Monday, November 19, 2007

All About the Benjamins - or the Levskis

So, the past few days have been more running around and getting things done. I'm currently sitting in the Peace Corps office watching the snow fall outside. T-minus 14 hours until flight time. Telling you I'm excited would be an understatement. I can't stop smiling. Twenty hours of traveling is going to bite the big one, though. I'm not looking forward to that - but the ends more than justify the means in this case.
This weekend was a little frustrating, but it worked out all right in the end. I came to Sofia on Friday to go to the dentist and get some medical stuff done. I also had a few chats with some people on PC staff. I called a taxi about an hour before my last bus that evening. The guy came after half an hour. I had pretty much given up, but hopped in anyway. We immediately hit traffic, and I asked him if there was any point trying to make my bus. I asked him to drive me to a hostel, but we hit more traffic, and I had him let me out. Twelve leva for nothing. In the meantime, he put on a television show and was flicking back and forth between channels with a remote. Awesome.
On Saturday, I went to Plovdiv. I was ready to go home pretty early in the day, but I was still waiting for Vili (my host sister) to show up to hang out. Once she did show up, she convinced me to stay the night in Trud. Nellie (my host cousin) came over, and we had a great time hanging out.
*Randomly, I learned some interesting Bulgarian sayings from Vili and Nellie and shared ones they found amusing. For example: I told them we have "raining like cats and dogs," they told me one that's like "it's pouring buckets," and we all agreed the Bulgarian one makes more sense. They thought it was hilarious and said they were going to say "It's raining like cats and dogs" from now on. They started saying things like, "It's blowing like cats and dogs," or "It's windy like roosters and hens." Those silly girls.
I also told them that my Grandma used to say "The devil is beating his wife" when it would rain while the sun was shining. They said the Bulgarian version is "The bears are marrying." So, in this instance, both languages make no sense. They really liked my Grandma's version though. Maybe they'll use that one from now on as well.
The next day, my family was planning on making me my favorite Bulgarian dish (stuffed peppers) for lunch, but I told them I had to go. Disappointing to say the least. Vili, Veska (host sister-in-law), and I went to Plovdiv so I could catch a bus.
Last night I met up with Valia, Ani, Maria, Reneta, Sashko, and Janette for some quality time before I left. I later met up with Angel for a walk in the drizzling rain. This morning, I saw Yanko, Enyo, and a few other people. (Enyo drove me to Velingrad.) Everyone's been so nice. They've been filling my luggage with gifts for the people in the states. If you could weigh "pozdravi" (greetings), I'd have a ton to carry with me. It's such an exciting time. It makes it easier to know that I'll be coming back.
So, I'm in the office again today. Staff is wishing me safe travels; they're giving me money for travel allowances, re-adjustment allowances, etc., and it's nice. Other than that, I've been getting shots, and that's not so nice.
An interesting thing happened to me on my way back to Rakitovo from Plovdiv yesterday. I was waiting at a bus stop for my bus to Rakitovo, and a gentleman invited me in to enjoy the heater at his local magazine. I've talked to this gentleman a few times before, and he's always been so nice. Yesterday, he started talking to me about Communism and how things were so much better during those days. He asked me what my opinion was, and I just told him that I haven't lived under Communism, so I really couldn't compare. He knows I'm from the states. He then started talking about how America needed to help Bulgaria out more - to restore order and control here... to make sure the Democratic process is working. I didn't say this, but I just thought it's interesting to me the mentality that an outsider needs to come take care of these things. How responsible are we, as people, for making sure that our government mechanisms work appropriately? What should we do when we think they don't? Should we wait for another government to come in and tell our government how they should run things? It's just interesting to think about. What should America's role be? How much should they be involved? It's a definite question considering the recent elections, and how democracy was up for sale this time around in a lot of places. There are even rumors that some paid for votes with false money. How crazy is that?
Anyway, I got so involved listening to this guy, that I missed my bus, and I had to wait another hour for another one. I was so mad! I had things I needed to do! Anyway, he sat me down, asked me what he should "cherpa" me (treat me to), and he brought around "boza" (a drink you REALLY have to develop a taste for - which I haven't!) and "vafla" even though I insisted I didn't want anything. You can't escape Bulgarian hospitality.
We then got into a conversation about how much money I make. I really dislike these conversations. Plus, we had an audience. I really dislike these conversations in front of an audience. I was asked how I like the Roma, but fortunately that was a short conversation. I just wanted my bus to come! Repeatedly, he made me promise to come back so I can meet his grandson. Ah, Bulgaria. I will miss you, but I will enjoy the break.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Bulgarian Bureaucracy

So, the past few days have been a lot of filling out paperwork, picking up documents, and running around for nothing. It'd be boring to get into it. I did finally turn over the keys to Enyo and Milka last night. I've spent the last couple evenings with them, and that's been good. I really do love them. I just can't live with them.
So instead of boring you with the mundane tasks and all the waiting I've been doing the past few days, (I swear I spend half my time just waiting for something to happen, i.e. a bus to come, etc.) I wanted to ask you if you're a "genius" procrastinator. I know I am. I'm just too smart for my own good! Hahaha.

Here's the definition according to Wikipedia:

"Genius procrastinator" is a type of "relaxed" procrastinator. Unlike the typical "relaxed type" procrastinator, who usually does not care about the task they are delaying, geniuses do care but do not need to put a great deal of effort into that task to do well, and therefore can wait until the last minute, put in minimal effort, and still produce a good result. "Genius" procrastinators often work well under pressure; often when they do not have a set deadline for a project, their work lags. Other "genius" procrastinators are just lazy with their time in general, and when they're procrastinating in a subject that they are not as skilled at, they usually fall under the "tense-afraid" type.
A common example of the "genius" procrastinator is the precocious student who is working in a class where the expectations are set far below their ability level in that subject. For example, a gifted writer in a standard-level English class often waits until the last minute to write their papers because they know that they will get an A even by putting in the lowest amount of effort possible, and that to expend any more effort than that on such an assignment would be wasteful.

Awesome. Anyway, I think I'm actually ready to go to the states. I can't think of anything else I have to do, really - other than pack.

Tomorrow: I'm in Rakitovo... kickin' it.
Friday: I'm in Sofia for a dental appointment and physical.
Saturday: I think I'll go to Plovdiv - still my favorite Bulgarian city.
Sunday: I think I'll get together with colleagues and have a drink.
Monday: I'm in Sofia for medical follow-up and a meeting.

For the next six weeks: Family, Friends, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years 2008, and copious amounts of Mexican food!!!!!

I can't wait. I just want it to be here already.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Nostalgia Will Kill You

I'm bored at the internet cafe, so I thought I would update my blog. I've been cleaning up my old apartment this weekend. It looks great! I wish I had kept it this clean when I was living there! My light connection burned out somehow, however, and Enyo can't seem to get it fixed, so no working after dark. I went down and had lunch with them today. That was nice. I really hope our relationship gets better now that I'm moving out. I told Milka that I was going to miss the "parno" - a heating system they installed last year that takes the edge off the cold. (I'll have to heat with radiators (which are so far proving fairly inadequate) at my new place.) She replied with, "Well, that's what you chose." "Yeah...," I said. I wish I had said, "You were in on that choice as well. You could have changed one thing, and I would have stayed." Whatever. What's done is done. At least I'll be spending six weeks of this winter in the states. (Nine more days!)
I was sitting in the living room of my old place as the sun went down. I was looking around the place - taking inventory of the memories I had made there. It made me sad and contemplatively happy at the same time. It's interesting the way an inanimate object like an apartment can become such a part of you. I sat there until I could barely see anything anymore, and then I grabbed my things and left. I have a few more things to do (probably get them done tomorrow), and then I'll turn over the key. (sigh) My new place is growing on me though. I was sitting in the kitchen yesterday - liking what I had done with it. It's really great. It's just an adjustment.
So, I found out I have to go back to Pazardjik to get yet another "lichna karta" now that I have a new place. Lichna kartas show personal addresses, and I really don't see what the big deal is, but who am I to argue with bureaucracy? I imagine the ladies in the migration office are going to be overjoyed.
Krum brought me a rose and "vafla" last night. He's insisting on coming around even though I tell him that I have a boyfriend. Half the time, I don't even know what he's saying to me. I just know he's trying to court me, and deterrents don't seem to work. Valia and Ani were teasing him (and me!) - saying he should fight my boyfriend and the victor would take the prize: me. I wavered between wanting to hit them and trying so hard not to laugh. They were telling him that I was going to the states - never to return. He insisted that he would accompany me to the airport - if he couldn't follow me to the states! He then put on a baseball helmet and picked up a bat. He joked with Valia and Ani that he would fight my boyfriend with his "gear." Oh man, I think I liked it better when he was ignoring me.
And it snowed for the first time on Saturday. And just like that, winter is here. When am I going to "sunny" California again?

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Random Blog-Stalking

I found this picture while doing some blog-stalking. It was posted by one of the former trainees in Bobov Dol - the training site where I played the role of "resource volunteer." This was taken during their youth activity this last month. Cool kids... cool kids. I wish them luck now that their certified Peace Corps Volunteers.

