Thursday, January 11, 2007

Открих Америка! (Otkrih Amerika!)

In Bulgarian, there’s a phrase that’s kind of like “Eureka!” I used it as my title up there. It literally says, “I discovered America!” Yeah. So, I think I know what’s wrong with me. Haha. Well, there are a lot of things wrong with me. Nobody’s perfect. But I mean that I think I know why I’m not as happy here as I once was. The answer is a complicated mix of reasons that all boil down to this: I’m restless. I can give something my attention for a good nine months – maybe a year. And then I want to do something else. I loved this job. I loved this site. I loved everything. Now, I still love this job. I believe in its goals and objectives. I still love this site. Rakitovo is cozy and pleasant. I don’t love everything anymore, but I still love most things. It is, however, a subdued love. It had to come. Time changes things and brings someone a nice level of comfort. People are more comfortable with me, but that just means it’s easier to ignore me. I hate it.
So, yeah. I have ADD or something when it comes to these things. I’m an adventure-seeker, and I thrive on change. It’s scary, but this feeling of stagnation is even scarier to me. I thought it was a phase. I hoped it was a phase. Well, it’s not phasing out. And I’m tired of feeling badly about it. And I’m tired of working to take two steps forward only to feel like I’ve taken three steps back. That’s what this job is though. If I want to really do something that matters, if I want to work in this capacity, if I want to… (sigh) then this is what I have to accept. Nothing worth doing is easy. And who says that one should avoid doing difficult things? It just takes a special person to try working over and over to change things. Someone once said that the definition of lunacy is trying to do something over and over – hoping to obtain different results. True. But we can’t help but be crazy here. We’re a bunch of crazy frogs. And we do change our tactics a bit, but basically we’re working with a group of people who don’t always want to work with us. It’s human nature. When it’s convenient for them, they work with us. When it’s not, well… we’re screwed.
Take the other day for example. My colleagues planned a workshop on the outskirts of Velingrad. Valia and Ani ran all over the mahala after work a couple evenings – asking parents to come and take part. At first, many people were very happy to sign up. “Oh, it sounds great. Oh yes, we’ll come.” Then, the night before they were scheduled to leave for the training, Ani and Valia ran all over again to remind them. “Oh, I can’t go.” And they would find a million little excuses as to why they couldn’t take part. For example, “My child can’t sleep without me,” and other crazy reasons they could have thought of BEFORE we booked the hotel… BEFORE we put down an advance for a certain number of people… BEFORE we went through the hassle of preparing the materials for all of them. So, I believe about thirteen people were signed up to go. In the end, only six went. I don’t get it. Free food and a free night outside of your town. What could be wrong with that? All you have to do is attend a few informational sessions and give your opinion.
What’s the most frustrating thing is just the “flakiness” of people. I vaguely remember life in the states, and I’m probably giving it too much of a nice, rosy glow in this respect, but it seemed to me to be a land where people followed through. If they didn’t follow through, they had a damn good reason, and they did their best to try and tell you beforehand what that reason was. They didn’t just decide to not show up and then leave you to figure out what’s going on in their heads. This is Bulgaria. I’m not supposed to be overly negative in this blog, but I absolutely detest this: People don’t show up for one reason or another, and you’re just supposed to accept it as a fact of life. You ask them later why they didn’t come around, and they blow you off with some vague answer like you were just supposed to know that they weren’t going to come. Or maybe you have some work you’re relying on them for, and you can’t move without them doing their part. And then they just decide, for some reason, not to do their part, but they don’t tell you until you actually track them down and ask them what’s up. And, after the deadline, you’re left to do their work. Like today, my colleagues wrote a letter that someone at the municipality was supposed to write. Yeah, we help each other out, but what ever happened to doing your job? I doubt anyone is really serious about anything here. I include myself in that sentence. ‘Cause the feeling just pervades and seeps into my blood as well.
Another thing I don’t like about my perceived Bulgaria. There seems to be no guarantee of work here. You do a crappy job; you still get paid. What you did falls apart prematurely; you’re not obligated to come and clean up your mess – free of charge. There isn’t always this concern for quality of work here, and there should be.
Take, for example, our ever-present troubles with our stove. I haven’t been using the center for the past couple days because a part of a radiator decided to break on us and spill water out onto the floor. So, how long have we had these radiators? How long have they been installed, and how much use have we gotten out of them? How many months has it been since October? And how many times have we actually lit a fire in there because everything has been as it should be? I could probably count the number of times on my fingers. It’s too early for the radiators to be wearing out and acting up. Something was wrong with them from the beginning.
