Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Bullets and Trithdekatriaphobia

So, I’m back with another post. To the two of you who read this, I’m sorry that it has taken me so long to get my act together and write an update, but I’ve just been overwhelmed as of late. That doesn’t mean I’m really getting anything of significance done. It just means that when I’ve been able to sit down and pound something out, I just haven’t felt like taking the time. It’s a shame, because a lot has happened since I last left some words here. I think I’ll do a bulleted list of some things I wanted to share. Maybe that will be the easiest way. I have a friend in Peace Corps who really likes bulleted lists. If he sees this, he’ll get excited.
* Since my last post, Peace Corps has apologized for its reaction when I pulled out of the language refresher. Through a series of e-mails, it finally came around to, “That’s great that you will be organizing a refresher in your town.” What? That would be really awesome, but we’ll see if it happens.
* It was a really good thing I stuck around for the meetings a couple weeks ago. Not because they were enlightening or particularly useful, but because another colleague had to call in sick and there were only three of us to put food together, clean, and help facilitate things. Others came and helped, too, which was nice. And my organization got to show off their Peace Corps volunteer and encourage other groups to apply for their own. I don’t know how I feel about that. I mean, of course I support Peace Corps and its mission in Bulgaria. I just don’t think towns should be so quick to jump at the chance to get a volunteer. There needs to be some careful evaluation of the situation, otherwise it can be difficult for both the organization and the volunteer. Anyway, maybe “unrealistic expectations” is a theme for another post. Basically, I don’t like the idea of an organization getting a volunteer with the thought, “Look at all the stuff this person could do for us!” I mean, that is the bottom line, but it’s more important the towns learn to do for themselves. That’s why I love my organization so. They were already doing their own thing before they applied for a PCV. I feel like I’m an enhancement to their program – not a reason for their existence or a showcase piece.
* I finally got the cold that’s been going around the town. I was shouting over my kids one Friday. My throat was scratchy, and I knew. I’ve been sick for a week and a half now. It’s awful! Some kids have been out for extended periods of time because of "flu vacation." Others, avoid going to school so they won't get sick from the ill students who do go. Smart....
* I was having a lesson with one of my older, English students. He said, “My teacher says that maybe I’ll be able to skip ahead in the lessons.” “Oh, really?” I asked him, “She knows you’re studying with me?” “No,” he said, “she just sees a change in me.” I wanted to hug him. Instead, I just shook his hand.
* Peace Corps Medical came for a visit. I was down and out because of my cold – avoiding the office in the mornings and just going up to the center for my classes in the afternoon. I got out of bed to let them in. I was speaking in my deep, sexy, frog voice from my cold. I was asked about the color of my mucus. She was worried it might be an infection. I still refuse to believe I’m even truly sick, so there will be no trips to PC office in Sofia anytime soon. I swear I’m invincible or something. It’s not an infection. It’s a bad cold, and it’ll just go away eventually. I’ve always been this way. Anyway, there were other questions as well, such as, “How are you on a scale of one to ten?” Apparently we volunteers have been ranking ourselves pretty high on the scale recently, and they attribute that to the mild winter we’ve been having. That probably has a lot to do with it. Oh, and Medical brought some Wheat Thins® I’d won in a raffle. That was awesome.
* I think I mentioned that I started up language lessons again. I love my Bulgarian language teacher. She’s really knowledgeable and sweet. If I don’t understand a word in Bulgarian, she’ll try it in French, and I understand nine times out of ten. Sometimes she’ll surprise me by knowing the English translation of a word. I love that she speaks French. It makes me want to hug her all the time. Is that creepy? Probably, yeah. If I had time, I’d ask her for French lessons as well.
* The other Friday, I finally went to “na ghosti” at a new place. The pastor at the evangelical church I sometimes attend has been saying I need to come over, and I finally did. It was a really great visit. His wife is wonderful, and his kids are fantastic. His wife impressed me because she does translation work and raises three kids. They send her materials to be translated, and she sets her own schedule. It’s a job I could see myself really getting into. Their kids are absolutely adorable, and you could feel the love of God in that house. They were anxious to show me things and interact with me. One of the girls surprised me at the end of the night by throwing her arms around me. Plus, she gave me a picture she had made. She kept looking for other things she could give me. At one point, she presented me with various “yellow stotinki” – the equivalent of pennies. I told her she needed to save her money for college. I immediately fell in love with all those kids.
* I was in a town called Dimitrovgrad a couple weekends ago – well, it’s actually a huge city that’s right next to another huge city. I was there with some other PCVs to talk about some ideas we have for a Minority Committee and a Tolerance Toolkit. It was a good meeting, and I had a great time with those guys. We went out with a bunch of people afterward, and I acted my general, crazy self. I think I like dancing too much. Is that possible?