Apryl's Third-Year Peace Corps Mission: Drive Bulgarians Crazy

This post is going to be about the wonders of reapplying for a Bulgarian "lichna karta." For a reminder, please go back and see this post, and then go ahead and read the following. Andrea went four times to get her lichna karta. Now it looks like I'm going to have to do the same. So, the first time I went to fill out the documentation. The next week I went to get a stamp in my passport so I could return to the country the day my card expired... which I didn't get 'cause they told me I didn't need it. I got back in Bulgaria with few questions, but questions were asked. This time, it still isn't ready because they changed the date on it, and I have to wait a full ten business days from the expiration date to pick it up or something. I'm going to have to go again next week. But then I know that I won't have to deal with them, nor they with me, for another year. At least, I hope not. There's some question about having to get a new one now that I have a new address, but I'm hoping for the best.
Let me take you back to the days I worked in the pharmacy at Longs' Drugs. Christi and Brandy could really relate to this, but I don't know if they read the blog anymore. Anyway, I remember how annoying the customers could be at times. Let me break down an average situation for you:
Customer comes in with a prescription from their doctor. They want it filled in an hour, and then they can go home with their medicine. Their insurance doesn't cover it. Either the doctor needs to change the script, or s/he needs to submit what's called a "prior authorization" detailing why s/he wants his/her patient to have this specific medication. It sounds straight-forward enough, but all this takes time. Meanwhile, prescription drugs are expensive, and who wants to pay full price for their drugs? In all this time, the patient can't get medication 'cause we can only administer what the doctor prescribes, and we can only discount what's covered by insurance. Do you think a sick person cares about any of this? Most of the time, they're only worried about the fact that we're "denying" them their medication. We pharmacy workers always took the heat if some customer decided to get irate or debate the issue. A lot of customers don't care what we tell them; they think they should be able to get (at a reasonably insured price) whatever their doctor prescribes for them.
So now the tables were reversed. I went to Pazardjik to play the role of the annoying customer. The first time, I turned in all my paperwork - telling them that I would be back the next week to get a stamp in my passport because I would be coming back to the country the day my card expired. I thought they were cool with that. So, I went back the next week. The ladies try to explain to me that I don't need a stamp in my passport. My paperwork in the computer should be good enough. I don't believe them (because Peace Corps tells us we need a stamp), and I tell them I want a stamp (they gave me a stamp last year). They tell me to come back four hours later. I call Peace Corps. Peace Corps tells me I don't need a stamp. I go back and tell them I think I finally get what they're trying to tell me. The "nice lady" (I'll elaborate more on this in a minute) writes down my request/documentation number that I can show them at migration. I leave and go on my trip. I get back in the country with few questions. I go back today. The card isn't ready. I ask them if I can get a copy of my Bulgarian housing contract. "Nice lady" gets it for me. I go and make a copy and then return it to them. "Nice lady" tells me to come back next Monday or Tuesday.
So, there's "nice lady" and there's "mean lady" at immigration. I'm used to dealing with "nice lady." For the past two years (a total of three times - this being the third), I've applied through her, and she's always been pretty helpful in getting me my Bulgarian ID. Enter "mean lady" this year. "Mean lady" makes snide comments to "nice lady" about me. The glass is sound-proof if you're not right up against it and speaking loudly, but I can see how her face twists when I make a request of them. The only thing she's done with regard to getting me my documentation is throw documents back at me, twist her face into ugly expressions, and make snide comments to her colleague, "nice lady."
So, I went back today. I asked about my card. "Nice lady" started making some comments about how it wasn't ready, and she told me to come back next week. I wasn't understanding why it wasn't ready because I was there over two weeks ago, but whatever. At least now I'm in the country, and my paperwork is being processed. She asked if I had any problems getting back in. I said that I hadn't because I showed the imigration lady the "request number" she had written out to me that links to my documentation, and I thanked her for it. Then, I asked if she could find my housing contract so I could make a copy of it. "Mean lady" then starts making some comments that I can't hear, but she has expressions that I can see very well. There was another man in the office, and he calmed the situation. He saw the worried look on my face, and he indicated that I shouldn't worry. "Nice lady" set to looking for my contract in a stack of papers.
The man came over and started talking to me.
Man: "Why do you need that contract?"
Apryl: "I have to talk to my landlords about something, and I only have the English version. I need the Bulgarian one."
Man: "Why? Are they not fulfilling their end of the agreement?"
I indicated they weren't with a shake of the head.
Man: "What aren't they doing?"
Apryl: "Well, that's our issue, isn't it?"
Man: "Well, it's our issue if it has to do with foreigners. Our job is to take care of foreigners here."
He then came over to the window and continued with the questions: "Where are you from? What did you graduate college with? What will you do once the 'Peace Corps Mission' (I've rarely heard Bulgarians refer to it as 'mission') is over?" I was nervous, sweating (I swear they keep it at 100 degrees in there), and probably red. Knowing I'm annoying, while it doesn't stop me from getting done what I need to get done, flusters me.
"Nice lady" found my contract in a matter of a couple of minutes, and I presented her with a box of candy saying, "This is for you because I know I only plague you here." She broke out into a beautiful smile, and I took off. I got the contract copied. I dropped off a copy with them, and I asked her when I should come in. She said to come back early next week, and then she actually explained why the ID wasn't ready yet. Anyway....
So here's the thing: Everyone sees things from their own point of view. I'm sure "mean lady" and "nice lady" both see me how we used to see some of the customers at Longs'. No matter what they were telling me, I had it in my head that it needed to be a certain way. Excuse me, but I'm trying to make my life in a foreign country a little less stressful on me... but I stress them out in the meantime. Asking for a favor after that is like insult to injury or something. I know they don't want to deal with me anymore. The difference is in the attitude. Like I said, I know I'm bugging "nice lady." I know she's frustrated with me and my requests. I know she's probably thinking, "Why does this girl keep showing up when I gave her our phone number in the first place?" In spite of being obviously frustrated, however, she still treats me kindly and with respect. She fulfills my requests and does things to ease my stress: When I came in for the passport stamp, and then later told them that I finally understood why I didn't need it, she started writing out my request number to show them at immigration. I think that was the time they were most frustrated with me. "Mean lady" asked "nice lady," "Why are you even bothering with that?" And "nice lady" replied, "To give her peace of mind." Meanwhile, "mean lady" just sits there and makes faces when I make a request. It's all about customer service, which is hard to find these days... especially in Bulgaria. It's a lesson I could sure learn to use. Even if a customer is bugging you with their own ignorance, requests, whatever it is, you're there to provide them with a service. It's best to try and be considerate. If they really piss you off, you can always complain to friends later about how annoying they were.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Rip It Like a Band-Aid

I've finally moved. I wanted to move this weekend, but it didn't happen. We couldn't get a car over to my place. Enyo surprised me by offering out of nowhere to assist me. "Oh, I wasn't planning on asking you, Enyo, 'cause that just seems weird to me." "Why? We're friends, are we not?" I took him up on it, but then it didn't work out. I wanted to get it over with, but it just wasn't to be this weekend. Finally, today, in about an hour, it was all over with. Ninety-nine percent of my crap (and I have a LOT of crap) was in my new place.
I was unpacking this evening, and of course I was comparing it to the old place. "Why?" I ask myself. "Why did I have to move? My last apartment was so perfect." I guess it's only natural. I did have to move. I couldn't take the "Hi! You have someone else's unexpected guests for the weekend... again!" situation any longer.
My new place is also great. I just get attached, and I really liked where I lived. Three things that are awesome about my new digs:
1. I have a giant bed that doesn't dip in the middle.
2. I have a rectangular (yes, rectangular) toilet of normal height. My last toilet was really low to the ground. Hehe.
3. I have a newly remodeled kitchen.
In the "things I don't like as well as my last place" category, I can list all sorts of things, but it's pointless. I moved. I'm happy. Hopefully, my biggest problem will be solved and any new ones will be palatable.
The anticipation of moving was so silly. It was like ripping off a band-aid. You know it's going to be unpleasant, and you don't want to do it. You take your time. There's all this build-up. (I've known I'm going to move - somewhere - since July.) Finally, you rip it off. You're okay, but it kind of stings.
I was in my old apartment tonight to get something, and I got kind of sad looking at the emptiness of the place. I have so many memories in that apartment. It was my haven. It was my "America" - where I could be me. I guess it's normal to feel nostalgic. It's a far cry from when Yanko first suggested I move (back in February of last year because of a misunderstanding over electricity) and I actually cried, but it's still sad.
I'm at the internet cafe, and I'm reminded of why it's been so nice to not have to come here on a regular basis anymore. People here are unnecessarily noisy (some woman here has the most awesome cackle in the history of laughs - she should audition to be a witch! She'd be deadpan perfect.), and there's smoke all around. I've been really frustrated by the smoking recently. Maybe it's because there's still, yes still, some wheezing in my lungs, (Bad Apryl! Tell Peace Corps!) and I fear I may have developed asthma. I blame smokers.
This weekend, I went to a partner meeting with my colleagues in Bankya. I had a nostalgic moment when I passed the hotel where we B-18s had our COS (Close of Service) Conference. Anyway, we had a meeting to talk about how we're doing and what kind of projects we've been working on. I don't usually talk much at these meetings. Heck, I don't usually go to these meetings, but I was able to add some pertinent information and feel minutely useful. "We've applied for these projects... we're still waiting to hear back... etc." The best part of the meeting, however, was during dinner when my dad called! And after that, the alcohol flowed and the dancing began! I realized that my favorite part of being here in Bulgaria is when I've been with my colleagues while we're dancing "kuchek" or a "horo." We had a great time dancing. It showed the next day.
Yesterday, I was able to meet up with one last B-18 for lunch. I thought all the B-18s had left the country by now, but I guess there are still a few still hanging out. I had a good time talking to her, but I spent most of the conversation complaining about my living situation - since that was on my mind.
Today, I met up with some of my favorite student-teachers and told them that we wouldn't be able to have English classes until after the new year. They were great and understanding about it. The ironic thing is that they were the most gung-ho about getting back into classes, and we haven't had a class yet! We had a great conversation about Democracy vs. Communism in Bulgaria today over some tea. I explained to them what was coming up for me (in English!) and they understood! One teacher even remembered the word "accountant." Awesome. My kids have forgotten everything.
Ah, and the teachers are no longer on strike, but there's still this weird atmosphere that permeates everything. Somehow it still feels like the kids aren't going to school. Maybe I just see the ones who are ditching like always. Anyway, the teachers said they were going to hold out until the end until the Ministry met their demands. I'm not sure what they got, and as far as I can tell, it was unsubstantial if it was anything. Maybe they got tired of the whole affair - and of not getting paid.
Okay, I've had about enough of this. I'm off to my new, giant bed.
Thirteen days until America!

