "no."
I am very happy at the moment. I'm scared at what I may have gotten myself into, but I'm happy on the whole. Please remember that. I am fortunate to be who I am and to have come from the place where I come from. I'm learning more everyday. Plus, it's freezing cold, but there's no snow on the ground yet! (Knock on wood.) That's probably not exactly a good thing, but I'll take it!