* I cried in the office again. I can’t explain it when it hits me, but it does sometimes. The educational center was on the line again. We don’t have enough money for the center. What’s the solution? We decided to have a meeting with the parents of the kids that participate. Problem was, my kids weren’t so great about showing up last week. On Thursday, after learning some things with three of my students, I told them to grab their things, “We’re going on a field trip.” We went to a few of my student’s houses, and I started quizzing them. “What’s your mother’s name? Who’s your father? Who’s his brother?” They did fairly well, and then came the question: “Why aren’t you in English today?” A shrug would follow. “I fell asleep,” or “I forgot.” Stab me in the heart! Why do I even bother? I should just fly back across the pond and live in my beloved California. “Okay, well, we have a meeting with your parents tomorrow. Tell them to come.” Did the parents come? Not many. Even parents of those I had told right before the meeting didn’t bother to come. Yanko saw one parent hanging out in the street, talking. He turned to her daughter, “Did you tell your mom about the meeting?” “Yes.” Did she show up? No. Grrrr.
* At the parent’s/student’s meeting, we decided to up the tax for English from 1 lev to 3 leva. This is, in fact, chump change. Three leva a month is nothing, but I’m afraid I’m going to lose some kids over it. One of the mothers said that she would go around the Mahala with me the following day. We would inform the other parents this way. I was glad to have an ally. We just can’t cover the administrative costs of the center any other way, and they honestly should contribute to its maintenance.
* My friend, Thomas, came for the weekend. He was great company and great help. He patiently waited while my colleagues and I hashed out a possible project for the center on Saturday. This is another possible way to get money to cover administrative costs. Who knows? We’ll see if it pans out. He also graciously helped me chop a bunch of wood for heating the center. I missed meeting with the woman I was supposed to go around the Mahala with though. This was my own fault. I dawdled, and I probably took too long getting up there. She had already gone to do something else by the time I got up there. This was of great disappointment to me. You like how I politely say, “It sucked!” I only have myself to blame. Bad Apryl.
* On Sunday, Thomas and I went to Sofia for a “hash.” If you remember from my post about running through a film studio, then you remember me mentioning “the hash.” It’s a bunch of ex-patriots and some Bulgarians that get together and go for a run/walk somewhere. This hash wasn’t as well-coordinated as the last I’d been to, but it was still fun. Thomas led a make-shift route, and a bunch of us followed. We were done quickly, and we waited around for the walkers at a “bell park.” There was a circular area with all these bells from all over the world – donated to the children of Bulgaria. It was a really neat place. We walked around and either rang or clanked bells (depending on the quality of the bell). At the end of the hash, we got in a circle and took care of some business. I committed a “sin” on the hash. “Sins” are generally made up as you go. If someone decides you’ve done something out-of-form for a hash, you can be called a “sinner.” It can be something like, smoking while you’re out on a hash, or talking on your cell phone, or taking a leak. The call of nature hit me on this hash. I went off on a field trip to some trees. Thomas turned me in at the end of the hash, and I had to stand in the middle and down a cup of beer while they sang a song. Nice. Anyway, we went for dinner at a nice Italian restaurant afterward, and Thomas and I got ice cream. I’m liking this “hash thing.”
* Thomas and I stayed with a couple PCVs in Sofia. One of them was doing a “cleanse.” She would make a lemon juice, maple syrup, cayenne pepper concoction, and then she would drink a number of these during the day – all the while avoiding food for ten days. It’s designed to clean out the system and get rid of impurities. I was inspired by her. I’m not doing a “cleanse,” but I’ve wanted to do a fast for a while now. I believe in the spiritual benefits of fasting – not that I’ve ever done it myself except for a high school fundraiser. I’ve been feeling disconnected from the One in whom I find life’s meaning, and I’m trying to fast to build my relationship with Him. As of now, I’m pretty much just feeling the hunger pains. It won’t be useful if I just think about how I’m starving. Bleh. It’s only a three-day fast, but I hope to receive some benefit from it. If not, well, I just need more time with God anyway. I think of Him when I feel hunger pangs and my stomach growls, and I remind myself that “man does not live by bread alone.”
* The cab driver, who drove me to the Sofia bus station yesterday, scolded me for being in a hurry. Then, he started talking about how I should meet his son. He even called his son to tell him he had a 25-year-old girl in the cab that he should meet. The driver was a nice man, and we had an interesting conversation. Once he dropped me off at the bus station, he asked, “Seriously, do you want to meet my son?” “I’m sorry. I just can’t.” “No harm in asking, right?” “Sure.” I tell you these things because I think they’re comical. Bulgarians are always trying to play “Cupid,” even if you already have a significant other.