But you can’t get a hold of the guy who installed them. “Oh, he went to Greece for work,” his wife says when Yanko calls them up. Later, Yanko’s friends tell him that they just saw the guy somewhere earlier that day. The guy knows why we’re calling, and he knows we’re not happy. I don’t want to accuse him of shoddy work, but his work is falling apart, and it’s his responsibility to make sure that it’s quality. We paid him for it. So, we can ask someone else to come and look at it, but who knows how much money he’s going to want? And we don’t have money to throw at something that should have been working in the first place.
My classes are going all right this week. It’s a little slow after the vacation, but at least I’m having a good time. I think that matters quite a bit in my own, little head. My kiddie English class on Monday was fun. We were in the old clubhouse where we could light the stove. I taught my kids the “Head and Shoulders” song. After that, they went absolutely crazy. There were toys in the clubhouse, and they were distracted. They were shooting each other with toy guns, playing with hool-a-hoops, and running around like banshees. I tried to get their attention back, but it wasn’t working. Then, one girl decided to write on our whiteboard with permanent marker. Boy, was that fun trying to get off. After that, they listened for a bit, but then they were back to acting like lunatics. Finally, I’d had enough and shouted at them “Good-bye!” I told them to get out. I didn’t want to deal with it anymore. They stopped in their tracks and looked at me like I had just killed all of their goldfish – if they had goldfish. You know that look.
They started to gather their stuff, and then one of them spoke up and pleaded, “Apryl, we want to stay.” Pretty soon they were all looking at me with those “Bambi” eyes that every child is gifted with. I smiled, “But you’re all acting nuts! I don’t want to be here with you right now while I’m trying to teach you English.” “We’ll be good! We promise!” “Are you sure?” “Yes, we will be on our best behavior.” “Okay.” So we sat down and started English again. They were really good this time – just like they said they would be. Their attention waned a little toward the end, but I had fun with them.
After that, one adult came in for my Adult English Class. She’s the most serious of all my adult students. I don’t know if other adults came, found the center closed, and moved on, but I was trying to look for them. We had a good lesson though. She’s slowly getting down the possessive pronouns. “I have a pen. This is MY pen. You have a pen. This is YOUR pen, etc.” While we worked away at English, the volunteer’s group hashed away at their initiative.
So we have this opportunity with our main sponsor…. Okay, so the young people who we used to meet with regularly have an opportunity with the main sponsor. They’ve been encouraged to come up with a plan they wish to carry out, write a proposal for it, and then submit it to the main donor for funding. After they receive funding, they’re supposed to carry out this project. Again, that’s the real question because, as I complained about toward the beginning of this post, people aren’t really the best at following through here. Our volunteers are kind of models for it as well. So, there’s been a lot of discussion about… “If you come up with this plan, are you really going to follow through with it? Who’s in for real?”
And they talk, and they plan to meet, and it gets really discouraging when people show up a half an hour late, but they’ve come up with a plan to clean up the Mahala – the Roma neighborhood. They’re going to start by presenting their idea to the municipality and trying to get them to buy into their initiative. After that, they will talk to the local citizens of the community and try to get them to get excited about it (and involved) as well. Then they’re going to plan a day when they will actually pick up trash on the main street leading into the Mahala. I don’t know how many outsiders they’re going to get involved in their idea. Even they aren’t expecting many, if any, but they’re ready to do it themselves. After they clean it up a bit, they’re going to put public trashcans out in the streets. Besides everyone’s own trashcan, and a few large containers the municipality takes care of in the center of the Mahala, there really aren’t many places to throw trash. This actually wouldn’t matter if people would just take the time to throw trash where it’s supposed to go, but they hope to encourage people to be more aware of what they’re doing with their rubbish by putting more trashcans in the Mahala.
Once they’ve installed the trashcans, they hope to pass out brochures on the health and aesthetic benefits of living in a clean neighborhood. At the same time, they want to obtain signatures from the local residents for more large containers. They will invite the media back to show what they’ve been able to do already and the signatures they’ve collected. Then, they will go to the mayor and the town council with these signatures in the hope that the municipality will give them some large containers. It’s a pretty bold plan considering there are only about six people who are (it’s still a maybe) really serious about it, but I know they can do it if they buckle down and follow through. The toughest part will be getting their community to buy into it as well. I’m praying it works out for them. I will be so proud of them if they just undertake the initiative.