Friday, November 02, 2007

Big Trip to Sanity

So, I recently returned from a trip to Slovakia, Austria, Poland, and the Netherlands. Greg, a friend of mine from Peace Corps, closed out his service and then we met up at the Sofia airport. I had a great time. It was nice to get away and visit some different places in Europe. I'd been especially wanting to go to Poland and The Netherlands for a while, so I was happy about that.
Greg and I started our trip in the charming capitol of Slovakia. Bratislava has a great "feel." Both Greg and I commented on it, and we had fun walking around the old part of town and visiting the castle - even in the rain. We then went to Vienna - where we went and saw a concert, visited the graves of musical geniuses, and indulged in Starbucks. I had classical music, mostly the waltz "On the Beautiful Blue Danube" by Strauss, stuck in my head the whole time. I've been to Vienna before, but this time was better than I remembered for some reason.
In Vienna, Greg's friend Brandon came over from the states to join us on our trip. As the only girl, I got picked on quite a bit. Sarcasm was the major form of communication for us from then-on.
We then moved onto Krakow - which I loved. We went to Auschwitz/Birkenau - the most famous of all Nazi Death Camps. I wish I could say that I wanted to go for some other reason than pure, morbid fascination, but that's probably not true. I could preach to you about the things I saw and how they should affect you... how you should imagine yourself in the situation. But I did these things and was affected little. It's shameful, but I felt so far removed from it all. The only response I had was reverant observation and a few pangs when I tried to imagine what it would be like to have my family ripped away from me and sent to the "showers."
Afterwards, we went to the Wieliczka Salt Mine. That was a really awesome place several hundred meters underground. Describing it wouldn't quite do it justice. I'll try and post pictures soon, but it won't be until I get back to the states (eighteen more days!) at the earliest.
We also visited a "dragon's lair" at a nearby castle. Krakow has all these cool legends, and they've taken a synonymous link with dragons. I loved that place. One night, we even met up with the cousin of a former foreign-exchange student that used to live with Greg many years ago. He took us out for dinner and billiards, and he refused to let us pay for anything.
We flew to Amsterdam to meet the former foreign-exchange student, Magda, and her family. They were very sweet, and they had the cutest little blonde, curly-haired son who used to scream in the night right next to the bedroom I slept in. He also gave me mischevous looks and kisses. What are you going to do? They were awesome hosts, and they took us everywhere.
As you may or may not know, much of the Netherlands is below sea level, so we learned about how some of the dikes, dams, and giant "sea doors" have been built to keep the water out. Just about everyone has canals, and they had a lovely one in their backyard. We walked around in Amsterdam, and I was surprised by all the canals and bicycles. Bicycles are pretty much the main form of transportation. There were hundreds "littering" the sidewalks. We went to the Van Gogh Museum 'cause I was dying to go there, and we also walked around the Red Light District of Amsterdam. I felt odd having girls peer at me from windows. I wanted to play the voyeur and have them ignore me. We also spent time in an area known as the Hague - which is famous for its prision and "killing" Slobodan Milosevic.
So anyway, we had a great time. We saw a lot of museums, churches, castles, parks, and I enjoyed the respite from Bulgaria. It was nice to come back though. Although, I had a monster headache and felt nauseated after the plane ride. Coming back into Sofia was an awful snap into reality. I tried not to focus on the fact that I'm one of three B-18s currently left in the country. Meh.
I couldn't get a taxi with the company I wanted, and I had to settle for a different one. They eagerly waved me over, and the driver started talking to me about how I don't speak Bulgarian very well, where am I coming from, where am I from, etc. I noticed that he hadn't turned the meter on, and we were already halfway down the street leading from the airport. I asked him why he hadn't turned it on, and we got into an argument about how much it was going to cost and why he hadn't turned it on. He claimed he "forgot," and he wasn't willing to start it now that we were already on our way. He finally turned it on, but the rest of the cab ride was silent. In the end, I paid him what I thought was fair, and he apologized for having "forgotten" to turn it on. "Forgive me if I'm incredulous," I thought. "It's just that you drive a cab all day long, and the *first* thing you do when someone gets in is start the meter. I think you saw me as 'foreigner' and 'big sucker with lots of money' and decided to try and take advantage. What would have happened had I not said anything? What would the price have been based on. I have a right to see the meter and make sure it's following the rate adverised at the airport." I only told him that last part: when he balked at turning it on, I told him it was my right to see that the meter follows the advertised rate.
I immediately looked at the meter when he started suggesting he drive me all the way to Velingrad. I'm so tired of hearing that suggestion. It's ludicrous. "Yes, let me pay you thirteen times the amount of a bus trip so I can get there half an hour earlier." I don't get it. Obviously I speak Bulgarian, so I must live there, so I must have an idea about how the system works. I may not be the sharpest tool in the shed, but there's no way I can be the dullest either. I don't understand why they even bother. It irritates me. Isn't it obvious since I've practically dedicated more space in my post to this than I have to my trip? Anyway... I'm just glad I spoke up. And he got me to the bus station just in time to catch my bus. Point for assertive Apryl who hides too much in the shadows as it is.
"Apryl," you say, "We're tired of hearing your diatribes about Bulgaria! Tell us about Europe!" Haha. Well, Bulgaria is what I know, and I feel like I can describe it better than my trip. My trip was great, and it needs pictures to adequately explain. What's interesting there? It's like good news: it doesn't sell. Hehe... not like rambling thoughts on Bulgaria do, either.
So, my "lichna karta" (official ID) expired on the day I returned. I think I shared in a previous post my preoccupation with that, and I've been bugging the lady in Pazardjik to put a stamp in my passport to make it "okay" for me to come back. I saw her again the day before my trip, and she was trying to explain to me that my paperwork was already being processed and migration could look it up if they wanted. I wouldn't have any problems. I called Peace Corps and got the same answer, so I was satisfied. Coming through migration yesterday was interesting, however. She looked at my passport and then asked for my "lichna karta." She looked at then and then asked me if I spoke Bulgarian.
Apryl: "I know that it expires today."
Migration Lady: "So, what are you doing about it?"
Apryl: "I have a 'molba' (official request for a new card)."
Lady: "You have a 'molba?'"
I gave her a piece of paper with a number on it, and she waved me through. That's the longest and most "trying" conversation I've had with an immigration officer. (What's the correct term? Migration/Immigration - I use them interchangably in this case.) All the other officers were men, and they just flirted with me.
Speaking of men and flirtations, I think I mentioned that Krum is back - after ignoring me for almost a year. I don't know what his deal is, but he came to my house yesterday with a couple dollar bills... actual dollar bills. He was trying to pay me back for the money I lent him a few weeks ago, but I gave him a hard time. "Krum, what am I going to do with that?" He started on some rambling diatribe about men needing to care for women, and I spaced out. Anyway, he dropped by again later with "presents" - chips, facial tissues, and gum. Ah, Krum. You make me laugh.
I'm moving this weekend - finally! My landlords don't know yet though, and today is Friday. That's bad. Peace Corps was here while I was gone, and they checked out my new apartment. They gave the green light, and I've got to get everything done before I go back to the states (eighteen more days!). I just got back on Wednesday, and I felt awful. I went straight to bed. I was going to tell them last night, but their grandson was having a birthday party, and it wasn't the appropriate time. Tonight will be the night. It's funny. Before I left on my trip, I went downstairs to tell them that I was going to be gone for two weeks. I was in the middle of packing, so I came down in a whirlwind. They invited me in and just looked at me with that look of anticipation. I could tell they were worried that I was going to announce my departure from their home. As soon as I told them I was going on a trip, they loosened up and started asking me questions about my planned excursion.
So, the teacher's strike is *still* on. Can you believe it? They've been striking for over six weeks now! I've been trying to figure out what's going on with the Ministry of Education, but I hear different answers:
1. They offered raises, but it wasn't enough for the teachers.
2. They haven't offered anything, and they're ignoring the issue.
3. They suggested firing half the teaching staff and increasing the salaries for the remaining.
Anyway, most of the schools in Rakitovo are back in session. Only one, the school Brandy used to work at, is still holding out. Rumor is that they will start up next week. Apparently, they may have to hold classes until the end of July. I don't know what the point of all this was. I'm not sure if the teachers made any significant gains.
The topic on everyone's tongues at this point are the local elections. Yanko wasn't elected as a municipal council member. Others, who sponsored "sausage roasts and juice" up in the Roma Quarter (I usually refer to it as the "mahala") were elected. The candidates for mayor have been narrowed to two. I think they're both holding meetings up in the "mahala" this evening. One of them already sponsored a "sausage roast and juice" session. As I really can't comment here what I think about the issue, (I can't even vote!) I'll let you form your own opinions. Honestly, I know nothing about the candidates and what they stand for, so it doesn't really matter what I think. I just like to think about all the pretty, changing leaves I saw in places that were to expensive for my budget.
Good gravy, Europe is expensive! Well, Bulgaria is technically part of Europe. It's in the European Union and everything, but I'm used to dealing in leva and having everything be inexpensive. I balked at €2.50 (about $3.60) for juice! I think I'm going to have a heart attack when I go back to the states. A sandwich, some chips, and a soda should not cost ten dollars. But then, we were eating at museums and airports and tourist traps and such. I shouldn't complain. People treated me well, and we took turns paying for each other. I probably came out ahead in the deal. I think I gained weight on this trip as well. That's a good thing, right?
Ooh! Another thing about Europe that is ah-mazing. Everyone I spoke to spoke English. Seriously. Every.single.person. Not once did I get a confused, what-are-you-saying-to-me look. Now, I try not to be imperialistic and all that, but how awesome is it to go to foreign lands and everyone can communicate with you in your native language? Of course, we were in big cities that receive floods of tourists, but it's not just native English-speaking tourists that come. It's pretty amazing, and it gives me another excuse to be lazy. I don't have to learn your language. You already speak mine.
Listening to Slovakian was pretty cool. We were addressed in Slovakian a couple times, and we had to give apologetic looks. I had this feeling, however, that I understood what people were saying - I just couldn't reply to them. It was weird. Slovakian seems to be quite similar to Bulgarian. Poland was a little harder. I'd catch words in a sentence, but not enough to tell what was going on. And Dutch. Oh my, Dutch... with its double vowels all over the place. Unless they said a word that was similar to English, or it was similar to the five words I know in German, I had no clue what was going on.
Okay, so I'm going to share with you the best picture I took on my trip, and it's a picture of... drumroll please... a duck!

