Saturday, January 27, 2007

Damned If You Do(n’t)

So, I’ve pissed off Peace Corps. Usually, PC and I have a beautiful relationship. They leave me alone, and I don’t bug them. They think I’m a “good” volunteer, and I let them live under that delusion – hoping I can one day believe it myself. Today was different. Today I made PC mad.
So, a friend of mine has been planning a “language refresher” for those who speak Bulgarian at an advanced level. A language refresher is a wonderful thing – at least I believe it is. I have never attended one, but it sounds awesome in theory. You get five volunteers together who would like to spend a couple days catching up on their Bulgarian grammar, vocabulary, syntax, etc. You invite a PC language trainer to come out and “refresh” you, and PC pays for it. How much better can it get?
So I was really looking forward to this refresher. Four other volunteers and I worked out the dates, and then it fell to another volunteer and PC to plan it all. Well, while I was in the office earlier this week, my colleagues suddenly started talking about a couple of huge meetings they would have over the weekend. One meeting (which will be later today – I’m up writing this ‘cause I can’t sleep) will be with several, small groups around the region to try and see if we can turn their ideas into feasible projects. This will take place all day tomorrow – er, today. And then the meeting on Sunday will be with parents to see what ideas/initiatives they have for us. My colleagues asked if I would be here for the meetings – in that nonchalant way that meant they had assumed that I knew and would be here. I said, “No, actually. I’ve already made plans to go to a Bulgarian language workshop.” They were visibly disappointed, and someone said, “What? Why do you need more Bulgarian?” I felt badly, but they had told me too late. I’d already made my plans, and I was looking forward to them.
Well, today I realized that I really needed to be here for the meetings, and I cancelled at the last minute. I admit that this is not the way to “win friends and influence people.” Plus, it makes me a huge jerk. Peace Corps wasn’t happy. They couldn’t cancel the session because they’d already contracted a trainer and booked her hotel. They said that this advanced language refresher, however, would be the first and last of its kind. Ouch. Now, I understand that PC is upset. They put a lot of time, effort, and money into getting a trainer and finding her a place to stay. Their frustration is justified. That being said, let me tell you my sob story.
So, I was going along through the week – feeling guilty that I wasn’t going to be here with my colleagues, but also realizing that I had already made plans and couldn’t bail on my friends. My colleagues should have told me earlier, and that was that. And then, one by one, my colleagues all fell victim to the flu.
The flu has taken over Bulgaria, I swear. It’s on the news just about every night about how many people have the flu. And if it’s not taken over Bulgaria, it’s definitely taken over Rakitovo. Every day, we hear about someone who has the flu. In fact, a school here shut down for a couple days to have “flu vacation” as they didn’t have enough students to hold classes. So, that’s that. It’s an epidemic.
My colleagues all have the flu. Every single one of them is sick – except me, and I’m downing vitamins. Tsetska is MIA. We haven’t seen her in a week, and we can only assume that she is ill. Ani looked horrible on Wednesday – when I last saw her. She was getting ready to leave for a great training opportunity on the other side of the country. I don’t know how she traveled, but she did. Anyway, she won’t be here this weekend. Yanko looked horrible as well, but he’s spent the last two days in Pazardjik – talking to heads of ministries and listening to people glorify the situation of the Roma now that we’re in the EU. No comment. Their kids, Maria and Reneta, are also ill. Valia wasn’t in the office on Wednesday, as her fever bound her to her bed, but she came in Thursday and Friday – looking extremely ill. Her kids, Sashko and Janette, are under the weather also. Fatme has been in the office – eyes glazed over and coughing. So it was Valia, Fatme, and myself in the office today. They were coughing, hacking, and shivering with chills. I was hanging out in one layer because it was hot in the office, and I’m physically sound. I was working on my SPA evaluation reports that are breathing down my neck.
Anyway, I was listening to them talk in their croaky, tired voices about the meetings they had this weekend. The conversation was punctuated by a cough every now and again. They were talking about all the things they had to do in order to host all these people. And it hit me, “I have to stay here. My place is with these crazy frogs.” So, I sent a text message to the volunteer planning the language refresher. I later sent an e-mail to PC – asking them not to cancel. And I made Peace Corps mad – understandably. I should have figured this out earlier, but I know that I’ve made the right decision with respect to my colleagues – and even with respect to PC since they’re always talking about how our place is in our site; especially when our colleagues are having problems and need us. Heck, even if they don’t need us, our place is in site. Peace Corps is constantly talking about how we need to stick around. They probably don’t necessarily mean that when they’ve expended time and money to get us someplace else, however. (sigh) So now, these people better show up to this meeting is all I gotta say.
