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?"
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.
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!

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