Yes, this duck was floating around in a fountain at a Viennese palace, and I think this picture is pretty awesome. I've already received compliments on it.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Little Trip to Sanity

So, Peace Corps needs to come out and do a check of the apartment I'm planning on moving into. I was going to have them look at both possibilities and then choose the best one. Well, apparently Peace Corps is too busy to come out at the moment, so they sent me a checklist to fill out. I have to look for things like... making sure the apartment is "away from landslide prone locations, rivers and ravines, rail stations and major industrial pollutants" and "safe water heaters" and the like. So, with my little list in hand, I went to the first place: the place where the guy said he wasn't going to remodel and then decided that he would remodel after all. We woke up his napping wife, and I felt like a jerk for imposing. Yanko wasn't fazed, however. She took us upstairs and showed us what they were doing. The place was getting ripped apart. I couldn't answer any of my questions, which was just as well. I was thinking how cool the place was, when we ran into her husband as we were walking out.
"So, you saw what we were doing up there," he said.
"Yeah," I replied. "When will it be ready?"
"Well, you can see how much we're doing. It'll be a while."
I explained to him my upcoming travel plans and told him that I had hoped to be in before I went back to the states. He wasn't so sure, and then he started talking about how they were making the place exquisite for me; they would buy new furniture and everything. Okay, that sounded cool. "So, that means the price is going to go up."
My heart sank, "By how much?"
"I can't let you live here for less than 100 euro."
Why was this guy talking to me in euro? We deal in leva here. "So, 200 leva."
I started talking about how that seemed like a lot of money and Peace Corps wasn't going to agree to pay that much. He then started talking about how America is a wealthy country, and Peace Corps has money to burn. I wanted to crawl under a rock and hide. Everyone could see how uncomfortable I was, and they were just laughing, so I decided to make the best of it.
"You wanna give me a car, too? How about a goat and some chickens?"
They just laughed. I'm honestly tired of people thinking I have unlimited access to money. My only problem is where to spend it all. Sure, geniuses. Let's think about that again....
So I wrote Peace Corps. Sure enough, I was denied. It was a relief. I called the guy and told him.
"Well, explain to Peace Corps that you're getting a whole floor and...."
I cut him off, "They're not going to go for it." They had already approved the first price when he quoted 160 leva a month, and I told him that 160 was going to be their ceiling. He tried to talk me into fighting for it, but I told him I had found a place when he told me that he wasn't going to remodel, so I was going to stick with that. Now, I'm just hoping that works out. Again, hopefully it'll all get clarified before I go to the states.
What's funny to me is that the place I currently live in is better than that other apartment, and it has all the amenities he's talking about giving me. It's sad, but we all know the reason why I can't stay there any longer. Speaking of the reason I can't stay there any longer, they were back again this weekend. I had to escape. I'll get to that.
Enyo and Milka invited me to go to Enyo's sister's place for dinner. She had made "pulneni chushki" (stuffed peppers) and "mequitsi" (fried dough), and since those are my absolute favorite Bulgarian dishes, I couldn't refuse. It was interesting going and seeing the house Enyo grew up in; raised his family in for a few years. There were once 11 people all living in that house. Amazing. I still refuse to feel guilty for wanting to live alone - no matter what Bulgarian culture dictates.
So, as I said, my two least favorite non-guests came by, and I had to get out to preserve my sanity. I called a friend and asked if I could visit her, but she never got back to me, so I decided to go to Sofia and play "independent girl hits the big city." It was the best idea I've had in a long time. I thought, as a plus, I could pick up some books Thomas had been wanting. Well, that goal wasn't fulfilled, but the trip was definitely worth it.
The hostel I usually stay at was full, so I got to try out a new place. The owner was a really friendly guy who carried on a pleasant conversation with me in Bulgarian. When he found out I was from California, he asked if I spoke Spanish. Then he started talking to me in Spanish. Whoa. Awesome. Then his friend came by with gin and tonic. Then a real, live Spanish girl showed up. We were enjoying listening to the owner strum his guitar and sing songs in Spanish. I was jealous of his ability to switch between English, Spanish, and Bulgarian with facility. I've complained about my struggles with that. The brain is an amazing thing. Mine is always ready to produce the Bulgarian word for something when I'm looking for the Spanish one. Fascinating and infuriating.
That evening, the Spanish girl and I went out. I tried my best to speak Spanish with her, but I was failing miserably. Of course, I understood everything she was saying. I just struggled to respond. We spent a lot of time speaking in lame, old English. Meh. We had a good time, though. We found a restaurant with traditional, Bulgarian food, and she told me to order for her. Then, we walked all over the center to try and find a place to get a beer. I dragged that poor girl all around. She was a good sport, though. And I loved listening to her speak Spanish. No one beats the Spanish at speaking Spanish. I love that language.
So, I went out to look for books and do some shopping therapy. I found some Spanish schoolbooks for my lessons with Maria and Reneta. I'd been wanting that for a long time. As for clothes shopping, it seems that one can never find anything they like when they're actually looking. C'mon girls, you know what I'm talking about. You want to buy yourself something cute to make you feel good, and everything is either too expensive or just isn't your style. You go out to support a friend with her shopping therapy however, and everything is calling out to you, "Buy me!" Yeah, so everything I liked was ridiculously expensive. I did splurge on some jeans, though. Anyone with me would have sworn that I actually am an American with money to burn. I waver between loving my new jeans and having buyer's remorse.
Clothes shopping in Bulgaria is an interesting experience. Usually, when you go in a store, you get ignored. No one is at the front to greet you. Sometimes they do greet you, and that's nice. And you're left alone to shop. I've been in stores at times, however, where they won't leave you alone. That's the most unnerving of all.
Like today, I walked into a brand name store, and the girl was right by my side. Huge smile. "Can I help you find anything?"
"I'm just looking, thanks."
She smiles, and I wander off to look at some enticing denim. As I'm fingering it, she's right behind me. "Do you want to try that on?"
"I'm sure I will in a minute," I reply.
I grab a couple pairs, and she's Smile. "That's going to be too big on you. You're going to need a smaller size."
Smile. "This is fine." I think I know what size I wear. And even if it is big on me, I know what I like.
Smile. "You need a smaller size. Here, I'll get it for you."
Fortunately, she couldn't find a different size of either of the jeans I was holding. I almost got both pairs 'cause they were that awesome and made me look that good, but then I regained my sanity. Her colleague was right there next to her. Smile. "Can we interest you in a blouse or a sweater to go with your new jeans?"
Smile. "No, thank you."
Smile. Credit card. More smiling. Deal closed. They're happy, and I'm happy... except for brief, anxious moments of buyer's remorse, "Apryl, you could have done so much more with that money. What was that everyone says about the wealthy American?" All that hovering on their part must equal a pretty hefty commission. Maybe they're working their way to affording their own pair of ridiculously-priced jeans. Well, I'm wearing them as I type this, and I'm telling you... I can feel how awesome I look in these jeans. Hahaha.
So, I went to another book store to find some books for Thomas, and I came face to face with the eerie stare of one of the employees. It probably would have bothered me, except that he was really cute. I felt his eyes on me, and I figured he was probably thinking I'd look great in the pair of jeans I was holding onto. Haha. Either that, or he thought I looked like a complete goofball. I asked the cashier something, and she motioned to him that she thought an old guy in a heavy overcoat had stolen something. He walked out for a moment, then he came back in and said to her quite seriously, "Just because he's an old guy in a big coat doesn't mean he stole something." He wandered off, and she made a face. I smiled at her, but I thought, "Oh my goodness, I love this guy." So, M-Tel guy in Velingrad, bookstore guy in Sofia... I'm adding to my list of "Bulgarians I'm not-always-so-secretly infatuated with." Just in case you briefly forgot that I can be a superficial girl... yeah. Cute boys drooled at from afar, expensive jeans, good conversation... it was a great weekend for "independent girl takes on big city." Mostly I just enjoyed the conversations and time spent with new people. It's been something I've really missed, and I've been craving it for a while. I'm don't think I'm a great conversationalist, and I think I put too much pressure on myself at times... the extrovert trapped in an introvert's body.
While waiting for the bus, I ran into the famous Krum. He has started talking to me again as of late, and he's always a joy. He broke into a smile when he saw me at the bus station, and he came right over and started whining about how how he was really hungry. He wanted me to help him out. I gave him four leva, and he was off! A minute later, he was back with "vafla" (a wafer with chocolate in the middle) for me. I tried to refuse, "I don't want this," but he shoved it on me. As the bus was taking off down the road, he hailed it down. We thought he was getting on, but he only jumped on long enough to say, "Where's Apryl?" When he saw me in the front row, he shoved a red carnation in my hand - along with a card that said "I love you" and a stick of gum. Then he jumped off again. The bus started talking about how he must really be in love with me. I couldn't decide whether to be mortified or die of laughter. He used most of the money I gave him to buy me presents. Oh, Krum.
Anyway, I'm off this week on a trip around Europe. Wealthy American strikes again! When I come back, countdown to Operation "Visit Motherland" is in full-effect and full-force! Whatever that means.... I'm just excited... and terrified.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Ten Ten Forty Ninety Nine Point Nine Nine