In other, random news, I realized today how much I really like chopping wood. Man, do I love chopping wood. It’s one of the greatest things. No one’s ever let me chop wood here before to get it ready for burning. Today, I took it upon myself to get some wood chopped for my English classes. It took forever, but I got out a lot of aggression. I kept getting interrupted, however. Maria’s husband found me – trying to get me to figure out how to call her in Italy for him. (“What’s my phone saying?” “You want me to translate? But it’s in Bulgarian.”) Even after I was successful in connecting them, he didn’t want to learn for himself how to do it, he just wanted to make sure he could find me again so I could do it for him. (sigh) And then I had to go buy some matches. A box of matches here costs about 3 cents, and the guy at the store (which was in the midst of some serious obstacle-inducing remodeling) gave me a couple boxes for free. That was nice of him. Meanwhile, another guy in there insisted he treat me for coffee. “I have work to do,” I told him, “maybe another time.” And then I had to stay for a little more to convince him that I really couldn’t stay, and the first guy started talking about how well I speak Bulgarian. You really want to help me out and impress me? Come help me light this stove. Anyway, Maria’s husband happened to be in the clubhouse when I was preparing the stove, and I got him to help me light it. Unfortunately, I think I chose wood that was a little too wet, and it never really caught. It soon was cold again after my kids showed up.
We made books today – with pictures and the names of fruit in English. They seemed to like that pretty well, although they lost focus toward the end. I guess an hour of that is pretty impressive for eight-year-olds with the attention span of gnats. Oh, I love those kids. They’re the best. So, we did that, and then it got too cold. One adult came for my adult class. I suggested we go get some coffee and have English, but she was a little sick and not too keen on that. She suggested we just not have class. Okay….
I had dinner at Maria and Reneta’s tonight. The guy who’s going to (fingers crossed) fix our radiator problems, stopped by and had a small glass of rakia. We were hoping he could fix it before today so we could have our meeting in the center, but he’s just too busy. Hopefully, he’ll be able to fix it while we’re having our meeting though, so it will be ready for Sunday. That guy is great, but he sure does love to talk. He’s incredibly knowledgeable, and he loves showing it off. The conversation, mostly dominated by him, ranged from Greek history to Atlantis to how the Bible is false. “I know more than most professors!” And yes, he actually did know quite a bit. It was impressive. It was also thought-provoking. He warned me to be mistrustful of those who wear glasses. According to him, all people who wear glasses are just waiting to take advantage of you. Nevermind that my mother wears glasses. There was even one point when he talked about the beneficial minerals found in cigarettes. Awesome. I reminded him about rat poison and carbon monoxide, and he admitted those were in there, too. Mmmm… all those carcinogens… you don’t know what you’re missing!
“Phantom Baba” of the “Haunted House” came by and found me. Apparently she had been at a birthday party when I came to call the other night. “But you saw the house. It’s nice, right?” Uh…. She was really cute. I gave her some of the candies I had brought over, and she hugged me, “Oh, you’re so sweet. When can you come by the house and visit me?” Uh…. It turned out that it just wouldn’t work this time around. She was going back to Sofia before I would get a chance. She invited me that minute, but I was already cooking and in for the night. “Oh well. We’ll find each other next time.” I gotta go check out that house in the daylight. Then I’ll be better informed about whether or not I want to go there in the evening.
And as a final downer for this post, I thought I’d share with you that an 11-year-old girl “married” and 18-year-old boy this week. She attends the same school as Maria and Reneta, and her younger sister studies English with me. Apparently, this boy would hang out at the school, waiting for her. I’m not sure if they were dating or what. I’m guessing they had sex, and that’s what made them “married” (that might be an equivalent in Roma culture). He suggested they run off to Greece. Her parents found out. Maria told me they cut off all her hair and confined her to her room. Who knows what’s really true and what’s hearsay? We were discussing it in the office, and my counterpart was saying that the police don’t usually do anything if the child is over 13. They wash their hands of it if the parents try and protest. It’s funny. Now that I’ve been living here for a while, 13 is acceptable in my mind, but that’s the minimum. Okay, “acceptable” is not the appropriate word. In my mind, thirteen and married happens in my community. Eleven and married is apparently taboo for everyone.
Ah, here’s a couple links for the film studios I ran through. Boyana Film Studios, owned by Nu Image, is pretty impressive. They’re capable of hosting the entire production process, and they’ve done some heavy work. Check it out. You’d be surprised as well. I didn’t know people filmed in Bulgaria. Rumor has it that the PCVs in Sofia have had some bit parts in films. If the Bulgaria PC experience is a far cry from the Africa PC experience, then the Sofia PC experience is also quite removed from the Rakitovo PC experience. Ah, to be a PCV in Sofia. What a trip!

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