After all this, they’re going to remodel the clubhouse (the old one we used to use for everything before we had an educational center with a heating system that doesn’t work) for their own uses – make it a little more “adult” in nature (there are a lot of kiddie paintings on the wall), and give it some needed repairs. Then, it can be their place to hang out and hopefully plan more initiatives. I hope I live to see the day… or rather that I’m here to see the day. That’s asking a lot more.
So far, they’ve been able to come up with a goal, an objective, and a bunch of activities that go toward that objective. After that, they were able to assign tasks and responsibilities to each person. Who will make the brochures? Who will contact the media? Who will talk to the media? They, of course, all want to be on TV, but they don’t all want to talk on TV. I was with them the other day when they were writing down who’s responsible for what, and I tried to work out a rough budget with them.
So, they were meeting the other day while I was having my English class on the other side of the room. I hope they worked something out and came to an understanding. I think they did, but I’m hoping it’s to the point where their acknowledged leader, Angel, can translate the proposal onto paper. The project is called “A Clean Start.” I suggested that title, and I hope it truly lives up to its name in a variety of surprisingly happy ways.
After they busted their heads for about an hour and a half, we went to a local café and got down. Haha. Well, I watched as some of them got down. There’s a new member of the volunteer’s group with a lot of personality. He’s a character in his own right. I’ve seen him around, but I had never really interacted with him before. As I saw him dancing on the floor – with moves I’ve never seen anyone here in Bulgaria use – it hit me, “This guy is a Roma version of ‘Fonzi’ – from that show ‘Happy Days.’” He was a well-tanned Henry Winkler. I laughed to myself and enjoyed watching him weave around the room with girls and boys alike – making faces of displeasure every once in a while at his coffee (all mix, not much water = sludge). He’s famous in the Mahala, and now I have the pleasure of getting to appreciate his spunk as well. He’s a pretty punctual guy (frowns a lot when the others are late), and he seems pretty into the project. His ideas get a lot of airtime because he’s not afraid to talk. The other day, he helped me chop some wood and take it over to the club so we could have a fire while we planned. I already love him.
On Tuesday, I had a few kids for my older-age English class. Again, I had kids ask me when we were meeting only to not show up. I would be frustrated if I cared. Trying not to care as much and leave the responsibility to them (how it’s supposed to be), I don’t worry about it as much. We played some games with fruits and vegetables, and we all had a good time. They’re a little more focused, so it was a bit easier with them. I have one kid who’s really smart and does super work on his own, but he seems to get bored when he’s in a group and has to deal with others. He will interrupt me to ask if we can do some random thing off-topic. Anyway, now I’m rambling off-topic.
Yesterday, after working in the office a bit, I went up to the center to try and have my computer class. I ended up sitting there for a bit trying to read some joke – an initiative for a “Man’s Club for Dressing Up Woman to Do Tricks.” Thomas had sent it to me. Everything was in Bulgarian and I was trying to understand as much as a could – laughing every time I did understand something. (In fact, at this moment, I just shared it with my colleagues, and they got a kick out of it. Maybe when I’m done with my service here, I’ll finally understand most of it.) Finally, half an hour late, an apologetic Reneta showed up, so we did some things on the computer.
Afterwards, I went to Reneta and Maria’s house for some Spanish. We had a good lesson (they always astound me with how much they remember – they honestly have a flighty teacher), but it was interrupted by a sweet girl I know here who needed some English help. Thing was, she had a test the next day on some animal traits that she needed to memorize. I didn’t know how to help her. We went over each thing – translating what they meant and reading it out in English, but it’s up to her to memorize it and find out what’s going on. The frustrating thing is when you see someone who’s been studying English for a while, but they still can’t stumble through the easy things. She’s a sweet girl with a talent for dancing, but all this time she’s been ditching classes and not taking English seriously. It’s a shame.
I also had a boy, who used to be a part of the volunteer’s group, randomly show up at the center yesterday to ask for English help. I was trying to figure out his motives. “So, you have a 2 in English,” (which basically means he’s failing) “and you want to turn that frown upside-down into a 5 or a 6” (which are excellent grades). “Well, Apryl, we’re in the European Union now, and it’s about time we learned, right?” I couldn’t argue with that. Whatever your reason for wanting to learn English, it’s a good one if you ask me… as long as you really want to learn it and won’t just leave me sitting there in the cold – late into the night – wondering where you are.