So, before you even join Peace Corps, you know the date your service will end. This makes sense, but let me just take you back to that day - the date is now unknown... sometime in 2005 - when I was sitting in my room and contemplating whether or not to accept the invitation to Bulgaria. Actually, it wasn't so much contemplation as I had already made up my mind. So there I am, looking at my invitation and at the top it says that, if I accept this invite and actually go to Bulgaria, my service will end 10.10.2007. "Whoa," I think, "That sounds SO far off...."
In reality, it's just a fixed point to guide you. The truth is, you can close your service (COS) a month before that date or a month after. Any time other than that needs approval from Washington. But I thought I would mark this date with a post just to get me thinking about the "insteads" of life and where they take you:
1. Instead of accepting my first invitation to be an English teacher, I decided to stick around and wait for the next invitation to Bulgaria. So, instead of being a B-17, I was a B-18. And here I am.
2. Instead of working in a school somewhere in Bulgaria, I wound up working for an NGO in Rakitovo. And here I am.
3. Instead of taking a different tack (one over which Peace Corps threatened to rescind my invitation), I decided to play by their rules and not pass up my opportunity. And here I am.
4. Instead of going home today, I filled out forms to get my Bulgarian ID renewed. And here I am.
5. Instead of going home today, I'm staying for a third year. And here I am.
6. Instead of my official COS date being 10.10.2007, it's now 11.10.2008 because I've decided to stay and extra year AND take special leave to the states. And here I am.
You kind of wonder where life would have taken you otherwise. Anyway, that was just for my own enjoyment. I actually filled out a memorandum stating that I was staying a third year and would be adjusting my COS date to November 10th, 2008. I put it off... wondering what would happen if I just didn't sign it. Dutifully, Peace Corps called me.
I went to renew my Bulgarian ID today, and the ladies at the police station in Pazardjik were all very helpful and nice, but I felt like I was getting taxed everywhere. They wanted 10 leva plus another 1.50 tax for every form. I had to pay a lev just to get the forms in the first place. So, I'm hoping my 24 leva will get the job done. I wish I could say that I'll never have to do this again, but I will have to do something to get permission to stay until November when it expires next year.
The lady, who has always helped me at that police station, was wondering why I was even bothering so early. My card doesn't expire until the end of the month. Well, I'm going on a trip, and this needs to be done now. "Yeah, but you're an American citizen. They're not going to deny you entry." I just want everything done and in its appropriate place. I've heard stories, and I'd rather be over-attentive than be another "story."
I brought my laptop into Velingrad to try and get it repaired. They refused to do it. Apparently the guy only works with desktops. I would have to go to one of the bigger cities. Fine by me. I'll just take it to the states and get it repaired there. I hope it'll ween me a bit from the internet, but I doubt it somehow.
I called a group of my teacher-students today. They hadn't showed up for English yesterday, and I wondered what was up with them. Well, now they're on strike as well, and they have to stay at the school all day to fulfill strike requirements. All right, well, we're not going to have class until November then. I'm not going to be here. I wonder what they'll have to say when I tell them we might as well not have class until after the New Year.
Speaking of, today is the 40-day mark until I go back to the motherland! I think of the biblical significance of 40 days and I think... I can make it! I'm so excited to go home. You don't understand. I think I started counting down at 80 days, and now we're halfway there. It's been flying by. Plus, I have a trip coming up next week (Slovakia, Austria, Poland, the Netherlands) to distract me in the meantime. I swear I've already checked out. November is going to be interesting.
Angel said something the other day that really made me think: "Apryl, sometimes you can't get what you want. No matter how much you want it, you just can't have it." It started me thinking about the things I have wanted in life, and what I did to get them. He's right, but I still feel like I've gotten 99.99% of the things in life that I've wanted. I don't necessarily feel wealthy or spoiled, but maybe I should. Or maybe that's just the way I grew up. If you want something, go get it. Huh. I wonder what you think. How do you feel about that? Have you gotten the things in life that you've wanted?

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Buy-In, Opt-Out

The teachers are still on strike. They're really holding out. Well, so is the Ministry. They refuse to raise salaries, and the teachers refuse to go back to work. Meanwhile, the kids... I'm not sure what the kids are doing. They're probably doing much the same thing that they did during summer - only now it's kind of rainy.
On Saturday, I went to Velingrad to try and get my laptop repaired. The shop I went to last time I needed my laptop fixed was completely dark, and it said they were looking for someone to work in the store. I went to another place, and the only person there was the store manager. As always, the actual technicians weren't around. He figured out that the problem lies with the connection on the computer side. Basically, the plug (where you attach the charger) in the computer moves around, and my computer can't recharge without me holding it in an exact position. He told me to come back this week. I hope I can find time.
On Saturday evening, I went up to the Mahala. Yanko had asked me a couple days before if I wanted to see a "real Roma wedding." One of his relatives was getting married. Ani and Valia reminded him that I had, but the truth is I've only been part of the eating and dancing. I've never seen some of the other traditions that take place at prescribed points in time - some at midnight. I was intensely bored at home, so I went. I met Maria and Reneta at their house, and Reneta started complaining about how she hated being dressed up, and how ugly she was, when in fact she was quite lovely. We soon heard the drumming, and we went down the street to watch a group of people dancing the "horo."
Afterwards, we were shuttled into a hall for food and drinks. The wedding would last two days. The first evening, the parents of the bride were hosting the ceremonies, so they stood near the front door and accepted gifts and well-wishes from... well, it felt like the entire Mahala. People ate in shifts and then left. A few danced. I saw Angel standing outside, so I went to talk to him for a bit. He had just completed his first week at the university in Plovdiv, and I wanted to know what his impressions were. According to a local rumor, Angel and I are married. Whatever. I once heard that we were engaged, but I was never notified as to when we actually got married.
I returned home early because I had to get up at 5 a.m. the next day. I caught a bus out of Rakitovo at 5:20 a.m. I planned on going to Bobov Dol and help the trainees out with their youth activity. It wasn't long into my trip before I realized that rain awaited their project: a park improvement/clean-up. On the bus to Dupnitsa, I ran into another training group from a village called Dren. They were on their way to a bigger, university town - Blagoevgrad - to hang out, and I was enjoying my conversation with them so much, that I almost wished I could ditch out and go to Blagoevgrad with them.
I finally made it to Bobov Dol a little after 10 a.m. Traveling such distances honestly doesn't faze me anymore. It's just something you do. I hope that's something that stays with me in the states. Maybe it's because I'm not the one driving that I just don't care. I found the trainees seeking shelter near the playground - along with their language trainer, the PC technical trainer (my friend, Anna), and a couple Bulgarian kids. They decided that, in spite of the rain, they would go ahead and get started. One of the kids left for family reasons, but the other stayed. We mostly picked up trash and carted a bunch of sand off the blacktop. They tried to bend the bottom of the slide out, but it proved too rusty and unweildy.
Carting all that sand to the side of the playground was hard work. We banged on it with shovels and a pick-ax to break it loose, and then we carted it to the side of the playground. The sky was gray pretty much the whole time, and it basically drizzled on us non-stop. There's still a lot for them to do, but they got the bulk of the heavy stuff done. It reminded me of our project in Trud, but we had a few sunny days to help us out.
Afterward, we went to a fabulous pizza place. I had a pizza with onion, pineapple, and olives with thick crust! I'm only mentioning it 'cause it really was amazing - with entire rings of pineapple! Anyway, after we stuffed ourselves, I debriefed the assignment with the trainees. They were proud of what they had accomplished. It was true that they had worked hard - in the rain. From an American perspective, we were busy bees. The problem was, however, that they didn't have community involvement - other than the one really cool girl that decided to stay and help.
This is the trap one can fall into as a volunteer, and I myself have fallen into it many times. I have talked on this blog about the desire to be a "super volunteer," or at least to fit one's personal definition of what a "successful" volunteer looks like. Well, the American can run around and do all she wants, but if there's no community by-in, it's not going to be very meaningful or last long. Basically, for most things in this Peace Corps experience, nothing matters if the community doesn't have vested interest in it.
We Americans are used to saying, "If it is to be, it's up to me." If we want something done, we'll get it done. Bulgaria doesn't always work like that. I don't want to step on any toes here, but I really think the prevailing attitude is, "If it is to be, the government needs to do it. And if the government's not doing it, well, then it's up to us to complain." I'm not saying every single Bulgarian thinks this way. (Haha... notice how defensive I get now that I know that Bulgarians read my blog.) Anyway, from an American perspective, us moving sand from point A to point B in the rain looked like a bunch of hard-working, determined go-getters. From a Bulgarian perspective, I'm sure it was just silly. "What are these kids doing out in the rain? Don't they know that's how you catch a cold?" It's rare to find a Bulgarian working outdoors in the rain... because they're clever. It makes sense.
Anyway, Anna pointed this out to me, and I pointed this out to the volunteers, and I hope I didn't demotivate them. I even said, "I probably would have done exactly the same thing in your position. From my own perspective, 'cause I know how hard it would be to do this, I would respect you more if you went to Peace Corps and said, 'We didn't have community buy-in, probably due to the rain, so here's your money back,' than if you did the whole project yourselves. It's not your job to rebuild a playground. It's your job to get the community motivated to do something together." Well, they can't give the money back at this point, but I was reminding myself of something very important. Of course, they did get the use of shovels, pick-ax, and wheel barrel donated. Plus, they had some other people working on things in the background. I really hope they're able to get some more kids out there to get involved in the project. They're a great group of trainees, and I have enjoyed working with them as a resource volunteer. I only hope I've been a good resource. They swear-in as actual volunteers and move to their sites next week.
That night, as I couldn't get back to my site, I stayed in a hotel in Dupnitsa. I went out to dinner with Anna, and we had a nice conversation. I find it very easy to talk with Anna. I can't do that with everyone here. I'm usually quiet, but I feel like I can't shut up around her. She's a good friend. After the evening was over, as we've done a few times before, we found ourselves saying a "just in case" good-bye. I absolutely HATE those kinds of good-byes. Basically, you don't know if you'll see the person again before they leave the country, so you start out by saying, "Well, just in case I don't see you...." It's no one's fault that it's that way, but I absolutely hate that. If it's the last time I'm going to see that person, I'd prefer to know and actually say "good-bye."
Yesterday, I spent most of the day coming back to site. I was planning on getting up at 5 a.m. again, but one glance in the mirror at my bloodshot eyes told me I needed to go back to sleep. How good is that as a litmus test? "No, I can't come into work today. My eyes are too dark a shade of red." When I finally made it back to site, the office was empty. I went up to the Educational Center and had an English class. One of my students invited me back to her house for dinner, so I went. Afterwards, I hung out for a bit with my landlords. They're in the process of fermenting grapes for wine, so I had to go see how it was done. I think they appreciated my interest, and they invited me to stay late for tea. I still have to move, however. Apparently Peace Corps can't come out anytime soon, so I have to go through a checklist of the new place myself. Bleh.
Today, we had some guests from Pazardjik who led a discussion about contraceptives and safe sex. At first, we didn't have any attendees. Ani, Valia, and Veska went around last night - asking people if they would come. Of course, as usual, almost everyone said they would. When it was time for the meeting, however, no one showed. Ani and Veska went out and grabbed women off the street - just so people would be there for the session. I really hate that. "If you're not going to come, say you're not going to come. What will I do, hate you? Hold a gun to your head and tell you that you have to come?" Better to tell me you're not going to come, so I know what to expect. Why lie to me? Then I really will have a problem with you.
My English students didn't come for their lesson either. Well, sucks for them. Now I won't be able to have a lesson with them until November - if that even happens.
I have to go get my "lichna karta" (Bulgarian ID) renewed if I want to legally stay in the country. It expires at the end of this month, and I have to get on it 'cause I'm leaving for a trip on the 17th. I'll return on the 31st, and I'm not sure what immigration officials will have to say about me trying to enter the country again on the very day my ID expires. Bleh... "lichna karta" renewal... this will be the third time I go to Pazardjik for this reason, and it's never a pleasant experience. I always have to go more than a couple times to get it done.
Elections are coming up, as I've mentioned before, and everyone's got an agenda, a platform, and now advertisements to go along with it! One of the mayoral candidates has taken over a building in the center of town, and he's put up his apparent vision for Rakitovo. I'm guessing from a drawing there that, were it up to him, he'd bring investors in to build luxury apartments in our tiny town? I'm confused, but it simultaneously makes me wish I had the right to vote and be glad that I can't be a part of democracy in action. As I said before, Yanko is running for the municipal advisory board. Here's his poster:

Awesome. He looks just the right amount of serious/scary.

Friday, October 05, 2007

In My Place, You Must Put Yourself

In "Yoda Speak," I've decided to write this blog. Okay, not really. I'm alone in the office at the moment. Yanko went to Sofia to deliver our project, and Ani and Valia are having people fill out surveys in Pazardjik for a different project. I'm at "work," and I'm bored, so I'm posting to the infernal blog. November, apparently, is National Novel Writing Month, and I'm just trying to flex my fingers in preparation.
My computer is officially out of commission at the moment. The charger refuses to make a connection to the computer to recharge it. I feel lost without my computer, and I wonder what to do when I get home. I wonder how I lived without internet in my home for a year, and I wonder what I would do if I didn't have a laptop. A lot of different stuff, that's what! I'm pathetic.
I thought I would share with you something I read in C.E.G.A.'s most recent bulletin. It's a commentary with regard to the event we had last week for the European Year of Equal Opportunities for All. C.E.G.A., along with their partners (i.e. us) had a campaign titled "Put Yourself in My Place." The Bulgarian version is linked up above. Note: In the past, I've avoided using the Bulgarian words "tsigani" to describe Roma peoples. Although it's acceptable here (what really matters is the way you say it), I don't use it because, as far as I know, it comes from a word meaning "unclean." Check myths here. Plus, it just sounds harsh to me. My colleauges, however, frequently refer to themselves and others as "tsigani." My boss even prefers the word over "Roma." ("Who decided to come along and call me 'Rom?' I'm a tsiganin!") Anyway, I digress. My point is that I'm going to use that word in this article because it carries so much more meaning and weight - not to you possibly, but to me. Okay, so here's my translation of the article:

Look Through My Eyes; Put Yourself in My Place
I'm writing for you. Yes, for you, sitting in front of the computer; reading this bulletin. For you, who can use a computer - even internet. You can even work with them. You've even installed Adobe. For you - who's completed your schooling, probably even attended university. Even more probable, you work in an office. We're going to talk about you for now.
I've heard you ask where you can sign up to be "Tsiganin." Because they, the "Tsigani," don't pay for electricity, but they use it. They don't work, but they receive money. They sit around and do nothing - they "live the life." They even want a house built for them. And you, no one wants to build you a house. But you've studied, in school and in university, and you work hard.
I will tell you now where you can sign up to be "Tsiganin." It's easy. Go and move into the small neighborhood of "Constantine Velichkov." However, don't take your computer, or your new clothes. Don't take your recent earnings. Leave your debit card behind. Burn up your diploma - both from high school and from university. If you want, you can even cut up your identification card. Live there for a few years (if they don't knock over your house in that time), but don't forget that you no longer have a diploma. So, if you're going to work, it'll have to be manual labor - 5 leva to cut up some wood; to carry something."
Live there for two years, and if you like it, stay. That way you'll truly be "Tsiganin."
If you don't like it, return to your computer and never again dare to ask where you can sign up to be "Tsiganin."
We can all talk - and not just about that. We can well discuss every question under the sun. We can discuss inflation, education, the government, the DPC [Movement for Rights and Freedoms - a well-known political, and sometimes controversial, party in Bulgaria], the elections, the holes [in the roads], and salaries. We all have a plan to integrate the Roma - one suggests a fight, others war, others special schools, and there are a bunch of other ideas - each better than the first. We can spit and taunt well. We can even do that better than we can talk.
We lose more human and valuable abilities, however; like how to understand how others feel. When we talk about how bothersome pensioners are, how they always want to take our seats on the rotten tram - as if we knew how a 60-year-old's legs feel. Of course, we've never been 60 years old, but have we ever thought about that?
When we write in forums or on the wall, "Tsigani for soap!" do we think of the strength of our words? Do we think how these people might feel - the ones we want to turn into soap? Can we, before we start to hate, to insult, or to kill, put ourselves in the place of those we want to kill? Can we understand where they were born, what their childhood was like, how they got along with their parents, what kind of house they lived in, what kind of problems they've had, their joys and sufferings, or how they got to this place? Can we look through the eyes of another... to really put ourselves in their place?
If we could, surely we would know that it isn't easy to live in a country where you don't feel at home, neither do others around you want you to feel that way. And there's no where for you to go to feel "at home." And no one ever asked you if you wanted to be born here - the way you are.
Yes, I am a "Tsiganin." Also, I'm gay. I'm Muslim. I'm handicapped. I'm young, and I smoke. I don't have anywhere to live. I'm from Bulgaria. I'm a little bit different. I'm Jewish; I'm Adventist. But I have a good sense of humor. So, before you shun me, insult me, or hate me, put yourself in my place.
- Vladislav Petkov

So, I'm still hanging out in the office. A few people have stopped by. My former colleague, Tsetska, was here. I wish she worked here still, but I understand her reasons for going. Another man was here who wanted me to help him fill out a declaration. I told him that I'm not a Bulgarian, and I'm not "in-the-know" with such forms, and he scurried out. I was trying to explain that I would help him, but I might not be of much help. He complained that he couldn't read the form. I could at least have helped him do that. What would it like lose your eyesight, or to be illiterate? I admit that I sometimes have a hard time putting myself in the place of others 'cause it's just so hard to imagine. Taking everything, and I mean everything for granted is second nature.
Another guy came in to look for books for his daughter - an acquaintance of mine who's attending university. I ripped apart our library to try and find two books for her. He ended up taking thirteen, no, fourteen because thirteen is an unlucky number. Meanwhile, he asked me how I like Bulgaria, about my family, and about my last place of work. He told me stories about times when he worked in Russia while Bulgaria had strong ties to the Soviet Union. These are stories I've told and heard before with others, but it's a little different each time. Man, is it boring in this office alone.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Mad World