* I was surprised by a huge English class yesterday. Pretty much all my little kids showed up with a new member and a straggler – who both came in like it was nothing at all. I couldn’t control the classroom. I found myself getting frustrated and yelling at them. They were doing what I was asking them to do, but it was chaos. They weren’t doing it the way I was asking them to do it, and they were all talking too much. It was madness. I finally had enough of yelling at them, and I collected their papers and told them to go outside. We played a few games. One was a tolerance-building game that was totally wasted on them. I had some of them get into a circle and then try to get the others to break through the circle. The idea was to teach them about “in-groups” and how painful it can be to be left out in the cold. They were too young for that. The really just enjoyed trying to break through or hold people out and then all fall down at the end. Then, I had them play “Red Rover.” That went over really well, and we had a fun time with that. We just enjoyed each other’s company. A lot of my kids hug me or draw me pictures. They fight to hold my hand. I love the acceptance of little children. I just wish I could get a reign on them.
* Another note about my little kids: If I ever wanted to be humbled with regard to my Bulgarian skills, they would be the ones for the job. They're constantly laughing at my mistakes, and they tell me to say certain words over and over again while they laugh at me. I shouldn't, but I'm human, so I get frustrated and then ramble on and on to them in English. "Did that make sense to you?" They just laugh. I gotta watch these kids. They're smart, and they catch on quick!
* Speaking of kids, and things I don't deal with well, there are a couple of children that go around town begging. They like to come in the center and ask for change. I get frustrated because they look as though they really need the money for food, and yet it's a daily occurrence. I feel as though I'm encouraging them to just keep begging. My boss admonishes me everytime I try to help them in a monetary fashion. So, they were at the center, and I had this idea to have them clean. They would help me clean up the center a couple times a week, and then I would go with them to the store to buy them dinner. Of course, they liked this idea. My boss, however, put the kibosh on that. These girls have stolen from us before. Plus, how long can my budget handle buying them dinner? Plus, it just encourages them to continue doing what they're doing, and they don't go to school. Our organization exists to promote education. I work too hard to encourage kids to stay on the street and beg. Anyway, it's heartbreaking though. We're taught to help those less fortunate than ourselves. God told us to champion the cause of the poor. I hate to think of them going hungry at night.
* So, tomorrow is Valentine’s Day. I’ve never been the biggest fan of Valentine’s Day. I’ve never really had a reason to celebrate. Last year’s Valentine’s Day was pretty fun. I just hung out with my colleagues, and I was in a different place mentally. This year, I’m not sure what will happen. You may have guessed that I am fortunate to have someone pretty amazing to spend it with, but I don’t think I will be seeing him. I suppose it will be just another day. I waver between wishing it would be special and wishing it would just pass. I think I have too many bitter memories of the holiday. That was random, but when Valentine’s Day comes around, I guess I just have to commiserate with my past self.
* One last meandering bullet point. There are probably a hundred other little things I wanted to put in this post, but I’ve forgotten them. Life continues. I still have my classes. I’m surprised by lack of participation followed by an abundance of participation. It looks like I’ll be starting another computer class. I have a lot of ambivalence in my life recently. From these posts, you can see that it’s been going on for something like seven months now! I’m still surprised by my current life and the effect it has on me. It almost seems like it’s not mine somehow. It belongs to someone else, and I’m living in their shell. It seems I never know what the day holds. I can either waver between being pretty happy, on the verge of tears, or wanting to pull my hair out. This is what the people in Bulgaria do to me. They keep giving me reason for hope with follow-through that comes in baby-steps. I don’t work well with that. I’m an “instant gratification” sort of girl, and I ache to be understood. I need to just “spokoino” – chill out. The more time I spend here, the more I realize that I really am just an oddity. I find myself enjoying the company of other Americans more. Thomas once said to me, “It’s like you identified and packaged who you are. You thought you had your self-definition. Now, you are confronted by a new facet of you, and you don’t know how to fit it into your definition.” He’s a smart boy.
* Man, I’m hungry. God, please help me. I just found out a package is waiting for me at the post office. If there's food inside, I'll laugh and cry simultaneously.
P.S. This really wasn’t a proper use of bullets. It was more like bulleted paragraphs than bulleted lists. My friend, if he reads this, will be extremely disappointed in me.
P.P.S. Here's some random cultural trivia for you: So, today is Tuesday, February 13th. In the Spanish culture, and apparently the Greek, today is an unlucky day. That's where I've gotten the word for the title up above. It's supposed to be "fear of Tuesday the 13th." Actually, I've kind of mashed some words together I think might be right. Who knows if it is? Anyway, Valentine's Day post-cedes it this year. Coincidence? I think not....