Last night, after finishing up my Spanish lesson and having dinner with the Krivonozov family, I met Brandy at a local café and racked up quite a bill. We had a good conversation though, so it was all worth it. We finally got home late last night, and I went straight to bed.
Today, we’ve been talking about what our working plan is over the next year. We gotta get crackin’ and write our proposal until March of 2008. We haven’t exactly started on it yet, but it will be weird to be here for it because this is the first time I can understand what’s going on and actually try and help them formulate such a plan, but it’s also hollow because I will most-likely not be here to help them fulfill whatever activities they plan out. My close-of-service date is October 10th, 2008. I can leave anytime a month before that, and about anytime a month after that. Any longer, and I have to fill out a proposal to stay a bit. One can decide to stay a few more months if they need to, or one can even opt to stay another year.
Readers, this is the moment where I confess to you that I have honestly been thinking about staying another year. I know I’ve been having a tough time as of late, and, considering all the things I wrote above, you’re probably sitting there going, “What? Apryl, you’re strange.” But I honestly have given it a lot of thought, and although I haven’t made up my mind yet, my colleagues tell me that they’re not going to let me go. Of course, they joke around saying that knowing that I have my own free will and can decide what to do with my own life. Maybe I have to get on with it. I don’t know. There are days when I think, “I want to stay here another year,” and days when I think, “Why do I want to stay here another year?” Honestly, this has become my home, and I don’t want to leave so soon. However, there’s still plenty of time to change my mind. I’m moody and flakey like that. It’s the Bulgarian in me. =)
I went to the school and found a teacher to give me Bulgarian lessons. I haven’t taken Bulgarian lessons since the start of last summer, but I want to start taking them again. I found a really nice lady at the school Brandy teaches at, and I’m supposed to meet with her for my first lesson on Monday. I’m excited about that. My landlady asked me, “Why do you want to learn Bulgarian? You already know Bulgarian!” “Yeah, but I’m tired of using the simplest words possible to express myself. I want to expand my vocabulary and speak a bit more correctly.” She wasn’t convinced. It’s good enough. Why do I want to mess with it? Many people here tell me, “If I knew English as well as you knew Bulgarian….” Yeah, well, I know I speak well. One can always do better. And this will be something for me. I’ll be learning instead of always playing the role of teacher. I miss the student role. It turns out that my new Bulgarian teacher also teaches French! I’m going to have to find a way to capitalize on this. I don’t know how, but I’ve gotta find a way! I still want to learn Roma, as well. Like THAT’S going to happen….
Ah, someone is coming to photograph my kids today for a brochure for the foundation. I’ve been telling a bunch of my students and reminding them over and over again. I hope they come. I’ll hunt them down and tickle them if they don’t. So, let me move on to something totally random. I know you weren’t expecting that from me: randomness!
So, the giant map of America still covers one wall of the office. People come in, look at it, look at me, shake their heads, and talk about going there. It’s useful for explaining where places are in the states, and I don’t get those “Did you go to New York on the weekends?” questions anymore. It’s a little hard though, when just about everyone comes in and zeros in on California. “Oh, how I wish to be there.” Then they look at me, “Do you know where I would go exactly?” I don’t say anything. “Sacramento.” I just smile. My mom’s in California. My dad’s in Hawai’i. And they think that I must be the most foolish person to ever have crawled the earth to want to come to Rakitovo. Explaining that I didn’t exactly choose Rakitovo (or Bulgaria for that matter), but that I’m actually really happy with how things worked out, doesn’t really do anything for the conversation. I get tired of these conversations. It seems like I have one every time I meet someone new. “You could be making so much money there!” No, actually, there’s a good chance I wouldn’t be making so much money there, but they don’t understand it because they don’t want to understand it, and they have no basis from which to really understand it. I say, “There are poor people in the states,” and they counter with, “Yeah, but they’re lazy, aren’t they?” “No, actually there are some people who work really hard at multiple jobs and are still struggling.” They look at me incredulously, and I just want to change the subject to the weather or something. And yet, I have to have these conversations. It’s part of my job here. Anyway, poor reader, I’m starting to ramble. I’m going to let you go. Have a good day, and go give someone a hug. Tell them it’s from a girl in Rakitovo. Ciao!

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