And I'm back with a brand new addition! I should try "rapping" a blog sometime. I'm sure it would turn out horribly! Or, I could write a post in poetic line. Iambic pentameter and all that good stuff. I'm totally going to name my kid "Iambic Pentameter." Let the playground beatings commmence. I've thought of other names I want to name my hapless firstborn. They're mostly names of Bulgarian "celos" (villages), like Menenkyovo or Apriltsi, but I want it to sound foreign and strange - no matter what. Maybe this is one of the reasons why I have yet to reproduce.
Enough of that. I'm here to give you an update and preach about a few other things. I went to Sofia on Saturday to say "cbogom" (farewell) to another volunteer friend of mine. It's not really hitting me that these people are leaving - or maybe I'm just apathetic about it in general. I will miss her, but it wasn't like I was sad at her departure. I was just enjoying spending time with her. It's funny, you live here for two years, but you (well, some of us) just don't get together with other volunteers as much as you thought you would. I was mostly glad to see her and hang out. I wasn't worrying about saying good-bye.
Ever since I've returned home, I've been at the office pretty much non-stop. I haven't been having my English and Spanish classes because I'm just too busy with the project we're working on. It's due this Friday, and we still have a LOT to get done. Well, a few big things are in the hands of others, but we're still scrambling to get our part done. We had a big shock this week when the pre-schools decided not to partner with us. We weren't sure about one pre-school, but we were counting on the other pre-school to definitely sign up with us as we've helped them in the recent past with a project, and we have a good relationship with the director. It turns out that what I posted Sunday was prophetic in a way. Part of our project included transferring all the children from the segregated, Roma pre-school to desegregated pre-schools. Our "ace-in-the-hole" balked because the Roma school is a branch of the desegregated school. She wasn't about to lose employees unless the municipality either ordered it, compensated them, or found them other jobs. We're upset, of course, but one can't help but understand the situation she's in - just like the situation I posed in Sunday's post.
Also, we're worried that the municipality will refuse to be our partner. If we don't have the support of the municipality, we don't have a project. So, even if we get all our stuff together, the refusal of one person (the acting mayor, who makes her dislike of us no secret, by the way) to sign a document declaring partnership can sabotage all our work.
The interesting thing is, I'm not really stressed by all this. I'm writing during a break at work - I have to go back later this evening, and other than this headache I have pounding between my temples, I'm not really feeling distraught by the gravity of the situation. I don't even know if truly appreciate the gravity of the situation. It's a massive project, but I figure that if God wants us to get this project, we'll get it. If we can't handle it, we won't get it. I don't know why I'm so blasé about it. We´ve put a lot of work into this project.
Okay, so that there above was yesterday. Today I write to inform you that the project has been completed and will be on its way with Yanko to Sofia tomorrow. Ani and Valia will be in Pazardjik, and I'll be in the office alone to play secretary and answer the phone. We were here last night until 1 a.m. It's been crazy, but I kind of like it, actually. I've been feeling useful in the office, which is where I'd like to feel useful. Mostly, we've all just been playing musical chairs. I work in an office about as big as your bedroom (unless you live in a mansion), and we share two computers between five/six people. You can't work on the project on two computers because any update you make to one application won't get applied to the other and which one is the true copy? Fortunately, the budget was separate from the project, and our accountant was able to work on one computer while we hashed out the application form.
The acting mayor, once she finally saw the project, budget, and everything, signed the partner declaration and gave us other needed documents without blinking an eye. Once we had her on board, we were able to really hussle and get into it - realizing that the rest remained on us to get completed.
Like I said, I actually enjoy the atmosphere. We're stressed, but it's to the point of hilarity, and we're able to joke with each other to relieve the tension. Plus, I felt like I was really of assistance. One of our colleagues quit in the middle of the process, but we were able to come together and get it done. I've been eating a young bachelor's diet (sans microwaveable (Did you know the dictionary also allows the spelling "microwavable? I didn't.) dinner because I don't own a microwave, and they don't really have those in Bulgaria), and I really want a good, solid meal, but I've been feeling fantastic. Well, now I'm exhausted, but it's a good exhaustion.
I think I'd prefer doing this over English classes - and that's what I've been doing the past week: working on this project and cancelling my English classes.
So here's our project idea: The Minestry of Education and Science is calling for projects that "create a pleasant environment for intercultural education." Basically, it's to stimulate integration and cooperation between different cultures. How will we do that? Well, we plan on having "cultural days" in the schools where the children will be informed of the traditions of different ethnic/religious groups. We also plan on giving schoolbooks and school materials to motivate Roma children to go to integrated schools. We want to have "ethnic corners" in the school, where traditional objects from each culture are on display for all to see. We also wanted to put them in the pre-schools, but, as I said before, the pre-schools refused to partner with us. We want to celebrate traditional and religious holidays together such as Easter, "Bairam" - a Muslim holiday marking the end of Ramadan, Christmas, Vasilitsa - the Roma New Year, and April 8th - International Roma Day. We plan on having various after-school activities (music and dancing, arts and crafts, etc.) and "spring schools" - in which kids will have the opportunity to get away at camps and study a bit in the meantime. We also plan on working with parents to get them motivated to take part in their children's education and get acquainted with other parents from different ethnic backgrounds. There will be workshops and seminars for them as well as the teachers.
It's a great project, but it's huge. It's 58 pages, plus documentation, and we want financing somewhere in the neighborhood of 100,000 leva (about $72,100). It's going to be a lot of work if it's approved. As I said before, I trust God to take care of things, and we're not really too worried about whether it gets approved or not. I mean, of course we hope it receives funding, but we realize that there might be better projects out there. Plus, as I said before, I believe God won't allow us to take part in anything we can't handle. He got us this far.
Okay, so moving onto another topic: I just found out that I again have two options regarding a place to live. The guy who said he couldn't find anyone to do remodeling work has now apparently found someone. And I'm in a quandary again. I plan on waiting for Peace Corps to come and look at both places, give their approval, and then I'll decide from there. What can I do?
The other day, I ran into an acquaintance here, Toshko, who said he had a cough. I immediately took a step back and then realized, in the back of my head, that it was unnecessary because I haven't heard Bulgarians ever talk of "germs" here. He looked at me funny and laughed, "I'm not diseased. It' because I drank sparkling soda the other day." Ah, of course. What was I thinking?
I came across another volunteer's blog again the other day. I like reading Andrea's blog because she has a way of identifying the minutiae of life here in Bulgaria that frustrates and confounds me, her, and apparently other Americans. Many times I have tried to figure out just what it is about Bulgaria that sometimes rubs me the wrong way, and she has a way of cutting through and putting her finger on it. Take this post about our habit of apologizing. Customer service is something Andrea and I have discussed before, and it's something you don't find much of on this side of the pond. Most waitresses are flippant and rude, people crowd you to get on a bus as if there won't be enough seats, and even customers begin requests with "Give me...." The women at the market/fast-food store/cafes think I'm ridiculously polite with my "May I have...? Would you please hand me..?" and they find it amusing - but in a good way. So anyway, I'm used to what Andrea calls "Apologizing Americans" - at least in the customer service world. It doesn't matter the request: "Excuse me, do you serve tea in this restaurant? Do you carry my favorite brand of peanut butter? Do you have any C-4 or nitroglycerin on you?" I expect a "sympathizing mock frown" that shows me you care about my needs, even if it's utterly ridiculous that you should have such things. Many times, I get a "no" that feels about as good as a slap in the face. "Well, EXCUUUUSE me for ruining your day by asking!"
Andrea once relayed an incident that happened to her husband, Boudreaux, that also struck a chord. I must have heard about it over a year ago, but I haven't forgotten it. Apparently, he was getting up from his seat on the bus, when the cord of his iPod got tangled and stuck somehow. He was having a hard time getting it loose, and a gentleman across the way was watching him. He looked at the guy and smiled as if to say, "How silly of me," and the guy just stared at him in return. No reaction whatsoever. A group of us talked about how we expect people to look at us and smile when those things happen - you get a sense of comraderie in return, and you don't feel so foolish. It's unnerving when people just stare at you with a blank expression.
Now moving onto the topic of money. I don't think I'll ever get away from the Americans are just inherently wealthy. I was in a market the other day, and I bought a Snickers® and some pretzels. I paid for it with a 20 leva bill, (about $14.50) and the lady was commenting on how we Americans (As far as I know, I'm the only one she's currently acquainted with) don't crumple our money. Personally, I have a long wallet that allows me to slip bills in without folding them, but I don't think that's an accurate statement. She continued by saying, "Maybe that's because you have so much." It was all I could do to keep from rolling my eyes and hurrying out.
Yesterday, I ran into a teacher-acquaintance who's currently striking. He explained that they were still striking and expressed his frustration that the responsible Bulgarian ministries were still withholding raises. I think teachers here are paid reasonably on par with the salaries of other workers, but I can't say for sure, and few people here are paid "reasonably" in the general sense. He started asking me, "How much do teachers get paid in the states? A thousand dollars?" I was having a hard time trying to explain to him that it's not necessarily about how much you get paid; it's about how much spending power your salary has. For example, you could be paid $1000 a month as a teacher, but what will you do if rent in your city is at a base $800... plus utilities, food, entertainment, kids (if you got 'em), etc. A teacher making $1000 a month here would be grossly overpaid. A teacher making $1000 in the states would be grossly underpaid. Take me for example: I live fairly well on my PC living allowance in Bulgaria. If I had to live on this sum in the states, I'd be out on the streets.
Mostly, I just want to start changing my answer when Bulgarians ask about salaries and money in the states, "Yes, we make hoards of dough. In fact, people just go around passing out "Being American" checks for $10,000 about once every few weeks and say, 'This is for living in America. Congratulations. Be happy.'" I realize I shouldn't mock people who are struggling financially, and I really should count my blessings that I currently live so securely.
As I mentioned before, the teachers are still on strike. It's been almost two weeks now, and they're still holding out. There's talk of children possibly having to repeat the school year, and parents are frustrated that they spent money on schoolbooks. I really don't get it. I was telling my teacher acquaintance that I had never heard of teacher's striking in the states, but apparently it has happened. I guess in the states, as inconvenient as it is, you can always go to school in a neighboring district. In Bulgaria it's not always that easy. I couldn't imagine, as a student, having to repeat a school year or having to attend summer school because my teachers refused to teach. It will probably cut into their vacations at least, and the kids aren't happy about that either.
What a crazy place, but there's something about it: I still really like living here. It hits me sometimes - as I walk the moonlit streets in the silent night, as I contemplate the mountains that surround me, as I witness the galaxies go whirling by me on my way home - I like living in Bulgaria.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

If I'm English, You're... "Takova"

I get called "Anglichanka" here a lot. People confuse my nationality and refer to me as "the English girl." I don't know why it bothers me so much. Maybe it's because I've been here two years, and they can't seem to get it straight. Maybe it's because I've never even had the pleasure of visiting England.
"So, what's life in England?"
"I've never been there."
"Oh, yeah. What's life like in, where was it you were from again? California?"
*Two to five minute explanation about my concept of whatever I feel like sharing about life in California*
"So... do you miss England?"
*Huge, exasperated sigh*
What's also annoying is when I walk by a group of people and I hear the word "anglichanka" whispered under their breath. That's when I turn around and look at them defiantly. You didn't even bother to ask me who I am.
The kids, however, are by far the cutest. My absolute favorite is a quote from a boy at a camp we had last summer. It was captured on video: "And here is a game taught to us by the English girl from California."
Speaking of favorite conversations,here's an almost verbatim one I had with an adorable girl the other day.
Girl: So, you're from England...."
Apryl: I'm not from England. I'm from America.
Girl: So, you don't really speak English. You speak American.
Apryl: Well, some English people might agree with you, but we really speak the same language.
Girl: How can you speak English if you're not from England?
Apryl: We speak English in America as well.
Girl: That doesn't make sense.
I was trying to think of ways it made perfect sense, but I wasn't getting far. Maybe it's because of the distinctiveness of languages that match up with nations over here. Romanians speak Romanian, the French speak French, the Germans speak German, the Spanish speak Spanish, etc. There aren't many nations that don't claim their own language. Before I left before Bulgaria, many Americans asked me what language they speak over here. Even I wasn't sure in the beginning. "I think it's Bulgarian," I said. "I think they have their own language." We did wonder if they spoke Russian, however.
It's funny, because I've never considered myself all that nationalistic. To me, being "proud" to be American (or any nationality for that matter) is like being proud of having a heart that beats. There isn't much that you *did* to be part of that nationality because no one gets to choose things like being born, everyone comes from somewhere, and hating where you come from is just counterproductive. However, one thing I love about being "American" is that it isn't an ethnicity. A lot of people talk about being African-American, or Puerto Rican-American, or Canadian-American, but there's always the option of tacking the "American" on the end there. I don't think every country has that linguistic capacity. I, for example, could gain citizenship here, and I would never be "American-Bulgarian." It also kind of devoids me of a cultural heritage, but then, we made our own traditions growing up. I have the freedom to do the same with my own children. I used to lament the lack of a cultural background. I still do, but really only to the point that I wasn't raised bilingual. I feel like I found out late in life (though it's never TOO late) that I love languages.
So, I don't know why it bothers me when I'm called English, but it grates on my nerves. I now understand my friends whose relatives came from diverse places such as Guatemala, Peru, Brazil, Argentina, etc. and how they get frustrated when people blanket them with the term "Mexican-American." I'm thinking of starting a campaign to call everyone I meet "Rusnatsi" (Russians). I think they'll look at me like I'm an idiot, but it will be great to randomly ask people how they like living in Russia.
In other news, I've picked my favorite Bulgarian verb: "Takovam." It's universal. Basically, it means, "Do that thing. You know, that thing." Here's an example: "After work, I'm going to... 'takovam.'" It's a verb with a wide range of meanings. It can also be used as a noun: "Can you 'takovish' and hand me 'takova?'" Literally, "Can you do that thing and hand me that thing?" I LOVE IT. We should have a comparable word - one word, mind you - that applies in such a universal way. It's like a "get out of jail free" card for learning certain, impossibly difficult words in Bulgarian.


Imagine the following situation:
You're the director of a "special assistance" school. You receive funding from the government to room and board children with "special needs." Problem is: Most of your kids are happy and healthy - devoid of "special needs," but their parents are taking advantage of the situation at your school to help their own economic situation. You know that these kids are bright and capable of more than the education your school can offer them, but you don't want to mess with the system. As a bonus, you know your kids won't have the option of getting their driver's license if they complete 8th grade at your school. Also, if school attendance goes down, your staff is in danger of losing their jobs. Unemployment is rampant. What would you do?
Welcome to Bulgaria.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Elections: Cool By Association

The local mayoral elections are coming up, and it's like high school all over again. Rakitovo is small enough that just about everyone knows everyone - or at least everyone knows someone who's related to someone, so they know everyone by only a few degrees of separation. Questions such as, "Who are you voting for?" and "Who's running?" are not uncommon. Rumors and gossip abound. My boss, Yanko, is running for municipal council, and he likes to be "in the know." Elections are going to be next month, and I'm sorry I'm not going to be here for democracy in action. A couple people have joked that I should run for something. Awesome. I would love to be the mayor of Rakitovo. I wonder how long it would take before they impeached me.
Yesterday, we had our fair to celebrate the "European Year of Equal Opportunities for All." As is habit, I was designated photographer. Angel and some of his friends passed out balloon and brochures, and my other colleauges ran around like crazy getting everything in order. The show went well - with a lot of people of all ages and backgrounds participating. We had hoped for a bigger crowd, but I would say the "chitalishte" was 65% full. I had a good time hugging kids and joking around with them. A handful of the Roma boys that I've been playing baseball with are now enrolled in an integrated school with better educational standards. I'm so thankful for that. One of the boys asked me this morning what was going on with baseball. When I told him that we'd wait until next year to play again, he said, "Next year! It might as well be forever." Time is an interesting concept in children. I wish I could go back to the days when a year felt like forever.

Pictures from the fair.

Fair crew.

Something interesting about Bulgarian culture: People don't necessarily introduce you here when you casually enter a group. For example, let's say you come upon a friend drinking coffee, and you sit down with her. Now, it's obvious you don't know the other friend she's sitting with, but no one bothers to introduce the two of you. You have to take it upon yourself to introduce yourself to new people. When someone wants to meet you, they'll still say something like, "Well, aren't you going to introduce me to your friend?" But then they'll get a response like: "Well, go ahead and introduce yourself then." It's very strange to me. People can sit at a table for hours without having made each other's acquaintance.
Today, my colleague, Tsetska, and I were sitting at a cafe when a guy came over and started talking to both of us. He had seen me carrying a bat around town, and he started joking with me about how I'm the "girl with the bat." "What do you carry a bat for?" He turned to Tsetska and said, "Aren't you going to introduce me to your colleague?" "Go ahead," he was told. "Introduce yourself." He then started asking if I liked Cyrillic letters and how he could join the Peace Corps. He was a goofball.
It's interesting being the American around town. As I've mentioned before, many people think I just came with bucketloads of money to help the Foundation and... who knows what else? I don't think they've necessarily thought beyond that. I'm American, therefore I have suitcases full of money stashed somewhere. Sometimes people try to play the "cool by association" card. I don't necessarily understand that one. The other day, one of my neighbors was hanging in the center with some guys drinking coffee. As I walked up, he turned to one of the guys who was watching me and said, "Look how we know each other." As I walked by, he smiled and said, "Hi, how are you?" I returned the greeting and continued on my way - all the while feeling their stares. It is like high school. I'm like the untouchable one - I'm not necessarily known or understood, but you can impress people if you can show that we're used to having some kind of interaction. I don't get it.
And I still get stared at in the center - not so much as I used to since people are used to me, but there's an overwhelming amount of men who drink coffee in the center in the mornings (and sometimes all afternoon as well). They don't seem to tire of staring at me. I can't wait 'til I trip on a step and fall flat on my face. It will be interesting to return to the states, where I can't possibly be introduced as "The American."
So, I found another place to live. Well, Yanko had already put this place in the works from the beginning. I was slated to move in with a former teacher (and also one of my former English students) before her daughter objected and sent me searching for other housing. Well, her daughter rescinded her objection, but I had already found a new place. Now that this other place fell through, I'm back with the teacher. Her house is lovely. The only "complaints" (if you can call them that) is that I have to walk through her living room to go to my apartment. That, and the rooms all have a disconnected feel because it actually feels like living on the second and third floors of someone's house - not a separate apartment. It's hard to explain without you all actually *seeing* it, but I'm sure I'll be posting pictures after I move in. Now it's just a question of Peace Corps approving it and her putting in some additions like an electric stove and a refrigerator. Otherwise, the place is awesome. I will have a big bed (as opposed to the twin I sleep in now), and there are balconies all around. I think I'm going to have to share a balcony so she can hang clothes, and I'm not exactly clear on whether or not she'll be using the washing machine in the kitchen or not, but I feel like, at this point, anything is better than having to live with perpetual "unexpected guests."
Tomorrow, I'm seeing another friend off as she leaves Bulgaria. On Sunday, we're continuing our work on a mammoth project proposal. My colleague, Tsetska, has submitted a formal resignation. My colleagues aren't going to be in the office for part of next week, and I don't know where that puts me during that time. Have I mentioned in this post yet how much I'm looking forward to going back to the states for a visit?
Sharing a random thought that crossed my mind today: Another volunteer just told me that he doesn't "feel like [he] owns [himself] here." True. Today I was thinking, "Never have I felt so amazingly independent and yet so utterly helpless."